Bring Out Your Dead: Interface

Bring Out Your Dead is a jam I ran for defunct WIPs, over the week around summer solstice. It is now complete, and you can see the 89 entries. Not all of these are interactive fiction: being on itch meant that the jam attracted a number of not-even-slightly IF projects, from a hexagonal Tetris variant to a bullet-hell shoot-em-up to Conflux, a 3D puzzle game about getting the right perspective on your environment.

Providing any kind of coverage of all 89 works is more than I can do, but I did want to look at a few concept trend over the next few days, starting with experiments in storytelling interface.

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Interactive Comics Prototype (Carl Muckenhoupt) is an interactive comic where changes in one panel instantly propagate forward to later panels. That means it’s possible to explore a Time Cave-structured story extensively without moving on from a single page.

What would this look like for a longer structure? I could imagine each strip being itself a node in a larger tree; I could also imagine a game where you’re actually working your way backwards, trying to open up earlier panels so that you could exercise greater and greater agency, in the style of 18 Rooms to Home. I would definitely play more of something like this.

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The Flashpaper War is a piece by Andrew Plotkin, in which you proceed by removing, altering, or swapping words in the text in order to change what happens in the story. The premise involves characters who travel from one fictional universe to another, tweaking pieces of the story that aren’t currently working properly.

Some of the word-manipulation features reminded me of Texture and its capacities; or of Mark Backler’s The Last Word, a still-in-development 2D platformer where words have physical effect. The Flashpaper War is a bit less poetic than these, though — there’s lots of uninteractive text and just a bit of interactive text. Mixed feelings about that, and about the sense that the characters in Flashpaper are getting to do more entertaining things than the player is. But there’s evident life in the interface concept.

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Symple Home Renovations (rocketnia) has a navigable world model — rooms, doors you can open, etc. — plus a facing page where object descriptions appear. Over the course of the game, you can select one of those tabs to read everything that’s happened to or been done by a particular character, so for instance the You tab contains all your past actions and your personal description. It’s also somewhat unusual among BOYD pieces in that there’s a full (if rather odd) story here: I was able to get all the way to an ending.

There’s not a lot of commentary to accompany this I failed to find the author’s commentary initially, so was a bit bewildered. I found the proliferation of tabs more confusing than helpful, as a rule, though perhaps that went along with the general sense that the story was getting slightly beyond my control. The demo does suggest, though, a world model that is separately tracking the texts associated with different in-game entities, and that’s potentially interesting. (Perhaps in some of the same territory as Curveship?)

[ETA, having seen the commentary: if the idea is to provide a consistent scrollback/review for each object, I wonder whether it would make sense to offer that as a non-persistent feature, rather than a set of tabs that seem to be demanding attention all the time. I was really unsure where to direct my attention initially.]

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How to Kill a Project (Wertle) is itself a Twine game, but one designed to document a variety of unfinished endeavors, including an entirely-haptic game, a game using a laser and eye-tracker, and various other pieces. There are links out to videos and other documentation, too — it’s an intriguing look at a range of alt-controller possibilities, and also at the author’s experiences around creative projects.

I include it under interface because it’s both experimenting a little with how Twine itself can be used in a documentary capacity, and because a lot of the games documented involve unusual ways of interacting.

3 thoughts on “Bring Out Your Dead: Interface

  1. For Symple Home Renovations, did you see the “Creator’s comments” section in my BOYD submission? I guess it’s not very visible. I thought this would appear the way Spring Thing displayed author rationales next to each entry in the list, but it looks like itch.io makes me click to the game first before I even get to see a “View submission” link.

    I think I’ll leave it there anyway. I don’t want to put my “here’s a narrative format I don’t intend to stick with” blurb in the game description itself, because if someone comes to this story outside of BOYD and has optimistic ambitions for a format like this, I don’t want to bother them with my doubts. I think my doubts aren’t specific enough to be constructive for them; they’re just strong enough that the approaches I now find promising involve some major redesign.

    • No! Thanks for pointing that out, and you’re right, I got confused by the way it was set up. Lemme read and think about this, and then I’ll put a note in the main body of the post.

  2. When I was playing around with Zifmia (client/server version of FyreVM), I figured out that saving every turn led to some interesting changes in how we view IF. Being able to move back to any turn at any time allows the author the freedom to use that as a story-telling tool. I started imagining a story where the player does something that has perspective consequences. Once the change is made, going back to any turn would actually _show those consequences_. So maybe the map is the same, but the room descriptions are subtly or vastly different. Maybe characters act differently when the perspective is changed. There are all kind of interesting ways to mess with perspective of course and providing a complete history provides a way to really mess with the timeline of a story.

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