April Link Assortment

Upcoming live IF Meetups and events:

May 7, 1:00 PM, the SF Bay Area IF Meetup gets together at MADE.

May 7, 2:00 PM, Baltimore/DC IF Meetup is getting together to talk about IF and then to play Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective.

May 11, 6:30 PM, Boston/Cambridge, the People’s Republic of IF gets together to talk and also to attend a presentation of student IF.

May 26, 10 AM – 1 PM, Oxford. I’m doing an Intro to IF workshop based around inklewriter. It is primarily aimed at Oxford humanities people, but I may be able to arrange for a few non-University people to attend; feel free to get in touch.

June 2-4. Feral Vector is a game design conference in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. It’s explicitly designed to be affordable and accessible to indie/altgame types, especially those not ordinarily in reach of London events. I went last year and had a great time. This year I will be presenting, and of course will be up for chatting about narrative games in general. (Ordinarily I list events only a month or so in advance, but you should get your tickets for this sooner rather than later if you want to participate.)

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Worthy Things. Choice of Games is auctioning off cameos in a few of its upcoming games; proceeds benefit homeless youth. If you’ve ever wanted to appear in a Max Gladstone story, now is your chance.

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Classic IF Institutions. This month there’s a new SPAG (the article-based IF ‘zine) including an article on Clickhole adventures. SPAG is also seeking pitches and cover artists for future editions.

The XYZZY Awards are running now, and anyone familiar with IF is welcome to vote. (We’re just at the transition between first and second round voting — if you hurry, you might be able to sneak in a first-round vote to determine nominees.) In addition, the XYZZY website is running essays on last year’s nominees in each category (the “XYZZYmposium”), starting with Gabriel Murray on Best Story. Murray’s article starts with a useful enumeration of the qualities he’s personally looking for in Best Story games, which makes it useful even beyond its careful analysis of the specific pieces he covers.

If you liked my bibliography of IF history, you might also enjoy this Blind Panels podcast with Andrew Plotkin, in which he presents his own oral history of the evolution of interactive fiction. He goes into a bit more depth than I did both about his own work and how it fits into development, and about technical innovations in different periods.

I also did a bit of an overhaul on my IF community participation page. Probably still imperfect, but it is now less stuck in 2012.

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New Releases. These are by no means all the new releases in the past month, just things I happen to know/have heard a reasonable amount about. TinyUtopias is an accidental game jam — I mentioned the idea on Twitter and several people immediately participated; eventually I wrote a small thing for it as well. Cat Manning has a write-up collecting the entries and explaining a bit more about the backstory.

Lynnea Glasser’s new Choice of Games piece The Sea Eternal is now available, along with a sizable developer diary. (If you’re interested in design issues around ChoiceScript stat management, as I am, she has a whole post devoted just to that.)

Elixir is a Ludum Dare Twine about trans experience by way of fantasy and monstrosity — borrowing a page from Monsterhearts — and it also incorporates its own constructed language you gradually and partially learn in the course of play.

Porpentine has a miniature museum site with exhibits that you can only view at certain times of day. (At the time of writing, it appears to be open just after midnight in Pacific time.)

Reference and Representation: An Approach to First-Order Semantics is a new parser game by Ryan Veeder, even though it sounds like the PDF of a thesis. I haven’t had a chance to play yet.

The illustrated IF game Lifestream is now available, and is an attempt to do commercial IF that emulates trad parser IF but with a button/menu-driven interface and illustrations. I haven’t played, but Hanon Ondricek has written up some impressions from the demo.

And speaking of chatbot games (as we did earlier this month), Humani is a new one playable on Facebook Messenger.

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New Release: The Frequently Deceased

deceased_promoI have written a new Exceptional Friends story for Fallen London!

A family of promising youngsters have killed their Governess again. This time, she hasn’t come back.

Question servants across London. The chief glass-cleaner at the House of Mirrors. The attendants at a honey-den. Your own staff. Keep the children distracted with Enthralling Tales and your least lethal pets.

Find the Unsinkable Governess.

The Frequently Deceased is a big, chunky piece of content, available to Fallen London players with an Exceptional Friendship subscription. In some months, it will probably also become available for individual purchase. (Here’s its forum announcement, which gives more hints about how to get started if you would like to play.)

 

ProcJam Entries, NaNoGenMo, and my Generated Generation Guidebook

ProcJam happened last month, pulling together lots of different awesome things:

 

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A procedural château generator (or perhaps you’d prefer a procedural Palladian façade generator). A Twitter bot that tweets about odd clothing combos.

Ordovician generates strange sea-creatures that swim across your screen:

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But I was most fascinated by the pieces that do procedural work with words. K Chapelier’s Stochastèmes generates new words based on the poetic corpora (such as thurweedlesoe when I picked Wordsworth, and woulders).

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Balade is Windows-only, so I wasn’t able to play it, but the screenshots give a sense of the French cityscapes it generates through words: you can choose streets to travel and receive small descriptions of these places.

Paradise Generator uses random text combinations to suggest a variety of possible paradises: a fairly light level of procedural generation, but using some well-selected components. At least, my first couple of paradises were quite interesting.

Servitude plays a bit more like a traditional game, though it claims there are various randomized elements.

Or there’s Mainframe, a procedurally generated horror game by Liz England and Jurie Horneman. I didn’t manage to win it (maybe I just didn’t persist long enough; I’m not quite sure), but it combines the body horror and malevolent AI themes I associate with a lot of Liz’s stuff. (Maybe unfairly? Yes, maybe unfairly.)

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Meanwhile, ProcJam was not the only place for a bit of procedural generation this month. NaNoGenMo was the full-month press to procedurally create 50,000 words – 50,000 words of anything, not necessarily guaranteed to make sense.

Carolyn VanEseltine used Markov techniques and a ChoiceScript grammar to make an interactive generated novel, complete with choices, chapters, and stats.

Nick Montfort created a generated poem about consumerist impulses, one that offers us 126 pages of possible purchases such as “a subtle indigo topcoat that is exclusively available here” or “an understated navy thong that is significantly reduced in price”.

Kevan.org created a work based on Around the World in 80 Days mashed up with information from Wikipedia, which produces many many paragraphs like this:

Moving on, we arrived at London South Bank University. If I remembered correctly, this was founded in 1892 as the Borough Polytechnic Institute. Passepartout asked me if it was chosen to be clerk to the Governing Body, but I did not know. Passepartout examined the training and demonstrating Centre for Efficient and Renewable Energy in Buildings (CEREB). Passepartout explained how it had been designed to include two Thames barges set above a pentagon surrounded by five other pentagons. We moved on, disappointed by stricter student visa requirements in the United Kingdom.

The full repository of other creations can be found at the NaNoGenMo 2015 site, coordinated by Darius Kazemi.

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Exploring the resources associated with NaNoGenMo and ProcJam brought me to this forum on generative text, and from there this video by Kenneth Goldsmith on conceptual writing, which gives an above-average explanation of what’s interesting about procedural writing in its own right.

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Not really part of either of those things, Caelyn Sandel and Carolyn VanEseltine have a game idea generator that randomly combines concepts they’ve had for their works into new concepts. And of course Juhana Leinonen’s IF Name Generator is a classic, but it has been newly updated with name lists from IF Comp 2015 to remix those titles.

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So. I thought about doing NaNoGenMo or ProcJam or somehow sort of doing both. ProcJam is so open-ended with its “make a thing that makes things” concept that almost anything could probably be construed to be a part of that project. And I’ve also got several procedural text game projects that have been knocking around unfinished for ages. What I ultimately wound up doing was sort of related but in fact none of the above.

Parrigues1The Annals of the Parrigues (warning! PDF!) is a (mostly) procedurally generated guidebook to a fictional pseudo-English kingdom, along with a making-of commentary on the process of generation. There are also some portions of the code (though I’m not releasing the whole source at this point, and indeed it wouldn’t really be meaningful to do so, as you’ll see if you look at the thing). It’s not an interactive piece of fiction at all, though it was built with various tools including Inform. Rather, it’s a story I wrote with the machine. If you want to know where to find the biggest library in the kingdom, what type of meal to avoid at the Fenugreek and Sponge, or why people keep trying to assassinate the Duchess of Inglefunt, this one’s for you.

 

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IF Comp 2015 is Open

ifcomp15 And we’re off! The games of IF Comp 2015 are now available. There are a record number of games this year — 55 in all — beating out the previous high of 53 in 2000. This is especially impressive when you consider this competition is now in its 21st year.

I will be reviewing, but I’ve made some changes to my reviewing policy: specifically, no longer reviewing works for which my overall impression is negative. This doesn’t mean I’m binding myself to say only positive things, just that the overall take of the review needs to be a net Recommend. In doing this, I’m responding to assorted feedback over the years that the comp can be too harsh to new authors and to those unfamiliar with its expectations. The IF world has grown bigger, richer, and more diverse over the past couple of years, which is a terrific thing; it means we get games from everyone from published authors and pro game devs to teenagers making their first experiment with a game making tool. But the diversity also means that not every game is likely to be for everyone, and that’s okay.

If you are also reviewing, thank you! I love reading other people’s reviews, and one of the great things about the comp is the community of discussion that surrounds it. Also, hydrate. 55 games is a lot.

Okay. :Puts on Batsuit.: Let’s do this.

New Release: Discernment

Discernment_promoI have a new story out!

Subscribers to Fallen London — that is to say, Exceptional Friends — can now play Discernment. Look for Salome’s soul, meet a Salon of devils and devilesses concerned with building the very best soul collections. You may also encounter some information on the moral perspective of mushrooms.

One of the things I enjoy about writing for Fallen London is being able to riff on assorted lore, connections, and player history from other stories. Without spoilers, I am especially pleased about how that worked out in this piece.

If you’re looking to get started, seek out the Burglary of a Cartographer’s Estate storylet.

XYZZY Award Finalists are out

The finalists for the 2014 XYZZY Awards have been announced; if you want to vote, you have until April 25th at 0:01 US-Pacific to do so. Perhaps the most obvious difference vs previous years is how many of the nominees are commercial IF; there was more of it this past year than usual, but also I think it got more attention than it has in some years. There was also a strong showing for choice-based IF, featuring Twine, inkle, ChoiceScript, and Versu games.

In a few categories there are (unusually) only two nominees. If you’re curious, this thread on intfiction talks about why that is and how the nominees are selected; also about whether the current nomination system is best or whether we might want to go to one that allowed people to nominate multiple games per category in the first round.