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.

Spring Thing 2015, and Aspel

Spring Thing is now open, with nine new games: six in the main category, three in the “Back Garden” area for games that aren’t in competition for prizes and have somewhat looser entry requirements. There’s a mix of systems, too — Twine, Undum, Seltani, Glulx and z-machine, and Ren’Py.

My contribution is a Back Garden game called Aspel, which is a realm in the choice-based multiplayer Seltani platform. As my entry blurb says:

Aspel is an experimental interactive experience designed for multiple players, featuring asymmetric information and collective decision-making. The text you see on the screen won’t necessarily be the same as what everyone else sees, so you’ll need to communicate with your fellow players in order to experience it most fully. To make that easier, I’ll be around to participate/host at the following times:

Tuesday April 7 at 8 PM British/3 Eastern/noon Pacific
Sunday April 19 at 8 PM British/3 Eastern/noon Pacific
Friday May 1 at 8 PM British/3 Eastern/noon Pacific

…but of course people are more than welcome to arrange their own visiting hours.

At some point I’ll likely write something about the experience of writing for Seltani.

Sunless Sea leaves early access

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Sunless Sea is out of early access today!

If somehow you have not heard of this game: it is a grand, creepy exploration game from the cool people at Failbetter, set in the Fallen London universe. Sail a cavernous underground sea, fight off giant crabs, try to keep yourself and your crew sane, and encounter islands full of strange tales. It has more eye candy than Fallen London, and no action-metering or grind. On the other hand, it keeps the creepy setting and the tight, memorable prose. You can play it in a ferocious rogue-like mode with permadeath, or you can be wimpier and keep save files. (I keep save files. I admit it.)

It’s not just me with my fondness for Fallen London here, either. Eurogamer gives Sunless Sea a 10/10, and so does Starburst Magazine.

I’m hoping for a big launch day for Sunless Sea for a couple of reasons.

One, I guest-wrote three of the islands, and I’ve written a little about that experience here (general comments about writing for the Fallen London universe as part of a retrospective of my 2014 efforts) and here (spoilery design post about the island of Nuncio). I had a lot of fun with these, I’m happy about how they came out, and I’m hoping other people will like them too.

Two: Failbetter is doing some really intriguing commercial IF, and the success of Sunless Sea will have a direct impact on how much more they can do along the same lines. I am hoping that they’ll turn out to be able to do lots and LOTS more.

So! Buy a copy! Tell your friends! Leave a Steam review! Try not to commit any acts of cannibalism! (Harder than you might think.)