June Link Assortment

stickerphotoMy casual storygame San Tilapian Studies is running at a free exhibition of play at The Wellcome Collection in London the evening of July 3. Many other terrific things will be there too. I can’t be there myself, but I am really excited to have the game played in such a cool space.

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The next Oxford IF meetup will be Sunday, July 12. Oxford meetups tend to be cozier than the meetups in London, making them a great place to bring works in progress or concept ideas to throw around with the group.

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Competitions are opening shortly: IF Comp starts accepting intents to enter on July 1 (tomorrow!). Meanwhile, the Windhammer Gamebook Prize starts accepting submissions August 1.

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When I wrote up Feral Vector, I couldn’t find a good online source talking about the game poems Harry Giles had introduced. Now there is one! Harry wrote up a primer on the form with some examples; it also discusses Twine poetry, art in text adventure form, and a number of other interesting topics.

Somewhat related: this page of 200-word indie RPG rulesets. They’re trying perhaps a little harder (sometimes) to describe something you could practically play, but again have an intriguing focus on getting across a core gameplay concept distilled to its essence.

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Favorite moments from Feral Vector

Screen Shot 2015-05-30 at 5.39.44 PM Feral Vector is “a festival about making games and gamelike things” that ran this Friday and Saturday in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. It was staged in a wonderful building with pew-like benches for watching the talks, and a big open space that was often taken up with beanbags and players of JS Joust.

Some favorite talks:

People cheat. Really really really a lot. — Holly Gramazio

Holly Gramazio spoke on cheating. Holly’s talk took us through a hugely entertaining historical overview of ways that people have cheated, past and present, ranging from bodybuilders who get spray tans that enhance the appearance of musculature to a 19th century Go player who was said to have had his best moves whispered to him by ghosts. The talk also went into why people cheat — yeah, sometimes it’s because they want to win or they have money riding on the outcome, but sometimes there are other reasons, like enlivening a game that’s otherwise a bit dull (Monopoly, anyone?) or getting to see outcomes or strategies that they really wanted to experience in the game (the main reason I go to walkthroughs when playing narrative games). She concluded by observing that the stress people feel about being caught cheating, or catching others cheating, is a bigger problem than the cheating itself, and raised the question of whether it’s possible to smooth over such issues through clever rules or social management. “Someone caring enough about your game to cheat at it is kind of a compliment.”

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There’s this incredibly complex framework of bullshit… that allows you as an artist to make an object that means more than a big box in a room should be able to mean. — Dick Hogg

Dick Hogg talked about making games, making art, making art that becomes the core of a game, and playful approaches to appreciating and understanding “high” art, via cynical affection. It was not an easy talk to summarize, but part of the point was that even though “high” art is a trendy scene, involving rich people and weird modes of writing and creation, and even though a lot of high art pieces fall flat and fail to contribute anything of value, nonetheless the accretion of cultural power allows for some very awesome things to happen when a piece does succeed. As one of his closing recommendations, he suggested Pippin Barr’s Art Game, which is always a good idea.

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Harry Giles (Raik, et al) talked about game poems, poetry that takes the form of short game instructions. These were marvelous, and it’s irritatingly harder than I’d like to find samples by googling “game poem”, since all sorts of other things come up. But the idea of expressing some pithy moment of (say) social observation through the construction of dysfunctional game rules works really well. Besides, I’ve enjoyed Harry’s work for a while now, so it was cool to see him in person.

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Tom Betts talked about the mathematically sublime: the edges where Minecraft can’t calculate any further geography, the glitches and flaws of procedural generation; suggested that we should be willing to accept some disappointing output from procedural generation in order to experience its high points; and in general spoke against too much separation between formalism and romanticism. There were also some lovely pictures, which sadly I cannot reproduce here.

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Marie Foulston is the video game curator at the Victoria & Albert museum, which is rather marvelous, and spent her talk about what it means for institutions like the V&A to be engaged in game curation, what good video game curation might look like and involve (note: not necessarily the same thing as archiving), and the challenges of communicating why a video game matters to people who might not know what to do with the controller.

That Embarrassed Silence Thread

Pippin Barr and Robert Yang write about how they’re able to be indie game creators — and are open about how much of that depends on the support of partners who earn more.

I found both posts pretty interesting. And I get where this is coming from, this encouragement for people with creative careers to be open about how those careers are funded because it clarifies the situation for anyone thinking about entering the discipline. At the same time, sharing this kind of information runs against my established practice.

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Interactive Narrative GDC Talks (Part 1)

Every year GDC talks are recorded and stored in the “GDC Vault”, which is accessible to people who have attended a recent GDC. There are also usually a few talks that are outside the paywall, though — and this year, there are quite a few non-paywall talks that might be of interest to IF and interactive narrative folks. There are also quite a few talks where the actual recording is behind a paywall, but the slides are available for free.

There are so many recommendable talks in this collection that I’m going to break them out over a couple of posts, starting with these fairly IF-specific talks:

Leading Players Astray: 80 Days and Unexpected Stories, Meg Jayanth, Freelance/inkle. (Slideshow, recorded talk.) An entertaining and watchable presentation about the tension between 80 Days’ boardgame mechanics and the story and the way the game tempts players into embracing bad strategy decisions. Meg also talks about the research that went into building 80 Days and the process of constructing the story as a whole.

Adventures in Text: Innovating in Interactive Fiction, Jon Ingold, inkle. (Slideshow, recorded talk.) Talks about narrative structure and tool implementation in inkle products, usable lengths of text, choice design, and a lot else. Well worth a look for anyone working in the choice-based game space.

Classic Game Post-mortem: Adventure, Warren Robinett. (Slideshow, recorded talk.) This is about the construction of the action-adventure game Adventure for the Atari 2600, but it talks about how that game was based on the Crowther and Woods game — and it also gets into a lot of delightfully sticky detail about the memory costs of a lot of the game elements. The latter is something that people working on interactive fiction now only have to worry about rarely, and usually only if they’re doing something either very large or targeted at a very restricted platform. A neat piece of game history with IF relevance.

Harvesting Interactive Fiction, Heather Albano, Choice of Games. (Slideshow only.) Intended to acquaint games narrative folks with recent developments in IF, this talk covers material that may already be familiar to IF veterans. Includes discussion of Hadean Lands, Codename Cygnus, Blood & Laurels, various Choice of Games titles, and much of the inkle collection, among other things. Edited to add: it’s a little hard to work out fully from just the slides, but I meant to mention that Heather did talk a lot about the use of ambiguity in text, and the storytelling leverage that you get from not overspecifying everything (which is sometimes easier when you’re working with words and not a full 3D model). This is an interesting area I’ve heard the Choice of Games folks talk about on various occasions but I’m not sure it’s gotten the discussion traction of some of the other concepts here (such as complicity).

January Link Assortment

Sam Kabo Ashwell has some wonderful posts on the experience of This War of Mine (1, 2) and The Long Dark: the atmosphere, the emergent narrative, the experience evoked by their systems. This bit from his review of The Long Dark particularly struck me:

Having been lost in the Northwoods before, I can say with all confidence: the biggest, scariest threat you face is that you will walk for days and days and never, ever see a single trace of human influence. Never encounter anything shaped by humanity into something that facilitates transport, shelter or food. As moderns, we are hugely, continuously dependent upon the work of other hands. That fear, the fear of a totally non-anthropic environment, is something that is almost impossible to make interesting in the purely human-made context of a game.

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David Welbourn is one of the quiet heroes of the IF community: for years he’s been helping to maintain ifwiki, assembling the eligibility lists for the XYZZY awards, and creating loads of high quality walkthroughs and maps. He has an enormous amount of patience and an encyclopedic knowledge about many corners of IF history. If you have any regular contact with the IF community, you’ve almost certainly made use of some of his work, even if you’re not aware of it. I’m delighted that he now has a Patreon, which will help him with scanning and internet costs and make it easier for him to continue.

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Rowan Kaiser, Austin Walker, and Alex at While !Finished wrote a series of articles on choices in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and in particular about which of those choices are emotionally resonant:

Alex writes:

One of the most difficult choices in the game, for me, happened in the Solas romance storyline, which is only available to female elf Inquisitors and therefore a minority of players. Near the end, Solas reveals the true meaning behind the Dalish elf’s face tattoos: they were originally slave markings, from when elves enslaved other elves. The Inquisitor can let Solas remove hers, or she can keep them. Does the knowledge of their origin taint them? Or are they a part of her and important to her, no matter what their original meaning? What does she believe?

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The discussion of IF fanfiction brought up that there actually is some on archiveofourown: I found an alternate ending for Galatea and a prequel to Alabaster (which digs even deeper into some of the mythology around Eden and Adam’s wives before Eve). There’s also a wonderful story set in the 80 Days universe that explores some of the background of automata with souls, and the lion-like automaton of Burma, one of my favorite figures in the game. And here is an Inform game about a Fallen London character.

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Competitions, Anthologies, and Shows

IF Discussion Club this month is looking at the incentive systems and formal infrastructure in the IF community: competitions, anthologies, and shows. But as there’s a lot of material out there, I wanted to preface that discussion by providing a little bit of an overview to some of the things I’m aware of. (Edited to add: the transcript of that discussion is now available.)

Consequently, I contacted a number of people who have put together one of these events, and asked them to give me an overview of their thinking: what were they trying to do? Why? How did their goals change, and how well did it all work? I got a lot of response: many thanks to all those who took the time to write detailed responses.

I did not try to capture and describe things that were primarily about presenting a single IF work to the public (e.g., read-alouds of Lost Pig) or talks or demos of IF creation system (such as talks about how to use Inform 7 or intro-to-Twine workshops). I also didn’t attempt to cover sites that do/did on-going curation, such as IFDB, Baf’s Guide, freeindiegam.es, or Forest Ambassador, whether or not those were IF-exclusive.

Even without those restrictions, I’m sure there are a number of things that I left out. There are many general-purpose game jams that sometimes turn out to include IF entrants, which would be impossible to track down thoroughly. I didn’t try to cover all of the themed minicomps of the past decade and a half, because there have been so many. ifwiki lists 44 standalones of varying degrees of seriousness and specificity — including ToasterComp (12 entries) and BreadComp (0 entries). There are also people I wanted to contact but couldn’t reach, and there are also doubtless events I’m not aware of.

If you know of projects that are not discussed here but you have some insight into how they’re run, please feel free to add information in the comments.

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