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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Transcript Live, and a few other Changes

The IF Discussion Club met again, this time on New Directions in IF, and the transcript is now available.

Also: for a long time the “Reading IF” section of this blog has had lists of games to play, but those lists hadn’t been updated since ca. 2007 and were getting seriously out of touch with what is going on in current IF. (A lot of the links pointed to Baf’s Guide or the IF Scoreboard rather than IFDB, for instance, which made them essentially deadweight.)

I thought about just cutting this portion of the site entirely, but site stats suggested that some people were actually reading the lists still, for all I considered them horribly rusty. So I have now totally overhauled these pages. They’re now explicitly intended as lists of lists. That is, there are various topics one can explore and get a little bit of an overview of some of the kinds of features that occur in IF games, but when it comes to delivering specific suggestions, they then mostly point onward at IFDB polls, lists, and tags, as well as game-list-y blog posts (and in one case, a Pinterest board of screenshots of IF interface types).

My hope is that by relying partly on IFDB, I’ll have an at least partially self-maintaining system (in that other people besides me add tags). Even if that part turns out over-optimistic, at least I’ve gotten rid of the stuff that treats choice-based IF as a rare and peculiar deviation from the norm. I also got rid of the “world model” page, which were feeling — not even 2007, but more 2001 or so, thanks to the somewhat breathless excitement about games that implemented ropes and fire. (I was really excited about ropes and fire back then.) Likewise, the “setting” page was very heavily oriented around the assumption that IF was always organized into rooms, and that’s so far from being the case now that it just seemed a bit silly.

Some things went in, too. Added more puzzle types to the puzzle page, especially wordplay things. Added more narrative structure coverage. I expect I’ll keep tweaking this, and/or linking in additional game lists as appropriate, but if there are things I could be doing to make these resources more useful to people, let me know. (And then I may or may not do anything about it depending on how demanding the request is, but…)

Upcoming IF Events and Competitions

Votes are due for the IF Comp no later than November 15; if you wish to judge, there’s still time to play and rate at least 5 games. Please do consider playing and voting, as the competition thrives on participation.

ClubFloyd has been on hiatus during IF Comp, but resumes meeting Sundays after the comp ends. This is an opportunity to play (usually parser) IF collaboratively with others on ifMUD.

Inform 7 workshop, November 18, Lowell, MA. Run by Brendan Desilets in tandem with the ACM meeting.

ECTOCOMP, the competition for short spooky games, is also currently running; the download package includes a voting form, which should be filled out and sent to the organizer by November 22 to participate.

Also on November 22 (8 PM British, 3 PM Eastern, noon Pacific), the IF Discussion Club will meet on ifMUD for a post mortem discussion of the IF Competition. We have an IRC bot set up now that should allow people to participate via IRC if they find the MUD interface daunting.

The next meetup of the Oxford-London IF group will be the afternoon of November 23 at the Jam Factory. Expect food, optional pints, and relaxed IF-related chat.

NaNoGenMo is for people creating 50,000 word autogenerated novels, concurrent with NaNoWriMo. Here is an awesome thing that Liza Daly did, an autogenerated Voynich Manuscript-alike. Runs through November 30.

AdventureX is a London-based convention for adventures, with a lot of emphasis on point-and-click graphical adventures, but room for IF as well. Some IF folks will likely be there. It runs December 6 and 7 this year.

ParserComp, a competition for parser-based games written within a timeframe of several months, organized by Carolyn VanEseltine. Authors may begin at any time; games are due in first draft form February 1, 2015, and in final draft February 14. Games will be judged in multiple categories.

Spring Thing has traditionally also had a competition format with an entry fee. For 2015, its direction is being somewhat changed: it is now a free-to-enter festival focusing on celebration rather than competition, with non-cash prizes only, and there is a “back garden” section that allows introductions, demos, and parts of games intended for commercial release. Intents are due March 1, 2015.