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.

Upcoming IF Events

Some things you might want to know about:

September 1 is the deadline if you’re planning to sign up to participate in the annual IFComp. The comp has a new organizer this year, and a snazzy new website. Also, if you don’t plan to participate but would like to donate prizes, you can do that too.

September 13 at the Boston Festival of Indie Games, the People’s Republic of IF is hosting two events: a reading of Lynnea Glasser’s comp- and XYZZY-winning Coloratura, followed by an interactive fiction tutorial covering Inform 7 and Twine.

Also Sept 13 on ifMUD, at noon Pacific/3 Eastern/8 British time, there will be a discussion on IF and audience: how authors adjust their work for a particular audience assumptions made, etc. In the past the IF community has talked a lot about adjusting games for beginner players or for children, and somewhat less (but still a bit) about writing accessible games for visually impaired players — but there are a wide range of possible audience considerations to discuss.

October 11-12 at GeekGirlCon in Seattle, Jacqueline Lott is running an IF intro tutorial in Twine and Inform 7.

More distant, but worth knowing about in case you want to plan ahead:

November 8 in Toronto, Jim Munroe’s Wordplay Festival will be accompanied by additional IF events.

I myself will not be there; instead I will be speaking at ICIDS in Singapore, November 3-6, where I will talk about lessons from Versu. I will likely also be running a short workshop in IF creation. More about those things when the schedule is nailed down a bit.

Latest Discussion Transcript

I’ve now posted last night’s transcript from the IF Discussion Club, this time on interactive nonfiction. It was a sparser session than some have been (people are busy on sunny summer afternoons!), but touched on a few different problems, including the question of how much “nonfiction” can be applied to anything interactive.

The proposed topic for next time, July 12, is testing. For perhaps obvious reasons, this doesn’t come with a reading list of games, but we’ll be interested to talk about testing methodologies and the various challenges that come with different forms of IF.

That said, if you want something provocative to read on the topic, may I recommend Mattie Brice on the Death of the Player?

Play- and player-centric design are usually interchangeable terms, but I’d like to make a stronger distinction between them. My main quibble with player-centric design is the fetishized iterative process, where you take a prototype and get players to playtest it. Sometimes, this is useful; if it’s very important to you that someone feels a certain way or does a certain thing, playtesting is a method to achieve that. When I made Mainichi, I released it without any playtesting and iteration. Because players have a tendency to want agency and a positive trajectory, their input would have been useless to me. As well, the game was made for a friend to understand something. I couldn’t playtest the game with them and then ‘release’ it after. It would be like asking your crush to read and edit the love note you want to pass to them one day. With games that use personal experience as a main part of their design, player input through playtesting washes out their voice. If your game leaves out traditional qualities and emphasizes voice, then player-centric design is a useless paradigm for you.

So perhaps it’s also worth talking about what testing does to a game — squeezes, squishes, alters, in ways that might be good or bad.

On Time Units and Narrative Pacing in CYOA and Parser IF

two-star says, “Well, novels are capable of conveying widely different scales of passing time. Parser IF considers time at the pace of individual actions. Choice IF can do time at different scales pretty well though.”

— from the last meeting of the IF discussion group.

This is the contention that we’re going to be discussing at our next meeting (April 5).

Continue reading

Oxford Tools Meetup

As promised, some highlights from today’s Oxford tools meetup:

Eric Eve took us through a demonstration of adv3lite, his slimmer library for TADS 3 for users who don’t want or don’t need all the features of adv3. It’s designed to be intentionally moderate in what it models, not intended to grow to encompass all possible features. Among the things he demo’d: adv3lite

  • does away with some high-end but perhaps less frequently needed features of the adv3 library such as postures, sections of a room, and complicated connectors between rooms
  • provides Inform-7-esque handling for scenes (albeit with a TADS syntax)
  • has a concept of regions and “sense regions”: this provides a way of doing sense passing that is a bit less fiddly than the one in the main adv3 library, in that information about a particular sense can be passed throughout a contiguous area
  • offers a more advanced conversation engine than adv3, including intelligent behavior about whether typed input should be directed to the parser or should be treated as conversation towards the NPC
  • handles six tenses and all persons/numbers for story narration
  • handles three-object commands, and commands with text input strings as one of those (e.g., “write ‘hello world’ on paper with blunt pencil”)
  • does not use the transcript function of adv3, but has an alternative way of collating reports for actions on related objects so that they can be printed together in an attractive way
  • can be used even without roughly half of its component modules for a VERY stripped-down library experience

Graham Nelson showed us features of the upcoming build of Inform, with the target release date of April 30, 2014. These include:

  • indexed text is no longer a different type from text, which means that anything that can be done with indexed text (the manipulation of regular expressions, etc.) can now be done with any text property in a game
  • floating point numbers are now handled natively in Inform
  • Inform now does global named constants, and has a sleeker way of defining global variables
  • Inform is able to put the story into various tenses and persons, so it is possible to change the story text output to, say, third person plural past tense, if you wish (and to change this during play); this was previously possible only with custom library message extensions
  • Inform now provides richer facilities for doing adaptive text in general so that extensions can also easily be written to change their tense and person
  • Inform has built-in algorithms for conjugating English verbs to help produce adaptive text smoothly
  • A new “responses” system provides a way to override any library message text or any message from a properly formatted extension, without having to replace the entire rules in which the text appears
  • The first groundwork has been done towards creating international versions of Inform, including some experiments with French verb formation; this does not constitute a total translation of Inform so far, but is necessary preparation with a view towards eventually translating the whole system
  • The supporting materials have been extensively revised, the index panel improved, and a full index for the documentation provided
  • There is now a panel in the IDE for Extensions, including an App Store-like system called the Public Library for downloading them from the Inform website. This panel allows the author to view which extensions are installed and which are in the library; to install or update extensions with a single click; and even to download the entire Inform extension collection at once, if that’s desired
  • The Mac IDE has been overhauled quite a bit, with Toby Nelson (brother of Graham) also working on it: the search box much improved, syntax coloring sped up so that typing an open bracket no longer produces a major stall, and various longstanding glitches removed

Afterwards, there was some discussion about the “what do you want in a tool” question of the last few days, and several people agreed that they felt there would have been more answers about commercial IF if the question had been differently framed.

We talked about the desirability of being able to publish IF to mobile device apps more easily, for which none of the parser systems currently have an easy solution. We also talked a bit about Inform potentially building choice-based games, and about the rise of such games in general.

Thanks to everyone who came, and especially our presenters. The next meetup will be April 8 in London, on dialogue and character modeling.