Interview with Porpentine, author of howling dogs

Throughout the competition season, I’ve been talking with Porpentine, the author of howling dogs — about Twine, about participating in the IF Comp, and about the meaning of various passages. After a little while it seemed like a good idea to ask for a straight-up interview, which Porpentine was kind enough to agree to.


ES: You and I have spoken a lot lately about how you feel Twine makes authoring interactive stories possible for people who hadn’t been in a position to do that before. What about Twine makes it especially awesome at that? Do you think it’s more effective in that respect than other hypertext or CYOA tools?

Porpentine: I’ve agonized over which tools to use, lately there have been so many, and despite everything that’s come out this year, I keep coming back to Twine’s ultra-minimal elegance.

1) Twine isn’t owned by a company. It isn’t going to restrict part of its functionality behind overly specific social networking sites that not everyone has access to (ahem), start charging to modify the HTML (ahem), or dramatically change in any way. I like that Twine simply exists and doesn’t belong to anyone except everyone.

2) Twine is the simplest game maker on the planet while scaling with the whole legacy of HTML, CSS, and Javascript, stuff that’s super well documented and easy to learn.

3) Instant feedback from the node map showing you the shape of your story as it forms, beautiful, spatial. Stories written in Twine have their own unique structure, like creatures under a microscope or root networks carrying information. I feel most in my aesthetic element when I’m working with Twine.

4) I can work with Twine when I’m too tired to deal with anything else. You don’t have to wrestle with anything between the emotion and the page, your fragile thoughts survive.

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Alfe Clemencio on interactive narrative in Don’t Save The World

Alfe Clemencio of Sakura River Interactive is the author of highly branching visual novels in Ren’Py. His previous work Fading Hearts features a wide range of possible player paths and outcomes; now he is working on an ambitious RPG project called Don’t Save the World. His Indiegogo page describes Don’t Save the World thus:

Don’t save the World: An RPG is a game where the effect of player’s choices are so strong they can change the genre of story and game. Live a life of adventure (RPG gamplay) or a normal life of running a shop (management-sim). Say “No” to saving the world!

…Near the end of the game gamers might be given the chance to slow down or stop the hero from defeating the dark lord.

I will guarantee that some players trying to be “good” will try to stop or slow down the hero.

In this scenario you are not the hero and won’t be defeating the dark lord. If the dark lord isn’t stopped then all the lands will be flooded with monsters that will bring the cities and towns to ruin. The hero is definitely a good person and is trying to do good.

It’s because moral choices like this that morality meters won’t work for this kind of game. Can you figure out why gamers trying to do good would do something like stop the hero?

Here he talks about that project, about the challenges of managing highly-branching narrative, and about the moral elements he is hoping to explore in his new work.

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Edge article on video game AI

This has been out in print form for a while, I believe, but the content is now available online: I was interviewed for an article on video game AI for Edge. The article draws extensively from the talk I did at the AI Summit at GDC 2012, with subsequent followup. I talk about social behavior AI and its potential in gaming, and there are also comments from Ben Sunshine-Hill (whose GDC talks always leave me in gobsmacked awe) and Mike Treanor (talking about Prom Week and Facade).

“Choose Your Own Interview” on RPS

Rock Paper Shotgun’s Cara Ellison interviewed me, Adam Cadre, and Andrew Plotkin, and then assembled the result into a CYOA. We talk about interactive fiction primarily, but also text-based gaming more generally. I have a long riff about inklewriter and related tools, and another one about the project I’m working on now for Linden Lab, to the extent that I can talk about that publicly.

The Written World on Kickstarter

The Written World is a computer-mediated interactive storytelling game (additional details available here). The authors describe it as an interactive fiction MMO, but it’s also not completely unlike a library of Fiasco-style playsets.

The game provides assets — characters, character goals, possible events — embodying a story concept, but each actual experience is a two-player exchange between a Narrator player and a Hero player, a bit reminiscent of Sleep Is Death. The players participate primarily through writing, by creating descriptions of what happens next. If either of them doesn’t like what’s been done by the other, they can spend some Force to override the decision; Force is in turn earned by writing particularly compelling content. The aim of the exercise is not essentially competitive, but mediated cooperation aimed at producing an interesting story.

The Written World chief Simon Fox was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about how the mechanics work.

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Balance of Powers on Kickstarter

Balance of Powers is a dark new alternate-history world from the team that wrote Perplex City. Follow the free-to-read story online, with eight chapters unfolding over eight weeks.

…Or better, sign up and receive bonus content in email, artifacts in your mailbox, or be invited to take part in live online events.

Balance of Powers is being launched on Kickstarter by Adrian Hon, Naomi Alderman, Andrea Phillips, and David Varela, a group that includes veterans of game and ARG design, live interactive events, and conventional fiction writing. The four of them were kind enough to answer a few of my questions about their new project — talking about pacing, storytelling as performance, and the narrative value of feelies.

Balance of Powers is set to unfold over eight weeks, one chapter a week. Can you talk a little about the function of time in your storytelling? How do you want the experience to differ from just sitting down and reading the story in one compressed session?

The action of the story itself takes place over much less than eight weeks – really more like eight days – so we’re absolutely not aiming to produce real-time storytelling. But there’s something deliciously Dickensian about enjoying a serialised story every week. It creates suspense. It allows time for the words to sink in and be analysed, either by the individual reader or between readers online. (We love a bit of speculation.)

The time between installments doesn’t just allow for reader speculation, either – it lets us peek at, and perhaps be influenced by, that speculation. The great thing about writing something online is that, unlike print materials, you can tweak at the last moment if you have a really fantastic idea. And it’ll allow us to drop in the other cool items – like our newspaper – between episodes, at a point in the story where they’ll have most impact.

The long timeline also gives people a chance to read at their own leisure without feeling that they’re being left behind. Having said that, we hope that the readers will be really looking forward to each week’s installment. TV execs talk about ‘appointment television.’ We want this to be ‘appointment reading’ because they’ll want to discuss and speculate about the story with their friends as soon as they’ve finished.

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