Whether your game surfaces its numbers to the player or not, odds are it has underlying systems that rely on them, and you use functions to determine how those numbers affect each other. In other words, a mathematical function is usually at the core of the answer to a bunch of frequent game design questions.
This year, I took some time to better articulate some criticisms of GDC that I’ve hinted at on Twitter and elsewhere. This took shape as five posts about GDC:
- About GDC’s cynical “advocacy track”.
- About GDC pass systems as class in a microcosm.
- About how San Francisco might be the worst place on Earth for an international conference.
- About GDC’s exploitative labor practices.
- About how the profit motive prevents addressing those issues.
If you’ve written something about an issue that I’ve missed or wasn’t able to address, contact me and I’ll add it to this list.
This is part five of a series articulating criticism of GDC, in the week leading up to it. I know several people who attend GDC, and I don’t begrudge anyone for attending, speaking, or otherwise working with GDC; you do what you have to do, and make the value evaluations that you need to. But since I’m not attending this year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to speak frankly about the harmful practices UBM engages in and their negative impact on the industry.
This is part four of a series articulating criticism of GDC, in the week leading up to it. I know several people who attend GDC, and I don’t begrudge anyone for attending, speaking, or otherwise working with GDC; you do what you have to do, and make the value evaluations that you need to. But since I’m not attending this year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to speak frankly about the harmful practices UBM engages in and their negative impact on the industry.
This is part three of a series articulating criticism of GDC, in the week leading up to it. I know several people who attend GDC, and I don’t begrudge anyone for attending, speaking, or otherwise working with GDC; you do what you have to do, and make the value evaluations that you need to. But since I’m not attending this year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to speak frankly about the harmful practices UBM engages in and their negative impact on the industry.
This is part two of a series articulating criticism of GDC, in the week leading up to it. I know several people who attend GDC, and I don’t begrudge anyone for attending, speaking, or otherwise working with GDC; you do what you have to do, and make the value evaluations that you need to. But since I’m not attending this year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to speak frankly about the harmful practices UBM promotes and their negative impact on the industry.
This is part one of a series articulating criticism of GDC, in the week leading up to it. I know several people who attend GDC, and I don’t begrudge anyone for attending, speaking, or otherwise working with GDC; you do what you have to do, and make the value evaluations that you need to. But since I’m not attending this year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to speak frankly about the harmful practices UBM promotes and their negative impact on the industry.
Last year, I wrote for Dim Bulb games’ Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, which came out this Wednesday (February 28th). It’s a narrative game built as an anthology, in which you travel the continental United States, carrying stories across the land. It’s massive; there are over 200 “vignettes” (small stories you collect as you cross the land), of which I wrote about 30, and sixteen major characters you can sit down with and swap stories at the campfire.
So this is about my relatively small involvement with this huge game. Two caveats: I didn’t have a high-level view of the process at all, and I was really focused on making my own narrow work as good as it could be.
Also, this post contains mild spoilers for some of the vignettes I wrote.
For this year’s ECTOCOMP, I’ve written a short horror story about the rats, the human mind, and some of the many ways to die in space.
You can get it right now from Itch.io.
The term quality-based narrative (QBN) refers to a way of building interactive fiction most familiar from Failbetter Games’ Fallen London, as well as other games built on their now-defunct StoryNexus platform. Voyageur is also built on this model. Earlier this year, I worked on trying to build a general-purpose QBN tool, working off of the Voyageur codebase, but I didn’t get very far; this is basically a list of issues I encountered, as a sort of caution to people thinking of implementing those kinds of systems.
With the release of Vorple for Glulx, now is a great time to think about what I’m calling parseless parser games: Text games that use the world model and mechanical tradition of parser games, but don’t actually have a parser interface. The most prominent recent example would be Robin Johnson’s Detectiveland.
This is sort of a theoretical exploration of how to build interfaces to interact with the traditional parser world model (rooms, point of view character, and of course “medium-sized dry goods” as interactive objects). Most of this involves looking at the history of graphical adventure games, which diverged pretty directly from parser interfaces and into point-and-click ones. I’m trying to produce a taxonomy of how those interfaces operate and what their pros and cons are, for people who are looking at building on Vorple to produce extensions or games that use this sort of interaction.
Emily Short recently wrote a post about what reasons there are for writing a parser game in AD 2017. In the comments, I added:
For me there’s another reason to make parser games, and specifically for using Inform 7: It’s a fantastic platform for experimental games. if I just have an idea that I want to explore or play around with, as long as it’s narrative and turn-based, I’m very likely to reach for I7 as a tool.
Using I7 cuts away 90% of the boilerplate labor associated with game development: You don’t have to think about or make UI (it’s text input), UX (it’s bad), assets (there are none). You write almost no boilerplate code; everything you write is doing work in defining mechanics, narrative, or environment. I really think more game designers should learn I7 because of its value in that role; even if the thing you make using it isn’t the final form of what you’re making. The 0 to 60 on it is just incredible compared to any other engine or game development tool.
Inform 7, if you’re unfamiliar, is a system for writing parser interactive fiction that uses a purpose-built domain-specific language that somewhat resembles natural English. It’s probably my favourite game development environment to work on, for a lot of reasons.
A Don't Mind My Apocalypse Head Postmortem; or: Designing a Parser Game Around Specific Interaction, Multiple Endings, and Protagonist Interiority
March’s patreon project, Don’t Mind my Apocalypse Head, was a short parser game written around a fairly disturbing dream I had. If you haven’t played it, it’s fairly short and I suggest you check it out before reading on.
March’s Patreon project is out now for everybody on https://bonsequitur.itch.io/dont-mind-my-apocalypse-head. It’s a horror story about awkward social situations, extra appendages, and the recurring end of the world.
Thanks to all my Patreon supporters! If you want to help me keep doing this (and get early access to projects along with source code), the Patreon page is this way.
In 2017, with the release of Voyageur, I want to get back to splitting my time between different projects. And, in particular, I want to do more noncommercial work: more short free IF, more reviews and criticism of noncommercial IF, more games writing that doesn’t find a home in commercial outlets, and more altgame experiments like Storytelling Skeletons.
A little side-project for the Pico-8. Wander an endless graveyards, find dark warnings about daunting perils, and never encounter any of them.
A follow-up to last year’s The World Turned Upside Down, Not All Things Make It Across commemorates the end of 2016 with another short vignette set in the Mere Anarchy universe. Taking advantage of the threshold of the new year, choose what debris of the past you want to destroy… or keep.
I hope you all enjoy it. Happy new year, and thanks.
By the time this post goes up, I will have already posted my top ten games of the year list on Giant Bomb. It’s not all IF – there’s a mix of AAA, indie, and altgame in there – but I did include Brendan Hennessy’s Known Unknowns and Astrid Dalmady’s Cactus Blue Motel in there. I also used my Giant Bomb column this year to put a spotlight on IFComp. There are a couple others I want to highlight though.
My project for this year’s Procjam, the Recombinant Armorial Roll is a procedurally-generated dynastic history of a fictional empire, assembled from a relatively small corpus and rendered in the form of a finite but very deep hypertext.
Imzy is a link-, media-, and post-sharing website built around the idea of positive, well-regulated and kind communities. Going forward, I’m hoping to bring more activity to Imzy’s IF community and build it up as a safe and welcoming place for IF’s increasingly diverse authors and readers to come together and organize events, discuss IF, and encounter one another.
Imzy has only recently left its closed beta, too, so now everyone who wants to can read and join the community here.
Breaking my nearly yearlong hiatus of IF releases, I have an entry in this year’s ECTOCOMP. It’s called Four Sittings in a Sinking House, and you can download it from the competition website or play it online.
Earlier this year when Inkle released their Ink scripting language, there was a lot of excitement from the IF community around using it as a tool for building sophisticated branching stories in the vein of Choicescript. Today I’m releasing a couple of open-source tools that should help people who want to experiment with Ink without having to build a full game UI to go around the story engine.
For these two pieces, I’m writing shorter capsule reviews. See my initial post for info on my approach to writing about those.
500 Apocalypses is essentially a stochastic novel, a large collection of loosely-connected vignettes meant to be read in a random order. Its blurb should probably come with a broad content warning for mature and disturbing themes, which I am bringing up here because I’ll be discussing some of it.
The Interactive Fiction Competition is once again upon us; the deadline for submissions is today, in fact.
This year, I’m busy. But I did promise I would make an effort to review some of the games. As is tradition, before we see the list of comp games, I thought I should take a moment to go over my approach to reviewing these, partly to set expectations, and partly because no collection of comp reviews is complete without a self-important essay talking about the correct way to write reviews.
So yesterday, on a whim, I pulled some of Voyageur’s generator content into a Twitter bot. The Galactic Food Bot tweets procedurally-generated futuristic street food mélanges periodically.
This bot exemplifies a botmaking workflow using Node.js and AWS Lambda. It allows for more flexibility than using a service like Cheap Bots Done Quick, without the need to manage or deploy a full server of some kind.
This post is in reference to recent events on and around the Euphoria &if channel; it’s not really of interest to people who don’t have that context. Some community issues have to be addressed, but I don’t want to expand the circle of anger by supplying a recap. Chances are, if you need to read this, you have context already. This is the second post I am making on this issue, this time regarding my own personal thoughts and feelings on the community.
This post is in reference to recent events on and around the Euphoria &if channel; it’s not really of interest to people who don’t have that context. Some community issues have to be addressed, but I don’t want to expand the circle of anger by supplying a recap. Chances are, if you need to read this, you have context already. This is the first post I’m making on the issue, which is a statement as &if moderator.
One of the main challenges in procedural text generation is obtaining big enough corpora to produce surprising results. Hand-writing corpora is a good approach, but sometimes too time-consuming or unlikely to produce surprising enough results.
Yesterday, on &if, someone asked whether we were attracted to IF because of its status as “outsider art.”
I don’t really want to define outsider art, or get into the discussion over whether IF qualifies. But I responded that I felt I was attracted to IF because it’s unsettled.
And then I had to go and write a post about what, exactly, I mean by that.
I’m not really ready for a release of this just yet – it’ll be a while, probably at least a week – but I wanted to give people an update of where I’m at with Raconteur. Here’s the current (rough) roadmap.
I’m currently working on a project involving some fairly demanding procedural generation of text. While that project isn’t ready to be announced yet, one of the first core pieces of functionality I wrote for it was a text-generating library. Said library had to be powerful, flexible, and fulfil the following needs:
What Fuwa Bansaku Found (Chandler Groover), released today through sub-Q magazine, is a free-verse ghost story set in an abandoned shrine in Sengoku Japan.
As the year heads to a close I have been busy sending thank-you notes (well, emails). This list is in no particular order and, inevitably, incomplete; if you feel like I have missed you, I am sorry.
Following on from my previous post, a look some of the IF and IF-adjacent games that came up this year which I thought were important enough to bring up.
I was originally going to release this year-end rundown all in one piece, but I realised it’s very long and therefore probably best split into three parts. First, the most skippable part: A look back at games and stories I released this year.
The World Turned Upside Down is a tiny bit of parser fiction I wrote as a sort of thank you note/Christmas special. It’s very short and straightforward, so I’ll just direct you to the game page where you can play or download it.
Happy holidays, everyone.
A brief reminder, since I haven’t posted about this on the blog ever since the comp postmortem: the Euphoria IF chat (&if) is still ongoing and regularly active. It’s an open channel, so anyone can join the conversation on Euphoria.
Lime Ergot, by Caleb Wilson, has just been republished by sub-Q Magazine – Which, full disclosure, also published my work in the past, particularly Lyreless which came out last week. I think of Lime Ergot as a pretty important entry in the canon of parser fiction, and also a very good starting point to introduce players new to parser IF, so I’m taking the occasion to make it all about myself and write a few impressions of it. This post contains mild spoilers.
sub-Q magazine has just published my newest work, Lyreless. It’s a descent into hell set in a fantastical universe where the sun is fixed in the sky and the dead build a dark city below with their broken bodies.
I’m trying something new: this Saturday, I’m organising a live post-IFComp discussion on Euphoria. It’s supposed to take place on Saturday, November 21st, 4PM EST/9PM UTC (Or if you like ISO time, 2015-11-21T21:00:00-00:00). We’ll be talking about the comp’s games, organisation, past and future.
Euphoria is a new platform for chat rooms that, unlike Slack and other new solutions in that area, are designed for social conversation rather than team collaboration. It’s accessible, fun, and designed so that multiple conversations can happen in the same space without trampling one another, using threading; I’m really exciting about it, and hopefully this is just the start of using the new &if space for the interactive fiction community.
This isn’t quite a postmortem; it’s more a set of responses and observations about Cape.
Ectocomp has just released its games for judging. It’s a competition for horror and Halloween-themed IF – this year with both “speed IF” and “spirit of speed IF” divisions. First up: Invasion (Cat Manning), a horror Twine about inexorable alien monsters.
Sun Dogs is a text game in which interaction is mostly directed by moving around a map and exploring different places in a transhuman future.
I’m deep in the mire of writing an IF Comp entry, which is why I barely had the time to play recent IF releases. But Introcomp is nice in that I can read and evaluate a game in a lot less time than usual, and feel like I have something to say about it. First up: Walker’s Rift, by Hope Chow.
Shufflecomp, which has just closed its second edition, is an IF competition in which entrants swap playlists and make games based on songs. Not content with taking part in the previous two IF comps, I entered Shufflecomp this year.
When the Land Goes Under the Water, pseudonymously released under the name Nikephoros de Kloet, was my entry.
For the duration of ShuffleComp, I won’t be commenting on games because I don’t want to blow my own pseudonymity just yet. However, Jacques Frechet appears to be a real person, meaning he’s definitely not me; whereas all other ShuffleComp authors are either Doug Orleans or currently in a quantum state of simultaneously being and not being me. So I get to talk about Jacques’ submission, Ansible.
I said I wasn’t going to write a postmortem for Mere Anarchy. Well, I kind of lied. This is the actual postmortem. As you might expect, it contains spoilers for the game; so if you haven’t played it yet, I suggest you do before reading.
Taking a break for a moment from the tutorials to write about where Raconteur comes from, and where it’s going; starting with a survey of the landscape of choice-based game engines.
This is the third part of a series walking step-by-step through developing a game with Raconteur. In this post, I’ll explain Raconteur’s adaptive text features.
Last we left off, I had explained setting up Raconteur and writing a very basic Situation: Enough to make simple stories. This tutorial is going to delve a little deeper into using Undum and Raconteur to write more complex stories.
Raconteur is “Undum with batteries included,” a set of tools and libraries that speed up Undum development and give it a gentle learning curve. Raconteur, like Undum, has an [API documentation] out; but API documentation is great as a reference, not so much for learning something new. And Raconteur, while (I hope) still substantially easier to work with than Undum, still has a learning curve.
This is the first in a series of posts walking through the authoring of an IF game with Raconteur/Undum. This one goes from setting up a development environment to writing down your first situation.
This is a postmortem for Terminator Chaser, my ParserComp 2015 entry. As you might expect, it contains severe spoilers for the game.
This postmortem is based on my own impressions of replaying the game after its release, but it’s also based on watching the reaction to the game itself. I want to single out reviews from Sam Kabo Ashwell and Emily Short, as well as the players who submitted feedback through ParserComp’s judging form.
You can play or download the post-comp release of Terminator Chaser, with various improvements, here.
These emails were rescued from the source file; they are the original way the story was told. This has changed dramatically in later revisions of Terminator Chaser, leaving the emails essentially dead in the water. A lot of this material is no longer relevant to the game, and a lot of it is heavily spoilery, but most of it gives some insight into who the cast of characters was at that stage of development, and what they were like.
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