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Showing posts from 2007

Spring Thing 2007

A new Spring Thing competition has been started, and just like last year, I have submitted a game. See the website for details.

If you wish to participate as a judge, you'll need to download the games and a good interpreter. Good interpreters that can run all of the games (which are in three different formats) are Gargoyle for Windows and GNU/Linux, and Spatterlight for MacOS X.

[IF] The Baron wins a XYZZY!

The XYZZY Awards are the Academy Awards of the Interactive Fiction community: all pieces published in the year before are eligible; in a first round of voting, five games are nominated in one of ten categories; in a second round of voting, one winner is chosen in each category; and finally, there is a ceremony on IFMud where the winners are announced.

That ceremony was yesterday, and I am happy to tell you that (1) The Baron was nominated in seven of the ten categories (best game, best story, best writing, best NPCs, best PC, best individual NPC and best use of medium), and (2) also managed to actually win of them: Best Use of Medium. This makes me very happy, especially since exploring the potential of the medium was my most important aim.

The other winners were:
The Elysium Enigma, by Eric Eve (best game, best individual NPC)Floatpoint, by Emily Short (best setting, best NPCs)Delightful Wallpaper by Andrew Plotkin (best writing, best puzzles, best individual puzzle, best PC)The Traveli…

The meeting and the birth

Why are we interested in interactive fiction and roleplaying games as new forms of art? Presumably not simply because they are new and relatively unexplored, but because of the interactive aspect in its modes of creativity, complicity, judgement. (Thinking about the artistic modes of interactivity should be one of highest priorities.) Traditionally, a work of art is created by a writer, is the responsibility of the writer and expresses the judgements of the author.. Sessions of playing an RPG or reading a work of interactive fiction may transfer one or more of these wholly or partially to the players and/or readers.

Why is this a good thing? What can a work of art that is interactive in this sense do that a non-interactive work can not? But perhaps this is already the wrong way of thinking, if we wish to arrive at a critique of IF and RPGs.

First, there may not be a work of art. Is the program or the game book a work of art? It is certainly not the work of art we are looking for. Is the…

[IF] Meaning and dual authorship

This post only applies to interactive fiction that (1) has or provides the opportunity for theme* and message, in the sense that good literature has themes and may tell us a message about those themes; and (2) takes the reader seriously as a co-author of the piece.

In such a case, a problem arises: who should have the last word about the message of the piece? If the player is constantly addressing the theme of the story by making thematically significant choices, but is denied the opportunity to decide the final message of the piece, she will feel disgruntled.** On the other hand, by giving the player the last word, there is the risk of suppressing the author's view, which may be undesirable as well.

There are two basic strategies to overcome this problem, which I will call the parallel and the tangential strategy. In the parallel strategy, both the author and the player state their point of view, without one dominating the other. "I believe this," the author says, "a…

[IF] Veiling and unveiling I

Introduction

To recap from my previous post: every piece if interactive fiction hasd a space of possibilities. The author can choose to make these possibilities explicit to the player (unveiling them) , or the author can try to hide them (veiling them), relying on hinting, context and inspiration of the player.

This post is going to be very exploratory and prelimenary; I'm going to think aloud, and I invite you to think along with me and comment. What are the techniques used for veiling and unveiling? When is veiling useful, when is unveiling useful? How do the two interact?

I just deleted a list of general pros and cons of veiling and unveiling. We really need to look at concrete situations if we wish to go any further than mere vagueness. (I also just found out that 'vagaries' does not mean 'vague things'.)

The out-in-the-open puzzle

An out-in-the-open puzzle is like a chess problem: the situation is clear, the rules are clear, but the very complexity of the situation…

[IF] Veiled and unveiled spaces of possibilities

Introduction: IF and CYOA

People who write interactive fiction in the narrow sense often look upon Choose Your Own Adventure-style writing as a lesser form of art. Interactive fiction, they may say, allows the player complete freedom, whereas CYOA only allows the player to choose from a number of predetermined paths. There is something wrong and something right about this statement, and it will be useful to explore it further.

Freedom

The first thing to notice is that interactive fiction allows the player only unlimited freedom in the very trivial sense of allowing her to type whatever she wishes. The vast majority of commands - even those commands which are written in perfect english and reasonable given the knowledge the player has of the fictional work - will be met with a completely unhelpful response. In any work of IF, it is in principle possible to list all the commands that actually do something: change the state of the world or impart information to the reader. It is therefore p…

[IF] Design and time management

A lesson about writing IF

I have started work on my second piece of Interactive Fiction, Fate, and development is going a lot faster then when I wrote The Baron. There are several reasons for this. First, I am using Inform 7, which is definitely easier and faster to use than Inform 6. Second, I am more experienced, and thus have to learn less about programming IF - although this benefit is partly negated by having to learn Inform 7. Third, I am writing in English only, and am thus sparing myself the struggles with the Dutch library as well as the final step of translation. But, although all these factors do play a role, I think the most important reason is something else, a hard-learned lesson of time management:

The time it is worth to spend implementing a feature is inversely proportional to the chance of a player stumbling upon it.

When you are writing a game, you will invariably think of strange things the player might try, and you may have brilliant ideas about what could happen whe…

Second Person

This may be interesting to the readers of the blog: a new MIT press book called Second Person. It contains articles about RPGs (Jonathan Tweet, Greg Costikyan, Kenneth Hite and Paul Czege are among the contributors), it contains articles about interactive fiction (about Shade, Planetfall and Savoir-Faire, among others), and it reprints three Hogshead Press "New Style" RPGs (Puppetland, Bestial Acts, Baron of Munchhausen).

It certainly is on my wishlist.

[Fantasy] Wisdom literature

I just read A Wizard of Earthsea, the 1971 tale by Ursula Le Guin. It has been marketed as children's literature, but it would be more accurate to say that it stands in a tradition that precedes the distinction between children's literature and adult literature.

A Wizard of Earthsea is also definitely not a novel, but a tale. Perhaps I can summarise the difference as follows: novels affirm the truth of the particular, tales affirm the truth of the general. If you take a novel and change all the details, you will have a different book; but if you change all the details of a tale, you will still have the same tale. Faery tales are a good example: you can rewrite Sleeping Beauty as a tale taking place in the 20th century, with chemical substances instead of spells and scientists instead of princes, and you'll end up with Sleeping Beauty. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine Crime and Punishment taking place anywhere else than a late-nineteenth century eastern-European…

Forays into Gamism

For years, I played only pen-&-paper games that fell either into the broad category of Narrativism, or into the special class of funny games, such as Great Ork Gods. (Yes, yes, all usual caveats about games not being G, N or S apply, but you know what I mean.)

But, lo and behold, I have recently made some forays into gamism, by playing all three editions of Dungeons and Dragons. The results were, shall we say, mixed.


Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition, red book, is a relatively easy system. I played a "play this without a GM" adventure together with Jasper Polane. I have forgotten the adventure's title, but it was an official TSR offering, and consisted of exploring an old, abandoned castle in a swamp.

The game was hilarious, but for all the wrong reasons. First, the system doesn't really seem to facilitate tactics at all. Character creation options are minimal, and there appeared to be an utter lack of interesting combat manoeuvres as well. Our elf could attack an…