Monday, April 24, 2006

Spring Thing results

The number of voters was particularly low this year, but those that did vote made The Baron the winner of this year's Spring Thing!

I'm hoping that some reviews will pop up on the newsgroup later today.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Three kinds of detrimental closedness in the IF community

Reading up on the struggle for a free information society, notably in Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture and Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks, I was inspired* to think about the similarities and dissimilarities between the Open Source Software community and the Interactive Fiction community. Both consist of individuals creating software for each other to enjoy for free; but the OSS community seems to be more 'open' in at least three different ways. I believe that it would be immensely beneficial for the IF community if it were to get rid of the following three kinds of closedness:

  1. Most Interactive Fiction is published under closed source licenses, or under no explicit license at all. Even when the source is available, this is never (or next to never) used by people to improve the works of others. Quite in general, the ethos seems to be that only the original authors of a work should change it, and that it is off-limits for others to do so. But a large part of the success of the OSS movement is based on the fact that people continually wish to improve each other's programs; it is unwise for the IF-community not to adopt this idea. Think of the quality that pieces could have if, instead of a work being released in a 'final version' by the author when he is finished with it, enthousiastic people were to continue improving it far beyond its original merits. It is only an out-dated concept of authorship that keeps us from adopting this policy.
  2. For some bizarre reason, it seems to be 'not done' to discuss pieces you are working on in any detail in public. Technical questions can be asked, yes; but how is it that the newsgroups contains no substantive discussion by authors of the pieces they are working on? What keeps authors from, say, publishing their initial 'story board' and asking for comments? What keeps them from asking for advice on how to best incorporate the theme of conflicting loyalties in their new superheroes game? I can answer those questions - it is a practice of being very closed because of the possibility of 'spoiling' the piece for your future audience, a substantial part of which hangs out on the newsgroup. But this practice is detrimental to the quality of works, most of which would benefit from continuous discussion with peers throughout the process of creation. We need to lose our fear of spoiling; hopefully this will become more easy as the number works not based on puzzles increases. (After all, good static fiction cannot be spoiled. "In Crime and Punishment the protagonist first kills an old woman with an axe then later repents his crime and gives himself up to the police!" Does that spoil the book? Of course not.)
  3. Witnessing the success of such community efforts as Wikipedia, one wonders why there are no similar IF projects. What is wrong with everybody being able to contribute to a piece? Obviously, software is more critically dependent on coordination than an encyclopedia; but most OSS projects cope with this by installing an organisational structure that is quite a bit more relaxed than the 'absolutist' paradigm of a single author controlling everything in order to ensure consistency. We need to experiment with projects the development of which is far more open to active participation that the projects we are undertaking now - almost all of which follow the "there is one author who does everything"-paradigm.
As for RPGs: 1 is not quite as relevant as it is for IF, because (a) there is a practice of making adaptions, and (b) using parts of someone else's work is much more straightforward than in software, because the important parts are ideas rather than code; 2 seems to have been effectively solved by an active culture of discussing your designs with fellow designers; and 3 has not been solved and does seem somewhat urgent.

* I was also inspired to become a member of the Free Software Society and the (Europe-based) Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure. I had been planning to join them for quite some time, but finally came around to it today. (What are you doing to protect essential liberties?)

Monday, April 17, 2006

First reviews of The Baron

I am not allowed to discuss the piece for the duration of the competition, but I suppose I am allowed to link to the first - as far as I know of - publicly available review of The Baron: link.

Ooh, and here is another one.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Spectacle - a short comment

Well, look what I came across in Guy Debord's 1967 book The Society of the Spectacle:
The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images.
The statement seems tailor-made for RPGs. And I have to admit, I like this notion of 'the spectacle'; it is a great word, which carries a lot of significance.