Monthly Archives: December 2010
I tossed this out on Twitter last week: "I am now imagining a text-conversation game in which you don't choose what to say -- but you have a sarcasm dial that you can turn up and down."
That thought was inspired by a card game that I found on the Web, but am now unable to re-locate. (Comment if you know it.) (EDIT-ADD: Relationship by Zach Weiner, thank you Baf.) It was a card game with a satire-romance theme. Each card had a numeric value, and some cliched romantic sentiment ("8: you complete me", etc). Then there was a "Sarcasm" card you could play, which negated the value of the card (8 to -8).
This amused me, naturally, but then the idea got mixed in with game conversation engines. We've seen games where your choices are limited to "friendly" and "hostile", or "positive" and "negative", or some such. But of course the game then spits out a complete response on your behalf. You don't have any control of what positive or negative thing you say.
Sarcasm is a nifty compromise. Imagine the conversation is running along in real time, but you can see your upcoming line displayed as a subtitle. You can slide your controller anywhere from "sincere" to "brutal sneering sarcasm". As your lines come out, the words are predetermined, but the tone shifts.
(Tweetfriends immediately commented "That's just like screenwriting!" and "That's just like business meetings!" Message received: it's just like life.)
Aaron Reed's recent book Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7 opens with this quote:
All around him, the Machines' fleet and orbital stations are blasting away at his tree ships, burning the mighty trunks like firewood.
(-- from The Duel That Spanned the Ages by Oliver Ullmann)
Aaron goes on to describe the development work that this scene would require in a triple-A, commercial, graphical game. Concept artists, modellers, texture artists, animators, sound designers, probably a musician, and programmers to pull it all together. You know the drill.
"As IF, all the author had to do was write those twenty-two words," Aaron notes.
I am pleased to announce the release of my new game, The Warbler’s Nest. It’s a very short work of interactive fiction, a mood piece more than a puzzle-filled adventure. An experienced IF player might take 15 minutes to traverse it once, and around half an hour to explore more thoroughly. Less experienced players may wish to budget a little more time, and keep a friendly quick-reference card handy.
The game is sufficiently brief that I really can’t say anything else about it here, except to mention that you can play it in your browser, thanks to the happy modern-IF technologies I celebrated in my recent video. (And to remind you that works of pure text like this are about as safe-for-work as a videogame can possibly get, ahem.) Naturally, you can also download a copy to play on an interpreter, if that’s your thing, and a visit to the game’s homepage will satisfy any further curiosity you may have about the work.
With that done, I’d like to share some thoughts about the Interactive Fiction Competition. A less polished version of Warbler eked out a tie for ninth place (of 26 entrants) in the 16th annual IFComp, which wrapped up last month. This was a very strong year, so I’m pleased that the game even made it that high; I played and quite enjoyed most of the other contestant works. First prize went to Aotearoa, Matt Wigdahl’s masterfully constructed take on the “modern kid visits an island full of totally awesome dinosaurs” style of young-adult adventure story.
The annual community-wide metagame of creative and intelligent reviews of IFComp entrants seemed stronger than ever this year, as well. Among my favorite review collections of 2010 are those of Christopher Huang, Sarah Morayati, Brooks Reeves, and Emily Short.
And yet: even though I look forward to writing and releasing my own next work of interactive fiction, I do not plan on doing so as part of the IFComp.
(Note: Cuba is metaphorical. I am not going to Cuba. Brush up on your famous movie quotes.)
There we have it; just over $31,000 dollars. (I won't say exactly how much over, but I know who you are.)
Thank you all. To those of you who thanked me, you're welcome. To the rest of you, happy holidays, and if you don't celebrate any near-term holidays -- go invent one. We'll wait. We're not proud. ("Or tired.")
In one sense, the hard part is now over. I can put aside my fundraiser's hat, which (trust me) doesn't fit my head at all. I can go back to designing games and writing code. That's all I've ever wanted, mostly.
In another sense, the easy part is now over. I'm no longer watching money roll in with the tide; now I have to row out and earn it. I owe you people thirty-one thousand dollars' worth of game. Time to get crunching.
And now, some questions from the audience!
[Sorry for the short-notice announcement here. If you’d like to keep up with what’s going on with PR-IF in a more timely manner, you can join the mailing list.]
We’re having our monthly meetup today, December 6, at 6:30 at the Trope Tank, 14N-233 at MIT. We’ll chat about various IF-related topics, likely to include at least the following:
- Zarf’s Kickstarter, which ends today.
- IF Comp results.
- The Cambridge Science Festival.
- A potential revamp of our website.
All right; I’ve let Andy drive the blog around long enough. While my last post about my rediscovered obsession with text games remains entirely true, what I did not mention — largely due to competition rules — was my own IFComp entry, and how much time and energy that little excursion took up. But I have finally published its post-competition release, and thus can take the Gameshelf wheel back for a while.
In the near future I’ll post something more akin to a proper release announcement, followed by some number of post-mortem essays. (If there’s one thing that inspires lots of handwringey thoughts on IF game design and conventions, it’s writing one of the damned things. In 2010.) But before I get to those, I’d like to keep the spotlight on Zarf’s crazy project for just a little longer.
As I write this, the Hadean Lands Kickstarter drive has less than a day left on its clock. If you’re reading this post on Monday, Dec. 6 (Eastern time), then you still have a chance to pledge your support, if you haven’t already.
Our goal is to push the pot over $30,000 before the buzzer sounds. That’s only $1,100 away, as I hit this post’s “Publish” button. (Seen another way, that’s a just a few dozen more purchases of the Hadean Lands limited-edition CD, which, allow me to remind you one last time, is the only way you’ll be able to play the game outside of an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch while it launches in the App Store.)
It’s true that Andy met his modest goal of $8,000 the very day the page went up, tripling that total well before today. But that doesn’t mean that this project couldn’t use every pledge-dollar offered to it! As described in the video on the project page, he isn’t just going to publish a single game, but also release for the world’s free use the various tools and frameworks he’ll need to create and improve along the way. In other words, your pledge doesn’t just help Zarf buy lunch; it’s an investment in the future of quality interactive fiction, by everyone who cares to write it — and, world willing, sell it.
But just as important as the game and the technical work is the trail he’s blazing as an independent game creator in general. When sites like Rock Paper Shotgun picked up the story, I was happy not just because here was IF shouting another ping onto the larger game radar, but also because the unexpected success at this one crazy guy’s completely independent bid for support has definitely gotten many non-mainstream game creators’ gears turning. I myself have witnessed someone on an indie game-developer mailing list name-check Zarf while announcing his own launch of a game studio, even though it has little to do with IF per se.
Tomorrow, Andy will start leading the IF community towards — we hope — a new flourishing of commercially viable interactive fiction. But besides and beyond that, we’re starting to see the effects of something wonderfully wider, and we have one more day to make it wider yet. Let’s make it happen, not just for text adventure games, but as a show of support for passion-fueled, creator-driven, future-changing videogames of all kinds. You know what to do.