Monthly Archives: April 2011

Upcoming Boston IF events

We have two IF events coming up on Saturday, May 7. They overlap, so you've got an opportunity to exercise meaningful player choice...

(Links narfed from the PR-IF meeting notes.)

Story and Play: Interactive Fiction for Children

(2:30pm to 4pm -- Cambridge Public Library, Whale Room)

An IF collaborative play event, for kids, hosted by Brendan Desilets. This is part of the Cambridge Science Festival. We'll be playing Mrs. Pepper’s Nasty Secret, a romp for children of all ages.

Adventuresome Creations: Interactive Fiction Graphical Adventures & Electronic Literature

(3pm -- MIT room 6-120)

A colloquium, hosted by Nick Montfort. This is part of the Purple Blurb lecture series and the Boston Cyberarts Festival. Speaking:

And as long as I've got the microphone, I'll recommend flipping through the Boston Cyberarts Festival event list. All sorts of cool stuff is happening or being demonstrated in the next two weeks.

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Interactive fairy tales

This is a wide-open question, and historically around here the wide-open questions fall flat and deflate with a faint sad whistling sound. But I'll try it anyway.

What are the archetypes of interactive folk tales and fairy tales? I mean, what are the natural shapes of the things?

We have fairy-tale notions -- and maybe they date back no farther than Grimm and Lang, I'm no researcher, but we have them anyhow -- that if there are three brothers, then the first one gets the title and the second one gets the wealth and the third one gets to be poor and honest and goes off to be a protagonist. Three sisters (or nine, or twelve) are rarely even that lucky. You give a coin to a beggar so that he will turn out to be a wizard or the king of this-or-that; misery follows innocence and leads to triumph; and you always fail after succeeding twice, or succeed after failing twice.

(That last point should probably be tied to the observation that second marriages always work out miserably. I don't know where that one leads.)

But all of this pre-supposes a certain... certainty. Inevitability. These stories come to us in books, and there is a way the story goes. (Even if the movie then re-stitches the whole thing into a hat or a pterodactyl.)

What does a story look like when interactive tools appear, and the constraint of print and performance is removed?

Continue reading Interactive fairy tales.
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Spring Thing 2011 is underway

Given that it’s gone from zero to six submitted works compared to last year, allow me to name Spring Thing 2011 as another happy beneficiary from 2010’s all-over IF revival. Spring Thing, which has occurred off and on since 2002, is intended as a sort of antipode to the Comp, happening six months afterwards (or beforehand!) and welcoming longer works.

I’ve so far played only one of the games, Sean M. Shore’s Bonehead; between its title and its premise, it offered me the strongest hook of the bunch, so I don’t mind singling it out here. The game straps the player into the overwaxed cleats of Fred Merkle, a teenaged second-stringer for the 1908 New York Giants who’s about to commit the blunder that would earn him the eponymous nickname and cloud the rest of his life.

That’s an unusual theme for an IF work, but this short game meets the challenge, including a frame story that puts the second-person interactivity into satisfying context. The compelling narrative is enough to overcome some quibbles I had with a rather contrived opening puzzle, and the fact that the narrator digresses into baseball trivia a little too often (even given the setting). I also got a little lost in the many ways you can end the story prematurely, once the ballgame starts; I had to consult the (built-in) hints to plant poor Fred firmly on his predestined path, but I’m glad I did. The whole story’s well worth experiencing.

So, yes, do give Bonehead and the other five Spring Thing entries a look; voting is open to the public though May 15. (And for meatier reviews of the bunch, have a look at Emily Short’s blog.)

And now I am off to play Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis, which I understand to be exactly, erm, what it sounds like…

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Boston Cardboard Game Jam

Last weekend, I attended the first Boston Cardboard Game Jam. It was like one of Boston Game Jams' usual events, but this time for card and board games instead of videogames. The basic idea is that a bunch of people congregate and split up into teams of 3–4 people and make a game over a weekend. I've never been to any of the videogame ones, but according to Jeff Ward, this one was way better.

It was a really great experience for me, and I'm really glad I went. The key takeaway for me was that being forced to collaborate with a small group of people for many hours with a hard deadline really gets the creative juices flowing, even if it can be frustrating at times. One of my teammates does a great job of explaining the various iterations we went through. There were definitely times I felt like quitting, and I'm sure my teammates were similarly frustrated at times, but we kept at it and developed a pretty nice auction card game that plays in around an hour. And having other people there to playtest it was key, since we certainly wouldn't have gotten it to where it needed to be without some key insights from other smart people.

I thought it was some neat synchronicity when, this week, Craig Perko talked about how college should be about doing lots of projects with people who share your interests, and last weekend really felt like a mini version of that. I'm keen to try this again in the very near future, although I don't know if I'd be able to organize something like this before Boston Game Jams decides to do it again. I'm also keen to just make more games, even on my own. If you're keen to do that, too, then you could do worse than checking out Ian Schreiber's free blog-based course that he ran two summers ago (and that is still around) called Game Design Concepts (and you could also check out his book with Brenda Brathwaite, Challenges for Game Designers).

I had a simple game idea, too, which I actually solidified enough to pitch at the game jam. I didn't get anyone to work on it with me, but I've been thinking about it since then and definitely have a set of rules to try out with some people the next time I can find three other people and have my Sevendeck and Icehouse pieces handy.

And I'm serious about wanting to think about pulling together another cardboard game jam, even if it's only with a group of 8–10 people (I'm not sure what the critical mass is, since having people for playtetsing, as I mentioned, is pretty key). If something like this were to happen again, even if it didn't take place in a cool place like GAMBIT, are there any Boston-area Gameshelf readers who would be willing to give it a shot?
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An IF name generator, and its resulting "Scurvy"

Here’s an forum thread with folks sharing their favorite bits of output from this web-toy by Juhana Leinonen. The program mashes up the titles of IFComp entries since 1995, creating some surprisingly evocative results; the forum writers had some fun listing and grouping the best results, and speculating what the notional games they suggest might contain.

And at least one team of creators took it a step further than that. Spurred by a poster of this program’s output hanging up in last month’s IF enclave at PAX, Rob Dubbin, Darius Kazemi, and Courtney Stanton — all of whom are professional creators from outside the IF-enthusiast core — made A Scurvy of Wonders. They wrote this hallucinogenic game on the spot for that weekend’s SpeedIF contest, and I happen to know that Darius was so pleased with it that he set its URL as his IM status message for the next couple of weeks.

Even though Juhana’s toy and the goofy-fun Scurvy are less “serious” examples of what one can do with IF, they still serve to remind me how much work has been produced in the medium over the years, and how fertile it’s made the soil for all the work to come. May the community continue to find creative ways to till it!

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Where's Ichiro?

Either there’s some cross-promotional shenanigans afoot, or local indie superstar Ichiro Lambe of Dejobaan Games really is on the run from a certain beloved but homicidal mad-scientist AI.

Puzzle-solvers are invited to pore over his recent communications to work out his location, which may or may not have something to do with a highly anticipated puzzle-game sequel being released this month — and seems somehow related to fungal potato blight as well. You can share your research on the #whereichiro hashtag on Twitter.

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[Boston] PR-IF Meetup Tuesday, April 19

The next PR-IF meetup will take place on Tuesday, April 19, starting at 6:30 at the Trope Tank, 14N-233 at MIT. Some potential topics include:
  • Spring Thing entries have been released. We'll probably at least mention this.
  • PAX East postmortem.
  • Cambridge Science Festival.
  • Possible talk/demo of common-sense AI stuff.
Afterwards, usually around 8:00 or so, we'll head over to the Cambridge Brewing Company for food and/or drinks. Newcomers welcome, even if you don't know anything about interactive fiction. We also have a mailing list you can join to hear about events and whatnot.
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The question "Are games art?" is thoroughly boring, because the answer is obvious. It's obvious to me; it's obvious to you. I don't know if our obvious answers are the same, but whatever -- either way there's nothing to discuss.

This doesn't mean I'm tired of discussing why videogames are or aren't art. A couple of days ago Tablesaw posted a quick manifesto-ation, which I thought was terrific:

The player of a game is not the audience of a game, just as an actor is not the audience of a playscript, and a musician is not the audience of a score.

Games lack an audience not in the traditionally understood manner (nobody is desires to or is able to observe the art), but in a profound and fundamental way, in that they cannot be understood except through entering collaboration.

(--from Shorter Games and Art, April 5)

Of course it's easy to pick at rough edges here (this is the Internet!) -- a game of Rock Band can have an audience. Adventure games (text and graphical) play very well in groups, with one player "driving" and the rest involved at a lower level, if at all. But these cases only make the question more interesting.

Continue reading Inevitably I am drawn into the games-and-art thing.
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More Inform yapping at BarCamp, perhaps

Andy and I plan on attending the sixth annual BarCamp Boston this weekend, April 9 and 10. BarCamp is a geek-centric “unconference” whose schedule of talks is constructed on the fly by attendees. In my experience, each hour-long slot tends to end up with someone talking about jQuery, someone talking about Ruby on Rails, and then someone talking about volcanoes, or food science, or something else they’re passionate about and which doesn’t resemble my day job in any way. So I go to these third talks, one after the other, and have a grand time.

This year, at friends’ encouragement, I plan on myself pitching a talk that I hope falls into that third category. Unsurprisingly, this’ll be my introduction-to-Inform talk, yet again. In the likely event I manage to make it happen, that’ll be three times in the last eight months I’ll have presented it, just weeks after I busted it out for the PAX crowd (with Zarf’s assistance, which he may reprise once again here). It’s starting to develop into what Merlin Mann calls a Shake-and-Bake talk, one that a practiced speaker can perform with increasingly minimal preparation. I can’t say I really expected to ever develop such a thing, and I wouldn’t have predicted Inform 7 to be my topic if I did. But, so it goes.

If you’re in my town this weekend and this sounds like your idea of a good time, feel free to register online — Boston BarCamp is free to attend (though they’d appreciate a $20 donation, which’ll also net you a natty T-shirt).

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Myst Online source release

More than two years ago, Cyan announced that they would be releasing the server and client source code for Myst Online: Uru Live.

It hasn't happened quickly. Any release takes time and effort, I know very well, and Cyan has been focussing on the projects it needed to survive.

But today the announcement came through:

Today we are announcing that the sources for the MOULA client engine and development tools ( Engine) will be made available as open source. At the same time, MOSS which is a MOULA server replacement (written by a'moaca' and cjkelly) will also be released. Both open source projects will be hosted on

The goal of the open source Engine and the MOSS server is to provide a "playground" where new writers can learn their craft, and new maintainers can inspect it, and new cartographers can map it. The Cyan Worlds MOULA servers will continue to provide a (relatively) safe environment for the D'ni faithful to mingle and share.

(-- from a letter from Rand Miller, posted April 6 on the Myst web forums)

As you see, this is a joint effort: Cyan's client code, Cyan's modelling tools (3DSMax plugins), and a compatible server implemented (from scratch) by members of the fan community. All are available now, although you currently have to register for the download. I expect mirror repositories will pop up by tomorrow. (The server is GPL3; I haven't seen a citation on Cyan's license yet.)

If you can't tell by my hasty typing, I'm utterly jazzed about this. I wish I could spend a month or six learning the modelling I'd need to start firing up my own pieces of the Myst multiverse. But I have my own projects spread out before me, as you know.

Nonetheless, I am about to jump into the game -- which I now have to specify as Cyan's game, which will remain as the core of the Ages of Myst. I'll be in the pub, toasting with the gang.

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Announcing: Inform Extensions Search

I am pleased to announce the Inform Extensions Search site, the product of this past Saturday’s procrastinatory toils. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a simple search engine for Inform 7 language extensions.

I created this tool because I miss not having something like the CPAN Search for Inform extensions, even though “only” 230-ish such extensions currently exist in public. In fact, you can see them all (or all the ones released under a Creative Commons license, at least) on a single page at

Up until now, the best way I knew to look for extensions involved visiting that page and using your browser’s Find command. You can also browse by category, but even then you’re limited to extensions’ titles and summaries, and I found myself wanting to search at a deeper level without manually clicking though everything.

My tool offers a solution via searching extensions’ documentation, as well as their more obvious metadata. In this way, for example, a search for guns brings up David Ratliff’s extension to handle weapons and fighting, and searching for water produces several extensions that variously produce and handle liquids, though none have the word “water” in their descriptions.

So that’s that. I hope that someone finds it useful, and welcome feedback and suggestions.

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