Category Archives: Boston
As in years past, the People's Republic of Interactive Fiction is organizing a summer gathering of the IF folks of the world. If you are interested in hanging out and talking about IF, you are invited!
The weekend: September 14-15. The locale: Boston (the MIT area).
These are both great events, and I'd happily recommend coming into town to visit either one. Both on the same weekend... is logistically complicated, I confess. But it will only make the weekend more awesome!
Barring further cataclysmic weather phenomena, my snow-postponed Warbler’s Nest presentation shall now happen at 5:30 PM on April 22, 2013, in MIT’s room 14E-310. As before, and like all events in the Purple Blurb series, it shall be free and open to the public. Please come join us as we traverse the game together on the big screen, with a discussion period to follow.
A word on context: Purple Blurb is a series of smart and diverse digital writing presentations originally organized by long-time Boston-area IF supporter Nick Montfort, and I encourage Boston-area readers to check out the other events on the Blurb’s schedule this spring. All cost nothing to attend and are full of further electronic-text-mashup goodness, a rich field of which interactive fiction is merely one facet.
Due to the weather that buried Boston over the weekend, we’re postponing my presentation about The Warbler’s Nest at MIT, originally scheduled for Monday. I’ll post again when I know the new date.
Sorry about that. Stay warm, y’all!
I am delighted to announce that my interactive fiction work The Warbler’s Nest will lead the Spring 2013 Purple Blurb events at MIT. Purple Blurb is Nick Montfort’s long-running series of guest lectures and presentations from a wide variety of digital-writing creators. Past talks have included play and discussion of IF I greatly admire, and I’m honored to have Warbler follow them.
We’re currently working out exactly how the presentation will work, but it will definitely involve a spectator-friendly playthrough and reading of the game, followed by a discussion period.
The presentation will happen on Feb. 11 at 5:30pm in MIT’s room 14E-310. Like all Purple Blurb events, it will be free and open to the public. If you’re around Boston in February, please visit!
I was at the Boston Festival of Independent Games and it was pretty darn awesome.
(Photo credit to BostonIndies.)
I had Shade and Meanwhile sitting out on iPads, and people played both of them! It wasn't literally eight straight hours of IF demoing -- there were gaps -- but it's not like people ignored the IF in favor of the interactive comic, either. Several people played a significant fraction of Shade. One dedicated player ran through the whole thing. (With some nudges from me. The ending requires a certain degree of relaxed experimentation and persistence, which isn't easy to maintain in a crowded demo room.)
(Yes, I wrote down a bunch of synonyms and action phrasings that I forgot to implement back in 2000. I will add them to the game when the iOS version comes out. User testing!)
Naturally I had a stack of IF cards to hand out to Shade players. I also got to show off the XYZZY Award I won for it, way back. And the puzzle-key I designed for the MakerBot promo game. (In the photo, the puzzle-key is sitting on top of the XYZZY. Sorry, I would have arranged that better if I'd known. Also I'd have been looking at the camera.)
Meanwhile was also popular, of course. It demos very well -- hand it to someone, and they'll get the idea instantly.
(I also had Pocket Storm running on an iPod. You can see the headphones in the photo, but nobody picked them up. Oh well. The good news is, I now know that an iPod can run PS for eight hours without recharging, even with the screen set to stay lit.)
I am happy to announce that I will be showing off Shade for iOS at the Boston Festival of Independent Games, at MIT next weekend. I will also have Meanwhile, Pocket Storm, Fealty, and the rest of my iOS portfolio ready to demo.
(BostonFIG: Saturday, September 22, 10 am to 10 pm, MIT buildings 34 and 26. Free and open to the public.)
What, you ask? Shade for iOS? It's still in development -- don't go running off to the App Store to find it. As with Dreamhold, I'm planning to leave the game file unchanged from its circa-2000 release, but I will add in-game feelies of some sort. Only not a map. A map of Shade wouldn't be very interesting.
A tiny update to an earlier post: the BostonFIG submission deadline’s been extended by another 10 days, to Monday, August 20. That gives another week and a half to New England-based game creators, working in any medium, to submit their work for inclusion in this year’s festival.
A prize-list for the videogame showcase, comprising various hardware and software goodies, is starting to appear as well. Full details at the BostonFIG website.
Update: The submission deadline’s been extended to August 20.
BostonFIG will be a public series of events centering around locally produced games, be they digital, tabletop, or otherwise. Admission is free, though the event’s website does request that you register before showing up.
New England-based game makers have through August 10 — that’s this coming Friday — to submit their own works for inclusion in the festival. Each game submitted will be examined by at least one of the festival’s curators (the list of whom includes Y.T.), who will provide studied feedback to its developer. Submissions that meet BostonFIG’s display criteria become eligible for inclusion into the festival’s showcase.
The game submission fee for the videogame showcase is $15 ($10 for students), and is waived entirely for tabletop and street-game submissions. We’re especially interested in receiving student work, in fact, as well as card games and board games produced around these parts.
BostonFIG’s own copy about the festival submissions process, including relevant URLs and more specific instructions, follows. Hope to see your games!
The very first No Show Conference is happening this coming weekend on the MIT campus. Organzied by local videogame producer Courtney Stanton, it’s angled at game-making professionals working in any medium. As I write this, there’s only a couple of dozen tickets left, so if you’ve access to Boston and this is your sort of thing, you may wish to get on that.
While it’s not on its official schedule, No Show shall play host to this year’s Interactive Fiction Summit, late of PAX East. The People’s Republic decided to give PAX a pass this year, in favor of a smaller and more developer-focused conference, and lo, one has appeared. As suggested by the fact that I write this post just a few days before the event, the Summit doesn’t quite have the definition it enjoyed during the PAX years; really, it’s just a call for IF authors and fans to come on by and find one another.
That said, No Show does itself take a IF-philic stance — the structure of the conference’s demo hall is inspired by the IF Demo Fair that Emily Short organized during last year’s PAX East. Furthermore, No Show speakers include IF authors Clara Fernández-Vara, Dierdra Kiai, and Jim Munroe, presenting on a variety of topics around games and culture. (I suspect that Dierdra’s alt-universe satirical examination of “Men in Games” will end up an especially popular talk.)
As a special treat, Jim Munroe will screen his new film Ghosts with Shit Jobs on Saturday evening, bracketing it with a panel discussion featuring our own Andrew Plotkin and local webcomic superstar Randal Munroe. That screening is part of MIT’s summer film series, not No Show, so it’s free and open to the public.
So, yes, that’s where I’ll be all weekend.
My photos aren't terrifically clear, but you can see the two spaceships maneuvering around a central sun (and its gravity well). They shoot at each other, and that's a videogame. The starry background, famously, is based on actual star charts.
The original source code to Spacewar has long been available (here, for example) but it is minimally-commented PDP-1 assembly code and not very accessible. The GAMBIT folks have worked for several months to reverse-engineer the code and figure out what's going on. See their blog posts on the project.
GAMBIT has promised (nudge, nudge) to post their marked-up copy of the original assembly, to document what they've discovered. I'll add a link when that happens.
If you missed Spacewar today, you should drop by the MIT Museum this Friday evening (5:30 pm); the game will be demoed again.
More photos below the dotted line.
As I have done every year since 2004, I spent the second weekend in January playing (or solving, to use the field-specific lingo) in the MIT Mystery Hunt. I always feel quite privileged to play; each hunt iteration represents a one-time-only interactive artwork that a team of passionate amateurs spends the better part of a year planning and constructing, culminating in a single weekend where a thousand puzzle-hungry solvers trample through it.
Like an informational World’s Fair, it leaves its husk behind for the late-but-curious to tour: you may browse all this year’s puzzles online, and note that they seem to be arranged around a theme of ill-advised Broadway mashups. Without the context of the hunt alive around them, though, the puzzles lose a certain amount of motive force. When presented all at once like this, they lack the light but necessary hunt-specific narrative that organizes paths for the solver to follow. (This year, it featured a storyline based on the further adventures of the swindling showmen from The Producers.)
I would also argue that, even though each puzzle now links to its own solution page, these puzzles must still seem impossibly obscure to curious layfolk who stumble upon them. So in this article, rather than examine the hunt’s overall form where carefully paced groups of puzzle-sets slowly reveal the twisty superstructures of meta-puzzles, I’d like to highlight a few of the several dozen individual challenges which defined the weekend for the hunt’s players.
Let’s start with the puzzle titled Slash Fiction, designed by (and starring) Seth Schoen and Vera Yin. It makes a nice blog-post headliner because it happens to take the form of a six-minute video, one as fun to watch as to solve.
Have you watched it? All right, then: your challenge, as with every hunt puzzle, is to somehow definitively produce an English word or phrase based on this input.
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.)
(2:30pm to 4pm -- Cambridge Public Library, Whale Room)
(3pm -- MIT room 6-120)
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.
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?
- 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.
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).
I wrote a whole lot about last year's PAX IF events, because that was my first PAX and everything was exciting and new. Now it's my third (two in Boston, one in Seattle) and... everything is ho-hum and tired? No. It was an exciting weekend. But I may gush less about it this year.
Zarf’s already posted the schedule of IF-related events at PAX East 2011 (this coming weekend!), but as an egomaniac I just wanted to highlight the one event I’m directly involved with: Zarf and I are going to reprise the lightning-talk introduction to Inform that we first presented at GameLoop last summer. We’re going to build a very small game that shows off some of Inform’s major features, especially its natural-language syntax.
I love presenting Inform like this, because the language essentially sells itself. To my knowledge there is simply no other practical-use programming language on the planet, in any domain, whose source code reads like Inform’s. If you’ve never seen the language before, I could stand up there and implement the phone book at you, and it’d knock your socks off. So banging out a whole game in 45 minutes, with NPCs and puzzles and all that good stuff, should really bowl you over…
The talk will happen at 7 PM on Saturday, March 12, in the Alcott room in the Westin Waterfront hotel. Like the rest of the events happening there and in the suite, the talk is free and open to the public — you don’t need a PAX badge to come join us. Hope to see you there!
The People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, the Boston-based IF collective of which I’m a member, has relaunched its website, thanks to the efforts of fellow members Michael Hilborn and Andrew Plotkin. It’s now a proper blog, with an actual RSS feed you can follow to stay in the know about IF events in the ol’ Bay State.
I checked its own list of recommended games while writing the previous post, and was really struck by the beautiful new design. I especially like the graphical elements referencing Dave Lebling’s The Lurking Horror, a classic title set on (a thinly veiled version of) the very campus our monthly meetings occur in. (And of which we hosted a group playthrough, last Halloween!)
Please note that the group’s moniker is a reference to a local pet name for Cambridge. It has no relationship to our friends in the Russian IF community, though they’re quite welcome to occasionally borrow our members’ likenesses for their own use, as seen in this poster by Anton Zhuchov in support of the Russian Inform project.
Everything IF-related going on at PAX East 2011!
Some of these are official PAX events, on the PAX schedule. Some will be hosted in our capacious Interactive Fiction Event Room, which will be the Alcott room in the Westin Waterfront hotel. (Right next to the PAX convention center.) And yet more will be in the People's Republic of Interactive Fiction Hospitality Suite (the Westin, upstairs, room number 846).
The IF Event Room and the IF Hospitality Suite are open to the public; you will not need a PAX badge to attend our events. So if you're in Boston at all, feel free to drop by.
The Hospitality Suite will be open noon-midnight Friday, noon-midnight Saturday, and noon-3pm Sunday. We'll have books, conversation, IF to play, and snacks to snack through the whole PAX weekend.
The IF Event Room (Alcott room in the Westin) will be open noon-midnight Saturday only. We'll be running IF events all day; see the "Saturday" events listed below. You'll also be able to marvel at the Automatypewriter.
Jane McGonigal is on a book tour for her new book, Reality is Broken. She spoke at the Harvard Bookstore on Feb 1. I took very scanty and context-free notes, but fortunately, the talk was basically "teaser bits from my book"! (As most book tour talks are.) So here are the notes, context-free, and if you think the subject sounds cool, buy the book.
First, the egoboo: Jane started by offering a real-world-achievement-quest award to anybody who could point out "the inventor of my favorite game", sitting anonymously in the audience. Which was me! (She says this, even though I don't consider myself the inventor of Werewolf, but hey. It made me happy. And it caused some people to talk to me afterward about Mafia/Werewolf, which was cool too.)
So, the thesis in this book is that gaming is a powerful activity; it makes us better; and it can be applied to make real life better. This is not just about MMO-ARG games curing poverty in Africa (a stereotype of "serious games"). It covers everything from, okay, that, down to feeling more motivated about your job or your exercise program.