Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Publications Etc.

Kay Bechtold of the University of Mary Washington has let me know that the literary journal produced by her department, Othergate, has just gone live. Kay interviewed me earlier this year for this issue, which focuses on fantasy and science fiction but has also made a place for experimental fiction. The interview talks about my creative process and my work on Blue Lacuna. What's very cool, though, is that three playable extracts from Blue Lacuna are presented as a companion piece, juxtaposed with related snippets of the game's source code. So you can play through the first conversation with Progue, while also looking at the way that conversation was coded in Inform 7. I think this style of presentation (combining authorial perspective or critical analysis with both a playable extract, not just a transcript, and contextualized excerpts from the source code) is really an excellent way to present an interactive fiction in a serious context, and I would love to see this style catch on in other online publications discussing IF. Kay and the rest of the Othergate team have done a fantastic job at implementing this, so definitely check out their work. (There are free speculative fiction stories, too!)

(To those of you wondering how I got excerpts from Blue Lacuna, with its gluttonous use of indexed texts, tables, lists, relations, and extensions, to play within Parchment: imagine you must flee the country and are given a small suitcase in which you must put everything precious to you, except that the suitcase is already half-filled with lead weights and you own at least twenty-five absolutely vital things the size of a sofa. Actually, a better analogy might be to imagine the trash compactor scene from Star Wars except without the bit where R2-D2 shuts down the power in time.)

Coincidentally, I also just received an issue of GEE: Love For Games, a German gaming magazine, which would be unusual since I don't speak German but apparently I was interviewed for that, too. (It was on the morning after I got back from PAX, and apparently not enough sleep had happened to restore my ability to form long-term memories.) I can't speak to the content or quality of the article, "Wortspiele," but a rough guess as to its outline can be made via this chronological list of proper nouns: Blue Lacuna, XYZZY-Awards, William Crowther, Adventure, Mammoth- und dem Flint-Ridge-Höhlensystem, ARPANET, Don Woods, Scott Adams, TRS-80, Infocom, Zork, Sierra On-Line, Ken Williams, Softporn-Adventure, Mystery House, King's Quest, Das Internet, Violet, Blue Chairs, Lost Pig, Grunk-Ork, Gourmet (einer Slapstick-Situationen), Blue Lacuna, Jason Scott. And the article has some of the neatest IF-related illustrations I've ever seen: they look a bit like woodcuts at first glance, but when you look closer, all the elements are made up of repeated words for that aspect of the scene (so the small white house is made up of the repeated word HAUS). It's very cool-- unfortunately neither the article or illustrations can be seen on the mag's website (excerpt here at the very bottom, resized so you can't really tell-- but see how the light rays spell out "licht?") but if you happen to live in Germany and want to pick up a copy, you'd have a couple of cool IF prints to display.

Lastly: the Othergate interview links to the page for my Inform 7 book, which I did not know existed yet until just now (the page, not the book). It's already ranked #778,539 on the site, pretty impressive for a book with several chapters still lurking like grues in dark and evil corners of Southern Incompletia. Pre-order, come up with tags, write one of those reviews that offers expert analysis of products not yet released-- it's the page you made!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

When I first heard about TWIFcomp, the competition for interactive fiction with source code of 140 characters or less, I thought it was impossible. Upon reflection, I realized it was merely ridiculous. Then I wrote three entries and so apparently did many many other people apparently in dire need of duct tape and ramen noodles.

What's great and perhaps unexpected is how much variety there is in the entries: it's not, as some predicted, just the same trick or joke over and over again. There are abridged versions of popular games, delightful hacks, clever winks, explorable environments, NPCs, and even, as in any comp, games that could have used more beta testing. Many of these have meaningful interaction, and many are recognizably stories. And who would have thought Inform 7 could be succinct?

What's also lovely, though, is that most of these entries require both playing the game and reading the code to get the true experience. I wonder if this isn't true of longer IF, too, and we're mostly just too busy to realize it. I've been thinking a lot lately about how the mechanisms by which an interactive text are generated could or should be exposed to the audience. Also, the advantages of writing shorter games. I think TWIFcomp captures a little of what we all should be doing more of: rapid prototypes, rapid feedback, sharing source code, and building on the best of what's come before.

Also, check out my entries: a simulation of life, a puzzle game with an unreliable narrator, and three jokes about chickens. That roll of duct tape is mine.