May 30th 2017
Attempted: Building a general-purpose QBN system
The term quality-based narrative (QBN) refers to a way of building interactive fiction most familiar from Failbetter Games' Fallen London, as well as other games built on their now-defunct StoryNexus platform. Voyageur is also built on this model. Earlier this year, I worked on trying to build a general-purpose QBN tool, working off of the Voyageur codebase, but I didn't get very far; this is basically a list of issues I encountered, as a sort of caution to people thinking of implementing those kinds of systems.
May 6th 2017
Towards a Theory of Parserless Parser Interfaces
With the release of Vorple for Glulx, now is a great time to think about what I'm calling parseless parser games: Text games that use the world model and mechanical tradition of parser games, but don't actually have a parser interface. The most prominent recent example would be Robin Johnson's Detectiveland.
This is sort of a theoretical exploration of how to build interfaces to interact with the traditional parser world model (rooms, point of view character, and of course "medium-sized dry goods" as interactive objects). Most of this involves looking at the history of graphical adventure games, which diverged pretty directly from parser interfaces and into point-and-click ones. I'm trying to produce a taxonomy of how those interfaces operate and what their pros and cons are, for people who are looking at building on Vorple to produce extensions or games that use this sort of interaction.
May 5th 2017
Astonishingly Rapid Game Prototyping with Inform 7
Emily Short recently wrote a post about what reasons there are for writing a parser game in AD 2017. In the comments, I added:
For me there’s another reason to make parser games, and specifically for using Inform 7: It’s a fantastic platform for experimental games. if I just have an idea that I want to explore or play around with, as long as it’s narrative and turn-based, I’m very likely to reach for I7 as a tool.
Using I7 cuts away 90% of the boilerplate labor associated with game development: You don’t have to think about or make UI (it’s text input), UX (it’s bad), assets (there are none). You write almost no boilerplate code; everything you write is doing work in defining mechanics, narrative, or environment. I really think more game designers should learn I7 because of its value in that role; even if the thing you make using it isn’t the final form of what you’re making. The 0 to 60 on it is just incredible compared to any other engine or game development tool.
Inform 7, if you're unfamiliar, is a system for writing parser interactive fiction that uses a purpose-built domain-specific language that somewhat resembles natural English. It's probably my favourite game development environment to work on, for a lot of reasons.
April 30th 2017
A Don't Mind My Apocalypse Head Postmortem; or: Designing a Parser Game Around Specific Interaction, Multiple Endings, and Protagonist Interiority
March's patreon project, Don't Mind my Apocalypse Head, was a short parser game written around a fairly disturbing dream I had. If you haven't played it, it's fairly short and I suggest you check it out before reading on.
April 3rd 2017
New Release: Don't Mind My Apocalypse Head
March’s Patreon project is out now for everybody on https://bonsequitur.itch.io/dont-mind-my-apocalypse-head. It’s a horror story about awkward social situations, extra appendages, and the recurring end of the world.
Thanks to all my Patreon supporters! If you want to help me keep doing this (and get early access to projects along with source code), the Patreon page is this way.
February 18th 2017
Help me write more IF!
In 2017, with the release of Voyageur, I want to get back to splitting my time between different projects. And, in particular, I want to do more noncommercial work: more short free IF, more reviews and criticism of noncommercial IF, more games writing that doesn’t find a home in commercial outlets, and more altgame experiments like Storytelling Skeletons.
I also want to be able to dedicate time to improving and maintaining the various open-source projects I’ve released over the last two years. All of these are things that I’m happy to release for free, but which do take up time and energy like anything else. So I’m experimentally launching a patreon; with only a few supporters, I’d be able to put more time and resources towards making those kinds of experiments, and that would mean being able to make more of them.
Pledges or helping spread the word are deeply appreciated.
February 10th 2017
Voyageur is out now!
January 11th 2017
New Release: Storytelling Skeletons
A little side-project for the Pico-8. Wander an endless graveyards, find dark warnings about daunting perils, and never encounter any of them.
December 31st 2016
New release: Not All Things Make It Across
A follow-up to last year’s The World Turned Upside Down, Not All Things Make It Across commemorates the end of 2016 with another short vignette set in the Mere Anarchy universe. Taking advantage of the threshold of the new year, choose what debris of the past you want to destroy… or keep.
I hope you all enjoy it. Happy new year, and thanks.
December 30th 2016
2016 End-of-year Roundup
By the time this post goes up, I will have already posted my top ten games of the year list on Giant Bomb. It’s not all IF — there’s a mix of AAA, indie, and altgame in there — but I did include Brendan Hennessy’s Known Unknowns and Astrid Dalmady’s Cactus Blue Motel in there. I also used my Giant Bomb column this year to put a spotlight on IFComp. There are a couple others I want to highlight though.
I didn’t get to this in time to write about it during the competition, but I enjoyed it a when I did play it. It’s a very deft and worthwhile piece.
Criminally underrated, Take is a perfectly-sized allegory; it doesn’t overstay the welcome of its high concept and crams in relevant detail and semantic value into everything. Given the story’s themes, I don’t necessarily feel super qualified to comment on it in depth, but Emily had a very good writeup.
Overall, 2016 in IF was a year with less high highs than 2015 but more spread-out quality. I think this IFComp was harder to predict than last years’, for example.
Things I made
I have spent most of 2016 buried neck-deep in Voyageur (coming sometime in early 2017!), so there was no chance I could match the prolix release pace I had last year.
Still, I couldn’t stay away completely. On Halloween, I released Four Sittings in a Sinking House, a horror story in the Mere Anarchy universe.
I also released a couple of IF tools. Improv is a tool for text generation similar to Kate Compton’s Tracery, built on ideas that Emily Short developed for The Annals of the Parrigues. It incorporates a world model that can be filtered and inspected in programmable ways to select context-appropriate snippets of text to fill a grammar.
Later in the year, in the heels of Four Sinkings, I released Gall and Blotter, a couple of experimental tools that set up a more turnkey process for building Ink stories using the Inkjs web interpreter. I don’t consider them quite production-ready, but they’re there for tinkering with.
And tomorrow I’m on track to release Not All Things Make It Across, my end-of-year game for 2016.
The &if Euphoria channel is still going strong, with heavy activity particularly around the time of the IFComp.
More recently, I’vee been working on promoting more the IF community on Imzy. Imzy is a link-sharing and discussion network designed to support kinder and more meaningful communities than exist on sites like reddit. It’s perfect for sharing links to your work, blog posts, or things you want to highlight, and I’m hoping to grow this community in 2017.
If you were one of the many people keeping IF thriving in 2016 — whether as an author, maintaining community resources, or just being a positive presence — thank you.
As always, I can be reached through Twitter.