Wednesday, July 28, 2010

IF News & Dungeon Report

It's been a crazy couple of weeks in IF, and we're expecting several more months of crazy on the horizon.

  • Aaron Reed's book Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7 has gone to the printer. You can pre-order it through Amazon. This is an I7 tutorial which concentrates on -- well, as the title says, on creating interactive stories. It's not a programming reference manual, and it assumes no knowledge of programming. I haven't seen this yet but by all reports it is fantastic.

  • Jason Scott's movie GET LAMP has gone to the printer and come back. You can order on the web site. He says that they'll start shipping out next week.

  • The Gameshelf's own Jason McIntosh posted his own IF video... oh, wait. You already saw that.

  • We invited people to get together at MIT and play Zork (the original MIT mainframe version). A whole lot of people did! It was a bunch of fun and we will be continuing the IF-playing series.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Ultimate Alphabet: hidden objects kick your ass

Since the dawn of Ravenhearst, the hidden-object genre has been with us. A screen full of junk, and a list of named items to pick out... Was it Ravenhearst, actually? The web is telling me that I should be blaming Mystery Case Files: Huntsville in 2005. That's still pretty recent, mind you.

2005 was also the year Myst 5 appeared, to not very widespread interest. Now, hidden object games didn't exactly displace the graphical adventure game. Those had been receding into their niche for years already. The Mystery Case Files were aimed at the newly-buzzlabelled casual-gaming market, meaning people who hadn't spent their teen years sweating over maps and joysticks. But the two genres have commonalities. Detailed environmental visuals led to a degree of convergent evolution: hidden-object games developed narratives, characters, dialogue -- even physical, mechanical, and symbolic puzzles. Sliding blocks and jumping pegs made their occasional appearance.

But the hidden object world stayed casual -- meaning aimed at a broad market; meaning easy. Picking a microscope or watermelon out of the onscreen welter might be time-consuming, but it didn't require puzzle-thinking per se. Hints were freely available to point out that last annoying dog collar. And when adventure-style or logical puzzles turned up, they stayed at the shallow end of the brain pool.

I don't mean to say I despise these games. Occasionally, when I want to kill an evening or two, I'll put down a few dollars and find me some objects. Recently, I've been trawling Apple's App Store -- because really, if you're going to spend an evening tapping on objects on a screen, the iPad is just the thing for it.

So I found myself looking at Mike Wilks's The Ultimate Alphabet, saying "Well of course." (App Store link.)

Monday, July 5, 2010

IF and the Hitchhiker's Guide, but not the way you think

I have a new theory about IF. Okay, no. It's an analogy. It's not even much of an analogy, but let me change the subject. Pacing!

Let's talk. About pacing.

(Time passes.)

IF authors think about pacing all the time -- in a sense, everything an IF game is pacing. Why is there a puzzle at that point? Because you want the player to stop and engage with the story at that point. Why is some object in a closed (not even locked) chest? Because you want the player to slow down and take in the environment before proceeding. Why did you set up an implicit open action for that door? Because you don't want to slow down the player as he dashes through. Every decision about what to implement, what to split out, and what to bundle together, is a decision about how much attention you want the player to invest at that point.

This sort of pacing has its analog in the world of traditionally-written fiction. When writing a novel, you decide how many words to spend describing each plot event, each character and detail. That's familiar ground.

But then there's the broader sense of pacing: when is the character running for his life, and when is he catching up with his friends? When is she manipulating a hostile alien god, and when is she in the burn ward recovering from the consequences? In other words, how do you arrange different kinds of story action?