Fiction is a Three-Edged Sword

Fiction, interactive fiction and narrative


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A game is for life, not just for Christmas…

Merry Christmas, and if you’ve just unwrapped a new game, here’s a sobering puppy-for-life type statistic which is urban legend in the games industry, and might even be true: the majority of console games are played once.

So what? you might think. Most books are read once, most DVDs are watched once, most Christmas cakes eaten once… But I don’t mean finished, I mean played. The majority of console games are opened, installed, booted up, played for a single session (possibly of several hours), then never booted up again. Even though games can afford tens of hours of entertainment; and even though games cost four times as much as books or films.

And that isn’t true of books, or DVDs, or Christmas cake. So why the difference? Is it just because people can get stuck on games?

I don’t think so. I think it’s deeper than that. In fact, I’m not sure there is a difference between the consumption pattern for a DVD, book or a game. I think instead that the difference is in what we mean by the word finished. (And, what is inkle going to do about it?)

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Choice: from analogue to digital and back again

Screenshot of demoErik Temple, creator of many extensions for Inform 7 that do animations, sprites, and lots of shiny things, has a new demo up on his blog, this time demonstrating a text-game playable without typing.

It’s a really good piece of work and shows real potential for making text games accessible: teaching the syntax while letting people get on with the game. But it also highlights one of the text games major problems – there’s way too much choice.

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Gamification @ Futurebook

I’ll be talking the Futurebook conference in London on the 5th of December as part of a panel on the topic of gamification, alongside Anna Rafferty, MD of Penguin Digital and Jess Brallier of Pearson US.

It’s been hard for me to pin down exactly what I want to say. The normal rules for talking about game design don’t really apply – the audience will be publishers, editors and writers, and I think a standard design talk about risk/reward and challenge/learning might send people to sleep.

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Challenge, and how to avoid it

I was discussing challenge in games with a friend at work today – specifically, what to do with the player that can’t overcome it.

Interactive Fiction has long battled with the problem of stuckness, and these days it’s rare to see a polished game released without hints, walkthroughs, or such an incredibly linear storyline that pretty much anything you do will work. But could we be doing better? Consoles games increasingly are trying to resolve this problem: is there anything to learn from the experiments being done in the console world?

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Adventures in Time and Space: linearity and variability in interactive narrative

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work with choice-based stories. I haven’t played a new IF work in a long time – but this weekend I picked up Emily Short’s brief-but-beautiful Speed IF Indigo and it got me thinking about what I mean when I say “interactive fiction”.

(This isn’t really an article about that game, incidentally, which you should try out; rather, Indigo was such a very clean example of what text IF does well that it got me thinking.)

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Kingdom Without End

This link appeared first as a comment, then as a tweet, and finally now as a blog-post, which is all back to front. But this is archaelogy, which works downwards.

The short version is: presenting Kingdom Without End by Shannon Cochran, a multi-choice input game from 2001 about archaeology, that is perhaps the best example of CYOA written in a parser-IF style, and not only that, it’s a damn fine piece of work too.

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Choices in the context of context

I’ve written a few times already about my new, novelette-length choice-based story built in Undum. The project began life as technical experiment – a quick attempt (a bit like this one) to “do” a text-game as a multiple choice adventure. The concept was simple: the game would have locations, and objects, but streamline the usual breadth of Interactive Fiction’s parser down to just the choices that mattered for the story.

It didn’t work and I had to change the design. But I learnt a lot in the process.

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Friend or foe?

Narrative games are full of binary choices, and the most common is “friend or foe?” Will you be nice to the NPC, or will you be nasty? Save the baby or burn down the farm? RPG games often have a stack of these choices, several hundred across the course of 20 hours play, and they use them to collect data on what kind of character you’re playing as.

Unfortunately they don’t do anything very good with the numbers. Here’s a suggestion for something better.

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An exposition about exposition

Starting on a new project has got me thinking about how games handle the business of exposition.

All stories need some exposition, and generally is serves to enrich the world and setting and save your from reader from the curse of generica. In a game, your exposition has also got to tell the player what to do next – usually in no uncertain terms – and how to set about it.

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