Twee2 – Interactive Fiction Authoring for Geeks

There’s a wonderful tool for making web-based “choose your own adventure”-type games, called Twine. One of the best things about it is that it’s so accessible: if you wanted to, you could be underway writing your first ever story with it in about 5 minutes from now, without installing anything at all, and when it was done you could publish it on the web and it would just work.

Screenshot of a Twine 2 story map
A “story map” in Twine 2. Easy interactive fiction writing for normal people.

But the problem with Twine is that, in its latest and best versions, you’re trapped into using the Twine IDE. The Twine IDE is an easy-to-use, highly visual, ‘drag-and-drop’ interface for making interactive stories. Which is probably great if you’re into IDEs or if you don’t “know better”… but for those of us who prefer to do our writing in a nice clean, empty text editor like Sublime or TextMate or to script/automate our builds, it’s just frustrating to lose access to the tools we love. Plus, highly-visual IDEs make it notoriously hard to collaborate with other authors on the same work without simply passing it back and forwards between you: unless they’ve been built with this goal in mind, you generally can’t have two people working in the same file at the same time.

Sublime Text demonstrating multi-line-selection.
Now THIS is what code editing should look like.

Earlier versions of Twine had a command-line tool called Twee that perfectly filled this gap. But the shiny new versions don’t. That’s where I came in.

In that way that people who know me are probably used to by now, I was very-slightly unsatisfied with one aspect of an otherwise fantastic product and decided that the correct course of action was to reimplement it myself. So that’s how, a few weeks ago, I came to release Twee2.

Twee2 logo
Twee2’s logo integrates the ‘branching’ design of Twine adventures with the ‘double-colon’ syntax of Twee.

If you’re interested in writing your own “Choose Your Own Adventure”-type interactive fiction, whether for the world or just for friends, but you find user-friendly IDEs like Twine limiting (or you just prefer a good old-fashioned text editor), then give Twee2 a go. I’ve written a simple 2-minute tutorial to get you started, it works on Windows, MacOS, Linux, and just-about everything else, and it’s completely open-source if you’d like to expand or change it yourself.

(there are further discussions about the concept and my tool on Reddit here, here, here and here, and on the Twinery forums herehere and here)

Get Twee2

EEBO-TCP Hackathon

Last month I got the opportunity to attend the EEBO-TCP Hackfest, hosted in the (then still very-much under construction) Weston Library at my workplace. I’ve done a couple of hackathons and similar get-togethers before, but this one was somewhat different in that it was unmistakably geared towards a different kind of geek than the technology-minded folks that I usually see at these things. People like me, with a computer science background, were remarkably in the minority.

Dan Q in Blackwell Hall, at the Weston Library.
Me in the Weston Library (still under construction, as evidenced by the scaffolding in the background).

Instead, this particular hack event attracted a great number of folks from the humanities end of the spectrum. Which is understandable, given its theme: the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP) is an effort to digitise and make available in marked-up, machine-readable text formats a huge corpus of English-language books printed between 1475 and 1700. So: a little over three centuries of work including both household names (like Shakespeare, Galileo, Chaucer, Newton, Locke, and Hobbes) and an enormous number of others that you’ll never have heard of.

Dan Q talks to academic Stephen Gregg
After an introduction to the concept and the material, attendees engaged in a speed-networking event to share their thoughts prior to pitching their ideas.

The hackday event was scheduled to coincide with and celebrate the release of the first 25,000 texts into the public domain, and attendees were challenged to come up with ways to use the newly-available data in any way they liked. As is common with any kind of hackathon, many of the attendees had come with their own ideas half-baked already, but as for me: I had no idea what I’d end up doing! I’m not particularly familiar with the books of the 15th through 17th centuries and I’d never looked at the way in which the digitised texts had been encoded. In short: I knew nothing.

Dan Q and Liz McCarthy listen as other attendees pitch their ideas.
The ideas pitch session quickly showed some overlap between different project ideas, and teams were split and reformed a few times as people found the best places for themselves.

Instead, I’d thought: there’ll be people here who need a geek. A major part of a lot of the freelance work I end up doing (and a lesser part of my work at the Bodleian, from time to time) involves manipulating and mining data from disparate sources, and it seemed to me that these kinds of skills would be useful for a variety of different conceivable projects.

Dan Q explains what the spreadsheet he's produced 'means'.
XML may have been our interchange format, but everything fell into Excel in the end for speedy management even by less-technical team members.

I paired up with a chap called Stephen Gregg, a lecturer in 18th century literature from Bath Spa University. His idea was to use this newly-open data to explore the frequency (and the change in frequency over the centuries) of particular structural features in early printed fiction: features like chapters, illustrations, dedications, notes to the reader, encomia, and so on). This proved to be a perfect task for us to pair-up on, because he had the domain knowledge to ask meaningful questions, and I had the the technical knowledge to write software that could extract the answers from the data. We shared our table with another pair, who had technically-similar goals – looking at the change in the use of features like lists and tables (spoiler: lists were going out of fashion, tables were coming in, during the 17th century) in alchemical textbooks – and ultimately I was able to pass on the software tools I’d written to them to adapt for their purposes, too.

Dan Q with two academic-minded humanities folks, talking about their hackathon projects.
A quick meeting on the relative importance of ‘chapters’ as a concept in 16th century literature. Half of the words that the academics are saying go over my head, but I’m formulating XPath queries in my head while I wait.

And here’s where I made a discovery: the folks I was working with (and presumably academics of the humanities in general) have no idea quite how powerful data mining tools could be in giving them new opportunities for research and analysis. Within two hours we were getting real results from our queries and were making amendments and refinements in our questions and trying again. Within a further two hours we’d exhausted our original questions and, while the others were writing-up their findings in an attractive way, I was beginning to look at how the structural differences between fiction and non-fiction might be usable as a training data set for an artificial intelligence that could learn to differentiate between the two, providing yet more value from the dataset. And all the while, my teammates – who’d been used to looking at a single book at a time – were amazed by the possibilities we’d uncovered for training computers to do simple tasks while reading thousands at once.

Laptop showing a map of the area around Old St. Paul's Cathedral.
The area around Old St. Paul’s Cathedral was the place to be if you were a 16th century hipster looking for a new book.

Elsewhere at the hackathon, one group was trying to simulate the view of the shelves of booksellers around the old St. Paul’s Cathedral, another looked at the change in the popularity of colour and fashion-related words over the period (especially challenging towards the beginning of the timeline, where spelling of colours was less-standardised than towards the end), and a third came up with ways to make old playscripts accessible to modern performers.

A graph showing the frequency of colour-related words in English-language books printed over three centuries.
Aside from an increase in the relative frequency of the use of colour words to describe yellow things, there’s not much to say about this graph.

At the end of the session we presented our findings – by which I mean, Stephen explained what they meant – and talked about the technology and its potential future impact – by which I mean, I said what we’d like to allow others to do with it, if they’re so-inclined. And I explained how I’d come to learn over the course of the day what the word encomium meant.

Dan Q presents findings in Excel.
Presenting our findings in amazing technicolour Excel.

My personal favourite contribution from the event was by Sarah Cole, who adapted the text of a story about a witch trial into a piece of interactive fiction, powered by Twine/Twee, and then allowed us as an audience to collectively “play” her game. I love the idea of making old artefacts more-accessible to modern audiences through new media, and this was a fun and innovative way to achieve this. You can even play her game online!

(by the way: for those of you who enjoy my IF recommendations: have a look at Detritus; it’s a delightful little experimental/experiential game)

Output from the interactive fiction version of a story about a witch trial.
Things are about to go very badly for Joan Buts.

But while that was clearly my favourite, the judges were far more impressed by the work of my teammate and I, as well as the team who’d adapted my software and used it to investigate different features of the corpus, and decided to divide the cash price between the four of us. Which was especially awesome, because I hadn’t even realised that there was a prize to be had, and I made the most of it at the Drinking About Museums event I attended later in the day.

Members of the other team, who adapted my software, were particularly excited to receive their award.
Cold hard cash! This’ll be useful at the bar, later!

If there’s a moral to take from all of this, it’s that you shouldn’t let your background limit your involvement in “hackathon”-like events. This event was geared towards literature, history, linguistics, and the study of the book… but clearly there was value in me – a computer geek, first and foremost – being there. Similarly, a hack event I attended last year, while clearly tech-focussed, wouldn’t have been as good as it was were it not for the diversity of the attendees, who included a good number of artists and entrepreneurs as well as the obligatory hackers.

Stephen and Dan give a congratulatory nod to one another.
“Nice work, Stephen.” “Nice work, Dan.”

But for me, I think the greatest lesson is that humanities researchers can benefit from thinking a little bit like computer scientists, once in a while. The code I wrote (which uses Ruby and Nokogiri) is freely available for use and adaptation, and while I’ve no idea whether or not it’ll ever be useful to anybody again, what it represents is the research benefits of inter-disciplinary collaboration. It pleases me to see things like the “Library Carpentry” (software for research, with a library slant) seeming to take off.

And yeah, I love a good hackathon.

Update 2015-04-22 11:59: with thanks to Sarah for pointing me in the right direction, you can play the witch trial game in your browser.

Counterfeit Monkey

Earlier this year, I played Emily Short‘s new game, Counterfeit Monkey, and I’m pleased to say that it’s one of the best pieces of interactive fiction I’ve played in years. I’d highly recommend that you give it a go.

Counterfeit Monkey
Counterfeit Monkey is one of the best interactive fiction games I’ve played in years. And not just because I love puns.

What makes Counterfeit Monkey so great? Well, as you’d expect from an Emily Short game (think Bee, which I reviewed last year, Galatea, and Glass), it paints an engaging and compelling world which feels “bigger” than the fragments of it that you’re seeing: a real living environment in which you’re just another part of the story. The island of Anglophone Atlantis and the characters in it feel very real, and it’s easy to empathise with what’s going on (and the flexibility you have in your actions helps you to engage with what you’re doing). But that’s not what’s most-special about it.

A game of Counterfeit Monkey, underway.
I’m in a bar, presumably in need of a pint of apple. Apple? That’s not what I mean! Where’s my P-Remover when I need one…

What’s most-special about this remarkable game is the primary puzzle mechanic, and how expertly (not to mention seamlessly and completely) it’s been incorporated into the play experience. Over the course of the game, you’ll find yourself equipped with a number of remarkable tools that change the nature of game objects by adding, removing, changing, re-arranging or restoring their letters, or combining their names with the names of other objects: sort of a “Scrabble® set for real life”.

Brought your pet abroad? Consider linguistic realignment therapy. Even a domesticated cat can give birth to chatons. (A public service announcement by the Bureau of Orthography)
Wise words from the Bureau of Orthography.

You start the game in possession of a full-alphabet letter-remover, which lets you remove a particular letter from any word – so you can, for example, change a pine into a pin by “e-removing” it, or you can change a caper into a cape by “r-removing” it (you could go on and “c-remove” it into an ape if only your starting toolset hadn’t been factory-limited to prevent the creation of animate objects).

Dental Consonants Ltd. - what we can't do isn't worth doing. Absolutely no palatials or labials, guaranteed.
Poster for Dental Consonants Ltd. Get your consonants here!

This mechanic, coupled with a doubtless monumental amount of effort on Emily’s part, makes Counterfeit Monkey have perhaps the largest collection of potential carryable objects of any interactive fiction game ever written. Towards the end of the game, when your toolset is larger, there feels like an infinite number of possible linguistic permutations for your copious inventory… and repeatedly, I found that no matter what I thought of, the author had thought of it first and written a full and complete description of the result (and yes, I did try running almost everything I’d picked up, and several things I’d created, through the almost-useless “Ümlaut Punch”, once I’d found it).

Atlantida
Atlantida, nominal ruler of Anglophone Atlantis.

I can’t say too much more without spoiling one of the best pieces of interactive fiction I’ve ever played. If you’ve never played a text-based adventure before, and want a gentler introduction, you might like to go try something more conventional (but still great) like Photopia (very short, very gentle: my review) or Blue Lacuna (massive, reasonably gentle: my review) first. But if you’re ready for the awesome that is Counterfeit Monkey, then here’s what you need to do:

How to play Counterfeit Monkey

  1. Install a Glulx interpreter.
    I recommend Gargoyle, which provides beautiful font rendering and supports loads of formats. Note that Gargoyle’s UNDO command will not work in Counterfeit Monkey, for technical reasons (but this shouldn’t matter much so long as you SAVE at regular intervals).
    Download for Windows, for Mac, or for other systems.
  1. Download Counterfeit Monkey
    Get Counterfeit Monkey‘s “story file” and open it using your Glulx interpreter (e.g. Gargoyle).
    Download it here.

(alternatively, you can use experimental technology to play the game in your web browser: it’ll take a long time to load, though, and you’ll be missing some of the fun optional features, so I wouldn’t recommend it over the “proper” approach above)

Bee

Bee, by Emily Short
Bee, by Emily Short, uses the Varytale platform to produce a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style tale that’s insightful and compelling.

On account of having a busy life, I only just recently got around to playing Bee, Emily Short‘s interactive book on the Varytale platform. Varytale is one of a number of recent attempts to make a modern, computerised system for “choose your own adventure“-style fiction, alongside the likes of Undum, Choice Of Games, and my personal favourite, Twine/Twee. As a beta author for the platform, Emily was invited to put her book on the front page of the Varytale website, and it’s well worth a look.

Bee is the story of a young girl, home-schooled by her frugal and religious parents. After a few short and somewhat-linear opening chapters, options are opened up to the reader… and it doesn’t take long before you’re immersed in the protagonist’s life. Her relationships with her sister, her parents, and the children from the local homeschool co-operative and from her church can be explored and developed, while she tries to find time – and motivation – to study for the local, regional and national spelling bees that are her vocational focus.

The choices you make will affect her motivation, her spelling proficiency, and her relationships, and in doing so open up different choices towards one of the book’s four possible endings. But that’s not what makes this piece magical (and, in fact, “choose your own adventure”-style games can actually feel a little limiting to fans of conventional interactive fiction):

[spb_message color=”alert-warning” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”]Minor spoilers below: you might like to play Bee for yourself, first.[/spb_message]

What’s so inspirational about this story is the compelling realism from the characters. Initially, I found it somewhat difficult to relate to them: I know next to nothing about the US education system, don’t “get” spelling bees (apparently they’re a big thing over there), and certainly can’t put myself in the position of a home-schooled American girl with a super-religious family background! But before long, I was starting to really feel for the character and beginning to see how her life fit together.

To begin with, I saw the national spelling bee as a goal, and my “spelling” score as a goal. I read the book like I play The Sims: efficiently balancing the character’s time to keep her motivation up, so that I could get the best out of her cramming sessions with her flashcards. Under my guidance, the character became highly-academic and driven by achievement.

Spelling Bee (British TV show)
Apparently there existed a short-lived British game show called Spelling Bee, which was on television way back in 1938! Click the picture for more information.

After I’d won the local spelling bee with flying colours, I came to understand how the game actually worked. Suddenly, I didn’t need to study so hard any more. Sure, it was important to get some flashcard-time in now and then, but there were bigger things going on: making sure that my little sister got the upbringing that she deserved; doing my bit to ease the strain on my family as financial pressures forced us into an even-more-frugal lifestyle; finding my place among the other children – and adults – in my life, and in the church.

By the time I made it to the national spelling bee, I didn’t even care that I didn’t win. It was almost a bigger deal to my mother than to me. I thought back to the blurb for the story:

Sooner or later, you’re going to lose. Only one person wins the National Spelling Bee each year, so an elementary understanding of the odds means it almost certainly won’t be you.

The only question is when you fail, and why.

Then, everything made a little more sense. This was never a story about a spelling bee. The spelling bee is a framing device. The story is about growing up, and about finding your place in the world, and about coming to an age where you can see that your parents are not all-knowing, not all-understanding, far from perfect and with limits and problems of their own. And it’s a story about what you do with that realisation.

And it’s really pretty good. Go have a play.

Video Games I Have Been Playing – Part Two

Last week, I wrote about two of the big-name video games I’ve been playing since I suddenly discovered a window of free time in my life, again. Today, I’d like to tell you about some of the smaller independent titles that have captured my interest:

Minecraft

A well-developed Minecraft city port, on the edge of a sprawling and mountainous landmass.

I’d love to be able to say that I was playing Minecraft before it was cool, and I have been playing it since Infdev, which came before the Alpha version. But Minecraft was always cool.

Suppose you’ve been living on another planet all year and so you haven’t heard of Minecraft. Here’s what you need to know: it’s a game, and it’s also a software toy, depending on how you choose to play it. Assuming you’re not playing in “creative mode” (which is a whole other story), then it’s a first-person game of exploration, resource gathering and management, construction, combat, and (if you’re paying multiplayer, which is completely optional) cooperation.

Your character is plunged at dawn into a landscape of rolling (well, stepped) hills, oceans, tundra, and deserts, with infinite blocks extending in every direction. It’s a reasonably safe place during the daytime, but at night zombies and skeletons and giant spiders roam the land, so your first task is to build a shelter. Wood or earth are common starting materials; stone if you’ve got time to start a mine; bricks later on if you’ve got clay close to hand; but seriously: you go build your house out of anything you’d like. Then begins your adventure: explore, mine, and find resources with which to build better tools, and unlock the mysteries of the world (and the worlds beyond). And if you get stuck, just remember that Minecraft backwards is the same as Skyrim forwards.

Parts of it remind me of NetHack, which is one of the computer games that consumed my life: the open world, the randomly-generated terrain, and the scope of the experience put me in mind of this classic Rougelike. Also perhaps Dwarf Fortress or Dungeon Keeper: there’s plenty of opportunities for mining, construction, trap-making, and defensive structures, as well as for subterranean exploration. There are obvious similarities to Terraria, too.

I think that there’s something for everybody in Minecraft, although the learning curve might be steeper than some players are used to.

Limbo

This is not a game for those with a fear of spiders.

I first heard about Limbo when it appeared on the XBox last year, because it got a lot of press at the time for it’s dark stylistic imagery and “trial and death” style. But, of course, the developers had done a deal with the devil and made it an XBox-only release to begin with, putting off the versions for other consoles and desktop computers until 2011.

But now it’s out, as Paul was keen to advise me, and it’s awesome. You’ll die – a lot – when you play it, but the game auto-saves quietly at very-frequent strategic points, so it’s easy to “just keep playing” (a little like the equally-fabulous Super Meat Boy), but the real charm in this game comes from the sharp contrast between the light, simple platformer interface and the dark, oppressive environment of the levels. Truly, it’s the stuff that nightmares are made of, and it’s beautiful.

While at first it feels a little simplistic (how often nowadays do you get a game whose controls consist of the classic four-button “left”, “right”, “climb/jump”, and “action” options?), the game actually uses these controls to great effect. Sure, you’ll spend a fair amount of time just running to the right, in old-school platformer style, but all the while you’ll be getting drawn in to the shady world of the game, set on-edge by its atmospheric and gloomy soundtrack. And then, suddenly, right when you least expect it: snap!, and you’re dead again.

The puzzles are pretty good: they’re sometimes a little easy, but that’s better in a game like this than ones which might otherwise put you off having “one more go” at a level. There’s a good deal of variety in the puzzle types, stretching the interface as far as it will go. I’ve not quite finished it yet, but I certainly will: it’s a lot of fun, and it’s a nice bit of “lightweight” gaming for those 5-minute gaps between tasks that I seem to find so many of.

Blue Lacuna

Those with limited capacity for imagination should be aware that this is not an in-game screenshot. An in-game screenshot would consist pretty-much of just text.

I know, I know… as an interactive fiction geek I really should have gotten around to finishing Blue Lacuna sooner. I first played it a few years ago, when it was released, but it was only recently that I found time to pick it up again and play it to, well, it’s logical conclusion.

What do you need to know to enjoy this game? Well: firstly, that it’s free. As in: really free – you don’t have to pay to get it, and anybody can download the complete source code (I’d recommend finishing the game first, because the source code is, of course, spoiler-heavy!) under a Creative Commons license and learn from or adapt it themselves. That’s pretty awesome, and something we don’t see enough of.

Secondly, it’s a text-based adventure. I’ve recommended a few of these before, because I’m a big fan of the medium. This one’s less-challenging for beginners than some that I’ve recommended: it uses an unusual user interface feature that the developer calls Wayfaring, to make it easy and intuitive to dive in. There isn’t an inventory (at least, not in the conventional adventure game sense – although there is one optional exception to this), and most players won’t feel the need to make a map (although keeping notes is advisable!). All-in-all, so far it just sounds like a modern, accessible piece of interactive fiction.

But what makes this particular piece so special is it’s sheer size and scope. The world of the game is nothing short of epic, and more-than almost any text-based game I’ve played before, it feels alive: it’s as much fun to explore the world as it is to advance the story. The “simplified” interface (as described above) initially feels a little limiting to an experienced IFer like myself, but that quickly gives way as you realise how many other factors (other than what you’re carrying) can be used to solve problems. Time of day, tides, weather, who you’ve spoken to and about what, where you’ve been, when you last slept and what you dreamed about… all of these things can be factors in the way that your character experiences the world in Blue Lacuna, and it leads to an incredibly deep experience.

It describes itself as being an explorable story in the tradition of interactive fiction and text adventures… a novel about discovery, loss, and choice.. a game about words and emotions, not guns. And that’s exactly right.

It’s available for MacOS, Windows, Linux, and just about every other platform, and you should totally give it a go.

The Play

It’s that time again, the highlight of the interactive fiction year (for me, at least), and IFComp 2011 is upon us. I’ve been playing my way through this year’s entries, and – as I have in previous years – I’ll be sharing with you any that leap out at me as “things you really ought to try.”

The first of which is The Play, by Deirdra Kiai. This entry stands out for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s one of those uncommon (but growing in popularity) pieces of hypertext IF. I remain not-completely convinced by hypertext IF: perhaps as a result of the medium, the games often feel shorter than they might otherwise be, and while I don’t miss playing “hunt the verb” to try to find exactly the word the designer hoped I would, having the option to click on any one of just a handful of links seems a little… simple.

Play the game online here.

The Play, a recent piece of hypertext interactive fiction

That’s not to say that I don’t like the medium: hell, I feel like I was a pioneer in it, thanks to things like Troma Night Adventure (originally on the long-dead RockMonkey Wiki, and revived in its own engine last year). It’s just… different from most IF that I play, and that difference is stark.

If there’s one big advantage to hypertext interactive fiction, though, it’s that it lowers the barrier to entry. Everybody knows how to use a web browser, there’s nothing to install or set up, and they typically play really well on mobile devices, which is a growing market for this kind of game. I’m excited to see tools like Twine/Twee, ChoiceScript, and Undum (the latter of which powers The Play) appearing, which make creating this kind of game reasonably easy.

Secondly; it’s unusual. And I do enjoy a bit of quirky fiction: something that takes the genre in a new direction. And The Play does that. You play as Ainsley M. Warrington, the director of a disaster-ridden play on the eve of the first night, orchestrating a last-second dress rehearsal. The story is told through alternating segments of your experience and “script”: segments of the play as they are performed (which may vary, depending on how lenient you allow the cast the be with the script and how much goes awry), and this is a wonderful use of the semi-graphical nature of the medium.

Mostly, you’re trying to balance and improve the moods of your cast members (and your stage manager), in order to gain a good review. This is made challenging by the fact that they all have quite different ideas and attitudes towards the nature of the play, how it should be performed, and so on. They only thing that they all seem to agree on is that you’re not doing a very good job.

But beyond that theoretical (and, frankly, self-imposed) goal, it’s actually a lot of fun just to play off the different actors against one another, to experiment with how much you can improvise the ending, and to see how things turn out if you try different choices. And that’s exactly how interactive fiction ought to be. Like a good book, I want to be able to read it again and again. But unlike traditional fiction, I can enjoy it in profoundly different ways based on my moods and whims.

It’s a little short, but quite beautiful for it. There’s certainly plenty of reasonably well-written text to amuse and entertain. I’d thoroughly recommend that you give it a go, whether you’re an IF veteran or if you’ve never played this kind of game before in your life: play The Play in your web browser. And then play it again to see how much of a difference you can make in this well-crafted and inspiring little world.

BiCon: The Game

I shan’t be at BiCon this year, but I thought I’d share with you all something that tickled me today. Last year, at a Naked Lunch, I ended up chatting to several geeks about Interactive Fiction, and I through out a few ideas for a BiCon-themed piece of Interactive Fiction. Little did I know that this idea had sunk in, and cogs had begun to turn…

Rach has just released BiCon 2010: The Game, and it fully embodies everything that’s fabulous about BiCon. It’s also a really good bit of IF, for a first full adventure, and involves some fascinating hacking of the gender pronouns system for Inform. I tip my hat to the author.

(there’s some discussion going on about the game on the BiCon LiveJournal community)

Troma Night 300

This Friday’s Troma Night will be Troma Night 300! It’s hard to believe how much time I’ve spent at this, our weekly film night. I wonder how many pizzas, in total, have been eaten? How many awful films we’ve groaned at?

I’m planning that for this special Troma Night we’ll temporarily revitalise some of the old traditions. I’ve already been in touch with Kit, and he’s happy to phone in the pizza order for us (“Kit, order the pizza!” // <sighs> “What does everybody want?”) in the traditional style. I’m hoping that Paul will be available to throw a sponge through a window (if he’s working, of course, we’ll try to arrange for him to fling a sponge around the cinema projection booth while we simultaneously throw a substitute sponge at The Cottage). We’ll aim to start a little early with a Flash Gordon short, for those who miss watching those before their Troma Night experience, too.

As for those of you who are no longer around, you’re welcome to join in from afar, too. Alec: why don’t you buy yourself a four-pack of beer and drink exactly three of them? “Strokey” Adam: perhaps you can arrange for somebody to molest you with unwanted physical contact on Friday evening? Liz: you ought to get a date for the night, introduce him to all of your friends, and then never see him again. See: traditions are great!

In other news: if you haven’t yet played Lost Pig (And Place Under Ground), you should. It’s a fun, puzzle-oriented piece of interactive fiction that’s full of charm, with a wonderfully lovable (and not your usual) protagonist. It’s a lightweight bit of adventuring that’ll take most of you under an hour, so go play! Install Gargoyle (for Windows or Linux) for the simplest-possible play experience, and have fun!

Grief (Interactive Fiction)

It’s not as spectacular as Violet, but I’ve just enjoyed playing Grief, another IF Comp 2008 entry. Download the .z8 file (which you can play in Windows Frotz or your favourite Z-Machine).

Play it a few times to see a few of the different endings: if only you could have done things differently… but perhaps things aren’t inevitable. There’s over a half-dozen different endings: wait until you start spotting the pattern, then – if you haven’t found it by yourself – type WALKTHRU to see a list of achievable endings so that you can begin to understand the truth of the matter… and when you do so, remember the first scene…

But if you only play one IF this year, make it Violet. =o)

Violet (Interactive Fiction)

It’s been a long while, but I’ve got some more interactive fiction to recommend: Violet, by Jeremy Freese. It’s got all of the usual things I like in a modern piece of interactive fiction: a believable, detailed world that you can really feel like you’re a part of, and which “carries on” around you; a beginning that doesn’t need to explain itself (you can pick it up as you go along); an enthusiastic thoroughness as far as anticipating what a player might try (many of the “unusual” things you can try to do have been anticipated and have specific flavour text); and a story that’s emotive and clever. So far, so good.

But the way in which it really furthers the genre is in it’s presentation format. The narrator of the story – Violet – is the girlfriend of the protagonist, who – through a series of encouragements and discouragements, as well as ocassional asides and additional commentary – helps lead you through your adventure: it is, if you like, a second-person perspective text-based adventure. But it doesn’t take long to realise that she isn’t actually there at all: all of her dialogue is in your head – it’s what your character thinks she would say in response to everything you’re doing.

I thoroughly explored the game in about an hour, and I highly recommend that you do, too: it’s a fabulous piece of interactive fiction, wrapped around a reasonably good bit of fiction.

Fully expect your feedback on this one, JTA.

Update, 19th October 2008, 14:20: Fixed the link to Windows Frotz (previously pointed at WinFrotz, which – while a fabulous Z-Code interpeter, can’t cope with ZBlorb files like the one this game is packaged in). Sorry, Binky.

Vespers

Some time ago, I recommended Photopia as a great text-based adventure for both beginners and veterans: with a great, sweet story (with a slightly depressing ending) and a short play time, it’s just great to show people why text-based adventures are fun.

Here’s my latest recommendation: Vespers. It’s dark, cold, and disturbing – insanity, bubonic plague, and temptation in the face of heaven and hell… and a cool mix of biblical prophecy and murder mystery in a quarantined monastary.

There’s about 2 hours playtime in it for an experienced adventurer, but it’s got SAVE and RESTORE commands so you don’t have to do it in a single sitting. And of course I’ll be available for hints if you get stuck!

Photopia, Again

I wrote the other day about Photopia, one of the most brilliant and unusual pieces of interactive fiction I’ve ever experienced. Finally, JTA gave it a go, and loved it too – and he and I have been spending the last few days discussing some of the really, really clever bits and putting our own explanations to them. There are so many questions left unanswered, even after having completed the story, and I’m sure we’ll both be going back and playing it again.

Why hasn’t anybody else played yet? Well; it’s possible I just didn’t make it quite accessible enough. So I’ve packaged Photopia into a single-file executable. Just download and run it, and you’ll have it installed on your system. It takes up less than a megabyte of space and it’s brilliant not only as entertainment but also as a work of fiction.

Download Photopia – it’s self-extracting, self-installing. All you have to do it play it. Windows only. Click here and give it a go.

Photopia

Ever played a text-based adventure (interactive fiction) before? If so, this is a must-see. If not, now’s the time to start. I’ve just finished playing a short IF called Photopia, which won two prestigious (in IF circles) XYZZYnews awards back in 1998.

It’s not… great as an adventure game, but it’s amazing as a story. It’s… so amazingly clever and well thought-out. If you’re an experienced text-adventurer, you’ll be able to see it all in under an hour (and there is, of course, a SAVE and LOAD function). Wow. Just… just go play it. Go on.

Two good ways to get it:

  • Option 1: Download photo201.zip, packaged for Windows – download, extract to a folder, run the batch file (“play_the_game”, or something) – do this if you’re not experienced with setting up your IF enviroment.
  • Option 2: Get Photopia 2.01 (Glulx Edition) and a Glulx interpreter for your favourite operating system. You’ll work out the rest.