>_ December 2, 2013 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Interactive fiction is seeing something of a renaissance right now, with more ways and means for creating and playing it than ever. How much interest would there be in reviving the Annual Interactive Fiction Contest?

Now that there are things like inklewriter and Twine and all sorts of other simple and easy (well, simpler and easier, at least) tools with which to create and experience interactive fiction I'd think this would be a great time to revive the contest.

I figure this would be fun for a lot of people (myself included) who previously didn't want to deal with parsers and coding in Inform and so on. (Of course, old-school z-machine IF would be just as welcome!)

Any takers?
posted by griphus to MetaFilter-Related at 1:24 PM (65 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

I'm interested every time this comes up and I still have not managed to finish an IF story BUT I WOULD LOVE TO TRY AGAIN.

I just love them so much. I have an app on my phone that reads z-machine stories and I fiddle with it every time i have to wait somewhere - even before I open my kindle app to read straightforward books.
posted by annathea at 1:27 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yay IF! Another fun tool on this front, in the "old-school z-machine" vein: waxpancake's online IF writing workshop/community, Playfic.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:28 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's dark. Your time is likely to be eaten by an IF.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:42 PM on December 2, 2013


Has it really been 3 years since I said I was going to do this and didn't finish?

Time flies, but I'd be interested again.

(Actually, on review, it's been 4 years since the first one, which was the only attempt I began.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:51 PM on December 2, 2013


I once tried to do a substantial project in Inform 7, and that's when I discovered that, while it's easy to read, it's confounding to write. It's another version of the COBOL problem, really.
posted by JHarris at 1:55 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I want to be the kind of person who would do this.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:12 PM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Be the change that you wish to see in the world." - Wierd "Al" Yankovich
posted by griphus at 2:19 PM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd be in, if it started next month! I've been thinking of doing an IF-like thing that hovers around the edges of the definition of IF for a while. Depending on how the contest is defined, it could fit!
posted by ignignokt at 2:19 PM on December 2, 2013


I once tried to do a substantial project in Inform 7, and that's when I discovered that, while it's easy to read, it's confounding to write. It's another version of the COBOL problem, really.

AppleScript is shockingly confounding in this same way.
posted by ignignokt at 2:20 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Be the spare change that you wish to see in the couch." - IRFH
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:20 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think this is a really cool idea! Somehow didn't notice it the last time. Also, I think a Metafilter game design contest for any type of game would be really cool..
posted by meta87 at 2:24 PM on December 2, 2013


Gentle reproach: if you're going to use the quotes, it's "Weird" Al, not Weird "Al." Alfred really is his name.
posted by Nomyte at 2:26 PM on December 2, 2013


I'd be in, if it started next month!

I was thinking February, just because my job is insane during January. Plus it'll give people some extra time to familiarize themselves with whatever platform they'll want to use.

As to the definition of IF: "a written story you interact with" is what I was thinking. I just want it to be as inclusive as possible and have as low barriers to entry as possible. The last one had three entrants at the end so I want the contest to cast as wide a net as it can.

Gentle reproach: if you're going to use the quotes, it's "Weird" Al, not Weird "Al." Alfred really is his name.

I was trying to do the "incorrect and grievously misspelled Napster MP3 attribution" gag but I think it needs some refinement.
posted by griphus at 2:29 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I once tried to do a substantial project in Inform 7, and that's when I discovered that, while it's easy to read, it's confounding to write. It's another version of the COBOL problem, really.

It's goddamned incredible how contemptuous the Inform 7 creators are, or at least were, of users. Maybe it's changed since the last time I looked into Inform 7, but at the time the documentation was absurdly sparse and the majority of it was "here's some IF written in Inform 7, just look at the code and figure out how things work from that." This was extra amazing because at the time they were trying to present it as an educational tool. An educational tool where large portions of functionality are completely undocumented. And it's not like a program with a proper UI that you could poke around at and try to figure out- it's like trying to learn Spanish using only a first-year Spanish textbook and a Spanish-English dictionary with 75% of the pages torn out.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:45 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd be up for an IF contest in February. I bounced off of Inform, but I like Twine's ease of use. I need a deadline pushing me to write.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:47 PM on December 2, 2013


Awesome. February works for me!

My thing will have a branching written story, but likely also simple, simple skills and combat.
posted by ignignokt at 2:48 PM on December 2, 2013


I actually wrote the novel that I was going to originally write as an IF story. Unfortunately my writing time is booked (partly by revisions to that novel) for basically the foreseeable future. But this is a great idea!
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:49 PM on December 2, 2013


This would be rad - count me in. I don't have much time in Dec/Jan to participate so February would be great.

Twine really is super, super easy. I'd be happy to help out anyone learning it for the first time.

And if anyone likes sci-fi horror AND/OR ridiculous parody (seem to be the only genres I can write in), I'd be open to teaming up.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 2:50 PM on December 2, 2013


The barrier to entry for Twine is so, so low. It really delivers on the idea that anyone could get started making games nearly instantly. If you're on the fence about participating, I would look into some of the tutorials and introductory articles for Twine and see what happens.

And with that said, I'd totally be in for a February-ish contest!
posted by naju at 3:02 PM on December 2, 2013


Last time around I was trapped in a suburb of Paris with nothing to do but math and writing IF... But this time I'm doing research, teaching, and doing a job hunt all at once. So chances of getting me in this time are low. But I'm commenting anyway so I can keep tabs on how it goes.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:14 PM on December 2, 2013


Hmmm.... Could one do a tag-team twine story where each person writes a different branch? Maybe you could have a coordinator person who just sends the story up to the point where you start writing to each participating author, keeping the writers blind to all other branches until it's finished.

Like an exquisite-corpse version of CYOA....
posted by kaibutsu at 3:16 PM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's goddamned incredible how contemptuous the Inform 7 creators are, or at least were, of users. Maybe it's changed since the last time I looked into Inform 7, but at the time the documentation was absurdly sparse and the majority of it was "here's some IF written in Inform 7, just look at the code and figure out how things work from that."
I don't know if the manual was absurdly sparse at the time you looked at it, but it is a pretty hefty document these days. It certainly can be confusing, especially when you try to map "regular" programming concepts to Inform 7; I think one thing it could do better in particular is to make those correspondences more clear. Luckily there are external resources like Inform 7 for Programmers.

It is true that the manual contains a goddamned incredible number of worked examples. Some might see this as a feature.
posted by dfan at 3:23 PM on December 2, 2013


I'm way into the idea. My obsession with the works of Steve Meretzky has been rekindled by this excellent new blog about the history of adventure games. This guy, who I think also wrote a book about the history of the Amiga, has done his homework big time in terms of digging up stuff about Infocom I never knew.
posted by steinsaltz at 3:58 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is rad. I'm in.
posted by rhythm and booze at 4:03 PM on December 2, 2013


Oh man...a few years back I taught myself Inform 7 to write an absurdly dorky text adventure as a surprise for my then-boyfriend. It was way harder than I was hoping it would be, particularly since I had zero programming background. My code was more than a little busted, but by Krom, I finished the damn thing, and he proposed not long after, so I guess my nerdy scheme worked?

Twine seems way easier! I can't promise I could have anything ready in time for a contest, but my ambition is at least as great as my abundant enthusiasm!
posted by Diagonalize at 4:17 PM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Inform 7 creators are actually very nice. Way back when I was trying to write a game, I emailed them a toy room that wasn't behaving like I thought it should! and they turned it into a worked example in the guide to explain in what order various actors perform their actions. So if you are trying to use Inform, you should totally email them with questions.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:17 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could be up for this, but I would need frequent reminders so that I could prep in time for february. I am a high-need participant, basically, as I am in all things.
posted by Think_Long at 4:22 PM on December 2, 2013


Huh, the big sticking point for me is to have something to write about. But I think I have that this time! OK!
posted by carsonb at 4:46 PM on December 2, 2013


First, I want to echo the general encouragement to anyone who would like to try this but is unsure of how to go about it to try Twine. There's a reason why so many Twine games have that stream-of-consciousness, personal feel, and it's because it's very easy to get to grips with the fundamentals. Write, and link, and write, and link, and there you have it.

Secondly, I would totally, totally be up for anything along these lines, the only limitation would be dedicating enough time (OK, and maybe settling upon a non-trite, but not over-reaching idea. Alright, alright, so finishing is an issue too!)

I am the author of a never-completed text adventure which I started adapting from a D&D scenario in Dragon magazine. Naturally, it is written in YABASIC on the PS2. Instead of using the USB keyboard or a nice, sensible menu system, verbs and nouns are mapped to the buttons. The D-Pad gives the cardinal directions, the shoulder buttons are your inventory, you press Start to enter the sentence you have constructed. It is a thoroughly impractical and entirely terrible thing. I tell you this as both token and example of the love and rubbish I hope to offer up. No Galatea or Gostak here!

January's always slow for me, but February's fine too. Whatever the plan, deadlines are always good, I'm thinking, but forgiving ones even more so.
posted by comealongpole at 5:04 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


In case it wasn't obvious and for posterity's sake I should clarify that the aforementioned PS2 adventure was a fannish bedroom enthusiasm shared only between me and the cat.
posted by comealongpole at 5:17 PM on December 2, 2013


So it looks like there's enough interest, so it's on! If you guys want to just throwing in IF resources into this thread, I'll put together a post in early January with a summary and then on 2/1 we'll have the official kickoff.

Also, just in case: the fact that it is a contest is tradition and why not I'll put up a prize to be determined in the future. But if it helps people think of it more like NaNoWriMo (MeFiInFiMo?) feel free. The whole point is to write some fun stories and share them with friends!

Sound good?
posted by griphus at 5:19 PM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sounds great!

2/1
This is the first of February, yes?
posted by comealongpole at 5:23 PM on December 2, 2013


Whoops, I forgot there's other countries. Yep, that's February 1st!
posted by griphus at 5:42 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been meaning to do this for years and haven't gotten off my behind about it. Count me in too.
posted by Betafae at 6:02 PM on December 2, 2013


The Inform 7 creators are actually very nice. Way back when I was trying to write a game, I emailed them a toy room that wasn't behaving like I thought it should! and they turned it into a worked example in the guide to explain in what order various actors perform their actions. So if you are trying to use Inform, you should totally email them with questions.

Just want to be clear, I wasn't trying to say an ill word against any of them. They're all basically geniuses, and Emily Short in particular I have an immense amount of respect for. They've done something in Inform 7 I wouldn't have suspected possible; that it's not as welcoming to newbies as it seems, well, you should see Inform 6 sometime.
posted by JHarris at 6:45 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, I have been percolating an IF story for children a while for work and actually started to get words down on paper the other day when this came up.

I had fleshed out a different little IF storyboard a while ago that was an autobiography. I felt that life kept giving me options and I was ALWAYS making the same choices and repeating the same plot points. Writing it down really helped me to see how the patterns in my life were not helping and so I wrote a new choice into the narrative!

I am not sure which one I will submit but Count me in!
posted by saucysault at 7:22 PM on December 2, 2013


Also, just in case: the fact that it is a contest is tradition and why not I'll put up a prize to be determined in the future. But if it helps people think of it more like NaNoWriMo (MeFiInFiMo?) feel free.

That's basically how I'm taking it. I don't write enough each day to expect what I write to be good, so I may as well use a contest as an excuse to write something at least.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:56 PM on December 2, 2013


February 1st - done.

Also, if anyone's thinking about how great it'd be if they could write interactive fiction without doing anything with technology, there's always the option for a traditional Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book in .pdf format where you "turn to page 31 to poke the dragon". Some great examples from the last year - To Be Or Not To Be (choose-your-own-Hamlet), Starwench (choose-your-own-scifi-death), and Trapped in Time (free!).
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 8:51 PM on December 2, 2013


I'll do it. Maybe.
posted by empath at 10:14 PM on December 2, 2013


I really like the idea of this! January is likely to be freer for me than February, so I probably won't join in, but I have been wanting to play with Twine...
posted by daisyk at 4:14 AM on December 3, 2013


Count me in. Now that Twine is a thing, I'm much more likely to actually get something done and a deadline seems like a good impetus.
posted by juv3nal at 11:43 AM on December 3, 2013


Inform 7 is very well documented these days. And the bazillion extensions include a lot of crazy-useful stuff, but like with most user-contributed software repositories, it can be hard to figure out which one's the buggy relic of a bygone age and which one's current best practice. But check out Player Experience Upgrade for one implementor's thoughts on the latter.

A couple of years ago, I'd taught myself enough to credibly claim to know Inform 7. But I've forgotten it all. sigh.
posted by Zed at 2:51 PM on December 3, 2013


I once tried to do a substantial project in Inform 7, and that's when I discovered that, while it's easy to read, it's confounding to write.

Yep, I had the same problem. It was great fun and an interesting and rewarding learning curve, but, man, I just didn't have the mettle for it.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:14 PM on December 3, 2013


:( Tried Twine and ended up in a sick goth-torture porn story.
posted by steinsaltz at 10:13 PM on December 3, 2013


I would really like to do something but not sure I have any ideas. I would really like to play other people's games though! If there is a list to be added to, could you please add me to the list? I shall try to think of something to do and poke at Twine and see how it goes, and hopefully also get to play other people's!
posted by Athanassiel at 12:13 AM on December 4, 2013


I am tentatively in, although I realize it means I will have to choose between entering and probably abandoning this IF competition or entering and probably abandoning the RPM Challenge.

From a programmer's perspective, Inform 6 was actually a lot easier to wrap my head around than Inform 7 is; it's got a basic brackets-and-parenthesis code syntax and just happens to be incredibly specialized in its purpose. The 'Inform Design Manual' for I6 was a great help, too. For an old-school text-only adventure, there's no reason not to write in I6, really... both of them compile to the same bytecode.

I haven't sunk my teeth into an I7 project yet, but earlier this year I did buy a copy of Aaron Reed's Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7, which walks you through the construction of an I7 story in a nice linear fashion (introduces concepts, works them into the story, and builds on it with each successive chapter.)

One thing I would request/recommend for this competition, particularly for those of us who don't usually write a lot of fiction (interactive or otherwise): Maybe we can establish some loose but common requirements to alleviate "terrifying big, blank, white canvas" brain-freeze; something like a random story generator idea where everyone has to incorporate 3 arbitrary elements into an arbitrary setting. I've only ever completed one IF minicomp and that was due in a large part to having those constraints to get me going. There's no saying people can't just use a story generator individually, but I like the idea of participants working from the same skeleton and seeing where everyone goes with it.
posted by usonian at 9:28 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah I sat down with that book back when I wanted to learn Inform 7 and it looked like a really great guide to it.

Maybe we can establish some loose but common requirements to alleviate "terrifying big, blank, white canvas" brain-freeze...

I feel like that might stifle some creativity/discourage people who already have ideas or types of fiction within which they do their best writing, but I haven't administrated (or even participated) in something like this. Do you have a link to that particular one you were part of so I could see how they did it?

Thoughts from other people appreciated as well.
posted by griphus at 9:49 AM on December 4, 2013


For an old-school text-only adventure, there's no reason not to write in I6, really

There really is, and that reason is the really cool stuff you can get in one include statement from the various Inform 7 extensions. I'm a programmer too, and am not wild about I7's syntax, but you'll get more done in less time starting cold in I7 than you would in I6, even with the time you spend cursing about how some things that should be easy are hard, or difficulties figuring out the exact right pseudo-english code to get it to do what you mean.
posted by Zed at 9:52 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe we can establish some loose but common requirements to alleviate "terrifying big, blank, white canvas" brain-freeze; something like a random story generator idea where everyone has to incorporate 3 arbitrary elements into an arbitrary setting.

I like this idea, but, like griphus, I wouldn't want to see people get stifled. If the idea is to inspire people intimidated by the blank canvas, we can always link to some writing prompts to use and mix as needed. I don't know where we would get those prompts, though.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:18 AM on December 4, 2013


At the risk of underthinking it, I think a totally workable solution to the "prompts for folks who want them without making prompts mandatory for those who don't" dilemma would be to let folks who want prompts during the thing say something like "man, I can't figure out what to write about" in the relevant thread and let other people be like "oh hey you could write about x" as they are so inclined.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:25 AM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't know where we would get those prompts, though.

Oblique Strategies!

(Half-kidding. Maybe 2/3-kidding.)
posted by ignignokt at 10:27 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most game jams use themes or goals now because they tend to draw more submissions, but those are all open-to-anyone jams rather than community-specific, so the theme tends to be what brings people together.

One thing some jams do is have an optional theme that people are encouraged to use, but not required. I'd love to see this, personally, but I don't think it's necessary since there's lots of tools out there for writing prompts.

If we went with an optional theme, Ludum Dare has a good method for picking them - anyone can submit them, they compile the list, and then the entrants vote on them just prior to the start.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 10:31 AM on December 4, 2013


Yeah, I didn't mean to be all overthinky/stifling about it. This was the minicomp I entered; there were only two entries including mine, so it's not really much of a sample. Perhaps the more interesting constraint was that you were not to spend more than 24 total hours (non-consecutive over one month) on the thing. (I'm not proposing that here, although that was also a useful constraint that kept me from overthinking any one part too much.)
posted by usonian at 10:36 AM on December 4, 2013


Oblique Strategies!

(Half-kidding. Maybe 2/3-kidding.)


Ooo. The third one I got was "What were the branch points in the evolution of this entity?" which seems appropriate for a Twine game.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:38 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


What?

SHORT STORY is evolving!

Congratulations! Your SHORT STORY evolved into IF!
posted by griphus at 10:55 AM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's SUPER AFFECTING!
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:02 AM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


One thing I've always thought would be cool (although again, constraining and maybe better as a coordinated collaborative work than a competition) would be to sketch out a map, some characters, and agreed upon key narrative events, and then have each participant write an IF piece following the different characters around through the course of a single day.
posted by usonian at 11:08 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm in. Can we donate prizes, too, like the yearly IFComp?
posted by corb at 2:53 PM on December 4, 2013


If we're all lumpers not splitters and the competition can be boiled down to "Hey guys! We're having fun making and playing narrative-y, primarily text-based games, come join us!" then I was wondering if it might be worth specifically name-dropping Visual Novels in the eventual announcement too. Could draw in interested MeFites from a similar, different IF tradition who don't know we want their input too (haven't properly looked at all previous compo threads yet to know if that's a given). I did some token toying around with Ren'Py ages ago and think a writer/programmer can easily go barebones using as much or as little illustrative material as they want, as well as writing more complex games like Christine Love does.

Anyone with any knowledge on the subject is most welcome to chip in on that idea. Not pushing it particularly, just thinking about what an explicit "Come-one, come-all!" policy might include. Me, I'm doing my best not to have daft, self-defeating ideas like picking a random home computer from MESS, learning some of its particular quirks and BASIC dialect, then whipping up something undistinguished for that machine. Because that would be silly.
posted by comealongpole at 3:51 PM on December 4, 2013


Me, I'm doing my best not to have daft, self-defeating ideas like

or, say, hey, neo4j would be a really neat basis to store the info for interactive fiction, and surely nltk could be the basis for a parser, and... (fifteen half-baked ideas later, go back to designing a tabletop role-playing game)
posted by Zed at 4:44 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Okay so if there's any demand for it when I make the January 1st post, I can provide a "include these randomly-selected tropes" list (or whatever) for people to work in along with the resources everyone is linking. When all the submissions come in at the end of February -- I can't imagine there's any use in trying to keep an entrant list -- we might even be able to split it into categories if there's enough entries. Obviously the nature of the categories will depend on what genres/engines/styles/whatever the submissions can be split up into.

Visual novels are welcome!

And everyone is absolutely free to donate prizes. If you want to make a category for the prize, just let me know before February 1st.
posted by griphus at 5:05 PM on December 4, 2013


Oh and hey just to whet y'alls appetite for participating: corb just offered a cool fifty bucks (that's $50 USD) for "Best New Author" to be awarded to the best contributor who has never before written a game. How's that for incentive?
posted by griphus at 6:32 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Loving that category idea!
posted by comealongpole at 6:38 PM on December 4, 2013


I've actually never written a game, although I did write reviews for a few year's comps (I have yet to post mine for this year, because I honestly wanted to play them all before putting them up.)

I...I think I'm ready for it now. Count me in.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:18 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I have spent far too much time trying to pretend Inform is a real programming language. I would really love to write a straight piece of IF someday, but every time I open up Inform I end up implementing a chess engine or writing a procedurally generated roguelike....

Q1 2014 looks to be the busiest three months of my life, but, maybe?
posted by 256 at 1:59 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


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