West of House
April 2, 2016 8:20 PM   Subscribe

A Brief Bibliography about IF History is a review and overview of the sometimes-mainstream, sometimes-forgotten genre of Interactive Fiction, and chock full of good links besides. By Emily Short, from her blog.
posted by nom de poop (71 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
 
Go West.
posted by Mezentian at 8:29 PM on April 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


Cool article. Does anybody who knows about IF reccomend one for me and my 8yo?
posted by signal at 8:31 PM on April 2, 2016


I was about 9yo the first time I played Adventure, and I still have fond memories of it, so I must recommend it, because these games were so engrossing back in the day.

(Also the docco Get Lamp, more generally).

But if you and the kid have read Hitchhikers Guide.... that one. That's a classic.
posted by Mezentian at 8:38 PM on April 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


I love IF so much. And I think that Twine killed it, or at least did it's best to do so.

There. I said it.

Signal: I recommend "Beautiful Frog." A frigging Twine game.
posted by 256 at 8:38 PM on April 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


Here is the correct link for "Ca. 2011 Nick Montfort and I wrote an account of IF communities that is arguably already way out of date", which is linked from the article.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:07 PM on April 2, 2016


Cool article. Does anybody who knows about IF reccomend one for me and my 8yo?

In the article at least, if you search down for the "inflection point" section it picks out three child-appropriate games.
posted by nom de poop at 9:19 PM on April 2, 2016


These are the notes from a Brian Moriarty talk on the history of interactive narrative which is pretty neat. Brings weird ironic(?) resonance to "would you kindly" from bioshock 1.

Also, the amazing Digital Antiquarian is relevant here if anyone is unfamiliar.
posted by juv3nal at 9:30 PM on April 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


I love IF so much. And I think that Twine killed it, or at least did it's best to do so.

There. I said it.

You're not alone.
I don't think Twine has killed IF (yet) but it is a sad and horrible and self-satisfied sanctimonious corruption and dumbing down of the medium which should never have been allowed to be seen as part of the noble and learned field of IF craftspeople
posted by Bwithh at 10:05 PM on April 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


"I love IF so much. And I think that Twine killed it, or at least did it's best to do so."

I thought it was when Sierra taught us all to click random items rather than trying random verbs in the hopes of completing abstruse puzzles.
posted by klangklangston at 10:05 PM on April 2, 2016 [11 favorites]


Twine and Inform/TADS are so different that it's hard to see them competing. The sort of people who enjoy Porpentine wouldn't be satisfied to play Trinity instead. The only real way I can see the existence of Twine degrading parser-based IF is that there would have been a lot more experimentalism in the latter if Twine authors had to learn a full-power parser system in order to subvert the classic genre. That's exactly how I think we ended up with Rybread Celsius!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:12 PM on April 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


There's a period in IF history that tends to get overlooked in potted histories like this one. Jimmy Maher waves in its direction in his reply about AGT, but it's really earlier than that.

When home microcomputers first came out in the late 70s and early 80s, they were designed to be programmed in BASIC, and a lot of hobbyists wrote text adventure games. They weren't really "commercial" (as emshort names that era), although they often got printed in type-it-in computer magazines, which were the primary distribution network of the day. Printed magazine programs also weren't a very good way to get IF, because the code used up lots of pages for text and by the time you'd finished reading it to type it in, you'd had a lot of gameplay spoiled!

The main benefit of reading adventure game code was that it taught readers how to construct their own games. By 1982, magazines were receiving tons of IF submissions in BASIC, and in the wake of Scott Adams's Dec. 1980 article in Byte, in machine language as well. Softside Magazine started an Adventure Of The Month club, mailing out data-cassettes to subscribers. You could buy books full of adventure games in program form.

It's no surprise this stuff isn't remembered, however. The only way to experience it would have been to find a vintage machine and old copies of the type-in magazines, and type them in yourself. Now that more periodicals of that era are showing up on Archive.org, and emulators are increasingly available, perhaps that'll change.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:34 PM on April 2, 2016 [10 favorites]


I've always been a little uncomfortable with the idea expressed in Zarf's "Cruelty Scale" which implies that a good IF game should be playable through from the beginning to the end without dying or other failure. Most of the really early games killed you off when you chose wrong, so I guess I got used to it. The discussions of the time on RAIF implied that since we wanted this stuff to be interactive fiction, not an adventure game, the arcade game model of "mastery through repeated plays" should give way to the interactive creation of a story in a single playthrough (pruning out a few dead ends, of course). I've been happy to see that literature has started to open itself up to the "video game" model, in books like DB Weiss's Lucky Wander Boy, in which a whole vision is built from false-ending-and-restarting numerous times like a video game. (A recent Neal Stephenson book works with something like this too.) When applied to IF, it means that the goal is to master the system of the world modeled in the program, which can only happen through extended & repeated experiences with it.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:51 PM on April 2, 2016 [6 favorites]


I guess I have A LOT OF OPINIONS on this subject.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:52 PM on April 2, 2016


Some of my favorite IF games involved colleges: Veritas and The Lurking Horror stick out in my mind the most..

Though a special shoutout must go to Pick Up the Phone Booth and Die, which I managed to win once.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:38 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've always been a little uncomfortable with the idea expressed in Zarf's "Cruelty Scale" which implies that a good IF game should be playable through from the beginning to the end without dying or other failure. Most of the really early games killed you off when you chose wrong, so I guess I got used to it.

I come down on the other side of the equation and I can pinpoint exactly when my conversion happened; the portal in Infocom's Trinity which leads into the hard vacuum of space and which can only be survived by going through the door while inside the giant's soap bubble.

Because, even at the tender age of 11 at which I played, I knew in my heart it was utter bullshit that the only way to survive going through that door was to use knowledge of what was on the other side of the doorway which is knowledge your character cannot possibly possess. No.

I make exceptions for games like HHGTtG where you expect to be lied to, deceived, and otherwise treated unfairly. But in most instances it should be possible, however unlikely, to reason and logic your way through the game without dying and without using Meta knowledge acquired outside the current playthrough.
posted by Justinian at 1:44 AM on April 3, 2016 [15 favorites]


signal:Does anybody who knows about IF reccomend one for me and my 8yr old?

If you want to try a traditional 'type at the screen to tell your character what to do' game with your 8 year old that’s very approachable, very funny & perfectly pitched try Lost Pig by Admiral Jota. You can play it online here or download the game file itself & a copy of gargoyle (which will play most old-school-style IF filetypes) if you want to. There are some links on the author’s website.
posted by pharm at 2:02 AM on April 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


Hadean Lands by Andrew Plotkin capped off the medium for me. That game was astounding... my favorite video game of 2014, for sure.

The game included a ton of ease-of-gameplay systems, a robust crafting system, fair puzzles, a death system that made narrative sense... playing it was like looking into a universe where IF had been the dominant paradigm through the whole history of video games. Visual games have been able to evolve by iterating on one another and adopting the systems that were successful in previous games, but IF has always felt comparatively frozen. Hadean Lands somehow imagines a ton of innovations all at once.

It seems pretty apparent that Plotkin's game was a one-off and that other people won't be repurposing his innovations... they're too much work to implement. I like games like The Gostak and Counterfeit Monkey, but they're no Hadean Lands.
posted by painquale at 3:06 AM on April 3, 2016 [11 favorites]


Emily Short is a national treasure. And she seems like exactly the sort to show up in a MetaFilter thread related to her work...

Anyway. Do you like IF? Do you like Lovecraft? Then spend your Sunday playing Anchorhead. It's one of the best of the genre.

Emily Short's own Bronze is quite good, as well.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:27 AM on April 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


I love IF so much. And I think that Twine killed it, or at least did it's best to do so.

As someone who likes IF without knowing too much about it, why did Twine damage things?
posted by litleozy at 5:51 AM on April 3, 2016


> But if you and the kid have read Hitchhikers Guide.... that one. That's a classic.

Ummm... Justinian touches on why. To the point, HHGTG requires awareness of the metagame and some intuition of how it's commenting on the tropes of both sci-fi and text adventures. Neither are things you can recognize until you've played other, more straightforward games. Otherwise it's going to seem like a string of silly gotchas with ever-declining payoffs.

tl;dr: Letting your child figure out on their own how to get the Babel fish is how you show them how much you love them.
posted by ardgedee at 5:52 AM on April 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


> I don't think Twine has killed IF (yet) but it is a sad and horrible and self-satisfied sanctimonious corruption and dumbing down of the medium which should never have been allowed to be seen as part of the noble and learned field of IF craftspeople

Hi, I'm guessing I'm one of the people you'd slot into the category of "noble and learned field of IF craftspeople". And the idea that Twine is killing IF, and that it's a corruption/degrading of some platonic ideal of IF isn't factually correct, plus it's perniciously gate-keepery in really terrible ways.

The IFComp is the de-facto big-name competition in the traditional interactive fiction community. There's been a lot of hand-wringing over Twine and other choice-based systems bringing down the competition and driving out games written with parser-based tools, but that hasn't happened. In 2009, when there were no choice-based games in the competition at all, there were 24 parser-based games that used tools like Inform 7 or TADS. In 2012, the last year before Twine became A Big Thing, there were 21 parser-based games. Last year, there were 22 parser-based games. If Twine really were killing off "traditional" IF, that number should have bottomed out. That it hasn't, even in this era of Twine's ascendency, tells me that plenty of people are still writing parser-base IF.

What Twine has done is make text-based game writing way more accessible to people who otherwise wouldn't have tried writing text games. Sure, its simplicity means that it can be used to write not-very-good things, but it's not like using Inform 7 magically solves that problem! There've been plenty of really terrible parser-based games entered in the IFComp over the years. And we in the community have a long history of tearing down easy-to-use tools. We turned up our nose at AGT. Then we denigrated ADRIFT. Now it's Twine.

But Twine's a different thing, both because of the kind of games it's best for and because of the kind of community it's attracted. A lot of queer and trans people are writing games, often very personal, revealing ones, using Twine. Porpentine's one of the best-known working in that space, but there are plenty of others. Zoë Quinn used Twine to write Depression Quest. And they've gotten a lot of shit thrown at them.

So when people say that Twine is a "horrible and self-satisfied sanctimonious corruption and dumbing down of the medium," what I hear is "these creators should be shamed and silenced."
posted by sgranade at 7:09 AM on April 3, 2016 [40 favorites]


I'll just sit here in the corner, sucking my thumb, and having flashbacks to the Babelfish puzzle in The Hichhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
posted by SansPoint at 7:46 AM on April 3, 2016


I'm still a fan of Spider and Web for finding the neatest possible framing for what we take for granted in parser-driven IF interfaces. I often feel like it's a narrative device that we think of as having been done already, thanks to this game. I wish more people would try it and just accept that it won't be the first time it was done.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 8:13 AM on April 3, 2016 [6 favorites]



So when people say that Twine is a "horrible and self-satisfied sanctimonious corruption and dumbing down of the medium," what I hear is "these creators should be shamed and silenced."


While I don't think Twine is killing IF (I think that has been done already to the extent it is going to happen, and Twine isn't similar enough to older IF to fill the same niche ) I think this may be an unnecessarily harsh reading of the original poster's statement. I thought Depression Quest was really clever and engaging, but honestly, most Twine games are not very good. They are frequently barely games at all, with extremely linear structures that don't vary with the players choices and no real chance of choosing incorrectly. The best of them are more like fun art-toys, the worst are like self-indulgent short stories where the author lets you pick a line of prose here or there. So while Twine isn't a cancer devouring the heart of IF, I don't think you have to be a bigoted or hateful person to dislike it.
posted by pattern juggler at 8:16 AM on April 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


Spider and Web was amazing. It was also one of the few 90s IF games I played without spoilers, so the narrative design hit me full force. It’s really worth playing if you have any interest in the genre at all & you should do so without spoiling yourself on the plot if you possibly can. Zarf is some kind of mad artistic genius who chose weird techy things as his medium of choice & has therefore been ignored by the rest of the artistic world. His stuff is still wonderful & quietly brilliant regardless.

For me, the IF world has been one of the background threads of my life somehow - I think you’ll find the odd post of mine in rec.arts/games.int-fiction if you go looking. I played most of the games that came out in the early 90s, as well as some of the mad things written by Jonathan Partington on the Cambridge central mainframe (which were later ported to many of the early UK microcomputers & remained on the central computing facilities like some ossifying piece of earlier times.) Odd people from the IF scene seem to have dropped in and out my my life ever since - my first job in Oxford I worked with the guy who ported one of the Infocom interpreters to the Psion 5 & Graham Nelson turned out to be the friend of a friend, which meant I also ran into Emily Short.

Maybe it’s time I wrote something myself :)
posted by pharm at 8:36 AM on April 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Maybe it’s time I wrote something myself :)

If you do, let us know so we can play with it, please. :)
posted by pattern juggler at 8:39 AM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


An aside: Having just gone on a short nostalgia trip delving through groups.google.com for my old usenet posts, you can tell Google has pretty much abandoned that service because some search features simply don’t work any more.

Does anyone have a copy of the archive that Google acquired from dejanews, or are they the only one? Because it’s pretty clear that Google have abandoned it & at some point they’ll almost certainly pull the plug on the archive altogether.
posted by pharm at 8:53 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just remember being a kid of maybe six, seven years old, playing Zork on somebody's old Apple. The only suitable word, despite its hackneyed nature, was "magical." There was an imaginary world inside the box! And the things you did could change it. To me, that's always been the fundamental wonder of coding, that with a few twitches of your fingers you could do things (and in coding, actually change the real world).

I haven't kept up with IF at all, but that experience was the foundation of my view of the technological future. It's that six-year-old me who still gets disappointed, every damn time, by the stupid, greedy, or fascist directions tech keeps pursuing.
posted by praemunire at 9:30 AM on April 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Twine can be used to do some quite lovely things, see that game with Vin Deisel as your DM game, and I think the main criticism of it - that it's easy to put together something quite throwaway - is actually a strength.

And I'd say a choose-your-own-adventure type game is actually a bit of a separate genre from a text adventure.

I really must do more with my own IF engine project. Lots of ideas, not a lot of time.
posted by Artw at 9:54 AM on April 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


pharm, which era?

https://archive.org/details/utzoo-wiseman-usenet-archive is the ancient trove

https://archive.org/details/usenethistorical is post-1991 of vague provenance
posted by joeyh at 10:05 AM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Has anything been written comparing the IF and roguelike communities and how they're developing? Because that could be pretty fascinating.
posted by joeyh at 10:22 AM on April 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


While we're talking engine projects, I'm still rather pleased with my awk implementation of the Cloak of Darkness spec.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 10:28 AM on April 3, 2016


I thought Depression Quest was really clever and engaging, but honestly, most Twine games are not very good.

Sure, but most parser games are not very good, too. Hell, I've written my own terrible game! Twine's at this point where people are still figuring out best practices for these kinds of choice-based game, and there's a lot of interesting experimentation going on. It's like the late-'90s to mid-2000s parser games, and the bottom-ranking IFComp games from that era will demonstrate similar quality issues.

So while Twine isn't a cancer devouring the heart of IF, I don't think you have to be a bigoted or hateful person to dislike it.

Absolutely. But there's a big difference between "I don't like Twine games" (or even "Twine games aren't very good") and "Twine is killing IF". The latter's a political statement, and it invites a disproportionally-strong response. There's a direct line from that to viewing Twine a "corruption".
posted by sgranade at 10:40 AM on April 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Here's my project, for anyone that's interested.
posted by Artw at 10:48 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised Phoenix Wright and King of Dragon Pass don't get a mention, I guess they are their own weird sub genres.
posted by Artw at 10:51 AM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Actually if I continued working on the engine it would probably be to make it a bit more graphical and with a bit more of a sense of an environment, like the Phoenix Wright games.
posted by Artw at 10:53 AM on April 3, 2016


I've always loved IF more in theory than in practice. something about most games in the genre feels cold and distant to me. the exception is Photopia, which is one of the most profoundly touching narrative experiences i have ever encountered. i would recommend it highly to anyone who hasn't played it.
posted by JimBennett at 11:03 AM on April 3, 2016


joeyh: Has anything been written comparing the IF and roguelike communities and how they're developing? Because that could be pretty fascinating.

Come to think of it, there's a comparison to be made between the prominence of Twine/hypertext in IF and the use of "roguelike elements" in "action roguelikes" and such. At the very least, you have a similar phenomenon where some of the old-school fans get annoyed at what they consider to be imprecise use of terminology.
posted by baf at 11:12 AM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


(funny personal note: just learned that i am quoted on adam cadre's website saying (hyperbolically) "I don't think any other work of art has ever affected me to the extent that Photopia has." i wrote that review when i was like fourteen for the long defunct site playthisthing.com, which i literally forgot i used to write for, so this thread is bringing me down memory lane in multiple ways)
posted by JimBennett at 11:17 AM on April 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


(FWIW, I don't object to Twine being labeled as IF, but I recently saw something that applied the term "interactive ficiton" to Gone Home and Dear Esther, and that made me twitch a little.)
posted by baf at 11:33 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, TBH, I always saw IF as a dopey euphemism for "text adventure" used to make them sound more grown up, as "graphic novels" are to "comics".
posted by Artw at 11:42 AM on April 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Huh, I always thought "graphic novel" just meant it wasn't comical, and was published all at once instead of being a serial.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:49 AM on April 3, 2016


Likewise, I always thought "interactive fiction" was meant to be a larger umbrella term to encompass more than just standard adventure-format text games. I saw it as a sort of starry-eyed early-1990s MIT MediaLab category to put on grant applications for just about anything.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:51 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I guess it probably covers all manner of CD-ROM era things too.
posted by Artw at 11:53 AM on April 3, 2016


Firewatch opens with a Twinelike sequence. Does it count as IF? If so, it might be the biggest American IF release. The guys at Campo Santo internally built a Twine game to develop the protagonist's backstory, but then they realized that it worked so well that they included it in the main game. (I thought it was the strongest part of the game too. The rest of the game had some real narrative problems, IMO, but that opening was outstanding.)

I'm surprised Phoenix Wright and King of Dragon Pass don't get a mention, I guess they are their own weird sub genres.

Yeah, interesting. Maybe Phoenix Wright wasn't included because it's a Japanese import? The virtual novel medium is really promising, but I wish it would grow up a little. I love the Phoenix Wright games --- they're the only games I know of where you're fighting on the side of epistemic virtue rather than, say, for some mushy notion of good vs. evil. But the simplistic writing style and the hamfistedness of theme and underdeveloped characters in pretty much all other virtual novels makes them feel like they're written at a fifth-grade level. They don't aspire to be anything greater than Shonen Jump manga. I can't stand pretty much any of the non-Phoenix Wright virtual novels... even the celebrated ones like the Zero Escape games. (Well, I did think Danganronpa was trashy fun.)
posted by painquale at 11:56 AM on April 3, 2016


I think that the good "visual novels" I've played are really successful at setting tone through their combination of visuals and sounds alongside the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure branching path also available in Twine. There's the Ren'Py engine to write your own and I've always wondered what a non-anime oriented visual novel could be like for a game exploring history and historiography. For example, using figures and backgrounds from European oil paintings or Chinese posters from the Cultural Revolution.
posted by Gnatcho at 12:08 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I use Twine on our company website to create wizards to help customers work out which of our products they want to buy...!
posted by alasdair at 12:48 PM on April 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


One thing I like about this article is that it acknowledges the kind of hidebound attitude of the IF community. Because yeah, for them to claim something as broad as interactive fiction when they focus on prompt & parser text adventures so exclusively does seem to be putting on airs.

And Gone Home is not just IF, but it's in the style of text adventures, based totally on exploring and lookin' at shit. It doesn't have puzzles really, but if Photopia is IF, then Gone Home has to be. (Adam Cadre, the first indie dev?) I think Life Is Strange and Walking Dead should count too, even if they lean more on CYOA elements.

I think I'd try to define it as just trying primarily to tell a story. Mostly they've just gotta care a lot and try, it's got to be "about" the story and experience and not about presenting a new model of Skinner box. I think lots of indie games are safely within the definition. I want to exclude, like, Watch_Dogs and other Ubisoft games because its story was fake garbage lying trash. But Last of Us is probably in...

King of Dragon Pass I would say was solidly a Hammurabi or Lemonade kind of game, with some CYOA-ish bits thrown in. I guess Civ or hideously 4X games are the final form of that line?

Roguelikes are pretty directly the curses era offshoot of text adventures. I don't think text adventures work so easily with primitive graphics, though, so roguelikes became their own thing pretty quickly, more in communication with action games than text adventures (though NetHack keeps a foot in the text adventure world by being verbose and silly.)
posted by nom de poop at 12:49 PM on April 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


joeyh: ’92 onwards. Will poke archive.org!
posted by pharm at 12:56 PM on April 3, 2016


Twenty years onwards, and I still haven't finished Curses. Pick it up at least twice a year, earn a few more points, get stuck, then get frustrated. Grrrr.
posted by fordiebianco at 1:48 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Curses was great, but it is a bit obtuse in parts. IIRC I needed the odd spoiler in order to finish it.
posted by pharm at 3:29 PM on April 3, 2016


Cool article. Does anybody who knows about IF reccomend one for me and my 8yo?

What I would maximum recommend for a first-timer is Andrew Plotkin's "The Dreamhold", which is specifically designed to inform and guide players who are new to parser IF, which can be a really tricky and discouraging beast if you aren't ready for the ways it fails on its promise of natural language interpretation. For example, if you don't know that the way to find out what you're carrying is to type the word "inventory", you would never guess that particular command in a million years.

I also recommend (for everyone, not just first-timers) the most-recent-but-one episode of the podcast Watch Out For Fireballs, wherein they review and discuss the classic Infocom games Planetfall and A Mind Forever Voyaging, and the modern games Slouching Towards Bedlam and The King of Shreds and Patches.
posted by rifflesby at 3:49 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I also just want to say that one of my favorite childhood memories is of working through Scott Adams' Pirate's Cove with my dad when I was about 8 years old, so thumbs-up, Signal.
posted by rifflesby at 3:53 PM on April 3, 2016


What Twine has done is make text-based game writing way more accessible to people who otherwise wouldn't have tried writing text games. Sure, its simplicity means that it can be used to write not-very-good things, but it's not like using Inform 7 magically solves that problem! [...] And we in the community have a long history of tearing down easy-to-use tools. We turned up our nose at AGT. Then we denigrated ADRIFT. Now it's Twine.
Inform 7 is an ironic example, because it also made text-based game writing way more accessible to people who otherwise wouldn't have tried writing games. Almost every aspect of I7 is an attempt to make IF authorship accessible to people who have experience writing stories or playing [parser] IF, but who aren't programmers. It's the thing Infocom might've wished they could hand to Douglas Adams, so he could write the HHGTTG game himself without needing someone to translate his thoughts into code.

Inform 7 was shocking when it came out, but it never became the butt of jokes like ADRIFT and AGT. Why not? Because I7 isn't a toy. If you write your first game in I7 because it looks easy, you aren't going to hit a wall someday when you're working on a more sophisticated game and realize you need more than it can offer. It doesn't give up features for simplicity, it just presents them through a new lens.

Twine isn't a toy either. Like I7, it's arguably the best tool in its class.

But it's a tool for creating something very different, for an audience that's uninterested in much of what people enjoy about parser IF. It's making word searches when I7 is making crossword puzzles. Some people like both, some prefer one or the other, but that preference has nothing to do with how easy they are to make.
So when people say that Twine is a "horrible and self-satisfied sanctimonious corruption and dumbing down of the medium," what I hear is "these creators should be shamed and silenced."
I've seen people ascribe that view to others who disagree with them -- including a prolific Twine author, in an over-the-top reaction to low scores from IFComp judges -- but I've never seen anyone express it as their own opinion.

If crossword fans started complaining that 60% of the entries in the latest crossword puzzle competition were "horrible, dumbed-down word searches", would we need to find a way to paint their criticism as bigotry? Couldn't they just be territorial, or snobbish, or even genuinely concerned that lumping both types of "text grid games" together wasn't fair to either of them?
posted by TaradinoC at 4:07 PM on April 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


I spent a Valentine's Day across the ocean from my girlfriend a couple of years ago, so I downloaded Twine and wrote a little CYOA in which I showed up at her door and she then got to make decisions about what we'd do on our virtual Valentine's date. It was cool that there existed a tool so easy to learn that allowed me to do that.
posted by painquale at 4:29 PM on April 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


So when people say that Twine is a "horrible and self-satisfied sanctimonious corruption and dumbing down of the medium," what I hear is "these creators should be shamed and silenced."
I've seen people ascribe that view to others who disagree with them -- including a prolific Twine author, in an over-the-top reaction to low scores from IFComp judges -- but I've never seen anyone express it as their own opinion.


Someone expressed that exact opinion, in those exact words, in this very discussion, and at this point it has four favorites.
posted by sgranade at 5:14 PM on April 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


Can I take a minor thread detour to mention how amazing the packaging could be for some of the early Infocom games? I had a copy of Wishbringer on 5.25" and it came with an actual rose-colored crystal in a leather pouch. And like a weird note in a weathered envelope and a map of some sort. Am I remembering that right?
posted by deadbilly at 5:39 PM on April 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


Can I take a minor thread detour to mention how amazing the packaging could be for some of the early Infocom games?

If they weren't the original reason for the term "feelies" for tangible pack-ins, they were at least proximate. HGTtG had peril sensitive sunglasses and pocket lint if I remember correctly.
posted by juv3nal at 5:42 PM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Someone expressed that exact opinion, in those exact words, in this very discussion, and at this point it has four favorites.
I was referring to the second quote: "these creators should be shamed and silenced." No one said that. That opinion only seems to exist as a bogeyman, a way to insulate certain works from criticism by equating blunt criticism of the works with prejudice against the authors.
posted by TaradinoC at 6:19 PM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


For the most part, people influenced by VNs make VNs and people influenced by IF make IF, even though they're close enough for cross-pollination.

Some of the graphical adventure games were influenced by text adventure games. Adventure was inspired by Colossal Cave Adventure. (Though if I wasn't told I may have never made the connection.) The early Sierra games kept the text parser as your main mechanic for interaction, and only switched to point-and-click many years later. Though once graphical adventure games are firmly established enough, new games can be made based solely on other graphical adventure games, ignoring the text games.

This article claims that the visual novel can be traced to The Portopia Serial Murder Case which was influenced by Western adventure games. On the P.C. it used the text parser, but when ported to the Famicom, you could select actions from a list.

One game I've played is called Dyscourse, it's about the survivors of a plane crash, stuck on an island, and as the player you make these multiple choice decisions. It could probably be presented as a visual novel without any loss of gameplay. But they chose a different visual presentation that's more like the point-and-click graphical adventure lineage.
posted by RobotHero at 6:45 PM on April 3, 2016


I was referring to the second quote: "these creators should be shamed and silenced."

Ah, I misunderstood what you were referring to. Sorry about that.

a way to insulate certain works from criticism by equating blunt criticism of the works with prejudice against the authors

That's not what I'm on about here. The original opinion stated that Twine, and by extension all Twine works, weren't to be seen as part of the field of IF. That's explicitly saying that Twine works are corrupt, inferior, and the authors and their works should be thrown out of IF.

My response wasn't to "blunt criticism of works". It was to a blanket condemnation and a call for a completely separate space for Twine authors and their works.
posted by sgranade at 6:50 PM on April 3, 2016


That's explicitly saying that Twine works are corrupt, inferior, and the authors and their works should be thrown out of IF. [...] My response wasn't to "blunt criticism of works". It was to a blanket condemnation and a call for a completely separate space for Twine authors and their works.
Who's calling for a separate space for Twine authors? Even Porpentine has written parser games; no one says those don't count as IF, or shouldn't be part of the comp, because of who wrote them. Blanket condemnation of all CYOA might be a little closed-minded -- just like blanket condemnation of word searches -- but still, it's about the games, not the authors.

I think "Twine is killing IF" is paranoid hyperbole. But if there's any sense in which Twine is killing IF, it's this: it has led to a situation where anyone who expresses the wrong opinion about certain games or tools is open to character assassination. This didn't happen back when we were all issuing blanket condemnations of mazes and apartments.
posted by TaradinoC at 9:12 PM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I used to play Colossal Cave at my Dad's work back in '78. I then voraciously chewed through any IF I could get my hands on.

I entered the IFComp in '96, having taught myself Inform 6, which in turn taught me a whole bunch about what programming was and how it wasn't actually all that tricky. The web gave it context and suddenly I had a career.

Last week a fellow Mefite sent me an invite to the pub to talk about making a Twine thing with words and music. I enthusiastically agreed.

I suspect the exact same urge to fiddle about with stuff and problem solve and co-create is at play in all three stages.
posted by Sparx at 10:07 PM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


It seems pretty apparent that Plotkin's game was a one-off and that other people won't be repurposing his innovations... they're too much work to implement.

I think this is what happened with Emily Short's AI (Galatea) and Lucian Smith's language puzzle (The Edifice). They were implemented as massive, gnarly, tangles of hacks and special case conditionals, and the authors don't want to embarrass themselves by releasing the source code. But publishing your crap is the only way everyone else learns. So everyone who wants to tell a story with realistic NPCs now has to reinvent their own wheels.

...Which is what drives people to Twine. (I'm definitely in the "it's not IF" camp.) If you want to start with story, as writers are most comfortable doing, you might prefer a tool like Twine that lets you write narrative and then complicate it with CYOA elements. The IF model, on the other hand, starts with a parser, which is just a bunch of hardcoded responses to commands, and sticks a world model on top of that, so that the responses seem to reflect the simulation of an in-game world. But getting a plot, character development, and thematic unity out of that is really tough abstraction-building work.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:38 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


> I think this is what happened with Emily Short's AI (Galatea) and Lucian Smith's language puzzle (The Edifice). They were implemented as massive, gnarly, tangles of hacks and special case conditionals, and the authors don't want to embarrass themselves by releasing the source code. But publishing your crap is the only way everyone else learns. So everyone who wants to tell a story with realistic NPCs now has to reinvent their own wheels.

Do they? Here are a few more up-to-date resources about dialogue handling post-Galatea, in Inform and in other systems, as well as my personal research in this area:

Threaded Conversation library for Inform
Some of the (many) alternate libraries for Inform conversation (and similar libraries exist for TADS 3)
Blog posts from the Alabaster project, a collaborative and publicly visible use of Threaded Conversation in which multiple authors participated, and which has released source
2009 post for the game industry about conversation modeling drawing on the resulting research
Source for Counterfeit Monkey, including dialogue implemented via Threaded Conversation
A bibliography (culled by someone else) on what I've written about conversation modeling
The conversation modeling subcategory of my blog, which also covers interesting work in games by other people
Prompter, a language for the Versu project, which experimented with an alternate tool for writing conversation-rich stories
Post on what happened when we ported Galatea to Versu
ICCC Keynote about what we learned from Versu and where we might need to go next
Annals of the Parrigues is an experiment in text generation in order to investigate solutions to some of the problems outlined in that keynote; it includes an extensive appendix about its technical and aesthetic aims

That list doesn't get at the numerous things done by other people, including for instance Aaron Reed's dynamic, talkative character Progue in Blue Lacuna, for which there was a source release and an ELO publication.

The conversation tag at IFDB might also suggest some interesting places to look for followups and alternatives to conversation-based parser IF.
posted by emshort at 11:42 PM on April 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


Ha! Careful what you wish for Harvey, you might get it.

(So, Stephen Granade, Emily Short. Who else from the old days of rec.*.int-fiction has a metafilter account?)

I really must get back to Hadean Lands sometime. I kind of got distracted after the early game and never went back.
posted by pharm at 4:36 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hey. Sorry for dropping that comment and disappearing. It was meant to be more tongue in cheek (hence the "Beautiful Frog" recommendation) than it came across.

Absolutely. But there's a big difference between "I don't like Twine games" (or even "Twine games aren't very good") and "Twine is killing IF". The latter's a political statement, and it invites a disproportionally-strong response. There's a direct line from that to viewing Twine a "corruption".

What I actually feel on the matter is something more nuanced. First off, I want to say that I love IF to an unhealthy degree. My beef with Twine is that I feel it encourages a sort of lazy game design and, frankly, I've always felt that the best IF excels more on the basis of its gameplay than its prose. So we get all these Twine games (and often it's arguable whether they are even "games") that feel very same-y in every way except for the prose itself. And I have yet to encounter a Twine game (even the best ones, and the same goes for parser games, mostly) where the prose really made me sit up and take notice. That goes double for the proliferation of super-arty Twine games that feel like they are trying to be interactive poems. I absolutely respect the concept, but experience has shown that the execution is nigh-impossible to nail.

So, basically, I don't really like Twine games (with a few notable exceptions), and I would even go so far as to say that I think the medium pushes creators unwittingly towards making bad games.

The obvious question is: so what? Even if a ton of people are making terrible Twine games, what's the harm to parser-based IF. As Stephen has pointed out, parser-based IF is still plenty healthy. Established creators aren't abandoning Inform for Twine, even if they do dabble and put out a Twine game or two. And as for new creators, I expect Twine to act as a sort of gateway drug to Inform for many in the next generation. That's obviously a plus.

But I do think there is some harm being done when it comes to exposure. The gaming press, as well as more general interest outlets like Metafilter, have a limited appetite for IF. On Metafilter, we maybe get three or four IF posts a year. On a blog like Rock, Paper, Shotgun, maybe you see fifteen or twenty a year. That number hasn't really gone up since Twine came on to the scene. Instead, posts about Twine games are taking up column inches that would once have been covering parser games. And the posts disproportionately ARE about Twine games. So parser-based creators get less exposure and IF virgins become more likely to try a bad Twine game as their first game and perhaps write IF off entirely as not their cup of tea.

This is, obviously, pretty far from a doomsday scenario. Nothing is being killed here, and I wouldn't have put it that way if I thought I would be taken seriously (my fault, not anyone else's). That said, I do think that the ascendancy of Twine is at best a mixed bag when it comes to the health of IF in general. Still, people creating art is an unqualified win for everyone. And if Twine is the medium that gets people who wouldn't otherwise create creating, so be it!

I'm probably just be super biased as a parser-game creator myself, with a penchant towards twisting the parser into convoluted knots to expose unexpected gameplay options. My favourite of my own creations (DaybreakRL) is a roguelike, complete with random dungeon generation, randomized item descriptions, and hack-and-slash combat realized in Inform through arcane trickery. My current project is a chess-based story that includes a functioning chess engine embedded within the Inform code and uses moves you make on a chess board as meaning tokens in the unfolding narrative. So, yeah. I like IF games that are different, and most Twine games feel very much the same.

(So, Stephen Granade, Emily Short. Who else from the old days of rec.*.int-fiction has a metafilter account?)

Raises hand. I'm hardly on the level of Stephen or Emily, but I'm definitely an old salt on int-fiction Usenet.
posted by 256 at 5:58 AM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


I definitely wouldn't describe all of Twine as alike, but even if we leave that aside: Twine has inspired a lot of parser experimentation, both encouraging people to think more about what their UI can do, and opening up the idea of modeling narrative as well as/instead of physical space. I feel like I'm already pushing my luck with self-linking, so I won't link my own articles about this here, but recent parser experiments are pretty interesting and also, IMO, often show a conceptual debt to the existence of Twine.

Also, there's a huge amount of stuff that isn't Twine or Inform — Aaron Reed and Jacob Garbe's Ice-Bound Concordance, everything written in ChoiceScript or StoryNexus, inkle's work, etc. — some of which has a significant world model and mechanical richness underlying a clickable interface.

As for what is and isn't a game: I've given up arguing over that label because, in my experience, it is almost always really an argument about who deserves access to community resources, rather than about refining our definitions.
posted by emshort at 8:06 AM on April 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


(So, Stephen Granade, Emily Short. Who else from the old days of rec.*.int-fiction has a metafilter account?)
Hi. (There are more too.)
posted by dfan at 10:35 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm finding myself wondering if The Space under the Window was, in hindsight, actually the first Twine game. (Googling tells me that I'm far from the first person to make this observation, which is unsurprising.) I think it'd be cool to see an actual Twine port of it, though, and from the Twine games I've seen it seems entirely possible.
posted by NMcCoy at 1:29 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you haven't read any good Twine IF lately, may I direct your attention to sub-Q Magazine.
posted by AteYourLembas at 2:26 PM on April 4, 2016


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