Weekly Links #300: interactive fiction edition



Hello, everyone! The week had just started when Leaf Corcoran gave a heads-up that Chooseco was sending takedown notices to Itch.io over games labeling themselves as Choose Your Own Adventure. (The Verge has details.) Which, as Robin Johnson promtly pointed out, is incredibly hypocritical: but for hobbyists reviving the genre since ten years ago and change, they wouldn't have a business anymore, let alone a brand to defend.

"Intellectual property" in all its forms is an absurd notion to begin with. That trademarks live forever is Kafka-esque. To attack the very people who give you any brand recognition at all should be suicidal. It's time we start making it so.

Then again, earlier this autumn the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation trademarked the name Twine, more than ten years after the tool was created. And their first warning was also to fans, as opposed to any commercial interests you might argue they are defending against. Funny move from an organization supposedly founded to preserve and advance, you know, a cultural heritage.

Good thing I settled on making my gamebooks with Tweego instead. Hint, hint.

In the way of news, this week we have a discussion of choice in story games, and a technical issue with the aforementioned CYOA tool. Last but not least, three more links without any commentary, and what you can expect during the holiday break, which will be unusually long this year. Arguably appropriate for the end of the decade. Details below the cut.

Also at the start of this week, Emily Short answers a reader's question on how to deal with moments when the player character must do a certain thing for the plot to work. My answer is rather shorter and more blunt than hers: if your plot hinges on the protagonist making a decision that doesn't result naturally from everything that happened up to that point, it's broken and you have to rethink the entire story. This is true enough in static fiction; in a game, doubly so. Let the game end right there if the player won't go along with your hook. To remove their agency would be an unforgivable sin.

Case in point: classic text adventure Blue Chairs, where you're supposed to take drugs at a party to get the story going (the rest is presumably a literal acid trip). I adamantly refused to do that even in a fictional setting... and the game reacted by giving me an early, bland ending. No judgement. No nudging. No nothing. It respected my choice without comment. And I still respect it in turn.

In tabletop roleplaying, game masters have the luxury to chat with their players in advance and make sure they are comfortable with the things they'll face before wasting hours or days of their time with a game they'll hate. With videogames, it's a lot more complicated than that. But you can let the player say "no"... or they can close the game, uninstall it and ask for their money back. Your choice.

A warning to users of the Tweego interactive fiction authoring system: after upgrading to version 2.0 (and the included SugarCube 2.29), I could no longer open a test project in my browser: the game would get stuck at the loading screen. Thought it was a compatibility issue, but as pointed out in this forum thread, it's simply a matter of making sure that the StoryTitle passage does not start with a blank line. In other words, do this:

:: StoryTitle
Kitty and the Sea

Interestingly, Chapbook works fine, but for showing the offending newline as an escape code. So you need this fix anyway.

An easy workaround then, until the next release of Tweego and/or SugarCube hopefully fixes this bug. Hope this helps!

In the way of links without comment, too, there is plenty to read this week again:

As usual, you can find all of them in the link archive for December.

With this, we conclude 2019, and with it an entire decade. I still can't believe No Time To Play has existed for nine and a half years, and this newsletter for six. During which time I never missed a week, either. Next summer will hopefully be marked by the second No Time To Play book. After that, who knows. Meanwhile, there's more to write about making games. Watch this space, and follow me on Mastodon, too.

Happy holidays, and see you in the new year two weeks from now!


Tags: interactive fiction, business, game design, writing, philosophy