Community Project: The Maze Gallery

Hello and welcome, I am organizing a collaborative community game built without profit in mind for the joy of making something together. The end result will be a choice-based interactive fiction game inspired by surreal, mysterious art such as the work of M.C. Escher, Lewis Carrol and Italo Calvino.

The Pitch

You have been transported to a bizarre museum whose strangeness only grows the longer you remain, and you grow strange with it. Find your way out of the twisting halls, past the impossible sculptures, and try to retain some sense of self for when you return to the real world.

Full project description here: Maze Gallery Design Doc - Google Docs

At its heart I’m looking to populate this gallery with lots of weird art pieces, so if you want to drop in and write a single description of an art piece to be slotted into the final gallery you’re more than welcome! No coding, no version control, no problem.

We’re especially trying to help new authors find their voice and get practice working with other writers. To that end this is probably going to be a puzzle-light, exploration-heavy game, but it all depends on what folks want to contribute. To get an idea of what I mean we’ve built a short demo in Ink that you can dive into right now.

Play the demo here: Maze Gallery - Demo by Paxton - itch.io (password: labyrinth)

This is a time-boxed project that is going to go into brainstorming in 2 weeks (March 27th), we’ll be writing the first draft together starting two weeks later (April 13th) and wrapping up the writing portion 6 weeks after that (May 30th).

Our submission guidelines and materials will change as more people are added to the project. If you have any questions, hesitations, or feedback on the demo please drop your comments here. Thank you!

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weird stuff you say?

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For anyone who wants to check out the source code (.ink) of the demo I’ve uploaded the Pi Day version here: mazegallery_demo_0314.ink - Google Drive

We’re up to 12 confirmed collaborators! I’m confident that when we kick off the work in a couple weeks there will be LOTS of wondrous ideas and mind-boggling writing to fill up this growing gallery.

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I’m quite surprised that this isn’t in parser format.

I think I could try my hand at this?

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The previous community project I organized (FERAL: A Campfire Collection by Paxton, Ghost Clown, Ahnexia, Gloomy, Amorphous, Ghostbear, BenjaminGear) was also geared more towards first-time authors and we found two hurdles:

  • Technical Ability
  • IF Literacy

Both of these were helpfully addressed by using choice-based IF over parser IF. That’s not to say I’ll never organize a collaborative parser game but I feel like the authorial audience has very different expectations.

We’re tackling both of these again by lowering the barrier to entry even further, as submissions can be plain text descriptions rather than full stories. This means more people can contribute but folks who want to dive in deeper (write lots of puzzles, make lots of NPCs) don’t have any artificial restrictions either.

I’ll definitely be writing up a postmortem on how this project goes and using lessons learned for future community projects. I think they’re fun and I plan to keep organizing them.

Please do join! We’ll be kicking off brainstorming at the end of the month: Cryptic Conservatory

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Thought this particular portion of their submission guidelines would be of interest to the community:

Q: Can I use AI generation?

A: No. No commercial LLM or AI Image generator work will be accepted. We are here to write for the joy of writing, any GPT submissions will not be accepted and any submitter found to be using such technology will have all of their submissions revoked. If you wrote your own procedural text generator and wish to use it then contact curator@crypticconservatory.com with an explanation before attempting to submit, and be prepared to explain the source for its corpus/all training material.

Glad to see the stance taken.

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We’re still looking for anyone else who wants to contribute! The team has grown to over 35 people so far and I’m excited to stitch together the surreal experience we will create. This is the last week of brainstorming, during which we’ve had lots of discussion in discord, plotting in Miro (a flowchart app), and several ideas put down on napkins (an archivist’s best friend)

As we vote on tech & aesthetics a few trends are starting to emerge:

  • We will almost certainly be writing in Ink
  • It’s uncertain if we’re going to make mobile applications, but we will definitely have web browser and download options on itch.io and Steam
  • UI prototypes are being built to accommodate large choice sets
  • Most folks like the Collage art style (very thematic)

If you want to write some words to be hung on a wall in the gallery, even if you aren’t sure you’ll have something by the pencils-down date, come on by the discord and join the chaos that is art.

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Sounds interesting. I like the art style. So how will you get Ink on the web?

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We’ve had successful web hosting on itch.io before, such as with our last IFComp entry Mermaids of Ganymede by Paxton, but if we need more nuanced html control I’m also in the process of building a site which could host as well.

The demo uses ink’s built-in web export: Maze Gallery - Demo by Paxton - itch.io (password: labyrinth) which I’m looking to add further mechanical depth to with UI that sorts choices and inserts reactive art assets.

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Ah! Thanks for the info. I didn’t know about the ink.js option. Nice idea.

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If you don’t already have something in mind, how are you going to connect all the sections together? Surely state tracking would be important. I’d be happy to find a way to make each of the sections link and brainstorm simple puzzles connecting all of the areas.

I also have many puzzle ideas in my head, which could be of help if you want - but any meetings I probably couldn’t make, due to timezones and other reasons. But a general schedule and I send notes in could be fine.

I can’t promise anything, and I also don’t know how to use ink, but I would be happy to do some theory (through notes). Also to find some way to connect the areas (both physically and in tone).

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We have a pretty solid plan for how we’re going to integrate everything, the demo was built as a test of slotting in specific types of content (locations, art, NPCs, collectables, &c.) so all authors who adhere to the submission guidelines should be straightforward to implement. A map similar to this one for the demo will be created to track submissions as they are approved:

Once submissions close and we have a good idea of the size of the corpus we’re stitching together is when we begin real tech build in a phase called Compilation. We won’t know how long that’s going to take until all submissions are in, so it’s a soft end date at this point. Maze Gallery Submission Guide - Google Docs

We won’t be accepting new puzzle submissions at that time, the other editors and I will be working to implement all the written content and give feedback to submitters so they can revise as necessary. That being said, if you want to write puzzle then you’re welcome to join the discord and be a part of the process! There’s no obligation to join meetings (or even collaborate) just be kind and curious: Cryptic Conservatory

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