Hi. I’m a Philadelphia playwright and aging gamer. In our town, we have a Fringe festival (radical performing arts: dance, theatre, etc) every September. I’m already writing text for a Fringe show, but I’m not performing in it and I really want to. So yesterday I decided that I should perform an interactive fiction show at a table, dungeon master style, for an audience of one at a time. That’s a whole, whole lot of text to memorize, but being able to fudge or compensate for the audient’s (singular of audience) playstyle may be able to help with that. It would be very exciting, for me, to combine my love of theatre, RPGs, and Slouching Towards Bedlam.

I also, and this is where the insane hubris comes in, want to have the show available, for free, online. I looked at the recommended programs people use, but wondered if it were possible to roll my own between now and Sept. I’m currently taking a look at Java, it seems possible that everything I need to make my gamebook is already written and bundled into the dev environment.

But maybe not! Since I’m likely to fail, I thought I would share my progress on this thread, in case you miss your morning schadenfreude and need to re-up. The show is called HEART.

Good luck, have fun, lots of good advice and clever people on here :sunglasses:

As a semi-theater nerd, I really like this. Please keep us updated!

We’ll call this Week One:

Java is a great fit for me, it comes with a free IDE called NetBeans: very helpful; I was able to call an instance of a class from a different file than the file I was working in, and it compiled. That, for me, is a major achievement.

My story has one possible outcome. I’ve been trying to remember, as a gamer, times when I felt led, spoon-fed, or full-blown cheated. Balancing the expectation of a wide open, explorable world with the necessities of my story: that’s a good goal to begin with.

Performing an interactive fiction is, for me, the nexus of theatre, programming, gaming, and literature. I had no notion at all of the amount of pleasure I would derive from working on this. It lights up all the pleasure spots in my brain. If it had a soundtrack and original artwork somehow, I would probably burst. May I never lose the sense that I am privileged to be having this much fun as I move further into the unknowns of this project.

My biggest fears are: my choice of Java as a platform, and my very probably hubristic insistence on writing my own IF software. I need a plan B. Next week: Plan B, design patterns, and gaming in Good Faith.

Week Two:

Java is a great fit for me: given three or four months, I think I could write a fairly straight-ahead IF that would run from a command line or Terminal. But seeing as I was able to complete a playable working demo in Inform 7 in two sessions, I believe I will code my first IF in Inform 7! That was easy.

The first thing I always did with IFs is dick around with the parser to see if the creators had anticipated or had any interest in my cursing/non sequiters/absurdism. When I got “That’s not a verb I recognize”, I always felt let down. Anything that mitigated the illusion of choice made me feel just alone, in a room, with a computer. I’d like my own game to do better (if only) in that regard, somehow.

I’ve discovered my main weakness: it’s called Feature Creep. The possibilities of the form on its own are intoxicating, but the added possibilities of integrating it with performance are addictive to contemplate. The friends who listened to me last week and said “oh, cool” can barely understand what I’m talking about this week. Of necessity, I’m making three separate IF projects:

  1. A short to medium length IF written in Inform 7 that’s some fun combination of genres
  2. HEART, an interactive performance for one person that is available online as an IF written in Inform 7
  3. A procedurally generated interactive performance for one person that is available online as Javascript

I’m having a blast with this stuff, I can’t wait for the first thing to blow up in my face! Next week: Sounding Smart By Using Math Terms You Don’t Understand.

Welcome to game dev! You’re in good company.

this is a really, really awesome idea

If you like Java, there’s an IF development system written in Java, and which uses a subset of Java (BeanShell) to program the behavior of objects in the game. Aetheria Game Engine:


The “little” problem is that, although the system can be used to write IF in English, the documentation that teaches you how to create a game is only in Spanish at the moment: caad.es/aetheria/doc/

But in the lucky case that you speak Spanish, you may want to give it a try :slight_smile:

Aetheria is actually really thorough and slick, except I can’t understand what it’s trying to tell me. And the default font is I believe Papyrus. I’m definitely interested though, Thank You A-K!


And now there are two projects:
1. The Grand Tour!: A straight-ahead sci-fi-horror IF coded in I7 and available for download.
2. HEART: An interactive performance for an audience of one that is overly complicated to make but simple to watch.

With the Grand Tour!, I began by drawing a map on a big sheet of paper. Does everyone do this? Sitting with the map and building the whole (featureless) game world feels amazing. It feels much, much better than spending hours trawling the doc or begging on these forums for tiny snippets of Inform code that I cannot for the life of me piece together on my own, just to make the very next thing happen in-game. When I get frustrated, I just remind myself how much farther along I am on Inform than I would be writing my own in a new language, and how this project is for fun and not money and has no deadline.

Since HEART will cost money and has a deadline, I started the week by buying a pound of sweet d&d style dice sets in jolly colors for no real reason. HEART is an interactive performance for an audience of one person, consisting of 100 small texts or instructions for performance. 10 of the texts are selected at random (method tbd) and performed: 10 billion possible permutations. In the middle of the performance, an IF called (wait for it) HEART is performed, with the audience member (hereafter ‘audient’) as the player and myself as the interface (I imagine I will fail to recognize a few verbs). The subject of the game is an explosion, so the form of the piece follows from that (10,000,000,000 little pieces). It’s heavy but fun, and certainly not at all like Shrapnel by Adam Cadre.

The rest of my week has been spent trying to implement the idea of a sorting algorithm that uses random integers to arrange texts in a satisfying narrative shape (rising action, crisis, etc). That’s where I’m at right now. Next week: sifting through ashes vs. impertinent questions.

I made a major decision about HEART last week. Among some other stuff, it’s a piece about interrupted stories, blown apart structures, and the illusion of choice. I want all the randomness, but, as a playwright, I need the narrative to have an arc: a rise, reveal, and fall. Because being able to eat cake is the point of cake!

Here’s how I plan to eat my cake: the show consists of ten short texts, apparently chosen at random from a pool of one hundred texts. The hundred texts are all answers to questions that I’ve asked of ten fictional characters:

How did you die?
What will you miss the most?
Did you see it happen?
Who do you blame?
What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

That kind of thing. The characters are all witnesses or victims of the act of terrorism in the middle of the story. The ten selected texts are selected from ten different lists, which are the ten different answers by ten different characters to ten questions. The order the questions have been asked (unheard by the audience) is always the same, and that’s how the piece gets to have an arc: the ten texts you get to hear are from random points of view, but sequenced for the same story structure: horrifying funny sad funny horrifying poignant etc. Presumably some necessary plot elements are given out at acceptable intervals and not too out-of-order.

I’m extremely pleased with myself!

I have a complete (hopefully) gameworld for my Inform 7 IF, which keeps trying to turn into System Shock 2 when I want it to turn into Starship Titanic. Maybe we’ll meet in the middle at, say, Half Life. Portal. I don’t know.

Java is pretty great: not as fast to learn as Python, but what is? Apparently the IDE I’m using is the loser IDE, and all the cool kids are using the other one, which is typical, on my end. Next week I can hopefully post some content or code and trawl for your feedback, if that’s a thing.


Since there are 100 standalone texts in the piece and 100 performances, HEART is now called 100. It’ll be at the top of the list in the festival guide! Or near it.

I brought ten of the texts to my playwright’s lab and heard them read by ten other writers. Something I noticed: the ten texts that make up each performance, sequenced to have some narrative structure, don’t really have much narrative structure at all. They describe a larger world and an event that’s changed everything, and you learn about it through different people’s stories and opinions; but it’s hard to say with any certainty exactly what has happened or what it means. It’s hopefully interesting and, out loud, it provoked some strong reactions, but it’s barely theatre and barely storytelling.

It’s the addition of the (live) interactive fiction that has the opportunity to unify the piece: by the end of the IF section, the audient should understand exactly what has just happened and why, and how it relates to the rest of the text, and what the theme of the piece is, and why it takes the form that it does. I hope.

Since there will only be 100 performances, I’m going to make the show available online, free, as an IF. Guess I’m getting that website I’ve been thinking about. I like that you can experience the exact same text in front of your computer or in front of me, and it’s still something you experience alone, just for you.

I’m going to go post one of the texts over in the forum that’s for doing that.

OK, it looks like this is the forum for doing that, so here are two examples of the texts:

This woman has been asked what the most beautiful thing she ever saw was:


Oh, I know: I was driving my father home to Augusta (Georgia: ugh, I know) and we were, God knows, it’s so big out there. New Mexico? That’s not right. North-er. Colorado, Nevada. I was taking him home from Sacramento, cause his fuck-ing wife-- I don’t wanna (waves hands). Anyway: we’re driving, it’s dawn, it’s the kind of terrain out there where there’s really nothing, there’s two mountains and a plain and that’s it. So these mountains are looking really important in this blue light before the sun comes up, on this nothing plain. Really nothing, trees? Grass? Gas stations? None of that. There’s no odor. My dad is so cold I’ve bought what I’m told is a hunting blanket and I’ve wrapped it around him so that he looks like what he is: a sick old man. In that lunar blue light. It’s not straight like Reno to Salt Lake City, the roads move in long imperceptible curves, like, anyway-- we come up on a little town, real small, all the little buildings and houses and trailers all clumped together, huddled together, all the same color: white. And I’m moved, I’m deeply moved as I’m, I’m trying to get out of there because I have pee, but I’m deeply moved and I don’t know why, it’s just a crappy little town of, I assume, soft fat white people trying to look hard. You know? Skoal, long goatees, guns, motorcycles, sleeveless camouflage shirts, sunglasses, leather boots: all the implements soft people employ to seem hard. You know? The damned. The flag-havers. The we-needers. I am not high, I promise. Eighteen months sober. But you know what I’m talking about, the need to belong-ers. Waving that flag, screaming how they belong to something. And they all live in this crap white village on the moon out here in Utah or whatever, and I’m moved by this, ridiculously, and why? What is it? It’s that I can see every window of every little house, and all the other windows can see all the other windows, because there’s nothing in the way on the lunar plain, they can see one another! No impediment! For nothing is secret! That shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad! A city on a hill can not be hid, Matthew 8. A city on a hill can not be hid. And I was rushing through the middle of it bearing my father’s body-- well, he looked dead. All blue and white like heaven, or a corpse, and the houses and the plain: blue, white. I thought: this is a holy place. The need not to belong but to be known. Not belonging but interdependence, if that’s a word. That we were created to live in interdependence.
(small pause)
And that lasted five seconds and the sun rose and that was pretty, but it woke Dad up and my little apostasy evaporated. And back to driving and holding in piss.
(small pause)
No, not Matthew: Luke![/spoiler]

Half of them squishy humanist things like that, and the other half will orient people in the world that’s been shaped by the bombing. This one is graphically violent. It’s also largely taken from a World Trade Center survivor’s verbal account of trying to get down the stairs.

[spoiler]4_HOW I DIED_KIP_PINK

We were running back up the stairwell because the like the dust cloud was like, this, like rising up the stairs, and Yelena said In Here, and we went into like the seventh floor? I don’t know. And it was, you know how like in a law office all the walls are glass? Well: it was wrecked, it was totally wrecked. And this girl is standing there and there’s glass sticking out of her like everywhere, like big shards of glass, and she’s trying to walk but it’s like she can’t pick a direction, and the security guard just runs up to her and starts pulling out glass: big mistake 'cause blood just gushes out of her and the security guard cuts both his hands on the glass-cicles, and he goes “shit!” and Yelena’s all white, and the girl falls down? But she’s got so much glass sticking out of her that she shatters? She makes a shattering sound? And she squiggles up and squirms and dies, right there, and Yelena’s shaking her fucking shoulder, like, wake up? And I, very calm and very clearly thought: “Fuck? This.” And I ran, I left them all there, I put my nose under the knot in my tie and ran down into the dust cloud, and it was pitch black. I just kept going. It went on forever. Never help anyone. You are not helping people when you go to help them. I find.[/spoiler]

All the 100 texts will do/resemble one of those two things. The adventure game section needs to have its own style; possibly a rip off homage to text games of yore.

I’ve started memorizing my first text: almost one down, 99 to go. Plus the game section. Next time I will post pictures of my dice.

Please tell me you’re rigging up a laptop as some kind of teleprompter? I know from my acting days that it’s possible to memorize that much text, but out of order, without the context of other performers, and on dice roll demand sounds like it would be hellacious to keep track of where you are.

This all sounds very neat. Are there any recordings of such things available online?

No, I’m making it up as I go along. My kickstarter video will be done mid-may. I’m not going to link to the video or my kickstarter campaign on this forum, in tribute to all the wonderful games I’ve been able to play for free since registering here. It feels wrong. But when it’s up I could message you the link.

HanonO: I am working out a neat little mnemonic system whose deadline is Saturday. It’ll really help. There’s no getting around the powerful suck of memorizing 100 pages of text. It totally takes a fellow actor to fully appreciate the quality and quantity of my dread of this project.


I’m in my last two weeks of rehearsal for 100, which goes up I think September 8th:

Anyway, I was going to explain how it works. There are 100 texts and 10 characters. Each character has a number 1-10. The characters are asked 10 questions, and each d10 represents a new question. The d10’s are different colors as mnemonics.
In one of five outdoor locations, the single audience member (or ‘audient’) sits with me and randomly chooses 1d10 to roll, and I perform that text.

Ex.: RED What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

  1. Margaret
  2. Criminal
  3. Folk Artist
  4. Dr. Will

So the audient rolls the Red d10 and the result is 3. They will hear:

My guitar is a Martin D35 Dreadnought w Indian rosewood fretboard, original ivoroid binding, maple bridge plate, the black pickguard, which was new at the time, it was made in March 1968, one month before they switched to the larger, tonally inferior rosewood bridgeplates, so lucky for me. It’d been refretted when I got it. I saw it in Yankee Peddler and Pawn in grey green humid Danbury Connecticut, and it was $800, and so I took all the money I had made delivering pizzas for the last six months so I would have something to get me started when I graduated high school, and dropped every bit of it on that guitar and I traded my nylon string as well and I believe a harmonica holder, which prevented me from ever playing harmonica, which is a courtesy. There was a huge storm passing. I’d moved out of the house and I was living with my friend Lynne and her sisters. I only had two months of high school to go, and then I bought the guitar.

Having made the purchase, standing in front of the store, I began having a spiritual experience, looking at spent storm clouds, the guitar case in my hand. You’ve noticed the air after a good storm is ionized, it’s electric. My hair was whipping in the wind, and I thought, I bet I look so good standing here with a guitar. I bet I look so good; and that’s a thought I’d never had before. I’m a beautiful young woman holding a guitar. I wonder what she sounds like. And I just drove away, I didn’t call anyone, I just drove away. I kept going. I never went back. My guitar sounds amazing. It can sound like a tin roof or a bell. I call her Slut.

Then they pick the next die.
After 5 rounds of that, we play a text adventure game, where I describe each room and play the cursor. I am suddenly a lot stupider than I was and don’t recognize very many words all of a sudden. There are 10 rooms, one of which ends the game.

There you go. The whole thing’s 45 minutes, has developed into something much different than when I started, and is turning out to be really hard (I’ll be doing six shows a day, which is probably dumb. I’ll post as I go and let you know how it’s working, or isn’t.

So this went really well: 55 shows, 7 a day, a couple no-shows, but people seemed unanimously pleased. Random content in a random sequence.

But the centerpiece of the piece was a game that starts like this:

You close the laptop, you finish your coffee, you have your keys, wallet, watch, and phone laid out on the counter, because that’s who you are. You put them in the appropriate places. You put on your coat. You’re ready.

Something terrible is going to happen at 4th and Chavez. You have to get there as fast as you can.

In front of you is the door to your apartment, to the left is your kitchen-- etc.

Here’s what I learned: do not imitate a parser. A parser doesn’t have a face to get punched in, and you do. The third time you say “I don’t understand that sentence” you have lost the player forever. I ended up running the game, still in discrete “rooms”, in the style of Dungeon World, with a strict Say Yes-And policy that worked really well, handled people’s often bizarre imaginations and assumptions, and almost always succeeded in concealing that the player is, of course, the terrible thing that’s going to happen; until the very end.

The next step, of course, is the online/downloadable version. If I go with Java I think I can trick a friend into coding it for me.

Creating a job for yourself is a great feeling, if you’re a freelance anything. More thoughts later.

Sounds like it was a lot of fun! Congrats!

I’m not surprised by your comment on the parser (since I wrote an article on it in SPAG), and I’m glad you went for the Yes-And approach. And I’m sure that requires quick thinking especially if you have something in mind about where the story is supposed to go. Kudos for pulling that off!

In what kind of space were those performed? (And how was performing 7 times a day?!)

In adding to the random/unique feel, the show was performed in about twenty five-ish locations around Center City, Philadelphia, mostly outdoors. Lots of park benches, little nooks and alcoves and unused public spaces. The middle of the Ben Franklin Bridge. The (Rocky) steps of the Art (Rocky) Museum. On a pier. In a coffeeshop, on a fountain, etc. Some shows were picnics on the grass because I was hungry. I definitely did a few shows while crushing a sandwich.

I scheduled shows on the hour from noon to five pm, then one last one at seven pm for the sunset. I thought the show would run 45 minutes, but the IF section kept expanding, or some people would really get in a moral quandary about what to do next and dither; anyway the show was an hour long so I performed it for six hours straight, daily. Which I liked a lot; but I had no chance to pee. In a show in a rose garden, I got up, walked over to a wall, and peed on it. My audient was definitely impressed.

The last show (#55) was on the lawn beside the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, with milk and cookies on a picnic blanket as the sun set. The audient kissed me on the cheek at the end, crying. Awesome.

The difference between devouring/puzzling out a lovingly crafted electronic interactive text, and the high-wire tension of structured improvisation with a totally unique human being you have never met before, is… yeah. Of course, they’re completely different things! And I’m the only one trying to compare them, and they’re not really comparable. Except to me they totally are, and I want to totally combine them in one project. Which is why I’m still posting here!