IF Whispers?

So, after nearly four years, I’ve just rediscovered IF Whispers. Considering how much fun I’ve had with SpeedIF and other exquisite-corpse-style projects (tiles.ice.org, round robin prose writing) I’d love to be involved in one of these things.

Unfortunately, it’s also been about four years since one of these has been held. So, I assume I’d probably need to organize such an event myself. What exactly is the best way to go about doing this? Have participants collected any wisdom regarding running an IF Whisper smoothly?

Pending the advice of past contributors, I would start by looking at how they structured the source code for past IF Whispers projects. Also, I would definitely take part in something like this.

Important considerations:

  1. An IF Whispers generally produces something about as serious as the average speed-IF, probably rather less easy to play, is likely to attract about the same amount of attention, and requires considerably more work from each participant (and a lot more from the organiser). This is not intended as a discouragement; it’s just setting expectations. Like speed-IF, IF Whispers is mostly for the benefit of the authors, not the audience.

  2. The organiser should ideally be someone who’s fairly fluent at coding, with the time and ability to catch and eliminate major bugs on fairly short notice, as well as brushing up code with dummy objects and stuff to get it ready for the next participant.

  3. Participants should be very. strongly. encouraged. to heavily annotate their code. Otherwise, half the work lies in figuring out what on earth the previous player was trying to get at. (This only constitutes fun for a small subset of people.)

Speaking personally, I feel I’ve got all I’m ever going to out of IF Whispers; if I want a crazy fun thing I’d prefer speed-IF, and if I want a fruitful many-hands collaboration I’d look for something with much stronger authority for the organiser / lead designer / primary author. But it’s definitely a fun thing to do once or twice.

That’s about what I expected. I realize if I did organize this I would have to put in a lot of work in keeping things running smoothly.

Speaking of which, what were the rules in past Whispers? I see references to time limits – I assume participants had just a day or two to implement their section? How were past Whispers started and coordinated – RAIF thread?

I kind of half wonder if some of the problems may be avoided by basing the game around one large static concept that each contributor builds off of, rather than the linear progression from one scene to the next used in past Whispers. For example, the first person creates an empty map with X rooms, one of which is well-implemented with a lot of interactive objects and a puzzle or two; each person after that fills in the details of one of the empty rooms, adding maybe a puzzle to a previous room with an item found here, and some objects that have interesting behavior elsewhere. You’d have an idea what might be in Greenhouse or Assembly Line, say, based on the room name, but unless the person before you was assigned that room you’d have no idea of the specifics.

But aside from the empty map idea I’m having trouble thinking of other possible structures to build around. And this might be a bad idea, anyway, getting too far away from the concept of Whispers, or too complicated.

[rant]Aside from the idea of basing the project around something crazy like a person or even a conversation…[/rant]

All the ones thus far have been started and managed on ifMUD.

There’s been some discussion before about doing things this way, and at least one project started along these lines; sadly it got stalled quite early on. But this approach has the potential to be a lot more interesting than another exquisite corpse, I think.

Other structural approaches I can think of:

Central interaction mechanic. From the outset, establish the PC’s main ways of dealing with the world; participants can come up with riffs and variations on this core skillset, but shouldn’t go off in a totally different direction.

Binding worldbuilding mandates. This is a story-RPG technique from games heavy on worldbuilding (though it might well have been lifted from some other realm), Each participant gets to declare X positive and negative facts about the world’s premises, and other players have to respect them. E.g., “no magic, hunger puzzles, quest-object girlfriends; yes unrealistic heroic violence, TALK TO conversation, polytheism.” (I’ve not seen this technique applied in groups larger than 4 or so, though, so I dunno. It relies quite a lot on trusting the other players, too; you might need a way to deal with a Yes subject that everybody else hates.) This would be one good way to restrict the surreal dream-journey logic that IF Whispers gravitates towards.

I have an idea for one, which would probably be a lot more work than you want, and might require a very firm hand on the tiller:

Use the structure of If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler. Start with the player getting ready at his/her computer, downloading the eagerly awaited game “Whatever the game is called”, have them play through a little bit of it and find that it’s the IntroComp release, break out into the metagame where the player visits the if-archive to download the full version, have that turn out to be a completely different game that dead-ends in some other fashion, etc. etc. At least one time you would have a game that dead-ends with an insoluble problem and in the metagame the player has to go download a walkthrough, which of course opens up as another game that you don’t finish.

That makes sense. I guess I’ll be hanging out on #ifwhispers to try to gauge interest.

I especially like this last idea. I kind of worry that it might force the game to go through a pre-planning stage before any can start writing, to negotiate the premise. Unless everyone only proposed their rules when they made their submission, and they only applied from that section on.

I’m not sure how to resolve the hated-rule problem. Anything like a voting/veto system wouldn’t really work considering the asynchronous nature of communications.

What about something like this: Everyone can set up to five positive or negative rules, one of each of: A) world/setting/background facts; B) the player character; C) other characters; D) actions; E) plot/goals/obstacles. Or, a participant can forgo adding two rules to unmake any one previous rule (or forgo 4 new rules to unmake 2 old ones). Any sections written in between would be unchanged; the new ruleset would take effect from that section on. Does that seem too chaotic, or should it contain the crazy well enough?

Only if it’s actually an alternate reality game that requires the player to physically perform those tasks to advance the plot :smiling_imp:

The MUD has definite advantages; in particular, it’s very easy to set up private channels for debugging, etc., but this wouldn’t be hard to accomplish in other ways. Also, if you mostly organise it here you’re likely to get a different crowd, who haven’t done this before and might have fresh ideas / more enthusiasm.

That’s a point. Right now this project exists more or less in both places, and I’m fine with a mix of old and new participants; in fact that may even be optimal. The logistics of this will eventually need to be handled through email (or a website, or the like), anyway.

In the mud last night before Floyd, we had an idea that the project could be created in hub-and-spokes fashion. The first person would create the central/main hub, and everyone else would create a region coming off from that main area in some way. This resolves some logistical issues – for instance, it would allow everyone to work on their section simultaneously, helping prevent the social problem of stalling due to one contributor’s lack of submission – but it also removes the chance for people to interact with authors before them in many meaningful ways. Some of my favorite parts of past Whispers games have been when something one person wrote interferes with or behaves unusually in another section.

Forcing everyone to work in a vacuum prevents a lot the interactions that make Whispers fun – but then again, such things are basically invisible to any player who wasn’t a contributor and isn’t reading the source code at the same time. Is there some way to allow for interesting, surprising interactions to arise without requiring the linear progression of past Whispers?

Or, probably unrelated – what design process will be fun for the contributors and produce an interesting final product?

A suggestion: there could be a shared set of properties that game items can have. (Valuable or worthless; sharp or blunt; light, medium or heavy; light-emitting or non-light emitting; pointy or not pointy etc.). This would work well with the hub and spokes format: if the player can go to any of the rooms in whatever order, there could be naturally emergent alternative and unforeseen solutions to puzzles.

Hmm. That’s a really good idea. That puts the onus even stronger on the first author to build the base area and set those properties well, however.

But now I wonder what the best way to proceed would be. Should I start a thread to vote for the genre/conventions to use in this and gauge how many people would be interested in participating? Or should the discussion just stay in this thread?

If you’re running this, I would just use your best judgement and try the setup that you think would be best. After some discussion, sure, but you’re unlikely to get a firm consensus that way. If you have a single, mostly-complete proposal, people will have a firmer idea of whether they’d like to take part. (In general, if you’re coordinating a volunteer project, never expect the group to make difficult decisions for you. Generate ideas, yes. Point out refinements and bugfixes, yes. Decide, no.)

Also point.

So! Let’s get this party started.

All right, I’ve sent the opening scene to the first person on the list.

Four authors expressed interest, so I’m planning on sending the story around to everyone in the cycle two or three times, in order to end up with around 8-12 sections. But I’ll probably accept new participants at least up until the end stages. Anyone interested can still follow the instructions in the first post on my site to contact me.

I’ll keep that site updated with the status of the project as it progresses.

All right, I think this project is now finished, thanks in no small part to testing from a couple of the contributors. Here’s the post, with links to download the z-machine file and the I7 source.

That’s… very much like every other IF Whispers, but actually kind of hangs together. Kudos.

I quite like it but then I’m biased. I like that all the locations in the game are connected, though it does mean that the base has a pretty weird lay-out.

I suggest the subtitle of the game should be Antarctica Rheumatica.

I noticed the Parchment link wasn’t in the blog post – any particular reason?

No excuse – Parchment just slipped my mind. Thanks!

I’m glad you guys like it, too. I think the rules decided on beforehand helped provide just enough structure to keep the story cohesive together as a whole.

Well, I hit a bug in Parchment, but I don’t think it’s Parchment’s fault:

[spoiler]>x supplies
MREs, granola bars, a small propane stove and a bowl for making soup with melted snow. Nothing glamorous, and there’s almost nothing left.

You hear what sounds like a scream, coming from somewhere
*** Run-time problem P47 (at paragraph 1127 in the source text): Phrase applied to an incompatible kind of value.


I had 31 points at the time, if that helps.