Narrascope Impressions

I thought this would be somewhat of a local thing, but people seem to be from all over: I already met someone who flew out from Utah. People generally seem super friendly, and connected to narrative games in an interesing variety of ways. Looking forward to the rest of the weekend.

I thought these pins ( would be offered for sale, but apparently you get one just for turning up. Sweet! :slight_smile:

Brendan Desilet’s talk about using IF for education was good, if really too brief of a timeslot for the topic. But he managed to fit in “here’s choice-based IF, here’s parser-based IF, here are some tools for both, here’s how you write basic Twine, here’s how you write basic Inform7”, and had a couple of discussion prompts about how you might use it in a classroom (one about reading IF and one about writing it). I had hoped he would talk a bit more about how he has used it, but as a whirlwind introduction to IF slanted towards “think about how you might use this in a classroom”, it was well-done.

Also we apparently now have an Education category on the forum now.


There have been some interesting talks, such as Graham Nelson’s this afternoon on where Inform 7 is headed. The next release of Inform 7, scheduled for this fall, will compile Inform 7 code to something Graham calls “Inter.” Inter code can then be compiled into Inform 6 and then to story files (as it does now), as well as other things such as C code or C# code (which can then be interfaced with other tools such as Unity). The new version of the I7 IDE will also let you choose to compile your code using some old versions of I7, which I don’t believe it does now. Sounds like some exciting developments in store for I7. (This is from my notes and memory. If I got something wrong maybe another person who was at his talk can correct me. Emily Short has also posted several photos from Graham’s talk on Twitter.)

The other really fun thing about this conference is getting to meet in person a slew of people (like Josh Grams last night!) I had only engaged with online or whose games I had played or IF posts I’d read. Even if all we’ve had time for is a simple handshake, it’s been great.


Yeah, I’ve tried not to be too much of an annoying fanboy. I’ve stopped and thanked several people briefly, but have so far resisted the temptation to add to the endless string of people wanting to talk to Graham Nelson and Emily Short. :wink:

I missed most of the morning yesterday. I’m staying in an AirBnB about seven miles out, so I brought my unicycle and thought I’d ride in. And I’m a full-time small farmer, so I’m an early bird – I thought I’d have time to stop by the Arnold Arboretum for a bit, and…yeah, by the time I got there it was about 11:40. So I hung out in the expo room with Oxygen Trail for a bit. Dunno what I was thinking bringing that: it’s not really a narrative game, it’s a graphical resource management game told primarily through text. And…yeah, written by three programmers. I did have a couple people play it, and Lorri Hopping had some very well-considered thoughts on how it could be more of a narrative game. Sounds like she’s directing (or moving towards directing) a company/project on her own dime and I’ll be very interested to see how that turns out.

The talks I did see:

I apparently didn’t take any notes at Cat Manning’s talk? All the usual things about scope creep and how it happens and how to combat it, with verve and style and examples from her experience. Very well done.

I was debating whether to go to Graham Nelson’s talk or Aaron Reed’s: I was tipping towards Inform since I’m not an analog storygame sort of person. I can squint at them and go, “yeah, that would be a lot of fun for a certain kind of person…who isn’t me.” But then a group of people walked by whose work I respect and said something to the effect of, “well, it looks like Aaron’s talk is the one to go to” which tipped me back the other way.

So Aaron’s talk was great. Packed to the gills: I think there were people standing all along the back wall. He was talking about rules or mechanics to set players up for success in collaboratively telling good stories, and asking how we might adapt that to the digital space. Being a DM is a learned skill: how can we make rules that help people tell good stories and don’t require quite as much from them in terms of structure?

He started with a game that Andrew Plotkin apparently designed around 2007 on the Myst forums: two players post alternately on a single forum thread: one is from the present-day (archaeology-ish) and one from the past of a culture. Each starts with 10 fact points (my words here: they were just “white stones” in forum): they can spend one to mark an element of their post as narratively important. And one…maybe you’d call them resolution points? You started with one, and could earn extras by combining two elements and resolve them so that one (or both?) are no longer important. You could spend one to re-open a closed element. Or spend two to contradict an element, and then the other player has to explain why they were mistaken.

So the mechanics limit story length (limited number of fact points), allow collaboration (you mark things that the other player has to respond to, but there is no out-of-band collaboration). The resolution points are somewhat rare, so you can spend them to have upsets and surprises in the story line, but not too many.

Then he roughly divided actions into four categories: Generation, Storywrighting, Negotiation, and Administration.

Generation - generating ideas, etc. Even just the setting of the game is a big influence: the associations of a crystal skull are much different in D&D vs. Call of Cthulu. The original D&D was apparently notorious for having tables of percentages of penalties for all kinds of things with percentages that were too small to bother with (1-2%) – old age, illness, lots of more imaginative things – but they’re idea generation helpers: you might want to put these sorts of things in your scenario.

He mentioned Jason Morningstar’s 2015 game Juggernaut, where you draw predictions about the future from a deck of cards representing an infallible computer oracle, and it’s a game about rationalizing how those predictions come true (as a player, your job is to make sure they come true in the resulting story).

And Annals of the Parrigues as an example of generation in collaboration with a computer.

Negotiation – He mentioned Drachen & Smith’s 2008 paper with a title that starts Player Talk and appeared in (Computers in Entertainment) about negotiating with children when playing with blocks? And Polaris (Ben Lehman, 2005) which has 12 “performative utterances” which are formalized language for the narrative actions. It being a game with two opposing players, the most important is “but only if” (and he read an over-the-top dramatic example from the manual?).

Administration – I didn’t take note much here: I think he just said it may sound boring but there is interesting work to be done in the space of how and what you track. He mentioned Apocalypse World by Baker & Baker in 2010, which lays out what the Moves are, and is a system successful enough to spawn a number of other games.

Then a numbered (?) list of things, briefly: Expressive Input, Expressive Output, Common Ground (can we find a world/language/etc. that lets computer/human agents act on the same representation? Brenda Laurel Computers as Theatre), Supportive Play Partners, A Broader Range of Stories (Dream Askew/Dream Apart, Alder/Rosenbaum 2019), Understanding Structure (story structure: Robin Laws Hamlet’s Hit Points and Hillfolk).

Katherine Morayati’s talk on Writing IF Like a Pop Song used pop songs as a source of metaphor, drawing parallels between structure in songs vs. structure in narrative, starting by comparing intro/verse/chorus/…/outro to branch-and-bottleneck, where you can go off to a variety of different verses, but then come back to the branch point (chorus). She was asking what we can learn and apply to IF from this: polish the intro first because it’s what everybody sees first. If the chorus comes again and again, polish that more than the verses which will only be seen once.

Pacing & contrast in volume, syllables, emotional tenor (cheerful songs about gruesome subjects). Time cave -> songs with seemingly no related pieces or normal structure. Minimalist songs -> limited parser work. Songs with a twist. Bowie’s Verbasizer.

The core message of the talk was how to find where something sags and where it works well, and that the structure in songs is more visible than that of movies, so if we draw parallels to music, it might give us new insights into tightening up our stories.

Lightning talks:

Ian Michael Waddell talked about failure being fun, and it was everything you’d expect from the author of Animalia. I don’t think there was anything particularly new, but it was a very fun talk.

Toiya Kristen Finley talked about adding sensory details: they add subtext and encourage player imagination. “OK” writing often lacks description or sensory details and simply descripes the action in such detail as to stifle imagination. Don’t over-focus on sight: describe the other senses too! Verbs & adverbs are descriptive too (examples from Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors). Don’t go too overboard unless you want purple prose. Very well-presented.

Mark Baumann gave a talk on their work towards a multiplayer IF tool. It was about what you’d expect from a computational scientist and made all the usual mistakes that people pitching new IF systems usually make. And he ran over 5+ minutes on a fifteen-minute (?) talk. There were a couple of interesting ideas buried in there, but nothing earthshaking.

Ben Schneider talked about writing short: coming from his initial experience writing response “barks” for units in real-time-strategy games. Some good thoughts, and some interesting numbers. He said he had linked his slide deck from his twitter (DrOctothorpe).


:astonished: Seven miles? On a unicycle???
That right there needs to be an adventure game.


LOL! Sure, I can see that. Can you survive Boston’s confusing geography, homicidal drivers, cracked and bulging sidewalks, and all the people who want you to stop and talk to them?

The rest of the conference was great. Zarf ended it “just like all the best academic conferences, with a sea chanty” (I’m paraphrasing there).

On Sunday I chose sessions more based on whim than on any serious criteria. I’ll sum up some more of that when I get the chance. But the Ink talk presented a well-thought-out approach to introducing Ink to a large class of university students (many of whom have never touched a line of code before). The Cragne Manor and Writing Interactive Romance panels were pure fun. Claire Furkle gave an energetic talk about not letting fear hold you back from learning JavaScript and why you might want to. And @Spike talked about games for math education and how we might make better ones, walking the audience through a couple puzzles from ABCA to show his experiments in that direction.

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I think I really need to see Furkle’s presentation since Axma has gone full-JS and I’m going to be like one of those people who wouldn’t give up using WordStar because they knew all the keyboard commands and didn’t want to use a mouse.

Furkle requested no audio or video recordings, though Juxi was recording for an edited transcript (and slides) later. I gather it will take some time to get that together.

It was more of an inspirational talk than one going into the nitty-gritty details. Dan Cox called it “a powerful talk on encouraging people to Be Brave, Learn from Failure, and Join a Community.” She also pointed out that you can open the developer tools in any browser with Ctrl-Shift-I, and then edit the page and with the Elements tab, and use the Console tab to type in JavaScript and experiment.

Plus the usual stuff about learning programming: be brave and just dive in. There’s a lot of “failure” in computer programming, so you have to let yourself accept that as part of the process and not a reflection on your capabilities. Find a community that can support you and help you out. Don’t let “real programmers” put you down with their pointless incomprehensible quality standards or drag you into their flame wars. Start small, preferably poking at and playing with existing code rather than struggling with a blank screen or an overwhelmingly big project. That sort of thing.

She definitely lit a fire under me to try and throw together some getting-started-with-javascript-for-IF-writers material. We’ll see if I get the time to turn that into something actually usable. But I’ve always enjoyed helping non-technical people get started with programming, and I’ve been a pretty serious though mostly-hobby programmer for over a quarter-century now (OK, OK, I was only 13 when I started, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?) :wink: so I’ve seen a lot of stuff. And I like to think I have a good handle on which stuff will actually make hobbyists’ lives easier, which is just superstition or personal preference, which might matter if you get into making larger projects, and which will never matter unless you plan to make software that’s going to be worked on by a rotating team of people for 20+ years.

If you want to playtest my first scribblings towards a JS intro, let me know. Or I’d be up for a text or voice/video chat to walk you (or whoever) through some of the basics. I love doing that kind of thing.

The slides are up from Taylor Howard and Rachel Donley’s talk on teaching a college course with Ink. They cover the content of the talk pretty well…let’s see what notes I have that aren’t in the slides. They said the Laure-Ryan book is a little dense for their freshmen, but it is a design class, so they assign it for reading anyway. The Costikyan is apparently more accessible.

Yeah, that’s about it. Maybe I can summarize. The latter half of the course is a project where students take an existing non-interactive story and make a short interactive story based on it. So they don’t have to come up with a story, just find one they like, and can concentrate on learning Ink. It can be movies or film rather than books, though they do point students with no idea toward fairy tales as easy fodder. Taylor said they had a lot of Game of Thrones ending speculation last time.

It’s all scaffolded, so they start with a proposal, a one or two sentence summary and a short paragraph about how they want to make it interactive. Then one where they describe two choice points and two endings. Then a storyboard/map of the structure.

Then basic Ink, putting the choice points and endings in place. Then adding more writing, and some more advanced features of Ink (a conditional and a randomization feature like once-only or cycling text). Rachel got a good laugh when she said they had students which were struggling with this, so she made a small Ink story about passing or failing the project to demonstrate. And finally they polish the whole thing and add a couple of HTML/CSS styling choices.


I recently spent a fair amount of time upgrading my JavaScript skills. I was shocked at how much had changed over the last few years.

If you want a beta reader for your documentation, let me know.


Yeah, I’ll probably pick and choose from the fancy new stuff. Some of it is handy shorthand (e.g. arrow functions) or makes the language cleaner (e.g. let doesn’t have the weird quirks of var) but I think a lot of it is more confusing than useful on a hobbyist level.

I’ll let you know when I get there. In the meantime, I’m on the lookout for more good example ideas. What effects or mechanics would you have liked to put in a Twine game if you knew JavaScript, that sort of thing?