New Author - Trying to wrap my head around the enormity of it all

I will give the advice I never followed (cautionary tale: I ended up turning into an I7 contributor and still not yet a game author): start with digestible chunks. Set achievable goals. The whole of the sprawling tech stack of Inform and its infrastructure is actually really mind-bogglingly large and complex, moreso than any outsider would guess for something that remains a framework to build games recognizably like the text games that ran on home PCs in the eighties. But you don’t need to know it anything close to all of it (no one person does, truly!) to get useful stuff done.

Sometimes people discourage newcomers from using extensions. Even the docs say

Newcomers will probably not need extensions for quite some while

I personally think that overstates the case somewhat. Modified Exit is an improvement for most games. Far Away is good for anything involving backdrops that can be seen but not touched, which is a lot of games.

I made the Friends of I7 github docs page to provide (something approaching) an easy to browse directory of extensions (something similar can be seen by browsing the Public Library in the IDE… for 10.1, the contents of the two are very, very close).

But don’t get bogged down in coming up with some perfect set of extensions and tweaks that customizes every aspect of the World Model straight out the gate. Inform’s defaults were selected because they worked well for many cases, and were at least ok for most cases.

Read over (and bookmark for reference) the I7 docs and resources thread. Look at the tutorials there if you haven’t yet.

Read Jim Aikin’s I7 Handbook: it’s easier to learn from than the docs.

The Z-machine Matter is a now-defunct blog about an author’s development of a murder mystery game. Play The Act of Murder if you haven’t yet.

For a notebook system, you might like to check out Notepad by Jim Aikin. You might like to try playing The Weight of a Soul which has an interesting journal system and the Weight of a Soul source code is available.

How to organize/structure your project (spoiler: it begins “there’s no one answer”)