New "interactive fiction" work in progress by Molly Rocket

I listed to an interview with Casey Muratori, a well-known game tool developer. He has a series on YouTube called Handmade Hero, has an upcoming programming course called Star Code Galaxy, rants a lot about how bad software is these days (with experience and data to back up his claims), and is someone who fondly remembers his days making an Amiga do cool stuff. He’s a very strong developer with clear goals about the state of software development and how to make things better. So, that’s a brief, terrible introduction to the person.

At any rate, in this interview he mentions that a game he’s working on is specifically “interactive fiction.” It sounds like he’s working to build interesting authoring tools and this game is perhaps the pretense for building the tools. His definition of what is missing from “interactive fiction” is interesting, and it may be worth following this project to see where it goes and what it contributes to the community.

The project (with no details):
The interview (link starts at the interactive fiction point): Knowing where to start. A conversation with Casey Muratori - YouTube


“It’s trying to make a technology for interactive fiction that actually lets you interact with the fiction. That is something that really hasn’t been done before.”

I turned off the video at that point. This is the Chris Crawford Dragon Speech all over again.




You know, I’d always heard about that speech but figured I’d check Wikipedia to refresh my memory - I did not realize that at the climax, he pulled out a sword, yelled “charge!”, and ran out of the room!

With, perhaps, far less hyperbole?
I’d only suggest that Muratori has a strong track record of “put up or shut up”, only talked about it because he was explicitly asked about it, and has otherwise played it very close to his chest until that. He’s really not the type to toot his own horn in that regard.

He hasn’t shouted from the rooftops or charges around with a sword about trying to change things. The focus really for him is on the tools he’s building. He remains explicitly modest about his ability at making games. He’ll deliver something, I’m quite sure of this; his abillity to pay the bills kind of depends on it. I don’t think it is striving to replace anything this community has done or will do.

Were it almost any other developer I’d roll my eyes along with you. But Casey is a respected developer in game development circles and if anyone can at the minimum deliver a product it will be him.

Whether we collectively groan at or applaud what he delivers, remains to be seen.

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Well, I’ll try to learn more about him so I can make a better opinion. Thanks for the info!

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I’m not sure where you get “explicitly modest” unless it means that he explicitly tells you how modest he is? He’s a buddy of Jon Blow’s, and for me he’s right up there with Jon for “has some good ideas but ugh I can’t stand to listen to him.”

If you search around on YouTube you can find videos of Casey and Jon playing Hadean Lands where they start by trash-talking how “bad” the text handling is on the PC version (which version was explicitly an afterthought, I think?), like “no smart quotes? How can anyone play this shit?” and then two minutes later admit that they didn’t bother with smart quotes in their games either, and then continue on to trash talk the game for not telling them things that they literally just read…ugh.

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Wouldn’t say that. But if you mean the iOS version which launched first, that didn’t have smart quotes either. It’s a perfectly fair point; I’ve just never cared much.

EDIT-ADD: Ironically, when I first made the game available to KS backers on Mac/PC, I bundled it with Gargoyle, which did present smart quotes. But there’s no way a Gargoyle package would fly on Steam. Some people are unhappy about ASCII quotes, but everybody (in that audience) would be unhappy about editing garglk.ini.

Yeah. Listening to that section he seemed to imply that Infocom games weren’t “really interactive” in that all you do is manipulate objects and that doesn’t change the story.

That is patently untrue in that story/plot/narrative branches all have to be written and implemented by the designer in some way. Few games have the technology to magically develop some new plot twist that hasn’t already been planned in advance. I get the feeling he’s conflating “interacting with the fiction” with the concept of “emergent gameplay”.

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This is what i think as well. He’s trying to suggest, you can change the “fiction” itself.

Reminds me of when 3D gaming went open-world. There was a point where you could free roam around the world, and before then, you were stuck in corridors & rooms. I’ve wondered for a long time whether that is possible with IF.

Regarding changing the fiction itself, ie the story, it’s actually not what you really want to do.

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It’s already possible to “roam around” many IF games, although simulating the appearance of open-world (rather than just the logical) in a commerical game, some sort of graphics are probably a pre-requisite.

This feels like the equivalent to people in the visual novel scene who market their game as “not just any visual novel, but… [insert something lots of visual novels have done for years, like “meaningful choices” or “multiple endings”]”.

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What I fully said was “explicitly modest about his ability at making games.” which was a clumsy way of trying to separate making game engines from making games. He has strong opinions and skills about game engines, but he has never claimed his game-making ability is anything beyond “so-so.” This distinction is what I wanted to convey.

Be that as it may, what both he and Jon are doing (on separate projects) is putting their money where their mouth is. They both know their reputation as crotchety old men shaking their fists at the sun, but they are also both actually doing things to try and affect change in the industry. This is not me trying to prematurely endorse things that haven’t been fully delivered yet, but unlike most who complain and do nothing those two take action.

The only stuff I like to watch from those two is their game engine development stuff, to see what they build and how they build it. I, personally, can “stand to listen to him” but what I’m far more interested in is the “has some good ideas” part of what you said.

Those ideas may leave this community cold in the long run, but I was surprised to hear the phrase (and do note that I use and used it in quotes when referring to Muratori’s works) “interactive fiction” in conjunction with a modern game engine.

I do hope that “built by a very opinionated developer” isn’t held against whatever it may be. The term “interactive fiction” is, itself, pretty broad and I think has room to encompass many more approaches to it than we’ve seen. Providing there is a strong tool which democratizes using that approach.

Until it’s delivered, it’s hard to know precisely what he’s doing. His approach is (as he stated) more AV-heavy than the kinds of works showcased around these forums. And he does very clearly state that there are story boundaries, the way a first-person shooter does. So… I dunno. Your guess is as good as anyone’s about what he’s trying to accomplish, or even really what his definition of “interactive” means in this regard.

@jkj_yuio I don’t really think he’s trying to suggest “changing the fiction.” Toward the end of that part of the interview, there is a (confusing) clarification that seems to suggest the story is set. That there is some kind of fixed narrative boundary that exists.

@Alianora_La_Canta He does explicitly say that the audio visual part of the game is taking the bulk of the work. But he also seems to suggest that “roaming around” isn’t what he has in mind. He mentions something about making sure the player has some kind of game challenge that is engaging at all times. Just “roaming” doesn’t seem to be the goal… I think.

At any rate, I just thought it would be something the community would be interested in keeping an eye on. The concept of “interactive fiction” has room to incorporate many ideas we’ve not yet seen. Maybe he has something unique to say on the matter? :man_shrugging:

This makes general sense – I think it’s a strength of the IF community that it’s pretty open to ideas from different places these days, though getting there was not without its struggles. But from the perspective of someone who hasn’t actually watched the video (audio and video content are way harder for me to access than simple written stuff these days, so there’s no way I’m able to watch a – checks – 2 hour 40 minute interview) and just going by the conversation here, it sounds like he mainly talked down existing approaches to interactive narrative without demonstrating much familiarity with what those actually are, nor being able to provide anything concrete about what solutions he’s trying to pursue? At least for me, reading all this stuff about “interacting with the fiction” and fixed narrative boundaries is pretty unedifying.

If that’s the case – and it may not be! – I get the skeptical reaction, because sure, it’s good to be open to new ideas and they can come from anywhere, but there’s not much to inspire confidence that this time the person without an IF-relevant track record who’s talking primarily in abstractions is going to deliver.


To be clear, I linked expressly to the 10-minute slice that is relevant; I definitely was not asking anyone to watch 2 hours and 40 minutes. This particular project is just one small thing he talks about in the course of that interview (I certainly didn’t watch the whole thing either). The rest doesn’t seem relevant.

I don’t think he’s talking down anything, to be honest. I think he just has a different personal definition of what “interactive fiction” means, and he seems particuarly focused on “interactive.” He claims to have been “thinking about interactive fiction for 30 years” so we have to take him at his word that he has done that, and that this represents at least “familiarity” with the genre. His concrete solution is called “1935” and is in “deep deep deep development” (according to the site).

Will he finish the project? :man_shrugging: But he’s self-employed and has bills to pay, and a professional reputation to maintain. This is a cart he’s hitching a financial horse to, so there’s at least that motivation, versus someone casually mentioning a weekend side project.

Despite his professed “engineering-style” approach, I had difficulty understanding the problems he was addressing and any ideas he had in addressing them. He flirted with a description of what he meant by interactive fiction via the Counterstrike example, but it seemed equally applicable to chess.

He seems to have a very particular definition of whatever he is working on, which is rooted in challenge-based video games. Or maybe it’s just a simulation-heavy narrative engine, like Dwarf Fortress is.

Whatever he’s working on could be quite interesting, but it’s hard to tell now. The slightly-inflammatory-but-probably-ultimately-innocuous repeated usage of “interactive fiction” reminds me of his friend Jon Blow’s forays into criticism about adventure games. That turned into The Witness which was interesting but had arguable impact on the genre. I guess we shall see with Casey.

I’d be reluctant to hold my breath though. He’s currently got on his plate next to 1935: Star Code Galaxy, Handmade Hero, Computer Enhance (spinning out of his dozens of long interviews with cryptocurrency enthusiasts), and whatever he does to assist in Meow the Infinite. He’s had most of those on his plate for many years, without a definitive end. Time and focus will be an issue.

Well, I’m not holding “he does a lot of projects” against him. Handmade Hero is winding down. Computer Enhance sounds to be stuff he was already doing, not some entirely extra set of work. Meow is an ongoing series, so I’m not sure why it needs to have a “definitive end.” But yes, he does a lot.

All of that aside, he’s definitely being coy in his description of the project. Personally, I attributed that to “he’s not yet ready to talk about it, but didn’t want to blow off the question.” For my money, if the worst that comes out of it is a game that I enjoy as much as I did The Witness, then I’d personally be happy; even if that winds up being a complete dud as “interactive fiction.” I certainly didn’t get an “interactive fiction” feeling from The Witness, but oddly enough I DID get a strong Infocom-y vibe in wandering its world which I attribute almost exclusively to the art style than to anything storywise.

As you say, it’s hard to tell now.