Opinions on Bitsy? Is it IF?

I’ve only seen a few mentions of Bitsy on these forums, and I thought I would see what everyone else thinks of it.

Is Bitsy technically IF?

Bitsy is clearly aimed at developers who are crafting narrative games. There aren’t many other functions built into it: Bitsy’s very basic inventory and object system is only really good for triggering text boxes and changing text.

That alone might be enough to make Bitsy games a type of interactive fiction. However there are a few things that set Bitsy apart from parser IF and Twine games.

First, despite the fact that most Bitsy games have a textual narrative, you are not going to fit a lot of text in Bitsy’s text boxes. Second, you also must have graphics, even if those graphics are not doing much.

Third, not every Bitsy game is a narrative game. There are some pseudo- platformer and rhythm games. There are also some textless narrative games, probably.

Ultimately I think it is subjective whether Bitsy games are considered interactive fiction. As I understand it, the IF community has a fairly loose definition of IF to begin with, especially with the now-decade-old advent of Twine.

Surveying the genre

In addition to looking at Bitsy’s inherent qualities, we can also look at how game developers perceive the system. On Itch-io, about 1 in 4 games made with Bitsy are tagged as the “Interactive Fiction.” Equally often they are tagged “Adventure,” but Bitsy developers clearly consider these games interactive fiction.

On IFDB, however, the keyword “Bitsy” only returns two results, both of which are games in other engines that happen to have Bitsy games embedded in them. As I said, I have not seen much discussion of Bitsy here, so I think it is a safe guess that IF authors are not too focused on Bitsy.

I think it’s also worth noting that Bitsy seems to be approaching Twine in terms of popularity. There are about 4700 Bitsy games and 6700 Twine games on Itch-io. Of course this only tells us popularity among developers, not among the public and in the media.

My own opinions

I briefly tried Bitsy out over the holidays. I wasn’t really inspired to create anything with it in terms of a playable game. I was put off by the difficulty of adding extensions/scripts, and I found the interface annoying to work with despite its simplicity. (Bitsy game files are also editable in any text editor, but that isn’t really convenient either.)

I do like the low-resolution art style of Bitsy games, though, and I had fun painting various things in the online editor.

I think Bitsy 3D has a little more potential, as the various camera angles make things seem more interactive. Those camera angles also obscure things by default. You can make a rotation-based game like Fez or a narrative dungeon crawler like Terry Cavanagh’s Judith, or take various other approaches.

Questions for the community

What do you think of Bitsy, and have you created anything with it?

And would you like to see Bitsy games entered in IF Comp and other events? While rules are quite loose, do you think it could create excessive division if it is encouraged?

Is it appropriate to list the most successful Bitsy games on IFDB? I don’t think that any Bitsy game has attracted the level of attention that the most successful/viral Twine games have, but I could be wrong.

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Not all Twine or Ren’Py games are IF, despite both being platforms that lend themselves far more to IF than to any other style of game. (For example, a chess game for Ren’Py and a budget simulator for Ren’Py exist). Bitsy is an authoring platform that is a valid choice for IF and is likely to make creating IF easier than creating non-IF games. However, one would have to check individual programs to know whether they count as IF.

I’ve never created anything in Bitsy, and I’d be happy to see other creators making Bitsy IF for any IF competition where the game itself is compatible with the rules (including the ones you cite). Any IF created in Bitsy that has ever been released, no matter how successful or unsuccessful it is, would be a valid and appropriate addition to IFDB.

Happy creating!

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For example, a chess game for Ren’Py and a budget simulator for Ren’Py exist

Interesting, I’ve located the chess game but can you point me to the budget tool?

Any IF created in Bitsy that has ever been released, no matter how successful or unsuccessful it is, would be a valid and appropriate addition to IFDB.

To be honest there have been some games listed on IFDB that I have been surprised to see because they are so far out of what of think of as IF. Usually I chalk it up to either the game’s mainstream success (eg. Bandersnatch and Sunless Sea) or the author’s existing involvement in the IF community.

In any case I feel like this is an undertaking better left to someone else, or a group of people.

I’ve made a Bitsy game and found the experience very IF-adjacent. However, the interactivity in most IF games seem limited to moving around and interacting with the world/fiction, which usually is very linear. Very rarely does a game have any choices or meaningful interaction.

I think Bitsy’s popularity is ease-of-use, and it’s appeal is similar to Twine but for creating very old school Atari 2600-looking experiences. I’m thinking Atari “Adventure” or “Haunted House”.

I think it lends itself well to short narratives because from what I remember the only interactions available out of the box are moving the MC sprite, triggering text boxes, and adding and removing other sprites. There’s no combat nor a deep puzzle system (I think there might have been a limited number of flags to set?), so many games are built out of “find all the apples/triggers” with flavor text appearing occasionally which lends to exploration IF-like experiences.

I haven’t looked much at it. But it seems to clearly be aiming at making “adventure games” in a retro 80s sense. The 80s was when we talked about “adventure games” more than “interactive fiction”, so it’s sort of a moot question whether this is IF.

8-bit and retro IF are clearly part of the scene around here. Currently, and in past years too. (I’m thinking of Adam Thornton’s Fellowship of the Ring, written for the Atari 2600. That has an IFDB entry.)

Whether Bitsy itself gets actively adopted into that aesthetic… I’m going to leave that up to popular concensus.

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(But I do see a strong parallel between Twine, Bitsy, and PuzzleScript – intentionally low-res tools meant to entice people into using them.)

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Beware the unintentionally high-res tools that mean to repel people from using them!

-Wade

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You laugh, but that describes a lot of open-source tools. Ever try to learn the early versions of Blender?

(I hear it’s improved.)

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My goal was to make you laugh :slight_smile: I already secured my own laugh.

I don’t even know what Blender is. I’ve got Applesoft BASIC, some 8/16 bit assembly, some Reaktor (visual language for music), Inform 7, and an annoying ability to hack at blobs of already-existing stuff in other languages (Inform 6, and currently Python).

-Wade

It’s not pure IF but can be treated as IF-adjacent as much as RPG Maker games.

@zarf (But I do see a strong parallel between Twine, Bitsy, and PuzzleScript – intentionally low-res tools meant to entice people into using them.)

In terms of story structure I can see similarities between Twine and Bitsy, as Bitsy rooms are roughly equal to Twine passages.

However, I don’t really consider Twine low-res as it doesn’t have any visual design limitations compared to HTML and Javscript; it’s just an easier way for developers to make use of those tools. By contrast, Bitsy does have definite visual limitations (which help to set the engine apart, possibly for the better).

Strictly on the visual design front there is also Zdog. This is meant to be used for 3D modelling in web pages and provides access to HTML’s canvas a bit like Twine provides access to HTML and JS.

@Tobiasvl However, the interactivity in most IF games seem limited to moving around and interacting with the world/fiction, which usually is very linear. Very rarely does a game have any choices or meaningful interaction.

@HanonO There’s no combat nor a deep puzzle system (I think there might have been a limited number of flags to set?), so many games are built out of “find all the apples/triggers” with flavor text appearing occasionally which lends to exploration IF-like experiences.

If I get around to playing more I might try and create a taxonomy of Bitsy games: some games rely on collect-the-objects as you mention, some games heavily on hidden triggers, others rely more heavily on the player playing as an “item” rather than a character such as a fishing hook, other games are mainly canvases for graphical art.

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My two cents is that Bitsy does not make IF. However, it does narrative games.

Me myself classify Bitsy as a “minimalist J-RPG maker”. Don’t debate me on that :wink:

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Personally, I subscribe to the Spring Thing’s definition of IF, the main point being that the game must still be playable/recognizable when everything but the text is removed (like most novels are still themselves when reduced to plain text). I’d argue that Bitsy games aren’t IF under these criteria.

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I should have saved the budget simulator link - I can’t find it now. Sorry! (It doesn’t help that I think I may have meant a different language as the example, because otherwise the sentence structure makes no sense).

Blender’s a tool for creating 3D graphics. Coded in a combination of C, C+ and Python. I’ve never tried to learn it in any version, so I’ll take zarf’s word for it that the early versions were complex to learn.

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Personally, I subscribe to the Spring Thing’s definition of IF , the main point being that the game must still be playable/recognizable when everything but the text is removed (like most novels are still themselves when reduced to plain text). I’d argue that Bitsy games aren’t IF under these criteria.

I think the Alice example overlooks something. Lewis Carrol did not illustrate the book (or, now that I look it up, he did some early illustrations that have been replaced, and the book has been reillustrated several times). But anyway, let’s say that Alice is the same work even if it has no pictures.

By contrast I’m not sure whether I would consider The Cat in the Hat the same work if it had no pictures. I think Dr. Seuss’ illustrations are integral to the work for no other reason than the fact that he is the author.

At the same time, if Dr. Seuss or his estate deliberately published The Cat in the Hat’s original text-only manuscript I would be more likely to consider it the same work.

Applying this to Bitsy, I’d be likely to consider a plan text transcript or hypertext transcript of a Bitsy game “the same work” as the original Bitsy game if the author created it or approved of it…even if something is lost in the format shift.

(To take this further, I think that most people would consider a reillustrated version of The Cat in the Hat a different work even if it had the same text. I think most people consider remixed work original now? I know I do. That’s not really relevant here though I guess.)

I think most Bitsy games could actually be transformed into “proper IF” very easily, for example in Twine. (Making them parser games would be overkill.) The only reason they wouldn’t be playable if you removed all the graphics is that you’d have to add some textual exposition to replace them, not necessarily that the experience would be drastically different if that’s done. In fact, maybe I should try to do that with my Bitsy game!

Interestingly, this thread is starting to overlap with this one now: RECOMMENDATION REQUEST: The Future of Interactive Fiction - #50 by ChristopherDrum

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Sure. Many dialogue-heavy adventures or RPGs (think Disco Elysium or Torment: Tides of Numenera) could be turned into IF by “just” replacing the graphical world representation they currently use with a textual one. I’d still consider those to be different games (albeit closely related and telling the same story). The feel would be fundamentally different from what the author(s)/developer(s) of the original games had intended.

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@Tobiasvl Re: converting to Twine, I suppose developers could use Unicode icons to preserve some of the graphical elements while sticking strictly to text.

I also played your game “Cabin” along with some others from other Bitsy developers and I am getting a better sense of the techniques that are used. Character icon switching and invisible event triggers (such as the top of the staircase in your cabin) seem to be frequently used in games. I am still not sure how much it is possible to build on these ideas though.

One of the commenters on “Cabin” also noted playing through a second time; I quite like the loop effect that is built into Bitsy games by default. It seems like it encourages authors to write short stories and also encourages players to keep playing.

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