RECOMMENDATION REQUEST: The Future of Interactive Fiction

Emily Short once said “IF has PR problems” and I can say as someone with “deeper than casual knowledge, but nowhere near Plotkin-level immersion in the community” that she was (still is?) absolutely right. I’m looking to fill my own knowledge gap on the matter.

What are projects (engines, authoring systems, games, etc…) that you feel really point the way forward for interactive fiction from today?

It may be an award-winning game. It may be a generally-accepted new authoring system, like Twine or Ink. Maybe you think AI Dungeon points the way forward. It may be a one-off project that didn’t gain traction, for whatever reason, yet you feel it presents a novel (yet overlooked) way forward in some aspect of IF. Maybe it’s a fantastic presentation style that (you feel) would elevate any game it’s attached to. Maybe it’s from decades ago, presenting something “before its time” which the hardware of the day couldn’t bring to fruition, and so it withered on the vine before achieving its full, ripe potential.

It doesn’t need to be a project with lofty goals of “reinventing” interactive fiction. At the very least I’m interested in projects you think got at least one thing right that would, if iterated upon, take the genre into a bold future (if only everyone else would agree with you!)

3 Likes

There is a video game called Disco Elysium which I think bodes well for the future of interactive storytelling, although it is more of a text-heavy RPG than what would traditionally be considered IF. It relies heavily on graphics and has no parser, but its mechanics are mostly dialog oriented. I’m not sure if that’s the sort of answer you were looking for, but it’s one angle.

There’s also the interactive episode of the sci-fi tv series Black Mirror called Bandersnatch, which is like a Choose Your Own Adventure movie that can be played on Netflix. That’s another angle.

4 Likes

It isn’t that I’m looking for “angles” so much as I want to know what resonates with you. So, given what you’ve written, Disco Elysium is a good fit to my question. Are you personally interested in more Bandersnatch-like content?

1 Like

I think Disco Elysium was an incredible text heavy narrative game (in the vein of Planescape: Torment, minus all the D&D combat). I’d love to see more games like it (if they are done well), and I think that’s feasible.

I’d also play more interactive movies or shows like Bandersnatch if they were done well, but I am not sure how many more of those we will see. There’s a certain novelty to it, but I’m not sure how often I’d want to sit and engage with a tv show actively.

I think graphic and ease of use are good PR. Therefore, I think Twine and Adventuron are good candidates for popularizing IF. Though, IMHO, Adventuron needs to showcase hires images, instead of focusing on retro looks.

A system to easily produce hypercard Myst-like games would be good, too.

3 Likes

The way I pay the bills is by creating and designing chatbots, which, in my opinion, are largely ignored when it comes to IF. However, they have a number of important functions.

  1. Since an IF chatbot “lives” on a social media messengering app (Telegram, Live, Discord, Facebook, etc) it requires no downloading to the user’s device.
  2. Furthermore, unlike web-based IF games which run on clunky javascript or other ways to make the player’s computer do the work, chatbots can be built in any language and do all the “heavy lifting” when it comes to the computational work.
  3. Although largely neglected, chatbots are excellent for live, two-player (or up to 4 players) gaming, including, of course, interactive fiction.

Frankly, what’s holding everything back is a lack of design tools. If those ever get developed, I have a feeling that messenger-based IF will become incredibly popular, most definitely including two-player IF and multiplayer IF.

Secondly, I think VR is a sick joke, but AR has enormous possibilities. Everyone hated Google Glass years ago, but it seems to me that a kind of AR ocular device that amplifies what you see in “real” life (without obscuring your view as VR does) will be quite popular. For example, imagine looking at a plant and seeing its name and nutritional information pop up on your vision device, or looking at a bus stop and getting info about the ticket price and arrival time.

As for IF and AR, I think it won’t be too long until a hunting game (similar to the Pokemon one from a few years back) involving text will get popular.

Third, it’s pretty clear that visual novels (VN) and pseudo-VN (choices affect the story) compose about 99.99% of all IF games being played now (assuming they qualify as IF), but they get little respect or recognition. It is beyond weird, to me, that one of the most profitable niches in modern gaming barely gets any press.

I am firmly convinced that VN and pseudo-VN (along with Japanese-specific genres like otaku) will one day spawn movies, books, and other forms of mainstream entertainment media the way that comic books from the 1930s and 40s are doing so, currently.

Fourth, synthetic voices are getting better all the time. I think it’s only a matter of time before some kind of voice-driven (aka Alexa or Google Home) IF work takes off, using realistic computer voices as opposed to expensive (human) voice talent.

Fifth, I’m quite aware that the Greybeards on this forum and virtue signaling intellectuals in the west are dead set against NFTs and crypto, but I do not think it will be much longer before textual NFTs (as opposed to images/videos) and blockchain IF games will be a thing.

8 Likes

I’ve always enjoyed text adventures which invite playful exploration of the game world.

In my little demo Pity of Thieves (online here) there are three types of commands for movement:

  • Compass commands, eg: N, North, Go north
  • Named Transits, eg: Open door, Follow path
  • Auto-navigation to a known location, eg: Go to the Tavern

This third mode means the player can be in constant movement on some errand or other, and get interrupted quite naturally by meeting an NPC who introduces a new plot point, or who just remarks on the weather.

The Balladeer framework can present animated text, audio, still images, and video.

A brave future I foresee is one where a collective of amateur content providers generate illustrations or snippets of video which can be woven into a narrative screenplay.

Then you’d have parser-based text adventures which incorporate crowd-generated multimedia, freely over the web.

3 Likes

Why a TV show though? There are so many videographers in the world now, all attuned to creating YouTube style content. Beautifully colour-graded 10-minute storytelling in cinematic1080P.

Bandersnatch required about 250 scenes of video. There is enough capacity in the commons to generate assets at that scale. What’s lacking is the creative vision and the means of communicating it outward.

2 Likes

I just want to be clear about what you’re saying. Are you saying that crowd-sourced video generation would be an ideal future (toward the Bandersnatch-style works), if there were some way to coordinate enough people around a common goal/vision?

Thanks for the links to your projects. I’ll check them out over the weekend.

1 Like

Well, I definitely see an excess of capacity right now in video production. There’s a whole cohort of talent who have been trained to produce travelogues and product placement movies.

Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it :smile:
I have made some brave claims about the IF framework I’ve been working on recently. I think in the long term (20 years) Python is the future of IF. That is very much a minority view on this forum :wink:

Try me out. Set me a challenge. Let’s see what happens!

1 Like

@Sam_Ursu
I appreciate the time you put into your lengthy response. Thank you for your input.

With regard to the chatbots, I think “don’t have to download anything” makes sense for removing barriers-to-entry to people wanting to check out interactive fiction for the first time.

I’m having trouble visualizing what you mean by an AR “hunting game involving text.” I can speak for myself and say you’re right, I don’t even think of visual novels most of the time. It is a sub-genre I forget even exists, TBH. (Doki Doki is the only one I’ve really played, unless Danganropa and Phoenix Wright are part of this?) I believe a VN, Steins; Gate, has already made the media crossover you noted. And I recall Alexa had an interactive fiction moment not too long ago… but I may be misremembering.

I cannot understand what this would be, or how it would enhance IF. This is not a judgement of your hypothesis, just simply I literally cannot envision this. But I also don’t particularly want to derail this thread into a treatise on NFTs and crypto. So, let’s just say for now that your idea is noted for further study. :+1:

@Cody_Gaisser
I recently purchased Disco Eysium in a winter sale and was really entranced by it’s world building. Great, unique, punchy dialog and the RPG-esque mental skill tree is quite a neat twist on that concept.

I’m not aware of any tools that put the power of building worlds like that into the hands of more people, but I’m also not one who is opposed to “building the tools necessary to tell the story that needs to be told.” Consider, the text parser of Infocom was pretty unique to them for years, and only later became a tool for the masses. Someone has to make the initial investment to prove out new ideas, I think.

@ramstrong
Hypercard’s demise left a fairly big gap in authoring options, I think. I have my own conflicting thoughts on the retro-aethetic, and it would be nice if tools could be a little more flexible in allowing the creator to choose to be low-rez or hi-rez, as time/talent allow. It’s definitely hard to pitch a graphics-less game to larger audiences.

2 Likes

The AR thing - Back in the 1980s, there was a rather famous book (paperback, linear) that contained clues about a hidden treasure. You would then go to real-life locations to find more clues, etc. That sort of thing could easily translate to AR.

Likewise, that “Blob” game from the early internet could be ported to AR precisely because you could play it anywhere and wouldn’t require digging up people’s gardens, etc.

Crypto/NFTs - While (almost) everyone in the “West” is against these for ideological reasons, everyone I know in Africa (particularly Kenya, for interesting reasons that I think relate to MPesa) and Asia is quite enthusiastic about 'em.

If an IF game were made today on the 'chain, it would be what they called P2E (Play to Earn). There’s already a “dungeon crawler” game (more RPG than IF) where you grind and then sell off loot or higher XP characters in NFT format. Be pretty easy to convert that to a more text-based IF format.

However, that being said, I think IF’s “breakthrough” in NFTs will probably be something a bit more literary in style/tone. Of course, I’m probably wrong :stuck_out_tongue:

On a general note, I think the future will be more about watching celebrities playing games. As big as the “gaming” business is, I think there’s an audience of watchers but not participants that’s even larger (the way more people watch :soccer: than play it).

I’m actually shocked there ISN’T already a TV show about celebrities (or their kids, trophy wives, etc.) trying to get out of escape rooms, which is a kind of live-action roleplaying (LARPing) of an IF structured game.

“Escape rooms” (even for regular folks) aren’t generally thought of as IF, but I can think of a dozen or more parser games that are, at their heart, just escape room type games, especially the ones known as “one-room” games. And escape rooms (real life) always include some kind of reading and textual clues to solve.

Oh, one more thing I completely forgot - I’m also shocked that there isn’t already an SMS (text msg) IF game out there. With Twilio, it’s certainly possible to do one right this minute in certain markets (like the USA).

Heck, if I had a bit more free time and money to spare, I’d design it myself!

That is a bold claim. And I’m a Python developer who works with a Python system that has been in constant development for the last 20 years!

Not to veer too off topic here, but have you expanded upon this view in another thread here which I can read up on? Otherwise I’d be interested in a spin-off thread.

This article is five years old, so stuff might have happened since then, but there are a couple of games here that might fit what you’re talking about (Emily is Away and Lifeline): Why more video games look and feel like text messaging with friends - The Verge

1 Like

Nick Montfort once did a small game that was really SMS – it used cell phone texting and some kind of cell phone location system as context. Because of the location aspect, you could only play it on MIT campus.

This must have been 2006-ish – it was pre-iPhone. Of course it’s long gone.

1 Like

IF has big overlap with crossword and word puzzle fans. Counterfeit Money is the highest-rated IF game, and lots of wordplay games do well (like Shuffling Around). Seeing how Wordle got popular, I could see how an IF game based on wordplay could get popular. It probably would be very similar to current wordplay IF games but with nice interface improvements.

Although I haven’t even been able to guess the present of IF, let alone the future.

Also young adult romance (especially with LGBTQ options) IF with light visual elements have done astoundingly good over time (Birdland, Choices, Love Island, etc.). I expect that to continue.

Might be good to note here:

AR - augmented reality is a technology where computer graphics or text is overlaid on the real world as a heads-up display or to create creatures or other structures that don’t exist. Sometimes this is done by using a handheld screen that reads code on cards it sees, or a VR rig that can layer images on top of the real world.

ARG - alternate reality game is where a fiction has elements that break the confines of its original media and may be hidden outright, such as a puzzle book with a real-world treasure hunt, or a movie, game or website that provides clues to search for on the internet, codes, phone numbers or email addresses that can be interacted with for more story/plot. These may mimic unrelated websites (the “alternate reality” part) that might need to be “hacked” somehow or the source code read. An example is Portal which had a separate in-universe Aperture Science website with a specific username and password that could be obtained elsewhere to log in and view camera feeds and emails/file archives.

1 Like

If you search for “Python Text Adventure”, there is a post about it.

Several people have tried to build IF using Python. Not too successful. They failed at "build your own whole IF system including all relevant libraries from scratch "

1 Like

This would be the main one and here’s another.

If you fancy giving Balladeer a try I’m available for 1st line support :slightly_smiling_face:

But did they all fail? Maybe not :wink:

Thanks, I’ll give it a spin! But what I actually meant that I’d be interested in hearing more about is why you believe Python will gain a foothold in the IF scene the next 20 years.