RECOMMENDATION REQUEST: The Future of Interactive Fiction

@fos1 Are you saying those 40 million Raspberry PIs are all currently hooked up, being used by someone on a daily basis, and are available as part of a market for IF distribution and consumption? I imagine many are embedded in some other hardware, or even sitting around collecting dust. For example, I certainly had high hopes for my PocketCHIP (not a RPI, but still) and…well… it was a fun couple of weeks playing with it, for sure. It sits in its box now; I’m not firing it up to play Lost Pig. I think a distinction needs to be drawn between “installed base” and “consumer base.”

@Alianora_La_Canta
To your point: the two biggest proponents of NFTs at the Japanese company I work for are Americans.

RPis are an on ramp to computing. The RPi 4 is quite viable as a desktop with an entry price of less than $50. As I mentioned before, just about every viable programming language is a simple installation.

You can easily develop text IF using Inform6 with the standard library or Punyinform. Dialog also works well. All compile in a second or so. Frotz and Gargoyle are available to play IF games. Many students are learning programming within the Linux system due to the RPi. These students are an excellent target audience for the future of IF in whatever form it takes into the future. While the operational base certainly isn’t 40 million, it is a good percentage of that. There are very active teaching and learning systems in place.

If you have yet to experience an RPi, it would be a good investment. There are very few things that I have to use a Windows or Mac computer for. In fact, the 64 bit quad core Arm processor in current RPis is a good approximation of a Mac. The underlying OS is quite the same, a POSIX compatible Unix work alike. Again, they are fast and well capable as a desktop computer.

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Just to be clear here, your point isn’t necessarily about RPis, but is more about making sure IF tools are available for Linux, as that is a system many new developers will have early exposure to?

there is a game called Penrose, and I love the way it connects time, space, and characters. Often, you’ll have to switch characters and see the same snippet of story from their point of view in order to make a choice that will move you forward. Some of those choices seem inconsequential until you read on. It’s really innovative: https://penrose.doublespeakgames.com/

They also have a few more games that are interesting in the IF/ IF Adjacent space. One is A Dark Room, which you’ve probably heard of, but they also have an interactive Google Assistant game on their site. Not IF, but if you want to have a completely addictive game experience, there’s Gridland. In all, they’re pretty experimental.

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I’m happy that ScottKit is available for RPi, even if I have to do a full install of ruby. Speaking of IF Tool availability for linux, does any one know of one using bash? That’d be extremely universal, for sure.

C has the most penetration. After all, C and Linux are integrated together. You have Linux, you have C. Only micro Linux or the likes don’t have it.

That being said, there is a difference between installed and used. I may have all kinds of languages installed, but I only use C and Processing regularly. The rest may as well be invisible to me.

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A few trends come to mind:

Retro PC experiences - I noted during IF comp this year that games that imitate old computer systems seem to be trendy. Two games outside the IF scene—Hypnospace Outlaw and Stories Untold—were both well received this year with releases on most major game stores; they have excellent presentation as well.

Bitsy - I just started a thread on this. Bitsy is rapidly approaching Twine’s level of popularity among developers and it is gaining quite a bit of press coverage too.

Playstation-esque games - The Playstation-style low-poly aesthetic is in vogue. Right now it is mainly being used for horror games, but the trend could also mean more separate narrative/gameplay experiences in the style of Metal Gear Solid and Parasite Eve once again. (As I understand it, Bioshock popularized during-gameplay audio logs and that style is still very popular today).

Cinema-style games - Not cinematic platformers or FMV games, but games that draw heavily from film and star notable actors. Twelve Minutes, an interactive thriller featuring the voices of James McAvoy and Daisy Ridley that was showcased at the Tribeca Games Festival, is one recent example of this.

Audio games - The Vale: Shadow of the Crown this year was released as a game for the blind. It’s not the only game to do that (one of the first was Kenji Eno’s Real Sound: Kaze no Regret in 1997). This is pretty niche but I thought I would mention it.

Crypto funding - Though some people in this thread have mentioned NFTs, I think it’s more likely that more games will be funded through crypto. Twitter has integrated Bitcoin tips; I think it’s only a matter of time before Itch.io and other platforms do the same. This is not specific to interactive fiction, of course.

Big’s Big Fishing Adventure 3: The Trial - Somehow this unlicensed for-charity visual novel based on the Sonic franchise managed to get two official actors (Mike Pollock as Eggman and Roger Craig Smith as Sonic) to voice their characters. Not advisable, but impressive.

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Totally agree. I have so many one-off installations for “I just want to check it out” languages. (Didn’t know about ScottKit, thanks)

@pbparjeter I think that’s a good point about the audio games. Or, more specifically, inclusivity must surely increase over time in all genres, including IF.
You note 3 retro-style trends. I wonder if the popularity of these is more a matter of keeping the scope of projects in check. Consider Bitsy games, there’s really only so much time one can spend on the graphics when they’re 1-bit; it is almost scoped by definition along certain axes.

Audio logs pre-date Bioshock by some time, I think. My earliest memory of them is System Shock CD-ROM version. Stories Untold had one level that presented a kind of “you’re sitting at a retro computer playing a text adventure” but the rest wasn’t really like that. I think Event[0] takes that premise much further, but I base that on very little hands-on experience.

You note 3 retro-style trends. I wonder if the popularity of these is more a matter of keeping the scope of projects in check. Consider Bitsy games, there’s really only so much time one can spend on the graphics when they’re 1-bit; it is almost scoped by definition along certain axes.

Good point about scope.

There are higher-resolution/hi-color forks of Bitsy but I would like to see a version that actually takes extensions to their full potential.

There are (apparently) functional extensions floating around in the community, and I expect there would be a lot more if adding those extensions was as simple as ticking a check box.

I didn’t know about scottkit either. Do you have a good location for source that will work on the RPi?

Thank you

Didn’t you help me with Ruby installation?

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I think so?

Thanks for the link.

PS. Now that RaspiOS is 64 bit, Zilf doesn’t run. :frowning: I’m trying to figure that out…

Yes, Bioshock was the spiritual successor to System Shock, and the enhanced CD version was probably the first game that allowed the player to listen to an audio log while walking around instead of just presenting an RPG-style text dump. Both System Shock and Ultima Underworld were initial attempts to bring deeper RPG elements, plot, and lore to action games in 3D (or 2.5D).

Wasn’t Event[0] a spaceship exploration game where there were terminals in-world where the player could communicate with the system AI via a parser?

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Yes. Part of the long-term trend of other game genres adopting IF tools, techniques, and idioms for specific purposes of their own.

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I think games like Dwarf Fortress, Rimworld, etc. present an untapped opportunity to flip the script on interactive fiction. Instead of experiencing variants of a story the author has imagined, players take an active role shaping the story through their choices. There is no set plot. It is the sheer depth of simulation and the types of choices presented to the player that lead to story generation.

Imagine if these kinds of simulations and world-building activities existed in parser-based, screen-reader-friendly “IF”. I think this could go far beyond just improving the genre. Rather it could bring entire other genres into the text world.

This would also be a win for accessibility, since many of these kinds of games are heavily visual (even dwarf fortress). https://www.reddit.com/r/dwarffortress/comments/smw6na/old_time_gamer_with_bad_eye_sight_suggestions_or/

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This is interesting! It’s hard to strike a good balance with text-only procgen. It usually requires a lot of labor to perform, and there are two ways I’ve seen it go a lot:

*The entire game is story-focused, with procgen used to make story. This is often great for about 10-15 minutes but then loses its focus over time (a great example is AI Dungeon, or even Narrative Device, which give you a feeling that everything is possible before you realize that ‘everything is possible’ isn’t that satisfying).
*The game is numbers/status focused. A lot of times such things could be better represented visually, so it’s kind of a drag to have to read the text instead of getting quick info.

Two games that I think found a great balance were ‘The Mary Jane of Tomorrow’ by Emily Short, a brief game about fine-tuning a robot that uses procgen to produce text that you can then ‘diagnose’ (like, ‘oops, too much French’). The other is Kerkerkruip, by Victor Gijsbers, which uses procgen RPG combat (basically roguelike) in a primarily-text format that works well.

I like your overall idea a lot.

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Yeah, I don’t think games like these would really write a story so much as tell you about things that happen. You would have some control over what those things are (combat orders, construction and the like.). The “narrator” wouldn’t really be able to comment on big picture things.

Well, maybe with a sufficiently trained AI… Hmmm…

This is definitely the bigger concern for games like these.

When you boil it down, the utility of the visual cues is that you can easily identify where to direct your attention among a vast selection of options. You are able to see an entire 2d space at one time, subconsciously discard information that is irrelevant (assuming the artists have done their job), and allow your attention to be grabbed by whatever needs doing. I’ve been trying to figure out some ways to address these.

Perceive 2d space at once

Haptic

  • braille or 2d pin boards
  • touch screen with haptics

Auditory

Discard irrelevant information

  • Game design should exclude things that are solely visual. Even if you simulate every patch of leaves that falls on the ground, it should take some effort to examine the ground that closely, unless the leaves are important to your story.
  • game design might abstract away certain ideas like strict spatial relationships (euclidean)
  • Summarization systems (heuristics, maybe AI-based?)

Draw attention to needs

  • game design might have alerts, auto-pause, etc. for user-configurable events. E.g. you might do “build wall” or “build wall then pause”
  • auditory cues
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And vice versa, I think. Something that has really struck me in this thread is “what are we talking about when we talk about interactive fiction?”

But more than that, if we were to think about these things in terms of, for example, “model view controller” there really isn’t any technical reason a text adventure with simple verbs couldn’t be presented in the DOOM engine, for example. Moving from one room to another is not technically any different than typing “go east.” Running over an object is “take object.” Running into a blue door while holding the blue key is, “use blue key on blue door.” I’m glossing over UI/UX considerations considerably here, but verbs could be thought of as “weapons” in the DOOM vernacular, for example. I think even a game like Witness with a cast of characters moving about could be visually portrayed by a graphical engine.

The mental exercise I’ve been toying with lately starts with Zork.
First, remove all redundant verbs and strip it to its essence. Tim Schafer reduced all verbs down to “use” in Broken age, for example.
Next, don’t show descriptive text to the player, swap that at runtime for a picture of the place or thing being described.
Next, replace movement by text parser with movement by gamepad.
Next, replace “use” with the “X” and replace “inventory” with the “Y” button on the gamepad (for example).
Next, rather than static images, replace the locations with full 3D locations where physically exiting a location equates to “go east” and such.
Now we have a full visual replacement for the text and a gamepad replacement for the text parser, but full Zork is still running behind the scenes (in this contrived example which doesn’t attempt to answer every UI/UX question for the sake of brevity).

At what point did the above game stop being “interactive fiction?”

What I’m getting at is that I think there is a lot of room for exploring the confluence of various forms of media, and IF can be a part of any media once it is freed from having its world model, parsing, and text presentation layers separated out and those abstractions made available in various programming languges and game engines. But then, is it still IF? :man_shrugging:

@mathbrush I think we’ll see more and more the idea of “assistive AI” being used, rather than just pure “let the AI generate whatever madness it wants.” Nvidia has some interesting painting tools that allow an artist to kind of block out the position and size and types of objects for a scene, which the AI uses to guide its image creation. I could easily see the same happening for text-based creative works, to fill in the gaps when a player just can’t resist examining every centimeter of a room.

I’ve kind of been toying with the idea of “what is the Unreal Engine 5 equivalent in interactive fiction?” Is it possible to give “infinite detail” using procedurally and AI generated details for all the numerous things a human simply doesn’t have the time to spend doing?

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Have you heard about this First Person File Manager? That’s what this made me think of. In that case it’s replacing the change directory command with walking into doors, eg.

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No, I hadn’t heard of that. Thank you, it’s quite neat to learn about. I appreciate someone taking the time to explore that possibility.

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Looks like I put in the wrong link; fixed.