Twiny Jam

Porpentine is holding a game jam for Twine games under 300 words. Submissions opened yesterday and will remain open until April 9.

The 300 words are based off the word counter in Twine, so you can get away with a lot in CSS and scripting that won’t count against you. Sound and images also aren’t supposed to count toward the word limit, but I think you have to subtract them by hand.

My entry:

A Love Song for Alpha Centauri
(an interactive complaint)

Maga let me know the version isn’t working for him, though it seems to be okay for others. If it doesn’t run at the above link, I’ve also put up a copy at

I… I liked Beyond Earth. [emote]:|[/emote]

(That was a pretty cool use of hover)

And that’s okay! Nothing wrong with that!

I suspect, however, that you are into it for the polished 4X gameplay - not the characters or the story.

Yes, if there was something I thought Beyond Earth disappointed at, it was the storytelling.

Something I have time to do!! I’m in! [emote]:D[/emote]

I sent something to the Twiny Jam.

I also found out Twine 2 still is somewhat undocumented. Never did figure out how to add an image. Not important for this one, though.

I needed to clear my head after a month+ buried in a Spring Thing project, so I figured having an excuse to make a tiny Twine game is quite fun: It Is not so Much a Story.

I like both of your games very much.

Interesting that you both wound up doing cycles!

It saves on words when the first and third acts are the same passage.

I submitted a game for Twiny Jam as well:

The World Model is Really Problematic.

It’s definitely been an interesting game jam, and a there’s a lot of cool ideas that are all really different, especially given the brevity of the format.

What the…

Oh, ouch. I’m so sorry!

I feel you with the “life or project” thing. And I can’t say I haven’t struck back at my critics in my own writing.

Aw, I do totally get it, and I’m sorry if my review read as unreasonably harsh.

FWIW, I would have considered a project like A Long Drink too large for me to complete within the ParserComp boundaries unless I was doing it basically as full-time client work (and even then I would do everything in my power to scale it down). Mysteries are hard, multiple NPCs are hard, plots with a lot of different scenes and knowledge states are hard; doing all that as an intro project within a couple of months is really brave.

I’ll think about whether I should revise my approach to reviewing competition games. I absolutely don’t want to discourage people from participating.

I made a TwinyJam entry. At least I think I did! The main TwinyJam page is telling me I haven’t made a game I can submit but my home page is telling me I submitted something to TwinyJam.

Anyway, here it is on my homepage where I uploaded it before I figured out how to format it for and here it is on

spankminister–I agree with Emily, that was a very brave project to try as your first Inform 7 project and in such a short window. I felt that when I was giving you feedback that a lot of it was stuff that would be super hard to implement in the time you had left. The testing window is just so short, especially if you have to chase the kids around! And I feel you on that too–here I am futzing with my TwinyJam upload when I should be waking someone up for school Right Now.

Nice, matt w. It’s impressive how much progression you fit into such a brief piece.

Thanks, Emily! I have an Explanation:

[spoiler]When I saw this jam I thought “I’m going to have to keep the individual passages real concise”–which is not a great strength of mine. That made me think of the 1979 board game Magic Realm. There’s a nice appreciation of the gameplay here, but one thing I’ve always admired about it is how evocative it can be when it only has two words. Tile and counter names like “Deep Woods,” “Lost Castle,” “Ledges,” “High Pass” immerse me in the world more than even longer phrases might.

So I borrowed many of the place names. The world of the game suggests a place where some empire has fallen and I made the setting even later than that, after all the monsters etc. have left. There are a couple of in-jokes; the wolves and snakes inhabit some of the safer areas of the original game (the non-deep woods) but they’re also the only dangers you’d find in the real world. Also in Magic Realm it’s possible to generate an enchanted meadow in a pool in a cave and I wondered how that was supposed to work.

I found Twine kind of difficult to work with (maybe because I still have version 1.4). I just couldn’t get variables to work so all the state-tracking is done by checking whether certain passages have been visited. This gave me a nice additional constraint though.[/spoiler]

Haha, listen, you guys don’t owe me an apology. Realistically speaking, you played my game, which is the most I could hope for, and getting a written review is icing on top of that. I tried to write this Twine in such a way that wouldn’t read as fishing for sympathy or “screw you, critics!!” I’d be lying if I said there was no cathartic element in it, but I just wanted to chronicle the feeling of the experience; juxtapose the hope with the reality, the input with the output. And of course, the dissonance between writing a 300-word Twine and getting high fives, and spending 3 months on a parser game that gets largely panned critically. It’s about expectations both on the part of the author and the players in both formats.

I set out to ask these questions, so I consider that rousing success. I mean, anyone who resolves to stay current with a competition, and write reviews about EACH entry is a rare breed in this day and age, so I feel bad holding the mirror up to you folks toiling away doing that kind of work. But for years, I’d noticed a big discrepancy in the way the community said it was clamoring for more parser IF, and the incredibly high standard any new game is held to. If I might unfairly pick on EmShort once more, from a Brass Lantern interview:

"Short: I’ve seen a few gaming forums with threads that went something like this:

IF-hater 1: Agh! Text adventures! They never understand what you type! You look at stuff and the game just keeps saying YOU CAN’T SEE THAT HERE."

There’s a lot of reviews of parser games by very experienced players that read just like that. And fair enough that things can get frustrating without hinting objects, but these days there really isn’t a lot of allowance for how complex setting up verbs and synonyms and all for parsers is. Or that there are design reasons for not doing so, or that the developer did, but the input still exceeded the included synonyms. Where’s the line between “I felt this noun/verb should have been implemented” and “why didn’t you read my mind?”

I dunno, the conciseness seemed to work in your favor, I thought it had good atmosphere considering its brevity. “The crypt is empty” is great economy of language to make things pretty spooky. [emote]:D[/emote]

Not trying to pick apart your argument – I think the exchange here has been very interesting – but you didn’t include Ms. Short’s response to that criticism, which sort of undermines your point:

In other words, it seems Ms. Short’s priorities are to make the genre more accessible to players first and developers second, and that the “first line of defense” for accessibility lies with the developer. I actually think the natural-language-seeming code that Inform 7 allows sort of tricks me into thinking that I can just write, and that traditional coding practices: syntax, user interface, robustness, unit testing, etc are either less important than with ‘normal’ coding or are taken care of for me. But, as my own so-far abortive attempts attest, it just ain’t so.

Twine actually does abstract these things away so that you can just focus on writing. I read a Porpentine interview where she said she spends only a week or two actually writing her big projects once they’re mapped out. (I think she was specifically talking about With Those We Love Alive in the interview.) No surprise that it’s way way easier to create a compelling 300-word Twine than a large and complex parser game.

…yeeeah, that must have been a fair few years ago now. I wouldn’t phrase it that way these days.

I’d be the first to acknowledge that writing parser IF is hard, and that the dull work of accommodating unreasonable input is a major time-sink for authors; this is one of the things I mention when I talk about why choice-based IF may be a better bet a lot of the time, both for accessibility and for authors who want to get things finished.

I try not to be an unreasonable hardass about this in reviews; but there comes a point where the implementation goes from “there are some missing elements but I can work around that” to “…I can’t figure out how to make the game move forward and I’m frequently uncertain whether I’ve gotten it into a buggy state, ie whether I’m wasting my time by even attempting to continue to play from this point,” which I fear is how I several times felt with A Long Drink. This made it hard for me to even reach other aspects of the game (what is the main storyline? where does this piece go thematically?) that I might have had reason to praise if I’d been able to get at them.

(My comments about “I felt like the author had an ambition that there wasn’t time for” were my attempt to acknowledge that this stuff is hard: not “this person didn’t work hard enough” but “this person asked more than was reasonable of themselves”. Perhaps it didn’t come across that way, but that was the intent.)

Anyway – I come to IF reviewing from a perspective that says critique is good, technical feedback is important, we’re all trying to improve our skills, and while reviews should be written with kindness, nonetheless it’s best to describe issues. That’s very much an old-school parser-IF community background. There are some other possible approaches, though, including the one that says: we’re all struggling to get things done, we should cheerlead and motivate, it’s important to listen and foster new voices, and responding to a first attempt with a barrage of negativity is likely to drive people away before they ever get around to improving their skills (if improvement is even something of interest to them).

A few years ago we did experiment with having a dedicated positive-feedback blog, and various people offered to contribute, and then fairly little was ever written for it. I think it’s safe to say it was an unsuccessful experiment. I’m not sure whether this reveals that (a) we are crotchety and this mode of reviewing does not come naturally; (b) there is not really a market for this, because people each individually want to hear themselves praised but in a context where, in general, negativity is permitted (otherwise it feels too condescending? that’s wholly possible, I don’t know).

Meanwhile, I as a critic am interested in having the conversations about technique and theme and meaning, and I also want to support the community and minimize the amount of distress I cause to individual authors. For some time now I’ve had a policy about reviewing that boils down roughly to:

  1. It’s okay to critically review commercial work by established people (though try not to be a full-on jerk about it even so – there are obviously still humans behind a given project however large the team);
  2. For amateur IF (and some fledgling indie-commercial) releases, unless the review would be net more positive than negative, it’s better not to publish one; no need to gratuitously rain on anyone’s parade;
    2a. …except that people who enter comps probably more prefer to get feedback than not, so go ahead and be as thorough as time permits when reviewing a competition, while attempting to calibrate the feedback with where the author seems to be coming from.

But your remarks, and those of a few other people over the years, make me wonder if maybe the (2a) approach is wrong, and I should move towards a ‘nothing ill of the novice’ type policy throughout. From a bluntly selfish point of view, there are advantages to this: critiques of buggy games tend to be more similar than critiques of solid ones, hence less interesting to read or write, and focusing primarily on work I consider definitely strong would let me cover more out-of-comp and non-IF narrative games.

So I suspect that this change would increase the general appeal of my blog. It might also avoid doing the kind of community and emotional damage I do want to avoid.

That said, I’ve sometimes been told by novice authors that they really appreciated the critical feedback they received in this format. There’s clearly a need for – possibly non-public, ideally non-embarrassing – assistance to authors who are still getting started and who do specifically wish to focus on technical skill improvement. To some extent, beta-testers offer a first line on this, but maybe we need more/other institutions; recent experiments in comp format with private feedback or review-equals-positive-vote may be a step in that direction. It may just be that the time for us to do this via public reviews has passed. Or for me, anyhow.