Two days with IF

School is almost ending where I teach. Today, during class, I got an idea: challenging my students to an after-school-two-day-IF-fest. I asked which of them would like to be part of something involving computer games and literature, and then told them to stick around for five minutes after class. Ten of them stayed. All boys, which got me wondering…

Anyway, I explained a bit about IF and asked them if they would like to come to school for two days after the end of the school year, so that we could play a few games and create our own. They liked the idea, so now I have this IF thing I need to prepare myself for.

They’re all between fifteen and sixteen years of age, and today was the first time someone told them about IF.

My plan is…

Morning one: tell them about IF, about some of the conventions, show them a few games of past and present, play them. Give each a copy of that IF card Lea made. Tell them about the community and it’s activities.

Afternoon one: show them the basics about Inform7, and how to build a simple world. Then show a few ways to make such world react. Give them copies of the handouts by John Timmons. I found them simple enough for this purpose.

Morning two: divide them into groups, so that each can plot a map and a story on paper.

Afternoon two: help them code their stories. By the end of the afternoon, each group would present their game to the others.

So, any suggestions? What games would you use in morning one? What documents would you give?

Back at school we were being taught some stupid programming language, and when it came to project work, I managed to get a team together to create some veeery simple IF game. Took us three weeks, mainly coz we didn’t meet after school to get going (better things to do;), and because debugging simply takes time.

My conclusion: Your schedule is - in MY eyes - very sportive. I’d rather say that’s something for a project group which has enough time to put something together.

My goal here is to make them achieve a very - VERY! - small and simple game, so that 1) they get to know the medium, and 2) some interest in developing IF can sprout out of them.

Who knows: If I succeed in making them interested, and if I point them to the right resources, maybe some of them will start coding (alone or in groups) in their free time.

In my experience, if you’ve only got a few hours, it’s easier to write playable IF in the style of CYOA (in ChoiceScript or Undum) than it is to write parser-based IF in Inform 7.

Parser-based IF is better for games with complex puzzles and environments to explore, but in a few hours, there’s no time to learn Inform and create a meaningfully explorable space, or even an interesting puzzle.

On the other hand, setting up an interesting decision (e.g. a moral dilemma) can be very quick and easy, and can form the basis of a larger story.

I think you’d have time to create an environment in I7, though not a full game with puzzles and complex behavior. This is probably nothing but personal prejudice, but I have a hard time imagining CYOA captivating kids the way that an implemented IF spatial environment (even a small one) could.


My advice is to show them very small (and, if possible, very good) but not very complicated games.
This is the first IF they ever see, and most of the kids are bound to try doing something pretty similar to the games you show them.
There are two polls for short games at the IFDB; I’d play through a number of them (which need not take too long, since they are short) and choose the best one’s that will not tempt your students to try overly complicated things.

Dunno – the CYOA name itself comes from a popular series of children’s books, which certainly captivated me as a kid.

Designing something parser-based might be more captivating, though – you can just program a little stuff in the environment and it would open up lots of possibilities. (This is just a priori theorizing, though, I don’t actually work with kids of the appropriate age.)

It’s probably my personal prejudice, too… I designed ChoiceScript because IMO people have underestimated what’s possible in CYOA.

But I’ll stand by my claim that where CYOA really shines is in writing a dramatic scene fast. Sling together a few meaningful moral choices and thoughtful strategy choices and you’ve already got the skeleton of an interesting story. Plus, it’s easy to parallelize: you work on branch X, I’ll work on branch Y.

They captivated me too. But when I discovered Zork, it captivated me even more. And when I tried to create my own games in TI Extended Basic, it was Zork I emulated, not CYOA. That probably says nothing meaningful, though, beyond “Erik likes simulated worlds more than he likes choice trees”…

This is pretty much all I was saying with my original post. World-model based IF creates a crystalline structure, whereas CYOA is pretty flat. Captivating enough when you’re exploring someone else’s choice tree, I guess, but fairly dull when you’re implementing a tree you designed yourself. As you said, though, I have no real sense of what the kids we’re talking about would actually like–I’m just projecting my own rather narrow opinion!


Oh those John Timmons handouts are great; I’d never seen them before.

Just some thoughts from my own similar session (the kids were younger, 11-13ish, so that’s a pretty big difference, and also they were all girls because it was part of a university-run series of workshops for middle-school girls): they got very bored very quickly with playing existing games. We had them playing Snack Time and Lost Pig, which were too puzzley for the “go! play!” structure of the time we gave them to play in. (I considered A Day for Fresh Sushi but balked at the mild swearing at the last minute.) When we started writing games, far and away the most-requested thing they wanted to implement was NPC conversations. If I do the workshop again, I plan to have some minimal conversation extension for them to use, even if it only defines “talk to” as a verb. Oddly enough, the second most common request was for player teleportation, and it’s only tricky because of the slightly different syntax for moving the player (“move the player to [whatever location]”) as opposed to moving anything else (“now the ball is in [whatever location]”).

I definitely recommend working in pairs and playing games between pairs. I posted some miscellaneous other anecdata from my last Inform-for-kids session at this thread:

Oh, and in response to the CYOA subthread here: I am definitely considering switching to Twine for [at least part of] the next time I do this workshop. This would be motivated by the kids’ desire to do conversation-type games, especially since a lot of them seemed to be trying to write CYOA-style games (“If the player leaves the room, the dragon attacks! Otherwise, they win.”) anyway. But my kids were younger and my workshop shorter than lribeiro’s.

What platform are you using? ADRIFT 5 might be a good choice for such a short event… :smiley:

Wow… you’re really an awesome teacher! I imagine it takes a special kind of student to volunteer to come to school two extra days to learn something new. I wish I had you in middle school! I was trying to write games with Inform 6 and ADRIFT 4 back then, and nobody else in my whole school even knew about IF. :slight_smile:

I’m really glad to hear of this, and I pray that it will suceed.

We had to design and write CYOA stories once when I was in 4th or 5th grade (so maybe 10 or 11 years old). We got to map out the decision trees and do the cover art and bind the books ourselves.

Unfortunately, the teacher required that all of the decision trees eventually collapse back to a single ending (!). The thinking was that this would prevent it from getting too complex for us. I spent more time trying to write an elegant ending that somehow made sense for my protagonist (a mouse trying to compete in a hot air balloon race) than I did anything else, and I’m still a little annoyed over two decades later that I wasn’t allowed to go wherever I wanted with it.

But it was clearly a memorable exercise nonetheless.

Well, bad news.

I chose a few titles from the suggested list of short games; I prepared the documentation I wanted to give; I did a sketch of a small map so that they could build on top of it; I was actually quite excited.

Until today.

Today the school’s principal told me that, due to national exams that will take place here in the following days, I won’t be allowed to bring the students in.

I’m still trying to think of an alternative, but it’s proving itself hard. Taking them to some other place will raise issues concerning parents authorization; an online meeting won’t be the same thing. I’m kind of stuck, but I still want to do it.

Anyway, a lot of cool ideas came from this thread, and next year I can plan this up with more time, maybe even creating a group.

It sounds like the screwed-up mindset which views testing as more important than education is pretty universal.

Teachers like yourself, who care enough to go the extra mile to come with something which can be both enjoyable for the students and a useful learning experience, are a rare and valuable resource. Its truly a shame when the administrators stand in your way.

Good luck with next year.

Robert Rothman