Under-represented genres

So, I was thinking… there is a LOT of fantasy thanks to the classic text adventures like Adventure and Zork and such. There are also quite a few science fiction games, but they seem to mostly be space-oriented, alien-fighting epic type stuff. There are some romance games, (though many of them are AIF type stuff). There’s a bit of horror (and I think IF lends itself extremely well to horror).

But there are some genres (and subgenres) that I haven’t seen much of. Historical fiction, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, “new weird,” western, and superhero IF seem to all be somewhere between rare and non-existent.

I kind of want to explore making a game in of a type that hasn’t been done, or hasn’t been done much, and was wondering what kind of game other people would like to see.

Whatever you feel you can do excellently. The only genre I care about is “games that effing rock,” which is a genre seldom approached in this or any other gaming medium :slight_smile: Most seem to prefer to toil in the well-trodden “games that are just kind of meh” megagenre.

I think people tend to write what they know will be popular, and sci-fi, fantasy and horror are all very popular. They’re probably reluctant to write a game in a genre that’s not as popular because less people would be inclined to play it.

Saying that, I’m a sucker for sci-fi, fantasy and horror anyway.

S. John is of course right - you should write whatever story happens to be in you, and not ask what people want.

That said, I still think those mutant pirates we talked about in the shared world thread sounds like a lot of fun…

There are quite a lot of superhero games: try the Earth & Sky trilogy, Heroine’s Mantle, Max Blaster & Doris de Lightning, A Crimson Spring, Future Boy, the Frenetic Five series, Flight of the Hummingbird, several David Whyld games… given how strongly visual the superhero genre is, and how much difficulty IF has with very powerful protagonists and with action-driven plots, the superhero genre is very heavily represented.

The trick, as I’ve said before, is that there are many, many genres and not all that many IF games. So most genres are going to have a thin field. (We had a great big discussion a few months ago that started when someone complained that there weren’t enough IF horror games – or, at least, enough games that matched their quite specific requirements for horror.)

If you want to do something more likely to be genre-unique, you can do what someone around here (I think it was Emily Short) suggested and:

  1. Pick two reasonably disparate things as your central schtick and setting (aliens in 18thC Versailles! intrigue/noir in ancient Sumer! social sim in space!).
  2. Follow things through to their logical conclusions (would you rather pose as an earth man, and have some political sway, or pose as an earth woman, and have an elaborate updo to hide your antennae under? how do spies stealthily pass around information when it has to be written on clay slabs? how much does it suck to be confined by the cold hard vacuum of space to a three-block area with someone you hate?). If it’s a historical setting, do some actual research. Even if it’s not a historical setting, do some research.

Step two is the important one.

I think that this is probably true of certain genres. I assume that a big part of the reason why there’s not much romance in IF, or much chest-thumping military fiction, is because both of those are sort of premised on a single-gender audience. I’m not sure how generally true it is – I think there’s so much SF/F just because IF authors tend to fall into demographics that really like SF/F, rather than because anybody’s chasing an audience.

I thought the major reason there’s not much romance in IF is that it’s hard to write complex NPCs.

That doesn’t help, no. But there are other genres – superhero, space opera – that have major mechanical disadvantages in IF, yet people keep hammering away at them. (For a proper space opera, you need a sympathetic ensemble cast, a very open field of possibility, and an action-driven plot: three horribly difficult things before breakfast! But there’s no shortage of authors willing to try.)

So, y’know, if it was just because it was difficult, I’d expect to see a regular stream of trying-to-be-romance games, half-baked romance games, romance games that fail interestingly in some crucial way.

It seems to me like you’re putting a lot of weight on “proper” here. You can have a space opera without an ensemble cast and an open field of possibility; maybe the only essential element is the action-driven plot. (Or maybe it’s just space.)

But a romance really really needs a significant NPC or two. If you don’t have one, it’s not a romance, improper or otherwise.

That said, here’s Gregory Weir’s Why So Few Violent Games?, on why game designers have taken the easy way out by programming relationships instead of the complex physics of violence, ever since Will Crowther chose to write a game about his childhood friendships instead of something obscure like his caving hobby.

I don’t about that analysis: I saw that vampire romance books for teenage girls were selling but despite the promise of wealth beyond measure, I just couldn’t bring myself to write one. I think people tend to write what they like, and as a result the things that are popular among the writers of text games are well represented.

Maybe the programming element involved on making the games puts off the more stereotypical romance and military fans.


At least, I know that’s true for me. On maybe two occasions in my life I’ve written for the money, and both of those jobs made me sick and miserable until they were done.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, in many regards. Because such-and-such genre hasn’t been done, the mechanical groundwork for it isn’t there, and so people look at that and go, “Uhm, no.” Can’t say I blame them. Creating IF is hard work and some of the mentioned genres make it an order of magnitude harder.

While IF may suit itself well to horror – having written a horror IF of course I tend to agree – that genre is still woefully underrepresented in the main, especially non-Lovecraft horror. More of it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

I wrote a contemporary murder mystery once (A Party to Murder) which I entered in one of the IF Comps a few years back. Its major flaw was I got in over my head and toward the end took some shortcuts because I was getting bored with it. I probably should have planned it better.

Also it was written in ADRIFT, which at the time was getting poor reviews in certain ways. I could have compensated for some of its flaws better.

Another time I attempted to write a game based on a shakespeare work, but I couldn’t figure out a way to stage scenes and it didn’t go very far.

Once I started to write a western, which I still argue has great possibilities for interactive fiction. I had even successfully implemented riding a horse, and wrote a simple system for the player practicing shooting a gun which would improve their shooting ability later on. I never quite got into plotting that one. I repeated that setting when I was trying to teach myself Alan, but I was having a great deal of difficulty figuring out what I felt were simple things and abandoned the project.

As someone else said, it becomes self-fulfilling. If you play a great sci-fi game, that might inspire you to go off and write a sci-fi game, and the fact that there are far more sci-fi games than romances means there’s a lot more sci-fi inspiration floating around (and then, of course, when you complete your sci-fi game and put it out you’re adding to the imbalance!)

I suspect that genre fiction is particularly appealing to first-time IF authors like me (I’m working on a Lovecraftian horror, hardly a staggering IF innovation), because on a first game your major priority has to be learning how to actually use the code, rather than focusing on ambitious and original world-building. My hope is that, once the first one’s done and I have a pretty decent idea how to do different things with Inform, I’ll be able to get a bit more ambitious when it comes to things like genre: but I have to get the first one done first (you need to learn the rules before you can break or redefine them!) If lots of authors just write one game and then disappear, never quite managing the difficult second album, I guess that might help explain why so many IF works settle for the relative comfort of a well-worn genre, where the players’ expectations when it comes to things like tone are reasonably clear.

Western does sound like a potentially fruitful style, Dave. Maybe you’ll come back to it someday?

We’ve been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder to our kids. A pioneer game might be cool.

I’ve had an idea for a cyberpunk game brewing in my head for a while now. My biggest stumbling block to making it has been figuring out the city layout and turning my bullet point synopsis of the game story into an actual narrative. If anyone’s interested in helping out with the idea, I would gladly welcome it. :slight_smile:

raises wing I love cyberpunk!

Not really a genre, but is it just me or do most IFs have a human protagonist? I currently try to learn i6 and use a premise somewhat related to Happy Feet: A penguin tries to free her husband from kidnapping scientists. I cannot remember many other protagonists which are animals or vastly non-human though.

There are a fair number of games with animal or robot protagonists. (Those lists are far from complete.) I don’t think that the proportion of human protagonists in IF is notably higher than the proportion in static fiction.