What do we talk about when we talk about IF?

I feel like the IF theory club filled a real gap, and perhaps we need to once again prod people about reviving it; perhaps on a medium more welcoming to newcomers than the IFMud…

I’d be interested in doing (and/or reading, but I also want to set one up) a roundtable with IF authors and/or reviewers, sort of like what XYZZY News used to run.

I’d have liked to have joined the IF Theory Club sometimes, but anything that happens in real time is hard for Australians to get to. I don’t know that there’d be enough interest from folks in Oceania/Asia to sustain an alternative timeslot Theory Club - it sounded like the American/European one barely got enough participation sometimes. But I feel like a real-time discussion is less intimidating and lower pressure to contribute to. Plus it’s just fun to hang out sometimes.

I’m typing this on a virtual iPad keyboard so it won’t be wonderful . I wrote it when there were no posts in this topic, so it’s free of topic peer pressure. Some’s also been obviated or disagreed with, but too tiring to edit this way. So it’s just my free thoughts.

Re Adams comment, my time ‘here’ only begins in 2010, in which time I’ve felt there’s been a disproportionately large amount of if theory talk relative to the amount of if game material generated. But that’s not the same as talk focused on particular games (a new game now is reviewed way less than a new game from years ago. Except if it was in a comp, and even then, reviews mostly stop after the Comp. more flippantly, one cannot be the Beatles of if now. A lost pig etc was the Beatles, and so keeps being reviewed.) my personal interest is in talk that starts with a specific game, over theory that mentions games, but that part is just me.

there is now more material per se with cyoa and twine sharing the same space but coming out much faster than parser games. I think the critical culture came from the parser people, and was probably overkill of a kind they were maybe lucky to have. I see Adam was part of that situation and obviously he notices its absence.

Other ideas: the much vaunted ‘people would rather write if than play it’. If that’s trueish , it’s a problem whose scale has increased with the increase in material. But I think it’s particularly untrue for cyoa.

The now abundant post Mortems do play to the above authorly idea. I mean, if you read those, there is probably more mAterial to help an author solve problems they have yet to encounter than ever before. They are great at that. I stopped reading them both because that’s not what I need at the moment, but also, I am least interested in what people say about their own game right after they have made it. In terms of interpretation or insight, I don’t think they’Ve got Perspective at that point. I’d rather talk about it myself or read others interpretations. Buuuut peeps have also pointed out the post morts spur general discussion.

Good on int fix factions output and spag, as terribly named as the latter is.

Agree re emerald and Australians. Eg Xyzzy was at 530 am on Monday for me. No chance! And don’t call spring thing ‘fall fooferall’ for us because we don’t even say fall, we say autumn! And I don’t know what they say in the other southern countries!

Anyway, because of your idea emerald, I may be up for it.


The IF Book Club was a private discussion, right? Has anybody done a public book club on the forum? (I’m guessing the answer is, “Yes, and it fell apart”?)

I think with regard to parser-IF, the thing that fans of the form are looking for is surprise: either some tricky cool fun mechanic, or dead-awsome finesse of the implementation. Part of that is the author essentially can build the world to work the way that they want it to. When you start a parser game, you never quite know what to expect with regard to what you will be doing, or how you will be interacting with the game world. In COUNTERFEIT MONKEY the gimmick is how you can tear apart words (and thus the landscape) and mix it up seemingly as you please. Most of Zarf’s stuff plays with the experience in surprising meta ways or finesse and breadth of gameplay (HADEAN LANDS). I think this is also why parser games can take so long to write - the author practically needs to re-invent the world.

Because of this, I think people are reluctant to give out details of works in progress. I know the game I want to do has elements that I’d much rather the player discover on their own. Imagine how much less effective COLORATURA would be if Lynnea Glasser had discussed it for months previous to IFComp and everyone knew going inthat they were an alien creature who sang colors to affect people’s moods.

Choice of Games’ audience and primary gameplay is built on co-creation. The player often gets tremendous say in the backstory and the direction of their character and often of their companions. Is your ogre friend’s sexual orientation and choice of gender pronoun really important to the story? Most often–no, not really, but you can choose it anyway because that is important to much of their audience. Writing in ChoiceScript, in contrast with Inform is dead simple. The documentation is three webpages of moderate length and then two supplemental advanced pages. You can read the entire documentation in twenty-five minutes if you want. I’ve read lots of the I7 documentation and while it is possible to read all of it…most people don’t. It’s similar to how most people don’t read the Bible straight through, and always find new things in it they hadn’t discovered (hypothetically, if it had the documentation search field that the I7 IDE does). While there are CS coding discussions and questions in the forum, most problems are nowhere as finicky as I7 solutions. When you play/read a CoG title, you know you might be doing miraculous things in the plot, but you’re not actually going hands-on with it…you will be clicking radio buttons to make choices every couple of paragraphs and not playing guess the verb or discovering later on “Oh, there is a way to get out of this maze…” Obviously this approach works, and a lot of people find it less off-putting than hands-dirty parser fiction.

So I think that’s why CoG people are deliriously chatty about their in-progress games. They want and need to know what input the player might have, and solicit it during the writing. One of the current lengthiest threads is about a game where you can play one of about a dozen monster archetypes, many of them with male and female variations, and then this character plays out high school drama. I think this author has been writing her game for nearly a year and is still on the first day. She’s lamented how she’s “writing sideways” making the path so wide and so customizable that there’s no forward movement. But she gets so much input on her game that it’s unlikely she’ll stop. The community even voted on a new TITLE for her game when she needed it.

It would pretty much require someone to step forward, declare that they were organizing for a while, and set up a plan about where to host.

One of the several reasons I stopped was that it didn’t seem in its original form to be a great fit for what we needed – I kept getting feedback that people felt too daunted to talk, or like they didn’t know enough background to follow discussion.

Something that was focused on specific games that had been played by everyone in advance – more like a book club – might be more successful; we tended to have our best discussions as post-mortems of various competitions, which gave a clear set of parameters for what people should know in advance, and also encouraged authors of those games to show up.

If one weren’t doing competition post-mortems per se, and one wanted a little more comparison/cross-game discussion than you get from going over just one game, then maybe something built around concept lists? Like the leader could put together an anthology post selecting 3-6 related games (depending on their length), about a month in advance. On the one hand that means there’d be more to play; on the other hand, it takes the burden off specific games. Like, if a book club this month is discussing a book you hated too much to finish, you probably won’t go; if there’s a selection of short stories, it’s more likely that at least one of them will have interested you, and you also have the option of talking about why some of them worked for you better than others.

Buuut this is basically random brain-storming.

Oh! Which also reminds me of Victor Gijsbers’ recent thing of playing games and posting about them here. That’s discussion too! (Though I’m slightly afraid that he may have gotten stuck near the end of Savoir-Faire and that I’m the reason he hasn’t carried on lately…)

One of the interesting questions to me is why these haven’t been superseded by new questions–which you touched on in your comments about new frontiers, I guess. To toot my own horn, with Terminator one thing I was trying to do was to show that movement and description in a continuous space was at least technically possible, but you have to design the game around them. But making this interesting will probably have to wait on a better version of Terminator with slightly improved descriptions and no obnoxious every turn bugs (and this relies on perhaps not fun updating work like making sure my code plays nicely with Daniel’s updated extensions).

This maybe is connected with the simulation stuff–it seems to me that simulation can be cool in some contexts, but the game has to be set up to let it be cool (so that the mechanics of the game require simulation), and the really difficult part is not actually doing the simulation but reporting the results in prose in an interesting and informative way. Which I feel like we’ve discussed a few times, but maybe not so much in this forum, ironically.

(Aside: Who tagged I-0 as puzzleless?)

I also think that in the last 10 years or so the relationship to the IF community with the broader game design community is much different. Some of those difficult craft/theoretical problems that spurred discussion in the late 90s-early 00’s seem to be more internalized in a wider range of story-based games now. I’m sure there are exceptions and I’m looking at this from an outsider’s perspective in terms of the actual gaming industry, but I remember recently looking at some game-designing craft essays on Gamasutra from, say, around 2008, and they were pretty…rudimentary, or even short-selling what storytelling in gaming could even be. Feels much different now; in GDC it seemed like they had a ton of IF-related discussions, or at least things of interest to IF-ers. And so that theoretical/craft discussion now is out there, but it’s much more diffuse.

It’s also, well - Usenet, in a time before blogging was a thing, really encouraged people to write treatises and essays at one another. Blogs and social media have scattered that conversation, atomised it. The volume of opinions that someone produces about a given game might very well not have changed that much (time to write permitting), it’s only that now it’s spread across their blog, twitter, various forums, muds, face-to-face meetups, various private conversations happening in several different places. “Back in the day” all that got funnelled into Usenet.

One thing that occurred to me – I do have some thoughts I might want to develop into a piece of “theory” writing, but short of asking people who’ve been around longer and who watch the conversation more closely than I, I have no idea about prior art on the subject. I don’t know how much of this theoretical discussion has moved into academia or to places like GDC, but that has an effect of rarefying those discussions; I have no access to academia and very limited access to GDC. And so it’s very difficult from my position to gauge whether I have actual insight to contribute or if I’m just rephrasing something that someone wrote about in 2007. I don’t know if others feel the same way.

However: Those conversations on Usenet were very rarefied as well, as is easy to forget. Usenet was a very exclusive club by the standards of today’s open internet.

What we probably all want from the community is the affirmation that our creative and critical efforts are real. Why make IF? Why review IF? It strikes me that Cadre’s comment implies an equality between reviewers and artists that must have been unique.

Trying to review through all the games in a comp is extremely difficult. When you played a game you never enthusiastically enjoyed multiple times and took notes in order to write a good review and that review seems to go unnoticed, the personal sense of burn out is probably similar to what Cadre described.

The hard truth is that not all games – and not all reviews – are equally worthy. In 2012 when I was still in community college, I gave a speech about IF in one class, and I mentioned the IFDB. Moments later a classmate was looking at the IFDB on his laptop, and he remarked uncomfortably about the most recent reviews featured prominently on the home page – reviews of some rant game about burning the Koran. Seriously? Is burn-the-Koran game as worthy as discussion as So Far or City of Secrets? Is it a totally legitimate example of a real IF game? Does its author have the right to call him/herself a game designer merely because his/her rant game was released in the same informal and noncommercial community environment that Andrew Plotkin and Emily Short have written in for years?

I don’t believe in industry approval as the mark of authenticity. A real novelist is someone who has written a novel-length fictional narrative, even if it is never published. A real game designer is someone who has designed real games. A real reviewer is someone who has written real reviews. But quality matters, and taking responsibility for our content matters. I won’t call myself a game designer or a fiction writer even though I’ve dabbled in writing IF, because I don’t feel that my efforts were sufficiently real. I’m very aware that I’ve contributed to others’ burn out due to my irresponsible requests for help for projects that I didn’t have the motivation to see through and due to the poor quality of the “games” that I have released in comps and forced people to play.

Imposter syndrome. We shouldn’t be ashamed to take credit for what we have made, when we know that we have been responsible and thorough. I have striven to be a real reviewer, because I think reviewing is a way that I can legitimately add value, when I’m on my best form. Am I a real reviewer? Am I a games journalist? Can I mention my old SPAG reviews on my resume?

Before submitting a crappy game to a competition or passing off a snarky reply to a misguided rant as a real “review,” we should consider whether we are really adding value, or whether our content is more likely to contribute to the collective burn out and disillusionment.

I think a works in progress thread is a good idea. There have been several over the years on the ADRIFT forum and while most of the games mentioned in them never get finished, it’s still interesting to see what people are working on. It might even help people get games finished if they see other people showing an interest in their works in progress.

As far as feedback is concerned, I can understand Adam Cadre being disappointed at the lack of it he received for “Endless, Nameless”. It’s all well and good saying that the satisfaction of writing a game is the game itself, but let’s be realistic: almost no one ever writes a game purely for their own satisfaction. They want other people to play it, they crave feedback, they need to know what everyone else thinks about it. If the only person whose opinion matters is you, why release it in the first place? Just keep it on your hard drive and feel all warm and pleased about writing it. (Not that I can talk really. I played “Endless, Nameless” and never provided any feedback on it. I never finished it but I did like it, up to the point the game changed my preferred colours and made me play with a horrible white glaring background. At which point I quit.)

A few years ago on the ADRIFT forum, we started a “book club”: the general idea was that someone would suggest an ADRIFT game, then everyone would play it and write reviews / offer opinions / just generally talk about the game in question. The “book club” didn’t last long – maybe a couple of games before everyone lost interest and promptly forgot about it – but this community’s a whole lot larger so here it might well work. Someone suggests a game – not one of the big games from the past few years because they’ve been discussed and played to death – maybe on the first of every month, and then people play it and talk about it for the rest of the money. If nothing else, it’d lead to some actual game discussion on here.

If you’re referring to what I said, that’s not what I said at all. I’m not saying one should write a work of IF and “keep it on your hard drive”. Release it, sure. But I can’t marry the idea of a writer or artist working while saying “Can’t wait to see what they think of this.” All the artist friends I have (painters and the like) don’t give a rat’s ass about what people think. They are expressing themselves through art. I made a lot of IF, most of which I think is pretty bad as I released a lot as a neophyte, but most artists and writers create and maybe, just maybe, they plant a seed in someone’s head, or maybe, in 100 years, the painting is appreciated by the masses. But again, creating to get feedback is hard for me to understand. Feedback helps in beta-testing, of course. But then, when released, I’m more interested in how a game made people feel than any crib-notes they want to give me.

It wasn’t aimed at anything you said, just something I’ve noticed plenty of times over the years.

That’s cool. I just wanted to take the opportunity to make myself clear about my former post. :sunglasses:

Another thing that can be discouraging to reviewers, or potential reviewers, is observing how quickly game discussions can turn ugly. Ideally I’d like to be able to feel that it’s possible to respectfully disagree without causing hard feelings. And that requires a certain amount of trust and goodwill.

Well, if we’re worried about substantial comment threads, this one counts at least.

One of the things I’ve noticed browsing the CoG threads is while they don’t do a lot of specific game post evaluation, there are a bunch of general polling topics, like “what annoys you” and “who is your favorite character” threads.

The IF discussion club ideas have all revolved around things mostly with a reading list (or at least, there’s a large group of games that aren’t relevant to a specific topic), but it seems like we could do with some general stuff that doesn’t require we have played something specific. That way one person can reference some Twine game from last week and have it be equally as relevant as if I start rambling on about some Spectrum game from the 80s.

I seem to remember the more active threads from rec.arts.int-fiction were like that anyway, just random preference swapping. The difference in, say, 1996, is pretty much everyone had played the same set of games because the community-made stuff wasn’t that extensive.

One of my sideways goals with All the Adventures has been to toss out sufficient documentation on old games that people can feel like they’ve “played” them enough to invoke them in discussion (“hey, what about a game which requires you to die?” – well, there’s that bit in Acheton).

In general, I agree. But we’re all limited, and artists probably appreciate the fact that things almost never get finished more than anyone else. Without seeing our work acknowledged within some context, it’s hard to fool ourselves into thinking that we did anything real. And for what it’s worth, your philosophy about art and authorship that I’ve read fragments of here and on your blog as well as your dedication to improving your craft in your own games marks you as one of the most disciplined and authentic IF writers that I’m aware, in my opinion. It’s about taking it seriously, and being responsible, and finishing real things.

It’s hard to know how to behave responsibly as a reviewer. Reviewing bad but sincere games graciously but objectively is certainly a good thing to do, but how about games that you can’t sympathize with? Maybe you don’t know for sure that the game was written maliciously. Maybe burn-the-Koran game – or whatever might feel like something in that category – actually was written as an artistic expression from author’s point of view. Then the conundrum is, do we contribute more to the collective disillusionment by ignoring the game, or by writing a scathing review?

Probably best to ignore. It should be understood by authors that not all reviewers will be able to review their game well. But this does contribute to the problem of there not being enough discussion to cover the amount of content released.

That’s a difficult issue in itself. But–maybe I wasn’t clear about what I meant–I wasn’t even thinking of the reviews themselves here. I was thinking more about responses to apparently-good-faith opinions or reviews. Discussions that start out with something like “I liked X” or “I didn’t like X” and end up in a flame war, or that just end up leaving everyone involved with a bad taste in their mouth. When attitudes feel adversarial to begin with, there’s this feeling that even a conversation that begins well may turn unnecessarily personal or blow up in some way I didn’t anticipate.

At the root of this, I think what bothers me is a sentiment that “If you disagree with me, there must be something wrong with you.” A reluctance to consider the possibility that someone who disagrees might have valid (or at least not-unreasonable) reasons for that. An us vs. themness that is not always warranted.

(Edited because I want to clarify but not derail the conversation.)

Just commenting that the author of that game definitely is sincere–as a sort of riff on Pick Up The Phone Booth And Die there’s surely a certain amount of user-hostility involved, but I’m sure he also meant it as a legitimate satire.