Category: Columns

Two Gems from 2019’s Interactive Fiction Competition

December 11th, 2019 by

Congratulations to all the entrants in this year’s Interactive Fiction Competition, the 25th year it has been run (which also deserves congratulations). No matter where people placed, finishing and entering a game into a competition is laudable. So many hard drives and cloud drives are littered with unfinished games (my own included). There were 82 […]

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This Essay on Names has no Title

December 4th, 2019 by

In Planescape: Torment [1], you play a scarred immortal searching a fantastical metropolis for the truth about your identity. You’ve forgotten everything about yourself, including your name. If you lie to enough people and give them the false name “Adahn,” the city, empowered by the strong belief that an individual with this name exists, spontaneously generates a […]

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Cryptozookeeper: Inside the Red House

October 4th, 2019 by

“Someone make sure Eeyore there has herself a nice long gulp!” You’re not sure who said it. It could be any one of your friends. It could even be you! -Cryptozookeeper Sometimes, the moments that stick with you from a game—for years, even decades—are not significant moments in the game itself. Instead, they’re the off-hand […]

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Neon Landscapes & Spell Pyramids: Visuals and Form in Interactive Fiction

October 2nd, 2019 by

“Like the hands of the correctional officer on my abdomen,” Sable Elyse Smyth’s Landscape III begins, “searching for metal—rather—groping for the sake of taking over—for possession.” [1] The poem continues for a total of eight lines, and evokes violence and sexuality, how the two can be intertwined, and how one’s experience with the carceral system […]

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Bruno Dias

Dialogue and Player Choice

July 31st, 2019 by

There’s a lot to say about writing compelling dialogue in an interactive format, but for this month’s column I want to drill down to the question of player intentionality as it relates to dialogue. Intentionality, of course, is the player’s ability to not only have goals within the fiction of the game, but to knowingly […]

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Actions, Verbs, and Processes: Games and Being Human

July 31st, 2019 by

Piled in a corner, at the nexus of walls and floor, are hundreds of multicolored pieces of candy. The cellophane wrappers glint in the light. Your docent invites you to take one. To eat part of this sculpture, to slowly diminish its weight until, dozens and dozens of visitors later, there’s little left of the […]

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Dukes and Dumbledore: Truth and Canonicity in Stories

June 1st, 2019 by

When JK Rowling unceremoniously announced that beloved wizard-headmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay, the hundreds of fans packing Carnegie Hall apparently all fell silent—before bursting into applause [1]. Most fans, myself included, rejoiced. The Potterverse was gay! It was only later that I realised that my reaction was a little peculiar. Nowhere in the text does […]

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Aisle: Twenty Years Later

April 9th, 2019 by

Aisle by Sam Barlow is one of the foundations of post-Infocom interactive fiction. This isn’t just from the impact on other one-move games, such as Pick Up the Phone Booth and Aisle (played for laughs), or Rematch (played for puzzles), or even more recent games like Midnight. Swordfight. that take the one-move conceit and expand […]

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Failing Forward

April 1st, 2019 by

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is out at last and so I’m thinking again about the perennial theme of FromSoftware’s loosely-connected Souls series: Failure. Failure is part of life, and it’s an ingrained feature of storytelling. Writing-101-type story structures often incorporate some aspect of failure: heroes make mistakes or are set back by their inability to […]

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Hounds & Heroes: Control, Closure, and Exploration in Games

April 1st, 2019 by

Games fetishize heroes. Traditionally, games devote their attention to the Hero and the details of their epic quest. We players, bloodhounds slavering for plot, fixate on this Hero. We tear into them, inhabit them, and through their agency, we exert change on an authored world. Killing is often involved. (The bloodhound metaphor still holds.) * […]

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Bruno Dias

Room Descriptions, Place, and Interiority

February 6th, 2019 by

One of the things I always found enjoyable about writing parser fiction was writing room descriptions. It’s a very specific craft, and one that’s pretty unique to interactive fiction and game writing. In most fiction, it’s relatively rare that you can indulge in this kind of descriptive detail at length; parser games, on the other […]

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Rat Chaos and the Preservation of Early Twine Games

February 1st, 2019 by

Welcome to 2019! I’m thrilled to have a regular column in sub-Q and get the chance to write about interactive fiction. For my previous essays at the site, I’ve largely written about games from a slightly earlier period of the development of interactive fiction, from the late 90s to the mid-2000s, a period in which […]

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Rituals, Cheating, and The Dream of Possibility

February 1st, 2019 by

The first time I took up a pencil and underlined a sentence in a novel, my hands shook. The line winked at me cheekily, sat smug and brazen under the typography. Outrageous and provocative, it wanted its own label: Marks in a Novel Biswas (2012) Graphite on Paper It chuckled. One did not write in […]

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Making Interactive Fiction: Anthologies

December 11th, 2018 by

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, one of my favorite things I’ve worked on, came out this year. And The Silence Under Your Bed, one of my favorite things I’ve played, came out a few weeks earlier. And Cragne Manor came out this week, and has been calling to me. All of these are anthology […]

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Making Interactive Fiction: Interiority

November 13th, 2018 by

One of the things that sets prose fiction apart from other media is its ability to piece apart the thoughts and feelings of a character in a direct, unmediated way. In prose, it’s very natural to simply peer into a character’s inner thoughts. But that’s not the only option, and in interactive writing, there are […]

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Making Interactive Fiction: The Branch and the Merge

October 11th, 2018 by

Branching stories run naturally into the problem of combinatorial explosion. If you keep writing different variants for each choice the player could make, eventually you end up with too many branches to write or manage. Sam Kabo Ashwell calls this structure the “time cave,” and while it has been used in the past, the amount […]

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