Category: Columns

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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Making Interactive Fiction: Adapting from Other Genres

September 11th, 2018 by

The best kind of interactivity in a story is interactivity that resonates with its themes and characters. One useful approach to thinking about design issues is to adapt models from other genres. Even if the result doesn’t much resemble the starting point, it’s productive to have a guide to direct where you’re going. Emily Short’s […]

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Making Interactive Fiction: Scenes

August 21st, 2018 by

Whether we outline first, or just start writing, any prose story longer than a short vignette will break down into distinct scenes. In interactive narrative, this works a little differently: IF and games sometimes make it hard to cut from one story beat to another; stories aren’t necessarily one continuous line of events where we […]

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Making Interactive Fiction: Narrative Design for Writers (Part 2)

July 10th, 2018 by

This is part two of a two-part series about narrative design aimed at traditional-media writers and IF authors. In part one, I walked through a series of questions that help clarify a narrative design. Now, I’m going to talk about how one puts all of this together. The output of narrative design as a process […]

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Making Interactive Fiction: Narrative Design for Writers (part 1)

June 12th, 2018 by

This is part one of a two-part series about narrative design aimed at traditional-media writers and IF authors. First things first: What is narrative design? The real answer is that the role of “narrative designer” is relatively new in the games industry and has something of a fluid or even vague meaning. Different teams will […]

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“The Space Under the Window” and the Promise of Interactive Poetry

May 29th, 2018 by

Released in 1997, Andrew Plotkin’s “The Space Under the Window” (“Space”) was a groundbreaking, unclassifiable work of interactive fiction, the impact of which is still felt today. Many consider it a work of “poetic” IF, or poetry outright, but what does that mean? Is poetry a quality of language, interaction, or both? The work itself […]

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Bruno Dias

Making Interactive Fiction: Using Generative Prose

May 8th, 2018 by

Generative prose is the technique of dynamically generating text from smaller chunks of writing. This can look like the adaptive, variable prose functionality in Inform; like using Twinecery to add procedural text to a Twine story; or like Ink’s text-variation capabilities. Given a deep enough body of text to pull from, generative systems can spit […]

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