Choosing the Right Idea

Last night I happened to be poking around in the interactive fiction database, and found a couple of very flattering reviews of two of my games (“Lydia’s Heart” and “Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina”). This gives my spirits a lift. It also encourages me to think a little more coherently about the IF project I’ve been intermittently flailing away at (while learning Inform 7).

The trouble is, this project is not serious enough. It was intended from the beginning to be goofy, and goofy is not a problem. But the story premise is extremely thin, and I think that is a problem. What “Lydia’s Heart” and “Ballerina” have in common is that in both of them, the player character (that would be you, or “you”) has a serious need to accomplish something. And of course, accomplishing it turns out to be quite difficult. That’s what this type of game is all about.

My current project, which I started before I played the wonderful (but too short) game “Lost Pig,” is about a young man — in point of fact, a pig-boy — who works on a farm and is ordered by the old lady who owns the farm to find and bring back Mabel the duck. Mabel, the old lady says, “is bone-stupid even for a duck. No telling where she’s wandered off to.” The old lady threatens our hero that she won’t give him any supper unless he returns with Mabel.

That’s not much of a premise. Even propping it up by adding an active volcano to the game probably wouldn’t help. Maybe if Mabel had swallowed the diamond ring he was going to give to his girlfriend … hmm, that’s a thought.

The point is, the story needs of IF are not really all that different from the story needs of conventional (a.k.a. “static”) fiction. The protagonist has to have a problem that is significant to him or her, and the more significant the better. A lost duck and the threat of being sent to bed hungry won’t really cut it — not if I want to see more glowing reviews!

(A Bit) More on Inform

Still plugging away at my entirely absurd text game, learning Inform 7 as I go. Making a little progress, encountering a few perplexities.

Inform very deliberately uses the text name of a room as its code name (or vice-versa, depending on how you look at it). This makes it a bit easier to create rooms that have ordinary noun-type names (Library, Gazebo, Attic, Dungeon, Miss McGillicuddy’s Frowsy Boudoir), but at the cost of interposing a stumbling block should the intrepid author wish to use a room name that begins with a word like “in” or “east”.

If you have an outdoor location (conventionally, a “room”) that you want to call “East of the Fortress,” you’ll have to tread carefully in order to avoid compiler collisions. In such a case, I recommend giving the room a separate printed name. This sort of thing seems to work:

Down from the tower top is the tower base. The printed name of the tower base is “In the Tower”.

Those who play your game will see a room called “In the Tower”, yet the compiler won’t be bamboozled into trying to create a nameless room that is “in” (an allowed direction) from another room called the Tower.

Finger in the Socket

Sitting here listening to music on Created a new “station” (all Pandora stations are personalized) — Frank Zappa, Meat Beat Manifesto, Skinny Puppy, Cabaret Voltaire — and Pandora serves up wonderful tracks by Front 242, Wumpscut, and OMD.

This is the real deal. Earlier I was listening to a station defined by Snoop Dogg. Pure hip-hop. Mainly for the production values — the lyrics, when you can understand them at all, are obnoxious and brainless. Nice production, in some cases. But the productions don’t quite compare with this stuff.

Thinking earlier tonight about putting together a live set so I can play some gigs. Put my Yamaha Motif XS on a stand, a laptop by my elbow — what else do I need? (Answer: youth. I’m fresh out of that, though.) Thinking, should I do some arrangements of tunes folks will recognize?

Listening to these tracks, though … there is just no reason to be anything other than completely original. Every moment, something new. Why serve up bowls of oatmeal when you could put your finger in the socket?

Product Review Madness

I can’t prove any of the guesses I’m about to make. Please bear that in mind. I may be entirely wrong. But…

Last night I finished writing a review of the Roland Fantom-G keyboard for Electronic Musician. Having no particular desire to keep it in my studio, I boxed it up. Then I uninstalled the drivers with which the Fantom was able to talk with my Windows XP computer.

Read more

UPS: No Thumbs

So what is it about UPS drivers, anyhow? Are they all morons?

Because I’m self-employed as a freelance writer, and because I write reviews of software and hardware, I occasionally have packages delivered to my home. What I have found is that UPS drivers in particular are apt to toss the package on the front porch and walk away without ringing the doorbell.

This morning I got an expensive package from Mark of the Unicorn. I only noticed it was being delivered because I happened to glance out the window and see the UPS truck driving away. The doorbell never rang. If I hadn’t noticed, the box might easily have been stolen, because the porch is rather exposed.

I know the doorbell works. I also know from experience that UPS drivers tended to do this at the last house I lived in too.

I can’t ask shippers to require a signature, because I’m not always here. If I sign a tag and leave it on the doorknob, we’re back where we started — the package can be stolen, because they’ll just drop it and walk away. But if I don’t sign the tag, I have to drive all over hell and gone to pick up the package.

I guess it’s unrealistic to ask a big company like UPS to actually provide customer service in the form of scheduled delivery times. They don’t give a crap about customer service.

But at least they could stop hiring guys who are too stupid to find the goddamn doorbell button.


I think I’m about ready to give up on Inform 7 yet again. I hate to do it, both because the IDE (integrated development environment) is extremely nice, and because it’s such a popular authoring system for interactive fiction.

But It’s driving me bats. For two reasons: Read more

Are We Having Fun Yet?

I write a fair number of product reviews of music software and hardware. I get paid for writing them. In the main, it’s an irritating chore. I’ve been trying to remember the last time I actually had fun writing a product review, but nothing comes to mind.

At best — if the review process goes smoothly — the money is barely enough to cover the psychic cost of the inevitable irritations. When things go wrong, the money doesn’t really cover it. And all too often, things go wrong.

Let’s see … where to begin? For starters, very few music technology products have adequate owner’s manuals. Read more

Freelance Blues

For the last six years, I’ve been freelancing. The income isn’t great, but my expenses have been very modest. So I’ve been able to manage.

But this too shall pass, as they say. I took the plunge and rented a house, so my expenses are way up. At the same time, the national economy is in the crapper (thank you sooo much, George Bush!), so freelancing has gotten a little weird.

Naming no names, because I write for only a few well-known music magazines, but the hassles are spread across the board.  Read more

Inform Work Notes

I’ve looked at Inform 7 two or three times in the past two years, each time devoting several days to it and then saying, “Nahhh.” After poking around for a few hours over the past couple of days with the latest version, I think maybe I can deal with it. Maybe.

My earlier reservations have not evaporated: I still feel that “natural language” programming is the wrong way to go, for several reasons. Read more


In theory, I want to write some new music. In theory, I love writing music. But when I sit down at the computer after dinner, I find that I don’t want to work that hard. I want to do something that’s goofy and fun.

The latest build of Inform 7 has just been released. So the other night I hauled out the notes for a game I dreamed up a few months back and started writing.

For those who are not in the loop, Inform 7 is a suite of tools with which one can author works of interactive fiction — text-based computer games, in other words. I remain somewhat uneasy about the odd programming paradigm served up by I7, Read more