Author! Author!

Both Inform 7 and TADS 3 are very, very powerful authoring systems for interactive fiction (i.e., text-based games). What’s odd, if you think about it for a minute, is that the authoring systems are so far out in front of the work that’s being written. Why don’t we have ten or twenty times as many talented authors laboring away over great new works of IF?

If it weren’t for the hard work of two dedicated software designers, Graham Nelson and Mike Roberts, we’d have no decent authoring systems at all. So maybe it’s just the luck of the draw. I’m not too sure about that, though.

I did a quick, informal survey of the games released by some well-known IF authors during the past decade, and found rather a dearth of gung-ho activity. Yes, new games are being released, and yes, a few authors are very active, but many others release a couple of games and then fall by the wayside.

An earlier version of this post (which I have now completely revised) sparked some discussion on rec.arts.int-fiction. That discussion highlighted several reasons why IF authors may fail to follow up their early successes by writing more games.

First, there’s no money in IF. A novelist whose first work is published, reviewed, and admired will have a big financial incentive to continue. Not so with interactive fiction. It’s a hobby.  And however passionate people may feel about their hobbies, after a few years the passion may settle to a lower level.

Second, writing IF is harder than many people realize. They may tackle writing their first game, buckle down and fight their way through the unexpected difficulties, release a very good game, and then be reluctant to put themselves through the wringer again.

Third, lots of people first try writing IF when they’re in college. By the time they’ve written one or two games, they’ve moved on to a new stage of their life — a job, a family, and so on. Time-consuming, unpaid hobbies tend to take a back seat.

Fourth, some people remain involved in the IF field but devote their time to other activities than writing new games. Mike Roberts, for example, has put a lot of time recently into the Interactive Fiction Database (IFDB).

Fifth, as Emily Short pointed out, developing a game that will unfold as a satisfying story is quite a conceptual challenge. Not that writing novels is a paint-by-the-numbers activity, but the parameters are pretty well understood. Not so with IF. Some authors undoubtedly have games that they’ve been working on for an extended period that they’re not ready to release because something about the project hasn’t yet jelled.

Sixth, some authors may have gone on from IF into the world of paid game programming. Why on Earth would they want to come home and write games for free in their spare time?

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this discussion — and my apologies to anyone who felt that my off-the-cuff survey was ill-considered or overly negative.

The comments contributed to the original version of this post are no longer relevant to the updated version, so I’m deleting them. However, I’ll keep Adam Cadre’s comment on the original version, since it illustrates the issues discussed in the new version.

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One Response to Author! Author!

  1. Adam Cadre says:

    For the record, here are my excuses for why I haven’t released a piece of IF under my own name since 2003:

    2004: wrote Evil Creatures

    2005-6: upheaval in personal life

    2007-8: wrote a movie (currently parked with the production company, but at least I got paid)

    2009: working on the novelization of the movie

    I do plan to return to IF eventually. But not until this book is finished and out the door.

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