Gameboy: Idle Thoughts

After ignoring interactive fiction for a couple of months, I’m drifting back in that direction.

The release of the Quixe browser interpreter piques my interest: It’s now possible for casual users to play text adventures in their Web browser even if the game file is large. Parchment has been out for a year or so, but it could load only small-format games. I tend to be verbose.

In-browser play is a nice thing because it eliminates the need to download and install a separate interpreter. Not that that’s a big deal … unless you’re entirely new to playing IF. But if we hope to expand the audience, we have to accept that large numbers of players will be newcomers.

New updates of Inform 7 are appearing on an accelerated schedule, and that’s good news. It’s still an oddball language in many ways, but now the bugs are being fixed more quickly.

Last night I started looking around at casual games, a genre (or medium, or format) that I was only vaguely aware of before. As attractive as some of these games are, and as much fun as it looks to be to design one, I’m not a graphic artist. The wonderful thing about text adventures is that I can deploy my writing and storytelling skills (which are not entirely shabby).

Still, the graphics and oddball gameplay in casual games have me thinking about text games in a slightly different way. I’m wondering what sorts of innovation might be (a) possible and (b) effective.

Innovation has not been absent from IF, certainly. We need look no further than “The Gostak,” which was released ten years ago. My own games have tended (as reviewers have noted) to be “old school.” Not actual cave crawls — I’m not quite that crusty. But the narrative in “A Flustered Duck” was nothing more than a loose framework to hang puzzles on, and the sillier the puzzles, the better. “Lydia’s Heart” is the only game I’ve written that presented a serious story, and even in “Lydia’s Heart” a few of the puzzles got a little wacky (notably the sequence involving the clown). I’m closer in spirit to Terry Pratchett than to J.R.R. Tolkien.

This is not a bad thing. But looking at and critiquing the style of game-play is not a bad thing either.

When even free casual games have 3D animated graphics, what can a text game do to entice and reward the player? Dunno. Interesting question, though.

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3 Responses to Gameboy: Idle Thoughts

  1. Horace Torys says:

    Entice:
    Free webcomics and indie video games are often one-man enterprises, like works of IF, but I think those guys are a lot better at promoting their works on their limited budgets.

    I saw “trailers” for new novels playing on screens at the bookstore. They were mostly slideshows/details of the cover art, with title cards and a voice-over, but caught the eye, and kept you occupied with audio/visual while pitching the book’s idea to you. I think there’s something to be learned there for promoting IF as well, even if it was just a good animated banner ad or something.

    Likewise, good cover art would sure help. People DO judge books by their covers, and if you don’t even have one, or it’s clip art, well…

    Indie games usually have a dedicated website or page devoted to screenshots, demo downloads, freebies, etc. Something like Aaron Reed’s http://www.lacunastory.com/, but a lot more catchy and professionally designed (sorry, Aaron). A lot of novels (esp. independently published) have the same thing. IF writer websites look like they were designed by, well, writers.

    In many cases, the site IS the game/webcomic/online novel. There’s no extra step, you click the ad or the link in someone’s blog, and you’re playing the Flash game or reading the first comic or chapter. With Javascript parsers, this is now a cool possibility for IF as well.

    Granted, all these things require hiring/bartering/blackmailing an illustrator or graphic designer and probably a web designer. But these other developers and writers budget for that.

  2. namekuseijin says:

    I have a vague feeling that for the twitter/cell phone generation the best bet would be short episodic IF. IF in small, diary doses for monosyllabic obsessive twitters — some story, 2 or 3 enticing puzzles and a staytuned ending.

    This can be a reality with front-page links to parchment playable games. Also be sure to include next to the link some of those “TweetMail these to your friends, Dig it up” links, etc

    just wonder how one could handle game state between episodes, though… the straightforward way, I guess, would be to compile different episodes of the same game with some variables manually set — there would not really be any user-related variable, like essential possetions beyond usage for any single episode.

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