Apple IIc at BostonFIG

October 1st, 2018 7:03 AM
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One of my favorite annual traditions is the Boston Festival of Indie Games, or BostonFIG. Currently in its seventh year, this one-day event held at MIT is an opportunity for independent game developers to exhibit their works in progress and new releases. I love the creativity on display, where game designers who are not beholden to major studios can demonstrate original game ideas and concepts, be they commercially viable or simply interesting.

Interactive fiction has made appearances at BostonFIG before, and this year's festival was no exception. The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation is based out of Boston, and their booth this year showed off everything from Infocom games (perhaps not indie, but Boston-based!) to the more recent Hadean Lands (whose Kickstarter I supported way back in 2010!). The IFTF is such a staple of BostonFIG that I was chatting with its organizers for a minute before I realized something new right in front of me.

Apple IIc at BostonFIG

An Apple IIc… at BostonFIG!

I always thought it would be fun to bring an indie game like Lawless Legends to BostonFIG, but the IFTF beat me to it by using an Apple IIc to show off classic Infocom games. They were running off the original floppies, as opposed to 4am's newer Pitch Dark GUI. The table was manned by Andrew Plotkin, who I interviewed for Juiced.GS's cover story about interactive fiction seven years ago; and the Apple IIc was provided by Nick Montfort, an MIT professor whose book, Twisty Little Passages, Juiced.GS reviewed nine years ago.

So as to not block the table from interested festival-goers who might not already have heard the good word of interactive fiction, I didn't linger at the table. But I was very glad to see this precedent set, and I hope to see the Apple II at future BostonFIGs.

Parsely Games comes to Kickstarter

July 24th, 2017 11:15 AM
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Text adventures are alive and well, including at KansasFest. Not only did Charles Mangin place in last week's HackFest courtesy his Inform 7 adventure, but several live-action text adventures have been played at KFest over the years. In 2010, 2014 & 2015, I emceed Parsely adventures, where a human replaces the parser and accepts two-word commands from audience members, responding with the results. Jared Sorensen created the Parsely games, sold online and at game conventions such as PAX East. Although the nearly dozen scripts appear to currently be out of print, that's about to change courtesy the Parsely Games Kickstarter.

This Kickstarter has already successfully met its crowdfunding goal of $12,000, well before its August 11 deadline. With these funds, Sorensen will publish a hardcover book of the ten existing Parsely adventures, including the three games I've brought to KansasFest: Action Castle, Jungle Adventure, and Space Station. plus two original titles. The book will also include two original games, bringing the total to 12. All these can be yours for $15 (PDF) or $30 (hardcopy), with rewards all the way up to $2,500, where Sorensen will fly anywhere in the USA or Europe to run a Parsely adventure for you and your group.

While I'm tempted to buy the ten-pack of books and redistribute them at KansasFest 2018, the product will not be ready until a month later, in August 2018 — and that's assuming it ships on time, which Kickstarters do not have a good record of doing. But Parsely adventures have already brought so much joy to KansasFest, the least I can do is support their continued existence. Count me among this campaign's backers!

Open Sorcery & the power of text

May 1st, 2017 1:00 PM
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In the course of producing my IndieSider podcast, I discover a variety of surprising, fascinating indie games. Wading through tons of clones and me-toos is worth it when I find a game that refines an old concept or executes something new — or both.

Such is the case with Open Sorcery, a Twine-based interactive fiction Steam game that replaces text adventures' traditional parser with hypertext and links. I saw Open Sorcery at two different game conventions before I finally got some one-on-one time with it at home. I ended up playing far longer than I do more visually complex games, growing attached to the characters and replaying it to get a "better" ending.

I was surprised — not that text can be so engaging, but that I'd ever forgotten it could be. I grew up on the Apple II playing text adventures and MUDs, from Eamon to British Legends, exploring worlds of fantasy and science fiction and getting lost in their puzzles and decisions. When away from the computer, I filled my time with Choose Your Own Adventure and Endless Quest. With text leaving so many gaps for my imagination to fill, it was easy to inject myself into those adventures.

It was wonderful to rediscover the power of text, as described by Richard Bartle in this excerpt from Jason Scott's documentary, GET LAMP:

Modern-day shooters may strive for adjectives such as "gripping" and "compelling"; the best words I can use to describe Open Sorcery are "thoughtful" and "delightful". I highly recommend it.

Interactive fiction on Polygamer

October 3rd, 2016 10:28 AM
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Last summer, I explored interactive fiction in my biweekly podcast, IndieSider, when I interviewed Apple II user Wade Clarke about his Eamon-turned-Inform game, Leadlight Gamma. I enjoyed our discussion interactive fiction, one of these oldest forms of electronic entertainment, but it was only recently that I finally gave the medium the coverage it deserved on my other podcast, Polygamer.

Polygamer finally turned its focus to interactive fiction with this summer's founding of the non-profit Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation:

The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation (IFTF) helps ensure the ongoing maintenance, improvement, and preservation of the tools and services crucial to the creation and distribution of interactive fiction, as well as the development of new projects to foster the continued growth of this art form.

To discuss this important step in the development and preservation of text adventures, I spoke with IFTF co-founder Chris Klimas. That hour-long conversation can be heard in Polygamer #50:

Chris isn't just on the board of the IFTF; he's also the creator of Twine, an open-source storytelling engine. It and Inform are possibly the most popular modern tools for the creation of interactive fiction. Its accessible architecture has made game developers of those who previously considered themselves only storytellers,
removing the gatekeeping that has kept so many narratives from being shared. One of its most notable manifestations came from Zoë Quinn, a game developer who has also been on Polygamer, when she used Twine to create Depression Quest, one of the first entries in the emerging genre of empathy games.

My discussion with Chris ranged over all these topics and more: gatekeeping, education, crowdfunding, and the annual IFComp, which is currently underway. It was one of the most enjoyable episodes of Polygamer I've recorded in awhile, and even if we didn't directly discuss the Apple II, I'm confident that retrocomputing users will find it a fascinating discussion about the complexities and possibilities of a medium our platform helped give birth to.

For more discussion about IF and the IFTF, listen to Retro Computing Roundtable #136:

[Full disclosure: I have donated to the IFTF.]

Interviewing Wade Clarke of Leadlight Gamma

August 10th, 2015 9:47 AM
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As host of the IndieSider podcast, I'm constantly on the prowl for new indie (self-published) computer and video games. I like to help my listeners discover obscure titles that represent a variety of genres and themes whose developers are available for podcast interviews about the game development process.

Last month, I found my biweekly guest within the Apple II community with Wade Clarke, creator of Leadlight, a text adventure released in 2010 for the Apple II. The game was featured on the cover of Juiced.GS Volume 16, Issue 1, and Wade declared his intention to translate the game from Eamon to Inform in Volume 17, Issue 2. That project was completed earlier this year with the release of Leadlight Gamma, a game that runs natively on Windows and Mac and is one of the first products under Wade's new label, Heiress Software.

Since Juiced.GS has already covered interactive fiction at length — we have an entire themed PDF on the subject — associate editor Andy Molloy and I decided to give the genre some love in another outlet — namely, the IndieSider podcast. And since I'd already asked Wade about the genesis and influences of Leadlight, I focused this conversation on its transition from the Apple II to modern platforms. The result is episode #26 of IndieSider:

In addition to subscribing to the show in iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your podcatcher of choice, you can also listen to the above audio interview paired with video of the game being played on YouTube:

Text adventures may not lend themselves to a visual medium like YouTube, but that's exactly why I did it: there are far fewer examples of interactive fiction on YouTube than there are other genres of games. Wrote one of my regular viewers, "I've never seen this type of game in life."

Getting the word out about games, genres, and developers that mainstream gamers may otherwise overlook? Mission accomplished!

Parsely games at KansasFest 2015

June 22nd, 2015 9:29 AM
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At KansasFest 2010, I ran a session of a live text adventure. These Parsely games are inspired by interactive fiction but substitute a human for the computer. Think of it as a cross between IF and Dungeons & Dragons: I became the dungeon master (DM) who described rooms, solicited direction from the players, and reported results — but all input had to be provided as if I were a two-word text parser. So go ahead and tell me to "GET AXE", but if you ask me "Can I pick up the axe?", I'll respond, "I'm sorry, but I don't know how to 'Can I pick up the axe?'". It was a lot of fun to watch players with their graph papers map the connections between rooms, take notes, consult their IF cheat sheets, and try to coordinate their activities across alternating turns — it was a bit like watching Twitch Plays Pokémon. Here's a demonstration of Action Castle, the game I ran at KansasFest 2010, as moderated by its creator, Jared Sorensen:

Parsely returned to KansasFest 2014 with an all-new adventure and was a hit! We even had to adjourn to another room when the players' exploration of Jungle Adventure ran over the allotted session time.

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Comparing maps in Jungle Adventure, the live interactive fiction game I ran

Rather than wait the four years that divided KansasFest's last two rounds of Parsely, I'll be bringing another text adventure to KansasFest 2015. I have several scripts to choose from but will not begin memorizing one until en route to Kansas City. That gives you, the potential players, time to suggest the nature of the game. Should we explore a haunted house; a space station; a medieval castle; a Halloween graveyard; or a zombie-infested hospital? Choose your own adventure in the below survey!

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