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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While Martin and Brian compare maps, Steve takes a poop.

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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The music of interactive fiction

July 29th, 2013 10:40 AM
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Juiced.GS has just shipped a PDF on the subject of interactive fiction. At 14 pages long, it's a digestible yet diverse tour of the various aspects of modern IF. Once you've loaded the file onto your e-reader of choice and settled into your study's reading chair, the only component missing is some background music to set the mood.

Enter Tony Longworth. The musician whose work has previously appeared in such documentaries as Get Lamp and Going Cardboard has released a new album, Memories of Infocom. "These pieces of music will transport you from ancient empires, to crime scenes, to outer space and beyond", the album's description states. "This album captures the magic of those heady days of Interactive Fiction, so sit back and let yourself be transported to the 80s when text was king." The dozen tracks can be purchased for a dollar each or $9.99 for the lot, which clocks in at 57:55.

Memories of Infocom

Despite having often written about text adventures for Juiced.GS and this blog, I am not personally acquainted with many Infocom games, sadly. So although the songs have titled such as "Enchanter" and "Planetfall", I can't say how those games may have inspired these tunes, or how pairing them might prove a complementary experience. But if you like ambient/background/electronic music and want to support a fellow retrogaming enthusiast, then check out these tunes.

(Hat tip to Lorien Green)

Moving forward with retro goals

May 23rd, 2011 12:21 PM
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Earlier this month, Mike Maginnis outlined some of his Apple II goals. It was an excellent call to action for Apple II users to outline what they want to accomplish with or contribute to the Apple II. It was a reminder for me to look at the bigger picture, as I otherwise find it easy to get lost in the day-to-day concerns of my neverending goals:

  • • Write one blog post every Monday and Thursday for Apple II Bits
  • • Produce one episode a month of the Open Apple podcast
  • • Publish one issue per quarter of the last remaining Apple II publication in print, Juiced.GS
  • • Help organize (and, ideally, present at) Apple II convention KansasFest annually

Having recently completed a master's degree, I should now find myself with copious free time, right? For the moment, let's assume there's some truth to that theory. My ambitions should thus fill it with the following goals, listed in order of their relevance to the Apple II:

Convert the Juiced.GS index to Zoho
Last July saw the online release of a comprehensive index of Juiced.GS's back issues, with every volume, issue, article, and author cataloged by Mike Maginnis. The tool used to present this data is wonderfully powerful and versatile, but it was not designed to handle this quantity of data and is already straining under the issues published thus far.

As we move forward, it will become more important to migrate this index to something like Zoho Creator, a free tool that I've experienced expertly handling Computerworld's review database. Unfortunately, the interface for designing such a database is arcane and has resisted my initial attempts at deciphering.

Learn PHP
I enjoyed programming on the Apple II but rarely since; languages such as C++ and JavaScript just haven't proven as fun or accessible as Applesoft. I still retain knowledge of programming concepts and structures, though, which has proven useful, especially in my blogging career.

I currently run sixteen WordPress sites, not counting various testbeds, all of which are built in PHP. I've been able to modify that code as necessary, but to actually understand the language and even write original code and plugins would prove immensely useful, allowing me to publish about the Apple II and other topics with more freedom and rigor.

Besides, PHP is a useful, modern asset to have in one's portfolio. Through my participation in the Boston WordPress Meetup group, grad school, and even community theater, I've been offered multiple Web design projects in the last three months, despite having never marketed my services in that area. It could be potentially lucrative to professionally develop those skills further.

Learn Inform 7
Text adventures are in vogue these days, spurred in part by Jason Scott's documentary on the subject, Get Lamp. More directly, I enjoyed presenting a Parsely adventure at KanasFest 2011, and then attending a PAX East session on programming in interactive fiction. The presenters of the latter, Jason McIntosh and Andrew Plotkin, made the language of Inform 7 seem an easy an intuitive way to write original text adventures, so I picked up a book on the subject. Even if I don't learn the language well enough, or lack the creativity, to write the next award-winning IF, I hope to at least be able to knowledgeably present on the subject at KansasFest 2012.

That's my to-do list. What's yours?

Livescribe Zork

January 27th, 2011 9:53 AM
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As people like Andrew Plotkin and Wade Clarke and games like A House in California demonstrate, text adventures and their cousins are still capable of innovative gameplay, decades after the genre's emergence. Such creativity usually takes the form of unique software features and storytelling techniques — but let's not overlook the role of hardware.

I first became aware of the Livescribe Echo pen in Major Nelson's podcast, when co-host Laura Massey demonstrated a small portion of its features. This traditional ink pen includes modern electronic features to remember what you wrote and even interact with those writings. For example, by drawing a picture of a piano keyboard, one can then use the pen to tap on the keys of the piano illustration, and the pen will emit the corresponding tones, as if it were a real piano.

Apparently the pen is also programmable, allowing the implementation of original functions. One hacker took advantage of this opening to create two games for his writing implement. The first, Tic-Tac-Toe, is not of specific interest to readers of this blog, but I'm including it in the embedded video to provide a simple demonstration of how the pen works. But the second game, Zork, seems beyond what any pen should be capable of.

Infocom games have long been ported from their original platforms, with a move to portable devices being especially popular these past few years. But the above example is an entirely new medium in which to play interactive fiction. Practical? Not especially. But it showcases the outside-the-box thinking that has made text adventures popular in the first place. Who knows where they'll go next?

If you prefer a classic interface for this classic game, try Good Old Games, which is currently selling six Zork games for six dollars.

(Hat tips to Eric Neustadter and Jason Scott)

The return of interactive fiction

November 18th, 2010 10:09 AM
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Text adventures, or interactive fiction, are currently en vogue, as evidenced by more than the release of the medium's own documentary. Beyond GET LAMP and its niche market, IF has been making appearances in even mainstream media, leading the way for new and exciting developments in this classic gaming genre.

My cousin, bless her heart, emailed me this clip from the CBS sitcom Big Bang Theory, asking, "Do you remember these games, or are they before your time?"

I suspect most of BBT's geeky audience will recognize and appreciate this nod to gaming's textual origins, as even modern gaming has taken to acknowledging its roots. Earlier this month, Activision released the highly anticipated first-person shooter, Call of Duty: Black Ops (or CoD:BlOps for short). The game includes an Easter Egg: hidden within but accessible from a virtual computer terminal in the game's militaristic setting is none other than Zork itself. This treat is made possible by Activision's purchase of Infocom in 1986, seven years after the company was founded and three before it was shut down.

Although this bonus feature is an amazing opportunity to introduce the current generation of gamers to interactive fiction, Jason Scott points out an inherent flaw in the context in which Activision has chosen to do so. Players of CoD:BlOps are expecting an intense, fast-paced, and violent experience, filled with twitch reactions and realistic graphics. To ask them to slow down, sit at a virtual keyboard, and be challenged by the puzzles of Zork only brings into contrast how far gaming has come, and the obstacles IF now faces.

Nonetheless, those obstacles are being tackled — and overcome — by the likes of Andrew Plotkin. This IF designer, interviewed in GET LAMP, recently set out to use Kickstarter to raise enough money to quit his day job and dedicate himself to creating text adventures for Mac, PC, and iPhone. He hoped to raise $8,000 in 30 days; in the first twelve hours, he raised $12,000.

Many of Plotkin's current works can be played on his homepage, where we should expect to find the fruits of his labors continue to be published once his sabbatical begins.

In the meantime, if you want to try a point-and-click interface that explores abstract concepts in an interactive fiction-like experience, try A House in California, loosely based on the Apple II classic Mystery House. It's one example of how far IF actually has come in the past three decades — even if it is no Call of Duty.

(Hat tips to Andy Molloy and Jason Scott)

Beyond GET LAMP

August 19th, 2010 12:55 PM
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If there was ever a year to attend KansasFest, 2010 was it. Besides a fantastic keynote by former Beagle Bros president Mark Simonsen and the triumphant return of Bite the Bag, every attendee received a free copy of Jason Scott's two-DVD text adventure documentary, GET LAMP. How cool is that?

Scott's work has made interactive fiction into a hot topic, with plenty of buzz around the net. Episode #8 of the video podcast Gameshelf (iTunes) looks briefly at modern incarnations of the genre, including where to play it online for free without needing an emulator or interpreter, with recommendations of specific beginner games, such as Dreamhold. In the Gameshelf episode, you can see an Apple II at 1:33, just after watching an awkward gameplay session of Action Castle, the live-action text adventure that was played at KansasFest 2010's Friday night banquet.

A melding of Scott's two interests, text adventures and dial-up BBSs, can be found in the game Digital: A Love Story, available for free on Mac, Windows, and Linux. The game tells a narrative in the form of a dial-up bulletin board, which was largely a lost medium in the life of the game's young creator, Christine Love. Scott interviewed her this summer about her work researching and creating the game.

There's more that can be said about text adventures than can fit in any one blog post or even one documentary, so expect this topic to be revisited time and again here and elsewhere. And if you still haven't seen GET LAMP, it may be coming to a city near you.

(Hat tip to Taking Inventory)