Release Date Finalized! Also, acceptances…

After spending the last couple of weeks reviewing submissions and writing up comments, I’m pleased to announce that the release date for Volume 1 is Feb. 28! Keep your eyes open for Inky’s Winter Edition!

In other news, the first round of acceptances/rejections went out today. A lot of thought and discussion went into the final decisions, and I think we’re going to have a very strong line-up for Vol. 1.

To those accepted–a hearty congratulations to you! To those rejected–it’s not personal. We’ve had many strong submissions and we hope to see even more excellent work from you and other writers in the future. To those lurking and wondering whether to submit–go for it! We want to see your work. We’ll always provide written feedback as well, so why not go ahead and submit that new project?

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Guest Blog Post: Entice

Reposted from HoraceTorys.weebly.com

How do we entice new readers to IF?

Unfortunately, I think a lot of existing IF isn’t what the average reader is looking for. The characters and conflicts (such as they are in many IF titles) don’t interest them, and learning to play requires too much effort, too many unfamiliar elements.

Do we dumb it down? Cater to fans of popular genres? Most of us would die a bit inside at the prospect of typing KISS EDWARD into aTwilight IF fanfic. On the other hand, while I won’t touch anything by Stephenie Meyer, I would definitely read an interactive young-adult vampire romance by Emily Short, because it would have complex characters with interesting interactions.

But let’s say we have a new “IF-lite” title that’s catchy and reasonably easy to get into. How do we get readers to it?

I think we can learn a bit from some other one-man creative enterprises with free or cheap products: webcomics, online novelists,  and indie video game developers. The good ones all do a reasonable job of promoting their works on limited budgets.

For example, indie gamers usually have a dedicated website or page for screenshots, videos, demo downloads, freebies, etc. Some examples would be yofrankie.orgafistfulofcows.com, and fiveminutemmorpg.com. Graphic novelists have the same sort of thing: wormworldsaga.com, and sevenextraordinarythings.com. The better online novelists’ pages tend to be less visual, but still professional: davidwellington.netcraphound.com. Aaron Reed’s lacunastory.com is a start, but most IF writer websites look like they were designed by, well, writers.

Also, in many of their cases, the site is the game, webcomic, or online novel. There’s no extra step, you click the ad or the link, 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.

Digital delivery is a powerful thing, but it’s hard to download “feelies,” the physical objects that allured players to buy golden-age IF titles. However, we can offer similar enticements digitally. For example, James Patterson’s young-adult Maximum Ride and Witch & Wizard series launched free iPhone apps that allow readers to take pictures “with” characters from the books, create wanted posters, and do personality quizzes, as well as read the first few chapters. Some iPhone CYOA titles have unlockable art. Echo Bazaar encourages social networking, and thus word-of-mouth/link. The right kind of IF game could incorporate a worldwide high score board, alternate reality gaming elements, or digitally tradeable aids and items — creating a sense of community and joint exploration.

At the very least, we need good cover art. A quick search showed that most indie/free novels have pretty sad cover designs, so we’re not alone, but readers do judge books by their covers, and if ours don’t even have one, or it’s clip art…

Most IF titles also lack a good tagline or dust jacket blurb. We’re not short on interesting and unique concepts, but we need to hook readers with them when they’re browsing an IF database or a writer’s website.

The last time I was in an airport, I saw “trailers” for new novels playing on screens at the bookstore. They were mostly slide shows or details of the cover art, with title cards and a voice-over, but held my attention with audio/visual while pitching the book’s idea. 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.

Perhaps because of my background in advertising, a lot of these ideas use artwork. Graphics require hiring an illustrator or graphic designer, and maybe a web designer. But the aforementioned developers and writers budget for that, and IF like Floatpoint and Everybody Dies definitely benefits from having professional-quality illustrations.

For the time being, interactive fiction is a non-paying market (with a few exceptions). But there are thousands of game developers, filmmakers, webcomic artists, novelists, bloggers, podcasters, composers, and entertainers that offer a free digital product, but promote it like they were selling it. They believe in their medium, and they’re shooting for something bigger (a contract, living off ad and book sales, etc.). Interactive fiction has some of the most enthusiastic enthusiasts, but we need to convey that excitement to new readers if we’re to entice them.

About the Author: Horace Torys thinks too much for his own good. The results are at horacetorys.weebly.com.

Guest Blog Post: Simple IF Interfaces

Reposted from HoraceTorys.weebly.com

Recently Emily Short [twice], David CornelsonNick Montfort, and others have written about the command line/parser in traditional IF, and whether we can improve or eliminate it. Understandably, when a player tries IF for the first time, they are usually confused by the command line and the many conventions that go with it. They end up with more error messages than story, and are unlikely to persist.

The command line will live on as long as authors and readers keep enjoying fiction made with it. But many have pointed out there is a huge market of readers (print and digital) and casual gamers who ought to love all this free IF, but sadly, they aren’t exactly flocking to it.

One reason must be the interface. Another might be the lack of “packaging,” both in a marketing sense (few attention-grabbing covers, promotional materials, or sites), and a convenience sense (first download an interpreter, then a file, then find a FAQ or guide). A third for some is that playing IF can feel like using DOS or an early BBS, not reading a book. And if a reader gets past all of these things, they’re likely to find most IF is about “you,” trapped in an area, examining everything and picking up random things to get to the next area. Obviously, there are exceptions to all of these, but a beginner can’t count on finding them before giving up.

I tried to address some of these barriers, and below are mock-ups of my ideas. They fit an iPhone screen, and could be programmed in Javascript to work on mobile devices and browsers. The images are a sequence: the result of each click is shown on the next screen.

Click on images to see a larger version in another window/tab. Firefox and others may shrink the image to fit that window, you should be able to click it for full size.
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Verb icons. Click the verb icon you want to perform, then the word in the text you want to perform it on. The main description and story carry on in the top bar (reflecting any changes you make to them), and immediate responses to your actions show at the bottom. For a working example, see my unfinished story Red.The way this mock-up turned out, it seems like it would be good to have both a TALK TO and a TALK ABOUT (with whomever you’re currently speaking to) icon. And maybe a GO TO icon.

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Inventory. This version leaves its transcript available as grayed text, and only disables links that would break the game (e.g. players can’t pick up the same object twice). You can see an example of this method by I.D. Millington at undum.com.My mock-up also has an inventory, and works somewhat like point-and-click Flash games: clicking on an object in the text either interacts with it or adds it to your inventory, and objects in your inventory can be examined and combined, or used on yourself or things in the description text. As my simple example tries to show, this would allow for some lateral thinking puzzles.

One cumbersome part of the transcript method is having to scroll back for keywords you need, hitting the eye icon to look at the room again, and re-clicking objects for description keywords

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Popup menus. The links look just like the rest of the text, and the reader just clicks on nouns or significant phrases to view and choose from interaction options. This would keep the text “clean” and require no extra panels, but almost everything in the text would need a menu to come up when clicked.I’ve shown two styles, the first more of a choose-your-own-adventure flavor, the second more IF puzzle solving. Either would allow you to examine objects and their details, but also manipulate them or make choices that moved the story.

I showed only verbs that served my examples, but the menus could be more consistent, offering the same limited set of verbs minus inapplicable ones based on context (e.g. no TASTE option for the moon). The menus could also use verb icons instead of words.

Inventory + verbs. No mock-up for this one, but it would work as a combination of the first two examples, like a LucasArts graphical adventure such as The Secret of Monkey Island. The player chooses from a list of verbs, and performs them on links in the text or items in the inventory list. Add directional buttons, and you could have most of the interactions of IF or graphical adventures.

Granted, it’s fairly easy to create short mock-ups that serve my purposes. These may look like glorified CYOA games to some. The proof will be to create a working story that provides an enjoyable experience. I believe that with some extra work (programming all by hand, without the benefit of a robust environment like Inform or TADS), one could create a fiction system that allows free travel, object manipulation, and puzzles, while still being intuitive and book-like to new readers.

About the Author: Horace Torys thinks too much for his own good. The results are at horacetorys.weebly.com.

Interaction = Choices?

Sometimes there are pieces that clearly fall into the category of interactive fiction. Old-school choose-your-own-adventure books, for instance, could be read front to back but little meaning could be gained by it (except in a few rare cases). In the same way, a parser-based game does not continue on unless the player types in commands. The element of choice, agency given to the reader, is not only a part but is essential to the furthering of the story. The reader becomes not just a passive observer, but an actor within the work.

Then there are pieces that are closer to the edge between ordinary literature and interactive fiction. Andrew Hofmann, in his piece Coin Toss, discusses the nature of games and other interactive mediums, questioning whether one’s interpretation and response to any medium provides the level of interaction typically only allotted to games.

You can comment/review the piece at textadventures.co.uk:

http://textadventures.co.uk/games/view/1z-5vu3zs0gwwzntop5org/coin-toss

Happy New Year from Inky!

Wishing everyone a great 2014! Now is the time to learn to use a new interactive fiction program, submit that piece you’ve been mulling over, or just revisiting some of your old favorite IF stories.

Cheers!

–Devi and the staff at Inky Path

P.S. There’s a site update rolling around, so keep your eyes open here and on our sister site.