From Story Papers to CYOA: An Interview with Demian Katz on VuPop

In case you missed it, Villanova University hosted VuPop, a conference on interactive fiction featuring some great speakers discussing everything from gender in historical fiction to bioethics awareness. Demian Katz discusses the conference, noting the highlights and reflecting on what went well and future possibilities.

Why Villanova University? What is the brief history of VuPop?

VuPop started in 2013 after a forgotten collection of dime novels was rediscovered in the basement of Villanova University’s Falvey Memorial Library. This seemed like a good excuse to begin a series of events highlighting interesting areas of popular culture worthy of deeper academic study. The second year’s topic was chosen as gamebooks simply because it happens to be my area of expertise; next year’s will look at 3-D technology in entertainment to tie in to the installation of a CAVE system in the library.

What were some of the highlights from VuPop?

Attendees at VuPop were rewarded for their travels with some nice give-aways courtesy of ChooseCo and Tin Man Games – not bad for a completely free event. Some of the day’s presentations offered solid overviews of several areas of interactive fiction: gamebooks, electronic adventure games, and visual novels. The remainder were either inspirational – Chris Liu’s talk on special considerations for writing interactively, and Randy Cook’s reflections on the power of the form – or more specialized – Rebecca Slitt’s look at handling gender in historical interactive fiction, and David Perlman’s discussion of utilizing interactive fiction for educational purposes, specifically in the area of bioethics. Many talks prompted some good audience questions, and all had something interesting to offer both the veteran and the newcomer. This was capped off with a live reading of my new gamebook, The Groom of the Tomb, which went a long way toward reassuring me that the book is actually fun to play, and an informal game night that offered opportunities for attendees and speakers to get to know each other better. Given the extremely specialized nature of this event, it’s unlikely that Villanova would ever repeat it – but I’d love to see something similar happen again in another venue.

The schedule of events mentions a Special Collections Tour. What did that involve?

Since some people were traveling some distance to the event, we wanted to extend our hospitality for an extra day to those who were interested. Thus, we offered the option for people to get a tour of the library’s Special Collections department, where we keep all of our rarest materials. We don’t have much in the way of interactive fiction (the IF exhibit currently on display in the library for the summer term comes largely from my personal collection), but many of our other popular culture materials help show the evolution of genres that eventually became interactive. It’s hard to look at a turn-of-the-20th-century children’s story paper without seeing many of the same themes that would populate the Choose Your Own Adventure books a century later. To demonstrate the library’s digitization efforts, we also gave a tour of our scanning lab, where we scanned an issue of “Happy Days” (one of the aforementioned story papers) which is now available online: http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:351596

How did you feel about how VuPop went? What was done well, and what do you think could be improved?

I was extremely pleased with the content of VuPop, and I really enjoyed meeting the various people who attended. My biggest disappointment is simply that we didn’t get as many attendees as I would have hoped – we could have accommodated a great many more. Obviously this is a function of timing and location – an event in the city and/or on the weekend would likely have been a greater draw – but I hope that the online video has allowed a wider audience to enjoy at least some portions of the event.

Anything else that you’d like to add?

As of this writing, you can still watch the afternoon sessions through the “streaming now” link at http://vupop.org, and I’m working to get these videos (plus recordings of the morning) available more permanently somewhere. Stay tuned for more details!

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Vol. 1.2 is released!

We are proud to present Inky Path’s second volume, featuring some fascinating stories of the crazy things that happen once you step off of your doorstep–or the struggles of just trying to begin that journey.

Experience interactive fiction ranging from the dark and surreal to whimsical adventure. We’ve even written up a fun little IF adventure to help you get started–quest for the elusive “worldgates” through a gamebook RPG-styled choose-your-own-adventure!

We could talk about it for hours, but it’s probably best if you experience it for yourself first.

Click here to read Vol. 1.2, “There’s a Crazy World Outside!”

Interview: Magic Books and Deciding Your Destiny

 

From DestinyQuest Infinite’s Gallery: http://destinyquestinfinite.com/gallery/

Magic Books and Deciding Your Destiny: An Interview on QuestForge and DestinyQuest Infinite

QuestForge produces gamebooks described as “interactive, story-driven games that mix Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy/D&D-style RPG.” Their first work, DestinyQuest Infinite: Legion of the Shadow will soon have a call for testers.

The interview below details the ideas behind QuestForge and DestinyQuest and part of the process of gamebook creation.

 

 

To start off, tell me about your work with Adventure Cow and QuestForge. What got you interested in interactive fiction–both creating it and giving authors the tools to share it?

Back a year or two ago, a major video game company released what was supposed to be a magic book. The ads showed these forests and castles growing up out of the pages, which made it doubly disappointing when the book turned out to be a set of large QR codes.

We want to make magic books. As disappointing as that book was though, magic isn’t about vegetation or masonry – it’s about stories that respond to you as a reader. I want to be able to tell a story about an explorer of a lost temple where I can follow your actions and help you build your story around that.

And then I want to give the tools to tell stories like this to everyone. Interactive storytelling shouldn’t be limited to people who can code.

What was the idea behind DestinyQuest? Was there a major goal in mind? Do you feel that’s changed at all as development has gone on?

DestinyQuest pushes the limits of what a gamebook can do. The size (600+ pages), the rules (the special abilities!), the systems – very little of it has been seen in a gamebook before, and all of it is really just cool. What Michael Ward did is pretty extraordinary for paper, but it’s just the start of what you could do with today’s technology.

I’m very limited as a (mostly) lone programmer, so DestinyQuest Infinite was really a test of whether we could make that magic book experience real: take a book that already works in print, and see if we can make that into a game.

It took a much longer time than I could’ve imagined, but through that process I feel like I understand a lot more about what it means for someone to go through the work to make a game, a story, or both.

I’m sure not many people know what goes into the creation of a gamebook like this. Can you tell be a bit about the process?

There are two big parts to it. Michael Ward’s the author of the print version of DestinyQuest, and it’s definitely worth asking him about that process. He hinted that he might be blogging about it soon, so I’d stay tuned for that. For now, his advice is: “Don’t listen to authors! 😉 Do your own thing and enjoy it!”

But as I see it building a gamebook is a lot like designing a game – I’m not waist deep in those details like the author, but I know it takes a lot of charting and quite a few spreadsheets.

We worked on the digital side. What made the digital process really crazy was that for us, there were no precedents. Our initial prototype was a quick-and-dirty version where we spent a day or two writing scripts to scrape the e-book and pull it into Twine. Once we did that though, the fun really started–Twine is able to handle branching and prototyping quite well, but for everything else that makes DestinyQuest a gamebook, we had to build new systems – ways to have an inventory, a map, combat, and other goodies.

Our hope is that people will be able to use what we built so they don’t have to spend years toiling on it like we did, but starting from scratch certainly made things exciting – at least, if you’re a programmer. 🙂

Have you faced any major surprises along the way, either in development or users’ reactions to the work?

Aside from the delays (which, sadly, are a somewhat predictable part of many software projects), I think the process has gone about as expected! I will say that after so long working on DestinyQuest, it was nice to crack open a working prototype, play for a few hours, and start to think, “Hey, this is kinda fun! I wonder when the sequel will come out.” (If only I could wave a wand and make that build itself…)

What kind of successes have you seen so far? What would you say is your ultimate goal for QuestForge and DestinyQuest Infinite?

DestinyQuest is a new experience – I can’t imagine what I would’ve thought if someone had shown me this when I was reading Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid. Ultimately though, when you look at the worlds of video games, visual novels, and interactive fiction, it’s clear to me that there are so many more things that we can do with this medium. Some of those things are already starting to happen in Twine/IF/VG. Some of those things we’ll start tackling through DestinyQuest Infinite and its successor works, and some elsewhere.

Everywhere I look, I see interactive books that we could be making, should be making, but haven’t made yet. DQI is going to be our first, and it won’t be the last!

To find out more, visit DQI’s site: http://destinyquestinfinite.com/

Call for Interviews, Young Writers’ Space, 8-Bit Art, and More!

Interested in participating in an interview? Inky Path is reaching out to those in the IF community on everything from their latest projects to heated debates. We would love to have your lovely voices grace this blog. If interested, contact inkypath[AT]gmail.com with the subject line “Interview: [Your Name]” and include a bit about yourself and what you’d like to interview about.

More of a monologist?  We are also accepting blog entries (including previously published material). More on that on our Submissions page.

Are you a young writer? Poetryspace has a great opportunity for you–a Young Writers’ Space dedicated to those 18 and under. According to their submission guidelines, “We welcome stories, poems, jottings, drawings, graphics, cartoons, extracts from your novel. Anything at all!”

Interactive fiction combines games and literature… but what about games and other kinds of art? One artist takes on the challenge of fusing games and art in a series depicting well-known pieces as 8-bit paintings, as seen in this article.

It seems that predicting the future really is possible–for some notable sci-fi authors, that is. The Outlet, Electric Literature’s blog, offers this handy graphic showing where sci-fi authors got it right.

For April Fool’s Day, xkcd offered an interactive comic in which readers can make decisions and even add their own suggestions at the end. It offers xkcd’s classic mix of the funny and the fantastic.

 

New Submission Guidelines, Upcoming Interviews, and More!

Now that Inky Path’s first volume is launched it’s time to roll out some big changes.

  • Submission Guidelines — We’re cutting down our guidelines to let you submit your work in the simplest way possible. No more reading through a long list of requirements!
  • Streamlined Editing — We’re improving our editing process to get decisions and comments to author in the quickest way we can.
  • Regular Updates — We’re letting this space become a great location for IF news, musings, and other great content. If you have blog content you want to post/repost here, see the Submissions page for the details.
  • Interviews! — We’re sending out a fresh round of interviews to writers and developers in the IF community. If you might be interested in participating in an interview, drop us a line.

Expect to see some new developments around here in upcoming weeks.

As always, we’re accepting interactive fiction pieces–both new and previously published. Visit the Submissions page for more info.

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.

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.