Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

what? am I making

The last few weeks have been one of those odd times where I don’t feel a really strong push in one direction. My usual way of doing things is to focus intensely on one thing for a shortish amount of time, and then move on to something else. Incidentally it’s been a long-term thing to try to stretch that focus out a bit so that I can work more consistently on larger projects. But anyway, I’ve felt becalmed lately, and this doesn’t happen that often, so it’s a strange sensation. Kind of puzzling, like — what’s going to happen next?

It’s an early Spring here. You’d think that would get the creative urge going; however it seems to be doing the opposite. On the other hand, I tend to do things backwards at first. Maybe then this is the natural state of affairs. It’s sort of making room for doing a lot of little things in a leisurely and lazy way.

Transplanted the tomatoes to four inch pots:

Found a cool Python editor — basically a livecoding editor — called Reinteract. Haven’t got it to work with pyglet yet, probably because pyglet’s event loop and the Reinteract GTK loop won’t play together nicely without some hacking. Someone on the Leo list clued me to Reinteract, so maybe someone on the list will run with a Leo to Reinteract bridge. It’s a pretty cool IDE, I recommend checking it out.

Starting to play around with an idea for an IF news service. I think as more and more people are blogging on IF, combined with the various forums and newsgroups, some way of feeding (and possibly filtering based on the recipient?) the flow of community information will become more valuable. I like Planet IF but it’s not really serving this purpose at the moment, and I’m not sure that it could; what I’d like is something that gathers all the disparate sources. And well, since I obsessively read everything anyway, why not put that to some good use. The first iteration was just me collecting links. I have some ideas on where to take that but nothing solid yet. I also have wanted to get more into web stuff so this would be a nice project for that.

Worked some more on mockups for a Python IF IDE in GIMP and Inkscape, and realized that’s harder than I thought it would be! I’d really like to work more on drawing to make this easier. As a result I’ve started to learn the Qt framework for GUIs, which is easier than I thought it would be. So there you have that.

While in the library today to pick up a book (and pay my overdue fines, again; I think I must support several librarian’s wages really) a book on display caught my eye, The Assault by Harry Mulisch. In the first part of the book a 13 year old boy witnesses a German collaborator gunned down by the resistance in front of his house, his brother disappears into the night with the collaborator’s gun, and the Germans arrest his family and destroy his house with grenades and flamethrowers. Then he spends the night in a jail cell with a beautiful wounded Communist terrorist, narrowly escapes death the next morning when an Allied fighter strafes his convoy en route to Amsterdam, and finally reaches safety in the arms of his uncle. Mulisch is a prominent Dutch author (who I had never heard of) and it shows, the writing is masterful even in translation, and shares a lot with two of my favorite writers, Saramago and Murakami, in the way their narrative voice exists on top, through, and under the work itself.

As usual I have a list of ideas a mile long. Something is brewing, I just don’t know what.


towards popular Python interactive fiction (#1)

I’ve sort of touched on this topic in previous posts, but I’m trying to crystallize my thoughts here.

In my opinion there currently are three viable options for creating IF with Python: PAWS, PyF, or a custom system. An alternative form of IF can be made with Ren’Py, a visual novel system. Finally, there are two possibilities in the future: Curveship, and another I learned of recently, Prosemonger.

Two other ‘less possible’ possibilities are PUB, and any one of a number of Python mud engines (particularly those with Twisted, a lib originally built for mud IF).

But let’s talk about making a game, using Python, in prose-based, command-line IF (you know, what most people call, ‘IF”). That rules out Ren’Py, PUB (too old), and Python mud engines (too incomplete, or conversely, too complicated I think).

Curveship and Prosemonger are out too of course, as they’re not yet released. As an aside, while I’m eager to write with Curveship, from what I know I don’t think it will be much like IF as it’s played and written today. I think it will be more akin to an academic, generative narrative system, but only time will tell.

At this point a digression is in order (well, with me digressions always are in order, but I…OK, I won’t go there). When I say ‘towards popular Python IF’, what does that mean anyway? And why would you want to write IF with Python in the first place when there are at least five major IF systems that would fit the task very nicely — TADS 3, Inform 7, Inform 6, Hugo, and Adrift?

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Adam Parrish interview at Game Design Advance

Podcast interview with Adam Parrish, author of Earl Grey, on games, interactive fiction, and a brilliant bit on text and conversation in games, at Another Castle.

It comes up a couple of times that Earl Grey was criticized in IFComp reviews for not conforming to the IF community’s expectations — that it had ‘too much interactivity’ (not a quote of Parrish, but the interviewer) — but from what I remember of the reviews this wasn’t the main criticism at all, rather reviewers wanted more interactivity. They felt that the Earl Grey puzzles were unfairly arbitrary and obtuse, and didn’t explore the mechanics nearly enough. I’ll quote Victor Gijsbers at length (to make sure I include the good things he says, because I should add I did like Earl Grey a lot too):

This is a delightful idea, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired. There are simply too many words in the game that ought to be knockable, but aren’t, or that ought to be castable, but aren’t.


I can see how this would have been a pain to implement, but really, this game needs to be more open. We have in this magic system the perfect opportunity to reward player creativity and have multiple solutions to all puzzles, but instead, the authors have chosen to make the game very linear indeed. Only the things you must knock or cast or steep can be knocked, casted or steeped. Nothing else works.


The game, then, is not open enough, and is too difficult. Nevertheless, I enjoyed myself hugely, more so than with any other game in this competition so far. (Okay, I loved solving the card puzzle in The Grand Quest, but that was less because it was a brilliant puzzle than because my linear algebra skills were itching.) The writing was mostly very good. The scenes were evocative, if perhaps a tad too surreal. The implementation was very good as well. The side comments of the main character were a brilliant idea–the piece was much funnier for them, and also made more sense. In fact, most of the jokes actually worked.

But, most importantly, as far as the puzzles were solvable, they were great fun. This is interactive fiction doing one of the things that interactive fiction does best: using language in interesting new ways, doing things with it that could not be done in any other medium.

Of the eight competition games I have played so far, this is the first that might make it onto my list of “must play” games published in 2009. Not because it is perfect; it is not. But because it explores a very interesting puzzle concept in a highly competent and often enjoyable way.

Oh, and Rob and Adam? If you make a post-competition release which responds to more input and allows more solutions of the puzzles, this game might actually rise to the level of “great puzzle game”.

[IF Competition] Earl Grey

In any case, I definitely recommend it. A lot of other good interviews at Another Castle too.