Category Archives: Issue 61

SPAG Specifics: Creating, inverting and making good the detective genre

The plot and style of Jon Ingold’s Make It Good owes a lot to the Infocom classic Deadline, the game which really defined the genre. In this article we will compare these two games to see how this genre has been shaped over the last three decades.

SPAG Specifics are in-depth discussions of IF works and can contain frequent spoilers. We recommend that you first play the works discussed if you are bothered by spoilers.


Deadline coverIn 198l, Infocom had a major hit on its hand with the first two games of the Zork trilogy. Zork, however, was an adaptation of the mainframe game Dungeon. It was not an original commercial game. Wanting to see if they could repeat the success of Zork, players were surprised when they came out with Deadline. Deadline was an original game in many respects. While the original Zork games were a collaboration between Marc Blank and Dave Lebling, Deadline was the first solo game for Marc Blank. It was also the first game Infocom made outside of the fantasy genre. Perhaps most importantly, Deadline was the first game to come with “feelies”. Feelies are physical objects, articles, or papers that give background information about the story and characters. Deadline came bundled in a portfolio with a letter and an autopsy report of the victim, amongst others.

In Deadline a wealthy businessman has died in his home by an overdose. The official verdict of the police and coroner is that his death was a suicide. Others, however, are not so sure. The player character is a police detective who is assigned to go to the house of the deceased and look for signs of foul play. The player also encounters other characters who knew the deceased. The detective has only twelve hours of story time to find evidence and accuse a possible suspect, hence the name Deadline. The player of course will discover that the victim’s death was not a suicide. To win, however, you must must find motive, means, and opportunity to arrest the right suspect.

For a game from the early days of the interactive fiction format, Deadline holds up rather well. The NPCs are well developed but not deep as characters. They were innovative at the time for being able to follow their own schedule. The parser is not as good as later Infocom releases, and it lacks abbreviations for commands, such as x and z. It still contains a few guess-the-verb problems. The story for the most part is logical, and finding and analyzing evidence is straightforward. Any time you wish for an object to be analyzed, your assistant, Sergeant Duffy, will take the evidence to the lab. As a mystery, the story holds together without any major plot holes. One thing that makes Infocom’s mystery games interesting is that, unlike most puzzle games, both then and today, the puzzles rarely involve manipulating objects in a MacGyver-like fashion. Problem solving involves analyzing evidence and questioning suspects. Traditional adventure games puzzles are less common. This was a pattern that Infocom mysteries kept through Witness and Suspect. In each game, the player had to find both motive and means in order to arrest a suspect. In each game, there was an assistant who would analyze evidence for the player. And, in each game you were allowed to arrest the character when you thought there was enough evidence to convict him or her. This structure was unique for Infocom and, even more surprisingly, has rarely been used since.

The design of Deadline does have one major flaw that makes the game not only hard but unfair by modern standards: it requires the player character to be in the right place and at the right time to find important information. One has to play many times to know where and when to go, unless you use hints or a walkthrough. There is one trigger event in particular that is extremely unfair, because the timing is so tight that you can easily not know you missed the necessary event — let alone know it is necessary. Being a mystery, the solution should rely less on events outside out of the player character’s control, and more with the player’s ability to make inferences from the evidence given. Despite its flaws, Deadline is a good game and an important part of IF history.

Make It Good

Make It Good coverJon Ingold’s Make It Good clearly shows its inspiration from Deadline. The situations are similar: both involve a murder in the house of a wealthy man. In both, you have a limited amount of time to solve the mystery. There are a small group of suspects in both games that require being questioned. Both games give you an assistant who will analyze evidence for you. Despite these similarities, the styles of these two games are quite different. The player character in this game is a detective with a drinking problem who is in danger of getting kicked off the force. As in Deadline you have an assistant who will analyze evidence for you. Unlike Deadline, he treats you with contempt. In Deadline, your assistant would run any evidence you asked for into the lab. Here, if you give him an object that cannot be analyzed, he will refuse to help you. The puzzles also require a certain amount of timing. Make It Good is tough game, but it is more fair to the player than is Deadline. There are a few places were non-obvious actions are called for that may be hard for the player to think of, however it does not require any events that are so precise that one could overlook them.

The most significant distinctive of Make It Good is how it plays with what the player knows compared to the player character, who initially knows far more than the player. This is a somewhat modern gimmick that goes back to Andrew Plotkin’s Spider and Web. Ingold himself used this in his earlier games Fail-Safe and Insight. The player has to learn not only what the other characters know, but what their own character does too. It is not obvious at first, but there are certain hints early in the game. The character you play is also much more morally ambiguous than the detective in Deadline. It requires the player to do a number of things that are unethical. In many ways, this shows the modern IF community’s interest in the art of storytelling. Modern authors are more interested in exploring techniques in narrative than many of those from the early days of IF; they are also more interested in characterization. It is hard to imagine Infocom ever having a player character like the one in this game. Infidel came closer than any of their games in having a morally questionable character as a protagonist. In many ways, the story is an inversion of the typical mystery game. I believe this is intentional on Ingold’s part. It often works. In some ways it does not.

The weakest part of the story is the endgame. Having yet another surprise within the original plot twist is clever, but when you think about the facts, they do not quite fit what was discovered earlier in regards to a crucial piece of evidence. What perhaps is weakest about the ending is the fact that it leaves the plot dangling. This is perhaps intentional on Ingold’s part. The player is left to guess what would happen next — and then the game ends. Perhaps there will be a sequel someday.

What Ingold has done is take the assumptions of the mystery game genre and turned them on their head. Like most modern day interactive fiction, storytelling is as important as puzzle solving. And, similar to some modern-day designers, he tries to use different narrative techniques to experiment with the medium. But despite the unusual nature of the story, the puzzle structure is a throwback to old IF, especially Deadline. Make It Good takes the puzzle style of Deadline while at the same time trying more modern storytelling experiments of new IF. In both terms it succeeds — but also sometimes fails. Oddly enough, the part of the game that I found the weakest came from the tension between the narrative technique and the nature of the puzzles themselves, showing that sometimes these two objectives can cause problems for each other. Regardless of its flaws, Make It Good is still entertaining both as clever game and as a story.

Depicting Grief — An interview with the author of Eurydice

Eurydice, a meditation on grief that juxtaposes Greek myth with a lovingly observed contemporary setting, took second place in the eighteenth annual IF Competition. Its author, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed to answer some of our questions.

Sam Kabo Ashwell: Why IF? What made you choose this strange little medium rather than straight prose or CYOA or postmodern folk dance?

It was, in all honesty, partly ignorance. Well, that and being quite poor at postmodern folk dance. I wouldn’t hold it up as a beacon of good practice, but there can be something quite liberating about not really knowing what you’re doing because it encourages you to just jump in and go for it.

I’m actually finding it really difficult to look back and interrogate my own motivations. Writing Eurydice was such a process that I almost think the person who began working on it isn’t the same person who’s trying to talk about it now. I do know, however, I had absolutely no interest in writing straight prose. Like the world really needs another emo short story about a dead girl. Although I suppose that leaves the question of whether the world needs a piece of emo IF about a dead girl. But, y’know. To be stop being self-conscious about it for a fleeting moment, I think that’s part of the reason I wanted to work within an interactive framework. Grief is simultaneously solipsistic and universal, and there was something quite meaningful to me about a text that developed from that contradiction. More generally, I’ve played a fair bit of IF and I’ve always had a vague intention to try and write some, but I suppose having something I felt impelled to write about finally crystallised intent into action.

Eurydice coverThe other thing, I guess, and I apologise in advance if this sounds horribly self-important, but one of the things I’ve always found striking about certain depictions of grief is the way the writers seem to have deliberately sought out demanding forms as the vehicle for their expression. ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night‘, for example, is a villanelle – a form so rigid and awkward to use that I can only think of about five good ones in the English language, and mainly they’re exercises in technique rather than emotion. So there’s something quite stunning, I think, about that poem because the content and the form are at such terrible variance: so much pain, anger and despair, shining – fly in amber style – through the restrictions of the chosen medium. Similarly, Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam‘ has an incredibly fixed rhyme and stanza structure, even for Victorian poetry. To me, the very neatness of it, the bouncy-bouncy rhythm and the apparent simplicity of the rhymes, only centralises the stark, unanswerable questions about the nature of grief, loss and divine love (whether or not you think this has been plausibly resolved into “yay god!” by the end).

And, obviously, I’m not trying to say I totally decided to make like Dylan Thomas by writing in Inform 7 instead of on a piece of paper, but I think there is value is bringing intellect to emotion (also I’m frankly a lot more comfortable with the first than the second). And Inform 7 is not remotely comparable to a villanelle, because it makes a lot more sense, but there’s something quite comforting in … actually I think I’ve come back to Tennyson: “But, for the unquiet heart and brain / A use in measured language lies.” Or, in my case, natural language.

So, I think what I’m saying in a massively long-winded way is that, from both a personal and a creative perspective, it’s useful to act and think against the grain of grief, and it also obliges you to present that grief in a form that could conceivably engage someone else – whereas an unstructured burble of pain has no value to anyone, except possibly a Kleenex.

How was your Comp experience?

To be honest, I didn’t really have a comp experience per se because, once I stuck Eurydice into the competition, I thought the most sensible thing I could do was keep the heck out of the way. Of course, I played the other games and that was fascinating and humbling all at once. And also a bit terrifying because the competition, by necessity, requires you to view everything comparatively and that’s basically like sitting there going “Well, do I think this live salmon is better or worse than this deck chair.”

I’m also just … um … kind of stunned that I came second. I’m very aware that it was a bit of a polarising game and, being a first effort, flawed in many ways (also my proof reading is the suck), so I’m incredibly touched by the kindness of people. And also because it was a pretty grim subject, I was glad (and wildly relieved) that I’d managed to present it in a fashion that some people were able to get something out of. Rather than just making everyone miserable for no clear reason.

Now that it’s over, I’m slowly working my way through transcripts and reviews – which, once again, leaves me all flustered and grateful, since it’s like … wow, not only did these people take the time to play the game, but they’re also taking the time to say insightful, articulate and useful things about it (and occasionally really lovely things, too). A couple of people even took the trouble and time to send me their annotated transcripts and suggestions, which was so above and beyond the call of duty it bowled me over.

Of course, it can also sometimes be difficult to read very negative reviews but, ultimately, if you put something in the public domain then anyone has the right to really hate it. And, to be honest, once I’ve got over the instinctive ouch response, it just makes me feel like I wrecked some poor stranger’s day. I’ve generally avoided discussion, not because I don’t give a toss, but because I suspect it would really easy to turn into a raging auteur. At the time, I thought I had what were perfectly sensible rationales for making the choices I did (I’m talking holistically here, I did not at any point in the design process make a rational choice to proof read the game badly) but they’re pretty irrelevant both to the player’s interpretation of the text and whether or not it was an effective game for them.

So what I’m (again, long-windedly) getting at is that my competition experience, even from a distance, has been extremely positive.

If you could go back to the start of the project, would you approach anything differently? Where do you most want to improve as an author?

Yeesh. There’s tonnes. There are a bunch of niggling things (which I’ll hopefully fix as best I can in the post-competition release), for example I’d try to be a little less purple in my prose, I’d proof-read way better and I’d try to be less self-conscious and awkward in the meta text. I’d like to neaten things up across the board, like sort out the way the room names are printed, implement a few more custom responses, and sort out the naming of the mythological characters, even though it’s blatantly obvious who they are anyway. More drastically, if I really was back to the drawing board, I’d pay a bit more attention to the actual mechanics of the game as a whole – as Emily Short pointed out in her review, the hidden-objecty-ness sits quite awkwardly with the ‘art game art’ feel, and is incredibly obscurely implemented. In the more general sense, I really need to be better at using Inform 7. You can get to a certain level of base competence just by flailing around but to actually use it to its full potential takes … actual work and, y’know, ability.

Also I should have really implemented something to let the player hug Celine. I mean, that was a pretty darn serious oversight. What kind of monster am I?

From the perspective of a first-time author, what is community support getting right and what could do with improvement? Could the IF community be doing more for new authors?

I didn’t really use the community as much as I could have / should have when I was writing Eurydice, which probably explains (a bit) how rough it is in places. I brute forced and make-shifted a lot of my coding, because it genuinely hadn’t occurred to me to ask for help. I feel a bit bad for Inform 7, actually, because the whole experience was a bit HULK WRITE SAD TEXT ADVENTURE BADLY SMASH.

In terms of working with Inform, though, the scope of the documentation is, just on its own terms, amazing. I mean, even if the super-extensive and remarkably entertaining manual isn’t doing it for you, chances are somebody, with a completely different style and approach, has written something on the subject as well. Or someone else has already asked the question, and received a million answers, on a forum somewhere. So in terms of providing resources the community is tremendous. I’ve had significantly less experience with, um, interacting with Real Humans. But everyone I’ve spoken with has been kind and helpful – but, then, that’s a self-selecting sample, and you’d have to be a pretty serious level of annoyed with me to actively get in touch to tell me how badly I wrecked your day.

A lot of reviews talked about how they really liked the depiction of the housemates, and Persephone; but the story ultimately occupies this very traditional IF space where the protagonist is very isolated. What sort of games would you be making if NPCs magically became easy?

I’m really glad the depiction of the housemates came across well to some people – it was a way, at least, of injecting a little energy and amusement into the proceedings. (Also churlish bitterness – I’m quite pleased at how many attempts there were to kill Laurie). As I said earlier, grief can be a very isolating experience so, in that respect, I was deliberately trying to create a world that felt, um, emptily full of people. In an earlier version of the game, I did actually have a full conversation system implemented, so you could do the whole TALK TO and ASK ABOUT and TALK ABOUT thing, but I stripped it right back and replaced it with TALK TO because I actively wanted something in which the interaction felt very shallow, limited and static.  So, even if NPCs had been easier to implement, I wouldn’t have done anything different in Eurydice. As for actually answering the question (sorry), I honestly haven’t really considered it. I’m still a bit dazed about having managed to write one piece of IF to really be able to get my head round the possibilities of trying to write more.

Eurydice is about mourning, about the progress of a single emotional state. It’s abundantly clear from the outset that you’re pursuing a doomed cause. What’s it like to work on a piece like that, particularly a mid-sized game that isn’t going to be finished in a hurry? 

Looking back at it, I’m slightly bewildered that I did it. But, at the time, it didn’t feel like a big deal – it just happened to be what I was working on. It was quite an emotional experience but I actually found it quite cathartic. Expressing everything that – at the time – felt inexpressible.  And just to be excruciatingly honest for a moment: I was in a bad place in my life and couldn’t bear to be around people, so what else was I going to do with my time?

Are there any works — IF or otherwise — that you can point to and say, without this Eurydice wouldn’t have happened?

I’ve played quite a lot of IF but I can’t really claim any direct influences because we come back to the salmon and the deckchair problem. Also a lot of the IF I really admire is so beyond anything I could actually accomplish that it would feel sort of hubristic.

I’ve already burbled on about quite a bit about poetry, but Eurydice does open with a quote from ‘In Memoriam’, so I should probably stand up and admit that it was a hugely important text for me. It’s a bit random, to be honest, because it’s very much a Sad Victorian Is Sad And Worried About God kind of poem. And it should probably only have a limited amount to say to a 21st century atheist with a completely different worldview. But, although I don’t entirely buy the comfortable re-establishment of faith and order the poet gruellingly forces himself towards, there’s something I find exceptionally comforting about the sections where he’s basically going “omg, what does this mean, this totally sucks and I hate everyone, and nobody understands, and I’m miserable all the time and maybe I’ll just stand outside his house crying and being really creepy.” Except, y’know, in iambic tetrameter. I feel sort of the same way about C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. Not a big fan of the consolation, but strangely cheered by the anguish, the railing and the despair.

As I keep saying there is (or can be) something intensely isolating and dehumanising about grief. For starters, we all experience and express it differently. But, let’s face it, there’s nothing quite as awkward or antisocial as someone in pain – there’s even something about it ‘In Memoriam’, when T makes a throwaway reference to the fact his friends and family want him to get over his grief because it’s gone on for ages and he’s making everyone uncomfortable. And I remember reading that and feeling, in some strange way, deeply moved and grateful that there was some Victorian fellow out there who was just as alienated and annoyed as I was. Stumbling across these moments, in ‘In Memoriam’, Birthday Letters and A Grief Observed were like threads connecting me back to the world, making me human again.

Sorry to turn this into quote soup, but there’s a bit in The History Boys, where Hector says something like: “the best moments in reading are when you come across something … which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else … and it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

And, in a way, and without indulging in delusions of grandeur, I would very much like to hope that perhaps Eurydice could be like that for someone else. I don’t mean to overreach but it’s, I don’t know, meaningful to me to think that perhaps texts can be a chain of connections between people. Though, of course, that doesn’t mean it’s a cruel or ignorant rejection if someone doesn’t like it, or that they spat in the outstretched hand or cut it off with a kitchen knife. The things that speak to us at certain times are entirely personal, and utterly diverse, and that’s the way it should be.

The endings seem partially structured around the classic Kübler-Ross stages of grief; was this originally conceived of as a more prominent element? To read things naively for a minute, how much is the central message of Eurydice “fantasy is a form of denial”?

I know there are shifting moods of depression, anger, denial and what-have-you in the game, and that the central journey seems to be a move towards acceptance of a kind, but I wasn’t specifically trying to reference the K-R stages of grief.

Although I’m sure it can be a useful model or some people, I often find that it gets applied in a slightly unhelpful way. It’s not like you start out as Level One Griever in Denial and gradually work your way up to Level Five, where you accept that your princess is in another castle and you’re never going to see her again, ever. I think K-R originally proposed the model, not as ‘stages’ exactly but as elements of the landscape of personal grief – so more of a sandbox, really, where you can do the missions in any order, repeat certain levels or skip others altogether. However, because the K-L thingy is practically part of our cultural consciousness now, I think when you look back on your own grieving process, you tend to start fitting your behaviour into the prescribed patterns because it’s simply human nature to want to find meaning in activities that may, or may not, have been pretty abstract and meaningless:  “Ah, yes, when I pulled all my bookshelves down, I was experiencing Anger and then when I cried in the shower I was experiencing Depression.” When, actually, it’s probably a lot more random and complicated than that.

I think ‘fantasy is a form of denial’ could be a message you could choose to read out of Eurydice. Ultimately, what you want to take away is up to you. But, I suppose, for me, the cornerstone of grief is its finality. It’s been a while now but my rational mind still flinches from it. It’s very strange. I mean obviously I know, and I understand, that dead people are dead, and that’s that. But I can’t really meaningfully encompass the enormity of the unchanging truth that I will never see Celine again. That every year I am alive is a year she will still be dead. Perhaps it’s easier if you have faith in life after death. I don’t know. But, for me (and I know keep saying ‘for me’ but I want to emphasise that it’s just a personal reading and other readings are equally legitimate, I’m not trying to make blanket statements about grief or texts or life) it was less about fantasy versus reality, denial versus acceptance than that central question: how do you understand the foreverness of loss?

And, for me, the ‘Fable’ ending, where you sort of merge into the mythology while at the same time diverging from it, was about simply not being ready to deal with that foreverness rather than actively failing to deal with it, if that distinction makes sense. I know it’s not entirely supported by the game mechanics (which is my mistake as a noob) because ‘Fable’ is easier to get than, say, ‘Flowers’, so it feels like it might be a Bad Ending, but I didn’t particularly see it that way. I wasn’t trying to propose a right way or a wrong way to do grief. I’m not sure, but I think people thought the mechanics were less forgiving than they actually were – it was more about balance than having to go all out in one direction. So, yes, if you embrace all the mythology stuff then you’ll end up with ‘Fable’ but you can still get ‘Flowers’ without having to find every irritating hidden object.

Beyond straightforward milieu stuff, the protagonist of Eurydice is heavily ambiguous — a number of people felt they were female, and I got the impression of intentional ambiguous-gender and was surprised when I found something that seemed to make them explicitly male. Gender aside, it’s a piece that keeps a lot of information from the player, while doing very strong work with suggestive detail. What was the scheme here? How do you judge how much information the player should be given?

Yeah, that thing that seemed to gender the protagonist was me messing up, and I’ll be changing it. I did start Eurydice as a personal project but then, the more I wrote and the more my own emotional state changed and developed over time, I found myself moving from the specific to the universal. And it got to the point that I realised that I didn’t want the player to be limited by my identity, my experiences and perceptions, and my relationship with Celine. I know the lack of definition for the protagonist annoyed some people but, for me, it became very important that the protagonist could be of any gender, and that they could build their own relationship with Celine out of the spaces in the text, friends, lovers, ex-lovers, unrequited love, whatever you wanted.

Having a ‘scheme’ suggests I knew what I was doing but for the most part I was just going with ‘what felt right’. Not so much information that it limited the player into being a certain type of person (i.e. me) but enough so that they could establish their own coherent and meaningful reality out the patchwork of memories, experiences and details given by the game. I mean, I don’t know, but I think (I hope) you could see and interpret things quite differently depending on who you talked to or what you engaged with. Truthfully, I need to do more of this, as there were quite a few things that people wanted to interact with it that I’d completely failed to implement. And lots of them were things that made me go slightly smooshy to be honest, like wanting to give Celine a coat, which suggested perhaps that some players had genuinely come to care about her and want to help her. Which, in turn, makes me feel like she isn’t completely gone. Ahem. Smoosh.

What was most interesting about Parchment transcripts? Did people generally play as you expected?

I’m still analysing them, to be honest, prior to starting working on my post-competition release. They’re incredibly useful and, oh my God, are they fascinating, or what? I mean, I cringe every time someone bangs up against a limitation of the game or an overly florid phrase or a typo, which means I’m cringing a lot. But at the same time I’m tentatively pleased that Eurydice is just about still standing, despite the variety in approaches, which suggests I haven’t done everything entirely wrong. I tried not to write the game with too inflexible an expectation of how the player would behave (I don’t know how well I succeeded) and it’s interesting to watch someone approach things in a manner wildly different to anything you’d previously considered. But it’s also really nice, sometimes, to see someone playing in a way that suggests they’re thinking about it much as I was when I was writing it. Which brings me back to the idea of texts as way of reaching out to each other. Which isn’t a bad place to end. So I’ll leave it there.

Andromeda Apocalypse — Backstage with Marco Innocenti

Marco Innocenti, winner of the IFComp 2012 with Andromeda Apocalypse, has taken time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions. Without further ado, here’s our little exchange.

Felix Pleșoianu: For starters, please tell our readers a few things about yourself, if you like.

Marco Innocenti: I’m not sure what would sound interesting to SPAG’s readers. Let’s go random.

I’m forty, I live in Florence, Italy. I’m a graphic designer. Or, rather, that’s what I do for a living. What I really am I can’t quite say. I would like to be a writer, a real writer, one of those people who, you know, write. Like in: write for 400 hundred pages about something, send it to an editor and get published. That hasn’t happened up to now (I’m stuck before the “get published” part), so I think I’ve resorted to IF.

Ok, that is not the truth. I have been an IF aficionado since the mid-Eighties. I played The Hobbit, and a rather obscure adventure called Gruds in Space. I think I actually learned English to be able to play Gruds in Space. Then it was Scott Adams’ Questprobes and everything eventually rolled down the slope. I’ve been wanting to make a text adventure since when I was fourteen. I did some, back in the ages, in CBM Basic. They were impossible to solve guess-the-verbs, linear stories with almost no inventory and ASCII graphics (well, the Commodore equivalent, that is). More than twenty years later, I discovered Inform 6 and started playing with it, to no avail. When Inform 7 came out, everything changed.

I guess there is a lot of serious thanksgiving to be done, here. Graham Nelson and all his friends made part of my dreams come true.

Portrait of Marco Innocenti

Your debut game last year placed 17th, and here you are winning the IFComp on your second attempt. Is there a secret to your rapid ascension?

Yes: the Holy Spirit.

No, jokes apart, there’s no secret. In the sense that everything that is reasonably predictable happened and things worked out pretty well. This is the common sense guide to “making a better job”. Although, maybe, not that much better.

First, Awakening (my first game) was coded step-by-step as I came up with new rooms and new puzzles. The full story was not in my mind until the very last second, when I wrote the final bit. Although this can be a more funny way of writing a story, it is indeed a rather big mistake in case one wanted to achieve anything above mediocrity. Apocalypse was much more planned and had, fortunately, a more strong world-building since the start. I had this idea in mind and wrote the story around it. OK, something came up on-the-go, but the backbone was there and it was solid enough to sustain a full body.

Pretending I can tell a story — we will take this for granted, just to skip to the interesting parts — all I had to do was to plan it, test it, add color.

Second step: Apocalypse sustained around 900% more testing that Awakening. Two months vs. one week, a lot of seasoned players and coders instead of two or three random people. I don’t want, of course, to sound like my first testers were dumbarses: fact is testers for Apocalypse were a) more related to the game or to my world-building having played and loved my first game; b) more accurate in understanding what was wrong (the first testers were just blind men in a dark alley, in that respect); c) they had a lot more time to figure things out.

Third aspect: I had read a lot of reviews (even for other games), talked to many people and lived a lot more the IF scene. This helped me figure out what the audience would like to see in a game and, more so, what it would hate. When I entered Awakening in my first IFComp, I simply was not aware of these things. I knew nothing about IF apart from the few games I’d played recently and from the classics from the Eighties. Games no one would find entertaining, these days, let’s say it. Who would break his head against Spellbreaker, in 2012? I understood, generally, that the international perception of IF was greatly different from what we have in Italy (we still call them “text adventures” for a reason: we are still after that kind of game, over here). This didn’t shape my work, I can tell you, but rounded the rough edges a lot. As an example: at the very beginning of Apocalypse is a sequence that can be triggered by examining the context. Doing that, though, could be counter-intuitive. So I added a time limit so that the scene was triggered nonetheless after the timer ran out. Looking at transcripts, I understand that was a bright move, as 99% of the players never figured out what to do inside the Hyerotrope, after the scene at the beach front.

Finally, I gave myself more time to work on the project. Jumping in and out of things instead of being forced to code three hours a day, proved very strong as a design approach.

That said, I believe that listening to other people complaints was the best I could do to improve myself. Of course, without listening to the nice words, also, I would never have done an Andromeda 2.

And now for the million dollar question. The credits for your game suggest that you needed some help with your English. What are the challenges of writing in a foreign language? How much work was needed to reach an acceptable standard of quality?

This should be point five in the aforementioned list of things to do to make a better game.

Yes, I had my text read and corrected by Sam Kabo Ashwell, and some tweaking came from the other testers as well. What I can say about writing in a foreign language is that, provided you know said language and have a reasonable vocabulary… it’s not hard at all.

You can’t think in your native language, of course, as this would mean rebuilding The Gostak. This came out pretty easy, as I’m used to thinking in English when talking English, let alone when I write it. As opposed to what some Italian friends thought (and wrote in reviews!), I never ever made the word-by-word translation, vocabulary at hand they suggest. When I want to say “shut the fuck up,” I think “shut the fuck up,” not “chetati, demente”. So, writing in English comes out quite easily. What is incredibly hard, on the other hand, is making it sound perfect. There’s a lot under the hood of a language that people are not aware of. Phrasings, common sayings, actual synonyms. While speaking to an audience can be smooth, the same cannot be said of writing for the same audience. Writing a story, too, is harder still. You have to add color to the sentence, create similes, pump up the tone. Doing it the wrong way (a wrong way that can look almost-good to foreigners but absolutely wrong to natives) is guaranteed. I found out the hard way, and I will always laugh, from now on, at American spy movies in which the main character can “speak and write such a perfect Russian that nobody in Moscow would figure out he’s from Detroit”. Yes, of course: believe it. </sarcasm>

As for the second part of the question: it’s not a matter of how much work, but just if that work can or cannot be done. I wouldn’t write a game in German or French. I wouldn’t have written it in English if my grasp of the thing wasn’t very good. That said, writing in another language is obviously slower than in mine (I’m always looking for the “second term”, while in Italian synonyms come out of the hat like white rabbits, and usually elegantly and pregnant with originality) but not that much slower. What you need, though, is a decent editor that could help you avoid horrible outcomes.

Sam and the others did an excellent job. It took less than I thought (about three days) and what they were most good at was sticking to my style, not trying to change “strange” phrasings that were subtly a trademark of mine.

That said, your mileage may vary, as some people found the lyrics in Apocalypse a bit purple while other thought they made the game a success.

Both of your games so far take place in the same science fiction setting of your own creation. You’ve even organized a fan fiction minicomp that sparked some discussion, even though the participation was low. Does your interactive fiction tie into a larger body of work? Would you call the Andromeda Legacy competition a success?

Andromeda Apocalyse coverThe Andromeda setting is, so far, all in the games by me, Joey Jones and Paul Lee. There is nothing else but, of course, if Spielberg calls me and says he wanna do a movie about the Hyerotropes, there would be movies, too. Almost all that is in my mind is in the games. If you want to know what the Hyerotropes are, or why they are doing what they do, or what color are Sen Kulpa’s panties, well I don’t have the faintest idea. I guess.

What I do know is that I know who will be playing as PCs in the eventual next game in the series, what morals and principles will regulate it and what will be the main theme. I already have a couple of epic scenes in mind and, if I ever regain the strength to make another Andromeda game, I’m quite sure they will rock my supporters.

As for the second part of the question, I can say without any shadow of a doubt that the ALComp was a complete success. I had three entrants (one had to resign due to health problems), both the games spawned were good and they added to the Andromeda mythology a lot. Now all of them have more weight in terms of world-building and I’m very proud of it. Given the premise, having found at least one person willing to be involved in such a strange competition is awesome. I hope it can be done again, in the future. I’d love to see Emily Short write a small game in my canon, as an example. Or read an Inklewriter, Twine or Quest story set in Monarch.

Last but not least, what are your plans for the future? Is there anything else you would like to add?

I have something running.

First, sooner or later I have to post-comp-release Apocalypse. As per tradition, it will involve additional content, although not as much as Awakening — The Final Cut had, and file management to auto-save the achievements.

Then, I should be working on a horror IF with Lutein Hawthorne (author of last year’s IFComp entry The Guardian), that I had to drop due to Apocalypse being in the way.

I have an old-style fantasy game with 8-bit graphics in incubation.

Finally, I’m starting to write a large, long, ambitious Noir game with sounds and music. It will take ages but I guess it’s the thing most viable of seeing a release somewhere between here and the eternity. I want to go serious on this one: for the authorial voice, I’m reading Raymond Chandler to try and have the sound of the language fixed in my brain. It will surely need a lot of additional work by Sam Ashwell, this time. Wonder if he’ll be willing to help, again.

Thank you, Marco, and good luck in your future endeavors.

Editorial: Welcome back!

It’s been too long, so welcome back to SPAG! Real life intervened and unfortunately our previous editor David Monath was unable to keep publishing the magazine. Like many of you, for a long time I too was worried that SPAG might not receive the resurrection it deserved. But when I saw that Jimmy Maher, SPAG’s penultimate editor, hoped that someday someone would offer to take over running it, I decided that I could be that someone. I asked, he gave me his blessings (and the passwords for the old website), and here we are today!

I’ve been involved with the IF community for a few years now, though I wouldn’t consider myself a very important part of it. I’m not a, you know, author. But I guess I have made my mark: although I didn’t create it for the last few years I’ve been the main developer of Parchment, and I consider myself a reasonable Inform 7 hacker. My creative contributions are a few small additions to Kerkerkruip.

Portrait of Dannii Willis

Over the last eighteen years the IF Community works has on occasion shifted its hubs of discussion. The old newsgroups are all but dead as people have migrated to the forum and independent blogs, most of which are aggregated at Planet IF. Of relevance to SPAG is that there are now innumerable places to publish reviews, and those who don’t have their own websites can always use the IFDB.

So this new SPAG is more than a new web address and a shift to using WordPress. No longer will SPAG be the clearing-house of reviews as it once was; it’s been twenty months since Issue 60, and the community had coped well enough posting their reviews elsewhere. So what will the new SPAG be? Well I hope to fill these pages with longer articles: interviews, the art and craft of writing IF, tutorials for working with IF technology. We’ll have discussions of the growing community, and the broadening of what exactly “Interactive Fiction” entails today. But all this will still be grounded in reference to the works of our community, just with more analysis and synthesis than you see in normal reviews; SPAG Specifics will still be a regular feature!

Issue 61 isn’t a big issue, but I think it’s a good one. To start with we have interviews with the top three winners of IFComp 2012. Joey Jones then brings us a discussion on shared worlds in IF: what has been tried so far and where we might go in the future. And lastly Mark Ricard compares Deadline and Make It Good and how they together have defined the IF detective genre.

In bringing this issue to publication many thanks are in order: to Jimmy Maher for allowing me to take over as editor and giving me a leg up for the task, to Brandon Invergo for providing web hosting, to Marco Innocenti for his fabulous logo and cover design, to Rob Wheeler for the cover design and proof reading, to the IFComp winners for being willing interviewees, and of course to our writers! Many others have given advice or encouragement, so if that’s you know that I appreciated your help too.

Now I must finish on a traditional note, and remind you that SPAG is always after more content. So if you have an idea for an article please email me and tell me all about it.

See you soon!

Shared Worlds — Collaboration in interactive fiction

Interactive fiction is a young art form and so it should come as no surprise that there aren’t many examples of shared worlds. A shared world is a setting which is used in common by multiple authors over several different works, where the works together form one canon. In other mediums, this is a very common model: television shows often have different writers from episode to episode, and film series often have different directors. In print fiction there’s the Wild Cards and Thieves’ World shared settings and this model is the norm for the major comic book series. Interactive fiction’s visual cousin, the graphic adventure game has a shared world in the Adventure Game Studio Reality-on-the-Norm games.

What value is there in having a shared world? There are several possible answers. There are some ideas that are just too big for one person to fully explore, and are intriguing enough to warrant fuller exploration. Where a shared world is successful, the experience of the overall collection of works is greater than and irreducible to the sum of its parts. Allowing other people to share in a setting allows aspects that are of less interest to the original creators to be explored. Further, as in any shared endeavour, there is the joy of co-creation, of working with others to create something that no one person could achieve on their own.

While shared worlds are thin on the ground, interactive fiction has a rich history of successful collaboration. The Zork trilogy arose out of a vast collaborative mainframe game; there have been several paper-telephone style collaborations in the IF Whispers series; and a contribution model has lead to stories as deep as Alabaster or as exhaustively amusing as Pick up the Phone Booth and Aisle.

Illustration of the Tentacle of Tooloo by Erik Temple

An illustration by Erik Temple for an upcoming release of Kerkerkruip

Recently, Kerkerkruip has emerged as a collaborative project based on continually developing a single game. The draw for Kerkerkruip bluntly isn’t the setting or characters, but its nature as a game. A roguelike in text, Kerkerkruip placed well in the 2011 IFComp but unlike entries, its development didn’t end there. Gijsbers kept adding items and monsters and opened up the development process to allow others to contribute ideas, code and art to the game. In this way, Kerkerkruip follows a pattern familiar among roguelikes which typically have development cycles lasting years, sometimes decades. The usual model for roguelikes is to have a single developer or small team that eke out a game over many years while a community of modders develops mods in tandem with the main development. Sometimes these modders take over developing the main game long after the original author has moved onto other projects. Where Kerkerkruip differs is that it has opened up its own development to others so that the game itself becomes a shared-world in continual development. Parallels can be drawn with the development of the original Zork, which was collaboratively developed over several years (though with less of an eye to internal consistency, or indeed, player experience).

As Kerkerkruip is a game before it is a story it is well suited to continual development — less so more narrative-based projects. From another story in the IFComp 2011 an alternative model can be seen. Andromeda Awakening placed 17th of 38, but Marco Innocenti’s vision didn’t end there. Midway through 2012 he launched a minicomp, The Andromeda Legacy™: The Expansion of a Shrinking Universe, inviting others to create stories in the same shared universe as Andromeda Awakening. Two stories were entered in the competition: Tree and Star by Paul Lee and Andromeda Dreaming by myself. These were followed up by Innocenti’s Andromeda Apocalypse which won the IFComp 2012, which among other things portends well for IF shared worlds.

Both works adopt the rich setting of Awakening as their starting point and take it in different directions. Andromeda Dreaming dove-tails its plot and time-line tightly with Awakening, but differs chiefly in its game-play style. While both stories involve the player enmeshed in a web of conspiracies, Awakening involves exploration and puzzles while Dreaming involves conversation and sleep. Tree and Star, in contrast, shares the same basic plot as Awakening (a man struggling against the odds to reveal a terrible truth) but transports this concept to a much earlier point in Andromeda history. Like Dreaming, perhaps in part due to the time constraints inherent in a competition, Tree and Star is more linear than Awakening, and yet it involves more character interaction. Essentially, both stories remain true to the spirit of the progenitor work while expanding the social and historical aspects of the universe. If more Andromeda stories are made, undoubtedly the likelihood of contradictions and weaker entries will grow, and like other series, there will eventually come a point where the setting is creatively exhausted.

In a way, the Andromeda Legacy competition acted like the publishing of a collection of shared world stories, though one without an editor. Though they had the same starting point, as luck would have it, the authors picked different time periods to focus on and the resulting stories are mutually consistent. It’s quite possible that had there been more entrants, the entries could have been inconsistent with one another, and issues of canonicity would emerge. As it was, Innocenti declared all the stories canonical.

Andromeda Covers

Marco Innocenti has produced cover art for every work in the Andromeda universe

Even in a shared world where stories are developed sequentially, rather than in tandem, there can be issues of canon. In Reality-on-the-Norm, an eleven year cycle of adventure games sharing the same setting (as well as often the same sprites and backdrops), one game controversially killed him off the central character and subsequent games had to take a stance on whether that event had actually happened. Similarly, most major comic book universes, in focusing on shared characters rather than setting, are failed canons as each series inevitably undoes or retcons the developments of previous series.

Developments in a series can typically be split into two categories: canonical developments and fan fiction. Zork Zero by Steve Meretzky and Zorkian Stories 1: G.U.E. by Marshal Tenner Winter are examples of these two categories. The Zork series of games and their spin offs and pastiches are probably popular largely because the Zork games were so predominant in the formative years of the medium. If the big text adventure hit of the 80’s was an epic quest to rescue a princess from demonic turtles, then we’d probably still be seeing Turtle Quest spin-offs. Questions of taste aside, the Zork universe was rich and accessible enough to support sequels in a way that the other Infocom games didn’t, perhaps because the focus was on the locations rather than characters or story events.

A story can’t support a sequel if the most interesting potentialities inherent in the story have already been explored by that story. So a work will best support follow-ups only when it doesn’t exhaust its own narrative potential. This failure to exhaust may arise due the breadth of the work’s setting, or its vagueness: Tolkienesque fantasy is so rife because the lore Tolkien created was so ripe with potential that even his own mammoth offerings could never exhaust the potential of the setting; Zork and Reality-on-the-Norm in contrast have settings so non-committal that almost any content is appropriate so long as it shares a family resemblance to the games that have come before it.

Interactive fiction is still young and in the years to come we’re sure to see more shared worlds arise. The most successful model is likely to be the successive-work model, like the later Zorkian games. The collection model of organising a setting beforehand and editing a collection of stories in that setting is possible, and is most common in print medium, but requires a greater burden from its organisers. The Andromeda Legacy method of encouraging new works based on an existing work is equally promising as it is based on existing interest in the setting, but issues of collective consistency are likely to arise. However as a successful example of an interactive shared world, with it interest for other shared worlds can only flourish from here on.

The Modem Squeals of a Guilded Youth — Rowan Lipkovits talks to Jim Munroe

Jim Munroe wears many hats: he writes novels, comics, and films, and with all the spare time those afford him he designs games as well. In the IF community, he’s best-known for placing third in the IFComp twice, in 2008 with Everybody Dies and in 2012 with Guilded Youth.

Rowan: Welcome to award-winning game designer Jim Munroe! In your early years, prior to landing that Managing Editor spot at Adbusters magazine, you were somewhat of a technologist, publishing e-zines in a computer medium at least if not programming back in the ’90s.

Jim: I just went to see if I could find the 3.5″ disc I “published” in the 90s … doubt I would have dated it on the label anyway. Even my paper zines, which I started when I was 17 (1989), were number v1.0, v2.0 etc. and as soon as I could upload e-zines and then e-books to the Gutenberg Project I was doing it, just because I thought it was cool that people could login to a server anywhere and read my ramblings. I forget when I came across the IF community but when I did I was thrilled by the fact that people were still making these games that I loved when I was a kid (the familiar story) and so despite having no programming skills I decided to take advantage of the tutorials out there and learn Inform 6. ‘Cause really the killer feature for me with Inform in general was the Z-machine format — the idea of being able to create work in the same format as your childhood games was weirdly compelling.

Portrait of Jim Munroe

I’d be remiss to not follow the obvious lead: favorite titles from the classic text adventure era? Favorite IF stories from the revival era? Other story-games you’d like to single out as meritorious and, perhaps, inspirational?

Wishbringer and Lurking Horror gripped me as a youth. Grim Fandango and Half-Life got me back into games after a decade away. Savoir-Faire blew my mind and probably is the biggest reason I got back into writing IF again. It’s better than anything Infocom made.

Interactive fiction is a marriage of writing and programming, and often what we see are stories written by programmers rather than games programmed by writers. My understanding is that you came at this distinctly from the writers’ camp from far back. It’s a steep hurdle for writers to take on the programmer mantle, one you first conquered with Punk Points back in 2000. I know that’s ancient history, but do you have any memories of first conquering the pinnacle of Mount Text Adventure Programming?

Weirdly one of my few memories of writing the thing was that I was at a writer’s festival in Ottawa (my book Angry Young Spaceman was out at the time) and I was coding a chunk of it on an HP Palmtop computer. I couldn’t compile it or play it on that thing but I was determined to get the thing done and it was Ottawa, so there I was in this fancy hotel room pecking away at this tiny handheld. As far as “conquering” Mt TAP, that was hardly the case… it had pretty shallow implementation and many other flaws. Punk Points had its fans… but the main thing though is that it got a decent amount of feedback. And while it took me seven more years to do another one, it was the memory of that — especially Jon Blask’s letters and the XYZZY nomination — that made me feel welcome.

It still took you quite a while to prepare for another expedition up Mt. Interactive Fiction, but you were a busy fellow in the meantime, exploring other ways of telling stories with games like machinima. Did you just fall into that? Is your brain hard-wired for narrative even against a game engine fighting you?

Ha ha, no. Machinima (and My Trip to Liberty City predates that unfortunate name) is something I did with the tools I had at hand. Narrative is easy for me but I want to try and move in a less linear direction. Mostly because I feel that the cool thing that games can do is be player-directed, dynamic, less about plot. If I have a linear narrative I can work in film or novels, right?

Conspicuously the Inform 7 revolution elapsed between your first and second piece of IF. Did you ever look back?

My memory is so shit that if I decided to work with 6 again I would have had to learn it from scratch. Really I7 is made for programming challenged folks like me so I needed to give it a chance. My feeling, though, is that its syntax is almost as unforgiving as normal coding, so it doesn’t make things easier so much as make them look easier — by the time you realize your mistake, you’re committed. But personally I think the tutorials are a work of art on their own. I think it’s a really good tool and it works for me.

A quick comment on tools — I don’t care too much about them. I think discussion around them is kind of annoying, like when people ask me at movie Q&As about what we shot on. Who cares? It’s as if people are trying to find the perfect tools before they can make the perfect art.

So as a onetime DIY zinester, you hold by Socalled’s ethic to work with what you got?

Yeah, work with what you got for sure. Tool fetishization is a kind of procrastination. So I kind of feel bad not enthusing about I7, because I’m sure it’s a triumph of various magnitudes… I’m not really knowledgeable enough to comment on the craft behind I6 vs I7 but I can say for sure that I’m inspired by Emily’s work on the tutorials and Graham’s community building.

I was curious, wondering whether you’d tried any new tools like, specifically, Twine.

As a player CYOA or hyperlinked stuff has never worked for me. It’s always felt like button pushing.

That can’t be entirely true, you must have made your Pick-Your-Own-Podventure for some reason! Perhaps your distaste for the format informed your failure to produce a part 2?

You know what? It was the very little feedback I got on CYOP that made me lose interest in following it up. It seemed like a cool idea! I thought it was going to get more attention.

With Guilded Youth joining the fray, there is now a small ludographical body of works engaging the forgotten, poorly documented technological dead-end of the BBS. Your Guilded Youth, Digital: A Love Story and Endless, Nameless are about all I can think of… all emerging relatively recently, and more to the point, well after the fact. Why now? Do you think we’ll see any more?

Dunno! Weird fact — both myself and Love are in Toronto. She’s in her early 20s, which means that she never experienced the BBS scene in its heyday. I did, but not being particularly reverent about it or having a good memory means that my take on it was largely an imagined history. She needed to do research by necessity so hers is probably more authentic in a way!

You’ve said that Guilded Youth represents the end of a trilogy of games set in your teenaged stomping grounds of Toronto suburbs. I know I first got on board the Munroe ship when I read a book you had written, Everyone in Silico, elapsing partially in my own hometown of Vancouver, plus I’m sitting next to a comic you wrote set in an alternate Detroit. Geography figures prominently. Where are your sights leveled next?

Hmm, dunno! Probably more Toronto stuff. I’m a dad now so other than publicity tours I don’t travel much, and I generally like to live in places I steal for fiction.

So, about Toronto: lots of folks — well, folks in San Francisco and Boston as best as I can tell — are finding they recharge their batteries and get good input from other IF enthusiasts in their area whom they meet up with. You’re a DIY community empowerer, putting tools in the hands of the people and demonstrating by example, so I might ask you about the buzzing Hogtown IF community that you’re central to. However, as best as I can tell, there isn’t one! You do, however, help people learn to make games… which must on some level be cogent. What’s that about? Have you evangelised IF or was My Uncle George a happy coincidence?

Well, actually, it’s a bit more convoluted than that. The Artsy Games Incubator was something I did three rounds of and then Miguel Sternberg took on running the 4th and that was the one Phil did his IF in. I think he knew about Everybody Dies. Honestly the general indie community in Toronto rather than specifically the IF subgenre is something I’ve contributed to via the Hand Eye Society, where I’m the executive director. I might do a IF specific incubator in the future — there is a bit of interest in it.

You have stakes planted in all sorts of media ventures — books, films, comics, and games — many of which are collaborations with other artists. Relatively few of your works are, as best as I can tell, cross-promotional across media… Roofed being the exception here. Do you see good prospects for games out of your prior works, or novels or comics out of your games?

The classic question is generally “why don’t you make movies out of your books?” Which kind of makes sense except that I make stuff for the fun of releasing something new into the world, and if it’s the same kind of thing I find it boring. So in general I like working with whole cloth, so to speak.

You seem to have taken an enviable turn for the award-winning in your recent games. Tips? (“Only release games that are entered in contests, and make them well?”)

It’s pretty crazy.  Well, I haven’t won much for my writing or movies… I think it’s a case with games of being what the culture wants at the right time. Unmanned as well is a collaboration with a hugely respected and awesomely talented game-maker.

I don’t see you campaigning for votes (blessed silence in this noisy Kickstarting era) but you do seem to have accrued some cheerleaders (hi, there!) on the strength of your extensive back catalogue and its quality. They partially boost you on your novel strength of just wondering “What it is he’s going to do next?” “What medium will it be in?” “I hear he throws darts at a dart board to find out!” “No, he’s an I ching man!”

Ha ha ha, if only it was as scientific as darts!

Which is the natural opening to invite you to tell the SPAG readers: what’s next?

I’m working on a touchscreen interactive fiction prototype. Both game-wise and otherwise it’s a prototype of a new interface that is simpler than a parser but gives the reader more agency than a hypertext or CYOA. That’s all I’ll say!

A stiff order!

Or maybe I should say it gives the impression of more agency. About appearance of agency vs actual agency… what I often come back to is verisimilitude, you know it? As a writer you try to give the appearance of gritty reality without having to write about every heartbeat, every intake of breath, every shit… a few choice details give the impression of realism, and I think that holds true for agency as well: a few key, unexpected choices. No no, verisimilitude is the “appearance of reality” as opposed to literal reality…

You’re getting Platonic on us!

Sorry man, second year English class. The literary idea, as I remember it from my creative writing classes in a suburban Toronto university, is that small details of realism are better than a transcript of each moment or detail. You don’t have a responsibility to be endlessly detailed; as a writer what you want to do is give the reader a detail or two that proves that you’re a close observer, and as a game designer what I ideally aim for for is not to give the player endless choice but to give them unique choices that they’d never seen before in a game. That being said, I feel like I have a long way to go as a game designer… but that’s what I’m working towards. I think that’s one of the things that works about Unmanned — when I see people playing it, they really consider their choices: “What do I want this guy to be?” “Am I this guy?” “How can I win this?” All the important processing is going on in the player’s head. The game itself is ridiculously simple: branching narrative.

Processing powered by the same engine that draws the pictures in readers’ heads between comic book panels.


Which leads me to inquire after your somewhat iconoclastic use of pictorial illustration in your recent comp games… have these helped the games’ receptions? They seem to have! But what a design decision to make, given that it’s more work for you to push the tech beyond what it’s intended for just to challenge the somewhat rigid tastes of the voters.

Yeah, actually it is kind of surprising that they’ve been as well received as they have.  I don’t know that the community is that conservative… I think the fact that the IF gatherings were at PAX East for a while indicates a greater affinity for videogames than literary work.

Video games are the lowest common denominator between the two there: a writer who cannot program cannot make a work of IF, while a programmer who cannot write can easily make a very crappy one. The conservatism isn’t as big an issue now (now that all the CYOA enthusiasts are coming out of the closet, for example,) but at the time of Everyone Dies the big question wasn’t “What’s the significance of the fish?” but rather “What on God’s green Earth are pictures doing in my text adventure?!@#”

Ha ha! The fact that they were so awesome probably won people over. I have them on my wall right now!

Should we expect illustrations in your future works? You’ve put pictures in two IF games but sounds in none — that can’t be entirely coincidental can it?

Guilded Youth CoverPictures? Maybe! Honestly I don’t think too much about it. As for sounds… no, you’re wrong! Go back and play Guilded Youth in Chrome and prepare to have your ears blown out!

Finally you have bested me, Munroe! And on that note, that’s all the time we have for this interview. A big thanks to Jim for surfing the time-zone gap in order to share his thoughts with us about yesterday, tomorrow, and of course today — yesterday’s tomorrow!

Thank you man, it’s nice to know some people are paying attention even to the ignored projects.

Hey, my credo is of course that interesting failures are much more worth investigating than boring successes!

Tru dat!