The Mayor and the Machine

by J. Marie. Written as part of ShuffleComp: Disc 2. Inspired by “This Is Not A Game” by Skunk Anansie.

When you became the mayor of Buttsville, your predecessor told you about a machine in a locked room. This is the secret of your position: whenever something goes wrong, there is always, always the option of using the machine, whatever it is and however it works, to fix things. 

This Twine game helpfully offers three endings, based on the broad direction of your actions. Will you use the machine as much as you can? Or will you resist the temptation?

The names of the city and its landmarks are deliberately silly: we have “Buttsville” and “Poop Lake”, amongst others. Yet, the scenarios given are in fact rather convincing – scenarios which would not go amiss in real life, and this helped to convey a sense of ownership for Buttsville and its people.

Tiny gripe: it would have been nice to have more subtle endings, of course- where you can appease the machine, where the machine is more an NPC. 

Really, though, The Mayor and The Machine is very solidly written, with a focused, if sometimes linear, plot.

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The value of random generators

youfindyourselfinaroom:

This list is incomplete.

Too often I find myself going YES LET’S WRITE A GAME then hours later, I’m in front of a blank document going, “well, I need a storyline.” Or maybe it’s a monster. Or a weapon.

RPG plot generators

hook line and sinker | get a premise/detailed plot/complete plot | 101 adventure hooks | assorted ideas

For adding flavour, detail or a side story, random generators can help come up with stuff a bored or uninspired self would not have come up with.

Random generators

database of random generators | more random generators | MORE

EDIT: I found more! If you’re more familiar with movies/TV/pop culture, then you might get more ideas from tvtropes.org:

story idea generator | pitch idea generator

The value of random generators

This list is incomplete.

Too often I find myself going YES LET’S WRITE A GAME then hours later, I’m in front of a blank document going, “well, I need a storyline.” Or maybe it’s a monster. Or a weapon.

RPG plot generators

hook line and sinker | get a premise/detailed plot/complete plot | 101 adventure hooks | assorted ideas

For adding flavour, detail or a side story, random generators can help come up with stuff a bored or uninspired self would not have come up with.

Random generators

database of random generators | more random generators | MORE

She’s not passionate or firey, unless she hasn’t eaten enough that day, in which case she’s kind of terrifying. She’s not sexy. In fact one of the running jokes of the show has Jake taking things Amy says and repurposing them as the title of her sex tape. Like, “Kind, Sober, and Fully Dressed.” Or, “I’m Sorry About Tonight.” Or, “Not Even Gonna Touch That: The Amy Santiago Story.” The running gag is that Amy just isn’t sexy.

But what’s actually great about this is that Amy doesn’t mind. She doesn’t really care that she doesn’t come off as sexy, because she doesn’t want to come off as sexy. Sexy is not a thing she’s aiming for. She’s a fuddy duddy, and she likes it. She had to call her thirteen year old niece for makeup tips, and then disregarded them for being “too sexual”. She wears pantsuits, and has no problems with that. Her apartment is full of doilies and collectable tea spoons. She’s a boring person inside.

And that’s great! I mean, when was the last time you saw a Latina on a sitcom who was characterized as a teacher’s pet? Or as a woman so dull that she fakes a root canal to get out of doing extra work she originally volunteered for, just so she can go to a bed and breakfast with her boyfriend. Who is named Teddy. For the record.

Amy Santiago is a deeply boring person inside, and that makes for freaking excellent comedy.

Source: from “Strong Female Character Friday: Amy Santiago from Brooklyn 99” on Kiss My Wonder Woman

(via She’s not passionate or firey, unless she hasn’t… | Kiss My Wonder Woman!)

What I learned from Storynexus stories

Gradually learning how to structure a multilinear story, and I’m somewhat
surprised how many concepts I’m using now are things I learned from
Storynexus. Especially the non-Fallen London worlds.

Worlds like Cryptic Stitching or The Thirst Frontier show how we can ‘trigger’ events to occur or make choices available using variables very simply.

This is especially so for non-FL SN worlds because drawing cards costs an
action – a limited currency, in other words – while the more permanent
storylets like those in FL are limited to pinned cards in SN. So that means
that every shuffle of the deck

Resources for writing IF: creating story/narrative

This is an incomplete list. Will try and keep it updated.

Emily Short’s articles:

On geography, conversation (here’s more detail), creating multilinear stories, and action and interaction.

failbettergames​ articles:

This compilation contains some advice which is specific to being an indie game dev and their context is based mainly on Fallen London. Posts tagged ‘Things We Like’ makes for interesting reading.

Kurt Vonnegut:

Simple Shapes of Stories – his lecture. I haven’t watched this in detail.

Alter Ego

by Peter J. Favaro, Ph.D.

Yes, I’ll admit the “Ph.D” was rather offputting. Surely anyone who feels the compulsion to put their academic qualifications in a piece of interactive fiction is writing this as part of some paper, or just really anxious to let people know that “Hey! I’ve got a PhD!!!”

Anyway.

It’s a life simulation game, basically. Where your actions and attitudes affect how you turn out in the end. What makes it interesting is probably that it’s a Choicescript adaptation of a 

Much spoilers below.

Things I liked:

  • I liked the sandbox nature of the game – it felt like an RPG, albeit a superficially WASPish one (i.e. white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) set in a generic ‘Murica.
  • The platform suits the game, and the customisation of the interface was well done. 
  • Well done, too. I got emotionally involved.
  • The author(s) are aware of requests for features, and I realise that adding those in would be a Herculean task.

Things I didn’t like:

  • vagueness of NPCs – any details about ‘your best friend’ or ‘your mother’ are kept very, very vague. Just names, like Cindy or Mrs Hendrick, which tell me nothing
  • vagueness of details in general – As above, the whole game is set in some white-bread, generic, one-size-doesn’t-quite-fit-all ‘Murica. 
  • sections on the Intellectual Sphere use trivia questions to gauge your intellectual ability. This feels lazy. Google is your brain. (*note: the authors are aware of this)
  • So when I say ‘life simulation game’, I mean ‘simulation of life as a white cis male/female in a generic American setting’. 
  • attitude + action combinations which aren’t compatible… well, these don’t make too much sense. As a sandbox game, I’d like to have as much flexibility as possible. And then, according to the authors, it’s a game which clocks in at 220, 000 words, so. 
  • some of the conclusions drawn by the narrator were trying to assume a lot. Being excited for a sleepover means you don’t appreciate the security your parents provide??

I liked the direction of the game, though, and the variety of options already present are quite generous.

How to avoid informed traits

tenebrica:

You know those characters that are constantly referred to so smart or so capable or so sensitive (etc. etc.) by other characters or in the narration? And every time it comes up you find yourself shaking your head or rolling your eyes because the character in question  either is as bland as boiled potatoes or constantly acts in ways that contradict those claims without explanation? 

That’s what is commonly called an “informed trait”. You’re told the character is a certain way (or has a certain ability), but there is more or less nothing in the text to back that up. 

It goes the other way around, too, with informed flaws that are supposed to make a character more relatable or interesting – think almost every romantic comedy leading lady who is supposedly “shy” and “clumsy”, but in a cute, endearing way that only ever comes up when the plot asks for it. 

It’s frustrating, distracting, incredibly dull and at times downright insulting to the reader to encounter a story where one or more characters have a bad case of this, but unfortunately, it’s a pretty common weakness even in otherwise strong, well-written stories with interesting and complex character concepts. 

Since characters and how the reader feels about them (whether they are supposed to relate to them, look up to them or feel repulsed by them) can really make or break a story, informed traits are an easy trap to fall into and many a writer’s Achilles heel. 

So, how to avoid them?

This is where the trusty old “Show, don’t tell” comes in. You have most likely been told before that it’s usually better to go for subtlety and leave something to the reader’s imagination than to spell it out, and that is true. 

It’s challenging to imply something without outright saying it. You have to get creative with the details you want to put into your story to get a point across by relying on your audience’s ability to read between the lines, and while it’s absolutely worth it to go the extra mile, you also run the risk of making your narrative too stilted and contrived instead. 

However, there is a fairly simple trick to make your characterization feel more natural and insert it into the story smoothly:

Stop thinking of your characters as possessing certain traits and start thinking of their personalities as a collection of habits, preferences and specific abilities. 

It might not sound like that big of a difference, but it will make translating your character traits into text much, much easier and save you a lot of trouble while editing. 

Some examples:

  1.  A “smart” character

    This can mean a lot of things. You could have a character who is booksmart, learns quickly, reads a lot, can retain information easily and access it when needed, but has trouble applying theoretical knowledge in real life, someone who entertains their friends by telling them about weird facts and trivia, someone who can still recite poems they had to learn by heart when they were ten, someone with a tendency to talk in such complex run-on sentences they frequently forget what they were talking about half-way through. 
    Or you could have a character who is good at problem-solving instead, who likes puzzles and riddles, who gleefully obsesses over odd problems to find even odder solutions, but thinks so far out of the box in order to remain engaged in their current task they often miss the forest for the trees.  

  2. A “brave” character

    Try to instead make a character who can never resist a challenge, who is a thrill-seeker and went bungee jumping about a dozen times already, who enjoys dragging their friends on the most dangerous looking rides in an amusement park and endlessly teases them about how pale they went afterwards. Make someone who simply cannot stand by when they see someone else get bullied, someone with a collection of scars they wear proudly and a story to tell about each one.
      

  3. A “shy” character

    Forget about characters who blush prettily when spoken to and that’s it. Instead, write about a character who can’t make eye contact without forcing themselves to, who stumbles over their own words when talking to strangers, who is afraid of wearing bright colours because it might draw attention to them, someone who is humble and polite, but distant and comes across as cold or uncaring because they have tendency to hide their insecurity by retreating into themselves, even though seeming rude is the last thing on their mind.

Insert these habits into the story wherever they fit best. Be consistent in the portrayal of your character’s behaviour, even as character development kicks in. Adjust deliberately, but reasonably. After all, old habits die hard, so having your character break with one, however minor, can be a powerful moment with just as much emotional resonance as a flashy, dramatic scene meant to convey the same sentiment, and any “big” scenes will likely feel more organic if the reader has already seen traces of the necessary character changes before. 

It is Pitch Black

by Caelyn Sandel, playable here.

It started as a dare. Stay in this room, your friends said. Just fifteen minutes, they said. Then they shut the door, the door got stuck, and there’s a grue on your trail. You have six matches. Now you have to find enough illumination to keep off the grue until your friends come back to open the door.

This game is a time-limited exercise in inventory management, especially because you can’t take things along with you, but to define it in these terms would not do Pitch Black a disservice. Pitch Black is rich in backstory and description, and uses visual effects to its advantage. 

Plus it’s set in New Washington okay that is awesome.