The procrastinator speaks

A personal reflection after attending the Ada Lovelace Evening Exchange event, in which Emily Short (!!) was the speaker. (Of course I was much too socially awkward to talk to anyone)

This is the blog of a doyenne of procrastination. I procrastinate so much. I start loads of projects and never finish them. I have uncounted numbers of IF works-in-progress waiting to be finished. Yet, tonight a group of friends produced a rather rough-hewn but nevertheless complete work of IF in record time! How is this?

(Apologies if this is all familiar stuff to you.)

1. Start by thinking about the ending.
Usually, I start with a high-level idea – a monster-hunting story with red tape – which is, after all, how story prompts are structured. That peters out very quickly, because there’s no central spine. These ideas never have specific endings in mind, so it becomes ridiculously hard to continue after the initial burst of inspiration.

In this event, though, I think we were supposed to start writing to practice how we could implement different story structures, so we started with the end in mind – no words, no fancy ideas, just plot. I found this really helpful in distilling the skeleton of the game, and in the end it was surprisingly easy to write!

2. Don’t get attached to ideas.
This slows me down so much. At the start of a new project, I can become absolutely consumed with the possibilities – which are endless- for the game. I think of branches and all that. But as the story goes on, there are paragraphs which I like – and which aren’t necessary to the plot – or there’s a moment which I can’t bear to throw out – retaining sentiment for useless parts ultimately bogs the game down. Now, I try to maintain a ‘cutting floor’, where aesthetically pleasing but pointless bits go, and hopefully this will keep me focused on a good structure.

3. Test only after implementing another section of the story/another idea
Testing too often slowed me down a lot. While this is very helpful for catching out basic problems (especially if you’re new to the language), this made me focus a lot more on how it looked and the flavour text rather than the game in the big picture. For my future writing, I’ll try to only test once I’ve completed a chapter/part of a major chapter, to make myself continue writing the actual content instead of fiddling with little bits.

Personal wishlist for Choicescript

Choicescript is fast to learn and fun to write in (like Inform 7, yay), but there are some things I wish I could do with it.

  • Change default black text on white appearance
    • A beta-tester commented that it was uncomfortable to look at, and it’d be cool to be able to insert your own banner or logo
  • Be able to play-test game from a certain point
    • Like skeins in I7. I get that I can use a placeholder variable to get around this, but it’d be nice to have around.
  • (related) Dedicated text editor for Choicescript
    • syntax colouring for *choice and #options for example
    • Playtest within the editor
  • Keyboard shortcuts
    • YESSSS keyboard shortcuts for ‘Next’/*page_break and things like that
    • Like how Duolingo does it!

Saw your “Death is but the beginning” list. Emily Short’s Counterfeit Monkey is challenging and long, but death situations are usually played off as hypothetical situations. IF tutorial style games (like Andrew Plotkin’s Dreamhold) tend to make death merciful. If there were a way to sort the games of IFDB by difficulty, that may help in finding a list of merciful death games. Good luck.

Thank you for the suggestions! Yes I love Counterfeit Monkey – very very clever puzzles! – but I was actually looking for puzzles which use death as a means of progressing the story. Like in Endless Nameless, where you have to die to let the story progress.

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