Conducting Experiments Using Inform 7

Whenever I come up with a theory about games, it’s usually my prerogative to want to try the idea out.  This helps me to get a better grasp on the subject at hand, and from there, I can better talk about the ins and outs of the theory.  I think that being able to talk about an abstract topic is fine, but it’s even better when you can point to an application of the idea.

This is from the game designer part of me.  Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different approaches to create these experiments.  I’ve tried various programming languages (Visual Basic, C++, C#. etc. I started with QBasic), as well as game designer toolkits (RPG Maker, RPG Toolkit, Adventure Game Studio, etc. Here I started with Adventure Construction Kit, which doesn’t exist anymore).  In trying to make my experiments, I always found myself running into walls, either a lack of skill (in art or coding) or a lack of flexibility (I tended to break toolkits).

Up until recently, I had been dead set on making a graphical game experiment, ignoring the fact that I knew the daunting task of producing art for it was going to eventually defeat me.  Lately, I’ve been considering this constraint to be superfluous.  The kinds of experiments that I am interested in don’t require any pictures.  If I want to try out something relating to player interaction, I don’t need flashy buttons and high-poly models running all over the place.  If I want to work out an idea about narrative and gameplay, all I need are the narrative and gameplay in question.

Without this constraint, I can consider a whole new medium through which I can make my experiments: interactive fiction (IF).  Now, I’m not going to make a big case for IF here (For this I might recommend Twisty Little Passages by Nick Montfort).  I will say that IF is ideal for trying out experimental gameplay because it removes all the bells and whistles from the game and boils it down to just the interaction between game and player.  This is great for me, as my areas of research deal with this interaction, but this might not be someone interested in the use of physics in games or similar concepts that rely on the visual or spatial qualities of modern games.  Additionally, IF has the benefit of Inform 7.

Inform 7 is a programming language very different than most others.  It has a (mostly) natural language style which makes it easier to read and create a game.  What I mean by this is that I could write “The kitchen is a room.”  Inform 7 reads, understands this and makes a room called “The kitchen.”  This may sound simple, but being able to create a game using natural sentences can be very helpful to the whole process.  Writing a game in Inform 7 a bit like writing a story.  It becomes easier to formulate what to do next or what to add because the game is easy to read and is written in a way that is easier to understand.

This week, I was going to write up something on Ian Bogost’s Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism, but this week I was overtaken by an interest in learning Inform 7.  Thus, I never got around to actually reading the book (well, rereading, if you count listening to the book on text-to-speech while working).  Next week, I’m going to try to get around to doing that and blogging about it.

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