Embargo Lifted on Rosewood

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I have been busy with a lot of things, such as graduating, writing papers, gathering data, writing chapters, freaking out, etc. But in the interim, somehow I found time to make a game. The game is called The House at the End of Rosewood Street, and I’m finally able to talk about it publicly. I actually finished the first version of the game in May, and finished the first release of the game in September, but I was unable to talk about it due to the fact that I had wanted to submit the game to the 19th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition. Today, the voting is over (I placed 16th out of 35), so I can finally talk about the game without any worry of violating any of the competition rules about releasing the game publicly beforehand or pandering for votes.

Rosewood is an interactive fiction game that puts you through a week in the life of a handyperson for a quirky street where a mysterious figure has just moved in at the old, abandoned manor house for which the street is named. The game was an experiment in exploring the dense notions of the uncanny, the fantastic, and the abject, which are used to evoke horror to great effect in the cinema of the Weimar period of Germany.  I’m not going to say too much about the game here, as I’ve given it its own page where you can also play the game.

The game was written in Inform 7, a natural programming language for text-based games. A long time ago, I mentioned using Inform 7 for experimenting with design, and this was the first game I completed using it. I rather like my experience with Inform 7, and I’m already planning out my next game with it. It’s really easy to make something substantial in the system. It’s also good for making random text-generators to run on my phone (I made a random tabletop adventure generator in about three hours the other day). I recommend trying it out, though people who are used to programming in a symbolic language (like C++) might have a hard time adjusting to Inform 7’s natural language style.

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.