Saucers of Mud

April 14, 2010

Ten Very Short Interactive Fictions

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 10:38 am

You see here a red wheel barrow.
> x it
So much depends on it.
***You have won***

So there’s a competition for interactive fiction that could fit on Twitter — the source code has to be 140 characters or less (not counting tab stops and carriage returns). [Or, come to think of it, spaces — but I thought spaces did count, so I wrote these games accordingly. Well, my entries will just be a little more hardcore than everyone else’s.] I went perhaps a little overboard and wrote ten of ’em, eight in a linked series.

(That story isn’t strictly true — the first game was written before the comp and helped inspire it. See here; spoilers.)

Here are the games. The first link is to play online using Parchment, the awesome Java-based interactive fiction interpreter. The second lets you download the games and play them using an IF interpreter (they’re z-code), though I don’t know why you’d want to play them offline if you don’t have to. The third link is to the source code as .txt files, which obviously contain massive spoilers, though most of the games should be pretty easy to play anyway. If you want to recompile this in the the Inform 7 development environment, you probably have to fix the tab stops.

There’s no room for in-game credits, but thanks to Jack Welch for inspiration (and for at least one character-saving trick), and to Graham Nelson, Emily Short, and the Inform 7 team for the language. Quite a bit of most of these games consists of the default responses they’ve programmed in. Also to Rob Noyes for inspiration for one of these games.

Eight of these games form a linked series, and one has a hidden bonus ending. Currently I’ve submitted Sin 4, 5, and 6 as my three competition entries. It may be safe to say that I have now simultaneously published more games than any other first-time IF author.

Untitled (War)*: play online; download; source
Sin 1: play online; download; source
Sin 2: play online; download; source
Sin 3: play online; download; source
Sin 4: play online; download; source
Sin 5: play online; download; source
Sin 6: play online download; source
Sin 7: play online; download; source
Sin 8: play online; download; source
PUTPBAT: play online; download; source (this is entirely an interactive-fiction in-joke; if you can’t tell what it is from the title you probably don’t want to play it)

*It’s usually a pet peeve of mine when artists call a work something like “Untitled (as the llama made its way to the peak, we reflected on the fragility of life).” I feel that if a work doesn’t have a title, it shouldn’t have a subtitle either. However, in this case, I have an excuse: I couldn’t include a title in the game itself, because it would’ve put the source code over the 140-character limit.

The Ruins in Working Order

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 8:55 am

Here’s a talk Anna Anthropy gave on the design of a level in her awesome Flash game REDDER. Anna thinks a lot about level design, and it shows in this game; it teaches you to play it, so by the time you get to the most complicated areas you’ll be able to pull off some moves you hadn’t before. (And does it without railroading you, as Anthropy explains in the talk.) But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Anthropy talks about how in this room she starts with a symmetrical design and then tweaks it. One of the tweaks is that a pipe at the top has broken, so you can climb on the fallen bit of pipe and then jump up to the space above it. Which means that if the building weren’t broken the game would be. The pipe has to be broken for you to reach the top, and it has to be broken exactly so that you can just jump to the top by standing on the pipe. Which reminded me of this passage from Gravity’s Rainbow:

There doesn’t exactly dawn, no but there breaks, as that light you’re afraid will break some night at too deep an hour to explain away–there floods on Enzian what seems to him an extraordinary understanding. This serpentine slag-heap he is just bout to ride into now, this ex-refinery, Jamf Ölfabriken Werke AG, is not a ruin at all. It is in perfect working order. Only wainting for the right connections to be set up, to be switched on . . . modified, precisely, deliberately by bombing that was never hostile, but part of a plan both sides–“sides?“–had always agreed on . . .

Which is a common theme in games. Try Cave Story or Small Worlds or, well, anything else; you’ll find yourself in places that have broken in just exactly the way that lets you navigate through them (and not through the parts you’re not supposed to reach yet). The same is true in fiction — what’s a coincidence in the world isn’t a coincidence for the author, as the thing that moves the plot along must appear just when it’s needed, even there’s no in-world reason that the hole in the wall would open up just within the heroes’ reach, or (to pick an artier example) the tire would blow out just so that the car crashes into the traffic island.

Which makes me think of an idea — we begin with someone trapped somewhere, with no escape. You play a spirit that travels through time, possessing people, nudging them to drop things and smash them just in the right way that in the future that person will find what they need to escape.

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