So on Sunday I got a weird idea to make a small computer game. There are tons of free options to make a variety of computer games, and I figure since I work for a video game company, I should learn something about the process. However, I’m not a programmer nor an artist, so my options quickly got whittled down. I was about to toss out the idea as just a lark when I stumbled across Inform 7.
Now, I’m no stranger to text adventures (or as they’re known as now, “interactive fiction”), both when they originally popular and the resurgence of innovation in the medium in the 90s and early 21st century. I fell out of touch with it around the time I started seriously freelancing, so I missed the release of software that lets you program IF games in English.
PROGRAM IN ENGLISH.
I have been obsessed with this ever since. As I dig into it, it’s not nearly as magical as it first seemed — getting the software to do things like combat requires some heavy coding (or “rules creation” in Inform terms) — but there’s also an active community of people who create extensions Firefox-style that you can plug into a game. The only downside so far is that they’re usually pretty hefty (for a word game — 256k is actually a meaningful amount of space), but for what I’m doing, that’s fine for now.
After going from pointless and random noodling to wanting to making something cohesive, I decided that a wacky pulp story would work well with an unambitious text adventure, so I dusted off my old friend Agent Patriot and started working on an actual adventure. In three days, he hasn’t left his office, but I’m building a lot of the infrastructure.
I can’t entirely explain why this appeals to me so much. I’ve written a bit for EVE Online, as well as another MMO project, and I’ve learned that writing for a video game is very different from both fiction and RPG writing. Playing with Inform 7, I’m getting a lot of that same vibe that I did working on those projects. The big difference for me is that I can compile the program and see my results right away, so I can modify and stretch the story as needed based on the limitations of my software or my knowledge.
But this does lead to situations like last night, when I stayed up until past midnight trying to keep a character from continuing to clean Agent Patriot’s office after he died. I finally figured it out, only to realize that it didn’t matter — the game probably shouldn’t continue if that character died anyhow. But that work isn’t thrown out, because I learned a LOT about how to construct similar situations in future, and I’ve increased my options for later story development.
(I admit that I just cheated and got a combat plug-in. It works almost exactly how I wanted it to, so it was a LOT of work I just didn’t need to do.)
I’ve always liked writing fiction to tell a certain story, and I’ve always liked writing and running RPGs to let others tell a story as well. But somewhere in the middle there’s a range of collaboration between writer and audience that I want to explore more. This is one avenue — I have another one kicking around as well (the elusive “Whitechapel” idea I’ve mentioned) that I want to wait until we’ve moved before I pursue further. And
This does mean that my original idea of trying to get back and committing to daily wordcounts is kind of shot, but I think this is all valuable work to improve my skills as a writer overall. As technology continues to evolve, I think there’s going to be new ways to close the gap between writer and audience, and I can’t see how that kind of interaction will do anything but help me to become a better writer overall.