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Interactive fiction

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With the advent of starting my studio Space Between Studios and using the term "non-fiction games," I need to explain my goals for non-fiction in interactive media.

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infrom7.pngInform 7 is being described as a design system for interactive fiction based on natural language. Shockingly, it does exactly what it says on the tin (and quite a bit more), while simultaneously being a truly powerful tool for creating intricate pieces of interactive fiction on most platforms you'd care to mention.

Inform 7 runs on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and most probably anything with a keyboard. It has after all been the tool of choice for countless text adventure creators (including the brilliant Emily Short) and more than a few educators. Oh, and it's absolutely free to use too.

Impressively, Inform 7 is much more than a stable and easy to use platform to recreate Zork and come up with something to impress your friends with. It's a tool with an excellent interface, one of the most intuitive scripting languages I've ever encountered and enough power to handle everything from physics and advanced AI to rich parsers and maps. Anything text based is possible, even if -and that's a worst case scenario- you have to download one of the myriad extensions already available.

Adding maps, verbs, characters and even pictures or sound-effects is also pretty straightforward, as is going for a multiple choice or point-and-click interface. Besides, even if you do get stuck on technical matters, the amazing community is always there to help.

Now, to give you an example of just how elegantly sensible Inform 7 really is... Let's suppose you wanted to create a room called Gallows that happened to lie just north of a Nursery School. This is what you'd have to type-in:

Gallows is a room.

Nursery School is a room.

Gallows is north of Nursery School.

Simple, isn't it? And please do trust me when I say writing such descriptions is an incredibly enjoyable, creative and at times addictive process. Inform was, after all, designed by a poet/mathematician with writers in mind. People who want to tell interactive stories. Or, well, come up with ridiculously tough puzzles that would put the Babel Fish one to shame.

Mind you, some of the more complex stuff Inform 7 can handle can be quite tricky to employ, and actually finishing a full-blown game will definitely take time. That's why I can't help but recommend (especially for people that haven't authored or scripted i-f before) the excellent Creating Interactive Fiction With Inform 7 book. It will not only help you with the technical side of things, but actually provide sound game design advice.

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This week on "Best Of Indie Games," we take a look at some of the top independent PC Flash/downloadable titles released over this last week.

The delights in this edition include a 2D psychological horror game partly inspired by Konami's Silent Hill series, an iOS game featuring rotting tangerines and pixelated baddies, a rather epic sax game, plus a mesmerizing 2D platformer from Snapshot co-creator Kyle Pulver.

Here's some recent highlights from

Game Pick: 'Lone Survivor' (Jasper Byrne, commercial indie)
"Jasper Byrne's 2D psychological horror game is probably what every Silent Hill title after the first two dreams to be. It's a skin-crawling, paranoia-inducing romp through a world ravaged by disease and madness and quite possibly my favorite horror game eve."

Game Pick: 'Rotten Tangerines' (Skipmore, commercial indie)
"Rotten Tangerines challenges players to remove tangerines from the screen by tapping them as they show signs of rotting. Though all tangerines will rot on their own eventually, a swarm of pixelated baddies invade the playfield to make your task even more difficult."

Game Pick: 'Epic Sax Game' (Pippin Barr, browser)
"In Epic Sax Game, players attempt to replicate Epic Sax Guy's solo using six keyboard keys. After practicing, you can record a studio version and join a jam session before attempting the toughest challenge of all: a ten-hour YouTube video, performed live."

Game Pick: 'The eXceed Collection' (Nyu Media, commercial indie)
"The eXceed Collection includes Tennen-sozai's bullet-hell doujin shooters eXceed: Gun Bullet Children, eXceed 2nd: Vampire REX, and eXceed 3rd: Jade Penetrate Black Package, all of which should prove quite challenging."

Game Pick: 'Offspring Fling' (Kyle Pulver, commercial indie)
"For all those frustrated parents or on-lookers of horribly misbehaved kids, Kyle Pulver has come to the rescue with his mesmerizing 2D puzzle platformer, Offspring Fling."

Game Pick: 'Raptus' (Alan Zucconi, browser)
"Raptus is a sad and beautiful work of interactive fiction. To say too much would ruin the experience but to quote the author, the game 'explores the concepts of Love and Death'."

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[Keith Burgun, founder and designer at 100 Rogues developer Dinofarm Games,& nbsp;argues that some video games are not "games" at all -- and posits a way to home in on the precise elements that make games engaging to players.] In the beginning, Tetris had a much looser system for random piece (Tetronimo) generation. This meant that when you were playing, you could not be sure of how long it would be until your next line ...

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Games are interactive by their very nature, that's practically their definition. Until they end that is

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The release of two very different games in the last month, Asura's Wrath and Dear Esther, has sparked up one of gaming's evergreen topics: what is and what isn't a game? More than just a question of semantics, it's a pernicious and pervasive poser that can lead to all kinds of nastiness.

Take as an example the recent furore centred on Jennifer Hepler, a Bioware employee who made a remark in 2006 to the effect that games should cater to players who want to skip action sequences. Pretty reasonable, right? After all, L.A. Noire did it last year - letting players skip action sections they'd failed three times.

Hepler's comment was dug up and posted on reddit a few weeks ago, under the title 'This women [sic] is the cancer killing Bioware' and all sorts of horror followed - I'm not going to rake over the coals of that, but Kotaku's report is interesting both for the content and comments. Hepler's mistake was twofold: being a woman, and being right.

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First time accepted submitter null action writes "Want to have your code run on a satellite in space? Take a look at this. MIT Space Systems Laboratory and TopCoder are hosting a DARPA competition to create the best algorithm for capturing a randomly tumbling space object. Contestants in the Zero Robotics Autonomous Space Capture Challenge will compete in online simulations, and four finalists will have their algorithms tested aboard the International Space Station on small satellites called SPHERES. 'In this challenge, you have no advance knowledge of how it will be rotating. We're pushing the limits of what we can do with SPHERES and we hope to break new ground with this challenge,' said Jake Katz of MIT."

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Click here to read How Some of the Best Adventure Games Ever Made...Were Made

If you've ever played an old adventure game from Sierra - so King' Quest, Police Quest, Space Quest, Quest for Glory, etc - you need to see this old documentary showing how some of those titles were made. More »

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A new type of text adventure is now available on the App Store and Android Market. In this post I talk about how "The Things That Go Bump In The Night" was developed, with a new user interface specifically designed for smartphones.

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