Friday, October 5, 2018

Links: 5 October

You may have heard that the 2018 Interactive Fiction Competition kicked off on October 1 — a total of 78 games have been submitted, and they’re looking for judges to help get through all of them. You only need to submit ratings for 5 games, and the contestants have put in a lot of work to make them worth your time.

Related to development tools, the October issue of Discoverer’s Digest is out. Articles include tutorials on Natural Language Processing and Topic Modeling. On the one hand, those are big words and some people might reflexively flinch away from them. But if you face your fears head on, you might find some tools that greatly increase your productivity.

Effective approaches are going to find constructive ways to meld art and science. On Twitter, the founder of Iron Circus Comics, C. Spike Trotman, made a series of important points for people who want to launch a creative career. Artistic fulfillment is important, but you’ll still have to face some practical realities.

And when it comes to facing reality, David Finnigan has found that bad reviews are valuable. “A good review is froth on the daydream,” he writes. “It’s a good buzz for a couple of hours but it doesn’t amount to much in the real world. And a bad review can’t stop you – and if it can’t stop you, it can’t hurt you.”

This post was updated to remove an inaccurate characterization. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Public or Private Development?

As a connoisseur of internet outrage, I was riveted by the momentary disturbance around Jack Conte and the discussion of his band’s 2014 tour profits. The initial surge of support, from people who felt sympathy for struggling artists, was followed by a barrage of criticism; some people thought it was a sneaky marketing ploy to hype his company, Patreon. Putting aside the drama of whether Conte can describe himself as a struggling musician, Patreon itself is an interesting look at the changing dynamics of building an audience.

Artistic pursuits — whether they involve playing in a band, writing a story, or creating a work of Interactive Fiction — are more fulfilling when they are done for an audience. At start of an ambitious project, it’s always worth asking “does anybody else want me to do this?” And in an ideal world, people who want you to do it will also pay you for it. (In a cartoon world created by Matt Groening, people sing about how you’ve got to do what you love even if it’s not a good idea.)

Crowdfunding has been a useful way to gauge audience support. Creators — when they know what they’re doing and haven’t set out to scam people — can raise money and use it to bring their ideas into the world. Crowdfunding has also seen its share of public embarrassments. Takedown: Red Sabre was funded through Kickstarter and later panned as “unfinished and broken, with playability problems everywhere you look.”

Conte’s platform offers an option that lies between collecting the money up front and hoping that people will pay you for your work at the end. It’s a way for creators to collaborate with their audiences, and when it works well, it allows them to spend more time on the parts that resonate with their fans. Ongoing feedback helps them recognize whether artistic changes are taking their work in the right direction.

The dark side of Patreon is its potential for scope creep. Developers can promise too much, forcing them to make some difficult choices. They might have to do more things in less detail to deliver all the promised features, or they may need to cut back on their original design to deliver higher quality work. These choices become more difficult when they’re made in front of an audience that has become financially and emotionally invested in the outcome.

This leaves aspiring creators with the choice to develop their work in public, in private, or something in between. Each approach has seen high-profile failures, and each one has seen unconventional successes that would not otherwise have been possible. It keeps things interesting.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Interactive Fiction: Pushing Loyal People

It's a game!

And it's a game that you can actually win, but some people don't seem to have what it takes.

Maybe it's their loss? It might also be poor design choices.