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Jul 21

2017

Length and Coding Efficiency

Posted by: Adam Strong-Morse | Comments (0)

As part of our support for the Choice of Games Contest for Interactive Novels, we will be posting an irregular series of blog posts discussing important design and writing criteria for games. We hope that these can both provide guidance for people participating in the Contest and also help people understand how we think about questions of game design and some best practices. These don’t modify the evaluation criteria for the Contest, and (except as noted) participants are not required to conform to our recommendations–but it’s probably a good idea to listen when judges tell you what they’re looking for.

If these topics interest you, be sure to sign up for our contest mailing list below! We’ll post more of our thoughts on game design leading up to the contest deadline on January 31, 2018.

One of the most consistent patterns we’ve noticed in how players receive our games is that players prefer longer games. Because of that preference, 5% of the score in the contest is based on length and coding efficiency. In today’s blog post, I’m going to discuss what we mean when we talk about length and how coding efficiency fits in to the same category.

At Choice of Games, we use two measures of a game’s length. The first measure is very straightforward—total word count. Take all of the scene files, run a word count tool, and you get a measure of the total length of the code that the author wrote. For these purposes, we don’t distinguish between pure code (e.g. *choice, *if, etc.) and the text that is displayed to the player. Total word count is a useful tool, but it’s also limited. It can’t distinguish between a mostly linear game, where every player will see most of the words in the game on every playthrough, and really bushy games where every playthrough is very different. For that, we use average playthrough length: how many words does a player read on average on a single playthrough of the game. Our standard method for measuring average playthrough length is to run about 100 randomtest playthroughs set to verbose mode—so randomtest prints out everything a player would see—and then divide the total word count of the 100 runs by 100 to produce an average.

We have a clear minimum for length based on both total word count and average playthrough length that we aim for: we aim to have all of our games have a total word count of at least 100,000 words and an average playthrough length of at least 20,000 words. That’s also the minimum length for the contest. We also find that, in terms of reader reception, the longer the better—that’s why there isn’t an upper limit or even guideline. To put those into context, in traditional fiction, a 20,000 word piece is a long short story or a novella, and 100,000 words is a reasonable length for a novel. In other words, we’re looking for works that have total word counts comparable to novels and average playthroughs similar in length to a novella.

We also look at the ratio of the average playthrough length to the total word count. Here, the sweet spot is about a ratio of 0.2 to 0.4. A ratio of 0.2 would be, for example, a 100,000 word total length game with an average playthrough of 20,000 words. If the ratio is much lower than that—for example, an average playthrough of 20,000 words for a game with a total word count of 200,000—that usually indicates that the author is spending lots of time and energy on content that only a fraction of the readers will ever see. That typically produces a game that feels very bushy, but that feels short despite representing a very large investment of the author’s time and energy. Conversely, a game with a very high ratio of average playthrough length to total word count (for example, a game with a 60,000 word average playthrough length and 100,000 total word count, a ratio of 0.6) generally is a game where player choice doesn’t affect much. Most games feel exactly the same, because a majority of each game is exactly the same regardless of player choices. That’s deadly in interactive fiction. As a result, we want to see a ratio that’s in between, that indicates that player choices matter but also that the author isn’t reinventing the wheel for every possible outcome, writing an epic novel that feels like a short story.

These length standards can’t be applied purely mechanically. Some games are written in a way where the average playthrough length given random choices is much longer than the average playthrough length a human player actually encounters. “Traps” or loops that a randomtest playthrough gets caught in that an actual human player would avoid can cause misleading average playthrough length numbers that require some adjustment. The most notable examples are games that include “are you sure?” choices, which we generally discourage as a matter of style anyway, or puzzles. For some games, we have to make an adjustment in the functional average playthrough length to take that sort of thing into account. Total word count isn’t affected by coding like that, but coding efficiency makes a big difference to total word count.

The core point of coding efficiency is that two different blocks of code can have radically different lengths, but produce the same results. For example, let’s imagine that we have a variable that records whether a character uses male pronouns (“he” etc.), female pronouns (“she” etc.), or neuter/enby pronouns (“they” etc.). The game then includes a 500 word paragraph that uses the character’s pronoun twice. One author codes this as:

*if (pronoun=”he”)
    Blah blah he blah. He blah blah blah…
    *goto NextBit
*elseif (pronoun=”she”)
    Blah blah she blah. She blah blah blah…
    *goto NextBit
*else
    Blah blah they blah. They blah blah blah…
    *goto NextBit

A different, more capable author codes this using the ${variable} syntax:

Blah blah ${he} blah. $!{He} blah blah blah…

These produce exactly the same results from the perspective of a player, yet the first example is 1500 words or so in length, whereas the second example is 500 words in length. The second version results in a much lower total word count but is in every practical way superior: it’s easier to read and understand, it’s less prone to error, and it allows edits to be used in each context without requiring making the same change multiple times in different places. The difference is all about coding efficiency.

Likewise, sometimes filling in a variable isn’t sufficient—but if a *if is limited to a single sentence, the rest of the paragraph doesn’t need to be copied. Compare this version of code:

*if Injured_leg
    You hurry across the plaza. Each step sends a
    shooting pain up from your knee, but you wince
    and force yourself to keep moving. You know that
    you to find and defuse the bomb soon, before the
    afternoon rush fills the area with innocent
    civilians.
    *goto FindtheBomb
*else
    You hurry across the plaza. You know that you
    need to find and defuse the bomb soon, before the
    afternoon rush fills the area with innocent
    civilians.
    *goto FindtheBomb

with this version:

You hurry across the plaza.
*if Injured_leg
    Each step sends a shooting pain up from your
    knee, but you wince and force yourself to keep
    moving.
You know that you need to find and defuse the bomb
soon, before the afternoon rush fills the area with
innocent civilians.
*goto FindtheBomb

Both versions produce the same output, but the second version is much more efficient. In general, any time you find yourself copying a large block of text and repeating it unchanged or only lightly changed, you should ask yourself whether there’s a better way.

Many other examples of coding efficiency also exist beyond filling in variables. It’s common to have text that should appear the first time the protagonist meets a character. By putting that in a *gosub structure, the text can appear once in the code for the game, but be used appropriately from multiple different possible points. The code for that might look like this:

You enter the room and see a woman in a severe
black suit near the bar.
*if (met_angela = false)
    *gosub MeetAngela
Angela approaches you and blah blah blah.
…
As you enter the subway car, Angela Northrop catches
your eye.
*if (met_angela = false)
    *gosub MeetAngela
Angela holds out a thumb drive. “You’ll want to look
through this.”
…
*label MeetAngela
*set met_angela true
You recognize Angela Northrop from the photos in the
case file you studied, but this is the first time
you’ve actually seen her in person. The file that she
is 5’6”, but she looks taller in person—something
about her posture, or perhaps it’s more about her
facial expression. Blah blah blah…
*return

By putting the reused text in a *gosub, we reduce the number of errors, allow for faster editing, and make the ChoiceScript code easier to read and understand. In some cases, we can even use the *gosub_scene command to reuse code or text that can show up in multiple different scenes—something that’s particularly useful when there are events that can trigger in multiple scenes such as needing medical care for injuries, or finding out about a big reveal, or meeting a character who can be introduced at multiple different times.

Even efficiency has its limits. Sometimes the effort to create efficient code creates incomprehensible code and introduces errors. If efforts to make your code more efficient start making it hard to read or make you wonder what you’re trying to do, you may want to consider using a little judicious cut-and-paste instead. Nonetheless, within reason, efficient code is faster to write, faster to debug and edit, and generally smoother. As a result, when we consider the total word count of a game, we’ll adjust our evaluation based on efficiency. A really efficient 100,000 word game may contain more actual content than a really inefficient 125,000 word game, and the actual content contained is our main focus.

Jul 14

2017

New Hosted Game! My Day off Work by Andrew J. Schaefer

Posted by: Rachel E. Towers | Comments (0)

Hosted Games has a new game for you to play!

Your alarm goes off and you have a momentous decision to make – get up, or stay in bed? It’s your first big choice but far from your last.

My Day off Work is a 240,000 word interactive fantasy novel by Andrew J. Schaefer, where your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based—without graphics or sound effects—and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

You’ll have 24 hours to explore your world and the myriad treasures within it. Every decision opens new doors and closes others; every choice you make takes you to a new fork in the path. You might meet new friends, explore hidden rooms, or discover secret treasures. You could find yourself fighting a relentless killing machine, joyriding in a luxury sports car, or relaxing in a sleek lounge with the city’s movers and shakers while soothing the baby you’ve just agreed to watch.

No two games are any more similar than you want them to be. Compelling plotlines and funny asides keep things relentlessly entertaining. You might even learn a few things, but only if you want to.

It’s all your choice. Is that a light at the end of the tunnel? And is it the sun? Or an oncoming train?

• Enjoy your surprise day off work.
• Tackle tough choices like whether to get dressed, what to eat, and when to leave the house.
• Explore the myriad paths a bustling city has to offer.
• Look for hidden options, secret choices, and unexpected twists.
• Experience a different story every time, from tragic to provocative to hilarious.

Andrew J. Schaefer developed this game using ChoiceScript, a simple programming language for writing multiple-choice interactive novels like these. Writing games with ChoiceScript is easy and fun, even for authors with no programming experience. Write your own game and Hosted Games will publish it for you, giving you a share of the revenue your game produces.

Jun 22

2017

Avatar Of The Wolf — Hunt down the killer who murdered the Wolf god!

Posted by: Rachel E. Towers | Comments (0)

We’re proud to announce that Avatar Of The Wolf, the latest in our popular “Choice of Games” line of multiple-choice interactive-fiction games, is now available for Steam, iOS, and Android. It’s 25% off until Jun 28th!

Hunt down the killer who murdered the Wolf god! As Wolf’s last avatar before his assassination, will you revive your god, take revenge on his killer, or destroy the pantheon and bring about a new order?

Avatar of the Wolf is a 135,000-word interactive fantasy novel by Bendi Barrett. It’s entirely text-based, without graphics or sound effects, and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

In a savage land where the gods manipulate mortals like pawns on a chess board, Wolf’s divine power controlled you and protected you. But since Wolf’s death, the eyes of Hawk, Spider, Bear, Gazelle, and Eel are upon you. The embers of Wolf’s power still burn within you; your remnants of divinity threaten to topple the pantheon.

Forsake the gods and join the Rising Sun, a heretical sect that defies divine rule. Embrace the anarchic, self-serving ethos of Spider and her seductive avatar. Obey Wolf’s feral impulses and slaughter your enemies as head of the last Wolf enclave, or forge a lasting peace without spilling a drop of blood.

The gods are fading. Will you hasten their demise or harness their divine power?

• Play as male, female, or agender, straight, gay, bi, or asexual.
• Discover the secret behind the disappearance of Wolf, your patron god
• Take up the mantle of your savage missing god, or strike out on your own path
• Receive the blessings of the Spider, Bear, and Eel gods… by force, if necessary
• Ally with the followers of Wolf or join up with the god-hating Rising Sun
• Convince the head of the Wolf enclave to recognize your superior power or lead alongside them
• Choose to survive peaceably in this brutal world, without taking a single life
• Impress the pantheon of animal gods, reject their rule, or usurp them altogether

We hope you enjoy playing Avatar Of The Wolf. We encourage you to tell your friends about it, and recommend the game on StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. Don’t forget: our initial download rate determines our ranking on the App Store. The more times you download in the first week, the better our games will rank.

Jun 13

2017

Author Interview: Bendi Barrett, “Avatar of the Wolf”

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

Choice of Games’ latest release will be Avatar of the Wolf by Bendi Barrett. In a savage land where the gods manipulate mortals like pawns on a chess board, Wolf’s divine power controlled you and protected you. But since Wolf’s death, the eyes of Hawk, Spider, Bear, Gazelle, and Eel are upon you. The embers of Wolf’s power still burn within you; your remnants of divinity threaten to topple the pantheon.. Look for Avatar of the Wolf later this month, releasing on Thursday, June 22nd.

Tell me about what influenced your world creation for Avatar. What kind of a world is this set in?

The world of Avatar of the Wolf is a mishmash of mythologies pulled from Indigenous American to Afro-Caribbean to Greek cultures. I wanted to create a world where the gods had a very direct presence, and some of their human charges had different ideas about what that meant. The setting itself is a hardscrabble place with very basic technologies of agriculture and war making, where someone with a sword is as likely to kill you as a stray spirit. Nearly everyone in this world is struggling in some way, which I think makes the choices that the player has to make a bit more stark.

What sort of a story were you interested in telling in Avatar? What, if any, personal significance does this tale have for you?

In Avatar, I wanted to tell a story about faith and what it means to be faithful to something: a god, an ideal, a way of life. At the beginning of the game the player experiences this separation from the divine presence that has so far ruled their life and a large portion of the game is about contending with that loss or depending on how you see it—that sense of freedom.

When I was a kid, a counselor came to talk to my class. She told us that we could do anything we wanted, as long as we were willing to accept the consequences. That was mindblowing to me as a kid, and I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that statement all these years later. In some ways, this game is an expression of that idea: Do what you want—find peace, crack skulls, torch villages—but be ready to accept the consequences.

I particularly liked the pantheon of gods as characters in this game. Do you have a favorite character you enjoyed writing most?

I had a lot of fun writing the interplay between the gods. From the very beginning one of my mandates about the gods in the game was that I wanted them to be defined more by their approaches to problem-solving than by any particular sense of ethics or morality. I don’t know how good of a job I did with that, but it certainly helped create these lively characters to put into opposition (and sometimes collaboration) with each other.

Spider and her avatar were particularly fun to write. Spider is a crafty, self-interested goddess and her avatar—Aran or Ara—is a chaos-loving libertine who drops in to stir the pot every once in a while. It was a real pleasure writing dialogue for Ara/n. In some ways, they are the game’s Freudian id, suggesting that the player give in to bad behavior and upend the whole world just to see what will happen. It’s the furthest thing from the way I live, or even play games (I’m a habitual goody two-shoes) so it was kind of cool to be a bit rebellious with Ara/n and Spider.

What did you find challenging about the process of writing in ChoiceScript/our game design?

I think the most challenging part of the process was just doing it. The process and the design requirements of the Choice of Games model can be rigorous, but I think as I progressed I understood more and more why CoG games are made the way they are. It helped that pretty much every interaction I had with Jason (my infinitely patient editor) was pleasant and helpful. There were many, many times that I grumbled about an aspect of the CoG game design philosophy before later realizing that it was helping me create a much tighter, better game. I guess the challenge now that I’m thinking about it was trusting the process, maybe I am really a rebel at heart.

Are you a fan of interactive fiction in general? Any favorites you’d like to share? Which of our games do you enjoy, if any?

I’ve loved interactive fiction since reading those Choose Your Own Adventure novels as kid. I remember being really disappointed one summer when all the cool ones were checked out so I just kept reading the same two over and over.

When I first played Choice of the Vampire it was one of the coolest things I’d ever read. It was complex and well-realized and probably more than any other piece of interactive fiction, it made me think, “Yeah. Ok. I want to make stuff like this.”

I also loved Choice of the Deathless—though I had to stop playing it, because I discovered it right around the time I started my own game and didn’t want to accidentally crib any ideas from it.

I like a lot of Twine stuff, too, which can be so different and experimental. Even Cowgirls Bleed by Christine Love comes to mind and merritt kopas’s Conversations With My Mother. Those kinds of games led me to making weird little experiments myself like a black screen with the sound of crickets playing and the words: “Am I even here?” slowly blinking across the screen. That sounds crazy, I know, but its just another way of experimenting with narrative and different ways to convey meaning and get your point across. I like to think that those experiments help make me a better writer, though I’m sure that’s debatable.

What else are you working on right now?

Avatar of the Wolf has been the bulk of my writing life for some time, but I’m starting to work on a few new projects. A mentor of mine has been trying to get me to write a book for a few years now, which I’m just starting to think about seriously. And there’s always more Choice of Games if you’ll have me.

Short answer, Bernard Pivot-style Questionnaire:

Favorite color? Green.

Favorite word? Mezzanine.

What profession other than your own would like you like to attempt? Parkour runner.

Which would you not want to attempt? Rollercoaster mechanic.

Spring, summer, fall, or winter? Early summer, with a serious caveat against bugs.

Jun 01

2017

Demon Mark: A Russian Saga — Battle dragons, witches, and an undead army!

Posted by: Rachel E. Towers | Comments (0)

We’re proud to announce that Demon Mark: A Russian Saga, the latest in our popular “Choice of Games” line of multiple-choice interactive-fiction games, is now available for Steam, iOS, and Android. It’s 16% off until June 7th!

Call upon the power of your cursed Demon Mark to battle dragons, witches, and an undead army! Beware: each time you use it, the Mark grows stronger.

Demon Mark: A Russian Saga is a 200,000-word interactive fantasy novel by Vlad Barash and Lorraine Fryer, steeped in Russian folklore. It’s entirely text-based, without graphics or sound effects, and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

Once upon a time, in the land of Rus, you lived a simple life as the firstborn child of peasant farmers. But when the evil demon Uhin places the Demon Mark upon you and kidnaps your parents’ second child, you’ll set out on an epic adventure to reunite your family.

On your journey through Russian folklore, you’ll confront the treacherous witch Baba Yaga, the seven-headed dragon Zmey Gorynych, the mythic giant Svyatogor, and the villainous Koschei the Deathless with his army of corpses.

Team up with the bogatyrs, the heroes of Russian folk tales: strong Ilya Muromets, pious Alyosha Popovich, and wise Marya Morevna. You and your talking animal companion will journey all the way to the Tsar and Tsaritsa’s court in Kiev for assistance on your quest. Will the bards of Kiev sing the tale of your heroic victory, or your tragic sacrifice?

The Demon Mark is whispering to you. Do you hear it? Should you listen when it calls your name?

• Play as male, female, or non-binary
• Meet the monsters and marvels of Russian folk tales, from Kiev to Koschei’s Fortress.
• Convince the Tsar and Tsaritsa to help you hunt down the demon who marked you
• Court the Grey Wolf, a mysterious creature who can assist you on your journey
• Defeat the seven-headed dragon Zmey Gorynych
• Listen to the stories of Svyatogor…and stay awake!
• Complete Baba Yaga’s impossible tasks
• Escape the dungeons of Koschei the Deathless
• Battle the demon Uhin and reunite your family
• Embrace the power of the Demon Mark and become a demon yourself

We hope you enjoy playing Demon Mark: A Russian Saga. We encourage you to tell your friends about it, and recommend the game on StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. Don’t forget: our initial download rate determines our ranking on the App Store. The more times you download in the first week, the better our games will rank.

Jun 01

2017

New Hosted Game! Treasure of the Forgotten City by Danny McAleese and David Kristoph

Posted by: Rachel E. Towers | Comments (0)

Hosted Games has a new game for you to play!

Three priceless star jewels. A century-old, cryptic journal. Using only the resources left by your grand-uncle, it’s up to you to find Atraharsis—the legendary lost city beneath the sands. But the way won’t be easy. Raging sandstorms, sinister traps, and a whole host of mysteries stand between you and your Ultimate goal.

Treasure of the Forgotten City is a 40,000 word interactive fantasy novel by Danny McAleese and David Kristoph, where your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based—without graphics or sound effects—and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

Can you solve the riddles and recover the fabled star gems in time? Or will you, like so many who’ve gone before, become the next permanent resident of the forgotten city?

• Filled with clever riddles and challenging puzzles.
• Hours of story-forging, problem-solving enjoyment.
• 49 possible achievements to unlock.
• Find clues, tips, and items that can help you in your quest.
• 26 unique conclusions based on your decisions.
• One ULTIMATE ENDING!

Danny McAleese and David Kristoph developed this game using ChoiceScript, a simple programming language for writing multiple-choice interactive novels like these. Writing games with ChoiceScript is easy and fun, even for authors with no programming experience. Write your own game and Hosted Games will publish it for you, giving you a share of the revenue your game produces.

May 30

2017

Author Interview: Vlad Barash & Lorraine Fryer, “Demon Mark: A Russian Saga”

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (1)

Choice of Games’ latest release will be Demon Mark: A Russian Saga by Vlad Barash and Lorraine Fryer. Once upon a time, in the land of Rus, you lived a simple life as the firstborn child of peasant farmers. But when the evil demon Uhin places the Demon Mark upon you and kidnaps your parents’ second child, you’ll set out on an epic adventure to reunite your family. On your journey through Russian folklore, you’ll confront the treacherous witch Baba Yaga, the seven-headed dragon Zmey Gorynych, the mythic giant Svyatogor, and the villainous Koschei the Deathless with his army of corpses. Look for Demon Mark: A Russian Saga later this week, releasing on Thursday, June 1st.

Demon Mark is really a wonderful introduction to Russian folklore, and we have some amazing characters in it. Tell me a little about your background and how these fairy-tales figured in your upbringing.

Vlad: I was born in Russia and grew up with Russian fairy tales as a child; one Saturday, my mom had to go work, so she left me at home with some food and a book of Russian stories. She came back to find that I had not eaten any of the food, but I read the entire book, and clambered up the bookshelves (I was, like, five) to get more books down and read them as well! Needless to say, she was very alarmed, but I survived that adventure and my love of fairy tales has only increased since then.

When I came to the US in 1993, I kept reading and learning about Russian culture. It was very important to my mom, a teacher of Russian language and literature, that I not assimilate into America culture completely, and that I retain my roots. At this point, I started reading big novels, but I never forgot the charming, fascinating stories of my childhood. I think they have inspired a lot of my writing as an adult — for example, I have written a novel draft about kids playing an online game based on Russian fairy tales.

Lorraine: I have always loved fairy tales of all kinds. While of course I grew up watching Disney movies as they came out — the Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, etc. — I also obsessively hunted down different versions of fairy tales at my local library and would read them over and over and over. On my bookshelves right now I have stories from at least a dozen different countries, several of them told in multiple ways. Included in that is a book of Russian fairy tales that was my dad’s before me. As I grew up, I moved into reading fantasy, but I have always been fond of the simplicity and the staying power that fairy tales hold for us.

Tell me a little more about the world we’re in in Demon Mark. Not being overly familiar with Russian stories, how much have you kept true to the tales, and what did you innovate and imagine here?

Lorraine: We included a number of canonical fairy tale creatures, for instance: Baba Yaga, Koschei the Deathless, the various bogatyrs from the court, all of whom have their own stories in the Russian fairy tale canon. However, it was also important to us that we contribute something new, and not just retread old tropes of fairy tale stories. Some of the parts I am proudest of are we places where we took the traditional hero’s journey and twisted it into a new interaction with familiar characters; the time the main character spends in Kiev, the long journey through Russia after they meet Svyatogor, and the time the main character spends beneath the Earth with the Lady of the Mountain all stand out to me.

Vlad: As above! And also, I am very glad we incorporated some of the non-Kievan-Rus tales and cultures into our game. The game’s villain, Uhin, comes from “Arzha Borzhi-Khan and the Heavenly Lady Uhin,” a folk tale of the Buryat people who live in the southeast of Russia near Lake Baikal. It was important to us to not have the non-Kievan stories (which are also the stories of the non-white people living in Russia) to not just involve the game’s villain. We give the player a choice about where the main character comes from, and incorporate the cultures of the various regions of Russia, from the Chukchi in the Far East to the Saami in the West, into their background. These cultural elements come into play throughout the game, and give characters from different backgrounds unique abilities and advantages in certain situations.

As a writing team, how did you divide up the work? Do you prefer writing with a partner?

Vlad: Our division of labor really evolved over the course of the two and a half years we’ve been working on this project. Initially, Lorraine volunteered to help with editing while I wrote. She quickly got more into the process, and we eventually decided to split up the work evenly. As we got to the meat of the story, we did a lot of co-writing — we would put the text up on our TV and edit it together. Towards the end of the process, we split up the sections that needed filling in / editing and worked on them independently. And yes, I really preferred to write with a partner! It seemed like every time I ran out of energy for this project, Lorraine was there to step in and push it forward until I had recovered.

Lorraine: I did not expect to write any of the game. I really just stepped in to help the first draft of edits and copyedits, and I quickly found I enjoyed doing the coding as well. But after a month or so, I found myself itching to fill in some of the scenes that had only been sketched out, and with Vlad’s blessing, started writing. When I surfaced again, two and a half years later, we each had written about half of what turned out to be the length of Crime and Punishment. I found writing with Vlad extremely rewarding, because we have different strengths; I think that bouncing our ideas off each other made this game a lot stronger than it would have been if either of us had written it individually.

What did you find challenging about the process of writing in ChoiceScript/our game design?

Lorraine: I think what I found most challenging is that ChoiceScript lets you do so many things, and I would get caught in those possibilities at times when, in fact, a simpler answer is what was needed. Part of me wanted to explore all of the possibilities of writing a game in ChoiceScript with this one project, but that’s not very practical. More than once during edits, I had to convince myself to simplify rather than to increase the complexity of an option.

Vlad: Very specifically, it took a while for me to get used to the if / goto structures. I have been coding for several years now, and the structures are a bit different from what I’m used to. It also was challenging, though very rewarding, to try and make every option equally valid in every given choice. I am so used to Computer RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, where some conversation options lead to a negative outcome, that I had to continuously unlearn that paradigm.

Are you a fan of interactive fiction in general? Any favorites you’d like to share?

Vlad: Yes, I am a huge fan of interactive fiction! I have already mentioned Baldur’s Gate; I love many of the games written in a similar style, from Planescape: Torment all the way through Dragon Age and Mass Effect today. I also have really enjoyed contemporary indie interactive fiction: Gone Home, Firewatch. I should mention that I also run tabletop games, which might not have fancy graphics, but where one can really let one’s imagination soar! I am currently running a classic Call of Cthulhu campaign called Masks of Nyalarthotep, which I have updated to happen in the 1960s and deal with Cold War conspiracies.

Lorraine: My very first choose your own adventure experience was with a Goosebumps book involving werewolves at summer camp. I’ve played a million games since then; recent interactive fiction favorites include Depression Quest and Choice of Games’ Choice of the Deathless, which I have played maybe a dozen times.

What else are you working on now?

Lorraine and Vlad: We have been developing an idea for another Choice of Games game in a more modern setting with some science fiction elements, but also very relevant to social and cultural issues people all over the world are facing today. We’d like to continue pushing the boundaries of the form and see what kinds of new stories we can create with ChoiceScript. Stay posted!

May 26

2017

Free Community College Hero Short Story—“A Very Stoic Christmas”

Posted by: Rachel E. Towers | Comments (0)

Eric Moser, author of Community College Hero: Trial by Fire, is offering readers a free (non-interactive) 2,500-word short story, titled “A Very Stoic Christmas.” The events in the short story involve the character Stoic and take place on an evening several days after the conclusion of Trial by Fire but before the events of Community College Hero 2: Knowledge is Power, currently in development. The events in the story are canon, but spoilers for the sequel are minimal. The story also includes cover art by Adrienne Valdes, the official artist for the sequel.

To receive the free short story, just email Eric at eric@communitycollegehero.com and put “free short story” in the subject line. Doing so will also place you on Eric’s mailing list providing you with occasional updates on the sequel’s development as well as information on beta testing in the future.

May 05

2017

Welcome to Moreytown — Claw your way to the top of this slum for furries

Posted by: Rachel E. Towers | Comments (1)

We’re proud to announce that Welcome to Moreytown, the latest in our popular “Choice of Games” line of multiple-choice interactive-fiction games, is now available for Steam, iOS, and Android. It’s 25% off until May 12th!

Claw your way to the top of Moreytown, a furry slum for human-animal hybrids. Will you take down the gangs who rule the town, or take them over instead?

Welcome to Moreytown is a 150,000-word interactive novel by S. Andrew Swann. It’s entirely text-based, without graphics or sound effects, and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

You’re a moreau: a genetically engineered human-animal hybrid, a remnant of mankind’s last war. Surviving life in a Moreytown hasn’t been easy, but now, someone is out to kill you and your fellow “moreys”—unexplained fires, explosions, and the gangs swirling around the neighborhood add up to big trouble. It’s up to you to save your pelt, and maybe take over town.

Play as one of thirteen different species, including tiger, capybara, bear, or wolf. Infiltrate a sinister cult, or ally yourself with a gang of moreys. Choose a side and let the fur fly!

• Play as male, female, or non-binary, gay, straight, bi, or ace
• Fight the police or help them to bring down a terrifying enemy
• Save your neighborhood from utter destruction
• Take over a street gang, or even run your own cult
• Explore multiple potential romantic relationships

We hope you enjoy playing Welcome to Moreytown. We encourage you to tell your friends about it, and recommend the game on StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. Don’t forget: our initial download rate determines our ranking on the App Store. The more times you download in the first week, the better our games will rank.

May 02

2017

Author Interview: S. Andrew Swann, “Welcome to Moreytown”

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (3)

Choice of Games’ latest release will be Welcome to Moreytown by S. Andrew Swann. In MoreytownYou’re a moreau: a genetically engineered human-animal hybrid, a remnant of mankind’s last war. Surviving life in a Moreytown hasn’t been easy, but now, someone is out to kill you and your fellow “moreys”—unexplained fires, explosions, and the gangs swirling around the neighborhood add up to big trouble. It’s up to you to save your pelt, and maybe take over town. I sat down with the author to learn more about the game and their experiences writing interactive fiction. Look for Welcome to Moreytown later this week, releasing on Friday, May 5th.

Tell me about what influenced your world creation for Moreytown. What kind of a world is this set in?

Welcome to Moreytown is based on the universe I created with my first three novels back in the early 1990s. The world was built around the idea of the genetically engineered “moreaus;” soldiers engineered from various animals’ DNA. The novels, and the game, are set a generation or so after the wars the moreaus were created for, and after a mass wave of moreau immigration into the United States. Moreaus in the United States, in theory at least, have the same rights and equal protection under the law as any human– a substantial improvement compared to the countries where they were created, where they’re little better than chattel. The literary influences were Noir and Cyberpunk, so a dark and not-quite-dystopian setting. The world of the game, like the books, is gritty and urban. The characters experience street-level conflicts; dealing with cops, inter-gang rivalries, human-moreau relations and so on.

Are you a big fan of H.G. Wells?

He’s a foundational author, right up there with Edgar Allan Poe. Someone I was reading back in junior high, before I knew I was a SF writer.

What kinds of social issues did you have in mind as you were writing it?

The moreaus, like any group, have their own unique perspective and problems. That said, they share common threads with many different marginalized groups. The original novels were written in the shadow of the Rodney King verdict and the L.A. Riots, so the analogs with racial tensions were inevitable. The prejudice many humans exhibit toward the moreau population can be easily seen as a metaphor for race relations in the US. But that’s not the only thing going on. The moreaus are also a multi-generational refugee population with some serious assimilation problems. In some sense, they can never assimilate into the surrounding society, because the barriers are physical as well as cultural. Markers of culture, such as dress and diet, are constrained by the moreaus’ biology. They don’t just look different, in a fundamental sense they are different.

Then there’s religion. Moreaus happen to know the details of their creation and why they were created. That has certain theological implications. Any moreau religion that defines the moreaus’ relation to God, by necessity has to do the same for humans. And given the historical treatment of moreaus by humans, it is easy for a new moreau religion to take a gnostic point-of-view, see creation as a perversion of the divine, and cast humankind as the villain. The political and social problems faced by moreaus mirror those suffered by any minority population embedded in a larger society; they live in a segregated community, they’re economically disadvantaged, individual bad actors are often seen as representative of the whole, and they have to bear with the prejudices and misconceptions of the surrounding society. It’s a story that’s as old as civilization, but the fact that moreaus aren’t a human population helps to emphasize exactly how universal these problems are.

What did you find challenging about the process of writing in ChoiceScript/our game design?

It was intuitively obvious that each scene could lead to multiple branching paths. What’s less obvious is that each scene might have multiple converging paths leading up to it. That means that the PC’s experience of a given scene is going to be influenced in large part by the path by which they got to it. The same line of dialog from the same NPC will read differently if the PC’s prior interactions with the character have been friendly, manipulative, or hostile. Also given that there’s no real way to write the narrative sequentially, it makes continuity problems easy to introduce and difficult to track down.

The other challenge is more in terms of design. In linear fiction you can build the plot around the measured release of information (Who is the villain? What are they planning? What secrets are the other characters hiding?) but, in a game where the player may go through multiple times, you can’t rely on these kind of revelations for drama’s sake. “Luke, I am your father,” is only going to have a big impact the first time around.

Are you a fan of interactive fiction in general? Any favorites you’d like to share?

My introduction to the genre was back in the day on my old Commodore 64. I played a lot of Infocom’s library on that thing. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Zork and its sequels, which I’ve run on emulators on various pieces of hardware since. More recent vintage I’ve enjoyed CoG’s own Psy High.

What else are you working on now as a writer?

I have a few novels in various stages of development. I currently have two SF titles sitting with two different editors, one a time travel/alternate history story with zombies and zeppelins, the other an interplanetary thriller that’s sort of The Expanse meets The Bourne Identity.

Proust/Pivot Style Questionnaire Questions

What is your favorite word?

Three way tie: “Antidisestablishmentarianism,” “Illuminati,” or “Jabberwock.”

Your favorite color?

Red– no Blue!–Ahhhhhhhh…

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I’ve always had an interest in graphic design. I could easily see that my career could have headed in that direction if I’d done a few things differently out of high school.

Which would you not like to attempt?

Retail or food service.

Creamy or crunchy?

Crunchy.

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