Planet Interactive Fiction

February 26, 2017

The Gameshelf: IF

IFTF's Adoptable Technology Archive

by Andrew Plotkin at February 26, 2017 02:33 AM

An announcement went up last week on the IFTF blog. You may already have seen it, but it's important and I want to talk about it some more.

[...] While we wish we could take over and maintain software projects, we just don’t have the resources right now. What we can do instead is act as social matchmakers and try to connect projects with volunteers.

Toward this end, we’re establishing a new project called the IFTF Adoptable Technology Archive.

The IFTF Adoptable Technology Archive will be a public archive of adoptable technology on GitHub. If someone owns a project that needs a new owner, they can put it on a free and open-source software license (we favor the MIT license) and pass it over to us, and we’ll put it up on the archive. The benefit of using our archive (instead of putting it up on GitHub as an individual) is that it will be visible under the IFTF “adopt me!” umbrella. This will create a place where developers can go and see all submitted IF projects in need of adoption, while abandoned projects benefit from the related publicity. We’ll also announce all new additions to the archive via our social media channels.

(-- announcement, Feb 14, IFTF blog)

(The Adoptable Technology home page now exists!)

One of the unfortunate truths of the hobbyist IF field is that most of our open-source projects have lost momentum since the late 1990s. There are a couple of reasons for this. A cohort of fans who grew up with Infocom became energetic 20-somethings with lots of free time, but are now 40-somethings with families, mortgages, or other such temporal entanglements. Also, the IF field has become more diverse. When everybody was playing Z-machine games, there were lots of people working on Z-machine interpreters! But the field has broadened.

There have also been many, many experimental IF projects that never went anywhere. Some of these can be found on the IF Archive, or even on GitHub. But if you don't know they exist, they might as well have vanished.

The Adoptable Technology project is our first small step towards saving these projects. As the announcement says, we don't (yet) have the resources to actively maintain them. Instead, we can put them into a sort of showcase (a GitHub organization). This has two incremental benefits:

  • Onlookers can see the list of projects in the collection. They are, at minimum, no longer invisible.
  • If someone wants to pick up a stalled or abandoned IF project, they have a list of possibilities to compare.

To be sure, not every stalled or abandoned IF project needs to be in the collection. We're not pushing this as a panacea! Nor have we committed ourselves to filling it up. An IF project maintainer may just be looking to recruit volunteers, or to hand the project off in some other way.

Quest is an example from a couple of months ago. They spread the word that they were looking for new maintainers, and they were able to find people that suited their needs. We're happy to help pass along such requests from anyone in the IF field.

But if a project really loses all support, we've got a place for it that will help avoid total invisibility. That's what the Adoptable Technology collection is. It's currently empty except for a README. Perhaps it will remain so for a while. But it's our small step.

February 25, 2017

Renga in Blue

Burial Ground Adventure (1979)

by Jason Dyer at February 25, 2017 06:00 PM


Joel Mick is another young entrepeneur, like Greg Hassett or the trio of Viggo Eriksson, Kimmo Eriksson and Olle Johansson. In all these cases (including Joel himself) the authors were about 13 when they started.

I do wonder if I missed my fame/fortune window by being born 10 years too late. I wrote Night of the Vampire Bunnies at roughly the same age, but by 1990 the market for slightly dodgy text adventures in BASIC was long closed. It’s currently 2 1/2 stars on IFDB, which might be a little overrated, but it’s still much better than Burial Ground Adventure.

Five of the first inventory items. Art by Laymik, Simon Child, Baboon Designs, Joshua Ganyon, and Amelia Edwards. CC BY 3.0 US.

Five of the first inventory items. Art by Laymik, Simon Child, Baboon Designs, Joshua Ganyon, and Amelia Edwards. CC BY 3.0 US.

1.) Just like many other games from the era, there is no plot: your only objective is to collect treasures. Also unfortunately like some other games of the era, the setting is pretty random: you’re on an island that happens to have a catacomb and a house with treasure. The house, of course, must include every room possible:


2.) There’s a “pit” you fall into and can’t get out without the right item. This is par for the course for the era, but things ratchet up a level in that even when you *do* have the correct item, it’s difficult to figure out how to use it:


What I think Mr. Mick was running into was the adventure game problem I call “implicit action”. He really seemed to visualize: a.) forming a lasso with the rope b.) throwing the looped end of the rope and c.) catching it on a rock which is not described anywhere in the room. The actions needed to be boiled down to a single two word command (having an intermediate state would have been more complex than the coding here could handle) so he went with THROW ROPE which is puzzling on its own. If you imagine the literal action, it’s just throwing the entire rope; you have to have the other parts to it for the command to make sense.

3.) A portion later suffers the same problem, even worse.


This time I confess to checking Dale Dobson’s walkthrough, but he admits he had to check the source code himself, so it’s faintly possible nobody in the world other than the author figured out this puzzle without help.

Again, implicit action seems to be to blame, although in a different sense. The author seemed to have in mind raising the trapdoor by pushing it up with the bamboo, but couldn’t figure out how to express it in a two word parser. He could have gone the route of PUSH DOOR working as long as the bamboo was in the inventory, but that would allow the implicit action of utilizing the bamboo to do it. This would lead to a puzzle likely being solved without the insight, so he settled on the nonsensical PUSH BAMBOO instead.

So in first case, the puzzle was confusing because it allowed the implicit action; in the second case, it was confusing because it disallowed the implicit action. Implicit action still bedevils adventure games to this day, where in games that involve a single-click interface the character does some action that turns out to be useful but never actually occurred to me until the game did it for me.

4.) After obtaining a key by feeding two types of meat to some dogs, you can break into the catacombs which I presume are the “burial grounds” of the title. The catacombs are connected to a maze which in several directions will inexplicably drop you in the upper rooms of the house. This is an easy contender for the most nonsense piece of geography I’ve seen in an adventure.


I guess we’ll just say it’s “magic”, right?

There are two elements that I found interesting and different, so I’ll switch from numbering to lettering:

a.) There’s not only a gun object, but ammunition you can find later; when taking the ammunition the gun will automatically be loaded. However, the gun is a complete and utter red herring. You can attempt to use them on the previously mentioned dogs (the ones you feed meat to) but things don’t turn out well.


This suggests both a game design finesse (having a weapon be useless really is a nice red herring) and possibly some sort of social commentary on violence.

b.) Right before the catacomb, there’s a dark room. The only light source is a match, but the source lasts very briefly.

There is way to “see” the room, but it turns out to be totally unnecessary. While I’ve played text adventures while fumbling in the dark that mostly due to trying to preserve battery life; here there is a room that is meant to *never* be seen, which makes for a nice moment.

So here, again, I find a common experience for this project: authors still fumbling with a new art form, with faint glimmers of possibility. Did I really need more than that?


The People's Republic of IF

March meetup

by zarf at February 25, 2017 04:00 PM

The Boston IF meetup for March will be Thursday, March 16, 6:30 pm, MIT room 14N-233.

Wade's Important Astrolab

Leadlight Gamma news and CYOA extension news

by Wade ( at February 25, 2017 11:53 AM

Doing maintenance rounds on my websites, I noticed that the Leadlight Gamma homepage was out of date and displaying incorrect info I'd forgotten was there. I've fixed this, and updated the game's sites in general.

  • There was an old warning on the site about problems you might face getting the game onto your iOS device. That warning was temporary and is now irrelevant and gone. iFrotz downloads the game just fine.
  • There was a lack of warning on the site about trying to play the game on a Mac running macOS Sierra. There is now a warning, because the game doesn't work in Sierra. There are fatal problems with both Glulx interpreter options. Gargoyle broke in Sierra and the unofficial patched version hangs when booting Leadlight Gamma, probably because of the graphics. Lectrote gets stuck on two of the game's graphic features, the image gallery and the full screen map. I could potentially say, "Don't look at the gallery or the full screen map and it won't hang," but if I then also have to say, "Plus there's no audio in this version," it feels obviously to me like I just shouldn't be selling something with so many shortcomings to the Sierra user.

The Sierra issues are vaguely depressing given that the game was brand new just two years ago, but interpreter maintenance is beyond my power.

My personal focus will be moving to my music-making for the next period of time, so my IF projects (the CYOA extension for Inform and the actress game) will mostly be going on the backburner for the same period of time.

In January this year I started to build out standalone versions of the demos from my CYOA extension, including the Ryan Veeder-endorsed spinoff Captain Piedaterre's Blunders, but doing so revealed to me there were still important fixes that needed to be made to the fundamental extension code. So it was a useful exercise for me, but obviously one with a less fun result than it could have had. Mostly I hope that the extension doesn't slide into the pits of technical incompatibility or obsolescence before I can I revisit it.

February 24, 2017

Post Position

Tiny Trope Tank Productions

by Nick Montfort at February 24, 2017 05:38 PM

Recently, at the suggestion of our writer in residence, Milton Läufer, we in the Trope Tankt have been producing digital files for discussion at meetings. These productions, almost always computer programs but not constrained to be such, must be at most 256 bytes.

It’s been extremely productive in terms of thinking about digital media, platforms and programming languages, and how we approach creative projects — and even other projects — generally. Postdoctoral researcher Sofian Audry prompted us to discuss this some at the last meeting.

So far we have three sets of 256b files which have landed in this directory, organized by date and with file names that indicate who wrote what:

They include work by RA Chris Kerich, who has produced rather demoscene-like visual effects using Python running in a terminal, and by postdoctoral researcher Angela Chang, who has provided short example programs for use in teaching. Angela’s examples show that you don’t have to have hypercompressed, confused code when you write short, interesting programs. You can value clarity and pedagogical usefulness if you like, or you can pack in as much as possible, for instance, in order to produce a visual effect.

Sofian has explored creative computing history by writing a 256b Commodore 64 BASIC program that implements, or at least strongly refers to, the classic Lemonade Stand BASIC program. Milton has generated various compelling visual displays. His and Chris’s most recent programs are less clearly mathematical and regular, instead imitating the natural world.

It was very apropos that Christian Bök pointed me to Dwitter, a framework for making tiny programs that can be easily shared on the Web, just recently. I’m sure we’ll all dig into that soon.

My pieces include one bash script, one Python 3 program, and an executable of 256b written in assembly for the Commodore 64. The Python 3 program is actually a very tiny text adventure, Wastes, and is listed on the Interactive Fiction Database. In fact, I’m pleased to see that at this point, it has one four-star (our of five) review!

Emily Short

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

by Emily Short at February 24, 2017 01:00 PM

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 12.37.50 PM.png

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a forthcoming game from Dim Bulb Games that describes itself as a “bleak American folktale.” Or here, just watch the trailer:

The game explores many experiences of America, and many voices — so Dim Bulb brought on different game writers to research and create dialogue for each of the major characters. I’m honored to have been one of them.


Web Interactive Fiction

FyreVM Status Line (I7 Extension)

by David Cornelson at February 24, 2017 12:01 AM

This extension allows the author to decide which parts of the status line will be displayed. The extension doesn’t say anything about the design or location of the status line, but only which parts should be shown or hidden. The design will be handled by a component in the UI template.

This is going to be common pattern for components in fyrevm-web, as it clearly defines the content, but has no opinion about the design.

In this case, Story Addendum is a new feature of the status line and will require further definition. For now it’s just a placeholder, but my intention was to allow the author to control any parenthetical addendums, such as:

Kitchen (floating in mid-air)

The following is the current documentation from the extension, now on the fyrevm-web github repository:


FyreVM Status Line defines which parts of the standard status line are displayed.

These parts include:
- location name
- location addendum
- story time
- story score
- story turn

The author can show/hide any of these with the following statements:

show the location name.

hide the location name.

show the location addendum.

hide the location addendum.

show the story time.

hide the story time.

show the story score.

hide the story score.

show the story turn.

hide the story turn.

The statusline-channel will emit the details in JSON format to be handled by the UI template.

{ "showLocationName": true, "showLocationAddendum": false, "showStoryTime": true, "showStoryScore": false, "showStoryTurn": false }

This data will be contained in fyrevm.statusLineContent in the browser.

Add a Comment

February 23, 2017

Choice of Games

Runt of the Litter — Steal and raise a baby war gryphon!

by Dan Fabulich at February 23, 2017 06:01 PM

We’re proud to announce that Runt of the Litter, 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 Mar 2!

Steal and raise a baby war gryphon! Will you fight dragons together to save the empire, or defy the empire and lead your people to freedom?

Runt of the Litter is a 150,000 word interactive fantasy novel by Kelly Sandoval, 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.

The gryphon keepers hold all the power in the Empire of Vaengrea. They make the laws, patrol the borders, and only give gryphon eggs to their chosen heirs. As a poor stable hand, a “thrall,” you know you’ll never have a chance to prove yourself.

But then, you find the egg. Small, neglected, nudged out of the nest by a disapproving mother. But you can feel warmth growing inside.

Now your gryphon is in terrible danger, both from the other gryphon keepers and from a deadly plague that’s wiping out the Empire’s gryphons. Can you keep your gryphon safe? Where will you hide your new hatchling? Are you skilled enough to hunt its food or clever enough to steal it? Which of the gryphon keepers can you trust? How will you shape the young gryphon’s mind?

Wyrm riders invade from the north on their fire-breathing dragons, the natural enemy of the gryphons. Will you and your gryphon fight in the war, seizing your place among the elite? Or will you defy the empire and lead your fellow thralls to revolution?

Can you keep a runt gryphon safe with the whole world against you? The life of your gryphon, and the fate of an empire, is in your hands.

  • Play as any gender and as gay, straight, or asexual
  • Choose from a variety of unusual gryphon breeds
  • Raise your gryphon with a gentle hand or demand obedience
  • Find romance among your fellow thralls or steal the heart of a gryphon keeper
  • Rise to the rank of gryphon keeper or lead your fellow thralls to freedom
  • Battle fire-breathing wyrms to protect your empire
  • Find a cure for the devastating gryphon plague

We hope you enjoy playing Runt of the Litter. 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.


Bulking up Twine docs

February 23, 2017 05:00 AM

One of the Twine committee’s priorities for 2017 is to improve the state of Twine documentation. We’re facing a few related challenges. First, there are two versions of Twine in use in the wild: the old 1.x release series, which many veteran users of Twine still swear by; and the newer, more web-oriented 2.x series. While some concepts are applicable to both versions, it can be confusing and frustrating for beginners to look for an answer, but find out it doesn’t apply because it talks about a different version of Twine.

Secondly, Twine documentation is scattered across the internet! Although there is an official wiki, to get the best answer to a question about Twine, you’ll likely need to do a web search. That means that not only do beginners need to sort through advice that might be outdated or doesn’t apply to the particular version of Twine you are using, they’d also have to sort through the cornucopia of the web to find a good answer.

There are three things the committee is working on to improve the situation, and they all focus on the Twine wiki. First, we’re surveying the web at large to find the best Twine resources we can. Once we’ve identified them, we’ll either make sure they’re linked from the wiki or possibly even incorporated into the wiki directly— with the permission of the author, of course.

You can help with this task! If there’s a resource you think is helpful but isn’t already on the wiki, please tweet a link at @twinethreads, the official Twine account. We’ll incorporate it into our planning process.

We’re also looking for a volunteer or two to help manage the Twine wiki. This would entail the typical gardening work that most wikis require: identifying outdated content, planning ways to better organize pages so that they are easier to find, and other organizational work. It’s not glamorous, but it has a huge impact on the community. You’ll be helping hundreds if not thousands of people become skilled with Twine. If you’re interested in volunteering, please email hello at twinery dot org. Make sure to list any relevant experience in your message, and what goals you’d have as a volunteer.

Finally, we’re planning to create more documentation ourselves. We know there are gaps in using Twine that just aren’t covered in any documentation, but in order to focus our efforts, we need to have a complete picture of the state of things. That’s why we’re gathering as much existing documentation as we can first. So, look for more updates on this part of the committee work later this year.

February 22, 2017

Renga in Blue

Strange Odyssey: Strange Ending

by Jason Dyer at February 22, 2017 10:00 PM

The title screen of the Electron version, via Mobygames.

The title screen of the Electron version, via Mobygames.

WHAT SHALL I DO? drop brandy
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop diamond
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop belt
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop painting
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop sculpture
I’ve stored 5 treasures. On a scale from 0 to 100 that rates a 100. Well done.
This adventure is over. Do you want to try this adventure again?

I need to backtrack slightly on what I said in my last post; the treasures are not optional. In fact, my major sticking point which required a glance at hints involved one of the treasures.

But first, let me pick up where I left off last time. I had gotten to the point where I had gotten to the damaged Power Crystal of my ship but hadn’t worked out how to fix it.

This turned out to be a very nice puzzle with some lateral thinking involved. The crystal is described as a “thin rod” but I originally assumed this meant that I had to reshape the crystal in that format.

Then it occurred to me, well, what if I just replaced it? Is there already something that works like a Power Crystal? Indeed there was.

From the FM-7 version of the game, in Japanese. Via Mobygames.

The Hexagonal Room, from the FM-7 version of the game, in Japanese. Via Mobygames.

I realized the “rod” from the Hexagonal Room I had been using to teleport around, is, in fact, a thin rod, and maybe I could use it. After all, once I left the planet, I didn’t need to teleport around any more. After BREAK ROD:

Odd it only required very little force for it to break off in my hand with a CRYSTALLINE snap!

Oho. It fit into the right spot of the ship perfectly. I gathered the treasures I had found so far (ANCIENT FLASK SAURIAN BRANDY, STRANGE ALIEN BELT, RARE ALIEN PAINTING, and ALIEN SCULPTURE) and left. I landed at a “mother ship” which told me to drop treasures and type “score”, just like Adventureland. I dutifully did so, but got the dreaded message:

I’ve stored 4 treasures. On a scale from 0 to 100 that rates a 80.

In other words, I was missing one treasure!

At this point I was extremely stumped. There was a “methane snow storm” location I hadn’t been able to get anything out of, but I assumed it was a red herring (there is also a “black emptiness” location which really is a red herring, so that wasn’t too outrageous an assumption). However, I threw every item and verb I could at it with no success.

I finally succumbed to the peek of a walkthrough, and realized I had fallen to most dreaded of text adventure blocks: missing a room exit entirely.


The “plain with jungle” location, which I previous assumed was there just so you could DIG, let you type “GO JUNGLE” to a new location.

To be fair, this is violation of the implicit rules previously set up; all other exits in the game that describe locations are mentioned in the “object list” (see the curtain in the image below) and anything in the main description of the room was (up to this point) non-interactive.


So in some sense my need to resort to hints was caused purely by a UI issue, but still, I’ve haven’t had a perfect run at Scott Adams game since Pirate Adventure. Sigh. Maybe next time?

Fortunately, the puzzle solving sequence after went smoothly:

– I came across a “Rigalian Dia-Ice Hound” which needed to be stunned by my phaser. (The phaser previously had only been used to vaporize a boulder, so I’m glad it got some more use. The phaser can be set TO STUN or TO DESTROY.)
– I took the Hound over to the “methane snow storm” area. Ice Hound and all that.
– The hound eventually woke up and ran off into the storm. I searched about and a room that previously led to nowhere now had a “mound.”
– Using an ice pick, I was able to dig into the mound. Inside awaited the hound, and a RIGILIAN ICE DIAMOND. I had to stun the hound again, nab the diamond, set the phaser to DESTROY, and the vaporize the entire mound.
– The hound runs off after this sequence and I was able to escape with the treasure.

Really this was an excellent set piece, and I’m glad I went through it for the last treasure. Still, I’m somewhat disappointed that the winning state of the plot did regress to collecting all the treasure, but in a way I suppose it may have been a conservative compromise; perhaps players were getting uncomfortable with the treasure-less uncertainty of Secret Mission, Voodoo Castle and The Count.

I know I tend to be somewhat allergic to ranking things on this blog, but I figured it would be fun to pause for a moment to rank the Scott Adams games I’ve played so far, from worst to best. I’m including the Alexis Adams game as well.

6. Secret Mission by Scott Adams: I loved the use of implicit plot, but the puzzles felt like I was just lurching between improbable sequences rather than figuring anything out.

5. Adventureland by Scott Adams: His first effort, and it shows; some kind of wonky puzzle design, but still a fun setting and certainly an amazing technical achievement for the time.

4. Pirate Adventure by Scott Adams: I liked the parrot, and the pirate who seemed to care more about alcohol than treasure.

3. Strange Odyssey by Scott Adams: This game had some genuinely excellent puzzles and setting, although the plot was strictly mundane.

2. The Count by Scott Adams: Strong connection between gameplay and plot still eludes most authors; The Count nails it about as squarely as possible. There’s too much learn-by-dying for it to rank #1 but it’s otherwise this game is the benchmark to beat. (If I was teaching a class on text adventures, this is probably one of the games I’d use.)

1. Voodoo Castle by Alexis Adams: The ritual that makes up the plot is a little bit arbitrary but there aren’t any puzzles I can complain about, there was a genuine feel of unraveling a mystery, and I still found this as fun as a modern game.

Note that even Secret Mission would rank higher than at least half the games I’ve played so far from this era. I can understand why in this brief sliver of time Adventure International was the company to beat.

Emily Short

GDC 2017

by Emily Short at February 22, 2017 07:00 PM

Every year I scan through the GDC list for things of interest to interactive narrative/IF folks. Here are a few favorites from this year, though the Narrative Summit as a whole is likely to be worth scanning through.

Monday at 11:20, Narrative Summit, The World as Your Canvas: Telling Location-Based Stories covering things from AR projects to immersive theatre. Alternatively, at the same time

Indie Summit, Everything I Said Was Wrong: Why Indie Is Different Now. Some excellent, knowledgeable and watchable speakers talk about how the indie environment has morphed over the past few years.

Monday 1:20, VR track, Behind the Spherical Stage: Taking VR Storytelling Beyond Games and Movies. I’m interested in what can be done with VR immersive theatre in particular, so curious about this.

Monday, 3:00, Kate Compton on Practical Procedural Generation for Everyone. Kate’s famous for Tracery but has done loads of other fun and fascinating procedural generation tools and projects, and is also a champion of bringing those toolsets to amateur and indie creators.

At the exact same time, Telling Story Through Sound: Building an Interactive “Radio Play” also sounds interesting.

Monday, 3:50, AI Summit, Alan Hinchcliffe and Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris talk about Little Invasion Tales and the dynamic storytelling they do there. (Disclosure: Alan and Mitu are coworkers of mine at Spirit AI. This is a separate — and cool — project, though.)

Perversely scheduled at the same time as that, but in the Game Narrative Summit, Chris Martens and Rogelio Cordona-Rivera talk about Procedural Narrative Generation. (This is why the Vault exists, I suppose.)

Tuesday, 10:00, Narrative Innovation Showcase, featuring me and various other people talking about our experimental/cutting edge projects.

Tuesday, 1:20, Shawn Allen on Breaking Marginalized Character Narrative Molds to Write Better, Richer Characters.

Tuesday, also 1:20, Independent Game Summit, Building Game Mechanics to Elevate Narrative in Oxenfree. I’m always interested in this mechanics plus story question, and the details of how those turned out.

Tuesday at 4:40, Jolie Menzel is running a level design tutorial called a Narrative Approach to Level Design.

Wednesday at noon, Joseph Humfrey from inkle presents on Creating Interactive Film Scripts for 3D Adventures with Ink:

This talk introduces the concept of an “interactive film script”, using inkle’s open source narrative scripting language, Ink. As a development philosophy, taking a script-first approach promotes narrative pacing and continuity as a primary goal in development. How can ink, a text-based format, be used within a freely explorable 3D scene? This presentation will demonstrate with practical examples how entire scenes of flexible dialog can be written and tested in isolation, before they’re easily imported into Unity to be played with no modification.

Thursday at 10 AM, Jon Ingold speaks on Narrative Sorcery: Coherent Storytelling in an Open World:

Over four games and four years the ‘Sorcery!’ series has evolved from linear gamebook adaptations to fully open-world story-games. Players explore freely, encountering narrative content in any order and creating hundreds of small and large scale consequences, all of which are persistent. With the game rendered entirely through prose text, continuity is critical to ensuring believability, and in this talk Jon will outline how inkle Ltd designed and scripted the game to work in an ad-hoc fashion, using defensive logic to ensure the story gets told and makes sense regardless of how it comes about.

Thursday 5:30-6:30, the typically excellent GDC microtalks feature both Meg Jayanth and Christine Love.

Here is last year’s post on GDC, which contains some more general advice about coping if it is your first.

Wake Reality

Amazon App Store testing of Thunderword

by Wake Reality ( at February 22, 2017 04:23 AM

In addition to the Google Play store alpha testing, I added Thunderword to the Amazon app store "Live Testing" where I can assign e-mail addresses of approved testers. Locally testing on a 7" Fire tablet (2015, generation 5). So far, the proper app distribution download seems to work perfectly fine.  More work needs to be done before the Thunderword app is ready for intermediate and novice technical users, but progress is being made every day. It looks like we can have a proper release sometime before April 2, 2017!

February 21, 2017

Z-Machine Matter

Last chance to support Bob Bates' IF Kickstarter

by Zack Urlocker at February 21, 2017 09:40 PM


Infocom author and gaming legend Bob Bates is running a Kickstarter project to support his new IF game "Thaumistry: In Charm's Way." Bates was the only non-Infocom employee who wrote for the company with two classic IF titles to his credit ("Sherlock" and "Arthur"). Bates also co-founded Legend Entertainment, and published a series of innovative graphical adventures that married some of the best elements of parser driven interactive fiction with good graphics, publishing titles such as "Timequest", "Spellcasting 101" and others. 

The Kickstarter project has met it's funding goal, but is now on it's way to stretch goals that would enable the development of digital feelies and possibly porting to more platforms. 

If you're interested in modern IF or want to pay homage to one of the original IF authors, I encourage you to help fund this project. It ends late tonight Feb 21. 

Renga in Blue

Strange Odyssey (1979)

by Jason Dyer at February 21, 2017 05:00 PM


If we want to compare this era in electronic games to very early film, most of the adventure game authors are still in the “point a camera and hope something interesting happens” phase, while Scott Adams is experimenting with the actual vocabulary of design.

Strange Odyssey is his first science fiction game, with the popular tack of “you’ve crashed on an alien planet, now try to escape.” There are in fact treasures to collect, but they seem to be optional, so they’re more of a nod to past works than an attempt to backpedal on his plot innovations.

The major experiment here is a “disconnected map” where you teleport between distant places.

I’m in a strange hexagonal room
Obvious exits: NONE
Visible items: Strange flickering curtain of light, Small piece of plastic flush in the wall, Rod jutting straight out of the wall, Strange looking goggles

The hexagonal room above is the central hub. The rod and plastic act as controls the destination of the curtain. Entering the curtain might lead to a methane snow storm, or jungle, or an alien art museum, or a Jovian mining colony with high gravity.

(Spoiler warning: puzzle spoiled below.)


This section really gives the strong feel of gameplay merged with plot with trying to work out the controls to an “alien machine.” The rod can be PULLed and PUSHed at which point the plastic glows:

WHAT SHALL I DO? pull rod
Odd it only required very little force to slide out
WHAT SHALL I DO? push rod
Odd it only required very little force to slide in
The plastic GLOWED briefly 8 times.
WHAT SHALL I DO? touch plastic
OK I feel strangely disoriented for a moment!

The number of times the plastic glows corresponds to the destination of the curtain, although you have to touch the “small piece of plastic” to finalize it. Each time you pull/push the rod the plastic glow count goes up by 1. If you need to go back to a destination with an earlier number you need to “reset” the mechanism by touching the plastic when the rod is pulled.

It took me a good hour to get a hang of what was going on, but after I worked out the mechanism it made perfect logical sense. This is in opposition to mechanisms in some other adventure games (*cough* Myst clones *cough*) which often seem to be obtuse for no reason at all.

There’s no “light source” in this game but the space suit has a set amount of oxygen. It’s a tight enough window that I started writing a walkthrough. I’m not sure 100% how necessary this is (I’ve already found a machine that can refill the space suit, and it might be usable multiple times) but the suit timer is combined with a very tight inventory limit which makes me lose a lot of time just juggling items.

Other than the mechanism I mentioned most of the puzzles have been very straightforward, so I may wrap this one up quickly. I need to be careful about any promises, though, because sometimes the last lingering puzzles in a Scott Adams game are the hardest.

My main obstacle for escape is a damaged Power Crystal, which the game reports was originally in the form of a “thin rod”. I suppose I need to brainstorm ways to create one. I’m suspecting perhaps bringing the pieces the heavy gravity planet can mash them together? I also have an ice pick I’ve haven’t got to use, but other than that it seems like I’ve seen everything. The map below is likely close to complete.

Emily Short

IF Tool Development in general

by Emily Short at February 21, 2017 10:00 AM

I get a fair amount of email from people asking me to review their new IF creation tool and give feedback. Unfortunately, I’m usually not able to do extensive IF tool critiques for free. It’s work that overlaps with the type of work that I do on a paid basis; on average, most new tools people send my way are pretty buggy and under-documented and also not as powerful as existing tools, because they’re the early stages of an alpha project; and doing a thorough critique and feedback on a tool is hours, days, or even weeks of work, depending on how finished and how sophisticated the system happens to be.

However, here are some general pieces of advice I can give in this space:

— know your unique selling points relative to other IF tools. There are a lot of existing hypertext and choose your own adventure-style tools out there already, both online and to download, targeting mobile and browser.

If your tool is more off the beaten path in structure, you can get away with doing less to compete on ease of use, ease of distribution, size of existing community, and so on. Tools for quality-based narrative, for instance, aren’t all that common.

I’d recommend at a minimum looking at ink, ChoiceScript, Texture, and Twine as comparison points. These engines have been used for a significant amount of creative work and in most cases to drive commercial products on multiple platforms. They also have significant user communities. This is not to say it’s impossible to do better, especially in some specific niche area, but it’s worth being aware and not duplicate effort.

— if you are reaching out for a user base, know what those selling points are and highlight them in your pitch. If you’re asking people to use/test your tool for free, understand you’re asking them to do a lot of learning and also work in a system that doesn’t yet have proven stability; investing a game you care about in a platform that might not be up in six months is itself a bit daring. So think about the incentives and guarantees you’re able to offer.

— having several complete and sizable example stories in your tool is critical, both to prove out the tool itself and to attract users in the future. I tend to tell people that until they have at least one good story, the tool is not finished.

And by “good,” I mean it should both display the tool’s capacities and actually be a quality piece of writing that someone would enjoy playing/reading. It’s very hard to attract serious users to a tool without a few stories in that app that attract their attention and make them want to emulate it. And it’s very hard to be sure the tool is capable if the only thing written in it was written to observe the limits of the tool, rather than to be good in itself.

— some other resources include

This missing tools post on tools and what people want. This is a few years old, predates ink/Unity, and is growing outdated, but the discussion may still contain some useful hints and suggestions, particularly about what kinds of concerns authors from the IF community consider when picking a tool.

This deck is a slide deck I used for a talk at Northeastern a couple years ago about tool design for writing IF, and what the goals could/should be.

This post on narrative structures talks about some narrative structures that aren’t always well-supported by tools, if you’re looking for ideas. There are MANY hypertext and CYOA engines; there are fewer salience/QBN engines.

This Pinterest board has screenshots of a lot of interactive fiction interfaces from different systems, which may suggest interface approaches that you want to borrow, learn from, or on the other hand avoid.

The Oxford/London IF Meetup sometimes does live meetings about new tools, in which tool creators pitch to and take questions from writers; if you live in the UK, that might be an option

February 20, 2017

Renga in Blue

Imaginary games jam update

by Jason Dyer at February 20, 2017 06:00 PM


What, what?

This thing from last year. Authors wrote a set of reviews for “five games that do not (and possibly, cannot) exist in our universe,” then received randomly chosen reviews from others, and produced “a sequel, a prequel, a fan fiction, a critical response game, a sidequel, a remake, a demake, a parody, or an artifact of some genre category never before seen by humans.”

It turned out well! All the games can be found here.

Weren’t these supposed to go onto a more permanent archive?

Indeed. All the games are currently sitting at the incoming directory at and I am sure they will be sorted soon.

As soon as they are settled I was going to add entries for all the games at The Interactive Fiction Database. If you are an author and want to add the entry yourself, please let me know!

What happened to the bit after with the response pieces?

I did receive some very good ones (thank you!) but it turned out the coverage was pretty spotty. Some works had no responses at all, some had in-universe reviews, some had “serious reviews”, and when I laid it all out it felt very weird and imbalanced. I toyed with filling in the gaps myself but it just didn’t work. So I’m going to be putting the responses up still if people are still interested, but they’re not going in the book.

Oh yes, you also promised a book.

Indeed I did. The intent was to put the reviews followed by game excerpts followed by the responses. After a lot of editing it turned out to not work very well.

What I settled on was a compilation of all the original reviews of imaginary games people sent.

You can find this compilation, right now, here. It currently runs at 59 pages although I still have some fixing up to do. It’s extremely good!

Note I also still need to do some formatting standardization, and to that end, I have two questions:

a.) Should I put each imaginary game description on a new page?

b.) Should I put the author credits right before the ones they wrote, or should I just put them as an appendix at the end? I’m inclined for the latter just because it reads smoother, but I can understand why people might want their credit front and center, hence I wanted to solicit comments.

For publishing I was going to go with Lulu unless someone has a better suggestion; I was going to price it to be just the printing costs.

Anything else we should be worried about?

Well, the annual XYZZY Awards are coming up, and it is often the case things from earlier in the year have slipped the mind when nomination time comes around. So consider this a friendly reminder there was some innovative work here! It’s important to get the entries up at The Interactive Fiction Database soon because that’s what determines they’re eligible.

February 18, 2017

Wake Reality

Level 9 Interpreter, version 5.1 added to Thunderword Experimental

by Wake Reality ( at February 18, 2017 10:43 PM

Build 164 (version 0.3.64) of Thunderword Experimental now has Level 9 Interactive Fiction Interpreter version 5.1 included. The Thunderstrike example app on GitHub has been updated to demonstrate how outside apps can launch a Level 9 story.

These Heterogenous Tasks

Cannonfire Concerto

by Sam Kabo Ashwell at February 18, 2017 10:01 PM

Cannonfire Concerto (Caleb Wilson) is a Choicescript fantasy piece about intrigue, music and war. It’s very good; if you’re mostly interested in the more writerly end of the Choicescript oeuvre, in courtly intrigue or in evocative worldbuilding fantasy, I thoroughly recommend it. … Continue reading


Help me write more IF!

February 18, 2017 02:42 PM

In 2017, with the release of Voyageur, I want to get back to splitting my time between different projects. And, in particular, I want to do more noncommercial work: more short free IF, more reviews and criticism of noncommercial IF, more games writing that doesn’t find a home in commercial outlets, and more altgame experiments like Storytelling Skeletons.

I also want to be able to dedicate time to improving and maintaining the various open-source projects I’ve released over the last two years. All of these are things that I’m happy to release for free, but which do take up time and energy like anything else. So I’m experimentally launching a patreon; with only a few supporters, I’d be able to put more time and resources towards making those kinds of experiments, and that would mean being able to make more of them.

Pledges or helping spread the word are deeply appreciated.

The Digital Antiquarian

Loom (or, how Brian Moriarty Proved That Less is Sometimes More)

by Jimmy Maher at February 18, 2017 03:00 AM

In April of 1988, Brian Moriarty of Infocom flew from the East Coast to the West to attend the twelfth West Coast Computer Faire and the first ever Computer Game Developers Conference. Hard-pressed from below by the slowing sales of their text adventures and from above by parent company Activision’s ever more demanding management, Infocom didn’t have the money to pay for Moriarty’s trip. He therefore had to go on his own dime, a situation which left him, as he would later put it, very “grumpy” about the prospect of his ongoing employment by the very company at which he had worked so desperately to win a spot just a few years before.

The first West Coast Computer Faire back in 1977 had hosted the public unveiling of the Apple II and the Commodore PET, thus going down in hacker lore as the moment when the PC industry was truly born. By 1988, the Faire wasn’t the hugely important gathering it once had been, having been largely superseded on the industry’s calendar by glitzier events like the Consumer Electronics Show. Nevertheless, its schedule had its interesting entries, among them a lecture by Chris Crawford, the founder of the Computer Game Developers Conference which Moriarty would attend the next day. Moriarty recalls showing up a little late to Crawford’s lecture, scanning the room, and seeing just one chair free, oddly on the first row. He rushed over to take it, and soon struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to him, whom he had never met before that day. As fate would have it, his neighbor’s name was Noah Falstein, and he worked for Lucasfilm Games.

Attendees to the first ever Computer Game Developers Conference. Brian Moriarty is in the reddish tee-shirt at center rear, looking cool in his rock-star shades.

Falstein knew and admired Moriarty’s work for Infocom, and knew likewise, as did everyone in the industry, that things hadn’t been going so well back in Cambridge for some time now. His own Lucasfilm Games was in the opposite position. After having struggled since their founding back in 1982 to carve out an identity for themselves under the shadow of George Lucas’s Star Wars empire, by 1988 they finally had the feeling of a company on the rise. With Maniac Mansion, their big hit of the previous year, Falstein and his colleagues seemed to have found in point-and-click graphical adventures a niche that was both artistically satisfying and commercially rewarding. They were already hard at work on the follow-up to Maniac Mansion, and Lucasfilm Games’s management had given the go-ahead to look for an experienced adventure-game designer to help them make more games. As one of Infocom’s most respected designers, Brian Moriarty made an immediately appealing candidate, not least in that Lucasfilm Games liked to see themselves as the Infocom of graphical adventures, emphasizing craftsmanship and design as a way to set themselves apart from the more slapdash games being pumped out in much greater numbers by their arch-rivals Sierra.

Brian Moriarty on the job at Lucasfilm.

For his part, Moriarty was ripe to be convinced; it wasn’t hard to see the writing on the wall back at Infocom. When Falstein showed him some photographs of Lucasfilm Games’s offices at Skywalker Ranch in beautiful Marin County, California, and shared stories of rubbing elbows with movie stars and casually playing with real props from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, the contrast with life inside Infocom’s increasingly empty, increasingly gloomy offices could hardly have been more striking. Then again, maybe it could have been: at his first interview with Lucasfilm Games’s head Steve Arnold, Moriarty was told that the division had just two mandates. One was “don’t lose money”; the other was “don’t embarrass George Lucas.” Anything else — like actually making money — was presumably gravy. Again, this was music to the ears of Moriarty, who like everyone at Infocom was now under constant pressure from Activision’s management to write games that would sell in huge numbers.

Brian Moriarty arrived at Skywalker Ranch for his first day of work on August 1, 1988. As Lucasfilm Games’s new star designer, he was given virtually complete freedom to make whatever game he wanted to make.

Noah Falstein in Skywalker Ranch’s conservatory. This is where the Games people typically ate their lunches, which were prepared for them by a gourmet chef. There were definitely worse places to work…

For all their enthusiasm for adventure games, the other designers at Lucasfilm were struggling a bit at the time to figure out how to build on the template of Maniac Mansion. Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, David Fox’s follow-up to Ron Gilbert’s masterstroke, had been published just the day before Moriarty arrived at Skywalker Ranch. It tried a little too obviously to capture the same campy charm, whilst, in typical games-industry fashion, trying to make it all better by making it bigger, expanding the scene of the action from a single night spent in a single mansion to locations scattered all around the globe and sometimes off it. The sense remained that Lucasfilm wanted to do things differently from Sierra, who are unnamed but ever-present — along with a sly dig at old-school rivals like Infocom still making text adventures — within a nascent manifesto of three paragraphs published in Zak McKracken‘s manual, entitled simply “Our Game Design Philosophy.”

We believe that you buy games to be entertained, not to be whacked over the head every time you make a mistake. So we don’t bring the game to a screeching halt when you poke your nose into a place you haven’t visited before. In fact, we make it downright difficult to get a character “killed.”

We think you’d prefer to solve the game’s mysteries by exploring and discovering. Not by dying a thousand deaths. We also think you like to spend your time involved in the story. Not typing in synonyms until you stumble upon the computer’s word for a certain object.

Unlike conventional computer adventures, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders doesn’t force you to save your progress every few minutes. Instead, you’re free to concentrate on the puzzles, characters, and outrageous good humor.

Worthy though these sentiments were, Lucasfilm seemed uncertain as yet how to turn them into practical rules for design. Ironically, Zak McKracken, the game with which they began publicly articulating their focus on progressive design, is the most Sierra-like Lucasfilm game ever made, with the sheer nonlinear sprawl of the thing spawning inevitable confusion and yielding far more potential dead ends than its designer would likely wish to admit. While successful enough in its day, it never garnered the love that’s still accorded to Maniac Mansion today.

Lucasfilm Games’s one adventure of 1989 was a similarly middling effort. A joint design by Gilbert, Falstein, and Fox, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure — an Action Game was also made — marked the first time since Labyrinth that the games division had been entrusted with one of George Lucas’s cinematic properties. They don’t seem to have been all that excited at the prospect. The game dutifully walks you through the plot you’ve already watched unfold on the silver screen, without ever taking flight as a creative work in its own right. The Lucasfilm “Game Design Philosophy” appears once again in the manual in almost the exact same form as last time, but once again the actual game hews to this ideal imperfectly at best, with, perhaps unsurprisingly given the two-fisted action movie on which it’s based, lots of opportunities to get Indy killed and have to revert to one of those save files you supposedly don’t need to create.

So, the company was rather running to stand still as Brian Moriarty settled in. They were determined to evolve their adventure games in design terms to match the strides Sierra was making in technology, but were uncertain how to actually go about the task. Moriarty wanted to make his own first work for Lucasfilm a different, more somehow refined experience than even the likes of Maniac Mansion. But how to do so? In short, what should he do with his once-in-a-lifetime chance to make any game he wanted to make?

Flipping idly through a computer magazine one day, he was struck by an advertisement that prominently featured the word “loom.” He liked the sound of it; it reminded him of other portentous English words like “gloom”, “doom,” and “tomb.” And he liked the way it could serve as either a verb or a noun, each with a completely different meaning. In a fever of inspiration, he sat down and wrote out the basis of the adventure game he would soon design, about a Loom which binds together the fabric of reality, a Guild of Weavers which uses the Loom’s power to make magic out of sound, and Bobbin Threadbare, the “Loom Child” who must save the Loom — and thus the universe — from destruction before it’s too late. It would be a story and a game with the stark simplicity of fable.

Simplicity, however, wasn’t exactly trending in the computer-games industry of 1988. Since the premature end of the would-be Home Computer Revolution of the early 1980s, the audience for computer games had grown only very slowly. Publishers had continued to serve the same base of hardcore players, who lusted after ever more complex games to take advantage of the newest hardware. Simulations had collected ever more buttons and included ever more variables to keep track of, while strategy games had gotten ever larger and more time-consuming. Nor had adventure games been immune to the trend, as was attested by Moriarty’s own career to date. Each of his three games for Infocom had been bigger and more difficult than the previous, culminating in his adventure/CRPG hybrid Beyond Zork, the most baroque game Infocom had made to date, with more options for its onscreen display alone than some professional business applications. Certainly plenty of existing players loved all this complexity. But did all games really need to go this way? And, most interestingly, what about all those potential players who took one look at the likes of Beyond Zork and turned back to the television? Moriarty remembered a much-discussed data point that had emerged from the surveys Infocom used to send to their customers: the games people said were their favorites overlapped almost universally with those they said they had been able to finish. In keeping with this trend, Moriarty’s first game for Infocom, which had been designed as an introduction to interactive fiction for newcomers, had been by far his most successful. What, he now thought, if he used the newer hardware at his disposal in the way that Apple has historically done, in pursuit of simplicity rather than complexity?

The standard Lucasfilm interface of the late 1980s, shown here in Maniac Mansion.

Lucasfilm Games’s current point-and-click interface, while undoubtedly the most painless in the industry at the time, was nevertheless far too complicated for Moriarty’s taste, still to a large extent stuck in the mindset of being a graphical implementation of the traditional text-adventure interface rather than treating the graphical adventure as a new genre in its own right. Thus the player was expected to first select a verb from a list at the bottom of the screen and then an object to which to apply it. The interface had done the job well enough to date, but Moriarty felt that it would interfere with the seamless connection he wished to build between the player sitting there before the screen and the character of Bobbin Threadbare standing up there on the screen. He wanted something more immediate, more intuitive — preferably an interface that didn’t require words at all. He envisioned music as an important part of his game: the central puzzle-solving mechanic would involve the playing of “drafts,” little sequences of notes created with Bobbin’s distaff. But he wanted music to be more than a puzzle-solving mechanic. He wanted the player to be able to play the entire game like a musical instrument, wordlessly and beautifully. He was thus thrilled when he peeked under the hood of Lucasfilm’s SCUMM adventure-game engine and found that it was possible to strip the verb menu away entirely.

Some users of Apple’s revolutionary HyperCard system for the Macintosh were already experimenting with wordless interfaces. Within weeks of HyperCard’s debut, a little interactive storybook called Inigo Gets Out, “programmed” by a non-programmer named Amanda Goodenough, had begun making the rounds, causing a considerable stir among industry insiders. The story of a house cat’s brief escape to the outdoors, it filled the entire screen with its illustrations, responding intuitively to single clicks on the pictures. Just shortly before Moriarty started work at Lucasfilm Games, Rand and Robyn Miller had taken this experiment a step further with The Manhole, a richer take on the concept of an interactive children’s storybook. Still, neither of these HyperCard experiences quite qualified as a game, and Moriarty and Lucasfilm were in fact in the business of making adventure games. Loom could be simple, but it had to be more than a software toy. Moriarty’s challenge must be to find enough interactive possibility in a verb-less interface to meet that threshold.

In response to that challenge, Moriarty created an interface that stands out today as almost bizarrely ahead of its time; not until years later would its approach be adopted by graphic adventures in general as the default best way of doing things. Its central insight, which it shared with the aforementioned HyperCard storybooks, was the realization that the game didn’t always need the player to explicitly tell it what she wanted to do when she clicked a certain spot on the onscreen picture. Instead the game could divine the player’s intention for itself, based only on where she happened to be clicking. What was sacrificed in the disallowing of certain types of more complex puzzles was gained in the creation of a far more seamless, intuitive link between the player, the avatar she controlled, and the world shown on the screen.

The brief video snippet above shows Loom‘s user interface in its entirety. You make Bobbin walk around by clicking on the screen. Hovering the mouse over an object or character with which Bobbin can interact brings up an image of that object or character in the bottom right corner of the screen; double-clicking the same “hot spot” then causes Bobbin to engage, either by manipulating an object in some way or by talking to another character. Finally, Bobbin can cast “spells” in the form of drafts by clicking on the musical staff at the bottom of the screen. In the snippet above, the player learns the “open” draft by double-clicking on the egg, an action which in this case results in Bobbin simply listening to it. The player and Bobbin then immediately cast the same draft to reveal within the egg his old mentor, who has been transformed into a black swan.

Moriarty seemed determined to see how many of the accoutrements of traditional adventure games he could strip away and still have something that was identifiable as an adventure game. In addition to eliminating menus of verbs, he also excised the concept of an inventory; throughout the game, Bobbin carries around with him nothing more than the distaff he uses for weaving drafts. With no ability to use this object on that other object, the only puzzle-solving mechanic that’s left is the magic system. In the broad strokes, magic in Loom is very much in the spirit of Infocom’s Enchanter series, in which you collect spells for your spell book, then cast them to solve puzzles that, more often than not, reward you with yet more spells. In Loom the process is essentially the same, except that you’re collecting musical drafts to weave on your distaff rather than spells for your spell book. And yet this musical approach to spell weaving is as lovely as a game mechanic can be. Lucasfilm thoughtfully included a “Book of Patterns” with the game, listing the drafts and providing musical staffs on which you can denote their sequences of notes as you discover them while playing.

The audiovisual aspect of Loom was crucial to capturing the atmosphere of winsome melancholia Moriarty was striving for. Graphics and sound were brand new territory for him; his previous games had consisted of nothing but text. Fortunately, the team of artists that worked with him grasped right away what was needed. Each of the guilds of craftspeople which Bobbin visits over the course of the game is marked by its own color scheme: the striking emerald of the Guild of Glassmakers, the softer pastoral greens of the Guild of Shepherds, the Stygian reds of the Guild of Blacksmiths, and of course the lovely, saturated blues and purples of Bobbin’s own Guild of Weavers. This approach came in very handy for technical as well as thematic reasons, given that Loom was designed for EGA graphics of just 16 onscreen colors.

The overall look of Loom was hugely influenced by the 1959 Disney animated classic Sleeping Beauty, with many of the panoramic shots in the game dovetailing perfectly with scenes from the film. Like Sleeping Beauty, Loom was inspired and accompanied by the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whom Moriarty describes as his “constant companion throughout my life”; while Sleeping Beauty draws from Tchaikovsky’s ballet of the same name, Loom draws from another of his ballets, Swan Lake. Loom sounds particularly gorgeous when played through a Roland MT-32 synthesizer board — an experience that, given the $600 price tag of the Roland, far too few players got to enjoy back in the day. But regardless of how one hears it, it’s hard to imagine Loom without its classical soundtrack. Harking back to Hollywood epics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the MT-32 version of Loom opens with a mood-establishing orchestral overture over a blank screen.

To provide the final touch of atmosphere, Moriarty walked to the other side of Skywalker Ranch, to the large brick building housing Skywalker Sound, and asked the sound engineers in that most advanced audio-production facility in the world if they could help him out. Working from a script written by Moriarty and with a cast of voice actors on loan from the BBC, the folks at Skywalker Sound produced a thirty-minute “audio drama” setting the scene for the opening of the game; it was included in the box on a cassette. Other game developers had occasionally experimented with the same thing as a way of avoiding having to cover all that ground in the game proper, but Loom‘s scene-setter stood out for its length and for the professional sheen of its production. Working for Lucasfilm did have more than a few advantages.

If there’s something to complain about when it comes to Loom the work of interactive art, it must be that its portentous aesthetics lead one to expect a thematic profundity which the story never quite attains. Over the course of the game, Bobbin duly journeys through Moriarty’s fairy-tale world and defeats the villain who threatens to rip asunder the fabric of reality. The ending, however, is more ambiguous than happy, with only half of the old world saved from the Chaos that has poured in through the rip in the fabric. I don’t object in principle to the idea of a less than happy ending (something for which Moriarty was becoming known). Still, and while the final image is, like everything else in the game, lovely in its own right, this particular ambiguous ending feels weirdly abrupt. The game has such a flavor of fable or allegory that one somehow wants a little more from it at the end, something to carry away back to real life. But then again, beauty, which Loom possesses in spades, has a value of its own, and it’s uncertain whether the sequels Moriarty originally planned to make — Loom had been envisioned as a trilogy — would have enriched the story of the first game or merely, as so many sequels do, trampled it under their weight.

From the practical standpoint of a prospective purchaser of Loom upon its initial release, on the other hand, there’s room for complaint beyond quibbling about the ending. We’ve had occasion before to observe how the only viable model of commercial game distribution in the 1980s and early 1990s, as $40 boxed products shipped to physical store shelves, had a huge effect on the content of those games. Consumers, reasonably enough, expected a certain amount of play time for their $40. Adventure makers thus learned that they needed to pad out their games with enough puzzles — too often bad but time-consuming ones — to get their play times up into the region of at least twenty hours or so. Moriarty, however, bucked this trend in Loom. Determined to stay true to the spirit of minimalism to the bitter end, he put into the game only what needed to be there. The end result stands out from its peers for its aesthetic maturity, but it’s also a game that will take even the most methodical player no more than four or five hours to play. Today, when digital distribution has made it possible for developers to make games only as long as their designs ask to be and adjust the price accordingly, Loom‘s willingness to do what it came to do and exit the stage without further adieu is another quality that gives it a strikingly modern feel. But in the context of the times of the game’s creation, it was a bit of a problem.

When Loom was released in March of 1990, many hardcore adventure gamers were left nonplussed not only by the game’s short length but also by its simple puzzles and minimalist aesthetic approach in general, so at odds with the aesthetic maximalism that has always defined the games industry as a whole. Computer Gaming World‘s Johnny Wilson, one of the more sophisticated game commentators of the time, did get what Loom was doing, praising its atmosphere of “hope and idealism tainted by realism.” Others, though, didn’t seem quite so sure what to make of an adventure game that so clearly wanted its players to complete it, to the point of including a “practice” mode that would essentially solve all the puzzles for them if they so wished. Likewise, many players just didn’t seem equipped to appreciate Loom‘s lighter, subtler aesthetic touch. Computer Gaming World‘s regular adventure-gaming columnist Scorpia, a traditionalist to the core, said the story “should have been given an epic treatment, not watered down” — a terrible idea if you ask me (if there’s one thing the world of gaming, then or now, doesn’t need, it’s more “epic” stories). “As an adventure game,” she concluded, “it is just too lightweight.” Ken St. Andre, creator of Tunnels & Trolls and co-creator of Wasteland, expressed his unhappiness with the ambiguous ending in Questbusters, the ultimate magazine for the adventuring hardcore:

The story, which begins darkly, ends darkly as well. That’s fine in literature or the movies, and lends a certain artistic integrity to such efforts. In a game, however, it’s neither fair nor right. If I had really been playing Bobbin, not just watching him, I would have done some things differently, which would have netted a different conclusion.

Echoing as they do a similar debate unleashed by the tragic ending of Infocom’s Infidel back in 1983, the persistence of such sentiments must have been depressing for Brian Moriarty and others trying to advance the art of interactive storytelling. St. Andre’s complaint that Loom wouldn’t allow him to “do things differently” — elsewhere in his review he claims that Loom “is not a game” at all — is one that’s been repeated for decades by folks who believe that anything labeled as an interactive story must allow the player complete freedom to approach the plot in her own way and to change its outcome. I belong to the other camp: the camp that believes that letting the player inhabit the role of a character in a relatively fixed overarching narrative can foster engagement and immersion, even in some cases new understanding, by making her feel she is truly walking in someone else’s shoes — something that’s difficult to accomplish in a non-interactive medium.

Responses like those of Scorpia and Ken St. Andre hadn’t gone unanticipated within Lucasfilm Games prior to Loom‘s release. On the contrary, there had been some concern about how Loom would be received. Moriarty had countered by noting that there were far, far more people out there who weren’t hardcore gamers like those two, who weren’t possessed of a set of fixed expectations about what an adventure game should be, and that many of these people might actually be better equipped to appreciate Loom‘s delicate aesthetics than the hardcore crowd. But the problem, the nut nobody would ever quite crack, would always be that of reaching this potential alternate customer base. Non-gamers didn’t read the gaming magazines where they might learn about something like Loom, and even Lucasfilm Games wasn’t in a position to launch a major assault on the alternative forms of media they did peruse.

In the end, Loom wasn’t a flop, and thus didn’t violate Steve Arnold’s dictum of “don’t lose money” — and certainly it didn’t fall afoul of the dictum of “don’t embarrass George.” But it wasn’t a big hit either, and the sequels Moriarty had anticipated for better or for worse never got made. Ron Gilbert’s The Secret of Monkey Island, Lucasfilm’s other adventure game of 1990, was in its own way as brilliant as Moriarty’s game, but was much more traditional in its design and aesthetics, and wound up rather stealing Loom‘s thunder. It would be Monkey Island rather than Loom that would become the template for Lucasfilm’s adventure games going forward. Lucasfilm would largely stick to comedy from here on out, and would never attempt anything quite so outré as Loom again. It would only be in later years that Moriarty’s game would come to be widely recognized as one of Lucasfilm Games’s finest achievements. Such are the frustrations of the creative life.

Having made Loom, Brian Moriarty now had four adventure games on his CV, three of which I consider to be unassailable classics — and, it should be noted, the fourth does have its fans as well. He seemed poised to remain a leading light in his creative field for a long, long time to come. It therefore feels like a minor tragedy that this, his first game for Lucasfilm, would mark the end of his career in adventure games rather than a new beginning; he would never again be credited as the designer of a completed adventure game. We’ll have occasion to dig a little more into the reasons why that should have been the case in a future article, but for now I’ll just note how much an industry full of so many blunt instruments could have used his continuing delicate touch. We can only console ourselves with the knowledge that, should Loom indeed prove to be the last we ever hear from him as an adventure-game designer, it was one hell of a swansong.

(Sources: the book Game Design Theory and Practice by Richard Rouse III; ACE of April 1990; Questbusters of June 1990 and July 1990; Computer Gaming World of April 1990 and July/August 1990. But the bulk of this article was drawn from Brian Moriarty’s own Loom postmortem for, appropriately enough, the 2015 Game Developers Conference, which was a far more elaborate affair than the 1988 edition.

Loom is available for purchase is from Sadly, however, this is the VGA/CD-ROM re-release — I actually prefer the starker appearance of the original EGA graphics — and lacks the scene-setting audio drama. It’s also afflicted with terrible voice acting which completely spoils the atmosphere, and the text is bowdlerized to boot. Motivated readers should be able to find both the original version and the audio drama elsewhere on the Internet without too many problems. I do recommend that you seek them out, perhaps after purchasing a legitimate copy to fulfill your ethical obligation, but I can’t take the risk of hosting them here.)


February 17, 2017

Interactive Fables

Game of Worlds released on

February 17, 2017 09:14 PM

With the recent success of Worldsmith, we've decided to release a companion game set in the same universe. Worldsmith: Game of Worlds TOURNAMENT!  - a text based strategic card game - is now online and ready to play. And it's free! In the Septem Tower, the Game of Worlds has been played for billenia. No one knows its origin - some say the Game is as old as the Tower. Only through the Game of Worlds can take you escape the crushing obligations of a Vociferant worker. And finally, a wildcard

Emily Short

Cannonfire Concerto (Caleb Wilson/CoG)

by Emily Short at February 17, 2017 11:00 AM


Cannonfire Concerto (Steam, IFDB) is a Choice of Games piece from Caleb Wilson (Lime Ergot, Starry Seeksorrow, Six Gray Rats Crawl Up The Pillow). Caleb is a long-time writer of IF with a distinctive style: strong, personality-rich prose; a good eye for setting detail; a taste for writing about decadent societies now at the verge of ruin; some unusual mechanical and quirky experiments, like Lime Ergot‘s telescopic use of EXAMINE to reveal more and more content. (If you haven’t played Lime Ergot, you really should: it will take you five minutes and it’s become one of the canonical parser-IF pieces of the last few years.) Besides all this, Caleb’s work often has a very definite narrative voice.

I mention all this because those strengths are not the same ones I tend to associate with the Choice of Games brand, where I tend to expect a dynamic protagonist very much defined by the player; stats that work in a very consistent CoG way; lots of replayability; and a tendency in most works towards a brightly-colored, major key kind of storytelling.

So it might seem that these two influences might work strangely together, but in fact they compliment each other extremely well. Cannonfire Concerto is one of the funnier and more deftly written CoG pieces I’ve seen. The protagonist customization still does exist — you can pick your gender and what sorts of characters you’re interested in romancing, give yourself a personal history, etc — but all of the options for your past are within a particular range, and the gentle snark of the narrative voice is part of what enlivens the narration.

Caleb has taken the mandatory CoG opening, consisting of a high stakes medias res choice to hook the player followed by a bunch of character creation choices, and managed it as smoothly as I think I’ve ever seen: you begin in the middle of running away from pursuers, and choose what to do next; each choice, Memento-style, actually shows you a little more of what led up to this point.

Meanwhile, the context of a CoG game gives enough structure and scope for a bigger story than most of Caleb’s earlier IF.

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-10-19-03-amThen, the premise. Cannonfire Concerto takes place in an alternate Europe (Meropa) threatened by a conquering general called Bonaventure. You are a Genius performer (and genius is or appears to be a form of magic, though this is a matter of debate) who also becomes entangled in politics and spying. As in Hollywood Visionary, you get a fair amount of choice around what kind of a creator you want to be; and because your music is a major way you connect with other people and groups, that affects which audiences you are best able to reach. I went for a rapid-fire, mathematical sort of Genius, which impressed intellectuals but meant I was terrible at playing pagan tunes by the campfire. It’s important to know your limits.

In practice, this means wearing wigs and dressing up in fancy clothes, giving performances and facing off with your musical rivals, and practicing new pieces for your instrument (I chose a zither of unique design): good costume-drama, adventure narrative stuff.

So far I’ve only had a chance to play once, as someone more concerned about my musical career than about trying to change the face of Meropa (though I probably did a bit anyway). Of the two people I romanced in the course of the game, I only managed to stay with one of them permanently, though the game did give me a bittersweet last encounter with the other, late in my life. And it feels like there’s quite a lot of variation in the outcome — I’ll have to give it another try later.

At any rate, I definitely recommend it. Games released right at the end of a year sometimes get missed for XYZZYs, but I think this might be a plausible contender for a Best Writing nomination.

Disclosures: I have a contract for work of my own with Choice of Games, but discovered and played this piece independently. I played a copy of the game that I bought with my own money.

February 16, 2017

Classic Adventure Solution Archive

CASA Update - 46 new game entries, 30 new solutions, 34 new maps

by Gunness at February 16, 2017 01:08 PM

Garry has been hard at work uploading info on Alan games, which means that our Alan selection has been substantially upgraded.

And as a heads-up for C64 enthusiasts: the ever-industrious Fredrik Ramsberg has ported a number (30-something) of Inform games to D64-format, so you can play some of the more modern titles on your favourite machine. I've tested a few of them, and it just works really well. More on his website.

Contributors: Sudders, Garry, Gunness, rockersuke, Alex, impomatic, iamaran

Lautz of IF

Minor Trizbort Update to

by jasonlautzenheiser at February 16, 2017 03:01 AM

A quick little update to fix a few small bugs that were found in the last release.

First bug was one introduced in the last version in regards to the Automapper.  It seems a new feature I added to handle the EXITS command in a transcript, broke the automapper.  I removed that feature temporarily until a proper fix could be found.

A second bug was fixed that has most likely been around for awhile where if you imported a map that was created with an older version, one that was created prior to my beginning development on Trizbort, there was a potential that the Inform7 Export code would not be generated properly.


Filed under: Trizbort

Emily Short

Mid-February Link Assortment

by Emily Short at February 16, 2017 12:00 AM


February 16th, Boston’s People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction group meets up. Which is to say, tomorrow.

March 4th is San Francisco’s IF Meetup.

March 9, Nottingham’s Hello Words group is having a meetup.

Also March 9 is the deadline to register intents if you’re planning to enter the Spring Thing IF competition this year.

I am not doing an Oxford/London Meetup this month because GDC is taking most of my attention and preparation time.

Utopia Jam is currently open through the end of February.

New Releases:

Cannonfire Concerto by Caleb Wilson: Interview and Steam link. I haven’t had a chance to fully play this yet, but I love Caleb’s work, and the premise appears to entail being a genius 18th century musician-spy, which is a pretty good start.

The House Abandon; unfortunately PC-only so I haven’t tried it, but there is interesting coverage of it various places including GameInformer.

Minor Fall, Major Lift is a short story about a romantic connection between two people. The arc of the story itself is relatively simple; the major NPC, affected in a way that I tend to associate with being young and nervous about being wounded. This turns out to be entirely fair enough as a read of their character. Meanwhile, there’s a lot to notice about the worldbuilding. The story takes place in a Slavic-influenced society with newly invented religions and perhaps supernatural genetics, hinting at a deeper universe yet to be unfolded. (The author mentions this is part of a potentially longer work or series.)

Meanwhile, from a narrative structure perspective, the story has a conceit of letting you examine characters multiple times in a row, getting deeper information about them each time. This could be grinding or irritating in some cases, but here I found it worked for me, and made it feel as though each examination of the other person was upping the stakes further… which considering that this is a tale about self-revelation and visibility makes plenty of sense.

Finally, the protagonist in this story has a disability, a point that is introduced unmistakably but without special fanfare about halfway into the story. For all that the characters (both PC and NPC) focus on self-presentation, on how they will look and what they will show and what they will hide, the protagonist’s cane is not one of those points of self-consciousness. It just is, a fact of the protagonist’s identity but one they treat as much less critical and visible than other things.


Reminder that sub-Q is looking for submissions! Guidelines are on their website.

My Rock Paper Shotgun column IF Only continues, most recently with a look at Plundered HeartsMasqueradeMagical Makeover, Secret Agent Cinder and other games about dressing up and going to parties.

There’s a piece on Gamasutra about Bob Bates’ Thaumistry here. Both Thaumistry and Southern Monsters have made their Kickstarter goals (yay!) but there’s still time to support either, and stretch goals associated with each, of course. If you’re curious for a longer take on these, I’ve written more about them at Rock Paper Shotgun as well, including a preview look at Thaumistry.

Speaking of crowdfunding, Sunless Skies, the Sunless Sea sequel, is currently over £250K against a £100K goal, which is pretty exciting as well.

Textualiza is a new Spanish-language channel for discussing, promoting, and playing interactive fiction; discussion is conducted in Spanish, but isn’t limited to Spanish-language IF. There’s a Facebook page and a Twitter, as well as a chat room on

February 14, 2017


The IFTF Adoptable Technology Archive

February 14, 2017 07:53 PM

One of the core pieces of the IFTF mission is to maintain, improve, and preserve the tools used to create interactive fiction. Most IF engines and tools were created by individual IF enthusiasts, which demonstrates how much enthusiasm exists for IF (hooray!) But it also means that these systems lose support when their individual creators move on to new projects (rats!). When IF authors and players have been depending on now-unsupported tools, it can leave those people in a rough situation.

We’ve received a number of community requests that related to this problem, and we wanted to find a way to help. But while we wish we could take over and maintain software projects, we just don’t have the resources right now. What we can do instead is act as social matchmakers and try to connect projects with volunteers.

Toward this end, we’re establishing a new project called the IFTF Adoptable Technology Archive.

The IFTF Adoptable Technology Archive will be a public archive of adoptable technology on GitHub. If someone owns a project that needs a new owner, they can put it on a free and open-source software license (we favor the MIT license) and pass it over to us, and we’ll put it up on the archive. The benefit of using our archive (instead of putting it up on GitHub as an individual) is that it will be visible under the IFTF “adopt me!” umbrella. This will create a place where developers can go and see all submitted IF projects in need of adoption, while abandoned projects benefit from the related publicity. We’ll also announce all new additions to the archive via our social media channels.

The archive doesn’t exist yet, but we’re setting it up soon! If you’re interested in submitting your IF tools project to the IFTF Adoptable Technology Archive, send us the details at

Sibyl Moon Games

Notes from BFIG Talks 2017: 4 Ways Losers Have Fun While Playing Games

by Carolyn VanEseltine at February 14, 2017 05:01 AM

BFIG Talks is a game dev conference run by the Boston Festival of Indie Games. It features both digital and nondigital game devs, and there’s a lot to learn in the crossover. The rest of my BFIG Talks notes are over here.

BFIG Talks speakers: Please contact me (carolyn at if:

  • I included something you said that should not be included, or
  • I quoted you without attributing (when you would prefer attribution), or
  • I made a factual error (I take notes by hand, and I make no pretense of infallibility!)

4 Ways Losers Have Fun While Playing Games

Speaker: Tim Armstrong

Winning/losing is less important than what happened during the game.

Games like party games and RPGs have no win condition. This is also true for Minecraft and similar games.

1. Learning things is fun.

This is the primary reason people have fun while playing strategy games. What produces fun here is the experience of improving and getting better.

In these cases, the depth of the game is equivalent to how replayable the game is. Tic Tac Toe is a shallow strategy game and the learning promptly stops. Go and Chess are deep strategy games and there is always more to learn.

How does the experience evolve over time? Deep strategy games stay fun and shallow strategy games don’t.

Some games (Star Realms, Splendor) have an optimal strategy. They become less fun once that strategy is mastered.

Competitive play requires depth of play. Super Smash Bros. Melee was a deep strategy game and therefore popular and competitive. The version created for the Wii was much shallower and much less popular.

2. Social interactions are fun.

This is what has been driving the resurgence of tabletop board games, though less so with regards to video games.

Social games create the framework for people to hang out together.

Example: Circle of Death is a drinking game that gives rules to the experience of drinking alcohol together. This creates a social framework for drinking.

Any situation with 2 to 4 players in person immediately creates social fun. Even bad games can create social fun.

Some games rely on social interactions in a different way:

  • Mafia/Werewolf require you to leverage existing social info sourced outside the game.
  • Cooperative/teamwork games require you to rely on and trust other people.
    • These often bring people together. “I don’t know this person, but our team rocked!”
  • Limited communication games (Codewords, Hanabi) drive social interaction through finding new ways to communicate.

These techniques are often commonly used in HR teambuilders.

3. Building things is fun.

Some games rely on strategic choices, but others rely on creative choices.

Video games are particularly good at this, such as Minecraft and Terreria.

The RPG character creation process relies on this kind of fun. “Your character sucks, but it’s yours.

This is also one of the ways Magic: the Gathering excels. People feel intense ownership over their decks.

4. Spectacle is fun.

This is a large part of the fun in Jenga, especially giant Jenga: it’s very exciting to see the tower fall.

Some games that rely on fun-through-spectacle:

  • Party games
  • Drawing games, where you can watch other people draw badly
  • Cards Against Humanity

Spectacle is memorable. When it’s happening, it always dominates the moment.

A game that excels at spectacle is a game that is fun to watch even when you aren’t yourself playing.

The four items above aren’t a checklist, but when a game isn’t fun to lose, take a look at them. Which of these is your game trying to achieve? What does it actually achieve? What can you do to enhance one or more of these types of fun?

Notes from BFIG Talks 2017: 3 Ways To Make Your Game “Fun”

by Carolyn VanEseltine at February 14, 2017 04:01 AM

BFIG Talks is a game dev conference run by the Boston Festival of Indie Games. It features both digital and nondigital game devs, and there’s a lot to learn in the crossover. The rest of my BFIG Talks notes are over here.

BFIG Talks speakers: Please contact me (carolyn at if:

  • I included something you said that should not be included, or
  • I quoted you without attributing (when you would prefer attribution), or
  • I made a factual error (I take notes by hand, and I make no pretense of infallibility!)

3 Ways To Make Your Game “Fun”

Speaker: Raymond Naseath

(This speaker promised that his talk would be easy to take notes for. He was right.)

It’s okay to make games that are just supposed to be fun!

How to make fun games:

  1. Each turn, every player should feel like they are making important and meaningful choices.
    1. The choice should have an impact on the game. This creates engagement and investment.
    2. Making choices will make the player choose priorities. This creates value.
    3. The choice should create interaction, which is to say that it should affect what other people do, and be affected by what other people have done.
  2. Every player should feel like they have a chance to win right up until the end of the game. The experience should be one of hope rather than despair.
    1. The game needs a clear focus and goal. It’s impossible to have hope otherwise because it’s impossible to strategize.
    2. One way to handle this is to have some “hidden winner” component, like hidden victory points, so that it isn’t obvious who will win until the end.
    3. Another is microwinning, which is to say moments when the player feels excitement and accomplishment at doing well.
      1. Example of all of the above: Smallworld, which finishes after X number of turns, makes it hard to keep track of who is winning, and has many “microwin” experiences.
      2. The ideal feeling is “I won less” rather than “I’m a loser.”
  3. There needs to be an element of luck/chance/fate in the game, where luck/chance/fate are defined as “things outside the player’s hands”. This may include influences from other players, so another way to look at this is “when is the player in control?”
    1. No one wants to play a game that they know they’re going to lose.
    2. Replay value comes from change. A game with no change is a puzzle rather than a game – you solve it once and stop.
    3. Ask yourself: what elements does the player control? Do the uncontrolled elements outweigh the controlled?
    4. Uncontrolled elements must affect all players equally.
      1. Examples of doing this well include Puerto Rico and Power Grid.
    5. Ask yourself: how can players interact with the elements they don’t control? Can they mitigate them, adjust them, or otherwise reduce the risk?
  4.  (bonus) The most important thing you can do to improve your game: playtest!
    1. “It’s not fun” – what does this actually mean?
    2. Have players measure the gameplay experience against the characteristics of fun listed above.

February 13, 2017

Web Interactive Fiction

A fyrevm-web Standard Template Emerges

by David Cornelson at February 13, 2017 03:01 AM


After a holiday hiatus, the standard template is coming along. It’s not pretty, but the basic functionality is getting closer to my vision.

One of the tasks we completed was reorganizing the github repo so it was strictly fyrevm-web, the I7 extensions, and the eventual I7 build templates. The eventual development of ifpress will be within its own repository.

In this iteration we’re storing arrays of the main content and the commands. In the next iteration we’ll have the full complement of content displayed in the template including hints, help, and multi-session (branching) capabilities.

Then we’ll introduce multi-story housing, external saves, and mobile templates.

And then finally we’ll add a paging template to show that the same data can be used in multiple contexts.

We could still use a professional web designer to help us make this look pretty. If anyone is interested, drop me a note.

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February 12, 2017

Interactive Fables

Some Worldsmith World Building Strategies

February 12, 2017 09:13 PM

Building Worlds and Life in Worldsmith is certainly not easy! So, we've put together a few hints and tips to help players to succeed in helping their civilizations to the Galactic Accord. If you are stuck, you might want to look at this 'top tips' strategy guide. Without further ado, here's 15 hints and tips for the knowledgeable Apprentice. 1. Explore all your Worlds. You never know who you might meet! 2. In Story Mode, you only need to raise a single Civilization to the the Galactic Accord!