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Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition 2.0

Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition 2.0

Deadline for submissions: 15 Feb 2018

Announcement of winners: 31 July 2018

Entries accepted in English and Welsh.

Wonderbox Publishing, in conjunction with Bangor University (Wales), is sponsoring the second annual competition to discover the best “popular” digital fiction: digital fiction that appeals to mainstream audiences.

See last year’s winners here!

Digital fiction is fiction that is written to be read/played on digital devices. Importantly, digital fictions are different to e-books. Rather than existing as a digital version of a print novel, digital fictions are what are known as “born digital” – that is, they would lose something of their form and/or meaning if they were removed from the digital medium.

For example, they may contain hyperlinks, moving images, mini-games or sound effects. In many digital fictions, the reader has a role in constructing the narrative, either by selecting hyperlinks or by controlling a character’s journey through the storyworld. Digital fictions therefore require that the reader interacts with the narrative throughout the reading experience. Hypertexts, text-adventure games, multimedia stories, interactive video, literary games, and some mobile apps are all examples of types of digital fiction.

See our Digital Fiction Resources guide here.

There are no restrictions as to types of software you can use to produce digital fiction; everything from HTML, Adobe Flash, Inform7, Twine, YouTube, Twitter, and more have been used to make digital fictions. For the competition, please submit links or files that are openly accessible on any computer (Mac or PC), and that will run in a web browser.

Wonderbox Publishing is a new publishing endeavour that seeks to provide commercial space to digital fiction, and the Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition is therefore designed to expand digital fiction readership to include a broader segment of the public. Therefore while the competition is open to all writers (rookies and veterans) and all types of digital fiction, we are seeking entries of works that are broadly accessible, both in terms of intended audience and device compatibility.

This competition is funded through a Bangor ESRC Impact Acceleration Award, in partnership with Wonderbox Publishing, Literature Wales, and Jisc Wales.

The prize categories are:

  • Judges’ Prize
  • People’s Choice
  • Welsh Language Prize*
  • Student Prize
  • Children’s Story

*Welsh language entries are eligible for all categories.

Winners will receive a cash prize (to be announced) and an option to publish with Wonderbox Publishing.

For ongoing details of the competition, please watch this space, and subscribe to updates!

Ready to submit? Click here!

Review: Kevin Gold & Choice of Games’ Choice of Robots

Review: Kevin Gold & Choice of Games’ Choice of Robots

Choice of Robots Screenshot

Choice of Robots
by Kevin Gold and Choice of Games
2015
Text Adventure Game / Multiple Choice Game (ChoiceScript)


Choice of Robots is an extensive piece of sci-fi interactive fiction (IF) which draws heavily upon the genre. It borders on the edge of being cliché, but Kevin Gold was able to create something that is, well, gold. It’s almost a love letter to the genre and stays reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series.

It plays like most other IF games of choosing a series of three to five options, furthering the narrative with a few paragraphs and you repeat the process. Robots is also a solely text experience, having no images or sounds to accompany it.

The only visuals are bar graphs in the “Stats” page to help understand your relationships with characters. Other games may use sounds and images as aids to help support themselves, but Robots’ text is able to evoke the imagery and emotions just as well, or, even better than those with the extra bells and whistles.

It stands to reason, then, that the story has nothing to hide behind. It’s good news that the narrative within Robots is one of the best written pieces of IF that I have played. Robots boasts that it has over 300,000 words; that’s 100,000 more words than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This makes sense considering its many drifting path and avenues to actively go down or accidentally stumble into.

Whilst yes, the game draws upon science fiction clichés such as robots taking over the planet (to name one scenario), these stories focus more on the individuals and personal stories than the overarching narrative of the world ‘you’ inhabit.

In all, it’s a hard piece to summarise. It’s a game where player choice and actions all have meaning, creating a plethora of different narrative paths and so much replayability. That one time you snubbed a character off can very well come back to bite you. And that’s where that replayability comes from. It is a very character driven story, no matter what story you weave with your choices.

There are eight characters in this story and your relationship with them is measured in percentages. These bars hidden in a side bar with other stats, and are the only visual aids that Robots has. Throughout the game, which can take up to two hours, you will meet most of these figures but depending on how you play, you may not meet half. They come in and out of your life, either for the better or worse and each and every one of these characters feel real. As every good story should be, it’s driven by these characters.

As I mentioned at the start, Choice of Robots is a hard game. Its story can be so different from the last time you played that it feels like another game. It’s that fact, though, that makes this a must have for any lover of IF and science fiction.

Choice of Robots is available on Steam, App Store, Google Play and Amazon for £5.99.

Review: Andy Kelly’s Derelict

Review: Andy Kelly’s Derelict

Derelict Screenshot

Derelict
by Andy Kelly
2017
Hypertext / Twine Game


Derelict was written by Andy Kelly, @ultrabrilliant on Twitter, writer for PC Gamer, and contributor to Edge and The Guardian, amongst other places. It’s a short — I played in less than an hour — interactive horror science fiction story.

Like most people, I go through the story once on my own before reading what other people say about it, especially since this is a freely-provided online version. Go check it out on itch.io. I’ll wait for you to get back.

If you went off to experience the story for yourself, welcome HOME; and if you didn’t go off to explore the story yourself you’ll have missed the reference, so I recommend you do before going further.

One of the great things about Twine games is that I see a new format of story practically every time I see a new game. Twine is an accessible platform for writing interactive fiction, but it’s truly the ingenuity of the authors that brings the medium to life.

Derelict tells the story of the Orkney, a ship on an interstellar mission from the solar system to a colony 49 weeks’ travel away. All you know upon embarking on this interactive quest is that it’s your job to find out what happened to the missing crew of a vessel found drifting in space.

The conceit of the narrative is that you are examining the retrieved data from the black box found onboard the vessel, piecing together a narrative to inform your corporate superiors what happened to their investment.

Interactive narratives such as this one are interesting primarily because they often put you in the shoes of the implied reader of the story, instead of divorcing you the reader from the person the story is talking to. In this case, you have an in-story explanation of why you are trawling through reports, chat logs, and sensor sweeps: you’re the investigator figuring out the events as they occurred leading up to the discovery of a derelict ship.

I don’t know whether it’s the influence of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, or the various military science-fiction novels I’ve read, but when a narrative delves into the daily lives and interactions between members of a crew aboard a space-faring vessel, I fall in love immediately.

This is a short piece, which is in some ways disappointing, and in others is perfect. What Kelly did with this story was give us just enough information, and the tantalising knowledge that there was more to read that we just didn’t recover, to know something important about these characters. We empathise with the pair who are clearly romantically interested in one another, we know that the corporate spy/representative is just doing his job as well he can when the rest of the crew think he’s on the ‘other side’, and we uncover just the briefest of rumour about the captain’s former partner.

These things all come together for us, the readers, to feel genuine horror when something happens to the crew. In typical horror science-fiction fashion, the crew falls apart roughly one member at a time until only a few are left. For a short time, we become embroiled in the lives of these men and women… only for that façade to crumble when we remember why we are reading the logs.

I said, “that we just didn’t recover” earlier and this is the other aspect I wanted to highlight. This narrative, short though it may be, gives you as the player/reader a direct role in the narrative through the interface of the webpage. You take on the role of the Sonmi employee who is trawling through recovered data. The highlighted hexadecimal ‘buttons’ are surrounded by those that cannot be clicked. What was in those files? How much more would we know if those had been recovered? What’s behind the screen!?

The interactive element adds a layer to the story that enriches the narrative, and the upside is that it’s easy for both the reader to imagine those extra pieces of story, and for the writer to imply that there are other parts to the story to see. Some may consider this a short cut, I suppose, but Kelly purposefully wrote a short piece, so we must forgive him.

We need more stories like this. Derelict is a fun, short romp through an easy-to-navigate system that gives you a sense of a wider world and more to discover that I find irresistible.

Review: Peter J. Favaro’s Alter Ego

Review: Peter J. Favaro’s Alter Ego

Alter Ego
by Peter J. Favaro, Ph.D.
1986
Text Adventure Game / Multiple Choice Game (ChoiceScript)


There are many reasons to play video games. Enjoyment is often a key factor (despite that friend who’s known to chuck their X-BOX controller into a wall); they also provide a valuable sense of escape from the real world.

If in 1986 you owned a Commodore 64 or one of the box-ish computers on the market then you had the option of living an “ordinary American life” through as many times as you wanted, thanks to Peter J. Favaro’s Alter Ego.

The game tracks choices made and the paths you choose, presenting you with different outcomes and endings accordingly… Well, every ending involving your death but in different circumstances. For example, decisions you make as a baby (yes, the game quite literally starts you off taking baby steps) influence whether your protagonist is extroverted or introverted, which might ring a bell if you’re familiar with attachment theory.

Each ‘life’ you play takes a while. I first played Alter Ego in 2014 to kill time and kill time it did. The first route took me just under an hour to complete (in 2014 the game was free; now you can access it once or buy it for $5 and play through as many times as you want). However, much of that is sifting through the same material: trying to find a decent job, trying to marry, trying not to let your ‘wealth’ and ‘happiness’ scores drop too low… Maybe scrap that part on video games being an escape from real life.

You’re very much trapped as the “average” 1986 American, something that became dull for me after my first playthrough. As such – rather morbidly – future playthroughs revolved around me seeing how quickly I could kill my player/character.

It’s interesting to view Alter Ego in 2017. The game places such emphasis on you being an “ordinary” American in the year 1986. Your first choice is gender: Male or Female. If you’re playing as a man your romance options are with women and vice versa. The reasoning behind this is that although it would be easy to add same-sex dating to the game, it wouldn’t have been accurate in context. As the game’s credits page explains:

“The current edition includes an updated interface and fixes bugs in the original version of the game, but the content of the game (the writing) hasn’t changed from the original 1986 version of the game…Telling the life story of a gay man in 1986 means telling the story of coming out of the closet, prejudiced employers, encounters with parents, and so on.”

It’s not just a matter of swapping pronouns in dialogue (a lazy solution anyway) it’s about accurately representing the struggles of queer Americans in 1986.

In the same way, although your character is never described, it’s clear they’re white, or at least white-passing, due to the lack of prejudice based on skin colour.

This is because, although your character can potentially live to be eighty years old, time in Alter Ego is frozen.

“The entire game of Alter Ego is set in 1986 […] Nothing of significance happens in America over the course of your lifetime.”

As such the smalls steps taken towards America being a (debatably) more understanding country could never occur.

Armed with this information, Alter Ego becomes almost dystopian. You can only be this “ordinary” 1986 American, and while you attempt to build your virtual life, you’re aware it’s your character’s privilege which allows them the opportunity. On the other side of the white-picket-fence people like myself and many others would be having a much harder time.

All in all, Alter Ego is worth a playthrough, especially since you do get one free run. It’s easy to become immersed in your character’s life and with the longer playthroughs taking you almost an hour to complete, there’s enough content to justify paying for the full version. After all, $5 is a small price to pay for the power of reincarnation… Until you get sick of 1986, that is.

Review: Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long, Long Legs

Review: Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long, Long Legs

screenshot

My Father’s Long, Long Legs
by Michael Lutz
2013
Hypertext / Twine Game


Players of My Father’s Long, Long Legs will probably never find a piece of hypertext more aptly described by the phrase “digging yourself a hole”.

This twine game, from Michael Lutz’s site Correlated Contents, explores the topic of an absent father in a rather peculiar way. You play as the eldest child, nameless like the other characters, identified only by their relevant roles: Father, Mother, Brother, Brother’s Friend, etc. Then through clicking hyperlinks to reveal more text, you burrow deeper into how the family is affected once the protagonist’s father begins digging in the basement of their home.

As you play the game, you learn little about the protagonist but much about her family. The first ‘choice’ you’re presented with is an option to learn more about your brother, mother or yourself (although, the latter only provides extra insight on the protagonist’s family situation and gender, as she’s later referred to as “young lady”).

The choices themselves are less about what dialogue the player accesses and more about what order it’s accessed in. The previously mentioned “Brother”, “Mother” and “Yourself” options must all be viewed to advance, but you can view them in whatever order you like. Similarly, to progress through the game, the player must click the link in the current passage to reveal the next passage.

As each passage is revealed the webpage becomes longer, revealing a daunting wall of text to the player. It’s easy then to imagine that you’ve done some digging yourself, buried deep in this black background, going deeper the more you read. Towards the end of the game’s first phase, you’re asked to make a real choice in My Father’s Long, Long Legs, but even this only results in a small dialogue change.

Then in phase two things get a little more interesting.

I categorise phase two by the change in background and how you read the text. In phase one, all the text you’ve read so far is still visible. You can scroll up and return to the beginning of the story, although it’s impossible to make any changes to your choices without restarting the game. However, in phase two each choice you make takes you to a new screen. Some screens are even repeated depending on which options you pick.

Not to mention, everything is black besides a small circle you control via mouse. This allows you to read the text underneath the circle, simulating a torch held by the protagonist. There are also audio elements, the sound of digging, and the humming of Johnny Cash’s “You Are My Sunshine” right at the end.

The player is now faced with choices again, heading in certain directions or performing other actions, trying to navigate the protagonist through the basement. I’ve completed the game a few times yet I struggle to discern whether specific choices take you to the ending quicker or not.

At times, the unsettling sound of digging in the background seems to become more loud or quiet depending on the choices taken. Perhaps this signals the player to follow their ears to reach the end, much like The Forest Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time. Alternatively, it could be a certain number of choices that lead the player to the end, as they wander lost through the same few sets of decisions.

Overall, My Father’s Long, Long Legs is an engaging – and towards the end, frightening – piece of hypertext, lacking only in the branching paths so familiar to hypertext fiction. But despite the game only having one path, it’s a path well worth walking if you have twenty minutes to take in the scenery.

Review: Michael Lutz’s the uncle who works for nintendo

Review: Michael Lutz’s the uncle who works for nintendo

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the uncle who works for nintendo
Michael Lutz
Interactive Fiction / Twine Game
October 2014


the uncle who works for nintendo (TUWWFN and capitalised in some uploads but not in his website) is exactly the kind of IF you’d expect from someone who also authored a game called the bones picked clean and the clean bones gone. The origin of Lutz’s problem with capitalisation is a mystery but he certainly knows how to write in Twine.

This game takes around 15-20 per play through and has five possible endings so if you’re the kind to want to find every possibility, I recommend setting a few hours aside to immerse yourself in this fiction.

In Lutz’s words, his piece “uses a horror framework to think about misogyny and emotional abuse and manipulation”. So even though the title references a company well known for brightly-coloured characters and kid-friendly universes, TUWWFN is a chilling story set in childhood. The misogyny in the piece, admittedly, seems a bit stuck-on for bonus points and is only really present if you go through a specific path but manipulation (of people and of facts) is as clear as day.

If you’re going to read this, I have two pieces of advice. Turn your sound on (hello sound effects), and question everything.

The first thing you do is pick the name of your best friend which is a refreshing change. Normally you’re picking who you are. From there, it matches your general Twine fiction: you’re given a few possible paths to take and you’ll be affecting your ending the whole way. The whole way through, you take the lead and the world around you is affected by your actions.

One interesting innovation used in the piece is Lutz’s use of coding language within the game itself. This gives an extra level of understanding to those who have also used Twine but also has the added benefit of formatting the text differently to the rest of the passage. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just take a look.

Though Lutz seems to have a few issues with commas, it doesn’t detract too much from the story itself and though the piece does have some interesting innovations, some of the dialogue is reminiscent of everyone’s first two years writing awkward overly-polite conversations between their characters.

That said, the basic scene-setting isn’t too bad. If you’re in the habit of skim-reading IF, you might need to make the effort to read it through. Links to other passages are dotted throughout each passage and can change the reading and the ending you’re in store for. Even if you’re redirected back to the same passage, you’ll find differences in the text if you look closely enough.

Lutz has also cleverly made the game in such a way where you’re not sure if things are broken or if it’s just meant to back you into a corner. Not everything in this game is as it seems at first. Though that sentence could be taken as a motto for this piece.

Though, at the time of writing this review, I haven’t yet gotten all five endings, I would say this game has a high degree of re-playability. The desire to see what choices will lead us where and how you can avoid meeting the same sticky end you already found.

I wouldn’t put this game up there with AAA horror games, but it is a bit spooky and I’d recommend that you read it in a well-lit room with a warm drink if you’re not of a robust disposition.

To see more of Michael Kurtz’s works, visit his website here.

Review: Andrea Corbin’s Base of the Comet

Review: Andrea Corbin’s Base of the Comet

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Base of the Comet
Andrea Corbin (@rosencrantz)
Interactive Fiction / Twine Game
2014


Base of the Comet, by Andrea Corbin, aka @rosencrantz, was one of the first Twine games I read that experimented with what it means to have different links in a hypertext. Then Corbin went on to try something I hadn’t seen before. It’s basically the story of a space scientist, Cal, who wakes up confused and alone on a spaceship. Here there be weird space monsters!

When you load the webpage, the first visible lexia, or story passage, loads and you instantly see two types of links, coloured purple or blue. Clicking on the purple links will find those paragraphs extending from a simple description to something more, and then to a full-blown investigation of whatever it is describing. Instead of navigation, purple is “explore”.

I really like this style of hypertext, and I what I liked the most was the very quick introduction to one key fact for this Twine text: there are a whole bunch of link types.

So, making Cal explore the environment (or not, as there is some element of control) we can move her on to explore the rest of the space vessel. Very quickly, it’s possible to dive into a loop of backstory.

With a new link colour (green) we enter flashbacks and see some characterisation, motivation, and minor plot. All of this is completely optional, of course, and that’s what I love about these games.

These optional lexias are fun, interesting, and deliver the meat of the story. We get the hint of past and current relationships, for example, which in reality has no business being in a short story of this type. However, as backstory it completely changes and becomes hugely important.

But, this wouldn’t be an experimental Twine game without something new, something quirky.

When we reach a section of the narrative that Cal enters a dark tunnel (I’ll leave the details to you to discover), the entire webpage goes completely black.

This combination of narrative and design brings a new level to the text that I wasn’t completely expecting, but it makes perfect sense now that I think about it. Of course it should go dark when there are no lights, right?

Not only does Corbin experiment with the narrative here (it’s speculative fiction after all) but the form of the hypertext, too. I don’t want to spoil every little design quirk that just adds to the experience; I want you to discover that for yourself.

The story is rather short, as it’s more of an experiment than a novel. But in the space that we have to explore, we find out some rather intimate aspects of backstory that flesh out the character of Cal, and we empathise with her easily.

The narrative doesn’t branch off so much in the beginning as it offers exploration of an area before one moves on; this gives the reader a sense of engagement with the story that is always welcome in a hypertext.

But, whilst the main narrative is mostly — key-word mostly — linear, there are multiple areas and rooms that are very easy to pass by. This text rewards the reader who explores with extra story, extra characterisation, and extra stats.

You have a very game-like statistics page at the end of a readthrough, telling you what you did and didn’t manage to do. It encourages replays, but at the same time could be slightly annoying to those who aren’t interested in replaying, I suppose, by taunting them with how much they missed the first time through.

As an aside, I once found 11 out of 7 things in this story. That’s right. If you can beat that, please leave a comment letting us know how you did in Base of the Comet, whether you liked it or not!

Base of the Comet was written in Twine by Andrea Corbin, @rosencrantz on Twitter, and can be found in various locations around the web, but mostly here.

Review: The Domovoi by Kevin Snow

Review: The Domovoi by Kevin Snow

The Domovoi by Kevin Snow
Twine game / Hypertext
2014


The Domovoi is one of two games created by Kevin Snow and available on his Bravemule website, with a third being created and funded by Kickstarter. The Domovoi draws its inspiration from a mythical creature of Slavic origins. Whilst at first jarring, what came from subsequent playthroughs was a deeper understanding and interest in this myth, undoubtedly Snow’s aim.

Upon opening the game, the first noticeable thing is the atmosphere. The Domovoi employs minimalistic illustrations and ambient sounds to create a cold, lifeless world. Couple this with Snow’s bleak narrative style, The Domovoi can end up being a dark affair. It is a rich and bitter piece that cannot help but immerse you in its world, even if it is relatively short.

Sitting down and playing this story to see all it has to offer takes just under an hour. Each subsequent playthrough remained fresh in my mind and made it easy to remember what choices I had previously chosen; the work returns you to exactly where you started – a small candle lit paragraph giving some exposition to the narrative and myth.

You are a traveller who has been offered sanctuary at the house of a storyteller and, to pass the time, you help them craft a new yarn. This yarn is the tale of a domovoi: a fantasy Slavic creature that tends to the house of its master. The storyteller offers you choices for the domovoi to make and this leads down a narrow narrative path. Whether this limitation is intentional or not, it helps develop the feeling that the storyteller has their own agenda for this tale.

You can choose, however, to weave your own story. At a few places, you can derail it and inject your own ideas, causing some aggravation from the storyteller. These little moments add some comedic relief from the sombre tone of the narrative. If you derail the story too much, it ends in the player being kicked out of the storyteller’s house, becoming one of three possible endings.

Perhaps The Domovoi’s biggest shortcoming is its length. The piece works well as an introduction to this Slavic myth, but an introduction it remains. Snow had the opportunity to delve into a rich area of mythology and serve as a piece to not only entertain, but to also educate those unfamiliar. Furthermore, the interesting dynamic between you, the player, and the character who you are helping create a tale could have been explored further, but it is left relatively under-developed.

All in all, The Domovoi has the potential to be something more by exploring Slavic mythology and player/narrator relationship more. That being said, however, it remains an intriguing and brilliantly bleak short story – whichever way you decide to play it – that is worth your time to visit.

You can find The Domovoi and Kevin Snow’s other projects on the Bravemule website where you can play for free, or pay what you want.

Digital Fiction Resources

Digital Fiction Resources

Updated 25 September 2018.

Note: My series on Writing Digital Fiction is also a useful (more in-depth) resource.

Quicklinks:

What is Digital Fiction?

Digital fiction (DF) as we understand it here at Wonderbox is:

Fictional stories that are written and read on digital devices, using some element of digital interactivity or expression (e.g., links, multimedia, gameplay). DF stories would lose something – or everything – if they were expressed in print form only.

For more thorough (and scholarly) overviews of what digital fiction is, have a look at the [S]creed for Digital Fiction, and Reading Digital Fiction’s overview.

Examples of DF include (but are definitely not limited to!) interactive fiction, text adventure games, hypertexts, Flash fictions (the ones built in Adobe Flash), multimedia fiction, mobile story apps, enhanced books, and more. We review a lot of these across a breadth of styles and platforms here on Wonderbox.

Writing Digital Fiction

(Previously posted on the Reading Digital Fiction website.)

Digital writers have historically used a lot of different platforms, often proprietary software that was both expensive, and repurposed for digital fiction. Luckily, a lot has changed as digital fiction has grown in popularity, and there are now a number of really great, inexpensive/free/open-source, built-for-purpose platforms for burgeoning digital writers to choose from.

The first step is always to check out existing digital fictions (start with our suggestions for readers and reading groups, and also review those collected at the Electronic Literature Collection and the Interactive Fiction Database), to get familiar with how digital fiction works, and be inspired by the different styles and genres you can write in.

Twine

free | open source | browser-based | HTML/JavaScript-based | platform independent

If you are new to creating interactive texts, programs, or websites, it’s best to start simple. Twine, an open-source platform for creating hypertexts (called “Twine games”), is an excellent tool. You can build a Twine game in just a few minutes, and there is a fantastic community posting tutorials and sharing mods. The great thing about it is that as your skills advance, so does Twine; it can be adapted to work with conditionals, JavaScript, CSS, and html.

It’s worth noting that game developers often use Twine, or Twine-like environments, as planning and organizational tools for their game design. Even if you choose to go on to other platforms, Twine’s easy-to-use, visual mapping space can be a valuable tool for digital writing.

Twine resources:

Texture

free | open source | browser-based | HTML/JavaScript-based | platform independent

Texture is a more recently developed platform, but it is already showing promise. Texture provides a WYSIWYG platform to create interactive narratives. Check out some of the Texture stories already written, and write/publish your own.

ChoiceScript

free | open source | browser-based | HTML/JavaScript-based | platform independent

ChoiceScript is the platform used for Choice of Games fictions, and is freely available. If you enjoy CoG, or “multiple-choice games”, this is a good option.

InkleWriter

InkleWriter creates interactive stories in a scrolling visual that mimics the look of book pages, a nice crossover between interactivity and print-based stories.

Unfortunately, Inklewriter announced it would be shutting down in August 2018.

Inform7 & TADS

free | open source | download | parser-based | interpreter required | platform independent

On the purely text-based front of interactive fiction (a.k.a. text-adventure games) is Inform7 and TADS. Through these platforms, you can create parser-based interactive fictions in the mode of the old commercial games of the 1980s (think Zork or Colossal Cave Adventure). The form has turned to more of a literary bent in recent years, and experienced a resurgence.

Inform7 resources:

Adrift

free | Windows-only | parser-based | interpreter required

Adrift is another interactive fiction/text adventure game tool. It is unfortunately Windows-only, but the benefit is that it is menu-driven rather than requiring you to learn a new coding language.

Quest

free | browser-based/Windows | parser-based | HTML output

Quest allows you to create interactive fictions of the Inform7/TADS style, but without the need to learn the specific coding language.

Ren’Py & Novelty

free | open source | download | Python-based | platform independent

Ren’Py and Novelty are Python-based visual novel engines. Both are free, and both offer large libraries of VNs to explore, as well as extensive tutorials on how to make them. VNs are more popular in the East Asian market than in the West, as you’ll see from the visual style, but that popularity means they have been around for a while longer, and have more examples and tutorials than some of the other engines.

Fungus

free | open source | download | Unity 3D-based | platform independent

Fungus is a Unity 3D-based, free open-source platform that allows you to create visual novels, interactive fiction, educational games, and point-and-click stories and games. It requires no coding, though “power users can use Lua scripting to tackle bigger storytelling projects”, according to Fungus. There are plenty of online documentation and tutorials, too.

Gamemaker

$39USD+ | download | Mac/Windows

Obviously, judging from its name, Gamemaker is focused on making games. But many games, like walking sims and point-and-clicks, can easily be classified as digital fiction. So if you’re into more visual, game-like stories, give Gamemaker a go.

Massive List of Game Engines

Someone kindly put together this Google Spreadsheet “Another Interactive Fiction Engine List“, which includes many, many more options for creating digital fiction as well as notes on their forms and features. Note: I don’t maintain this list, and the “Last Updated” column is not up-to-date, so some or many of these entries may be obsolete.

Adobe Animate CC (formerly Flash)

£19.97/mo+ | download | MaclWindows

Flash was created as a general-purpose multimedia tool, and as such it’s A) expensive, and B) really robust (although finicky). You pay a lot for it, but you also get a lot (probably more than most digital writers need, given its wide range of uses, from multimedia websites to Flash games). A lot of digital fiction has been created on Flash, and some of the…er…”flashier” works use it well.

The limitations of Flash, of course, are well-known, as Flash has had a rocky relationship with mobile devices.

HTML-CSS-JavaScript

Because of the controversy and difficulties with Flash and mobile devices, a lot of digital writers shifted to HTML (and later, HTML5) in the early 2010s. With new attributes and potential for dynamic websites, HTML5, used in conjunction with CSS and JavaScript, enables digital writers to create fictions that work across all devices, with a minimum of adjustment between them. Clearly, working in these “pure” code-based environments requires some digital expertise, but once mastered, they offer a strong foundation for the digital writer to implement a wide array of digital fictions, from web-based dynamic texts to stand-alone mobile apps.

And finally, don’t forget the e-Book

Remember, e-Books have hypertext functionality! Using tools like Sigil and Calibre, enterprising digital writers can create hypertexts that can be enjoyed on any device, and sold through all major e-book sellers (including Amazon and the iBookstore). Our Hyperbooks project has started down this route in order to explore the commercialization potential of digital fiction and hypertexts, and we welcome all digital writers to join us!

Have other platforms or tools you like or that you built? Comment on this post with them and we’ll add them to the page.

Reading Digital Fiction

Resources for Reading DF (includes links to some great introductory DFs)

Resources for Reading Groups

Where to find DF:

Have suggestions for resources? Comment on this post with them, and we can update the page.

Updated 25 September 2018.

Review: Lifeline by 3 Minute Games

Review: Lifeline by 3 Minute Games

Lifeline
by 3 Minute Games
Mobile app / Text adventure
Steam / iTunes / Google Play
2016


There’s a tendency in interactive fiction for authors to use fairly dry, prosaic description to bring players into their worlds. It works, but perhaps it’s fair to say that there is room for experimentation. What’s so special about Lifeline is that it dispenses with that omniscient narrator in a very specific way: through conversation. Lifeline engages the player directly with its main character: an astronaut stranded on a distant planet. What follows from this conceit is a game essentially formed as an extended conversation tree.

Technically, Lifeline is based on the Twine 2 language, but is dressed up in such a way that even those familiar with the format would scarce recognize it. The cold, grey metal textures of the UI echo a more utilitarian Star Trek communicator, but are subtle enough to seem at home on any modern mobile device. The game features limited play options (no restarts, toggles only for the music and sound effects) and after a brief introductory message, the fiction is only broken when the player opens the settings menu. From the get-go, the player is ostensibly, believably using a communication program to chat with and direct the protagonist.

The lost astronaut, Taylor, is very personable and easily empathised with, which makes it very easy for the player to invest in whichever the branching outcomes of the story they encounter. Lifeline avoids identifying its protagonist in terms of more obvious attributes such as race or sex, allowing those details to be filled in by the player. That is not to say Taylor is a blank slate or that s/he lacks personality – indeed, that is one of the strengths of the work. Taylor regularly discusses, protests or endorses the player’s suggestions and it’s consistently fun to engage with the erstwhile traveller.

The tone of the work is set immediately upon opening the application with an echoey, alien soundscape that despite hundreds of loops over the course of the game never seems to grow old. The reason why it stays fresh is presumably because the game is only played in very short bursts (roughly a couple minutes at a time). This is arguably one of the most important features of Lifeline: the fact that it unfolds in real time. The game takes place over the course of several real-world days – with messages from Taylor being relayed to the player through push notifications on their phone. After choosing their response, Taylor will go away for anywhere up to a matter of hours to complete whatever activity or goal the player advises them to engage with. This unique use of mobile device infrastructure makes Lifeline stand out among its peers.

For the most part, Lifeline steers away from trying to convey any sort of moral or political message – it possesses no overbearing themes and instead focuses on telling an engaging, yet ultimately pulpy science fiction story, with appearances from some familiar tropes. This is not to say the story lacks depth, however; there are many small details and deeper nuances to the plot and world that make the game worth replaying.

Where Lifeline fails, perhaps, is where it forces the player to choose from ‘Snarky Response 1’ or ‘Snarky Response 2’ and slightly hamfistedly railroads the plot in a specific direction. But for the most part, Taylor’s banter makes for a convincing enough reason to go with the flow. The endings can be rather abrupt or drawn out as the tension wanes and the player becomes increasingly unsure as to why Taylor is messaging them instead of running for his/her life.

Ultimately, Lifeline is a rare example of interactive fiction which takes advantage of the unique capabilities of the medium. Text messaging is the norm for almost everyone these days and Lifeline taps into that world; it slips very easily into the background of everyday life. It’s certainly not the most revolutionary mode of storytelling, but especially for the modest asking price (<$2) it’s worth a shot.