Finally this year I resolved to try my hand on writing some Interactive Fiction. IF is basically just a fancy name for text-adventure games - and here you might think: What is so interesting about text-adventures? Why waste time programming one? I am not sure myself, but this is how I attempt to justify it:
It is partly nostalgia, I guess, since I had enjoyed playing text-adventure games. Plus, on my linux box, there aren't a whole lot of graphical adventure games available. So, one day I went to the IF archive and grabbed some of the games that had won past IF competitions. As it turned out, the new games were extremely good, imaginative and in some of them the writing was much better than what you get in most novels. After spending a few months playing all the games that seemed interesting, I got a copy of Inform and started hacking away.
Now - what opportunities one has when creating interactive fiction? I though that since I was doing AI research, I might try and apply my knowledge towards creating intelligent agents to interact with the user. Alas, there are some specific problems with doing that in IF, which I mention in this article
So I was left with the task to create a normal interactive fiction game. Which meant I had to write text. A lot of it. Alright, you might think that creating text is not hard, but even this little journal entry is hard to be made into a coherent whole. It is probably less time consuming than creating graphics, 3d models, textures, realistic game engines and so on - but it still is quite hard.
The real problem with IF is that you want to give the player as much freedom as possible, while being at the same time able to drive the plot towards your goal. This relates to the problem of intelligent agents, but also to how to write the actual text. You will need to write text for every thing that the player might try and you want it to look professional. It is no good having a series of responses of the style. "You hit Frank. Frank clutches his stomach. Frank tries to hit you. You duck.", for a sequence of actions. Even though it does provide freedom, such a thing looks bad. You would normally want a flowing description of events, that does not look like it is machine-generated.
To a lesser extend, the same problem occurs with room descriptions. You have to be conscise, not mentioning everything present in a mechanistic way, while making every location uniquely identifiable and memorable. Overflowing amounts of text are usually not a good idea.
It is good to see how much someone can improve on their writing after having written only a few pages of text - if one has appropriate feedback.
I still have a long way to go though. Now that I look at this journal entry I think it sux.