Where one endless corridor follows another: thoughts on translating Robbe-Grillet into Inform 7

Background

I’ve been learning more about parser IF lately, and what I think I like most about it (and what I liked most about lurking around LambdaMOO back in the day) is exploring space that is at the same time imaginative and rule-bound.

Learning to write parser IF in Inform is especially interesting and exciting to me (someone whose background is in poetry) because it is based on natural language input. Here’s an example of Inform source text from the Inform Manual:

“Disenchantment Bay”

The Cabin is a room. “The front of the small cabin is entirely occupied with navigational instruments, a radar display, and radios for calling back to shore. Along each side runs a bench with faded blue vinyl cushions, which can be lifted to reveal the storage space underneath. A glass case against the wall contains several fishing rods.

Scratched windows offer a view of the surrounding bay, and there is a door south to the deck. A sign taped to one wall announces the menu of tours offered by the Yakutat Charter Boat Company.”

The Cabin contains a glass case. In the glass case is a collection of fishing rods.

The case is closed, transparent, and openable.

The bench is in the cabin. On the bench are some blue vinyl cushions.

Here, objects and spaces are described principally in terms of their appearance, their properties, and their relationship to one another.

In the essay “A Future for the Novel” (1956), Alain Robbe-Grillet writes, “Thus it is the entire literary language that must change, that is changing already. From day to day, we witness the growing repugnance felt by people of greater awareness for words of a visceral, analogical, or incantatory character. On the other hand, the visual or descriptive adjective, the word that contents itself with measuring, locating, limiting, defining, indicates a difficult but most likely direction for a new art of the novel.” Continue reading “Where one endless corridor follows another: thoughts on translating Robbe-Grillet into Inform 7”

Making ROUND / SQUARE

Well, I have covered myself in hundreds of index cards again! This time to make ROUND / SQUARE, a micro game I submitted to sub-Q Magazine’s #subQjam. The prompt was to tell an interactive story about love in fewer than 1,000 words–1,000 words across ALL paths. In the way it distills each choice into two words, ROUND / SQUARE a bit like Chandler Groover’s left/right, which I really enjoyed. But beyond that initial similarity, it operates differently.

My challenge was to build some sort of narrative arc in units of two words each–and to give the player the sense that their choices were meaningful without presenting all the choices as being binary or otherwise mutually exclusive. (Part of my day job has to do with describing and classifying things via taxonomies and hierarchies and thesauri and data dictionaries, some of which can be inadequate, or worse, damaging.) In other words, I wanted navigating the game to be a process, not of drilling down, but of branching and looping. Continue reading “Making ROUND / SQUARE”

Favorite necropastoral games

I have spent much of this October making a silverfish costume out of duct tape and re-reading Joyelle McSweeney’s The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults. In the book (and on the now-inactive blog Montevidayo), McSweeney explores a variety of texts that  employ necropastoral strategies: Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, CAConrad’s The Book of Frank, Jack Smith’s Normal Love, the work of Kim Hyesoon, and many others.

According to McSweeney, “the necropastoral” is not merely an aesthetic designation–that is, it’s not just about imagery of contamination and death; necropastoral works also enact a kind of wormy devouring, actively exposing and transgressing the (artificial) boundary between idealized Arcadia and blighted city.

I’ve also been playing a lot of games–mostly short, mostly Twine–and I think that games can be considered through this lens as well. Here are three of my favorite necropastoral games. Some spoilers ensue.

Continue reading “Favorite necropastoral games”

Making REALLY, IF / REALLY, ALWAYS

REALLY, IF / REALLY, ALWAYS was put together with spreadsheets and scotch tape. I started working on it sporadically in early 2016, and finished in April 2018, in time to plant it in the Back Garden of the Spring Thing Festival of Interactive Fiction, and to have it published by the Orange Juice Public Library. This post summarizes the game’s development and construction.

First, a note on how the game works:

REALLY, IF / REALLY, ALWAYS is based on Bernie Cosell’s 1969 Lisp implementation of the ELIZA chat program originally written by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966. The program simulates a dialogue with a psychotherapist, the “doctor,” by taking the user’s natural-language input, identifying keywords and/or sentence structures, then reflecting the statement back to the user according to rules associated with the identified keywords or structures. If, for example, the user typed, “It seems that you love me,” the doctor might respond, “What makes you think I love you?”

In the 1969 implementation of the program, there are approximately 250 potential sentences that the doctor can “say.” Some examples:

What might _____ represent?

Why do you remember _____ just now?

Let’s discuss further why your _____ _____.

Have you dreamt _____ before?

Please tell me more.

In each playthrough of REALLY, IF / REALLY, ALWAYS, every word in the 1969 doctor script is used in the potential “input” text exactly once. Keywords (such as remember, dream, love, etc.) are used any number of times. Continue reading “Making REALLY, IF / REALLY, ALWAYS”