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Research Assistance for the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative

Today I had a very pleasant conversation with a representative of Mfa, Ltd., a firm out of NYC that handles the marketing for Colonial Williamsburg. My Kickstarter project came up on their radar, and they were very interested to learn more about it, what the inspiration was, and so on. It was a very nice surprise to learn that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation encourages these types of projects and activities. (By the way, “Colonial Williamsburg” is a registered trademark–which is why I’m not using that phrase–but they were the ones that suggested I use “Historical Williamsburg” for the project.)

One of the outcomes of my conversation today was an offer from Mfa, Ltd., to put me in touch with some of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation researchers to help me gather information for the project. This is a very exciting development, and while it’s not an “official” approval of the work, it will certainly help things move along!

For Novices: The Top 5 Interactive Fiction Games

Getting into Interactive Fiction isn’t the easiest thing to do, as far as playing a “new” computer game genre goes. In the early 1980s when IF was popular–and the distractions of graphic computer games was non-existent–people spent significant time in the games, reading the stories and situations, thinking about how to respond, and considering the possible (or probable) action choices to take. In the days of playing Colossal Cave and Scott Adams text adventure games, the simplicity of the parser forced people to think in terms of two-word commands. That had the effect of narrowing action choices to some degree, which was probably a good thing as the genre gained its following. As Infocom released its games with more sophisticated language parsing capabilities, the potential for action and conversation was greatly multiplied. But most Infocom players likely had an introduction to the genre that helped to educate them in the conventions of IF communications.

Today, learning IF games can be difficult for several reasons. Finding a local IF community can be difficult (okay, impossible in most cases), which means that players need to rely on online resources–if they can successfully find those. The computer gaming paradigm has shifted greatly over the past few decades, and as a result, people’s expectations for game experiences is quite different.

Fortunately, there are freely available resources that help ease a new IF gamer into the genre. Instructions, primers, and how-to guides can be found by searching the Internet. And there are many good games suitable for novice IF gamers. This article on the gamer site 1up has listed what could be considered the top 5 games for Interactive Fiction beginners to try first. Try your hand!

While the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative isn’t being developed strictly with novices in mind, if it will be used in the teaching and learning environment it will need to be something that students can easily pick up on. To find out more about the Kickstarter project, please click here.

The Historical Williamsburg IF Project: an Interview with Emily Short

I was quite pleased when I was contacted by Emily Short about the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative. For those of us engaged in authoring Interactive Fiction, attracting the attention of Emily is a very gratifying experience. Emily has won multiple IF competition awards for many of her games including Galatea, Savoir-Faire, and Floatpoint (just to name a few). As it turns out, Emily was interested in the concept of my Williamsburg project, and she offered me an opportunity for an interview which she would publish on her blog, Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling.

You can go directly to the interview by clicking on this link. I think the interview turned out well, but I’m biased regarding the topic. So be sure to read it yourself.

And don’t forget, we’re still in the funding stage for the Kickstarter project and can use all the support we can get. Please feel free to click here and go directly to the Kickstarter project page. Every bit helps!

Getting from Here to There: A Matter of Scale

April 22, 2012 1 comment

One of the great joys of playing Interactive Fiction games is in the discovery and exploration of the physical space or actual play environment of the game. Years ago when I played the Colossal Cave Adventure for the first time (on the Data General Eclipse computer at the office after hours), I delighted in drawing maps for all the locations and paths that were available. When I got to the maze area, where room exits looped back into the same room, the value of the mapping process became very clear. Those skills were well utilized as I grew into the Scott Adams adventure games, and later the collection of games from Infocom. Sketching out the location boxes with their associated path connections became second nature as a necessary Interactive Fiction player skill. (I am often surprised when I teach Interactive Fiction to college game design students, how few of them already know or readily develop the map-making skill set.)

Developing maps for IF is a slightly different process, though, that requires more than drawing boxes with interconnecting lines. There is the idea of location scale and relative size in IF games, and the developer needs to make some important decisions before committing to computer code. Locations are not all uniform in size (when we imagine our settings), and logical layout is not the same as physical layout. When dealing with fictional settings, there is some latitude for interpretation (though the good designers have a very clear picture of their environment before starting to code). However, there is no room for creative interpretation when attempting to recreate historical settings with absolute fidelity to the historical reality.

That’s our situation with the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative. A large part of the questions could be framed around geographic granularity: as we build the maps, what is the smallest unit of measurement we should be using? (A square yard seems reasonable, actually.) There will be the typical Interactive Fiction flex in the maps; for example, walking down one side of a street may result in more “stops” along the way than walking up the other side. That would have much to do with the buildings or other pathways located on each side. But the point is, we need to make consideration of the space or area that needs to be “reserved” for game locations in which action may (or may not) take place.

I’m making my sketches now, and that will be one of the first pieces of the game that will be ready for review (we may even put that up on Playfic for people to try out). Do you have any suggestions regarding map making? Is that something you enjoy doing? If you’d like to contribute in some way on this (or any other) piece of the project, please drop me a line.

And don’t forget to check out the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative Kickstarter project.

PlayFic: Implenting Inform 7 on the Web

April 22, 2012 Leave a comment

We’ve come across the PlayFic website, and it looks to be a very good tool for building Interactive Fiction through Inform 7 to place on the web. We’ve already built a few test programs, and the implementation works quite well. While we haven’t decided whether or not we’ll place “in progress” versions (perhaps the navigation component) of the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative online through PlayFic, we definitely will be implementing a version of the program there.

Interested in Inform 7 Development? Read On…

April 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Are you skilled in Inform 7? Would you be interested in developing parts of the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative? We are looking for Interactive Fiction developers with experience in Inform 7, especially in the area of NPC dialog. Contact us for more information if you are interested!

The Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative is also seeking backers through Kickstarter. We are off to a very good start. Click here if you would like to learn more about backing the project.

Live on Kickstarter: The Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative

April 19, 2012 Leave a comment

We are up and running on Kickstarter with our 45-day window to raise $1500 to fund the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative. Check it out at the Kickstarter site!

More info to follow, but in the meantime, please spread the word!

We Have Kickstarter Approval!

April 19, 2012 Leave a comment

All systems are go, and Kickstarter has approved the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative project! We are currently aligning our launch sequence, and we anticipate the official launch of our 45-day funding window to occur before the end of April 20, 2012.

Kickstarter Intro Video Complete: Project Launch in Progress

April 16, 2012 Leave a comment

The Kickstarter introduction video for the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative is complete, and it is now on YouTube. It’s embedded here for your viewing convenience:

We are now in the process of getting the final Kickstart site details completed, which includes setting the actual donation level awards. The project launch is right around the corner, and we hope you will support us by spreading the word and making a funding donation, big or small!

Being a Part of the Story. Interactively

April 4, 2012 2 comments

The above is a photograph of part of the wall graphics that greet people entering the Colonial Williamsburg* Visitor Center, very near the admissions ticket counter. I especially love this part of the image because of the “be a part of the story” quote. Quite honestly, it is easy to be a part of the story when you visit Colonial Williamsburg. The entire colonial section is like a bubble out of time (with a lot of modern visitors wandering through). When you go, you have the opportunity to see much of life as it was lived through the artisans and craftspeople there. You get to interact with historical figures: on our last visit, my family and I had the opportunity to discuss issues of the day with George Washington in the Governor’s Palace gardens, have tea with Richard Carlton, the merchant-owner of the coffeehouse just across the way from the House of Burgesses, and chat with Lady Susannah Beverly Randolph, mother** of John “The Tory” Randolph, loyalist to the British Crown.

But while my family and I are able to visit Williamsburg fairly regularly, there are many who would but cannot, and many more who are not even aware that such a slice of American history exists. The Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative is an Interactive Fiction project intended for anyone, anywhere in the world to learn about this core piece of the story of the 13 American colonies. Interactive Fiction is a type of computer game that has all the depth and subtleties that only thorough books might offer, but at the same time, it engages the reader in ways that allows them to use the full range of their imaginations and truly be a part of the story. I invite you to be a part of the story of Williamsburg’s history. Please be sure to spread the word to everyone you know that feels excitement at history and at the thought of using their imaginations playing computer games!

*Colonial Williamsburg is a registered trademark of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. There is no affiliation between the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative project.

** An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Susannah Randolph as the wife of John “the Tory” Randolph rather than his mother and wife of Sir John Randolph.