Category Archives: Interactive Fiction

Morbus 3 – The Dizzying Tower

The third episode of my D&D 4th Edition game is done. In this adventure, the party is waylaid by illusions emanating from a mysterious tower occupied by a deceitful gnomish wizard.

This adventure is designed for four 3rd-level characters, and should provide them with half of a level’s experience, or take them to fourth level if you double experience as I do. Note that because I double experience, this adventure contains a full level’s worth of treasure. GMs using this adventure will want to adjust accordingly. The full adventure is after the break.

Continue reading Morbus 3 – The Dizzying Tower

The Interactive Fiction Genre

In my last podcast, I didn’t even bring up interactive fiction, which suffers from genre staleness as much or more than other types of games. If you have a text game, you’re almost guaranteed that you’ve got a nonviolent, turn-based game where you solve puzzles in a game with a specific sort of world model. Sure, there are a few exceptions: C.E.J. Pacian‘s Gun Mute, Robb Sherwin‘s Necrotic Drift, and Adam Cadre‘s Lock & Key, to name a few. But by and large, interactive fiction is cerebral and derivative of the seminal works: Colossal Cave Adventure, Zork, and Graham Nelson’s Curses.

Where is the interactive fiction that simulates colonizing space? Where are the text games that have the same playful feeling as Katamari Damacy? Why are text adventures always either puzzle-filled exploration games or highbrow, slow-paced stories?

I’m being a bit cruel, I think. But I still can’t think of a single piece of interactive fiction that I’d pick up and play for fun after finishing it once. There’s no gameplay to most IF except puzzle solving and figuring out what happens next. A good friend of mine once pointed out that in interactive fiction, you never really do stuff.

I’d like to see that change.

Phyta: Games As Poetry

A dark vine climbs toward a dark sun, with a golden creature fleeing its approach.

In Episode 5, I discussed the difference between short form and long form video games and interactive fiction. I compared certain games to short stories and novels, but I didn’t discuss the third well-known form of artistic writing: poetry. A poem is a work of language where the properties of the language itself — rhythm, sound, and imagery — are as important (or more important) than the words’ literal meaning and the narrative content of the work.

When I think of “poetic” games, where the form is as important as the content, I think of Tetris. Tetris is a game with a very simple narrative: pieces are falling, and must be organized or else the game ends. The story isn’t very important. What stands out about Tetris is its feeling and gameplay: the imagery and form of the game. The excitement of the race against time, the satisfaction of clearing a row, and the imagery of building a wall and tearing one down, where any hole is a flaw.

Phyta,” by Abraham Parangi, is a poetic game.

Continue reading Phyta: Games As Poetry

Ludus Novus 011: Written in Blood

In this podcast, I discuss the player-author contract. An interactive work sets up a trust between the player and the work’s author. This takes the form of a contract which, when violated, can cause the player to reject the work.

    The Player-Author Contract

  1. The work can be played by the player.

    • Violated by games which are unexpectedly incompatible with the player’s system.
  2. The entire work can be played by the player.

    • Violated by “game-breaking” bugs as in Battletoads and Pac-Man
  3. Through playing the work, the player can affect the progression of the work.

  4. The events in the work are governed by a set of rules.
    • Violated by some Choose Your Own Adventure games
  5. The rules of the work do not change without warning.

  6. Any player failure can be avoided by player actions.

    • Violated by really hard games.
    • Subverted by I Wanna Be The Guy and similar games and custom levels.
  7. The author provides some goal that the player can pursue.
    • Violated or subverted by Noctis.
  8. The player can evaluate progress toward a provided goal.
    • Let me know if you know a game that violates or subverts this!

Also see Without a Goal: On open and expressive games by Jesper Juul.

The music for this episode is “Broken (DURDEN version)” by DURDEN and featuring Trifonic & Amelia June, and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.

Ludus Novus 005: Level Cap

Length of works: is a given game most like a short story or a novel, and how can length affect content?


The next episode will be a new segment called False Narrativism.

Ludus Novus 004: Hurt Me Plenty

Difficulty and completeness: Why do games have to be hard, and how is finishing a game separate from completing it?

The music for this episode is “Big Bad World One” by Jonathan Coulton, and is available under a cc by-nc-sa 2.5 license.

This episode, unlike most, is available under a cc by-nc-sa 2.5 license.


The next episode will be about the length of games and how that relates to game classification. Is there a distinction between an interactive “short story” and an interactive “novel”? If you have comments or ideas, contact me at

Ludus Novus 003: Not the Same Thing After All

Variable player experience: What do we mean by interaction, and how can two players have different experiences with the same work?

The music for this episode is Enrique Granados’s “Spanish Dance n. 2” performed by Mario Mattioli, and is available under a cc by-nc 2.5 license.

This is the first episode in which I’ve talked much about table-top roleplaying games.


(Note: I’m going to start putting the titles of IF pieces from the IF Comp in quotes, as that competition is intended for short works, so participants presumably intended their pieces to be analogous to short stories.)

Ludus Novus 002: Telling It Like It Is

The unreliable narrator: how do you use this technique when the narrator is usually the player character?

The music for this episode is “Noite de Carnaval” by Code, and is available under a cc by-nc 2.5 license.


I will be out of town for a week, so the next full episode should appear on August 19, 2006. There may be something put up between now and then, though.

Ludus Novus Episode 001: Press Enter to Continue

Cutscenes: when are they appropriate, and when do they take away from the game?

Correction: In the original version of this episode, I attribute Nothing But Mazes to Stephen Granade, but it is actually by Greg Boettcher. Stephen Granade wrote Child’s Play, which is also part of IntroComp 2006 (and does some interesting things with the voice of the narrator). I should have a corrected version up shortly.

The music for this episode is “Babylon Bring Me Down,” by spinningmerkaba, and is available under a cc by-nc 2.5 license.