Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Interesting Experience with Creating “It Had to Happen, Right?”

First and foremost the main experience that working with Inform 7 showed me was that I have a new found respect for those people who create large scale Interactive Fiction (IF) literature, especially for fun. I created a very small IF, entitled “It Had to Happen, Right?,” which created so much hardship, that I really understood the topic statement of the class that dealt with IF: “How do they do this without throwing the computer out the window!?” I was close to this point various times during my own IF creating experience due to my own lack of knowledge of writing IF. Although that working with IF is tedious and quite frustrating at times, it is very rewarding when you are able to test your IF and the error sign does not show up, as is shown at right.

The basic plan that I had in mind for my IF was that I wanted to create an interesting and somewhat challenging puzzle-based IF. The basic plot of the IF was that the player character, Roxana is reliving experiences in her memory about events that already happened, trying to see if there was any way for her to try and save her lover from having to run away from the guards that were chasing him. Henry, Roxana’s lover, is a non-character player that I have yet to bring to life, but his story is that he is in love with Roxana, but he is a commoner and she is noble born. They feel as if they found true love, but yet her parents do not see it that way so they have sent guards to find, capture, and kill Henry so that they would be free to marry Roxana off as they wanted for political gain. Roxana and Henry have supporters in the castle, Ellen the cook and Samson the butler, who try and help Roxana and Henry to find the path that leads to their true love. At left is the opening part of my IF.
I hoped that an interactor with my IF would be able to move about the five rooms in the castle and talk to the various non-player characters that are about the castle. I also wanted to have different ‘puzzles’ for the interactor to figure out, like how Roxana and Henry can run away to be together without being killed. As a ‘reward’ to the interactor for figuring out the puzzle that would really encompass the whole game, I wanted to have couple of different endings that the ending that the interactor would receive would depend on the way that the interactor played the game and the choices they made, similar to Aaron Reed’s “Whom the Telling Changed” (

The software of Inform 7 was difficult to work with at first, but once I learned how specific the program needed the text to be, it was easier. I am quite sure that I did not find or use all of the relevant capabilities of the program, but I looked around the software in effort to try and help myself understand the codified language that was needed of the program. In order to even start understanding the software, I needed the help my professor, my classmates, and “The Inform 7 Handbook” by Jim Aikin ( Also what was helpful was talking about different issues with my classmates, though normally we talked about the aggravation with the software but in those conversions, we learned about the mistakes others made and the solutions to the problems or vise-versa. Through the various sources of help, specifically Shauna’s help, I was able to leave the Library and create my other rooms, after trying to figure out different ways to declare there were other rooms. I was able to basically figure out most of the functions, I just did not completely understand the codified language of the software.
The software opened up creative possibilities in the way that the author needs to make sure that they are giving enough details about various things in order to make the IF work properly and to allow the interactor to know the various hidden clues about what to do next. Also the software allows the creator the opportunity to only have events really take place in one room at a time, so it allows the creator to just focus on that one part of the game a time. Although that software opens up some creative possibilities, it also prevents them from happening since if a creator cannot make sense of how to do format an idea they have, most likely the creator will forget the idea. This happened to me in the way that I wanted to put a piece of wood on the fire in the fireplace in my IF, but I could not figure out how to word the text just right to manage the action. Most of the limiting of creativity that takes place in IF is due to the lack of understanding how to deal with the software or at least it was in my case.
My lack of clear insight with Inform 7 also played a part of me not reaching my initial thoughts of what I wanted to complete in my IF. Out of my initial thoughts I came nowhere near to completing those goals I had set because at this point in time I cannot even possibly begin to fathom how to make different endings for a puzzle-based IF. The main thing about working with Inform 7 that frustrated me was the error messages, especially when you think that everything is correct. The other events that lead to my frustration was the way in which a creator would have to write in order to make the IF sound linear and believable (or at least believable in the world that has been created to house the IF world).
Writing If is vastly different than writing a short story on paper or Word Document mainly because of the simple difference that with a short story dialog is easy to write, as are different descriptions. In writing IF, one needs to be so specific that it manages drive the author a little crazy at points when the error message comes up and reads that it cannot mention something because it is not located in a room, but yet you have said it is in that room; this happened to me many of times in my Inform 7 experience, as you can see at left. The main difference is that IF can talk back to you, while short stories are quiet.Also with short stories, although that you keep your audience in mind, you do not have to think about them too much when writing other than making sure that different thoughts and events are clear to the reader. Where as in IF you always have to keep in mind what the interactor might happen to do in the game and be prepared (in certain circumstances) for what they would like to do or what they are thinking. Having to keep the interactor in mind while writing the IF is the hardest part (other than actually writing the text) because each interactor has their own though process, so the creator needs to think of the most common and uncommon inputs that the interactor would want to use, just in case. Keeping the interactor in mind is difficult, but yet it allows the creator to clearly see where they need to make changes before they publish the IF. This is done by finding a trustworthy, good friend and having them play the game with the Transcript function on so that we they are finished with the IF, you can see what exactly they did in order to reach the end. One such transcript is show at left.
Although that writing an IF is harder than writing a short story on a page, I found that IF was more inspiring to write because if things ran smoothly (no error messages) it gave you a reason to continue working with the IF story, whereas I sometimes become bored by writing a short story on paper where you have no real feedback unless you give it to someone to look out.
All together the Inform 7 experience was not as horrible as it could have been. Also by using the program and trying to create my own IF, I see how those that create IF become addicted to it, once they learn the ins and outs of the program and how to set up everything correctly the first time. Towards the current ending point of my IF, I realized that I like writing the story and thinking about how the interactor will perceive the piece, though I am by no means addicted – I need to learn too much to become addicted at this stage. If someone wanted to use Inform 7 to write an IF piece, I would suggest to them that they need to have the “The Inform 7 Handbook” ( nearby, but better yet to know what they wanted to try included in their IF and read those specific sections in the Handbook, taking notes, since the Handbook save my class’s sanity and computers. Reading the needed sections of “The Inform 7 Handbook” will most likely stop you from having to make sure that the insurance on your computer is still up to date in case of it growing wings and flying out your window.

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