Monday, September 12th, 2011
posted 8:52pm
"IF Theory Reader"
Iíve been waiting for the IF Theory Reader ever since I first started programming Across The Stars back in 2006. I was trying to absorb everything on Interactive Fiction at the time, and one day I ran across this site that was dedicated to this book. There wasnít a lot of information on it, but it did say that they had some articles, and it also listed the editors, Emily Short being one of them. I was hoping it would pick up some steam, hitting hardback like David Cornelson did with The Inform Designer's Manual. But the project faded and died as the website went link dead, and nothing more was heard about it. Then last year there were a few rumors that appeared on Emilyís blog that talked about the project being revived. And low and behold, back in February, the book was finally released with a copy available for purchase from Lulu.com. You can download the PDF for free, but I picked up a copy in April and Iíve been reading it over the summer as I work on the second installment of ATS.

The book is a collection of articles from a number of authors covering everything from the theory of the art form to the craft of design. Some of the articles go all the way back to 1995, including conversations that started out on rec.arts.int-fiction. Most of the authors are implementers, giving insight into what it takes to make a good game.

The first part of the book is dedicated to IF Theory, as in the theory of what IF is, how do you classify it from other games, what makes up a piece of interactive work. It also looks at IF from a number of angles, covering stuff like what it takes to make a Lovercraftian game, or some of the typical uses of puzzles, plots, and scenes. This section also has two articles by Graham Nelson that cover Inform 7 and Natural Language Development which the system is based around. With I7 being one of the most used tools today, you almost need these articles in there.

The second section covers craft, exploring a number of things from geography layout to writing descriptions. NPC dialog is covered in a few articles, with Emily Short explaining all of the converastion systems that sheís used in her games. I had no idea that they were so varied. Iíve really only experienced Galatea and Alabaster. I also really enjoyed the article on descriptions by Stephen Granade: Descriptions Constructed, which gives a lot of examples of how descriptions can be so much more than just telling the player what an object is. And the article Mapping the Tale by J. Robinson Wheeler also covered writing scene descriptions, giving a ton of examples that he breaks down pointing out what works and what doesnít.

But throughout the book there was example after example of games that illustrated the points each author was trying to make. And if there was a list of games to play to understand what can be done in IF up to circa 2004, it would have to be everyone in this book. I think just about every game Iíve ever heard mentioned in the IF community came up, some several times, and there were others that Iíve never heard of before. Itís an extensive list.

The whole thing is well worth the read, thereís a lot of good stuff in there, so much so that within the next year Iíll probably read it again. Or a least parts of it. I enjoy thinking about these games out of the box, picking them apart, and analyzing them for what theyíre worth. Plus itís great to find other people with the same passion for this art, hearing their views and gaining some insight. Kevin Jackson-Mead and J. Robinson Wheeler finished a long awaited project that will benefit so many writers, new and old alike. And in the end, after digesting all of this, hopefully I can understand the genre better, allowing me to a write worthy game.

Let no one doubt my dedication to my art - D

Currently Playing: Fallen Earth