m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

Shades of Bad and Plaid

I’ve more or less finished Fifty Shades of Plaid (Parody Brothers, Kindle Unlimited 2014), a bottleneck-and-bottleneck Choose Your Own Adventure story that’s a parody of Fifty Shades of Grey. The technical term is branch and bottleneck, but the branches never get much farther than a choice or two from the trunk before returning there, and at times you are even scolded for trying to make a silly choice (in a parody CYOA!), then sent back to the “correct” choice. Despite the tendency to railroad the reader, there are plenty of endings, though many seem jarringly random in their choice of whether you will stay with the tall, rich, and mysterious Christian Plaid or move on to other men. Still, there are some surprises you can miss if you happen to move on.

The story is far more effective as a parody than as an adventure; the problematic characterization of the original cast is only compounded by their satirization, and what few choices you have never lead to any notable character development or change in the nature of your subsequent options. There are fewer sex scenes than I expected, and most of them were more slapstick than erotic, though you might not want to let this tall tale fall into the hands of the traditional CYOA audience. Still, it’s worth a read for George Takei alone.

I’ve more or less given up on How to Be Bad (Michael La Ronn, EPUB 2014), which is not to say it’s a bad story, but it’s too linear to support much rereading; the bottleneck-and-bottleneck structure is harder to tolerate in a longer story like this one. You start out as lawyer passed up for promotion to partner who makes a deal with a devil to get revenge. Of course the deal is not quite what you thought it would be, and you have to collect some souls or else. Whether you lose your own soul in the process seems as arbitrary as whether you stayed with Christian Plaid or not in Fifty Shades of Plaid, though it wasn’t clear to me whether this was intentional on the author’s part or just an unintended result of bugs in the story.

Otherwise, the writing was good, the tale was entertaining, and there were some clever do-over options to keep the reader from having to start over after getting deep into your third soul. But I’m not expecting any sequels; though the author trademarked his series title (Decision Select: Every Choice Counts) and wrote a how-to book, he seems to have abandoned both the story (which is no longer available on his website, only at Goodreads) and the genre itself in favor of SFF.

I took a look under the hood (the EPUB is free as in beer and as in speech) to figure out how the games were done. They felt scripted, but there was no scripting inside the epub, only 2,776 individual files, of which 464 were oops, you didn’t make a decision pages. And not all of those followed genuine choices; about 170 such warnings followed single chokepoint links (Continue), and many of the remaining choices were merely a means of re-inputting the decisions you’d made earlier in the story. While the author discussed the book back in the day, he didn’t mention how he constructed it. Once upon a time Inkle Studios would convert stories with scripting to Kindle eBooks without it, and I wonder if that service was involved here.

In any event, scripting was definitely involved; there were some consistent typos that can only have been created and overlooked by a computer. For example, there were 64 occurrences of “n out 5” that should have been “n out of 5” in your trivia quiz results. On the other hand, inputting your soul colors sometimes fails—something a computer ought to do well—and my manual search around the book for the correct list may have led to my impression that the final outcome was unpredictable, because it turned out there was more than one way to reach at least some of the eight possible soul-color collections. A more serious failure of navigation was your opponent’s final decision in the game show showdown, which often contradicted both the previous events and the subsequent reactions of the characters; it seemed like another computer-generated typo.

Of course I’m a tiny bit tempted to code a Twine-to-EPUB converter not unlike the old Inklewriter-to-Kindle converter. The intermediate step of actually being able to autoplay an entire Twine story tree is something I’ve thought about before; it would be useful for testing. But I know the Twine ecosystem too well to underestimate the task; I’m not about to make a deal with that devil.

Choose Your Own Idiot-Proofing

I’ve been reading more choice fiction lately, and one thing I noticed in the last two books I started (Fifty Shades of Plaid by Parody Brothers, Kindle Unlimited 2014 and How to Be Bad by Michael La Ronn, ePub 2014) was the idiot-proofing. It has moved beyond the usual blurb at the beginning telling you how to read a CYOA, to an entire page after every choice warning you that if you can see this, you forgot to make a choice. Apparently the temptation to flip pages in an eReader is irresistable, at least when compared to the minor price in wasted bits backstopping all your choices. Maybe I’ll add a per-passage warning option to PrePub

I found Killing Hitler With Praise And Fire on a list of grown-up CYOA at Goodreads and, though the ratings there were uninspiring, I followed a link to Amazon and checked out those reviews as well. Most of the positive reviews mentioned the novelty and nostalgia of finding a modern CYOA book. Other opinions ranged from “meh” to negative, with one interesting “review” in which the reviewer said nothing about the book except that it was not this “book”.

Note: it’s not available on Kindle.

Scree 3.0.3

I’ve updated Scree, my Scrivener template for writing hyperfiction with Twine/Twee, to work with Scrivener 3. Scrivener 3 is Mac-only right now, but there’s the usual free 30-day-total trial for new and Scrivener 2 users. The most notable improvement for Twine writing is that Scrivener 3 can now do automatic post-processing after compiling, plus it offers to open the resulting HTML story file for you.

You can still use the old template on Windows or in Scrivener 2 for Mac.

The Interactive Fiction Writers Conference is going on live today. You can still register and play back the earlier sessions or join the current one. We got to play some cool multiplayer choice fiction over Telegram in an earlier session, and won!

I’ve been working on updating Scree to Scrivener 3, using a trial version that’s currently at version 3.0.3. The latest Scrivener has lots of options, including one that can post-process text files on the command line (as long as you don’t have the sandboxed Mac App Store version of Scrivener) as part of the compile process, which means no more hacky UI scripting for me.

But there are bigger fish to fry in Scrivener 3, such as possibly leaving Twee/Scree altogether for a more direct hyperfiction writing process involving Scrivener internal document links or a non-Twine, pandoc-based CYOA format, or both.

I fell down an internet hole and found this Twine Garden via this Twine gardener.

I set up an Amazon author page a while back.

The Gamebook Adventurer posted yesterday about how to combine Four Against Darkness with Dungeons & Dragons: Four Against Dungeons & Dragons.

Myrmex 1.3.1

Myrmex, one of my JavaScript implementations of solitaire games for the Decktet, suffers from an iOS 11.3 scrolling bug that’s going around all the drag-and-drop libraries. I’ve done a bit of hacking around the issue for the moment and made a beta version 1.3.1 for anyone actually having issues. (You’d know it immediately if you were.)

The reason it’s only in beta is that the hack will break older browsers in the process of fixing newer ones, and there’s still some hope that Apple will fix the bug on their end.

Paloma 1.1.1

A couple of NaNoWriMos ago I mentioned that I’d made a Twine 2 replacement for the popular scrolling/stretchtext story format Jonah from Twine 1. I didn’t port Jonah itself; instead I based Paloma on Chris Klimas' minimalist Twine 2 story format Snowman. At the time I also threatened to backport Paloma to Twine 1, which I apparently did soon afterwards, as well as tossing in some special passages (versions 1.0.1 and 1.1.0).

Today’s version, 1.1.1, fixes an iPhone < 6 issue involving tiny fonts on tiny screens.

Aucteraden 1.1

My JavaScript implementation of Jack Neal’s Decktet solitaire game Aucteraden has been slightly updated.

Aucteraden 1.0

Aucteraden is yet another JavaScript implementation of a Decktet solitaire game, along with a scoresheet (for playing with actual cards) and an interactive rules summary. It features offline play, undo, variants (both intentionally created by the author as well as accidentally invented by users), rule and card stats popups, and a black moons option.

Aucteraden was devised by Jack Neal; see the credits for more links. The source code is available at BitBucket.

Boskone on the Cheap

In my previous post about Boskone 55, I forgot to mention that once again you can try the convention out for free for Friday afternoon from 2pm to 6pm, which includes a couple of the panels I’m on: “My Favorite Game” at 3pm and “Revisiting Big Dumb Objects” at 4pm. The full free schedule is online.

Magnate Roller 1.1.1

Magnate Roller has been brushed up to version 1.1.1, now with clearer rules for playing with the dice, since Peter and I are continuing our trend of getting wrong things you never thought you could get wrong with the rules right in front of you.

Boskone 55

Boskone 55 is coming up like a freight train! In about a week (February 16–18, 2018) fans will gather in Boston for New England’s longest-running science fiction and fantasy convention. You can find out more about Boskone at The Boskone Blog, Twitter, Facebook, and the Boskone website.

I’m on the schedule for Boskone, where I’ll be talking about games, Big Dumb Objects, medicine, fanfiction, and filk.

A Brief History of BDOs

Via reddit: Today’s Big Dumb Object (BDO) story is a non-fiction recap of the genre, “A Brief History of the Big Dumb Object Story in Science Fiction” by James Davis Nicoll at Tor. He thinks “the heyday of the BDO seems to be over,” because of the zeitgeist or the stock plots—I would say it’s the difficulty of fitting a human-sized story to an inhuman-sized setting—and he laments the lack of women writing BDO stories, though the commenters come up with plenty of recent examples, one of them even female.

Myrmex 1.3

Happy new year!

Myrmex is one of my JavaScript implementations of solitaire games for the Decktet. The latest version, 1.3, now autosaves and has some additional options you can check out in the settings. Myrmex is set up to play offline and/or save to your iDevice home screen.

Many thanks to Myrmex’s devisor, both for Myrmex itself and for beta testing version 1.3.

Magnate Roller 1.1

Magnate Roller has been updated to version 1.1, now with a rules cheat-sheet, since in our first game Peter and I managed to get wrong almost every possible thing you could get wrong, despite the rules being open right in front of me. (It didn’t help that I’d found both an old version of the rules and a new one, and it was apparently the old version that I still had open.)

Magnate Roller 1.0

I got some stacking counters to use for suit chips for Decktet games, but when I went to play Magnate, I couldn’t find my old D&D dice. So I made a little tool to roll for me: Magnate Roller. I used Vue.js just in case I ever decide to expand it into the full game.

Peter and I tied our first game (including tying on the tie-breaker).