Author Archives: Sam Kabo Ashwell

Xyzzymposium 2014: Aaron A. Reed on Best Use of Innovation

Aaron A. Reed has been attempting to be innovative with his interactive fiction for more than a decade, with occasional successes: his IF game Blue Lacuna has been widely admired by the community, and his IF-like-things 18 Cadence and Prom Week have been nominated for awards at IndieCade and IGF. He is the current organizer of the annual Spring Thing Festival of Interactive Fiction. His latest game The Ice-Bound Concordance merges explorable text, a complex NPC, and a printed art book driven by augmented reality.

The Best Use of Innovation nominees for 2014 were AlethiCorp, An Earth Turning Slowly, Hadean Lands and With Those We Love Alive. Continue reading

Xyzzymposium 2014: Caleb Wilson on Best Setting

Caleb Wilson has written interactive fiction such as Lime ErgotStarry Seeksorrow, and Six Gray Rats Crawl Up The Pillow, and has published non-­interactive fiction in Weird Tales, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and other journals. He is currently working on a project for Choice of Games about an 18th century musical virtuoso.

The nominees for Best Setting were  80 DaysHadean Lands, Invisible Partiesand With Those We Love Alive.

Setting is one of my favorite things about IF. It has two meanings to me.

First, it’s the world where the fiction takes place. The four nominees for Best Setting all take place in interesting worlds, so I’ll write a bit about that.

But secondly, and this is what distinguishes a lot of IF from static fiction, setting is the world model: the nature of this created place you can roam around, comb over, backtrack through, and explore. Even without much of a narrative at all, you can still enjoy poking around a well-made world, whether it’s built of a grid of connected rooms, or links, or routes on a spinnable globe.

A simple definition of IF is fiction that includes mechanics: rules that determine how you experience the story. Taken this way, the world model of an IF is a big part of its mechanics: how the setting is laid out and what you can do there, what it feels like to navigate the world, and how this affects the narrative or gameplay. In general games are at their strongest when their mechanic matches their theme: I find that these four games all match mechanics to theme in interesting ways.

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Awards Ceremony 2015

The XYZZY Awards ceremony for 2015 will be held on the ifMUD on Saturday, May 28, at 8 AM Honolulu time – or, should you inhabit a slightly more populous slice of the planet, 11 AM US-Pacific, 2 PM US-Eastern, 7 PM UK. We hope you can join us as we announce the winners.

As promised, I’ve been looking into possible alternatives to ifMUD; in that process, it has become clear that running the ceremony smoothly takes a pretty specialised setup, one which is very difficult to replicate in any kind of plug-and-play chatroom. At this point, I’m not confident about running a ceremony successfully from any of the alternative platforms I’ve looked at, and I’d rather not delay the Awards any more. I’m still very conscious that ifMUD is a difficult environment for anybody who doesn’t frequent it regularly, and I’m hoping to have a viable alternative in place by next year – even if that means recruiting a volunteer willing to build a custom platform. In the meantime, we’ll be producing a ceremony-specific guide to navigating the MUD – we don’t pretend that this is a complete solution, but we hope that it’ll help for the time being.

Voting is closed and will remain so through this week.

2015 XYZZY Awards: final round

The finalist games of 2015 are out. Congratulations, all!

Voting in the second round is open now, and will remain so through May 14. (Edit: extended to the 20th.) Go, vote!

Best Game
Birdland (Brendan Patrick Hennessy)
Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! (Steph Cherrywell)
Hollywood Visionary (Aaron A. Reed)
Midnight. Swordfight. (Chandler Groover)

Best Writing
Birdland (Brendan Patrick Hennessy)
Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory (Katherine Morayati)
Midnight. Swordfight. (Chandler Groover)

Best Story
Arcane Intern (Unpaid) (Astrid Dalmady)
Birdland (Brendan Patrick Hennessy)
Cape (Bruno Dias)
Map (Ade McT)

Best Setting
Beautiful Dreamer (S. Woodson)
Chlorophyll (Steph Cherrywell)
Neon Haze (Porpentine, Brenda Neotenomie)
Sub Rosa (Joey Jones, Melvin Rangasamy)
Summit (Phantom Williams)
Sunless Sea (Failbetter Games)

Best Puzzles
Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! (Steph Cherrywell)
Chlorophyll (Steph Cherrywell)
Oppositely Opal (Buster Hudson)
Scroll Thief (Daniel M. Stelzer)
Sub Rosa (Joey Jones, Melvin Rangasamy)
Toby’s Nose (Chandler Groover)

Best NPCs
Birdland (Brendan Patrick Hennessy)
Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! (Steph Cherrywell)
Hollywood Visionary (Aaron A. Reed)
Midnight. Swordfight. (Chandler Groover)
Nowhere Near Single (kaleidofish)

Best Individual Puzzle
Catching the fairy in Oppositely Opal (Buster Hudson)
The Hard Puzzle in Hard Puzzle (Ade McT)
Identifying the murderer in Toby’s Nose (Chandler Groover)
The skull in Sub Rosa (Joey Jones, Melvin Rangasamy)
Understanding how the RPS cannon works in Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! (Steph Cherrywell)

Best Individual NPC
Bell Park in Birdland (Brendan Patrick Hennessy)
Dmitri in Midnight. Swordfight. (Chandler Groover)
Hana in Hana Feels (Gavin Inglis)
Winter Storm Draco in Winter Storm Draco (Ryan Veeder)

Best Individual PC
Bridget in Birdland (Brendan Patrick Hennessy)
Martin Voigt in Darkiss! Wrath of the Vampire – Chapter 1: the Awakening (Marco Vallarino)
Opal in Oppositely Opal (Buster Hudson)
Toby in Toby’s Nose (Chandler Groover)

Best Implementation
Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory (Katherine Morayati)
Midnight. Swordfight. (Chandler Groover)

Best Use of Innovation
Aspel (Emily Short)
Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory (Katherine Morayati)
Midnight. Swordfight. (Chandler Groover)
Sunless Sea (Failbetter Games)

Best Technological Development

Best Use of Multimedia
Secret Agent Cinder (Emily Ryan)
Sorcery! 3 (Steve Jackson, inkle)
Summit (Phantom Williams)
Sunless Sea (Failbetter Games)
We Know the Devil (Aevee Bee)

Xyzzymposium: Yoon Ha Lee on Best Writing 2014

Yoon Ha Lee is the author of the IF The Moonlit Tower, which placed 4th in IF Comp 2002 and won the 2002 XYZZY Award for Best Writing. He also authored the StoryNexus game Winterstrike for Failbetter Games. His short story collection Conservation of Shadows came out from Prime Books in 2013, and his fiction has appeared in, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and other venues. His space opera novel Ninefox Gambit is forthcoming from Solaris Books in June 2016.

The Best Writing nominees for 2014 were Eidolon and With Those We Love Alive.

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Xyzzymposium 2014: Joey Jones on Best Implementation

Joey Jones is a writer of text games including Andromeda Dreaming and Danse Nocturne. Co-author of the weird-fiction puzzler Sub Rosa in IF Comp 2015, he is currently working on a long-form ChoiceScript game set in the 18th century underworld.

The Best Implementation finalists were Hunger Daemon, With Those We Love Alive and Hadean Lands.

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Xyzzymposium 2014: Gabriel Murray on Best Story

The Xyzzymposium, formerly the Pseudo-Official XYZZY Reviews, is a series examining the shortlist-nominated games of the previous XYZZY Awards, tackling nominees in terms of their category. A lot of the critical writing in the IF world comes in the forms of general reviews; that’s great, but we wanted to see more in-depth writing that considered games through specific foci.

The XYZZYs have no cash prizes or shiny trophies, no red-carpet parties; all we really offer is the respect of your peers, and a slightly more prominent mark in the history of the medium. Both of these become a little more concrete if they’re combined with in-depth critical attention. The Xyzzymposium isn’t intended to be a triumpal march; we’re not here to lavish praise on anointed champions. The purpose of the Xyzzymposium is to show that we’re taking a work seriously enough to wrestle with it.

This year, we’re rolling out the 2014 Xyzzymposium to coincide with first-round voting for the 2015 XYZZYs. We hope you enjoy the articles – and if it helps you think about the sort of thing you want to see in this year’s nominees, so much the better.

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XYZZY Awards 2015: first-round voting open

Voting is open on the first round of the XYZZY Awards. You can go here to login, then here to vote.

First-round voting will be open for the remainder of April, closing one minute past midnight on May 1 (US-Pacific time).

This year we’re adding an experiment to the first round: instead one nomination each category, you can now make two. You don’t have to nominate two games, but you can’t vote for the same game twice. The hope here is that this will lead to somewhat more balanced categories; the vote can be so spread out in the first round that there have often been many-way ties, leading to a second round where there are either way too many nominees, or way too few.

A polite reminder if your game is nominated: you’re not allowed to vote for your own game, and canvassing for votes – which for purposes here I’m going to define as ‘any action which results in a large number of people showing up specifically to vote for a particular game or slate of games’ – is strongly discouraged, and may result in votes being discarded.

A Change of Venue?

For many years, the winners of the XYZZY Awards have been announced on ifMUD. In a community that mostly exists online, there’s immense value in bringing people together into the same virtual space to celebrate the best work being done in the field. Festivals need a sense of event, and the ceremony is a big part of what makes the XYZZYs fun.

But ifMUD has its problems as a venue. First and foremost, as a piece of tech it was already outdated and eccentric back when I first joined the community fifteen years ago. That fit right in with the heart of the parser-IF ethos – that an artistic community centred around an outmoded, economically unviable form could remain vibrant, innovative and productive. But it also means that, by modern expectations, its UI can be kind of a pain in the ass for many people to learn.

Second, ifMUD is as much – or more – a social community than it is an interactive fiction enthusiasts’ forum. Many of the ifMUD regulars don’t maintain much of an active interest in interactive fiction any more – they’re there to chat with their friends. Because it was built by its users, ifMUD has been steadily customised so that it fits their needs very well indeed, both in terms of technical affordances and in terms of culture. But this inevitably means that there are a lot of people whom it doesn’t suit at all (which isn’t a slam on ifMUD’s culture: it’d be true of any established social circle). This has always been the case; there was never a time when the whole IF world consisted of MUD regulars. But it’s a lot more true now.

Back in the day, the interactive fiction community was rec.*.int-fiction, and ifMUD was its social wing; it was a natural choice. But the growth and speciation of interactive fiction over the past five years mean that there really is no central IF community any more; there’s no truly neutral space.

So on the whole, using the MUD for the XYZZYs feels sort of like holding the school play in the auditorium at the local Elks. That’s fine, if you live in a town small enough that the Elks is the only place with a suitable auditorium, but it’s still a tiny bit awkward to shuffle through the wood panels and past the bar-room and underneath the regrettable taxidermy, while the old boys who just wanted to have a quiet whiskey with their buddies semi-ignore you. If there are better places to hold the ceremony, we should take a really good look at them.

So the question is: is there a better venue? What would a better venue look like?

As a start, here are the features that are non-negotiable:

  • Text-based. We’re a text game community. Text is the water we swim in.
  • Easy to use. There’s no sense in moving away from the MUD for ease-of-access reasons if the new platform isn’t a substantial interface improvement. (That means no IRC, for instance.) That probably means something that’s natively browser-based, for a start.
  • Free access. The XYZZYs don’t have a budget, and we certainly don’t want anyone to have to pay to attend.
  • Unlimited attendees – and still allows for clear communication when there are lots of people in the room. (In practice, I suspect we’ll always have substantially less than 100 attendees, but in principle I don’t want anybody to be turned away.)
  • Moderation tools. If someone shows up and acts like a jerk, we need to be able to issue warnings or show them the door.
  • Channels, or something like them. A way to distinguish the main action of the ceremony – talk from the presenters and the people accepting awards – from applause and conversation among the audience. (It’s no fun showing up to a party unless you can chat with the folks you meet there – but if everybody’s at maximum volume, it’s chaos.)
  • Some of these need to be private, so that the organisers and presenters can coordinate.

Things that would be nice, but that we can allow some wiggle-room on:

  • A simulated, customisable environment. Part of the fun of the ceremony is the fiction of a shared physical space.
  • No advertising. Ideally, it’d be something that could be set up on a personal server (perhaps the one ifMUD currently runs on, even), so that we retain ownership over our own space rather than camping out on the sufferance of some corporation’s cloud.
  • Transcripting: the ability to record the ceremony. Honestly, I don’t know how necessary this is; the past couple of years I’ve kept transcripts of the ceremony in case anybody asks for them, and nobody has. The role of the XYZZYs as a form of public record is served by the actual award categories, their finalists and winners: recording the ceremony is a footnote.
  • A way to pin certain information – in particular, a list of the winners as they’re read out, because otherwise latecomers ask about it every five minutes. In the past couple of years, I’ve mostly shifted this role over to the Twitter account, but something built-in would be nice too.

Is there anything else that needs to be on that list? Are there any extant tools or spaces that would obviously fit the bill?