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.
Caleb Wilson has written interactive fiction such as Lime Ergot, Starry 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.
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.
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 Tor.com, 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.
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 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.