74 – Come to Bag by PaperBlurt

I totally dropped the ball about writing about this because I’m a lazy fuck, but PaperBlurt–who was responsible for the visual design of TWEEZER and Zest–has released a new work called Come to Bag.

Come to Bag is a “cacaphony”–it’s a collection of a bunch of short pieces. If you know Blurt’s style, they’re all of a piece and show off his range–there’s some really nicely eerie stuff, some shaggy dog stories, some experiments–16 stories in all. My particular dog in this race was the writing of the story A Big Fuck You, which is based on a joke my dad made up when I was a little kid.

If you’re interested in some of Blurt’s other work, and I hope you are, I think Capsule is one of his more popular works (and for good reason!), but my personal favorite is The Sadness of Rocky Barbato. I’ve never been able to get the latter’s final image out of my head; I think it might qualify one of the best endings in Twine.

While I’ve got you here–I’m working on a digital boardgame and I’m scouting a team. If you’re an artist who can help me make a game that looks like the team behind Fantastic Planet doing a movie based on a Dr. Seuss screenplay, or you’re interested in helping design the ruleset for a digital board game with ties to Talisman or Suspended, then come at me, bro. I’m looking for people in the same boat as myself–who’ve made a couple of minor things and are looking for a bigger project that we can sell for a buck or two and get the cred we need in order to be able to Kickstart the *next* project.

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73 – #altgames and Fear of Twine

I wrote Zest with the help of lectronice and PaperBlurt and released it under the name Fear of Twine. We wanted to release under a band name of sorts, and after a few failed attempts decided that the potential confusion would be funny: Fear of Twine was the name of a Twine exhibition I curated last year. We talked about the idea of expanding it into a sort of loose collective, about other projects we could do together under the name–and if those went nowhere, it’s because we all got distracted by shiner projects.

(That we were releasing Zest in the Interactive Fiction Competition, which has a fairly complex relationship with Twine, was part of the impetus for the name: Never let it be said that Blurt, lectro and I aren’t cheeky.)

lectro and Blurt were the first people I noticed to use the hashtag #altgames to talk about their stuff. It’s a logical term: Indie and Alternative, in music, are two ways of talking about roughly the same aesthetic, and while genre scholars will certainly weigh in on the formal differences between the two–a conversation that, as a musician, I’ve had many, many times in smoky basements and will again until the day I die–for our purposes, they’re just different decades’ words for the same thing. #altgames comes with the understanding, as well, that Indie has become meaningless–it covers both Double Fine and bedroom games. There’s even a tinge of success that Indie implies–that, even if you’re not exactly making your rent payments, you’ve got enough Patreon subscribers to help you afford to go to GDC where you show off your game to people who are interested in it.

One of my big challenges has been keeping my eyes on my own paper; I don’t know if this is a universal thing, although I suspect it might be, but it’s certainly something I have in common with most of my friends. It seems everyone I know is either bitter or naive, or, hell, both. I don’t know anyone who’s making a Minecraft clone but I see so many of them in Early Access on Steam and I can completely imagine their mindset: This is popular, I can make a better one and make even more money–and, inevitably, Why am I not as successful as notch, that piece of shit in his goddamn mansion.

I mean, can I point out that most of my friends are Twine devs or otherwise working in extremely niche forms? There is no money to be made in niche game forms. And every single one of us is bitter: About the lack of attention, about our relative successes, about the fact that we aren’t satisfied with what we’re doing. And that you’re a heretic if you express doubt. I remember I said, at IndieCade 2013, that “there’s no money in indie games” and three devs I’d been having a pleasant beer with suddenly snapped: What about Minecraft? What about Braid? What about Fez? It’s considered almost offensive to question the premise that anyone can be a successful game dev. But it’s a lie. Anyone can form a band, but you’re probably not going to be even a minor rock star. How many of us with creative writing degrees sold that novel? How many famous actors do you know? How many high school football players play professionally?

Indie games feels like a club we’re not allowed into. And we are tired of seeing the same people insist, time and time again, that it’s not a clique; of hearing people with dozens more followers than us talk in interview after interview about the lack of attention paid them–and when you consider how unusual notch’s case is, that even the most successful #altgames devs aren’t making much money at all, you can’t blame them for feeling like they’ve been sold a bill of goods even as they’re selling it right back to the next tier. Let’s stop bullshitting ourselves and fucking admit it, cards on the table: No one in indie games is happy or satisfied or having a good time.

I mean, really: Are you?

The arguments about #altgames that I woke up to this morning on my twitter feed: What I am hearing are the sounds of yet another meaningless pissing contest–Game scene politics are so bitter because the stakes are so low. My understanding is we’re arguing about people arguing about whether or not they’re #alt enough, about the money that you can or can not make in #altgames, about who has the right to use the term. To take a cue from Orange is the New Black, we’re trying to strangle people so we can sell mascara in prison.

I’m thirty two fucking years old and I could not find this funnier. Over the past few years  I’ve meditated a lot, smoked a lot of grass, gotten a prescription for antidepressants, dropped acid and yelled at my reflection in the mirror, made some new friends–it’s been a lot of work to get even this much perspective, and I still find it remarkable how awful I feel when I think about stuff like GDC or whatever. I don’t have it in me to do the con circuit, I don’t even want to do it, if being a game developer means doing that shit all the time then I’m taking my ball and I’m going home.

Here’s the secret: Everybody feels left out. Nobody is happy. I’m friends with a bunch of people at different levels of success, guys making Twines in their bedrooms, people whose games have won awards–and they’re all lonely. Maybe it’s inherent to the game developer experience. There’s an alienation to developers that a lot of musicians have too–that most artists have. You don’t get good at playing guitar unless you spend a lot of time practicing. Hell, if I had been the type of person who wanted to go to parties and who got invited to them, I wouldn’t have had the time to learn to play. If you love games enough that you want to make them–and that your games are idiosyncratic and niche–then it’s not unlikely that you spend a lot of time alone, playing or writing. That’s what I do.

There was a bunch of all of that going around when I did the Fear of Twine exhibition–an element of I’m gonna throw my own party and it’ll have better music and a dog. I’m a little heartbroken at everyone who feels left out of the indie scene, of #altgames, of Twine, and I see how upset everyone is that the indie scene, that #altgames, that Twine completely ignores them.

So the only way I can think of to clean up my street corner is to basically open up my house and pray no one breaks my TV or anything. I’ve got this Fear of Twine name and I want to do something with it. I want to see if I can turn Fear of Twine into that loose collective in a way which is inclusive. I think there could be some basic guidelines about how to credit things and stuff like that, but beyond that, if you want to declare your game as a Fear of Twine game, you can.

In terms of intent, I’d like this to be a club in which membership is entirely self-determined. I don’t want people to be arguing over whether someone’s game is FoTty enough or whether they’re really a member–fuck that. I want this to be something that you almost agree to a certain behavioral standard–in other words, if another Fear of Twine member gives you the secret handshake, you’re friends.

This is, of course, utterly impossible, and is either going to fail from not enough people being interested or from too many people doing it and this going the way of all groups–as Carlin says, after a while groups of people formed around a common purpose start to get these nifty hats and armbands. I reserve the right to shut this down when it gets to the armband phase. It’s an experiment.

What I’m thinking in terms of guidelines are something like this:

–It’ll have to be in Twine. Naturally. Whatever that means is up to you, I don’t care about version or genre or anything, but it’s just got to have been created with Twine at some point and running in an .html file at the end.

–I’d like to restrict this to unreleased works, just because that makes more sense to me logistically; if you’re expanding or rereleasing something, we can talk.

Now I will be making an exception for Zest, since that was released under the name. I’m going back and forth about whether I want to include the games from the FoT exhibition or keep that as a separate thing; I might also want to talk to Blurt and lectro and see if they want to include some of their stuff…I guess basically I’m saying that initially there will be some exceptions to this rule–I’d like to start with a few works in the catalog so it doesn’t look empty, frankly–but it’s my house and I’m allowed to do that and you probably won’t be one of them. We can still be friends.

–If you want to put a game under the name, drop me an email. I’ll be putting up a main page on fearoftwine.com that’ll list all the games, maybe give them a catalog number so it’ll seem fancy, maybe put up a description, I’m a little fuzzy on this right now but I’ll come up with some general info.

–I don’t want to host anything but I’ll link to it. Drop me a line if you change where it’s being hosted.

–I don’t care if this is something you’re releasing for free in a Dropbox link or if it’s something you’re selling on Itch. I will, of course, not take any money you make.

–I’ll work on the language, but there will be need to be something along the lines of “Fear of Twine presents…” or “by Fear of Twine” on the title page or first screen, and authors credited separately. I would like there to be an About page with a link to the fearoftwine.com site, but this is all boilerplate that we can figure out later.

–If you’re a Tweeter, I’d probably like you to use the #FoT hashtag as much as humanly possible.

–I’m serious about the secret handshake, though. I know a lot of people on Twitter and in the community feel very–uncomfortable around strangers, let’s say. People worry about randos in their mentions, people worry they’re not good enough to talk to other people–it’s stupid and understandable. So I guess I’m gonna be open to anyone who approaches me, and I want it to really feel like if you’ve got a game in Fear of Twine, that you can talk to anyone else who does. Maybe it’s as simple as “you both know me, now play nice”. Consider it a letter of introduction.

–I’m not going to be curating this in any way beyond updating the list. I don’t want to be in the business of deciding what does and does not belong on the list. Listen: If you’re sending something in, make it a serious entry, don’t be an asshole or an idiot, just be an adult. You know how you’re supposed to act and so do I. So let’s act like that, I guess.

–Showing a version of this to a couple people, the idea of a forum was floated around, as well as some kind of moderation.

Like I said, I don’t want to be in the business of gatekeeping, but at the same time I can totally get that we don’t want troll entries (at the same time as I realize that the concept of a “troll entry” is a nebulous term and that while I think there’s a sniff test for them, I’m not sure if that’s enough). I know I full stop don’t want to do something like “well we can have the members vote on it!” because, well, you know, and I *really* don’t want to do something like finding a subsection of people to make these decisions, because that’s falling headfirst into the problems we’re trying to avoid. Any thoughts?

A forum will be easier–if there’s enough interest, I’d be happy to look into one. There’s a few options: We could do an entirely private forum limited to people who have Twines in the collection; we could do one limiting FoT people to post but which is open for people to read; we could have a completely public forum, a public forum with a FoT section–there’s basically a lot of options; either way I would probably assume this would be something for the future–nothing worse than a forum no one posts in–but it’s something I want to keep in the back burner.

 

That’s basically where my head is at on this. Don’t take any of this as set in stone or anything, but is this the kind of thing any of you readers would be interested in? Do you have any ideas, or spot any potential problems I can’t?

55 – Fear of Twine is Over; Announcing Zest

Welp, it was a lot of fun for everyone, but Fear of Twine is now over. I’d like to thank everyone who came, who participated, and who wrote about it.

The exhibition contained the following works. I’ve included links for ones which have been rehosted.

If you’d like to show your appreciation for the authors, you can do so at the GoFundMe page.

Here’s links to some pieces about the exhibition–if I missed yours, let me know.

General

Reviews

Interviews

Pieces by Fear of Twine participants

 

In the meantime, I’d like to take the opportunity to announce that I’m working on a new Twine called Zest. The game is going to be about the life of a lemonade stand worker living in Sufferette City. More accurately it is a life simulator! I will be updating you folks here and on my twitter (@richardgoodness) as progress happens. More importantly, I’d like to introduce the ZesTeam (we’re still working on the name); PaperBlurt is going to be handling the CSS again like he did on TWEEZER; if you haven’t played any of his games, I highly recommend his recent Ludum Dare entry The Sadness of Rocky Barbato. Meanwhile, lectronice, whose recent (do not) forget has kicked my ass–I’m not quite sure how he’s done half of what he’s done there–is going to be handling the programming and organizational stuff. And I’ll be on writing and design. So look forward to it!

In terms of length, I’m going for a similar density as TWEEZER–an individual session of the game will take maybe five minutes, but by design, the player will only be able to see a portion of events each round. I’m aiming to design a short game that can played four or five times and still give the sense of undiscovered events.

Anyway, again, thanks to everyone who enjoyed Fear of Twine, and I hope to do another similar event sometime soon!

48 – Getting Ready for Fear of Twine

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It is ONE WEEK until Fear of Twine!

As it turns out, running an online exhibition is a shitload of work, and I am having the time of my life doing so. There’s no way of saying this without sounding hopelessly cheesy, so I’m just gonna forge through–I’m getting to know and work with some really awesome people, I’m playing through a bunch of really amazing Twines, and I’m finding out that that, at least in the parts of Brooklyn that I hang out in, telling people, “Yeah, I’m running a text game exhibition” makes them think that you are super cool.

So as of right now, the exhibition is going to contain the following works:

(If you’re supposed to be on this list, and you’re not, please let me know–I might have gotten something lost in the shuffle! If I’ve spelled your name wrong or screwed up your website, I am sorry about that too! [Hello, this is Richard from 20 minutes later, I have apparently done both several times and I apologize to anyone who was affected by my error!])

Right? Doesn’t that sound AWESOME? Let me tell you, I’ve played most of these at this point, and I think I can safely say that there is genuinely going to be something for everyone in this exhibition. We’ve got games, we’ve got essays, we’ve got fiction, we’ve got experiments, we’ve got jokes, we’ve got weird “multimedia presentations”, we’ve got personal, we’ve got political, we’ve got science fiction, we’ve got fantasy, we’ve got realistic fiction, we’ve got horror, we’ve got poetry–seriously, folks, I think you’re in for a treat.

So starting February 14th (ValenTwine’s Day? No. That’s a terrible idea), you’ll be able to go on fearoftwine.com and play any and, hopefully all of them!

The image at the top of this post was designed by Anthony Murray–so thanks very much!–and if you are at IndieCade East next weekend, say hello and I will hand you a little business card based on that design!

Okay, now back to more debugging.

37 – Announcement: Fear of Twine

(Since this post was originally published, I’ve pushed back the deadline and the dates of the event. All other information is the same!)

I got into Twine because there was a lot of fuss about it and I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about; that I grew to love working in it was a little bit of a shock.

But one thing I’ve found about it, perhaps because of many of the controversies surrounding it, perhaps simply because it’s a new tool on the scene, a lot of people I know are somewhat reticent to play or write Twines. “Twine would be a great tool, but…” is the repeated refrain, and pick your ending: But I haven’t played any good games in it, but it’s so much less interesting than parser, but I hate purple text on a black background–again, pick your reason. Check out the current Interactive Fiction competition and some of the discussion surrounding it: There are a bunch of people, for better or for worse, that are resistant to hypertexts made in Twine.

I’m not interested in whether or not Twines are games, whether it truly does anything revolutionary, whether it’s just hypertext under a faux populist banner, any of that–I just like making and playing them. And in an effort to encourage some interesting Twines, and to divorce their reception from any hypertext vs. parser or other controversies, I have decided to curate what is, as far as I’ve seen and I’ll happily correct myself if you know of another one, the first Twine-only exhibition.

Fear of Twine will be an online exhibition held from February 14th to April 18th  of 2014. I’m going to be soliciting and curating some works–I’m thinking about a dozen, although pending response I may increase that number–and displaying them on the website fearoftwine.com (which as of the time of this writing either does not work or redirects to my site; designing the site for it is the least of my worries right now but it’ll be separate eventually.) I’m looking to get a wide variety of contributions collected in an effort to showcase a wide range of  talents.

I’m capping it largely because I’d like there to be a small enough number of works that the average person could maybe block out an hour or two and get through the whole exhibition, or maybe play through the entirety over a week at work. I don’t want anyone to be overlooked or anyone to be overshadowed; keeping it small is my way of encouraging people to read all of them.

I’ve asked some friends to create some works–nothing worse than an exhibition with no exhibits–but the whole point of this is to get some alternative voices, people who might not have made a Twine before or who aren’t already associated with the tool–since Twine is legitimately accessible to people with little programming experience, I’d love to get a bunch of writers, first-time designers, anyone really.

There are no restrictions as to theme, length, or anything–although let’s face it, short stories will do better than novels. The only thing I care about is that it’s made in Twine (latest version can be found here) and that it’s previously unreleased. Surprise us.

If you’d like to participate, great! I’d like everything to be submitted to me by January 15, 2014–that’ll give me time to put everything together. If you’re thinking of submitting, drop me a line at rgoodness@gmail.com so I can have an idea of what I can expect. I’ll probably ask for a couple-line bio and a short summary. I reserve the right to end the submission period early if there’s a huge response and things are getting too big–I’ll communicate that with a little leeway if that’s the case. (Another reason you should let me know if you’re intending to submit!)

As I mentioned, the exhibition is going to be temporary–these works will only be collected together for the two-month period! I’m going to ask that all authors allow me to host their works exclusively on fearoftwine.com for the exhibition period; once April 18 hits and everything’s taken down, they’ll be free to host them however they like.

Fear of Twine will of course be free, but I am going to look into putting up some sort of tip jar to cover the hosting fees; anything remaining will simply be divided among all of the authors. (If anyone reading this has some experience with this sort of thing and has any pointers on the best way to do this, please drop me a line–rgoodness@gmail.com–I’d appreciate any advice!)

And of course drop me a line or comment here if you have any questions or concerns–if there’s anything I’m leaving out I’ll update this post with some more information.

I’d love to see a lot of you participate–as an author, as a visitor, as someone giving us a buck, however! I’d appreciate any help to spread the word about this. I think if we get enough people together, we can all get over our collective Fear of Twine.

Thanks for reading!