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February 2013

IF Theory Reader

  IF Theory

Those who have been in the IF community for a long time probably know all about the history of the IF Theory Book.  It was originally started ten years ago by Emily Short and Dennis Jerz, got sidetracked for a number of reasons, and then was finally updated and published by Kevin Jackson-Meade and J Robinson Wheeler last year.  But what may have gotten overlooked amidst all of the delays is how darned good the book is.

I can appreciate the dilemma of the original crew behind the IF Theory book. My own IF project has lost steam in the past year owing to an overly busy work life.  But having taken a break from Inform7 coding for longer than I would like, I've been diving back into the IF Theory Reader, as it's now known.  While I had read several of the articles in the book elsewhere on the web, having them all compiled in one place is a tremendous resource.

The book weighs in at over 400 pages and includes articles by some of the best IF authors in the post-commercial period including Nick Montfort, Andrew Plotkin, Michael Gentry, Gareth Rees, Emily Short, Jon Ingold, Duncan Stevens, J Robinson Wheeler, Robb Sherwin and Stephen Granade among others.

And despite the title which makes the book sound rather academic, many of the articles provide practical techniques for improving the quality of one's writing, whether it's dialog, descriptions, puzzles, pacing, geography or even how to build a good hint system.  If you are looking for theory, Graham Nelson's pieces are phenomenal.  (Not that I understood much of them, but they are still entertaining.) You can view the full table of contents at IFWiki

The IF Theory Reader stands up there with Aaron Reed's Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7Inform Designer's Manual and Twisty Little Passages.  These are all essential readings for any would be IF author. 

The IF Theory Reader is available from Lulu for $13 in paperback and as a free PDF.  I wasn't able to find a free ePub or Mobi version suitable for eReaders, but you can always convert the PDF to other formats using Calibre.  

Using Scrivener for IF

Scrivener Z-Machine

Although I managed to get my game The Z-Machine Matter to a intro-level prototype stage a while back, I realized I needed to take a different approach for the next stage of implementation.  I realized I need to take a step back from the mechanics and programming and focus more on the characters and story.  Maybe better IF writers can mix and match plot and character development while coding in Inform7, but I found I needed to get out of programming mode in order to focus on the story.

The Z-Machine Matter is an old-school murder mystery --an homage to Infocom's "Witness" and "Deadline" among others.  The classic "cozy" murder mystery has more structure to it than the average novel and for that reason, I believe it lends itself quite nicely to IF.  To make the story work, you've got to haveclear motives for each of the characters, the requisite means & opportunity, evidence, alibis, clues and, of course, a few red herrings to keep the reader guessing.  Scrivener makes it easy to define templates that encourage a consistency and thoroughness when you define characters, locations, puzzles and so on.  The templates are flexible though, so you're not locked into them. 

Although there's nothing I've written using Scrivener that couldn't be written with Microsoft Word or even a generic text editor, I have found that Scrivener's structured approach and tools lend itself to what is needed in defining the key characters, puzzles that are so important in IF.  While it's relatively easy to get started with Scrivener, there's a richness (and complexity) to it with plenty of menus, submenus, obscure icons and advanced features.  The good news is, you can safely ignore most of these bells & whistles and just focus on the things that matter in your story.

Scrivener is available for Mac and Windows for $45 with an iPad version in development.  However, I found the tutorial to be overly quirky and completely inadequate.  So I highly recommend the eBook Writing a Novel with Scrivener by David Hewson which can give you an easier introduction to writing a complex work of fiction with Scrivener for just another $6.  Hewson also makes available a free Scrivener template for novel writing which is a good starting point for creating your own template for Interactive Fiction.

If you've used Scrivener or other tools for writing IF, please let me know your thoughts by adding a comment below.