Monday, April 28, 2014

April A to Z - Z is for XYZZY - an interview with Inky Path editor, Devi Acharya

Hello all!  One of my resolutions for  this blog is to feature interactive fiction more, as gamebooks are a type of interactive fiction.  So, I am glad to present to you Devi Acharya, editor of Inky Path magazine, a literary magazine for interactive fiction.  Issue 1.1 is already out, so why don't you give it a read?  It's free!

By the way, XYZZY is a reference to the Colossal Cave Adventure , an interactive fiction game from 1976.  If you typed XYZZY in a building near the beginning of the game, you were teleported to a room in the cave.  You could also teleport back.

On with the interview...

Tell us about yourself.

The name's Devi Acharya, and I'm an editor and author of interactive fiction as well as standard fiction, plays, and whatever else I've got on my mind. When I'm not pouring my time into writing-related endeavors I'm probably dabbling in illustration or fiber arts.

Tell us about your magazine, Inky Path.

Inky Path is a literary magazine for interactive fiction, stories where the readers make choices.
Growing up, I came from a background of interactive fiction development and awareness of the literary magazine side of things. It was interesting to witness how those two worlds functioned so independently of one another--the interactive fiction world, for instance, has many avid followers but few from outside of that insular circle know much about interactive fiction or consider it of literary merit. In creating Inky Path I sought to bridge that gap. I want to introduce new readers, particularly those of the literary world to interactive fiction and provide a place for those in the IF community to showcase their work.
Inky is currently accepting year-round, and we accept previously published pieces as well as excerpts from IF stories. Those interested in submitting can check out the guidelines for more information on that--we'd love to see your work!

How often will Inky Path be out?
Inky Path is released on a quarterly basis, with volumes released at the end of February, May, August, and November.
Volume 1.2 will be released May 31, so keep your eyes open for that!

What kind of submissions are you accepting at the moment?
We are looking for interactive fiction of every type, size, and flavor. We're talking anything from the standard parser cave-crawling adventure to a hypertext multimedia production on the choices of a jellyfish. I've always enjoyed interactive fiction that forces the reader to make hard decisions, that raises a mirror to "you" and causes you to really question your decisions.
Since "interactive fiction" is the standard term I've been using it, but this doesn't exclude other kinds of interactive works. Poetry, scripts, or epics in interactive mediums are also welcome. And if you have something that you're not sure will work with the site pass it along and we'll take a look and let you know.

What do you like about interactive fiction?
Interactive fiction is unlike any other medium of expression in that the reader herself is carrying out the actions in the story, forced to carry the burden of choice instead of lurk as the silent observer as is standard for most fiction. This of course lends itself to great scenarios involving morality, psychology, and other questions of the human condition. For instance, reading about someone shooting another person is one thing. Having to type
is another thing altogether. Making the author the agent of her own actions really forces her to think hard about her choices and the effects of those choices.

What do you think makes good interactive fiction?
Great interactive fiction manages to find the balance between plot and puzzle. The works that I've really enjoyed allow the reader to discover the world around him without dumping any walls of text, and the puzzles/choices make sense with the story. Video games have some problems in the past (as this Hitbox Team article discusses) with merging game narrative and gameplay. While this is less prevalent in IF, the strongest works I've seen make seamless the relationship between story and game.

What spoils interactive fiction for you?
Too often it feels like authors approach their stories with the mindset of creating a linear story. Choices are based on a pass/fail scale, where the player either succeeds and can proceed or fails and meets some ending. Interactive fiction is only really interactive when choices mean something, when they affect the world in some way. Even just changing dialogue options or descriptions depending on the player's choice goes a long way towards making the world feel immersive and making the player feel in control.

What's the hardest thing about writing interactive fiction?
As I mentioned in the last question the strongest interactive fiction allows the reader to make impactful choices, choices that affect some aspect of the story or gameplay along the line. This of course is not easy to implement from an authorial perspective. It either means creating lots of branching paths where each choice leads to a different alternative or lots of variable tracking. Both of these things take time and effort to implement and honestly the author might not think that the player will try to >REMOVE CLOTHES and walk around naked for the rest of the game without any NPC reaction. This is why it's good to start small with a strong concept for both how you want the story to go and how you want that story to grow and change based on choice. A great beta-testing crew also helps quite a bit.

What's the most exciting thing about writing interactive fiction?
Interactive fiction stories are organic. One person's play of a story could be entirely different from another person's experience. To me it's exciting to think about how every reader will be impacted by the story and how that experience could change even for the same reader going through an IF piece again.

What advice would you offer to someone who wants to write interactive fiction for the first time?
I would say go for it. As I was trying to figure out the ropes of interactive fiction I found it daunting to have to find different programs that all had their own programming and syntax and wikis. I know that I could easily get caught up in how to implement simulating a liquid in a container that was also scenery, or sorting through layers of <<if>> statements.
What really matters is having a story to tell and telling it. Even if you don't know the ins and outs of programming or syntax, start with what you do know and test it out. Then try creating another room or another choice. Create small swatches of stories to test out code and experiment. And don't be afraid to ask around on various IF communities for support and assistance--we're always happy to help.

Do you think there is a difference between gamebooks and interactive fiction?
Gamebooks are a subset of interactive fiction that accounts for choice-based (CYOA) games. Parser-based works would be the other side of the IF coin.

What plans do you have for the magazine in the future?
Aside from continuing to get the word out about Inky Path, I hope to get more community-based events, getting members of the IF community together. While it's still very up-in-the-air, I think that running contests or reviews (similar to the old Interactive Fiction Review Conspiracy) would make things more fun and allow people to share their work with the world without a lot of the harsh critiques they might get on a site like IFDB. Lit mag traditions like submission rushes and would also be great to implement!

What other projects do you have planned?
I've recently been poking around in the visual novel program Ren'Py. I haven't made a visual novel before but I'm excited to see the kinds of ways it differs from and is similar to other IF programs.
I'm also hoping to attend VuPop this year and hear some great thoughts on interactive fiction.

What is your wish for interactive fiction?

I hope to see a bit more unity as far as all the different IF communities are concerned. Right now it seems like many people tend to stay in their own little areas of the web--the folks at only posting their games to Textadventures, or Twine people just hanging out on the Twine forum. Again, this has begun to change recently, especially with the emergence of CYOA programs in competitions. Part of my hope in the creation of Inky Path was to bring together these disparate communities by reaching out to and showcasing all sorts. Hopefully the IF community will be moving this direction in the future. 

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