Collaborative IF Development

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ChicagoDave

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Sep 27, 2005, 5:49:00 PM9/27/05
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A Proposal for Collaborative Development of Interactive Fiction

Overview
The following proposal contains ideas on separating the tasks of
developing interactive fiction content in order to deliver results more
quickly and efficiently than the standard "do-it-yourself" methodology.
If you're a hardcore do-it-yourselfer, then this proposal may offend
you in some ways. My hope is to initiate a discussion on my ideas.

The Beginning
Where does an interactive fiction game begin? What spurs the
development of an idea to be implemented?

Since most interactive fiction is developed by a single person, it
would seem to be a purely personal matter. A person has an idea, a
dream, or an epiphany combined with other ideas that drive a passion to
implement said ideas in the form of an interactive fiction game.

We hardly ever see someone with a cool idea, then another person say
"Hey that sounds really cool. I'd like to help develop that story." and
then a third person say, "Hey that sounds really cool. I'd love to help
write the code for that story." and then a fourth person say, "Hey, I'd
love to help test it out when it's ready!"

This doesn't seem strange to me because we all have our passions and
except for a handful of successful games such as Peter Nepstad's 1893:
A World's Fair Mystery, no one is getting paid for working on
interactive fiction.

On the other hand, I think this is a mindset that could be altered
given the right circumstances. If a group of people were to
successfully implement a collaboration environment with processes and
example documentation, the idea that several people could implement
interactive fiction in a short period of time and without the stress
and dedication required of do-it-yourself development, we might see
more groups of people try this methodology. It follows that a higher
quality of game might appear more frequently and if that were true;
these collaborations could turn into a publishing exercise.

So my proposal is about how to break up the writing and development
processes so that several people could help complete an interactive
fiction work.

The Process
In order to create a development team for interactive fiction, we need
to first identify the tasks. The order of the tasks is unclear at this
time, but here is how I see the process developing:

1. An interactive fiction story is identified.
One of the tasks of the collaboration is to identify a story to
implement. This may simply be a paragraph or two with some rough ideas
of setting, plot, theme, character development, but it should provide a
relatively strong premise that can be further developed. One of the
balancing acts at this juncture is that a collaborative team may not
want a fully developed story since this may hinder the creativity of
the team and reduce the amount of interest in completing the project.
It would be better to trust that the team can develop the story to its
conclusion than to merely be "hired-hands" on a completely
developed story. But this depends on the members of the team and I
think if a team were to come together, they should decide up front what
type of story they wish to tackle and how much input they want in the
different aspects of a given story.

2. The story is selected.
So once the story is selected, there are different tasks that can be
worked on simultaneously. The tasks as I see them include:
* Writing by one or more authors and if there is more than one writer,
they need to collaborate closely on style, voice, etc.
* Storyboarding by another person. This would take the results of the
writers work and break up the story into scenes, actions, puzzles, and
interactions. I see this as the equivalent of a director and this
person should be working closely with the writers.
* Programming by another person. This would take the results of the
writing and storyboarding to develop the code base for the game.
* Project management. Another person could pull together the story
items, the storyboards, the code, and identify where things are. I see
this role as the central communicator for the project. They can gather
information and disseminate to the team on a regular basis to keep
everyone informed of progress.
* Testing. One ore more people can begin to build test scripts as code
is completed. This can be at the location level, the scene level, or at
the game level. I think it's critical to get testers involved with
basic tasks to start and then add more as the game progresses. Testers
may start with spell-checking, grammar-checking, identifying missing
scenery objects, and reporting loose-ends to the rest of the team.

3. Roles
I've already identified the roles based on the tasks, but let's
review them here:

* Writer(s) - The writers are tasked with writing all of the text for
the game. This includes: room descriptions, action descriptions,
scenery descriptions, and default responses. They should collaborate
with the Director on interaction syntax.
* Director - The directory is tasked with pulling all of the writing
together and developing a coherent structure based on locations,
scenes, arcs, prologue, epilogue, as well as helping the writers
determine syntax for interactions.
* Producer - The producer is tasked with managing the project
communications by gathering details from each team member and creating
reports of progress. The producer should also be able to resolve
disputes between team members.
* Developer(s) - The developers are tasked with taking text and
storyboarded items and writing code.
* Tester(s) - The testers are tasked with creating test scripts and
identifying flaws and inconsistencies within the developed text,
storyboards, and game. They should report their findings to the entire
team.

In Summary
I have already made some progress with this proposal in identifying how
I think a collaboration of this sort could work. It's not easy to
adapt to at first because we have all come into this hobby with a
singular passion, but if you feel as I do; that interactive fiction
stories shouldn't be hampered by the time-constraints of a single
person and that good stories can be brought to life effectively, then I
think the transition can be made and that it would be a highly
successful means of developing new works.

Your thoughts are appreciated.

David Cornelson

Peter Mattsson

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Sep 27, 2005, 9:39:55 PM9/27/05
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ChicagoDave wrote:

> We hardly ever see someone with a cool idea, then another person say
> "Hey that sounds really cool. I'd like to help develop that story." and
> then a third person say, "Hey that sounds really cool. I'd love to help
> write the code for that story." and then a fourth person say, "Hey, I'd
> love to help test it out when it's ready!"

Team development sounds like a great idea: each person gets to do what
they're best at, and not have to struggle through all the other tasks.
How do you see teams forming? Should a group of people who want to write
a game come together and then start trying to come up with an idea
(which is my reading of what you say later in your message), or should
someone with a story idea post it somewhere and other people come on
board later (as the paragraph above suggests)? To my mind, the second
approach sounds like it would work better, but I can also see
established teams who've already done a game together wanting to do
another one and taking the first approach instead.

> more groups of people try this methodology. It follows that a higher
> quality of game might appear more frequently and if that were true;
> these collaborations could turn into a publishing exercise.

As you may have gathered from rgif, I'm planning to try testing the
market by re-releasing Level 9 -- and possibly other -- games under a
sort of "IF Classic" label. If that goes at all well, I would be very
much interested in acting as a publisher for such games. (That means in
particular that I would be happy to handle the QA and marketing duties;
I have a naturally pedantic personality and a background in print
publishing, and I'm guessing that QA/marketing is the least attractive
part of the project for a lot of people.)

Cheers, and good luck,

Peter

aph...@altavista.com

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Sep 28, 2005, 12:19:19 AM9/28/05
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I really wanta do a Price is Right game, cause one day Bob Barker is
going to croak, and we'll be there handing out floppys. "Here, play
this Interactive game of Price is Right!"

>spin wheel.

See, it's all timin man. Texas Holdem is big now, see, if someone done
that a few years ago, we'd be celeboratory. We could've not only coded
out a game of holdem, but created a scenario where you had to 'get' to
the table through a series of dungeons.

Talk to me, Bob Barker, ....creeeeeeeeeeeeek... That's what I'm talking
about.

rgrassi

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Sep 28, 2005, 3:32:58 AM9/28/05
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Dave,

> Your thoughts are appreciated.

That's exactly how things are going on for Mondi Confinanti.
http://www.terradif.net/mondiconfinanti/
We're 7 at the moment and open to collaborations.
Rob

Poster

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Sep 28, 2005, 11:20:52 AM9/28/05
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ChicagoDave wrote:

> In Summary
> I have already made some progress with this proposal in identifying how
> I think a collaboration of this sort could work. It's not easy to
> adapt to at first because we have all come into this hobby with a
> singular passion, but if you feel as I do; that interactive fiction
> stories shouldn't be hampered by the time-constraints of a single
> person and that good stories can be brought to life effectively, then I
> think the transition can be made and that it would be a highly
> successful means of developing new works.
>
> Your thoughts are appreciated.
>
> David Cornelson
>

I agree, pretty much with what you've outlined here. Nothing sticks out
as "this sucks" or "this can't possibly work." The organization has
worked for the film industry and for the rest of the software gaming
industry, so why not IF? The next step is creating some kind of site to
collect people interested in specific roles and then allow them to get
started.

I'd be a writer, tester, or programmer.

-- Poster


www.intaligo.com/ -^-^-^- Inform libraries and extensions!
www.intaligo.com/building/ *- B U I L D I N G -* Dark IF.

David Alex Lamb

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Sep 28, 2005, 11:34:16 AM9/28/05
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In article <1127857740....@z14g2000cwz.googlegroups.com>,

ChicagoDave <david.c...@gmail.com> wrote:
>A Proposal for Collaborative Development of Interactive Fiction

You might also want a Language Lawyer -- a consultant, not working "fulltime"
on the project, who knows the ins and outs of the chosen IF language and can
advise on details. This might be a secondary role for one of the other
developers.

For suitably small projects, raif might serve as Language Lawyer.
--
"Yo' ideas need to be thinked befo' they are say'd" - Ian Lamb, age 3.5
http://www.cs.queensu.ca/~dalamb/ qucis->cs to reply (it's a long story...)

ChicagoDave

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Sep 29, 2005, 2:10:52 PM9/29/05
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This is an interesting survey question. Given the roles defined in this
thread (writer, producer, director, tester, marketing, publisher),
which would you feel comfortable filling?

Name: David Cornelson
writer: yes
producer: yes
director: no
tester: no
marketing: yes
publisher yes

Where do you fit?

Peter Mattsson

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Sep 29, 2005, 2:38:34 PM9/29/05
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ChicagoDave wrote:
> This is an interesting survey question. Given the roles defined in this
> thread (writer, producer, director, tester, marketing, publisher),
> which would you feel comfortable filling?
>

Name: Peter Mattsson
Writer: yes
Producer: yes
Director: no
Tester: yes
Marketing: yes
Publisher: yes
Developer: maybe

Another question is whether it would be appropriate to conflate some of
these roles on any given project, or whether it would be better to keep
them separate where possible. For example, the above roles seem to
divide naturally into:

Creative: Writer, Director, Marketer
Technical: Developer
Administrative: Producer, Marketer, Publisher
Editorial: Tester

(Note that Marketer appears twice, since this has both a creative aspect
-- e.g. advert design -- and an administrative one.)

My guess is that conflating roles within these categories could work,
and might work better than trying to bridge categories, for any given
project. (I certainly find it easier to focus on one type of work at a
time.)

Cheers,

Peter


steve....@gmail.com

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Sep 29, 2005, 9:49:52 PM9/29/05
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I think the most useful distinction you make is between writer and
developer. Was it an accident that you left out "developer" from your
list? I'm not sure why you're calling the
administrator/coordinator/facilitator/ a "producer" (nor do I
understand this terminology in Hollywood -- it is not the task of a
producer to "produce" anything, right?); but I guess it's fair enough.
Clearly one of the writers would need to be director, if there's more
than one writer, but the director would always have to be a writer to
some extent.

Anyway, once you get the categories and logistics figured out, this
would make a great website and resource.

steve....@gmail.com

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Sep 29, 2005, 9:54:25 PM9/29/05
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Are you aware of the collaborator's website?

http://home.earthlink.net/~gomero/ifcollab.html

It doesn't look like it gets a lot of traffic or attention....

I think the most useful distinction you make is between writer and


developer. Was it an accident that you left out "developer" from your
list? I'm not sure why you're calling the
administrator/coordinator/facilitator/ a "producer" (nor do I
understand this terminology in Hollywood -- it is not the task of a
producer to "produce" anything, right?); but I guess it's fair enough.
Clearly one of the writers would need to be director, if there's more
than one writer, but the director would always have to be a writer to
some extent.

Anyway, once you get the categories and logistics figured out, this

would make a great website and resource, perhaps even as an expansion
of the betatesting website.

Ramona White

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Sep 30, 2005, 12:25:55 PM9/30/05
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> ChicagoDave wrote:
> > This is an interesting survey question. Given the roles defined in this
> > thread (writer, producer, director, tester, marketing, publisher),
> > which would you feel comfortable filling?
> >
> > Name: David Cornelson
> > writer: yes
> > producer: yes
> > director: no
> > tester: no
> > marketing: yes
> > publisher yes

I have seen a couple of ideas posted here that looked like they would
be cool to be involved in. The semi-interactive fiction for example.
I didn't approach anyone because I am just getting reacquainted with
IF, I don't program anymore (although I did in the early 80's when I
was often the only girl in the class), and I didn't want to step on
anyone's toes or vision. But I have discovered through beta-testing
that I have really missed being a part of a collaborative process. I
literally spring out of bed in the morning eager to see whether or not
I'll be having bugs for breakfast. (Thank you so much to all those who
provided me with said bugs.) So... Writing-yes. Idea generation-yes.
Directing-maybe. Testing-definitely!

Ramona

ChicagoDave

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Sep 30, 2005, 1:54:16 PM9/30/05
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I did forget Developer.

But I disagree that a director needs to be a writer. A writer could
potentially be someone that understands language, but has a hard time
with story structure. So the director, although has the potential to
write, is setting that aside here to pull text together for the benefit
of the overall story. The director is also identifying weaknesses in
the current text and asking the writer(s) to develop more text, either
for locations or for actions.

I also do know about the IF Collaboration website, but this is not
about volunteering to help code someones game or write for someone to
code. This is about developing a methodology for collaboration that
could potentially be used by the IF Collaboration website or by other
groups.

David

Timothy Partridge

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Sep 30, 2005, 4:14:35 PM9/30/05
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Name: Tim Partridge
writer: no
producer: no
director: maybe
tester: yes
marketing: no
publisher: no
developer: yes

The director role seems to me have some overlap with tester in that both may
think of possible things to do in the story. The director is able to
influence the design before coding has gone down a particular route.

In a traditional IT environment, requirements or scenarios are typically
fleshed out first, then the tester uses these to check that the final
program actually does what it is meant to.

I think that testers could have a useful role earlier on in the process by
"testing" mocked up examples of interacting with the game, and saying "What
ought to happen if you did this?". You then need a reasoned discussion as to
which bits to implement and how soon.

Does anyone have thoughts on how the writers' / directors' design for the
flow of the game could be represented? Something diagramatic might be nice,
possibly with bits of text scattered about the diagram. Perhaps a state
transition diagram with say circles for game states and arcs with commands /
response between them. Ideally in some sort of automated tool to make
managing it easier.

I'm not sure how things would go once the writing / coding was happening in
earnest. One possibility would be to set up a project with a web based code
management tool. Put each object's textual descriptions in its own little
file and then Include (in the Inform sense) it into the code that defines
the behaviour. The same could be done for major responses to commands. That
way writers could book out bits of text from the project, play around with
them and book them back in. (The code management tool would stop two writers
working on the same piece accidently.) The coders wouldn't have to keep
track of the writing as their code would just say Include "pittext" etc.
Compilation performance could be awful though.

Tim

--
Tim Partridge. Any opinions expressed are mine only and not those of my employer

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