October 22, 2021 - Distractions

Friday, October 22, 2021

It’s amazing how good I am at convincing myself that non-authorly stuff is actually related to my writing. In addition to NaNo starting up on November 1st, Ifcomp started on October 1st and runs through November 15th. Okay, you’re thinking. She just finished explaining one obscure activity and now she’s talking about another?

Yes, I am.

Ifcomp is short for Interactive Fiction Competition, which is another annual event. Interactive Fiction is a genre of computer game that is all about telling a story and solving puzzles. What distinguishes it from other games is that it is text based. That’s because it was invented before computers could do graphics. The first game of that type was Adventure (or Colossal Cave Adventure or some variation of that) written by Will Crowther for a PDP-10. I know you never heard of that computer, but it was a popular machine in its day.

Anyway, a bunch of students at MIT were enthusiasts of the game and came up with the idea that they might be able to make money selling games like it that ran on home computers like the Apple II and Commodore 64. They were right. People like myself were addicted to these games, starting with Zork (modeled on Adventure) and expanding into stories that were science fiction, fantasy, and even horror. For a brief time, Infocom was the most successful gaming company on the planet. Until home computers supported graphics and everyone wanted pretty pictures with their games.

However, text adventures never went away entirely. Today, there are hundreds (thousands?) of hobbyists who keep them alive by playing and writing their own games. Which is what Ifcomp is about. People submit their games to the competition to be judged by players of the games. The winners get prizes, nothing extravagant mind you, but it’s as much for the acclaim as the prizes.

And, like clockwork, every fall I get all nostalgic about these text adventures and want to go back to playing them for the competition. I did try writing one or two, but they use their own programming language and I was a programmer by day back then, so I wasn’t always enthusiastic about doing more programming at night. Plus, I was a single mom with a career, so I didn’t have time to get deep into hobbies.

But I kept those original Infocom games, including my two box sets of all of them ever released. And this year the force is strong in me. I even downloaded the latest version of the software to run the games and pulled one of the basic level ones off my bookshelf. (Since I’m out of practice, I thought I’d start small.) But I haven’t gotten around to actually playing it.

Because I found something else to distract myself with. Minecraft.

Remember I talked about making a map of the setting for my Rainbow Ranch Mysteries? As I was mulling over making a map in Photoshop Elements with all the preliminary work of isolating different types of buildings and fences and trees and stuff, as well as searching through Google maps for an area that had the basic terrain I was looking for, I remembered that Holly Lisle, a science fiction writer, used Minecraft to create her settings and buildings. So I thought maybe that might work.

Which led to a lot of Googling and downloading a trial and trying to figure out how that worked. After messing around on my Mac for a while, I figured out that it wasn’t the best platform to play Minecraft on. No, I’d be better off using my iPad, because that version has more functionality.

But before I went that far, I took a breather. Because, although I tell myself that both interactive fiction and Minecraft are also storytelling, I don’t think they’re going to make my world building for this new series any more efficient. And my limited brainpower (remember that from yesterday?) might be better off getting back to work rather than playing around with the fun stuff.

Ahem.

So I buckled down and worked on those characters for a couple of hours.

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