Posts Tagged ‘interactive fiction’

Now it’s the eve of Academic Writing Month 2013, which runs through November, I’m going to state my goals up-front. This is with the hope that doing so will encourage me to complete them.

Goal 1 is to finish revising an academic journal paper I have a revise and resubmit offer on, and email the revised version to the editors by the end of November. The editors haven’t asked me to do any new research, or read further around the subject. Rather they want me to introduce my work more clearly, state the thesis up front, etc. That should be doable, if my brain gets into gear, in a relatively short time. For some of the material I add I will probably have to hack out some other content to keep within the 10,000 words (including footnotes) word limit. But, again, that should be manageable.

Goal 2 is to research, plan, write and submit a conference paper proposal for the 2014 SHARP conference in Antwerp. I am considering putting in a proposal for a paper based on Doctor Who fanzines. I’m still slightly undecided about doing this, given my neurological disease which is very disabling. I will make a final decision on what to do later in November. But I am gathering relevant academic books on the subject around me, and also brainstorming ideas for my own paper in my favourite mind mapping app on my iPad. The process will take a little time, but I think should be doable before the CFP deadline.

Those are my two goals. Alongside them I will be doing other writing, with an emphasis on having fun. And I will continue to judge the 2013 IF Comp entries. But these things will be done as and when I can, rather than towards fixed goals.

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Each year the Interactive Fiction competition happens around now, where people enter text adventure games, and then there’s a few weeks for judges to work through as many of them as possible.

This year there were 36 entries initially, though 1 has since been disqualified. I’m not confident I’ll get to judge all 35 games in the time available, but I am going to play and judge as many as possible.

Quite a lot of the entrants this year are traditional parser based games, including many written in Inform 7. But a growing number are web based, almost choose your own adventure type games, which can often be played quite quickly. This year there’s even 1 CYOA game presented in a PDF form, so similar to a book.

Playing and judging the games is also good for helping me as an interactive fiction writer. I can pick up ideas and techniques from other games, as well as form a clear idea of the sort of things I’d like personally to avoid.

But that’s something else I need to get on with in October and November, which again reduces how intensively I can throw myself at AcWriMo this year. But judging the competition is fun, and I enjoy it, so will happily do it.

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I’m doing another one of my occasional posts here about things I’m working on research and writing wise. I find these useful for my own purposes to keep a note of what I’m up to, and I’ve found that declaring goals somewhere like this can be helpful for getting things done.

I’m planning on taking part in Academic Writing Month again this year, in November, but probably in a more low-key way than last year. I have a particular goal for the month, to get a revised journal paper completed and sent on to the relevant editors before the end of November. But that’s probably my main goal for then. I need to finish some relevant reading for that, as well as work on the paper directly. So I need some thinking time, before doing my final revisions.

Beyond that I want to focus on doing things I find fun. For example, inspired by my much missed late PhD supervisor, I want to return to urban history research, and am planning a variety of things I can get started with. I have a number of ideas for academic urban history things I can do from home using both trade directories I have access to in digitised form and the detailed 18th century Scottish tax records available online at Scotlandsplaces. I’ve been jotting down ideas for research possibilities in a mind map on my iPad. All would be fun to research, and could potentially lead to more academic journal papers.

Urban history research ideas mind map

I also want to carry on with my series of crossover history and roleplaying game articles, which I’m planning to compile into a book once I’ve written enough. I completed my 10th and 11th articles for this the other night, and now have the challenge of figuring out which places to write about next. I’ve generally been writing about two Scottish places for every one English place. To be honest I’m impressed I’m managing to write that much about England, ranging from Northumberland, down to Suffolk, and over to Somerset and Cornwall. I like writing these pieces, and find them enormous fun.

And I really must resume my text adventure work in progress. Though I could argue I’m doing research for it at the moment, because I’ve just started reading Rosemary Goring’s After Flodden, a novel set in the same area at about the same time as the interactive fiction game I’m writing. Hopefully it will help inspire me and give me more of a feel for the time, which I need for continuing developing the plot and interaction side of my game. Writing text adventures in Inform 7 is enormous fun – like playing them, not like conventional programming – but I find the more traditional aspects of writing harder.

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Another to-do list for my own benefit. I find it helpful to make a note of things in progress, not least because it gets my thoughts and plans in order, and records it somewhere I can find it again in future.

My immediate priority is to write a talk for an academic conference in a month’s time. I’m speaking about my taught postgraduate Masters dissertation research into Melrose regality court records of the late 17th century. I did this research a decade ago, and have completed a part-time PhD on a quite different topic since then. So it is a little bit distant for me now, but I should be able to prepare it well. Actually squeezing it into 20 minutes is something of a challenge, but will be fun, and I hope the audience will enjoy it. I gave a longer talk (about 90 minutes) about the same research in Melrose years ago, and that proved popular.

Alongside that I have a revise and resubmit offer on a journal paper based on this Melrose research. I should get on with that, and perhaps tackling the journal paper revisions alongside the talk writing might kill two birds with one stone. I’m aiming at quite an ambitious journal. They may yet decide to reject me, but things are promising at the moment, and I always regard a revise and resubmit offer as a good one that must be followed up on. Basically you have your foot holding the door open, and it would be silly not to try to get to accepted.

Another priority for me is to write my talk for the Guild of One-Name Studies regional meeting at Perth in just over a month’s time. I’m going to be talking about my Cavers one-name (surname) study, which I’ve been doing since the late 1980s, and has been registered with the Guild since the late 1990s. We can use PowerPoint at this meeting, as I will do for my Melrose talk, and I’m hoping to cover a lot of ground that will be of interest to other Scottish one-name studiers.

My planned book of strange history / roleplaying articles continues, slowly. I tend to lurch at the articles: have a gap for a while, and then complete three or more in quick succession. I’ve completed nine so far, and have two more well underway. I am aiming for fifteen completed ones, and will then see if I want to write more. Lurching my way forwards anyway.

My text adventure game is on hold, but I should resume it in the autumn. I’m in the middle section of the game now, and am still writing the core plot. The coding side of things (in Inform 7) isn’t that difficult. But writing the detective story side of things is more of a challenge for me, and is being done slowly, and carefully.

And I continue to blog, in my various blogs. For example I blogged earlier today about my husband’s turkey poaching ancestors, inspired by a very similar case covered in this week’s Who Do You Think You Are programme (UK version).

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Early this morning I sent off the revised version of an accepted journal paper to the editor. So that’s taken care of. Good. But I thought for my own benefit I’d make a note here of other things I’m working on, as an aide-memoire.

I’ve agreed to write a book review for a Scottish history academic journal. I was approached for this, because of the specific book, and my research interests. So that’s next on the list. I have the book in the house – my own copy actually – and just need to read it, and pull together some thoughts. That shouldn’t take too long, fingers crossed, and should be fun. The review is needed by the end of this year, but I should easily finish it many months ahead of then.

In September I’m hoping to go to a Guild of One-Name Studies regional meeting at Perth, and have offered to give a short talk about my Cavers one-name study. I’ve jotted down some ideas in a mind map already, but need to finish writing it, including the PowerPoint presentation I’ll use.

I’ve a series of articles ongoing that are a cross between historical pieces and roleplaying game ideas, and need to resume writing these. They were put on hold, as I battled the illness and completing other things. I’ve done seven articles so far, and am part-way through one on Montrose, with more planned. I’m hoping to publish them as a PDF booklet, once completed.

My interactive fiction game work in progress needs to be picked up again. I’d completed the prologue, and was at a point where I was going to start coding up the main middle section. I should be able to make good progress with this. I find writing the dialogue and interaction quite hard, but the coding side, in Inform 7 – a natural language programming language – is much easier for me. It’s funny, I can’t do much computer programming now, since the brain damage got really bad. But I get on well with Inform 7 – yay!

I have two other academic articles currently with journal editors and reviewers. One was derived from part of my PhD, the other from my MPhil. And I could hear back about those at any time. With luck I’d be offered some sort of revision, even a revise and resubmit would be good. But even if these editors reject the pieces outright I’d want to revise them myself before submitting them to a different journal. So I need to allow a little bit of space to be able to work on that.

I need to put together a proposal for the Community Libraries: Connecting Readers in the Atlantic World, 1650-1850 project. I can’t attend the colloquium in Chicago, about digital approaches to library history. But I hope to be able to attend the London colloquium in 2015, which is looking at libraries in the community. I could put together a good discussion piece for that, based on what I did for the library in Haddington, researching the readers using a huge range of genealogical and historical records, to be able to contextualise their borrowings properly. I’m also planning similar research in future for the Balquhidder Parish Library in Perthshire, and to that end am currently in the middle of a small-scale pilot study of another set of library borrowings. But I need to put something together for the London meeting, and submit it before the September 2013 deadline for abstracts.

I recently blogged about the 17th century poem I’m transcribing. I’d like to publish the transcript in an academic journal, with a suitable introduction and text contextualising it. So that’s another paper idea I’m working on. But I need to finish transcribing the poem first. For the record it’s massive. Three pages of two columns of tight text. Many many lines of poem.

I have another couple of paper ideas in progress, but they are at early stages, and unlikely to reach editors anytime soon.

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Another to-do catch up here.

I’ve put my chapmen research project on hold for now, because I’ve been too knocked out lately to move it forward. In particular I’ve not been able to move the necessary reading forward, and there’s an awful lot of that I need to work through effectively. There is also the issue of what I can include in any resulting paper, given the costly open access implications. I haven’t quite worked out what to do with that yet. But other things are looming more quickly, and must take priority.

I’ve sketched out my talk for the archives conference next month. I only have to speak for 10-15 minutes, in quite a packed panel, so will need to be concise and to the point. But I think I should have just the right amount of material for that. I’ll be practising to check on the timing issues nearer the time. Again I used my iPad to develop my ideas, creating a mind map of what I’ll cover, using the iThoughtsHD app.

The other looming thing I need to focus on is working on necessary revisions for a paper that’s been accepted by an academic journal for publication probably next year, subject to the necessary revisions being done. I’ve got the reports from the two readers, and have drawn up a list of the key things to focus on. And again I’m doing the main work on my iPad, having transferred the readers’ reports to there, as well as the latest working version of the journal paper to annotate using my stylus in Goodreader. The revised version of the paper needs to be with the editor in a couple of months, so I’m prioritising working on that now.

I’m also resuming work on my interactive fiction game. I’ve sketched the overall plot in a mind map using iThoughtsHD, and am coding up the game in Inform 7. It has a lovely integrated development environment, which in many ways makes programming like playing a game, and is ridiculously good fun. But large games are still complex entities, so I’m growing mine slowly and steadily, in careful steps. I’ve found that sketching out the overall plot in advance has been really helpful, to keep me focused and productive.

The other thing I’m working on is a series of articles about places with strange histories and much potential for roleplaying ideas, especially horror games like Call of Cthulhu. This developed from a series of articles that I’ve been writing for the Yog-Sothothery magazine for patrons of the Yog-Sothoth website. But I’ve so many possible articles that I could write that I may end up working on something standalone, in anthology form. Anyway I’m having a lot of fun writing these places. Two-thirds of the articles completed so far are about Scottish places with strange histories, and the other third about English things. Generally, though, I find it best to write about things I already know quite a bit about, hence the leaning towards Scottish subjects.

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Haven’t made so much progress in the last week, because I’ve been quite ill, with a worsening extremely heavy cold on top of my neurological disease. But on the plus side I submitted Paper 1 by email last week, and received a prompt response from the editor. So that’s in hand. That makes it 3 journal papers submitted in November 2012, which is excellent progress. And I have a blog post that should be appearing in the near future on the website of an academic society I’m a member of.

My focus over the last few days, where I’ve been able to, has been to look ahead to future plans. For that I’ve been using my mind mapping app on my iPad, iThoughtsHD, to brainstorm future paper ideas and longer-term research plans. I’ve identified 3 more papers that I want to work on in the near future, though all are at relatively early stages, and need quite a lot of research, thinking and writing to be ready for submission. I’ve also identified areas that I want to work on in future research-wise.

My text adventure coding hasn’t moved on – just been too ill really – but it is in a good state, and I will be able to move it forward in future. It is far improved from where it was at the start of November, and for that I’m really pleased.

Because I’m unlikely to be able to do much more academic writing between now and Friday this is my last sum-up post for #AcWriMo this year. I’m incredibly pleased by how it’s gone. Thanks to its encouragement I’ve been able to complete and submit 3 papers that were lingering and not getting finished off otherwise. And I’ve also moved other writing and plans forward.

I definitely intend to sign up for #AcWriMo again next year. Between now and then I will also try to be more focused in terms of setting myself mini goals from time to time, declaring them here and on various social media sites, and trying to stick to them. That method of working has proved to be very effective for me, and I should use this technique more in future.

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Another week, and happy to report good progress. Paper 3, based on my MPhil dissertation, was submitted a few days ago to the eminent journal. This journal uses a fancy online submission system, which is quite a novel experience for me as a humanities researcher. Online submission is commonplace among science journals, but rare in humanities, where we’re more likely to email papers as attachments, or even in some cases print them out and post them. I found I had to write an abstract before submission, again quite unusual in humanities, but once that was done it was off, and simple. The submission website took my input Word (.doc) file, and converted that, seemingly trouble-free, to a PDF. I’ve since heard from the journal editor, and the paper will be going out to review soon. It could take four months or more to hear the outcome, but it’s in process.

Paper 1 is also making good progress. I finished editing it on the computer last night, and now have printed it out to work on it in a coffee shop for a final read through. I should be submitting it in the next week. Normally I like to work in a paperless office type of way, reading and annotating PDFs on my iPad. But in this case I might want to scribble like mad, so went for the printed option. In terms of length the paper is ideal, not too short, not too long, and I think it’s improved over an earlier version. Nearly there anyway.

In more fun things my text adventure coding has also moved on. I’ve built a coding framework for the main part of the game which seems to work well and will make it easy to implement in Inform 7. The next task is to write the dialogue and text – quite a big task, but I think manageable. I found mind mapping useful here too, filling in detail about individual characters and how they will respond to the player. Then I could take my mind map, transfer it from iPad to laptop, and do the coding and writing.

One thing I haven’t done yet is to mind map for future academic research plans, but I think that should be a priority now that I’m getting so many papers finished and submitted this month. So I will make doing that a priority in the next week.

And as a morale boost I received a big box containing 25 (!) offprints of my Scottish Historical Review paper. I’m drawing up a list of places to send them to, including the archives in Edinburgh who helped me access digital images of the required historical records, and the archive centre in Dumfries, since the paper looked at Dumfriesshire book owners.

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Another week on and I’m happy to say that Paper 3 – the one based on my Masters dissertation – is now nearing submission. Last time I reported here it hadn’t moved forward at all, but I’ve done a lot of work on it, including checking relevant historiography, and it’s now nearly there. I’m aiming at quite an ambitious journal, because I think it’s a piece that merits that, and I’m very proud of it. Right now I’m grappling with converting my paper to the chosen journal’s house style. Once that’s done I’ll reread, make final changes, then submit. In word count terms it’s bang on the right amount, near the lower end of what they permit. In history journals it’s often easier to get a shorter paper – relatively speaking, when we’re talking about 8000 words and upwards – published, and that’s the strategy I’m adopting here. It was quite a fight to squeeze a dissertation-length piece down into that word count, but I think it’s improved it, and focused the argument.

Paper 1 hasn’t moved forward, but I’ve put it on one side for now, partly while I focus on shifting Paper 3 out the door, partly to give me a bit of distance to be more ruthless in my editing / rehacking. It’s all too easy with a lengthy piece of academic writing to get quite attached to it. It can be very helpful to have some distance, and get something like a fresh pair of eyes looking at it.

On the downside working on papers so far advanced is making me want to do something a bit more creative. I really like the early stages of writing papers and doing research, when ideas are flying all over the place. So to recover some of that buzz I’m going to work on my mind maps for possible research/paper ideas in future, and also start to return to my text adventure game writing.

In a week’s time I hope to have Paper 3 submitted, or nearly so, have moved on the text adventure writing, and done some productive mind mapping. And then, after a decent break, it should be about time to look effectively again at Paper 1.

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I can only work on academic things in short bursts on alternative evenings. I have a severely disabling MS-like illness, and am too knocked out for the rest of the time, and during the day. Also I need to pace myself, hence going for managing a bit on alternative evenings rather than night after night. But despite this I’m making great progress.

The shorter Paper 2 has been finished already and submitted by email. I heard back from the journal editor today, and that’s looking good for now. The longer Paper 1 is also making good progress. I’ve been hacking away at it ruthlessly, and am now at the stage where I need to add some things, then convert it to journal house style, before final reading/editing, and then submitting. It’s currently hovering a couple of hundred words over the limit I’d be aiming for, but that’s a good position to be in at the moment. I expect to finish and submit that paper in about a week.

What hasn’t been so good is that I haven’t moved Paper 3 forward yet. This needs me to do some reading. But once Paper 1 is nearer completion I’ll be able to switch my attention to Paper 3. I don’t think Paper 3 needs a vast amount of work, but I do need to contextualise my research more, hence doing more reading on up-to-date research, and writing that up accordingly.

On the non academic front my text adventure coding hasn’t moved on yet, but I’ve just finished judging 27 out of the 28 entries in this year’s IF Competition. Playing through and judging those games has made me reflect on what I’d like to see in my game, and I should be able to feed that experience into writing and coding the game when I resume that later this month.

Best thing of all is I feel really invigorated by the #AcWriMo goals and schedule. I’m finishing things off and getting them out the door and submitted that have been hanging about for too long. I don’t think I could keep this pace up month after month, but from time to time it might be viable, and I’d like to continue working this way as much as I can.

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