interactive fiction · Post · Videogames

Another year, another IFComp – “1958: Dancing with Fear”

Real talk: my career as a narrative designer/game writer is intimately connected with the Interactive Fiction Competition.

The IFComp is an annual online competition for interactive fiction, and the oldest one still kicking, having been held uninterruptedly since 1995. In its origins it was the last bastion of the old school defenders of parser games, but nowadays its doors have been flung wide open to CYOA, Twine and many other hybrid types of games, as long as their focus is on textual narrative.

I still remember how I started tinkering with Inform 7, an authoring tool designed to create parser games, many years ago. And I’d never forget how taking part in IFComp 2015 gave me the courage and positive reinforcement I needed to seriously pursue a career in game writing. For that I am forever indebted to Emily Short and Jon Ingold for their encouragement and blessings, and to Ara Carrasco and Matthew Holland for their companionship and beta testing when such a thing was most sorely needed.

To be honest, I didn’t even place well in my first year, but I didn’t care. I was on my way.

It feels like it was ages ago, and here we are – the IFComp 2017 is well under way right now, the games are online and you can go to the website, play the game and score them.

And this is my game for this year’s edition, a thriller called 1958: Dancing with Fear.

Cover art by Ara Carrasco (@aracarrascoart)

In 1958:Dancing with Fear we play as a former cabaret star of the 50s, led by hardship and circumstance to play the role of an improvised spy on the eve of revolution in a Caribbean republic.

It’s an idea that first came to mind one evening I was working late in an office in Cambridge, translating fashion copy and listening to some boleros. On a random playlist on YouTube, the Los Panchos hit Flor de Azalea came in randomly just as I was making a tea break – and the idea hit me. That woman, battered by fate into that dangerous mission. That night where everything seems to take place. The incoming storm, hidden behind the music, the fake smiles, the champagne glasses. And, ultimately, a crucial decision, only hers to take – one final chance to take control of things, of her life, of all the chaotic elements that had been pinballing her from one place to the other throughout her life. And from that original idea arose a rise-and-fall cycle, a tragic tale of romance and politics – and the 38,000 word story that you can read and play at the IFComp website.

Once the dust settles and I get the proper perspective I will find the time to write an in-depth post-mortem analysis of 1958, just as I did last year with my 2016 game, Ariadne in Aeaea. Watch this space.

So far the reviews have been positively heart-warming, but nothing is set in stone until the voting period ends on November 15th and the results are announced. So if you want to have a say, make sure to go to the IFComp webpage, register, play and rate at least 5 games. This year we have a whooping total of 79 games, so you’re bound to find something to fit your taste.