By sheer coincidence, I find myself neck-deep in creating a custom Interactive Fiction engine during a year in which all kinds of new engines for authoring and enjoying interactive narrative are popping up. Many of these by established programming and literary experts in the IF community.
It feels like every week Emily Short posts a review of something new. Most of the ones I've seen recently are more of a Choose Your Own Adventure format than parser-based. Nonetheless, there is a lot I can learn about world modelling and code-free authoring from these systems. Not all of them are open to the public for creating though. All of them seem to be open to Emily Short, however, and she is doing a great job of describing and reviewing her experiences.
It occurred to me a while ago that creating the interface for authoring pieces for Palimpsest is potentially more interesting and important than examining the reader experience when it's all done. Readers are much more fickle, and those who spend time writing and creating are by definition the committed and passionate. I'm not saying the readers aren't. But a solid interface for authoring is going to make it much more likely that good experiences for readers are to be created. If I rush through the design and build of the software itself so that I can focus on filling it with content then quizzing readers about the immersiveness of their experiences - as was my original plan - there's a good chance I won't spend nearly enough time testing with authors (as I'll be doing the authoring) and will miss the opportunity to allow people to create immersive or particularly engaging experiences, jeopardising the outcomes of the user study stuff in the end anyway.
I only have about two months left to work on this in the context of my MSc. Whilst I need something substantial to fill my final report with, I'm certain I'll be continuing to develop this in the future, and I'll only end up having to redo bits from scratch if I cut corners the first time.
I also have to think about what I want to get out of my MSc, and how I want to use the opportunities I have studying in an art department compared to what would be expected of me studying in a computing department.
I jumped on the idea of 'user study stuff' because I know how to do this in terms of software, and I know how to write a lot about it. Not that I don't find the immersion thing interesting, but overall I think it would be more valuable to both myself and any eventual users of Palimpsest if I produced documentation of detailed musings about the perhaps unfinished or forever-ongoing development of a custom engine and authoring interface for Interactive Fiction, rather than gloss over that to fill my report with lots of nice statistics and quotes and analyses about reader experiences that are ultimately invalid anyway.
And I can do this for an 'art' project, where the journey is equally, if not more, important than the outcomes. Where for a 'computing' project, the documentation of the journey has in my experience generally been intended to be a build up to an overarching theoretical or practical conclusion.
So next up, look out for a discussion of the various engines for different flavours of interactive narrative that have been popping up / I've been noticing recently, coming soon to a blog near you! (This one. This is the blog it'll be coming to. Not any old blog near you).