Skinnable IF

Hitchhiker Adventure Game Editions 1 vs 2

What if IF texts were easily skinnable - enabling a community of non-programmers to quickly (re)illustrate their favorite IF stories?

A profusion of unauthorized graphic editions for every game may seem to be a perverse suggestion in a medium like IF, which is primarily distinguished by the minimalist austerity of the command line - so if you considered City of Secrets ostentatious and started it by typing VERYPLAIN, this discussion might not be for you.

Two recent projects have me thinking about reader-illustrated versions of interactive fiction: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - 20th Anniversary Edition (or rather the Picture Contest) and Mystery House Taken Over (or rather the Occupation Kit).

In this short series of posts on “Skinnable IF” I’d like to briefly discuss these two projects, their ideas about audience participation/remixing, their modes for modding-skinning-illustration, and some practical implications for future IF projects in a similar vein. Today I’ll begin by introducing them.

Hitchhiker Adventure Game

BBC’s Picture Competition for it’s Hitchhiker Adventure Game(HAG) offered contest winners the opportunity to have their illustrations incorporated into the web-published game. HAG is a BAFTA-winning remake of Infocom’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (itself an adaptation of the Douglas Adams novel, adapted from his original BBC radio series). This most recent remake updates the original Infocom game executable into a web based java applet, and expands on the original command line and text interface with supplemental graphic controls and illustrations. These graphical additions were not intended to be exhaustive, however:

“The 20th anniversary edition is still essentially a text game. We have not attempted to produce a fully animated version. Think of the graphics as following in the tradition of E. H. Shepard’s illustrations for A.A. Milne’s books - don’t expect them to reflect all the events described.” - Hitchhiker Adventure Game History

The Picture Competition then asked fans to submit additional illustrations for unillustrated areas of the game. The contest was closed and winners were announced at the end of the 2004, after which not one but two new “Editions” of HAG were released, featuring original illustrations complimented by the contributions of the top two winners.

Mystery House Taken Over

Mystery House Taken Over icon

Mystery House Taken Over(MHTO), is an open source port of Mystery House, the first mixed text-and-graphics adventure game. In addition to producing web-playable port of the original Sierra game, the project encourages readers to create their own versions of the original via a downloadable “Occupation Kit” which bundles instructions and tools for modifying the included game source and graphics. There is also a rough web interface, for building versions online, although the interface wasn’t working when I tested it.

MHTO was commissioned for and created by a team of IFMud regulars led by Nick Montfort, Dan Shiovitz, and Emily Short. Whereas the new HAG Editions were the result of two separate stages - first a port/remake, then a follow-up picture contest whose winners might contribute to work - MHTO was originally conceived as a port for the purpose of enabling participation in the form of pictoral (and other) remixing. The project site publishes both the original port and all the contributed “occupations.” It is worth noting however that all of the existing occupations appear to have been solicited from a pre-existing community of IF artist-practitioners rather than created by new readers wandering onto the site.

Next time, I’ll consider some of these points of comparison:

- public domain vs. intellectual property?
- incentives and barriers to reader contribution
- concepts of community
- mods, skins, illustrations, and the difference

3 Responses to “Skinnable IF”

  1. 1 nick

    Thanks very much for mention of the Mystery House Taken Over project, Jeremy, and particularly for discussing the project in the distinguished company of the new, award-winning edition of HHGTTG.

    The Web interface just allows the “surface” aspects of an all-text version of Mystery House to be modified, and is meant as an easy, less intimidating way to start modding the game. (Or it should; we’ll look at it again soon and make sure it’s working correctly on the Turbulence server. Sorry about the trouble there.) It’s possible to do all that and more with the cross-platform kit, which is really the better option. One just needs to download the kit and read a bit about compiling and blorbifying to get started on that.

    The first seven “occupations” that launched along with the site were indeed contributions that we solicited; the people who worked on these served as beta-testers for the kit while they were developing their versions of Mystery House, helping to make the final, released version of the kit better for everyone else. Two other games have arrived since then, however, from the Art Destroyer and Guy Minor, and we hope there will be more before too long.

  2. 2 nick

    Dan just fixed the problem with the Web Mystery House editor, by the way — it does work now.

  3. 3 Jeremy Douglass

    Nick - thanks for the notice on updating the web editor on Turbulence - I’ll check it out and revise before I post the rest of this series.

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