I must say that, this afternoon, I discovered somewhat to my surprise that I've gained a tiny, tiny bit of notoriety on this site, which is both humorous and distressing at the same time, but a nice change of pace to my normal Monday. Therefore, let me go ahead and introduce myself so that I am not universally known as a "based COGite" or whatever other in-world CYS appellations I've yet to master.
Ultra brief bio: I was born and raised in the USA as a native English speaker, but I've lived the back half of my life in Europe, talking to people in a melange of English and whatever foreign languages, so my conversational American English is roughly frozen in time from the 1980s when I had a brief but torrid love affair with CYOA-type books (particularly Fighting Fantasy) before forgetting all about them in the subsequent decades.
Fast-forward to 2016, when I was hired by a local company to be their English-speaking (and writing) person and then promptly got re-assigned as the one guy who knew how to use Google (seriously, it's shocking how few people go from Step 1 "I have a question" to Step 2 "let me educate myself via Google searches) to hunt down whatever corporate fad was being bandied about on LinkedIn (universally pronounced as "Link It In" by people in this part of the world), one of which was chatbots.
Chatbots have been around since the 1960s, but it wasn't until 2016 when Facebook added them to Messenger that everyone and their brother started getting excited about them. I took one look at the architecture, and I immediately said to myself, "My god, that's the same structure as Interactive Fiction!"
So when my boss decided not to add a chatbot to the company's website, I immediately started cobbling together a primitive IF story using FB Messenger, just for my own amusement. But after a couple of weeks, I learned that 16 thousand kids were playing it around the world, including in places like Indonesia and Malaysia, which I hadn't even conceived of would be interested in such a thing, I said "oh shit, I guess the IF world isn't dead."
But... after writing a few (very short) IF stories in chatbot format, I went back to the task at hand, which was paying the bills, etc., and so it would've remained a brief cul-de-sac in the narrative of my life but for the fact that suddenly, everyone and their brother was interested in building chatbots. And so that got forked into a new career for me, and soon I was working for a shifty array of modern con artists ("marketers") trying to use CBs to eke out a few more digital pennies from suckers online.
Closing the loop, one day I got a message from a potential CB customer interested in hiring me. On the phone, it was divulged that he actually wanted an IF story, and that's when I learned that there was this huge, very very active community online of people who didn't walk away from the IF world in the 1980s and, in fact, were all still very busy and excited writing and playing new IF story games, which shocked me about as much as if I had inadvertently stumbled over an Amish farm in the middle of New York City.
This was some time in 2019, and the IF-cum-CB customer never did end up hiring me (which is a good thing, as his story writing skills were erratic as hell), but it did kick off a months-long odyssey of catching up on all that I had missed over the decades, including Twine, TADS, and Inform, wonderfully informative discussions by Emily Short and Andrew Plotkin, Aaron Reed's magnum opus of a doctoral thesis (seriously, it's a great read!), plus scans of old 'zines and Usenet group postings (to say nothing of CYS itself), leaving me to, quite incorrectly, conclude that somewhere out there in the darkness, the internet had brought together a group of passionate IF amateurs (not in the sense of quality but in literally they're not getting paid for any of their work) who were just the sort of folks I might enjoy becoming acquainted with.
But.... and it's a big one, the game that most impressed my wannabe client was "Tin Star", a sprawling 1 million-word Western epic published in CoG format ten years ago or so. And so that's how I dipped my first toe in the CoG waters, so to speak. And my first impression was "Wow, they're making digital versions of the old FF games I loved as a kid."
But, despite my ever-ranging forays into all the various communities, forums, Reddits, chat boards, and the like, at the end of the day, most of the wider "IF community," if I'm allowed to say such a thing, was hardly any different than me writing cool little chatbots on Messenger (and later Telegram and other platforms) - an amusing and enjoyable hobby, but nothing more. And since it's faster and easier (seriously, WAY easier) to build IF in a chatbot form, why in the world would I bother learning Inform, Twine, or the rest?
CoG, though, as everyone here knows, promised something different. They had (and still have) an avenue for newcomers to publish an IF work, and if the stars align, it might even end up producing some income. Woah! So yeah, that made CoG stand out from the rest, so it's where I started to spend more time. My first attempt at a game story fell rather flat, but that was because I hadn't quite gotten the hang of differentiating a standard linear story structure from an IF one, but I figured it was a learning experience and shrugged it off.
Unfortunately, though, all my untimely enthusiasm and foolish belief that anyone ornery and weird enough to like IF must be at least of moderate intelligence and emotional maturity crashed headlong into a brick wall as I began to spend more time at CoG. Sure, I met and read a lot of informative postings from a lot of VERY cool people there (including some CYS regulars), but there seemed to be this dark cloud hanging over the CoG forum that I couldn't understand. And it had to be about more than the Alphabet Team stuff.
Why, for instance, were so many users sending me private messages, saying they were too scared to post on the forum, despite the fact that their communications were entirely humdrum? Why would anyone be scared to talk about 1980s IF games like Zork, for goodness' sake? Or their opinion on game structure? Every single message seemed entirely on-topic and completely inoffensive to everyone. But I know what people living in totalitarian regimes look like, and it's a kind of furtive, hangdog look that comes from years of being treated in a hostile manner by the authorities. And that's exactly what I was seeing on the CoG forum.
And then I made the "mistake" of speaking like a grown-up and objecting when the only moderator seemingly on duty over at CoG (Eiwynn? can't remember how to spell it) started calling me a liar when I said that Zork and its brethren were deliberately designed to be difficult to beat, whereas CoG's submission guidelines specifically state that even a cat randomly tapping on the screen will always get to a "win state."
Frankly, I assumed I would be terminated from the forum at that moment, but it turns out that a few of the terrified peasants on CoG weren't quite as submissive as they first appeared, and so a whole bunch of people started protesting, which ended up leading to yet another "reform" of the CoG forum, which I do believe was extensively covered here on CYS.
I then set out to deliberately push the CoG game format to its limits, eschewing the "preferred" method of creating games in which the player had supernatural, exquisite powers and always succeeds to push the boundaries of what could be both fun AND challenging, in which, no, your cat randomly tapping on the screen will NOT let you advance.
In other words, I created story games where you actually have to bring your brain online and fire off a few neurons, and that had two results: I started accumulating a tiny fanbase of people who actually enjoyed my games AND all the crusty old-timers who just want to pretend to be a dashing spy or the long-lost heir to yet another Elven kingdom got angry that my free game DEMOS were getting a tiny bit of traction. In other words, they found my games offensive, but not offensive in the modern sense of the word (such as refusing to use someone's "pronouns") but offensive in the Plato's Cave "shut up about the damn Outside Cave World already" kinda way.
After all, who was I to dare question the supreme majesty of CoG's "winning formula"? And so, in April of this year, when a CoG contest (called CHOMP) was announced, I sneakily submitted a full-ass 40.000-word game that yes, I honestly wrote all by myself in just two weeks (as you can probably tell by now, I am not altogether unfamiliar with a keyboard).
And what did I get in return? I'm not even joking - a PM with a five-page long DETAILED analysis of the thousand reasons why my game sucked, was boring and unplayable, and oh, by the way, broke all the CoG "rules" in terms of story design. About the only thing I wasn't told was to take a plasma cutter to my hard drive to ensure that no one would ever be scarred by my awful, awful game ever again.
Except... that it was a fun game, and a lot of people liked it (after the contest was over, and the entries published), and it became quite clear that the scions at CoG were taking my contest entry as something political, rather than just a fun little madcap game about a kid who gets bored during lockdown and so decides to go pull some pranks. My "political offense," not that they framed it as such, was, again, that I dared contravene the wisdom that CoG's official catalog is of Supreme Artistic Quality and that no innovations were or shall ever be needed to the CoG game structure format.
So, what did I do? I doubled down, of course :)
In the past two months, I published (for free) no fewer than 14 different game stories, all of them in CoG format, but designed and playable in completely unorthodox ways. To be clear, my "revolutionary" games were mostly simple little card and dice games (written in standard CoG script) instead of poorly spelled epics about Supernatural Wizard School or whatever.
The Old Guard at CoG responded by creating a brand-new category on the forum just for Lil' Ole Me (called "Hobby Games"), which was then sequestered under lock and key so that Google couldn't crawl it, nobody could find it via the search function (on the forum), and all URLs to discussion threads were redirected to a page that says "This URL doesn't exist!" even though, of course, they do exist. And when I asked JSH why, he just flat out flagged my post for "trolling" and thus deleted it.
And then, to conclude this already overblown introduction, I started widening my scope to corners of the IF world I had previously set aside, including CYS and IntFiction, and that's when I concluded that the reason everyone on the forum was acting like a member of the Red Brigade during Mao's Cultural Revolution is because there actually IS a misanthrope, an IF-hating self-proclaimed "grouch" named JSH terrorizing everyone with his foul moods and unfathomably hostile "management" style that simply shouts "I FUCKING HATE MY JOB AND ALL OF YOU FANS WHO PAY MY SALARY."
All I did a few days ago on the CoG format was compile a very, very short list of examples of his malcontentment, including (and I wish I were joking) logging in under another user's account on CoG and then posting messages about himself (JSH)! I mean, that alone is insane. And when the user in question complained, the sycophants shut him down. So yeah, I knew it was a coup de grace in putting my succinct objections out there on the CoG forum for everyone to see, but if you can't tell the truth on a friggin' internet forum, where can you do it?
Anyway, for those of you who made it to the end, I look forward to mastering the CYS format (for creating IF games), and we'll see where we go from there. Oh, and nice to meet you :)
Oh this is a really nice update and background information. I'll have to put this link in the giant archive of important stuff we keep around here.
Thanks again. Pretty sure there's a lot of people here that can help with the more complex stuff with the CYS editor.
Ultra brief bio
Yah, that one was a little weird even for CoG.
It was in the middle of a fairly innocuous thread, i.e. nobody was angry or shouting, but one poor guy (alas, I forgot his user name) dared to say something that JSH didn't like.
So instead of deleting it or whatever, JSH then went and logged in as this guy (again, a regular user, not staff/moderator) and wrote a message saying something like "Be careful before you say such things - JSH". Then, later on in the thread, the guy in question said "hey, I didn't write that! JSH logged in as me and wrote it" and then, of course, it was breezed over as usual.
As for my bio, my apologies, but my life is practically impossible to explain to anyone, even to me, and I'm the one who lived in.
Okay... Pretty sure that's completely against CoG rules. Jason should've given himself a 1000 year long ban for that. >.<
Unfortunately, though, all my untimely enthusiasm and foolish belief that anyone ornery and weird enough to like IF must be at least of moderate intelligence and emotional maturity crashed headlong into a brick wall as I began to spend more time at CoG.
Is poor Gower still over there trying to keep the peace?
Look, Eiwynn physically exhausts herself every day dealing with the riffraff, and I don't pay her a dime. And the thing a lot of people don't realize about Eiwynn, is that she's enormously fat. She can be very professional, but sometimes Taco John's won't let her suckle on the nacho cheese spigot while grunting contentedly, and that puts her in a bad mood all day.
Anyway, I'm sorry Sam had to make me ban him, but frankly I'd rather see him coming over here then in my wife again. Something the missus and I have agreed to disagree on.
Looks more like one of the meth-addicted squatters to me. :p
Welcome ! Enjoy your time here
I'm guessing it's because he dared to mention her buddy Eiwynn in a less than perfect light?
I dunno, given that Jason allowed the plagarist gladiator story through and not Briar's story seems like CoG turns a blind eye to plagarism over there.
Welcome to CYS! I hope you have fun here and I'm interested in seeing what you write.
I'm reading Secret of Grass Planet right now, you should have a look at that one, or Dead Man Walking.
Han Island is smaller but also good, you might like that especially if you like the old IF games.
Thank you, and I'll use this opportunity to thank everyone else who said hello in this thread.
I'll just add here a couple of things that might elucidate on just why there's so much pushback against me despite the fact that I'm both a) a rather boring person and b) I am far, far too busy to get involved in online disputes with the energy that they seem to require.
The first is that I say the truth. We can get into philosophical arguments about what "the truth" is, or if it even exists, but whichever way you interpret it, I'm a person who leans towards telling the truth more often than telling a "polite lie" just to be polite and get along. Not that I'm particularly confrontational about it or running around screaming "Santa isn't real" to kids - but I really am not the kind of person to "sugarcoat" reality.
Offline, I've had more jobs than I can count that all involved dealing with harsh truths such as hospice care and crimes such as rape and murder. In these fields, understanding and telling the truth are valued, but not so much at cocktail parties and forums where writers are so sensitive that the moderators have to ban fans from asking for updates on new material.
Secondly, I am fairly late to the modern IF party, and so I never got the message that choice-based IF is supposed to be full of happy endings that even a cat clicking on random choices will get to.
I don't want to get sidetracked on a lengthy discussion of what IF is/is not etc etc, but what I discovered to my surprise over at CoG is that there is a fundamental belief that only one KIND of choice-based (as opposed to parser) IF is permitted. In my mind, playing "dress up" stories as a supernatural teen chasing werewolves is fun, but it isn't the ONLY kind of fun that you can have with IF.
Sometimes, a game that makes you use your friggin' brain to win/survive/progress is also fun TOO, and nobody at CoG wanted to accept that!
Anyway, rewind to March of this year (2021), and all I had yet published in IF was one very lame story about a teenager getting a summer job that was structured and written like a novel (i.e. slow and not enough choices) and one half-finished game that I built in tribute to my childhood favorite IF ("Deathtrap Dungeon" in the FF series), so not much original or interesting output, making my philosophical differences on IF game structure eccentric but not particularly "threatening" to anyone.
And then, in March 2021, over on CoG, they announced a contest called CHOMP which basically had two requirements 1) the theme was "mischief" without specifying what that means and 2) you only had a month to write the thing. Ok, challenge accepted!
An idea came to me in a bolt of inspiration on Day 1. I then wrote down the outline and scoped the structure on Day 2. And by Day 14, it was written, coded, and "alpha tested" by a couple of friends, so I uploaded it to the contest well ahead of the March 31 deadline. It clocked in at around 40,000 words and involved a player "downloading" a mischief app and pulling pranks on citizens in town that progressively move from "mischief" to "malice" depending on the pranks that the player chose. I also wrote what I thought was a pretty cool ending that had a nice twist (this game is online, btw, if anyone is interested).
Later, I realized that it could use a bit more fine-tuning, so I tinkered around with it and uploaded some revised sections well ahead of the deadline. Cool. My expectation at that point was that the organizers would immediately publish the links to the game so everyone could play them, and then somewhere down the line, the judges would deliver a score and thus determine the winners.
What actually happened was that they refused to publish the games for another 30-40 days until the judges made their scores. Which felt a little bureaucratic and slow to me, but so be it. Unfortunately, what ALSO happened was that I got a five-page email dripping with hostility and nastiness from one of the judges, and it was clear that they bitterly resented and hated my game on a level so bone-deep that I had to double-check that we didn't know each other in real life or had ever crossed paths before.
Seriously, the vitriol was astounding, and some of the comments were things like "you're only tracking five variables with two progress bars on your stat chart" and "I hate the letter Z in the name of your game, so you should change it." I wish I were making this up, but I'm not.
Of course, I did not "throw a tantrum" on the forum. My comments are all still there, available for viewing. I said "watch out! The judges are exacting super high standards on these games, so be prepared for some really in-depth criticism."
Really, that's all I said. At that point, I was still naive enough to think that everyone ELSE was getting the same line-by-line detailed feedback about their games, with every single misplaced comma noted and logged. And considering how fragile most authors are on CoG, I figured giving them a warning about this level of feedback was the only humane thing to do.
When I got that stinging, line-by-line rebuke on April 1, I assumed the judges were well on their way to scoring all the games, and then the "public" could see and evaluate all the games for themselves. Instead, it took them longer to review the games than for us participants to write them. And what do you think I discovered in May when the results were finally published?
You know the answer - games with NO stat screens, games riddled with comma errors, and vastly shorter games got high marks. Furthermore, it was clear from personal correspondence that THEY never got the "full treatment" from the judges as I did.
The winner of the contest was a pretty cute and silly game, in my honest opinion. It was written by a young girl and it was clear that she put a lot of heart and soul into her game, and she deserved that win. Plus, it was about cats, and I've got a soft spot for cats (remember how I told you I'm a boring guy? I am).
But the second-place winner? Utter dreck. Pure shit. Furthermore, on all the "technical" scores, it and all the other (non-cat) entries were lower than mine. It was obvious at that point that the AUTHORS were being judged, not the games, and no, I did not say a word about that on the forum.
However, simultaneous to all of this, I was going back and educating myself on all the aspects of IF that I had missed. And I wanted to use my improving skills with ChoiceScript to write a game (or two) more appropriate to my philosophy of IF games. I came across a website listing classic pen-and-paper games, so I set myself up a personal challenge to see if I could "port" it to CS format - and I did. It's a game called "tennis" in which you move the ball by winning a series of bets.
I wrote that game in two days. It is extremely simple. And I definitely did not invent that game or its rules, all of which I was 100% upfront about from the "jump." It was just a test to see if my coding skills could handle challenges beyond "press 1 to go left, and press #2 to go right." And despite it being ultra-simple, ultra pared down, and lasting maybe 10 minutes maximum for each play through, it got a lot of good responses on the forum.
From there, I started just really going to town, trying to challenge myself more and more each time to implement all the ideas I had been TALKING about and code them into games you could play. Along the way, I took some inspiration from old IF games from the 1970s and 80s, some inspiration from games they play around here in bars and cafes, and mashed them together into ChoiceScript format.
I did some card games, some more sports games, and a few other things, and I started getting more and more messages from people saying "I love these games - can't wait for the next one!" Cool! Exactly what every author wants to hear.
In May and June of this year, I wrote, coded, and released no fewer than 12 of these "mini games" (since none were the full length of a typical CoG story). The truth is that it was just a lot of FUN for me, and for the small number of "rebels" who were open-minded enough to try an IF game outside the typical mold.
This period is when I was doing a whole lot less talking and a lot more ACTION (writing, coding, and publishing games instead of posting on the forum), but it's also when, unbeknownst to me, a whole lot of people were getting angry that my games even EXISTED.
I know, it's a really weird thing to say that, especially since none of my games involved sex, romance, race, gender status, or cruelty to animals. This wasn't "grimdark" or "edge" stuff at ALL. Furthermore, I was just doing this for my own amusement or delight, so why all the hate? I wasn't stealing anyone's thunder or stepping on anyone else's stories.
So yeah, it was dumb that a whole lot of people started hating me for making a few games that were structured differently. Real dumb. But that dumb turned into concrete action when the mods created a brand-new, secret category ("Hobby Games") on the forum and locked all of my games inside of it so that Google couldn't find 'em, and nobody except registered users could see them. And when I asked why, the mods refused to answer.
At that point, all the storylines converged so to speak, and I got banned for a thousand years. And now people think that I'm some kind of rampaging troll who throws tantrums when I don't get my way. Which is hilarious. But so be it. And if any of them knew the scope of what I will try to attempt NEXT, their brains would probably short-circuit. But I truly do believe it will be the coolest thing anybody has seen come down the IF pike in a while, especially since it's text ONLY instead of "amplified text with images and sounds" like 80 Days or Kentucky Road Zero.
Other than that, I'm just a boring guy with a silly cartoon avatar that really does need replacing/updating, especially because I never once even had red/orange hair LOL
As for CYS format, I've had a preliminary look over it, and it seems pretty clumsy with handling things like variables and math, but I'm willing to give it a try, if only to challenge myself. But I'm a slow learner, so it'll be a while before I get a game out there that's worth somebody else's time reading/playing.