my secret hobby project

Okay, so sometime around the beginning of the year I declared on this blog that I had a secret hobby project for 2008. After being coy for awhile, I revealed what it was: to write a text-based computer game for the annual Interactive Fiction Competition. (Judge the dorkitude of that as you will.) Interactive fiction games were commercially viable when made by a company called Infocom in the early 1980’s, and then re-emerged afterward as a hobbyist programming community. The project involved me learning Inform 7, a computer language for writing Interactive Fiction.

Writing turned out to be way more difficult and involved than I was expecting.  I had someone I know beta-test the first version, and it was so ridiculous buggy that I decided I needed to find complete strangers to help with the next two betas, because then I would feel less embarrassed about how defective it was.  I started to understand why 2/3 of the people who register on the competition website as intending to enter the contest end up not finishing their games. But, in the end, I got mine done.

My stated goal was to finish eighth or above in the contest, although my secret goal was to finish fifth or higher. How did I do?

I won.

As far as I could tell from sources online, I’m the first person to win the competition with their first-ever game. I am also the first person to win with a game whose protagonist is a graduate student.

Anyway, my game is featured today on Jay Is Games, leading site for “casual” computer games.  The review is written by Emily Short, who is arguably the top person in contemporary Interactive Fiction, which makes this a double-joy.

Important note: the version posted on the Jay Is Games site produces an error message along with the text a couple times in the game (although my understanding is that the message doesn’t otherwise affect play).  This error is with their software for playing my game, and not with my game.  The game plays fine on the options it lists for playing outside a browser on a Windows/Mac, and it plays properly on this site as well.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

33 thoughts on “my secret hobby project”

  1. How impressive! And a grad student protagonist too! Please reassure us that you will not be leaving sociology for a career in game creation.


  2. I love your game, though it is a Very Dangerous Timesuck. As for me, I’m just about to write that paper…but maybe I should just see what is in my desk drawer first.


  3. Congrats, Jeremy! I loved Violet, and now I’m a scatterplot reader because of it. :) Of course I found Violet just as I started work on a book, so it was helpful in that regard as well.

    Do you think you’ll do more IF? Would love to see another entry next year.


  4. @15: destroy stool

    I LOVE IT!!! My high school guidance counsellor though I should be a contortionist. HUH-FREAKING-LARIOUS!


  5. Well of course you won!! You are so awesomely awesome. I only wish I could stand next to you a little more often so some of the awesomely awesomeness would maybe just maybe rub off on me. Sigh. Or else I wish I could work as hard as you do. Bigger sigh. Sorry, job market’s got me down. ACK! Now I’m raining on your parade. YOU WON! How cool is that??


  6. Thank you so much everyone! Regarding a few matters in the comments:

    Nice to know that Jeremy is right up there with “Lost Pig.”

    I know, funny name, but “Lost Pig” (in which the player is an Orc named Grunk) is incredibly well-implemented so this is high praise.

    Do you think you’ll do more IF? Would love to see another entry next year.

    I don’t know. I did this game mostly because I had no idea what I was getting myself into in terms of how long it would take. If I did another one, I couldn’t claim I wasn’t warned. (And there is the whole matter of having an idea…)


  7. As a grad student with Things To Get Done today, I felt a little too meta playing this. Nonetheless, I had a great time. I did have an issue at the tinyurl/parchment link where I think I found a bug; I turned on the platypod too early, did some other things, and then got back to the point where I needed it again. But then when I tried to turn it on, I got a message like “Run-time error #9 — tried to access invalid property of platypod,” and two conflicting messages (one saying the platypod had beeped and turned off, and one listing the song that was playing). But it was clear that the game engine didn’t think of the device as ‘on,’ because I could still hear my ex and her beau.

    I started over at the other site, did things in the correct order, and had no more problems.

    Thanks for the great game, anyway!


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