#Mozfest fun

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I attended Mozfest last Sunday — what a great event. There was so many sessions covering a wide variety of tech related topics, but I actually only attended one session apart from the session I ran with Stella Wisdom. I spent an hour building circuits with copper wire, sticky LEDs, battery, paper and pens — at the end of which I had a dragon whose eyes glowed when you pressed its belly button.

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This session was a great example of where creativity and technology overlapped, and its something that would be perfect for a library Makerspace session. In fact there were lots of sessions in the Youthzone and beyond that would be perfect for a makerspace session. Plenty of Raspberry Pi sessions too, quite a few being run by children and young people. Even though I didn’t attend many sessions I spent most of my time talking to other attendees about what they were doing there, sharing ideas and also about what we are doing in Surrey Libraries in relation to this sort of activity.

The session Stella and I ran went well — it was focused on introducing people to interactive fiction, and was a bit of a lighting fast approach. A short intro to interactive fiction (including examples and a quick read through of a handful of Choose your own adventure books), plus about 20 minutes hands-on with Twine and Squiffy — free software you can use to create interactive fiction with. The age range of the attendees was from about 7 to mid-30s, and we had positive feedback at the end of it. One of the interesting things for me was that attendees raised the potential of using the software for things like interactive video storyboarding and simple app development, as both Squiffy and Twine output stories as html and Javascript.

If anyone’s interested in how we organised the session and notes we used,here’s a link to the handouts, simple session plan and example stories created in both Squiffy and Twine.

Thanks to the YouthZone organisers, particularly Dorine Flies for encouraging me to get involved. It was well worth it.

(This was originally posted on Medium)

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Notes on running interactive fiction workshops

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As I’ve run a few introduction to text-based interactive fiction workshops for the library service (both staff and the public), I thought it would be useful to share information about how I’ve organised them, if anyone was interested in running their own.

Each participant will need access to a computer with an internet connection to participate.

Each of the workshops were between 1.5 & 2 hours in length and followed this structure:

  • Introduce the group to the concept of interactive fiction (IF) as a form of writing for creative writers. (5 mins)
  • Introduce Inklewriter as a free online software tool that can enable them to produce IF quickly and easily, and show an example of IF created using Inklewriter. (5 mins)
  • Run through step-by-step notes on creating an Inklewriter IF, showing basic techniques (branching, images, re-using text passages) and overview of more complex techniques. (30 mins)
  • Give them time to create their own short piece of interactive fiction.
  • Wrap up the workshop (5 mins)

Here are a few handouts I used for various workshops:

It’s also useful to have some creative writing prompts just in case any participant is hit with a blank moment.

The majority of the workshops were aimed at adults, but I’ve also run one for teens, which used the cut-down notes instead of the full step-by-step information.

So, that’s how I’ve run sessions myself, but I’m also interested in hearing any suggestions from others about how I can improve these workshops.

The interactive Bard & future writing jams

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As I mentioned previously on this blog, in April I decided to run Bard Jam – a Shakespeare themed game jam with a focus on text based games. I decided to go for the Shakespeare theme, as Read Watch Play, the online reading discussion my library service is partnered with, had a Shakespeare theme (#bardread) during April. I decided to focus on the written word to try and draw closer links to the reading, writing, literacy aspects of libraries.

Initially I billed it as an interactive fiction game jam, but then decided that I wanted to give entrants the scope to create and submit any type of text based game – the word was important, but not necessarily the way it was presented. So, this could include visual novels and other text adventures with images as well. I wanted to give people as much freedom to experiment with text as they wanted. So, even though the majority of submissions were interactive fiction, a visual novel and a visual (but text heavy) adventure were also submitted. Bard Jam was open to anyone at all in the world to enter, including those who might never have tried producing a text based game before. Like the interactive fiction workshops I’ve run I’m keen to show creative writers that interactive fiction is a genre they should take a look at. And I’m aware of at least one entrant who created their first game for the jam, which I was very pleased about.

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Overall 13 people signed up to join the jam, but in the end only 5 other people (besides myself) submitted a finished entry. I say “only”, but I’m happy that it encouraged more than just myself to participate and I think it’s something that can be built on. In hindsight, if I’d promoted the game jam on various interactive fiction and text adventure forums to promote it more widely there may have been more entries. I can honestly say I enjoyed playing all of the submissions, and they were so wide ranging in content, style and length. The submissions included a quiz hosted by a sharp-tongued Stephen Fry; A high school play rehearsal about teen friendships; Shakespeare’s lover & real writer of his plays; the boatswain from The Tempest; and a paranormal investigative newspaper. I’ve already posted a fuller run of the entries down here. If you get a chance please try the Bard Jam games out. They’re mostly browser based, and the majority are pretty short – about 10/15 minutes.

The future…

Following on from Bard jam I feel this idea has legs, and I’m keen to run themed online text based game jams focused on authors and/or their works as a regular thing – and they would be open to everyone again to participate. One idea I had for next year is an Arthur C Clarke game jam. I also think there’s scope for libraries to get involved in this as well – for example, encouraging creative writing groups that meet in their libraries to try out interactive fiction, and give them a specific focus for trying out ideas. Ideally the entry level would be accessible for many people including children. I’m still unsure about whether entries should be given scores – in this jam I avoided scoring, but I don’t know if entrants want to be rated on what they’ve created or not. I’m easy either way – if the jam is of interest to me I’ll just submit something whether it’s being judged or not.

Anyway, if anyone else thinks this is a good idea let me know.

Surrey Fiction Book Map

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At the end of June, Surrey is running a festival called ‘Celebrating Surrey‘, which highlights creative talent in Surrey. My team in the Library Service decided it would be a good idea to support this with something web based and creative. Part of the thinking behind this was to show colleagues in the Library Service how we could use resources on the web to help promote our stock in a different way. It also gave us an opportunity to experiment, by doing something we’d not tried before.

We decided to create the ‘Surrey Fiction Book Map‘ – this was a Google map highlighting works of fiction set in Surrey. The map itself uses book covers for the markers, which are pinpointed around the county. If you click on a marker it opens up to reveal more details of the book and gives the opportunity to borrow it from Surrey Libraries, or any other library that appears on Worldcat.

It was created manually using ‘Google My Maps‘ – pinpointing each book individually and adding book covers and links. With the power of hindsight, if I was starting from scratch, I’d put it together using a Google docs spreadsheet fed into Yahoo pipes. I recently set up another biographical map using this method and it was much easier. The only drawback of that method though would be that I couldn’t use the book covers as markers. I also added videos to some of the markers, but the links weren’t stable and kept disappearing. Future developments could include linking to biography pages for the author on somewhere like Wikipedia.

The map is now finished and we now need to decide on where it will go. Options include linking from the website to the map, or adding to our anywhere.me page when it’s set up.

It’s been an interesting project and I’m sure we can build on it.