Doug Orleans (dougo) wrote,
Doug Orleans

ShuffleComp 2014 - Part 1

Back in March, maga_dogg announced ShuffleComp, a competition for writing interactive fiction inspired by a song. The premise was simple:

  1. Submit 8 songs and 8 pseudonyms.

  2. Receive a random list of 8 songs and 8 pseudonyms dealt out from the submission pool.

  3. Write an IF game inspired by one of the songs, under one of the pseudonyms.

  4. Play other people's stories and vote for the ones you like.

  5. Once the comp is over, the top 30% vote getters are announced as Commended entries.

When I heard about the comp, I thought it sounded like a neat idea, but I felt I had no time to write a game by the deadline—at the time I was in the middle of both Puzzle Boat 2 solving and DASH 6 planning, and I had been itching to get back to some of my many back-burnered projects, including revising my IFcomp entry from 2011!  Plus, that IFcomp game had ended up being way more work than I had anticipated, and I was not really satisfied with the result (nor were the comp voters, who placed it 25th out of 38). Did I really want to commit to making another game on a deadline? I chatted with prog about ShuffleComp at a party shortly afterward and it turned out he had gone through exactly the same thought process. Ah well, we both figured... maybe next time.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I really wanted to submit some songs to see what people could do with them. I started brainstorming about songs that could make good IF games, and almost immediately I remembered two songs that I've always thought of as great examples of songs that told a narrative story (a sadly under-populated category). I couldn't resist putting together a list, and then I figured, if I submitted a list of songs and thus committed to writing a game, in the worst case I could always just spend a day or two to scribble out a really short choose-your-own-adventure or hypertext game, using ChoiceScript or Undum or Twine. Much easier than wrestling with Inform 7 programming!

So here's the list of songs I ended up submitting:

  • Rush - Red Barchetta - This is my canonical story song, a pleasant first-person near-future sci-fi tale, and I was always disappointed that Rush didn't do more of these after the mid-'80s. Ironically I only learned after the comp was over that this song was based on an actual short story published in Road & Track magazine in 1973.

  • Genesis - Home by the Sea - Another early '80s prog-rock story song. At some point in junior high school I think I even tried turning this into a D&D adventure, but I never actually played it. On the album (and in the linked YouTube video), this is followed by "Second Home by the Sea", whose layers of extended synthesizer solos and a reprise finale give it an epic feeling that always makes my mind wander into expansive daydreams.

  • Slint - Breadcrumb Trail - I could have picked nearly any song off this album, but I stuck with the opening track, another evocative first-person story, this one less fantastical but more emotionally resonant.  Coincidentally, a couple weeks after picking this song, I got to see Slint play live, only their second time touring since they broke up just before the release of Spiderland in 1991; it was followed the next night by a screening of a new documentary about their short career and their consequent enigmatic mystique and lasting influence on the indie-rock scene—titled, of course, Breadcrumb Trail.

  • King Missile - I Wish - This is more of a meta-story song, a song about stories—a whole long whimsical yet poetic list, as King Missile songs so often tend to be. It reminded me of more traditional Speed-IF comps where people collectively come up with a random list of disparate elements that each game had to include all of.

  • Be Your Own Pet - Adventure - OK, here is where I started just searching my song collection for keywords in the titles. This is not a song I've had much of a connection with, but once I gave it a closer listen it seemed totally appropriate for this list. This is also the first on the list with a proper video, with its own little narrative, which I figured would be an extra prompt source if anyone ended up picking this one.

  • Love & Rockets - The Game - Another somewhat obvious choice once I ran across it. I remember listening to this a lot in college during late-night hacking sessions: "we're going to stay awake until we fix all the silly mistakes that we made".

  • Red Fang - Wires - At this point I shifted into just wanting to share some "you gotta hear this!" songs. This one is all about the heavy riffage, and usually makes me want to listen to it a few times in succession. The video is genius too, telling a story of the making of itself (with a cameo by quintessential metal-nerd Brian Posehn, whom I'd also recently seen in a screening of Knights of Badassdom). It wasn't until the dozenth-or-so listen that I actually paid attention to the lyrics, and it turns out they provide a nice outline of a story setting as well.

  • Tame Impala - Lucidity - My final pick was more of a sentimental favorite, from my favorite new band of the last few years; it's the most lyrically disjointed and abstract of my list, but the lyrics are in fact first-person, and definitely resonated with me in a way that I could see being suitably inspiring for some sort of story. And, it's another great sense-of-wonder video, in the "how come no one thought to do this before?" category.

Here's a YouTube playlist for the above songs:

The next task was coming up with 8 pseudonyms. It wasn't long before I thought of a nice theme, which quickly led to the following list. I'll leave it as a puzzle for you to figure out what they all have in common and where they each came from:

  • Barbara Allen

  • Elizabeth Stride

  • Gerald Bostock

  • Jimmy Cooper

  • Rubella

  • Sebastian F. Sorrow

  • Tommy Walker

  • Tom Violence

So there was that! I had submitted my lists and committed to making a game based on someone else's submission; now I just had to wait for all the lists to be shuffled up and sent back out. In the meantime, I discovered that prog had, again, gone through exactly the same thought process as I had and also ended up submitting his own lists and committing to making some semblance of a game.

This seems like a good time to pause. Continue reading Part 2, where I receive my assignments and somehow manage to come up with and (spoiler!) finish making a game.
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