April 10, 2007

Emily Short Interviewed in Gamasutra

by Nick Montfort · , 10:53 pm

Emily Short is interviewed in the main featured article in the current Gamastutra. Jim Munroe (an IF author himself; he wrote Punk Points) talks with her, and their discussion deals a good bit with one of my favorite of Emily’s games, Savoir-Faire.

6 Responses to “Emily Short Interviewed in Gamasutra”


  1. breslin Says:

    Absolutely, Savoir-Faire is a great game, and only one in an astonishing list of smash hits. Emily Short is quite simply a great IF writer, not to mention an invaluable asset to I7′s development. It’s ironic that she doesn’t consider herself much of a programmer, because she’s the most programmatically interesting IF author ever: from simulation (Metamorphosis and Savoir-Faire) to conversation (Galatea and Best of Three), all her works *feature* the program — very much in the same spirit as Facade features its own system. Short always strongly foregrounds the program. The mechanism isn’t a means to an end, but the inspiration itself.

    Thus the most interesting part of the Short interview — for me — is where she talks about her design process. From “puzzle-structure chart” and her link to “the making of Bronze” to her notes on prototyping the game, this is very interesting and instructive. But in these notes, a longtime fan will remark a certain change of spirit.

    Her “mechanism based” approach to IF-writing presaged her role as principle documenter and demonstrator of I7. She’s the perfect person to convert programmatic capability into story in the most direct and transparent way possible: the programmatic structure is directly metaphorized into story construct.

    The double-shift: I7 doesn’t have a lot of surface-level programming capability to use as inspiration, and Short’s art was evolving at this point in her career. (Whether these are related is an interesting and still-open question.) Where Short used to do AI/automation/simulation work, heavy on graph-/tree- searches and behavior emergent from programmatic generality — the sort of thing grandtextauto fans will love — she’s now (starting with “Mystery House” — her first released I7 work) “faking it” for effect. (GTxA psyche aside, anyone who knows programming will recognize I don’t mean “faking it” in a pejorative way. Rather the slogan is: “you don’t have to solve the problem, if you can make it look like you did.”)

    Short’s shift from process to effect may have been inspired in part by Dan Shoivitz’s radically results-oriented programming style. — The guy she collaborated with on “Max Blaster.”)

    Those who just like Short’s prose have neither lost nor gained, but those who think the genre needs more programmatic exploration have lost something.

    The way Short tells it, with I7 she’s more inspired than ever, and for once isn’t distracted by programming, which makes things a lot easier. I would say “Kudos!” — But I don’t believe it.

    Perhaps the most interesting part of the Gamasutra/Short interview is the part where she talks about I7. The interviewer’s impression of I7 is the common misconception (begotten by the I7 language’s pretension of naturality) that I7 users don’t get tripped up by programming syntax. (The vague idea is that you can just discursively explain to the machine how you want the game to be.)

    Far from correcting this misconception, Short actually encourages the idea, saying only that some people “like a more program-like style.”

    With this gesture she is echoing a weird — I don’t know what to call it: propaganda? — which has encircled I7 since its release. There’s a great deal of sophistry involved in this advertisement of naturality, a great deal of bad faith.

    She follows Graham Nelson in this: “I do not accept that the adoption of a simplified grammar necessarily obviates naturality.” And drawing an analogy between the relationship of I7 to English and the relationship between C and arithmatic: “Clearly C lacks the great range and flexibility of actual mathematical notation, yet it gains great naturality and flexibility from using a subset of it.” And typically: “Could you suggest why this distinction [between natural, discursive language and symbolic formalism] exists [...] as you evidently believe?”

    It seems entirely unnecessary, to me. The fact that Short very intentionally gives her interviewer the radically wrong impression shows that this is not an intellectual/philosophical debate (“let us question if there is truly a distinction between symbolism and language?”) but an advertising campaign (“no-one can furnish proof that I7 is not natural language”). Short’s dissemblances in the Gamasutra interview makes me question her other claims. Clearly she does prefer I7, but why? Maybe, ironically, because she felt herself a failure as a programmer, and so chose to radically devolve her art.

  2. josemanuel Says:

    The way I see it, I just think Emily’s programming style is different from mine. I like to have a clear distinction between code and text, and she prefers to get both as close as possible. None of both options is a bad thing, and, definitely, hers doesn’t make her a faker nor a liar. She only has to be true to herself, not to the image you have of her.

  3. breslin Says:

    Sorry, josemanuel, I don’t think I understand what you’re saying. I did use the word “fake,” but I was very careful to explain that I meant it in a completely complimentary way. And the closest I came to calling Short a “liar” was not, as you suggest, in relation to I7′s smudging the distinction between code and text. I simply said that she’s seems uninterested in correcting a certain misconception about I7. Read the interview and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.

  4. josemanuel Says:

    It seems the offending comment (by Jim Munroe) was this one: «Personally, as someone who made a game in an older version of Inform, it makes me feel like I can focus on the experiences and environment of the game without being tripped up by a missing semicolon or something[...]» Emily’s response: «While it’s intended to be accessible to non-programmers, Inform 7 shouldn’t be regarded as a beginners’ language: it includes some powerful features that were never in I6. I personally find it faster to write in, more flexible in many respects, and considerably more fun. And I’m not the only former I6 author to feel this way.» If the misconception you referred to was «I7 is so easy that anyone can write gorgeous games with it», then she corrected clearly enough for me. If the misconception was «I7 is not really natural language», I don’t see it mentioned anywhere in the interview, so why and how would she have to correct it?

  5. breslin Says:

    Sorry, josemanuel: I can’t really clarify without repeating myself, but perhaps extracting the apparent point of confusion from my initial post will help clarify things:

    The interviewer’s impression of I7 is the common misconception (begotten by the I7 language’s pretension of naturality) that I7 users don’t get tripped up by programming syntax [missing semicolons or whatnot]. (The vague idea is that you can just discursively explain to the machine how you want the game to be.)

    Far from correcting this misconception, Short actually encourages the idea, saying only that some people “like a more program-like style.”

  6. The aesthetics of IF languages « Emily Short’s Interactive Fiction Says:

    [...] and also, in praise of my early work Short always strongly foregrounds the program. The mechanism isn’t a means to an end, but the inspiration itself. — also Grand Text Auto [...]

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