Unfortunately for me, inkJam just wasn’t meant to be this year. I certainly learned and gained quite a bit in the limited time I had, but things come up and here’s how that went down:
I only became aware of the jam around 11am with it starting an hour later. Much of my lead-up time was spent reading the ink manual and getting a feel for the language. It’s certainly pretty neat, and quite easy to get your head around the basics.
As is usually the case with most jams, the optional theme was revealed when the event went live: “It’s not what you think.” Ironically enough, it wasn’t at all what I expected and I spent a reasonable amount of time just trying to think of some narrative or game mechanic that could fit or cater to it. Additionally, the problem was doubled since I was still learning the language and unsure what could or couldn’t be done in a weekend.
For the first few hours I started building micro-outlines to suss out what kind of story felt compelling given the constrains. Not too long after, unhappy and unsatisfied with what I had, I decided to just scrap the theme entirely and start writing whatever came to mind; if it eventually fit the theme, bonus.
I began fleshing out a location and group of characters I’ve been wanting to make use of for a few months. And, apparently, I really enjoyed these characters and playing with ink because I spent almost 12 hours just sitting, thinking, learning, experimenting, and writing. I had a somewhat passable first scene about halfway through the evening (around 9 or 10pm) that I used to test out the web export features; I spent the rest of the time furiously building out another character and his environment until I was way past my bedtime; finally calling it a night right about 2am.
I was pretty busy Saturday (and a little brain-drained from the white-heat writing session the day before), so I didn’t have the time or energy to develop much more of the story. Instead, I spent the majority of my time trying to better understand the in and outs of ink. I was learning quickly and had a fairly strong grasp of the core language concepts and syntax, but that changed for the worse once I reached about the middle of the ink manual. Time for…
A Digression: What’s Wrong With ink?
Answer: It’s hard to learn and I think the manual is to blame. I’m not the biggest fan of Inky, the editor, either, but the first and most obvious thing to me after finishing the manual was that the structure of what they teach, when it’s presented, and how, often leaves more questions than answers. I would frequently question why the language acted the way it did; granted, they would somewhat explain and make sense of it later, but I very often felt like I was asked to mentally juggle multiple, off-putting and fragile concepts at once.
I’m not going to focus too much on specific wrongs; rather, I would like to present an alternative structure that I think would help ink become much easier to pick up without sacrificing technical depth.
- Make it essentially one long tutorial that covers a simple story from beginning to end. It should be well-known to virtually everyone and have simple, straightforward characters and dialog (e.g., Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Lion King, etc.). The story/tutorial would start with basic structures (e.g., just yes-no questions and basic variables) and slowly evolve into more advanced mechanics in the middle (maybe via simple, dice-based combat) and finally integrate the most complex concepts toward the end (such as threading and its odd state tracking mechanism). Bonus: it could include an appendix that shows some shortcuts and tips for how to improve areas that were built earlier with the more advanced techniques taught later.
- Only allowing for one syntax standard (and making it a strict standard) would drastically reduce confusion when trying to read or write ink. Trying to appeal to newbies with a dumbed-down version of the language will only serve to retard a learner’s ultra-important beginner-to-intermediate step.
- Create a compendium/wiki/etc., of available functions. Make it searchable. Give clear examples. For ideal’s sake, check out Dot Net Perls to find just about the best, clearest, most concise C# programming language resource available.
But I Digress…
I lost quite a bit of time on Saturday, but I figured I would make up with a day-and-a-half petal-to-the-metal photo finish. But that wasn’t going to happen. I really don’t want to get into the details of this on a public forum, but there was an emergency to tend to and a bad outcome at the end of it. So, unfortunately, it was a no go on the jam this year.
The Rest of the Story
All that being said, ink is quite impressive and I’ll certainly be using it again in the future — if only to finish my flippin’ story that I started.
Jams are great and exceptional for self and group education and edification, but they obviously shouldn’t be taken as a be-all, end-all ultimatum. It’s just simple fun. I don’t have much more to express except a bunch of redundant platitudes, and I’m not a big fan of doing that, so I’ll just tie things up from here.
However, I do want to at least give you an idea of what I was working on. It’s just the first scene/location right now, but I’ll be getting back to it slowly but surely. I’m not sure if I’ll be release updates piecemeal or wait until I get at least a few more locations finished and a general narrative arc (or something like that). But, for now, if you’re in the mood to read even more of my writing, here you go:
Scene 1: The Bar
This was the first version I made (i.e., the one made around 9pm last Friday). I was just getting started with the more advanced features at that point, but mostly focused on narrative. And, for better or worse, I’m going to keep focusing on the narrative, at least for this story. Because I feel like bringing this world to life, and I would like to do so in the way I was so often introduced to cool, weird worlds when I was a kid: through Choose Your Own Adventure books.
I hope you enjoyed what I’ve been playing around with so far and are looking forward to exploring a bit more of this new world with me in the future.