THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

30 posts categorized "Games"

13 April 2018

Gaming the Gothic on Friday the 13th

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“The bats have left the bell tower, the victims have been bled”  - Happy Friday the 13th to those of you with gothic sensibilities! I’ve been enjoying singing along to the wonderful CHVRCHES cover of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” originally by Bauhaus, while preparing for the Gaming the Gothic conference, which takes place at the University of Sheffield today, and where @GamingTheGothic have promised both cake and badges!

I am giving a paper on the Off the Map videogame design competition, which accompanied the British Library’s exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’, which in 2014 celebrated 250 years of gothic literature and culture, starting from the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.

The Off The Map competition challenged higher education students based in the UK to create videogames inspired by the British Library’s collections and in 2014 three students from University of South Wales created a winning underwater game where the player rebuilds Fonthill Abbey, the once-stunning Gothic revival country house in Wiltshire home to author William Beckford, which was demolished in 1846 after the collapse of its spectacular 300-foot tower twenty years earlier.

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Image from 2014 Off the Map winning game Nix

 

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Image taken from "Delineations of Fonthill and its Abbey", by John Rutter; published by the author, 1823 (BL 191.e.6-81)

The winning team used images, maps of the estate and sounds held in the British Library’s collections to create Nix; a game for the first generation Oculus Rift, a revolutionary virtual reality headset for 3D gaming. Tim Pye, curator of the British Library’s exhibition Terror and Wonder, said this about their entry:

“What is so impressive about the Nix game is the way in which it takes the stunning architecture of the Abbey, combines it with elements from its troubled history and infuses it all with a very ghostly air. The game succeeds in transforming William Beckford’s stupendously Gothic building into a magical, mysterious place reminiscent of the best Gothic novels.”

Keeping the gothic flames burning in 2018 and to mark the 200th year anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, the British Library’s Digital Scholarship team is pleased to be collaborating on Gothic Novel Jam with Read Watch Play; an online reading group that has monthly themes. Last year we partnered on Odyssey Jam and it was inspiring to see the end results, which I blogged about here.

To get involved in Gothic Novel Jam participants need to make something creative inspired by the gothic novel genre. Then by the 31st July upload or share it on the itch.io Gothic Novel Jam site. Entries can include stories, poetry, art, games, music, films, pictures, soundscapes, or any other type of digital media response.

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Gothic Novel Jam, #GothNovJam, promotional postcard

As part of the jam we want participants to use images from the British Library Flickr account as inspiration for submissions. They’re freely available for anyone to use and the following albums may be particularly inspiring:

However, don't feel limited to using just those images, the full list of albums can be found here. There are also the Off the Map Gothic Collections of images on Wikimedia Commons and sounds on SoundCloud, which you are free to use. If you want to learn more about the gothic genre and it's authors, check out this hugely informative section of the Discovering Literature website.

Although the gothic novel is the main jam theme, we’ll also be announcing a sub-theme on the 1st July, so please follow the #GothNovJam hashtag on social media for more news and also to see what others are creating for the jam. Good luck and have fun!

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Button badges made for the Gaming the Gothic conference, really hope I get a #CakeAndDeath one!

This post is by resident goth, Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom.

14 February 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Movable Type, Commercial Award Winner

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Movable Type is a tabletop word game, and something of a love letter to classic books and authors, made completely of custom playing cards. While the game’s appearance might remind you of Scrabble, it has some tricks up its sleeve to give it a much more modern and dynamic feel.

Movable Type Card Game
Figure 1: Movable Type Card Game


The initial idea for Movable Type was born around two years ago. I had been making games for some years and knew I wanted to do something with a word game. My main objective was to have a game that was very interactive, easy to grasp, and tactical, while also being very quick to play. As much as I love word games, some of them have a tendency to outstay their welcome. 

The central mechanism in Movable Type is called card-drafting. This method allows players to pick their letter cards each round – this does away with the large amounts of luck you find in many classic word games, and instead shifts attention onto the tactical decisions of the players. It also means that rules are kept very simple and that players can take their turns simultaneously, creating a much more dynamic play environment.

Movable Type - The Cards
Movable Type - The Cards


The prototype for Movable Type was only a few weeks old when I settled on the art style I was going to use in the final product. I’ve been a long-time fan of the British Library Flickr account, which lets users browse through images from public domain books. Once I had spotted the large collection of initial capitals, I was sold!

Movable Type - Illustrated Letters
Movable Type - Illustrated Letters


My wife, Tiffany Moon, is a graphic designer by trade. She helped clean up the images and present these beautiful pieces of art in a colourful new fashion, appropriate for a retail product. I also wanted portraits of some of my favourite authors to be in the game, so I commissioned Alisdair Wood to create woodcut-style images of ten classic, influential and diverse literary figures. Without those initial capital images taken from the British Library collection and used to direct the game’s overall style, Movable Type would likely not look half as impressive and definitely wouldn’t resonate with me and many players like the current style does.

Movable Type - Illustrated Famous People
Movable Type - Illustrated Famous People


I launched Movable Type on the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, last year. Upon its release, it won the Imirt Irish Game Award for Best Analog Game and second runner-up for Game of the Year. It received good reception at several public events and sold out of its initial print run, so I decided that a second edition of the game was in order. That bigger and better second edition is funding on Kickstarter and should be in some select retail stores by mid to late 2018 (fingers crossed!).

Movable Type receiving the Commercial Category BL Lab Award, was a huge boon for the reputation of the game and myself as a game designer. Furthermore, it was a genuine honour to be at the British Library for this event and able to share my product with the audience there.

If this blog post has stimulated your interest in working with the British Library's digital collections, start a project and enter it for one of the BL Labs 2018 Awards! Join us on 12 November 2018 for the BL Labs annual Symposium at the British Library.

Posted by BL Labs on behalf of Robin David O’Keeffe

29 January 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Face Swap, Artistic Award Runner Up

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Blog post by Tristan Roddis, Director of web development at Cogapp.

The genesis of this entry to the BL Labs awards 2017 (Artistic Award Runner up) can be traced back to an internal Cogapp hackathon back in July. Then I paired up with my colleague Jon White to create a system that was to be known as “the eyes have it”: the plan was to show the users webcam with two boxes for eyes overlaid, and they would have to move their face into position, whereupon the whole picture would morph into a portrait painting that had their eyes in the same locations.

So we set to work using OpenCV and Python to detect faces and eyes in both live video and a library of portraits from the National Portrait Gallery.

We quickly realised that this wasn’t going to work:

Green rectangles are what OpenCV think are eyes. I have too many. 
Green rectangles are what OpenCV think are eyes. I have too many. 

It turns out that eye detection is a bit too erratic, so we changed tack and only considered the whole face instead. I created a Python script to strip out the coordinates for faces from the portraits we had to hand, and another that would do the same for an individual frame from the webcam video sent from the browser to Python using websockets. Once we had both of these coordinates, the Python script sent the data back to the web front end, where Jon used the HTML <canvas> element to overlay the cropped portrait face exactly over the detected webcam face. As soon as we saw this in action, we realized we’d made something interesting and amusing!

image from media.giphy.com

And that was it for the first round of development. By the end of the day we had a rudimentary system that could successfully overlay faces on video. You can read more about that project on the Cogapp blog, or see the final raw output in this video:

A couple of months later, we heard about the British Library Labs Awards, and thought we should re-purpose this fledgling system to create something worth entering.

The first task was to swap out the source images for some from the British Library. Fortunately, the million public domain images that they published on Flickr contain 6,948 that have been tagged as “people”. So it was a simple matter to use a Flickr module for Python to download a few hundred of these and extract the face coordinates as before.

Once that was done, I roped in another colleague, Neil Hawkins, to help me add some improvements to the front-end display. In particular:

  • Handling more than one face in shot
  • Displaying the title of the work
  • Displaying a thumbnail image of the full source image

And that was it! The final result can be seen in the video below of us testing it in and around our office. We also plugged in a laptop running the system to a large monitor in the BL conference centre so that BL Labs Symposium delegates could experience it first-hand.

If you want to know more about this, please get in touch! Tristan Roddis tristanr@cogapp.com

A clip of Tristan receiving the Award is below (starts at 8:42 and finishes at 14:10)

 

04 November 2017

International Games Week 2017

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Today at the British Library we are hosting a pop-up game parlour for International Games Week. So if you are in the Library between 10:00 and 16:00 come play some games!

IGW_Logo_Africa-EuropeWe have our usual favourites, including Animal Upon Animal, Biblios, Carcassonne, Dobble, Pandemic, Rhino Hero, Scrabble and Ticket To Ride Europe.

Plus some new ones, including The Hollow Woods: Storytelling Card Game, which revives the Victorian craze for ‘myrioramas’ and Great Scott! - The Game of Mad Invention, a Victorian themed card game for 3 to 5 players, made by Sinister Fish Games, which uses images selected from the British Library’s Mechanical Curator collection on Flickr in their artwork

Great Scott! - The Game of Mad Invention

It is always lovely to see the British Library’s digital collections being used in creative projects and this week Robin David won the BL Lab's commercial award for his game Movable Type; which also used the Mechanical Curator images in the artwork for a card-drafting, word-building game that has been described like Scrabble crossed with Sushi Go. Moveable Type was a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, which sold out quickly, but we understand they have a new Kickstarter being launched very soon, we'll keep you posted!

Cassie Elle's explanation of Movable Type by Robin David

In addition to board and card games, we are also delighted to host Sally Bushell and James Butler from Lancaster University, who the British Library are working with on the AHRC funded project Creating a Chronotopic Ground for the Mapping of Literary Texts. They have been using Minecraft for The Lakescraft Project; which created an innovative teaching resource to provide a fun and innovative means of introducing concepts centred around the literary, linguistic, and psychological analysis of Lake District's landscape. This is a fascinating initiative and I'm pleased to report Lakescraft has evolved into a broader project called Litcraft, to use the approach for exploring literature set in other locations.

Introduction to The Lakescraft Project

Introductory video for Litcraft's first public release: R.L.Stevenson's Treasure Island

So lots of exciting fun games happening today in the  British Library and if you can't be here in person, do keep an eye on social media using the hashtag #ALAIGW. Also do check out what games clubs and events may be running in your local library.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, you can follow her on twitter @miss_wisdom

17 October 2017

Imaginary Cities – Collaborations with Technologists

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey (Manager of BL Labs) on behalf of Michael Takeo Magruder (BL Labs Artist/Researcher in Residence).

In developing the Imaginary Cities project, I enlisted two long-standing colleagues to help collaboratively design the creative-technical infrastructures required to realise my artistic vision.

The first area of work sought to address my desire to create an automated system that could take a single map image from the British Library’s 1 Million Images from Scanned Books Flickr Commons collection and from it generate an endless series of everchanging aesthetic iterations. This initiative was undertaken by the software architect and engineer David Steele who developed a server-side program to realise this concept.

David’s server application links to a curated set of British Library maps through their unique Flickr URLs. The high-resolution maps are captured and stored by the server, and through a pre-defined algorithmic process are transformed into ultra-high-resolution images that appear as mandala-esque ‘city plans’. This process of aesthetic transformation is executed once per day, and is affected by two variables. The first is simply the passage of time, while the second is based on external human or network interaction with the original source maps in the digital collection (such as changes to meta data tags, view counts, etc.).


Time-lapse of algorithmically generated images (showing days 1, 7, 32 and 152) constructed from a 19th-century map of Paris

The second challenge involved transforming the algorithmically created 2D assets into real-time 3D environments that could be experienced through leading-edge visualisation systems, including VR headsets. This work was led by the researcher and visualisation expert Drew Baker, and was done using the 3D game development platform Unity. Drew produced a working prototype application that accessed the static image ‘city plans’ generated by David’s server-side infrastructure, and translated them into immersive virtual ‘cityscapes’.

The process begins with the application analysing an image bitmap and converting each pixel into a 3D geometry that is reminiscent of a building. These structures are then textured and aligned in a square grid that matches the original bitmap. Afterwards, the camera viewpoint descends into the newly rezzed city and can be controlled by the user.

Takeo_DS-Blog3-2_Unity1
Analysis and transformation of the source image bitmap
Takeo_DS-Blog3-3_Unity2
View of the procedurally created 3D cityscape

At present I am still working with David and Drew to refine and expand these amazing systems that they have created. Moving forward, our next major task will be to successfully use the infrastructures as the foundation for a new body of artwork.

You can see a presentation from me at the British Library Labs Symposium 2017 at the British Library Conference Centre Auditorium in London, on Monday 30th of October, 2017. For more information and to book (registration is FREE), please visit the event page.

About the collaborators:

Takeo_DS-Blog3-4_D-Steele
David Steele

David Steele is a computer scientist based in Arlington, Virginia, USA specialising in progressive web programming and database architecture. He has been working with a wide range of web technologies since the mid-nineties and was a pioneer in pairing cutting-edge clients to existing corporate infrastructures. His work has enabled a variety of advanced applications from global text messaging frameworks to re-entry systems for the space shuttle. He is currently Principal Architect at Crunchy Data Solutions, Inc., and is involved in developing massively parallel backup solutions to protect the world's ever-growing data stores.

Takeo_DS-Blog3-5_D-Baker
Drew Baker

Drew Baker is an independent researcher based in Melbourne Australia. Over the past 20 years he has worked in visualisation of archaeology and cultural history. His explorations in 3D digital representation of spaces and artefacts as a research tool for both virtual archaeology and broader humanities applications laid the foundations for the London Charter, establishing internationally-recognised principles for the use of computer-based visualisation by researchers, educators and cultural heritage organisations. He is currently working with a remote community of Indigenous Australian elders from the Warlpiri nation in the Northern Territory’s Tanami Desert, digitising their intangible cultural heritage assets for use within the Kurdiji project – an initiative that seeks to improve mental health and resilience in the nation’s young people through the use mobile technologies.

11 August 2017

Last Chance to Book for Game Library Camp Tomorrow

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Tomorrow afternoon is Game Library Camp here at the British Library. So if you are in or near London, and are interested in libraries and games (all types of games, including board games, table top roleplaying, live action roleplaying (though please don't bring any foam replica weapons!), videogames, interactive fiction etc.), then please book a free place from https://gamelibcamp.eventbrite.co.uk.

The event is happening on Saturday 12 August, 12:30 to 16:30, at the Knowledge Centre, The British Library, 96 Euston Rd, London, NW1 2DB. For info on how to get here, go to https://www.bl.uk/aboutus/quickinfo/loc/stp. Please note lunch is not provided, but there are cafés on site, or bring your own snacks. We'll be using #GameLibCamp17 to discuss the event on Twitter etc.

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At a library camp the participants lead the agenda – in fact, there isn’t an agenda until attendees pitch (bad tent pun, groan!) and decide what they’d like to talk about at the start of the event.  The only requirement for a session is that it fits within the theme. If you already have an idea for a talk, discussion, game or activity; you can propose your suggestion beforehand on this page http://gamesandglams.blogspot.co.uk/p/game-library-camp-sessions.html. We'll have the use of a number of rooms at the British Library's Knowledge Centre, so will be able to run a few sessions in parallel during the event. Also, please do bring games along if you want to run a game! - this is totally encouraged.

Programme:

  • Registration from 12 noon
  • Introduction and session pitches 12:30pm
  • 1st session 1pm - 1:40pm
  • 2nd session 1:45pm - 2:25pm
  • 3rd session 2:30pm - 3:10pm
  • 4th session 3:15pm - 3:55pm
  • Closing session 4pm
  • Finish by 4:30pm
  • Post-event social meetup at The Somers Town Coffee House

In the words of experienced Library Campers Sue Lawson and Richard Veevers who run the http://www.librarycamp.co.uk website: "there's no cost, there are no keynotes and library camp is open to anyone: public/private/whatever sector and you don't have to work in a library".

This specific library camp is intended as a warm up to International Games Week in the autumn and to inspire librarians and library staff from all sectors to host their own game events. We also totally welcome colleagues from, and people who visit, other cultural heritage organisations, museums, archives etc. who participate in games projects and events, both game making and game playing.  

Furthermore, if you are interested, but you can't attend tomorrow, I recommend joining the online discussion group Games & GLAMS set up by British Library collaborator, Sarah Cole, that focuses on game related activities in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums sector. It's open to anyone with an interest in games in any of these areas. There is also an associated Games & GLAMS Twitter account: @Games_GLAMS.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom. Stella is co-organising Game Library Camp with Darren Edwards of Bournemouth Libraries and the lead on International Games Week in the UK, and Gary Green from Surrey Libraries.

04 July 2017

Game Library Camp

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This post is by BL Labs collaborator Gary Green from Surrey Libraries, on twitter as @ggnewed. Gary collaborates with Digital Curator Stella Wisdom on games and interactive fiction initiatives and events.

Stella and I have organised and been involved in a range of games and libraries events and initiatives over the past few years, including International Games Day in Libraries (now International Games Week for 2018), pop-up board game parlours at Library Lates events, WordPlay festivalOff The Page: Literature and Games; a London Game Festival fringe event, and interactive fiction workshops at places including MozFest. During these events we've also had the opportunity to showcase games that have either have a literary or writerly theme to them, or have been inspired by British Library collections.

At the Off The Page event we had the chance to share what's going on in libraries in relation to games with a wider audience, including highlighting The British Library's Off The Map competition for student game developers; online game jams such as Odyssey Jam (where some entries used British Library digitised images); and plans for International Games Week in Libraries.

However, we are fully aware that we are not the only ones running game related activities in libraries. Other librarians and library staff are just as passionate about games as we are, and you'll find libraries throughout the UK running table-top, board game and Minecraft clubs, along with other types of game related events, including game making workshops and the use of games for learning and literacy.

With their common themes of narrative and storytelling, games and libraries are a great fit.

It's not only libraries in the heritage sector that are promoting the benefits of games and game play. We're also part of an online discussion group Games & GLAMS set up by British Library collaborator, Sarah Cole, that focuses on game related activities in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums sector. It's open to anyone with an interest in games in any of these areas. There (amongst other things) you can find out about activities such as The National Archives and University of York's Great Steampunk game jam; and games commissioned by the Wellcome Trust to promote their work and collections. There is also an associated Games & GLAMS Twitter account: @Games_GLAMS.

With all of this game related activity throughout the UK we, along with Darren Edwards of Bournemouth Libraries and lead on International Games Week in the UK, thought it would be a great opportunity to bring folks interested in gaming in libraries together for an event, to share ideas and develop the network of interested people and organisations.

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So we've organised an event to do just that - Game Library Camp and set up a blog to document planning and discussions: http://gamesandglams.blogspot.co.uk/. Places are free, but you do need to book.

The event is happening on Saturday 12 August, 12:30 to 16:30, at the Knowledge Centre, The British Library, 96 Euston Rd, London, NW1 2DB. For info on how to get there, go to https://www.bl.uk/aboutus/quickinfo/loc/stp/

This event is also intended as a warm up to International Games Week in the autumn and to inspire librarians and library staff from all sectors to host their own game events. As the name suggests, this event is a game themed Library Camp. Library Camps are unconferences that are participant led and enable informal discussions. For more information about unconferences go here

The key thing about unconferences is that the programme isn't set by the organisers - participants propose and facilitate their own sessions to be run throughout the event. The only requirement for a session is that it fits within the theme. Game Library Camp participants can propose ideas for sessions on the day at the event, or if you already have an idea you can propose them beforehand on this page: http://gamesandglams.blogspot.co.uk/p/game-library-camp-sessions.html. We'll have the use of a number of rooms at the Knowledge Centre, so will be able to run a few sessions in parallel during the event.

Programme:

  • Registration from 12 noon
  • Introduction and session pitches 12:30pm
  • 1st session 1pm - 1:40pm
  • 2nd session 1:45pm - 2:25pm
  • 3rd session 2:30pm - 3:10pm
  • 4th session 3:15pm - 3:55pm
  • Closing session 4pm
  • Finish by 4:30pm
  • Post-event social meetup (nearby location to be confirmed)

Please note lunch is not provided, but there are ample cafés on site, or bring your own snacks.

We'll be using #GameLibCamp17 to discuss the event on Twitter etc.

So, if you're into games and libraries, come and join Darren, Stella and myself and other like minded game/library enthusiasts on the afternoon of 12 August at The British Library. 

Places are free, but must be booked via: https://gamelibcamp.eventbrite.co.uk, see you there!

12 June 2017

Odyssey Jam Games

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This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom & BL Labs collaborator Gary Green  from Surrey Libraries, on twitter as @ggnewed. Gary and Stella are interested in many things including games and interactive fiction.

Earlier this year we blogged about the game jam Odyssey Jam, which Gary organised, as part of Read Watch Play. The idea behind it was to encourage people to create a text based game or piece of interactive fiction based on Homer's The Odyssey over a 2 week period. The purpose of the game jam was to support literacy and the development of readers and writers.

After the two week game making period entrants were encouraged to upload their entries to itch.io so that others could play them. Anyone around the world was able to enter, and at the end of the game jam there were 10 entries, including from people who had never made a game or written a piece of interactive fiction before, and who had never previously been involved in a game jam.

It was great to see a variety of style and content in the entries and how each developer had interpreted the theme - no two were the same. Some chose to create pure text games (The Long Ing Blink; Islands and Witches), others focused on creating entries that were more visual but still included text (TaithA flower from Hermes). There were humorous games (108 suitors; The Perils of Penelope), games set in their original setting, and others which re-set the Odyssey in a new context (Come Back Home; Hyperions Wake).

Game developers were also encouraged to share their work in progress on Twitter, and a few did just that. It was great to see how their games were taking shape and how enthusiastic they were about their involvement in the jam. A college in Milan encouraged students on their creative writing course to participate and a couple of their entries were submitted to the jam. 

As part of Odyssey Jam we also encouraged entrants to make use of the digitised images on Flickr that The British Library had released under a creative commons license. We identified a number of ancient Greece themed images from the Flickr collection. A couple of entries used these images, e.g. No One and 108 suitors.

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Scene from 108 Suitors by Lynda Clark

The games are available to play online or download, so please try them out and share. You can also watch short play-throughs of the entries thanks to video game blogger Jupiter Hadley and Emily Short wrote about the game jam on her excellent blog. Thanks to all the game developers involved in Odyssey Jam; it was fun playing your entries, and thanks to all who helped promote the jam.

If Odyssey jam has whetted your appetite and you are interested in writing interactive fiction,  we are pleased to share news that the British Library is running a new course:  The Infinite Library: Interactive Fiction Summer School 17-21 July 2017. This is led by multi-award-winner Dr Abigail Parry and will be taught by specialists in fiction, interactive fiction and games writing, including:

Dr Greg Buchanan, Writer of Paper Drumpf and No Man's Sky
Jerry Jenkins, Curator for Emerging Media, British Library
Rob Sherman, Writer and Games Designer
Richard Skinner, Director of the Fiction Programme at the Faber Academy
Jon Stone, Writer and Games Researcher
Olivia Wood, Narrative Editor, Writer and Content Manager at Failbetter Games

With their expert guidance attendees will tackle dialogue chains, reader choice and multiple endings. Plus given technical support to explore the possibilities offered by Twine, a simple open-source programme for managing branching text. More details on the summer school can be found at https://www.bl.uk/events/the-infinite-library-interactive-fiction-summer-school