Online | Fiction | Open-Genre | Intensive

Interactive Fiction Incubator: 12 Months to a Released Game

Isn’t it time you transformed that idea—your handful of design notes, dictionary-length lore book, or early Twine prototype—into a finished game?

At Catapult, we honor the impulse to tell many kinds of stories. Our competitive 12-month online interactive fiction writing course is designed to help students generate and refine an ambitious work of interactive fiction in a supportive and motivating atmosphere. Alongside a group of talented peers and under the guidance of a published game industry expert and accomplished mentor, writers will spend a year prototyping and refining a work of interactive fiction for release on a major platform, submission to major contests and festivals, and potential funding (such as Steam release, Kickstarter, academic or arts grants, and finding a game publisher, to name several). In addition to rigorous craft lessons on adapting traditional literary craft principles to interactive contexts, and technical support on rallying interactive fiction tools to support your creative vision, this course will include collaborative playtesting workshops, analysis of notable contemporary works of both analog and digital interactive fiction, and no-judgment opportunities to try out new media-making tools. Students will also be exposed to accessible, invaluable information about venues for finding publication and community at the intersection of literature and games.

This class is open to both writers and game developers, and is best suited to those with a general idea of what they want to work on over the course of the year—whether that idea takes the form of a collection of design documents, a written script, a lore book, or an early digital prototype. The program will be divided into three phases, each focusing on a different element of the interactive fiction-making process and building upon earlier lessons. Each phase will feature guest professionals—game industry specialists, festival judges, working interactive media artists, and both digital and analog game publishers—whose visits serve to offer students a wealth of insights on how one can best develop and release a polished, innovative work of interactive fiction.

We believe the creative process is sacred and should be protected from industry concerns in the early stages. With that in mind, phase one will focus on helping writers find and define their story and think through its implementation in a particular interactive fiction tool; phase two, on producing and refining the build. We also believe that the perceived barrier between the literary world and the game industry is a false one, and that writing in both fields is similar, and subject to similar creative imperatives. For that reason, phase three will center on intersecting the identities of “game maker” and “writer” by bringing in guests with similarly hybrid art-making and publishing practices, and educating students on how to be in community in both spaces and find ways to release, fund, and gain recognition for their interactive fiction work.

Throughout the year, class will meet for 120 hours (e.g., 40 times for three hours per session) with several breaks for holidays and “between” phases. Writers will graduate the 12-month interactive fiction generator with an advanced prototype, a better understanding of the work that goes into completing a polished piece of interactive fiction, opportunities for releasing and finding recognition for literary games and game-like literature, valuable connections, and productive and strategic work habits that will transform their art-making lives moving forward.

To apply, please submit a design document articulating the following:

1. The concept for your game. At least one paragraph that provides a window into the story you hope to tell as interactive fiction, and what the work will feel like to read and/or play. You do not need to provide technical details, game mechanics and systems, or an implementation plan here. Simply articulate the themes and big-picture, providing a sense of the scope and interests of your work.

2. Any existing resources you will begin development with. This could include something technical, like a previous project—even if it’s unfinished—created in Twine, Bitsy, Ren’Py, or another interactive fiction tool. If you haven’t delved into those tools yet, this could also be something you’ve written, such as a lore book, character sketches, dialogue snippets or a full script, or simply a short story or novella that you feel like would work when adapted to the interactive form. The goal here is to provide a quick introduction to your work and your voice as it stands today—not to provide a polished piece that’s ready for release.

3. Your goals as an interactive fiction writer summed up in at least one paragraph. Writers of interactive media bring wildly different conceptions of “success” to their creative practices. What is yours? This could be anything from publishing a narrative-focused game on Steam to critical success, to publishing an analog interactive fiction work sold in game stores and indie bookshops, to creating a meaningful art piece that articulates an important social, political, or personal message.

Phase 1: Concepting & Prototyping (13 meetings; January 18-April 12, 2023)

In the first phase, weekly sessions will alternate between generative writing and prototyping exercises, and project development. Our in-class work will focus on exploring digital game making tools such as Twine, Bitsy, RPGMaker, Ren’Py, GameMaker, Quest, as well as analog interactive fiction genres such as TTRPGs, nonlinear story games, and postmodern game/book hybrids; worldbuilding, freewriting, and prompts toward developing your game’s core narrative; and deeply studying and reverse-engineering example games, game-like fictions, and other examples of interactive media, mining these examples for inspiration and critically evaluating the medium. Short playtesting sessions will punctuate this phase, allowing you to quickly see how players and readers react to your design ideas. Meanwhile, regular process work will allow you to develop and ultimately present a cohesive interactive fiction concept during a pitch session in which your collaborators and instructor will provide reactions, feedback, and support. In this phase, students will also have the opportunity to meet with the instructor on Zoom for an individual conference following their pitch.

Phase 2: Production & Playtesting (dates TBA)

The second phase will be dedicated to interactive fiction production. You will delve into the nitty gritty of what you pitched at the end of Phase 1, conducting writing and development in a supportive context focused on time management, accountability, sustainable work, check-ins, and carrying your creative vision through to the end. In this phase, each project will be individually playtested and discussed in depth two times, in sessions with a twofold focus: first, on developing and deepening a nuanced, literary conversation surrounding the narrative craft of the work; and second, on tactically prioritizing both writing and technical improvements given the project timeline and the project’s core aesthetic and technological goals. Students will have the opportunity to meet with the instructor on Zoom following each playtesting session to discuss process and delve more deeply into their game’s themes and technical challenges.

Phase 3: Release & Platforming (dates TBA)

The third and final phase of the 12-month interactive fiction generator will help writers begin thinking about how their work might gain a wider audience. Classes will take students through publishing and funding options on popular platforms such as itch.io and Steam, and help you develop a portfolio website and other digital resources and connections to help you platform yourself as a game developer, either as an independent creator or a studio, and build a name for your game. Guests working at the intersection of literature and games—developers, publishers, writers, and critics—will join for Q&A sessions, as well as participating in a final focus group playtest, in which a group of new players encounters each student’s work for the first time. This phase will conclude with a series of sessions focused on preparing a submission to IndieCade, the international festival of independent games, which will include a Q&A with IndieCade judges and a portfolio workshop. Graduation will be celebrated with a showcase on the Catapult website plus a live digital event featuring each student and their work.

Our class platform works best on laptop or desktop computers. Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility. 

COURSE TAKEAWAYS:

- 120 hours of instruction, including at least three playtesting workshops of an in-progress project

- Four 30 minute one-on-one meetings via video conference with the instructor

- 20% off all Catapult conferences, classes, and events for the duration of the program

- Festival submission: In addition to dedicated feedback on your interactive fiction project from your instructor as well as members of the class, each student will be advised in the process of platforming and submitting their work to IndieCade, an international independent games festival, meeting with festival judges to learn best practices for preparing strong submissions, sharing a released game with an engaged audience, and taking the next steps as a game writer & maker working in the industry

- A passionate and talented community of like-minded peers

- A deeper understanding of the craft of interactive fiction and how to develop a nuanced multimedia narrative that is both compelling and doable

- A finished work* (No class can promise that you’ll fully complete a game within the year. But we can promise that if you commit to showing up and doing the work, you will be given all the tools you need to get to a release.)

- Greater fluency with the contemporary world of independent games

- Professional and creative insights from regular guest visitors

- Showcase publication and graduation event

FAQs:

Why Catapult, and not a university program?

Catapult is an award-winning independent publisher of literary fiction and nonfiction. The craft of writing is our business: every day we work to help the stories and writers we love find their audience. In applying this lens to interactive fiction and game making, we take interactive fiction writers through a unique educational experience that views game making as a literary practice. Our program is designed to unite the best things about a creative writing MFA program—community, mentorship, and intensive craft analysis—with the practical project management, technical, and critical skills emphasized by a degree in game design.

How much does this class cost? Are scholarships, financial aid, or payment plans available?

Full tuition for this year-long course is $6,250. Payment plans of varying installments are available upon acceptance to the course. Applicants with demonstrated need will be considered for a limited number of financial aid awards. If you have questions about payment plans and/or financial aid, please email [email protected]

What is the financial aid process?

Once accepted, students who applied before the financial aid deadline and require financial aid in order to enroll will be asked to submit a statement of need. These awards have ranged from $500 to 50% of tuition, but in scenarios where the majority of the class demonstrates need, the largest awards are not likely to exceed $2,000. Students are also encouraged to explore multiple funding sources, including granting organizations. If you have questions about the financial aid process, please email [email protected]

Can I apply a discount code to a 12-month generator?

We budget very carefully in order to provide financial aid to the writers enrolled in our 12-month generators who need it, while still paying our instructors and guests fairly for their labor. As a result, for these classes only, we ask that accepted applicants apply for aid if they require it rather than using a discount code.

Why does this class cost so much?

The 12-month novel generator is an MFA level course, taught by a published game writer who is also an experienced educator with years of creative writing and game making teaching experience at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Your tuition helps pay your instructor a living wage and covers the cost of booking guest speakers, scheduling events, providing ongoing technical support across a wide range of game making software, and administering the program.

I finished my game. When will I start to make money and win awards?

We can’t promise that every interactive fiction writer who leaves the 12-month novel generator will create a “hit” piece of interactive media. Finding a big audience is a tricky business, involving lots of luck and time—as students who enroll in this course will learn! That said, this course will equip you with all of the skills, resources, knowledge, and personal connections you need to create a lifelong art making practice at the intersection of literature and games. While public reception to innovative media can be fickle, community and creative practice are not, and following this course, these things will remain with you as you journey toward the audience you both desire, and deserve.

I’m not good with computers. Is this class too advanced?

It depends. Students will need to come to class with an open-minded attitude toward digital media and digital life, but expertise in computer programming or game design is not required. What’s most helpful is an exploratory and resilient attitude towards dealing with technical issues, analytical and systems thinking, and the iterative process of game making. If you are able to contend with learning new tools and ways of creating and thinking, and avoid self-criticism or “rage quitting” in great disappointment, you will succeed in following your project through to the end.

I’m a computer expert, but I don’t know much about writing. Is this class for me?

Experienced programmers and game makers who are interested in bringing a nuanced literary focus to their work are warmly welcome in this class. Because the focus is on working at the graduate level, you will not be asked to sit through many hours of basic tutorials—the focus will be on self-led creative explorations using your choice of tools. Along with practical development, your work will be discussed from a broad literary perspective on narrative. You’ll be the most successful if you prepare for this experience by bringing warmth, excitement, and openness toward a reading practice in traditional fiction, as well as our ongoing work of exploring political, social, and interpersonal themes, and how those manifest in all stories.

Should I take this course if I want to become a narrative designer at a video game studio?

While this course is focused on completing a major project—and *not* a specific professionalization path—it’s a valuable opportunity to generate a portfolio and comprehend more deeply the kind of work that narrative designers do. Should you be interested in pursuing this work more seriously, your instructor will be available to advise you on video game industry career pathways and how to prepare for and seek work in the field.

I’m still not sure if this class is for me. Could I talk to someone about it?

Yes! We would love to talk with you. Please email [email protected] to set up an appointment.

COURSE EXPECTATIONS:

Students will need to spend between 2-8 hours a week on this class over the course of the year, with room for breaks during holidays, to concept, prototype, produce, and release their work of interactive fiction.

Nat Mesnard

Nat Mesnard is a writer and game designer based in NYC, where they teach Narrative Design at Pratt Institute and co-host the podcast Queers at the End of the World. They did their MFA in Fiction and taught at the University of Illinois, and have published work in Bodega, Blackbird, The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. New work includes poetry in We Want It All, an anthology of radical trans poetics, and a tabletop roleplaying game, Business Wizards. Nat has taught at the Hudson Valley Writers Center and with the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop.

Testimonials

"Nat has one of my favorite professors this semester. They created a great environment to learn in and I loved everything we did in class."

former student

"I enjoyed the way the course was structured. The games were always fun to play and discuss. I liked how we spent time appreciating the strengths in our art instead of criticizing where we fell short."

former student

"Nat was an awesome professor! I learned so much from them and feel like I am no longer such a newbie when it comes to gaming knowledge. They genuinely felt excitement for all of our work as a class and were available reasonably outside of class time for feedback and help. I'm so happy that I was able to take this class and I'm sad it's almost over. 10/10!"

former student