Blog

The Perfect Adventure for a Young, Hard-Working Aussie: Singapore and Vietnam

As a young, hard-working Australian, you might only get four weeks or so off of work every year, and — let’s be honest — you probably spend half or more of those four weeks with family and friends. There’s nothing wrong with that; I like a summer BBQ as much as the next guy. Though what about your primal, blood-borne yearning for adventure? You know, the one you buried under your business ties and “adult” responsibilities. To a certain extent, we all have that yearning, that instinct inside of us — it’s only human to explore, to see what’s over the hill — yet so often do I hear people say they don’t have the time, that they’re just “flat out” with work.

I’m going to tell you how to sate that yearning in just two weeks, having done it myself. So feed your tie through the shredder and kiss your responsibilities goodbye; you’re going to Singapore and Vietnam.

Feature

Singapore

No matter where in Australia you’re flying out of, you’ll want to stop on the island city-state Singapore on the way to Vietnam, whether you can get a direct flight to Vietnam or not. Why? First, it’s cheaper than the direct flight, and second, while a stop in Singapore is worth it for the airport alone, there are many other reasons to step out of that airconditioned wonderland and into the sweaty streets.

Gardens by the Bay

One of those reasons is Gardens by the Bay, a monument to Singapore’s value of sustainable development and conservation. Of these waterfront gardens, which were put together and are led by a multidisciplinary team of international and local experts, there are three, each bearing a range of attractions. For brevity’s sake, I’m only going to tell you about one of the attractions I visited when I went on my two-week adventure — Supertree Grove.

Singapore

Of the eighteen Supertrees in the Gardens, twelve are in the Grove. But what are they? While the answer is fascinating, it’s unfortunately not that they were brought here from a planet other than Earth. The Supertrees are actually human-made structures fitted with a “living skin” — a vertical garden to which cling over seven hundred varieties bromeliads, orchids, ferns, and climbers. Some of these trees are as high as a sixteen-storey building, and you can rub noses with these giants by following the walkway that passes between their enormous trunks.

The ArtScience Museum

While there’s plenty to see at the ArtScience Museum, I visited it specifically for the Future World exhibition, a futuristic universe of interactive digital art installations, which is constantly changing but will remain a permanent feature. Really, the museum’s architecture is a marvel on its own; shaped like a lotus flower opening to the sky, and as “The Welcoming Hand of Singapore,” it’s almost, almost as awe-striking as the Bell Tower of Perth.

The Cuisine

Look, you can’t go to Singapore and not swing into the Raffles for a Singapore Sling. The Raffles Hotel is a famous heritage hotel with a famous bar, at which you can break peanut shells over the carpet and loosen your nine-to-five shoulder knots with one or five Singapore Slings, the hotel’s signature cocktail. Just be sure to fancy yourself up a bit, as it’s smart dress (maybe you shouldn’t have shredded your tie). When you realise how much a Singapore Sling costs, depart through the darkening streets for Clarke Quay, a bayside strip of restaurants and bars. Wash down chilli crab after chilli crab with beer after beer, and then, when the beers have done their job, you may feel like going out for a bit of a boogie.

Wrapping Up

Of the many reasons to step out of that airconditioned airport, I’ve mentioned only a few, when, in reality, Singapore is packed like a sardine tin with things to do. There’s the pool atop the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, a Chinatown, a Universal Studios, the zoo, and a whole lot more. If you get worried that you’re saying goodbye to too many of your hard-earned “dollarydoos,” remember that you saved a few hundred of them stopping in Singapore rather than taking a direct flight to Vietnam. Overall, of the fourteen days (the two weeks) that you’re budgeting, I’d say to spend no more than two nights in Singapore.

Vietnam

Admittedly, Singapore isn’t a quest to Mordor, especially when you compare it to Vietnam. There are a million things to do in this Southeast Asian country, though don’t forget your temporal budget. On my two-week adventure, I split my remaining twelve days into equal thirds, allocating four days to Hanoi, four to Ha Long Bay, and four to Sa Pa, as they’re all relatively near to each other, and all had something unique to offer me. 

Hanoi

Hanoi is great ice-breaker, especially if you’ve never visited a Southeast Asian city. While it can seem like chaos, it’s actually more like organised chaos, and nowhere near as much of a commotion as Ho Chi Minh (the city). For each of your destinations in Vietnam, I’m only going to share one highlight. For Hanoi, it was strolling through the markets in the Old Quarter, where I loaded my forearm to the elbow with beaded bracelets and smashed down street food while watching street performances. Of course, there’s more to Hanoi than that, such as the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh (the man), the Vietnam Military History Museum, Hoan Kiem Lake, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

Hanoi

Ha Long Bay

For many who visit Vietnam, Ha Long Bay is the biggy, and it’s easy to see why — irrespective of the eerie haze which veiled the days that I spent there. What, aside from sailing between limestone karst formations and crawling through caves, was the highlight of my visit? I’ll tell you what wasn’t — Monkey Island. Do not go to Monkey Island. Heed my warning. Heed it, and save yourself! On a different sort of warning, the weather is sometimes too rough for cruises to go out into the bay, and your cruise could get cancelled. For this reason, I recommend staying on Cat Ba Island, as there’s plenty to do there without dipping a toe in the usually glistening waters. How long is too long in Ha Long? Look, I don’t really have an answer for that; I just wanted to share my terrible pun. 

Ha Long Bay

Sa Pa

This will likely be the most adventurous part of your two-week trip. Sa Pa is a district-level town stacked upon cascading terraces of rice, and, especially compared to Hanoi and Ha Long, it’s straight-up cold. The best way to soak in the phenomenal scenery is to get among it, to follow the muddy tracks that weave through the rice fields and terrace villages, dodging ice-cream coils of cow dung all the way. When you set out to the terraces, find yourself a length of bamboo for a walking stick; it saved me from at least one embarrassing fall. As for a highlight, I admit it was lovely curling up in a firelit bar after a two-night trek through the terraces, but my highlight has to be the trek itself, and all the little mountain ladies who held my hand along the way.

Sa Pa

Wrapping Up

Vietnam is great because there’s so much variety just within the country, and it’s all vastly different from the Land Down Under. Just like with Singapore, I’ve only mentioned a few places in Vietnam, and only a few activities within each of those places. I haven’t even touched on some of the country’s other famous destinations — Hoi An, Da Lat, and Tam Coc, to name a few. With the twelve days you’re budgeting, you certainly don’t have to divide Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and Sa Pa into equal thirds nor book any accommodation prior, as you may want to reduce or extend your stay in one or more of those locations.

Your Nine-To-Five Beckons

After dropping the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, Sam and Frodo went home. You, you’re unfortunately taking a Boeing 737, not a giant eagle, and you’re not returning to the Shire, but to your nine-to-five and your responsibilities. You’ve got to love those things too. Especially those “responsibilities.” You did kiss them goodbye before you left, didn’t you?

Written by Chad Gerber

Disclaimer: I, Nick Petrou, wrote this blog post purely for use as a sample. I worked with Chad Gerber, a photographer, videographer, and travel blogger, writing it as if he were hiring me as a ghostwriter to create this blog post, and he provided me and gave me permission to use his images, which remain his copyrighted property. The content of the blog post was conceived by Chad, and he directed it thereon. We chose to approach it this way because, as a ghostwriter, I would not usually receive public credit for or be able to share the content I create for a client, and because I could post it here on my own website. If you want to see examples of the content I have actually edited for Chad’s photography and videography website, please see my commercial portfolio, and if you want to see more of Chad’s work and travels, please visit his website or Instagram. Everything hereafter is the ghostwritten blog post.

“in the living room” RELEASED!

the living room is off, physically, as if everything has taken a small step to the left or perhaps God has nudged me off of my axis

>>> PLAY in the living room <<<

Select the link above to play in the living room for free in your browser at itch.io.

in the living room is an open map work of interactive fiction which takes inspiration from the act (clue) and agenda mechanics of Fantasy Flight Games’s Arkham Horror: The Card Game and, of course, my previous work of interactive fiction, Fein’s Deluge.

Without spoiling in the living room too much, you progress the story by gaining insight inspecting things in a room (such as the living room) and spending insight opening other rooms (such as the kitchen or the bathroom). You gain insight when the POV character learns something new about his predicament and/or how it came to be. Generally, if you’re fumbling and/or backtracking — essentially if you’re moving without gaining or spending insight — your insanity will increase, until the POV character breaks.

lr_cover_small

The cover art for in the living room was created by Sarah C. Gerber (@hum_bled.com.au), solely for use in in the living room.

I gave a talk on interactive fiction to the Melbourne Writers group!

On the 17th of September, 2019, I gave a talk on the basics interactive fiction (IF) to the Melbourne Writers Social Meetup group, at their Writers & Creatives Social event. Overall, I was happy with my presentation, though I certainly could have managed my time better (I only got about halfway through my talk before Jim lifted that horrible TIME’S UP sheet).

Rather than letting my talk slip into oblivion, I thought I’d summarise it in a blog post.

Please save your applause for the end.

What is interactive fiction?

Well, it’s a work of text-based fiction that you, the reader/player, can interact with. I use the term “work” because IF sits in the purgatory between a “regular” literary narrative and a video game, and terms like “book” and “game” don’t quite apply to it.

The two main types of IF are parser and choice-based.

What is parser interactive fiction?

Parser IF is the oldest type of IF. Works of parser IF are digital text adventures through which you progress by inputting (typing in) commands. A passage in a work of parser IF might look like Example 1.

Example 1: A made-up example of a passage in a work of parser IF.

South of Manor

Through the twisted bars of an iron gate to the north, you behold a manor, its towers carving trails through the clouds. Against the gate’s right-side post leans a broken carriage wheel, and behind you, boring south through a forest, there’s a road.

>_

In Example 1, the “>_” is a text prompt indicating where you can type a command. You might type “open gate” or “go south,” and the work will hopefully recognise your command and forward you to the appropriate passage. Part of the challenge of parser IF is learning the commands.

I’ll be using the term “passage” a fair bit. In the context of IF, I like to think of a passage as a body of text — be it a single word, a paragraph, or multiple paragraphs — which is separated from other bodies of text by at least one command or link.

What is choice-based interactive fiction?

I create digital works of choice-based IF, so they will be the focus of this post.

You progress through digital works of choice-based IF by selecting (clicking on) a hyperlink-styled word or group of words, or just a “link.” Many works of choice-based IF have links below a passage, often in a list. If the work of parser IF in Example 1 was a work of choice-based IF instead, it might look like Example 2.

Example 2: A made-up example of a passage in a work of choice-based IF.

Through the twisted bars of an iron gate to the north, you behold a manor, its towers carving trails through the clouds. Against the gate’s right-side post leans a broken carriage wheel, and behind you, boring south through a forest, there’s a road.

I’ll try to open the gate.

I’ll take the forest road south.

Though a link can also be inside a passage, like in Example 3.

Example 3: A made-up example of a passage in a work of choice-based IF (with hypertext).

Through the twisted bars of an iron gate to the north, you behold a manor, its towers carving trails through the clouds. Against the gate’s right-side post leans a broken carriage wheel, and behind you, boring south through a forest, there’s a road.

I’ll try to open the gate.

I’ll take the forest road south.

In Example 3, selecting “manor” might forward you to a passage in which you inspect the manor through the iron bars. There would then, in the passage in which you inspect the manor, be a link to return to the “South of the Manor” passage.

When a link is inside a passage, rather than below it, it’s called “hypertext.” Technically, I could make a work of choice-based IF with or without hypertext or entirely with hypertext. As there is so much hypertext in Fein’s Deluge — one of my own works of IF, which I’ll discuss later — I refer to it as a work of “hypertext IF” or a work of “hypertext-based IF.”

Printed works of choice-based IF are different from digital works. You progress in a printed work of choice-based IF by following the instructions at the bottom of a passage, like in Example 4.

Example 4: A made-up example of a passage in a printed work of choice-based IF.

Through the twisted bars of an iron gate to the north, you behold a manor, its towers carving trails through the clouds. Against the gate’s right-side post leans a broken carriage wheel, and behind you, boring south through a forest, there’s a road.

To try to open the gate, go to page 5.

To take the forest road south, go to page 10.

Page 3

Fun fact — people often refer to printed works of choice-based IF as “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, though that phrase “Choose Your Own Adventure” is actually the title of a trademarked series of IF.

Choice-based interactive fiction — structure

Many works of choice-based IF have a branching structure and are sometimes referred to as “branching narratives.” In branching narratives, the choices you make split or branch the narrative, and you continue to make choices until you’re forwarded an ending, often one of many.

Example 5: A diagram of the branching structure in a made-up work of choice-based IF.

Time cave (edit)

In Example 5, you begin by entering a dungeon — let’s say into a dusty chamber — from where you might take either the tunnel to your left or the tunnel to your right. When you make a choice — by selecting the appropriate link in the “enter dungeon” passage — you will be forwarded to a new passage. If you chose to take the right tunnel, for instance, you will be forwarded to the “right tunnel” passage, where there will be another two links, and so on, until you come to either a red or green passage. In Example 5, the red passages are endings in which you die, and the green passages are endings in which you live (and maybe find some sort of treasure).

Example 5 represents the simplest and most obvious approach to creating a branching narrative, though it also the least efficient, as the number of passages increases exponentially. Example 5 has only three levels of choice — as indicated by the numbers down the right side — and fifteen passages, so writing it would be manageable, but if I, the author, wanted ten levels of choice, I would have to write one thousand and twenty-three passages!

I like to think of branching narratives like that in Example 5 as wide and shallow. So how do I make it narrower and deeper? How do I make it more efficient to write? I bottleneck it, like in Example 6.

Example 6: A diagram of the branching structure in a made-up work of choice-based IF (with bottlenecking and variables).

Branch and bottleneck (edit)

In Example 6, as opposed to Example 5, the two pairs of passages in the second level bottleneck into just two passages in the third level, rather than each passage in each pair branching into two passages; i.e. there are two passages in the third level instead of eight. Technically, the work could keep doing this over and over — branching and bottlenecking — but then your choices would have little to no consequence.

So how do I bottleneck my work without stripping it of consequence? I use variables.

In the blue passage on the left side on the third level, you find a sword, so the work sets the variable “sword” to “true.” In the mustard passage on the right side, you find only bones, so the work sets the variable “sword” to false.

Both the blue and mustard passages lead to the passage on the fourth level, in which you encounter a zombie. As you continue from the “zombie” passage, a conditional statement — in the underlying coding, which you, the reader/player, cannot see — will trigger and ask if the variable “sword” is “true” or “false.”

If the variable “sword” is “true,” the work forwards you to the passage on the left side of the fifth level, where you use the sword to kill the zombie and survive. If the variable “sword” is “false,” the work forwards you to the red passage on the right side of the fifth level, where the zombie kills you, as you’re unable to kill it without the sword.

Of course, the resolution of a variable doesn’t have to result in death, though if a variable doesn’t resolve in a meaningful way, you may feel that there are no consequences to your choices.

If you want to learn more about branching, bottlenecking, and variables, I recommend starting with Dan Fabulich “By the Numbers: How to Write a Long Interactive Novel That Doesn’t Suck.”

While the branching structure is common, there are many different large-scale and small-scale structures in choice-based IF and many works which utilise a range of large-scale and small-scale structures.

If you want to learn more about large-scale structures, I recommend starting with Sam Kabo Ashwells post “Standard Patterns in Choice-Based Games,” and if you want to learn more about small-scale structures, I recommend starting with Emily Shorts “Small-Scale Structures in CYOA.”

Choice-based interactive fiction — my works

It was Sam Kabo Ashwell’s representation of “open map” IF that inspired me to create Fein’s Deluge, a perfect example of a work of choice-based IF that utilises hypertext while also taking inspiration from works of parser IF, particularly in the way in which you navigate the work.

If you want to read/play it, here is a link to where Fein’s Deluge is hosted on itch.io:

https://nick-petrou.itch.io/feins-deluge/

I have also started (and put aside) another work of choice-based IF, Raid on the Silver City, which has more in kind with a branching narrative (with bottlenecking, of course).

If you want to learn more about Raid on the Silver City, this link will take you to a page dedicated to Raid on the Silver City on this blog:

https://nickpetrouauthor.com/portfolio/rsc/

Resources

I’ve only discussed the basics, so here are some resources.

Community

The IF community is relatively small, but there are several community websites, and the community is healthy.

http://ifdb.tads.org/

https://intfiction.org/

http://ifwiki.org/index.php/Main_Page/

https://www.ifarchive.org/

https://planet-if.com/

https://emshort.blog/

Structure

I’ve mentioned these links already, but here they are again.

https://heterogenoustasks.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/standard-patterns-in-choice-based-games/amp/

https://www.choiceofgames.com/2011/07/by-the-numbers-how-to-write-a-long-interactive-novel-that-doesnt-suck/

https://emshort.blog/2016/11/05/small-scale-structures-in-cyoa/

Tools

I create IF in Twine 2 (SugarCube); if you want to learn more about Twine, here is a link (Example 5 and Example 6 are edited screenshots from Twine 2).

https://twinery.org/

Another popular IF tool is ChoiceScript, though I know very little about it.

https://www.choiceofgames.com/make-your-own-games/choicescript-intro/

Developers

Choice of Games created ChoiceScript, and I believe they’re the largest purveyor of choice-based IF.

https://www.choiceofgames.com/

But there are other popular developers.

https://www.inklestudios.com/

http://www.delightgamesllc.com/

http://tinmangames.com.au/blog/

Thanks!

I hope this post at least encourages you to learn a little more about IF or even create a work of your own. If you ever want to talk about IF, please contact me; I’m always up for a chat.

You can clap your hands now.