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We’re making some changes to the script format

The way we write our sims is an important part of our culture here in UFOP: SB118. Learning how to write in the “modified script format” is a big part of training, and acclimating to it can take some time. But it’s a powerful method of collaborative writing, making it easy to pull out dialogue and separate it from exposition so that we can “pass around” the story as quickly and easily as possible. 

We’ve had this format of writing since the founding of our group 25 years ago, in 1994. It was the dominant mode of writing sims among people who roleplayed on AOL, like I was doing when I founded the group with some folks I had met in AOL’s “Red Dragon Inn” chat room and some Star Trek chat rooms. Since then, other groups have come and gone, and this format – despite its clear benefits – has become less popular.

We’re still “all-in” on this way of writing, but the Executive Council recently did some thinking about how it works and decided to make one big modification that we’re announcing to the fleet today: We’re going to be dropping the ::action:: signifiers from our game almost completely. Let’s talk more about why, and what this will look like. 

Why are we doing this?

The simplest and most direct explanation is that in many cases these signifiers don’t actually add anything to your understanding of what you’re reading. For example, consider the following excerpt from our fleet’s example sim that’s available on our website for prospective members: 

((Aeroshuttle Beethoven))
 
::Another blast rocked the tiny shuttle and a warning alarm sounded about some system that was failing; but Tressa wasn’t focussing on anything but setting up a channel to the Victory. She spoke aloud as she worked, partly so Eisaran knew what she was doing, and partly to try and keep herself sane. She was aware of the shaking in her voice and as the channel to the Victory opened she did her best to swallow her fear and sound partially in control of her emotions at that point…::

 
TRESSA: =/\= Aeroshuttle Beethoven to USS Victory, a Romulan Warbird has decloaked approximately 3 minutes from your last recorded location with us. It appears th- =/\=

The ((location)) signifiers help the reader understand where the character is, and the dialogue signifier, with the character’s name, helps you understand who’s speaking – and makes it easy to grab that section for when you write your sim and drop it in. 

But even without those ::action:: signifiers, you’d still recognize that what you were reading was exposition, because otherwise what would that text be? It’s eminently clear that paragraph is scene-setting, and by removing ::these::, we don’t lose any context or readability. 

And in fact, what we gain is lot. These signifiers are one of the most alien parts of our sim writing, and it takes some getting used to, especially if you’re an experienced fiction writer. We’ve heard from some prospective members and cadets that our format was simply too difficult for them to understand or get in the habit of writing with, and we think that dropping these signifiers will go a long way toward making our sims easier for the untrained eye to read, but also easier for new people to adopt the other simple parts of our writing style. 

Perhaps even more importantly is that these signifiers can cause make it difficult to both read or hear our sims, and write or dictate them, with the kinds of tools that differently abled people use when they’re not able to see or type. Dictation software struggles with these symbols in particular.

You may have also noticed that if you’re typing on a soft keyboard (like the one on your mobile phone) that these symbols can add a significant amount of time to your writing, as you’re forced to switch back and forth from the symbols to the letters to add them. 

So by removing them, considering they don’t add anything particularly helpful to a sim, we potentially make it easier to write, and easier for prospective members to read and learn how our sims work.

Here’s an example of what the sims will look like in the new format:

((Aeroshuttle Beethoven))
 
Another blast rocked the tiny shuttle and a warning alarm sounded about some system that was failing; but Tressa wasn’t focussing on anything but setting up a channel to the Victory. She spoke aloud as she worked, partly so Eisaran knew what she was doing, and partly to try and keep herself sane. She was aware of the shaking in her voice and as the channel to the Victory opened she did her best to swallow her fear and sound partially in control of her emotions at that point…

 
TRESSA: =/\= Aeroshuttle Beethoven to USS Victory, a Romulan Warbird has decloaked approximately 3 minutes from your last recorded location with us. It appears th- =/\=

One caveat: In-line actions

There is one place that offsetting actions is particularly important, and that’s when they appear “in line” with dialogue. Here’s an example: 

TRESSA: ::Smiling:: I’ve located the freighter.

In this case, an aside showing us the action needs a clear signifier so we know that it’s not a part of the dialogue. But the question is how we do this in a way that makes most sense.

Unfortunately some options for signage that might seem more natural – like *these* or _these_ are  off-limits due to the rise of Markdown language in chat and blogging software, which uses those symbols to signify italics and underlined text. 

That leaves us with two other options: 

  • Continue using the double colons for in-line actions
  • Use parentheses. As parentheses are never used in speech, any appearance of them within a line of dialogue will be clearly an offset or aside. 

The first option is pretty clear since we’re all so familiar with it. But it doesn’t negate obvious downsides to use double colons – hard to use with dictation software, somewhat difficult on soft keyboards, and very alien looking to new and prospective members. 

The second option has the benefit of being easier to use, as parentheses are a common part of writing, but they look rather alien to those of us who have been using colons for a while! 

After a spirited debate among the fleet’s staff members, we’ve decided to open this debate to the fleet and allow everyone to decide how to proceed. We’re running a poll on the forums where everyone can both vote, and weigh-in. We’re going to give the fleet a month to land on the option that they think makes the most sense, and then we’ll announce to the fleet how we’re proceeding. 

What happens next?

We’ll run our poll starting today and ending on Sunday, August 4. Once that’s done, we’ll begin our transition to the new format.

The transition period will last three months, and will look like this:

  • Phase 1 (Thursday, July 4 -> Sunday, August 4): In this phase we’re notifying the fleet about the impending change and polling about how people believe we should change the action signifiers for in-line actions. Everyone should still use our current format.
  • Phase 2 (Monday, August 5 -> Sunday, September 1): In this phase, we’ll be asking everyone to begin using the new format. We know there will be lots of times when folks forget to transition their writing during this phase, so your ship staff will provide gentle reminders throughout the month. We’ll ask everyone to share any “edge cases” we hadn’t considered with the new format and provide public guidance where helpful about how to proceed. And any tips that make it easier to transition will definitely be welcomed! 
  • Phase 3 (Monday, September 2 -> onward): In this final phase, everyone will be required to write in the new format. Staff will provide clear and direct reminders to everyone. Folks that aren’t able to transition after multiple reminders may have their sims moderated on their ship list until they can consistently submit sims using the new format.

Vote in the poll below to register your opinion on which format we should use going forward, and then head to the forums – by clicking here – to add your thoughts or questions.

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About Tristan Wolf

FltAdml. Tristan Wolf, real name Jordan, founded UFOP: StarBase 118 – a Star Trek Play By Email RPG – in June of 1994. He previously served as the Commanding Officer for a number of simming installations, notably the first of StarBase 118 Operations. He currently lives in San Francisco with his partner and their Humane Society rescue dog named Baxter. Jordan works in politics, loves scifi (natch), fantasy, and new technologies.
View all posts by Tristan Wolf