What could IF be??

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Jean-Henri Duteau

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Sep 18, 1996, 3:00:00 AM9/18/96
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Hey all,

I've been reading the posts about character gender and about puzzles
and whether they are obstacles or what not. All of this discussion is
interesting, but it really borders on something I've been thinking
about for a little while and that is....

The state of the IF world (oh no! run away and hide, it's a general
statement about a very big thing by someone who knows very little!!)

We tend to talk about IF as if it were a distinct medium from the rest
of the gaming world, trying desperately to associate it with the
FICTION in IF rather than the INTERACTIVE. Yes, yes, I know that's a
pretty broad statement, but I think it applies in many cases, and I'd
like you to bear with me on it.

The whole idea of the main character of a work of IF not being defined
seems to me to be a problem and a major one of that. What if you read
GONE WITH THE WIND without knowing (or learning) anything about
Scarlett? It would be an extremely boring work (almost as boring as
it's sequel). So then why do we do it in IF? Why do we make our main
characters (the ones normally played by the user) undefined?

In my mind, and I'm trying to write a little test idea of what I'm
trying to profess here, we, the users, should take on the same role in
IF as we do in F. (There's an argument for calling Fiction something
with another word just so we have a two-letter acronym). We should be
observers watching the story as it unfolds with an additional ability
to observe what we want to observe, how we want to observe it and also
take a role in the actions that unfold.

So, in a room with three characters, if we just sat there and watched,
there should be some default behaviour that told the story of what
happened to those three characters. BUT, and this would be the fun
and replayability of IF, we would have the ability to alter the
actions of ALL the characters within the confines of their behaviour
patterns. We could make the beautiful heroine slap the handsome hero
and go off independently rather than falling under his spell. Or,
something less drastic, we could make the handsome hero try to
handfight the bad guy rather than shooting him.

So, in my new IF world, when a new IF story came out, the user would
read it first from "cover" to "cover". Then he would read it again
making modifications in the story as he saw fit. To make this a game,
the story author could make the default behaviour work out poorly for
the main characters. It is then the user's role to interactively
change the story in such a way that the main characters "win in the
end".

NOTE: This requires the authors to demand some basic intelligence and
desires on the part of the users. We have to believe that they will
want the main characters to survive and prosper (or do whatever is
required to "win the game"). We have to believe that the users will
understand and be willing to work within the limitations of the
characters behaviours. These are not unrealistic expectations. Any
Conventional Fiction writer expects them, why can't IF authors?

Some of the current Graphic adventure games work in this vein. The
"Choose-Your-Adventure" books worked like this. The role of IF and
the progress of IF would be to take the limitations these two mediums
impose (the limited choices, being able to make your characters only
do 3 things at any branch) and dissolve them. It will be very
difficult to do this in any reasonably sized story. For my one room
example that I'm trying to build, it's extremely complicated. But
that is also a function of the tools I'm working with. We would
probably have to develop new tools that would make the design and
function of such an IF story easier.

Anyways, I await some discussion of these points. I've got more
thoughts but this post is getting a bit long, so I'll cut it here and
present more later.
--
Jean-Henri Duteau je...@myrias.com (work) je...@west-teq.net (home)
Fantasy Sports Guru -- Commissioner--RHL,RHHL,UFHL,CFFL.Owner--FFL,RCFFL
Interested in fantasy sports??? Check out http://west-teq.net/~jeand/
Currently working on RHS -- a GNU Hockey Simulator system. 8-)

Roger Carbol

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Sep 19, 1996, 3:00:00 AM9/19/96
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Jean-Henri Duteau <je...@myrias.com> says:

> The whole idea of the main character of a work of IF not being defined
> seems to me to be a problem and a major one of that. What if you read
> GONE WITH THE WIND without knowing (or learning) anything about
> Scarlett? It would be an extremely boring work (almost as boring as
> it's sequel). So then why do we do it in IF? Why do we make our main
> characters (the ones normally played by the user) undefined?

Well, I think there are a couple of problems with your assumption
that the main character of IF is not defined. First of all,
any definition of the main character in IF is done almost
exclusively through showing, not telling. As an example, it
would not be unusual to find in conventional fiction a statement
such as "Little Red Riding Hood was afraid of the Big Bad Wolf."
However, in IF, I think most people would agree that it quickly
becomes irritating when the game itself tries to tell you what
you are thinking or feeling. Being told "The scary castle
doesn't look interesting, so you decide not to enter it after all"
is both irritating and breaking the underlying abeyance of the
game, since you the player certainly know how you feel. So
I think that the main character in IF, and I would even say in
good IF, is often defined, but in a different way than conventional
fiction.

Secondly, most of the interest in any story, IF or otherwise,
comes not so much from where the hero starts, but where he ends
up. I suspect IF, typically, fails often in this category.
The hero changes the world around him, through solving puzzles,
but often we do not really get to see much of a change in the
nature of the hero himself. "Jigsaw", perhaps, is a good
counterexample of an IF where the hero does, in fact, change
(and perhaps paradoxically, is not especially well-defined at
the beginning of the game.)



> So, in my new IF world, when a new IF story came out, the user would
> read it first from "cover" to "cover". Then he would read it again
> making modifications in the story as he saw fit. To make this a game,
> the story author could make the default behaviour work out poorly for
> the main characters. It is then the user's role to interactively
> change the story in such a way that the main characters "win in the
> end".

In many ways this is a description of second-generation IF, and
in fact is a rather good description of Infocom's "Witness." Part
of the problem arises from a human dislike of being confined through
time, in that it can become irritating to miss a chance to change
the story because it has already moved on to something else. But
some games have used this strict time-flow successfully.

Really, I think there is room for both sorts of IF in the
ever-growing archives. There will be IF which will tell an
interesting story to a completely passive observer, and there
will also be IF which waits on the beck and call of the
user-hero.


Roger Carbol .. EXAMINE GHOST OF BANQUO

Brad O`Donnell

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Sep 19, 1996, 3:00:00 AM9/19/96
to

Jean-Henri Duteau wrote:

> The state of the IF world (oh no! run away and hide, it's a general
> statement about a very big thing by someone who knows very little!!)

> The whole idea of the main character of a work of IF not being defined


> seems to me to be a problem and a major one of that. What if you read
> GONE WITH THE WIND without knowing (or learning) anything about
> Scarlett? It would be an extremely boring work (almost as boring as
> it's sequel). So then why do we do it in IF? Why do we make our main
> characters (the ones normally played by the user) undefined?

It works out something like this: If I say that my character, "Henry"
has certain traits and attributes and opinions, then my game has to
make sure that Henry doesn't do or say anything out of character.
This imposes Big Problems on me. "How do I limit the player,
*without making the game feel limited!* " is the first problem
which comes to mind... If Henry doesn't eat meat, then do I make
sure that EAT CROWN OF LAMB provides an accurate response? If Henry
is ten feet tall, do I make the player type DUCK. N. STAND. to get
through a door? All sorts of evil, limiting responses, are necessary
to make the game accurate.

Also, I think that we forget that the second person text makes
for some awkward situations:

>GET BROKEN GLASS
You pick up a sharp shred of the old broken bottle.

>KILL SALLY WITH GLASS
You don't want to.

>OF COURSE I WANT TO... I TYPED IT IN DIDN'T I?

To make this seem at all reasonable to most players, change
the pronouns (and verb stuff, too, you nitpickers) to "He" if your
protagonist is male, and "She" if it is female.

Also, I don't mind a game that says:
----
>GET BRANCH
You pick up a branch.
>CLIMB TREE
Henry is afraid of heights.
(or)
I'm afraid of heights!
----
...but maybe I'm alone in this respect.


> So, in a room with three characters, if we just sat there and watched,
> there should be some default behaviour that told the story of what
> happened to those three characters. BUT, and this would be the fun
> and replayability of IF, we would have the ability to alter the
> actions of ALL the characters within the confines of their behaviour
> patterns. We could make the beautiful heroine slap the handsome hero
> and go off independently rather than falling under his spell. Or,
> something less drastic, we could make the handsome hero try to
> handfight the bad guy rather than shooting him.

This is a Very Cool Idea. I'd love to see it...(but I think writing
it would be a pain)

> in my new IF world, when a new IF story came out, the user would
> read it first from "cover" to "cover".

>It is then the user's role to interactively


> change the story in such a way that the main characters "win in the
> end".

Or, perhaps, the player could try to send the entire populace to
their individual ruinations. (Gamers want BLOOD!)

>
> NOTE: This requires the authors to demand some basic intelligence and
> desires on the part of the users.

You know, if you want to look at that statement the wrong way, it
could possibly offend the whole IF community...Nahh.


> We have to believe that they will
> want the main characters to survive and prosper (or do whatever is
> required to "win the game").

Isn't the idea of this new model that players would be able to
tweak the story until it satisfies their personal taste?

> We have to believe that the users will
> understand and be willing to work within the limitations of the
> characters behaviours. These are not unrealistic expectations. Any
> Conventional Fiction writer expects them, why can't IF authors?
>

For some reasons on this, post a message asking if a certain
puzzle is reasonable, given some background info: You'll get a range
of responses from here to the moon, and then some.


> Some of the current Graphic adventure games work in this vein. The
> "Choose-Your-Adventure" books worked like this. The role of IF and
> the progress of IF would be to take the limitations these two mediums
> impose (the limited choices, being able to make your characters only
> do 3 things at any branch) and dissolve them. It will be very
> difficult to do this in any reasonably sized story.

Exactly.



> For my one room
> example that I'm trying to build, it's extremely complicated. But
> that is also a function of the tools I'm working with. We would
> probably have to develop new tools that would make the design and
> function of such an IF story easier.

Well, once RAIF-POOL gets out of the neutrino-testing stage... :)

But seriously, new tools can only take you so far: In the end,
the audience only gets what the creator has deliberately set up:
in a book, there is text which contains the information you need
to understand what happened in the story. Getting a new word
processor might make it easier to type in, but the content doesn't
change.

In an IF, having a bunch of good default libraries is
helpful, but doesn't provide content ( at least, not as I see it.)

The problem of thinking up content for the story is compounded by
interactivity. The more possibilities, the more content.
I would
argue that a 10k game which claims to support 50 verbs is going to
be horribly frustrating, because fewer options will provide meaningful
responses.
At the other end, a 50k game with support for only 20 verbs(options)
is likely to be much more fun. ( As long as I'm told ahead of time
what most of the verbs are..)

>
> Anyways, I await some discussion of these points. I've got more
> thoughts but this post is getting a bit long, so I'll cut it here and
> present more later.


I've got a question: Would this be the way it might be?...

Hallway
Henry, Eric and Amy are standing in the blank, featureless corridor
which leads to the evil emperor's throne room. Featureless, except
of course for the armored guard standing in front of the doorway to
the north.

>KILL GUARD
You are not presently controlling anybody.
>CONTROL ERIC
(You are now controlling Eric)
>KILL GUARD
Eric runs toward the guard like a madman, and is impaled by a sharp
spear.

***Eric is dead***

>CONTROL HENRY
(O.K.)
>X ERIC
Eric is dead. He is carrying a purple kazoo and a sandwich.
>EAT SANDWICH
After taking a bite out of the sandwich, Henry quickly spits it out.
It's a chicken sandwich!
>CONTROL AMY
(O.K)
>EAT ERIC
Amy, the cannibal that you found in the desert yesterday, makes no
waste of an opportunity. Yum.

>CONTROL GUARD
(O.K)
>N
Emperor's room
The emperor is sitting here on his throne.
>KILL EMPEROR WITH SPEAR
In one swift action, the guard impales the Emperor on his spear.
>Z. Z. Z
Time Passes...
Amy and Henry walk in from the south.
Time Passes...
Amy starts cooking the Emperor.
Time passes...
Henry looks on in revulsion as Amy enjoys her meal.
>CONTROL OFF
(O.K)
>RESOLVE STORY

Amy, heartbroken because of the loss of her husband, wears black for
the rest of her life.
Eric joined a club for the mentally disjoint.
The guard, after killing the evil emperor, decided to take over in
his place, doubling taxes the next day.
On a side note, the populace of West Yiurton, next to the empire,
is still living happily this very day, because the Emperor's plans to
eradicate them fell through and the new Emperor preferred terrorizing
people closer to home.

*** You have resolved the story ***


--
Brad O'Donnell

"In any battle between the will and the imagination,
the imagination will win:
If you imagine you can, you _might_ not;
If you imagine you can't, you _will_ not!"
--T.L. Rampa

Werner Punz

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Sep 19, 1996, 3:00:00 AM9/19/96
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dj...@FreeNet.Carleton.CA (Roger Carbol) wrote:

> First of all,
>any definition of the main character in IF is done almost
>exclusively through showing, not telling. As an example, it
>would not be unusual to find in conventional fiction a statement
>such as "Little Red Riding Hood was afraid of the Big Bad Wolf."
>However, in IF, I think most people would agree that it quickly
>becomes irritating when the game itself tries to tell you what
>you are thinking or feeling.

Sometimes and sometimes not. IMO it depends. Imagine a situation where
you try to tell a part of the story. I think personal feelings
included could do a great job to the athmosphere of the story when
used carefully and not to often. But I agree the second person
perspective of almost every IF game makes it pretty hard to include
feeling descriptions and personal thoughts without irritating to much.
I personally would prefer a third person perspective for doing that:


>The wanderer reaches the outer skirts of the big city. The air is filled with an odor foulness.
>What do you want him to do?

examine floor

>He looks at the floor and with a sudden feeling of disgust he recognizes that the soil
>below his feet hasn't born any life in ages.
>What do you want him to do?

enter the city

>Although feelings of fear try to weaken his knees he starts to walk toward the city. Sparks of
>memories seem to flash in his mind, thoughts about his wife and his family. He wonders if he ever will
>see them again........


Werner


we...@inflab.uni-linz.ac.at
http://witiko.ifs.uni-linz.ac.at/~werpu

----------------------------------------------
Check out ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive for something
which has been forgotten years ago.


Carl Muckenhoupt

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Sep 19, 1996, 3:00:00 AM9/19/96
to

Brad O`Donnell <s7...@romulus.sun.csd.unb.ca> writes:

>> Anyways, I await some discussion of these points. I've got more
>> thoughts but this post is getting a bit long, so I'll cut it here and
>> present more later.


> I've got a question: Would this be the way it might be?...

>Hallway
> Henry, Eric and Amy are standing in the blank, featureless corridor
>which leads to the evil emperor's throne room. Featureless, except
>of course for the armored guard standing in front of the doorway to
>the north.

>>KILL GUARD
> You are not presently controlling anybody.
>>CONTROL ERIC
> (You are now controlling Eric)
>>KILL GUARD
> Eric runs toward the guard like a madman, and is impaled by a sharp
>spear.

>***Eric is dead***

>>CONTROL HENRY
> (O.K.)

[und so weiter]

Suspended did something similar to this. Only the syntax was
different: instead of CONTROL AUDA you'd just type AUDA,
and it was possible to give single commands without changing
who you were controlling (like "IRIS, NORTH").

Of course, Suspended involved robots, not people capable of
initiating actions. If you made one robot do something that
prevented another robot from completing an action, the
frustrated robot would just inform you and passively wait
for new instructions. This makes the whole exercise much
simpler, and also foils the point of the project.
--
Carl Muckenhoupt | Text Adventures are not dead!
b...@tiac.net | Read rec.[arts|games].int-fiction to see
http://www.tiac.net/users/baf | what you're missing!

Andrew Clover

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Sep 19, 1996, 3:00:00 AM9/19/96
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Jean-Henri Duteau <je...@myrias.com> wrote:

> Why do we make our main characters (the ones normally played by the
> user) undefined?

Because the stuff of character is not just a person's sex, race or age; it
is their actions. Which, in the adventure game, are determined entirely by
the player.

To some extent one can impose a character on the player through use of
pre-defined dialogue, scenes, and the introduction. But then the player
still has the option of being out of character. Few games attempt to impose
more traits onto the player than are entirely necessary for the plot.

> So, in a room with three characters, if we just sat there and watched,
> there should be some default behaviour that told the story of what
> happened to those three characters. BUT, and this would be the fun and
> replayability of IF, we would have the ability to alter the actions of
> ALL the characters within the confines of their behaviour patterns.

Sounds like a great idea, if horrendously complicated to implement for
anything more than a short story. I like the idea of having the supernatural
power to make suggestions to the characters. The 'baddie' characters would
have to be lots more resistant to suggestion than the 'goodies', and there
could be other limitations, such as not being able to suggest to someone
until one of the characters already controllable 'sees' them.

Could be an interesting and innovative gme. Do it! (I'll only nick the idea
if you don't. :-) )

BCNU, AjC

David A. Lyons

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Sep 20, 1996, 3:00:00 AM9/20/96
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In article <baf.84...@max.tiac.net> Carl Muckenhoupt,

b...@max.tiac.net writes:
>Suspended did something similar to this. Only the syntax was
>different: instead of CONTROL AUDA you'd just type AUDA,
>and it was possible to give single commands without changing
>who you were controlling (like "IRIS, NORTH").

Just for grins, I implemented "BECOME whoever" (and "Who am I?") along
with "whoever, command". It feels kind of interesting. (This was just
some C code I wrote...no real parser, and no story. One of these
years....)

Dave Lyons, Mr. Tangent
http://members.aol.com/davelyons

John Kean

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Sep 20, 1996, 3:00:00 AM9/20/96
to

In article <n102...@puppy.demon.co.uk>,

>> So, in a room with three characters, if we just sat there and watched,
>> there should be some default behaviour that told the story of what
>> happened to those three characters. BUT, and this would be the fun and
>> replayability of IF, we would have the ability to alter the actions of
>> ALL the characters within the confines of their behaviour patterns.
>
> Sounds like a great idea, if horrendously complicated to implement for
>anything more than a short story. I like the idea of having the supernatural
>power to make suggestions to the characters. The 'baddie' characters would
>have to be lots more resistant to suggestion than the 'goodies', and there
>could be other limitations, such as not being able to suggest to someone
>until one of the characters already controllable 'sees' them.
>
> Could be an interesting and innovative gme. Do it! (I'll only nick the idea
>if you don't. :-) )

I have started to write a game along these lines. It was going to be an entry
for this years competition, but now I have run out of time to finish it. Maybe
next year, if Andrew etc don't beat me to it!

In excited anticipation of October 1st,
John K

\\\\ John Kean
OO | ~~~~~~~~~
< ) ke...@agresearch.cri.nz
\/ |
`--

Stephen van Egmond

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Sep 20, 1996, 3:00:00 AM9/20/96
to

Jean-Henri Duteau <je...@myrias.com> wrote:
>We tend to talk about IF as if it were a distinct medium from the rest
>of the gaming world, trying desperately to associate it with the
>FICTION in IF rather than the INTERACTIVE. Yes, yes, I know that's a
>pretty broad statement, but I think it applies in many cases, and I'd
>like you to bear with me on it.

I'm not sure that what I have been seeing is desperation. The tools to
create the interactivity side seem to be maturing fairly well. Parsers
come pre-fabricated and can handle a fair range of input; they can be
coerced into handling more. Lord knows what neato natural language
gadgets Microsoft or Bell Labs or the OZ Project or MIT are sitting on.

At any rate, the recognition has surfaced that the fiction part has been
woefully neglected, and what the gender war, and much of this newsgroup
for the past 5 years, has been about is what the parameters of that art
should be. Picture filmmakers in the 30s and 40s, recording sound and
image, producing newsreels and cheezy westerns: "How do we make this better?"

Anyway, moving on ...

>The whole idea of the main character of a work of IF not being defined
>seems to me to be a problem and a major one of that. What if you read
>GONE WITH THE WIND without knowing (or learning) anything about
>Scarlett? It would be an extremely boring work (almost as boring as
>it's sequel).

As a counterexample, tell me who the main character was in Pulp Fiction.
Or Shallow Grave.

A story can be told without having to focus on one character. I look
forward to the IF that does that...

For the point of a game, it may be necessary to fix the player in time, in
place, in gender, in history, in familty situation, which character in the
story they are (cf. Hitch Hiker's Guide/Suspended) and so on. Or these
variables may be left to range freely. Both can be interesting.

We've even talked around here of placing the character into an unsavoury
role: forced to do things they normally would not -- murder, pillage,
take the tags off of mattresses, etc.

> So then why do we do it in IF? Why do we make our main


>characters (the ones normally played by the user) undefined?

Because it works. Play A Change In The Weather. That's you sleeping in
the cave, or admiring the sunset. Maybe the author was lazy; but then,
why construct a persona if it doesn't add anything to the story?

> We should be
>observers watching the story as it unfolds with an additional ability
>to observe what we want to observe, how we want to observe it and also
>take a role in the actions that unfold.

I tend to think of this as the God model: the player is God, shaping
events, observing them from wherever sie pleases. My friend and I had a
great time coming up with a game where you could

> DROP PIANO ON YOUNG HITLER
... and observe the changes in history. It seems Infocom thought of
this game (perhaps as a joke), as can be seen from the Masterpieces CD.

The mathematics of it is depressing, though: if in every situation you
get 2 choices, to give the player 8 choices in a row requires 256
"outcomes" to be written, not to mention whatever leads to those outcomes
in the meanwhile -- a total of 511. Think of what you could do with 511
branches in an IF game instead.

>NOTE: This requires the authors to demand some basic intelligence and

>desires on the part of the users. We have to believe that they will


>want the main characters to survive and prosper (or do whatever is
>required to "win the game").

What was that someone said about pushing, pulling, looking inside,
looking under, smelling, kicking and picking up everything in sight? :)

>"Choose-Your-Adventure" books worked like this.

They also let the reader project themselves into the lead role quite
frequently.


But that's what's cool about IF. All this diversity fits into the
genre and it's not about what is objectively Good or Bad, because there's
no such thing. The analogy to film is quite strong and worth thinkikng
about.

/Steve

Bozzie

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Sep 22, 1996, 3:00:00 AM9/22/96
to

b...@max.tiac.net (Carl Muckenhoupt) writes:

>Brad O`Donnell <s7...@romulus.sun.csd.unb.ca> writes:

>>> Anyways, I await some discussion of these points. I've got more
>>> thoughts but this post is getting a bit long, so I'll cut it here and
>>> present more later.


>> I've got a question: Would this be the way it might be?...

>>Hallway
>> Henry, Eric and Amy are standing in the blank, featureless corridor
>>which leads to the evil emperor's throne room. Featureless, except
>>of course for the armored guard standing in front of the doorway to
>>the north.

>>>KILL GUARD
>> You are not presently controlling anybody.
>>>CONTROL ERIC
>> (You are now controlling Eric)
>>>KILL GUARD
>> Eric runs toward the guard like a madman, and is impaled by a sharp
>>spear.

>>***Eric is dead***

>>>CONTROL HENRY
>> (O.K.)

>[und so weiter]

>Suspended did something similar to this. Only the syntax was
>different: instead of CONTROL AUDA you'd just type AUDA,
>and it was possible to give single commands without changing
>who you were controlling (like "IRIS, NORTH").

>Of course, Suspended involved robots, not people capable of


>initiating actions. If you made one robot do something that
>prevented another robot from completing an action, the
>frustrated robot would just inform you and passively wait
>for new instructions. This makes the whole exercise much
>simpler, and also foils the point of the project.

Demoniak also did something like this. You could become almost every
character in the story, good or bad. different characters had different
"powers" but as the game was an rpg, those generally meant different statistics. The story was fairly poor and the being able to control different
characters, although a good experiment, failed in making up for a poor
and often incoherent storyline.

Also, while you could control annother character, the character would
still obey some of his prior commands. Thus, if you became a guard, You
might be able to move or do something for two moves before the guard went back
to patroling for a move before getting in control again. Or if you had
commanded "Follow" someone, you'd continue to follow him, which became
annoying, since I couldn't find a way to stop.

While the principles, and as an experiment, Demoniak *may* have passed, as
a fun and/or enjoyable game, it failed. The characters weren't interesting
or well defined. The story was jumbled and confusing and sometimes
contradictory.

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