Multi-threaded fiction [was Semi-interactive fiction on rgif]

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Peter Mattsson

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Sep 23, 2005, 2:14:45 PM9/23/05
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David Fisher wrote:
> Before I get too far into it, I wanted to ask people's opinions on a game I
> am writing ...
>
> It is more like a multi-threaded story than Interactive Fiction. The setting
> is a small town where lots of things are going on ... you can wander around
> invisibly and overhear conversations, examine things, etc. just like
> watching a movie and controlling the camera position & angle - but you can't
> take things or talk to people.

First off, good luck with this: I'll certainly play the result. This is
actually similar to something I've been toying with for a while, but my
problem has been coming up with a plot that would make it work, and be
interesting. For this reason especially, I'll be interested to see how
you do it!

This has also brought to mind a more ambitious variant of this kind of
game that's been rolling around in my head for some time now, and has
been driving me nuts. I'm beginning to despair of ever coming up with a
vehicle for it; perhaps now is a good time to download it and see if
anybody else can make it fly (or whether it's just too complicated to
work well as anything other than an academic exercise).

As a card-carrying theoretical physicist, I've been fascinated by the
idea of parallel universes/worlds for some time now. Quantum mechanics
doesn't always predict a definite outcome for a given event, and when
that happens, one way to visualise the result is as the universe
splitting into parallel strands, one for each possible outcome. Although
that all happens at a scale far removed from ordinary life, the
butterfly effect could cause it to have a significant impact in our
world, especially at times when decisions must be made and the options
are finely balanced.

The idea was that you would play some kind of disembodied entity with
the unique ability to choose which way you would go at these decision
points while being otherwise only able to move, examine, etc.
Essentially, this just grafts on an additional CYOA-type structure, but
it does allow you to explore possibilities, a la Tapestry. Otherwise,
you could treat it as a puzzle: explore the world, work out what's going
on, and try to navigate to the optimal ending. As with Slouching Towards
Bedlam, it would also give you the freedom to allow the player to move
around in time (why should such an entity be restricted simply to moving
forwards in time?) thus providing a non-momesis-breaking but easy way to
get back to a given decision point. If you take the puzzle route, this
winds up looking awfully like a weird kind of maze, but hopefully in a
form that's at least vaguely interesting.

The point, again, is that the story would be too tightly tied together,
and the decision points too carefully arranged, to allow the player the
ability to spoil it all. Rather than give players the illusion of
interaction in a basically railroaded story, I thought it might be
better to be upfront about it. It would also allow more effort to go
into the branching storyline, with more branches than would reasonably
be possible otherwise.

Sadly, however, I've yet to find a story that would benefit from being
told this way. If anybody here can, run with it -- just show me the
result when you're done!

Cheers,

Peter

Ramona White

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Sep 23, 2005, 6:37:53 PM9/23/05
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As I was reading this it reminded me of Heinlein's book "Job". There
were similar elements there in terms of figuring out what's going on
and even what portion of the "butterfly effect" created what's going
on. Entertaining and thought-provoking.


Ramona

Peter Mattsson

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Sep 23, 2005, 9:44:33 PM9/23/05
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Ramona White wrote:
> As I was reading this it reminded me of Heinlein's book "Job". There
> were similar elements there in terms of figuring out what's going on
> and even what portion of the "butterfly effect" created what's going
> on. Entertaining and thought-provoking.

I've read a fair amount of Heinlein, but not that one; thanks for the
tip! (Mine would be "The Door into Summer", if you haven't read it
already. It's one of the few books that do time travel right. Heinlein
commands my eternal respect because he always thought things through,
and rarely if ever gave in to lazy or thoughtless plotting.)

Anyway, this is going hopelessly off-topic so I'll shut up now...

Peter

Paul Drallos

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Sep 24, 2005, 11:56:52 AM9/24/05
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Peter Mattsson wrote:
>
> As a card-carrying theoretical physicist, I've been fascinated by the
> idea of parallel universes/worlds for some time now. Quantum mechanics
> doesn't always predict a definite outcome for a given event, and when
> that happens, one way to visualise the result is as the universe
> splitting into parallel strands, one for each possible outcome.

As a card-carrying theoretical physicist myself, the Many-Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics as a bit of a hobby of mine. The possibilities are endless.

> Although that all happens at a scale far removed from ordinary life, the
> butterfly effect could cause it to have a significant impact in our
> world, especially at times when decisions must be made and the options
> are finely balanced.

While true that, at a quantum level, this is all on a scale far removed fromordinary life, for the purposes of a game or multi-threaded story, the quantum mechanical arguments are only necessary to the extent of persuading the theoretical soundness of the multi-universe theory. What you're really interested in, however, is the so-called Butterfly Effect, which needn't be quantum mechanical.

After reading your post, I was reminded of something that I think about quite often that may provide a way of implementing the critical decision/Butterfly Effect concept into a managable game.

Here's what I'm thinking: Often, I look back and consider the various insignificant but critical events that brought me to where I am. Things that could easily have gone another way but would have led to a vastly different outcome.

For instance, a hundredth or a thousandth of a second might have made the difference between a near miss or a serious accident on the road. That's how you happend to meet the guy who happened to be visiting another guy in the hospital bed right next next to your. But you only met him because he happened to take elevator B instead of A (which is slower) up to your floor, and he walked into the room just in time to see a paper
drop from your bed which was a flow chart of a program you have been working on and...Well, eventually, something really big happens because of your meeting which depended on a series of seemingly insignificant events

Why did the guy choose elevator B instead of A? Why did the page fall off your bed when it did? How did the guy in the bed next to you wind up in the hospital? Why is he sharing your room and not some other? And what about that accident?

Suppose all of those critical events that are supposed to happen to bring us to the happy ending won't necessarily happen without a little nudging from our disembodied entity. Suppose the player assumes the role of the disembodied entity, but he doesn't know the chain of events that are necessary to lead to the happy ending.

For game play, the game starts at the happy ending. The player then picks any of the characters in the current scene, and goes back in time one scene, centered on that chosen character. Not *as* the character, but as the disembodied entity who can tweak the environment and then play the scene forward. Then the player has the option of choosing another character and going back one scene with him/her.

In this manner, the player works back in time, scene-by-scene, until finally reaching the intended first critical events and wins the game.

This would be messy, but not impossible, and might keep the branching from getting too carried away.

Craig Latta

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Sep 24, 2005, 5:15:21 PM9/24/05
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Hi--

This might be an interesting use for continuations. (See
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuation )


-C

--
Craig Latta
improvisational musical informaticist
www.netjam.org
Smalltalkers do: [:it | All with: Class, (And love: it)]

David Fisher

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Sep 27, 2005, 7:34:33 PM9/27/05
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"Peter Mattsson" <pe...@XYZZYmattssons.e7even.com> wrote in message
news:dh1gjb$tpk$1...@news.e7even.com...

> David Fisher wrote:
>> It is more like a multi-threaded story than Interactive Fiction. The
>> setting is a small town where lots of things are going on ... you can
>> wander around invisibly and overhear conversations, examine things,
>> etc. just like watching a movie and controlling the camera position &
>> angle - but you can't take things or talk to people.
>
> First off, good luck with this: I'll certainly play the result.

Thanks ! People's responses so far have been encouraging.

[snip thoughts about parallel universes / butterfly effect / critical
decision points]

> The idea was that you would play some kind of disembodied entity with the
> unique ability to choose which way you would go at these decision points
> while being otherwise only able to move, examine, etc.

> As with Slouching Towards Bedlam, it would also give you the freedom


> to allow the player to move around in time (why should such an entity be
> restricted simply to moving forwards in time?) thus providing a
> non-momesis-breaking but easy way to get back to a given decision point.

Definition of "momesis": realistic simulation of a female parental figure
(sorry, I couldn't help myself !)

I am intending to provide a way to "bookmark" a point in the story (ie. a
particular place and time) so you can revisit it again later on, which
sounds similar to this ...

> The point, again, is that the story would be too tightly tied together,
> and the decision points too carefully arranged, to allow the player the
> ability to spoil it all. Rather than give players the illusion of
> interaction in a basically railroaded story, I thought it might be better
> to be upfront about it. It would also allow more effort to go into the
> branching storyline, with more branches than would reasonably be possible
> otherwise.

How would the player navigate through the various decision points ? It
sounds like you might be thinking of a menu / list of options at each point
(possibly with a "do nothing" option to let things go in a default
direction).

If you wanted something a little more subtle than a list of options, here
are a few ideas:

* Very limited interaction with the world, as in the movie Ghost (eg.
"hitting" a piece of paper makes it fall off the desk, etc).

* No physical interaction with the world, but the player could suggest
thoughts to people to influence their decisions. This could be as simple or
complex as you like ("Bob, sleep" ... "Bob, buy Mary a present"). At
minimum, you could have a single command that makes an NPC hesitate for a
moment.

* Or instead of thoughts, the player could have the ability to suggest an
emotion - happy, sad, tired, angry, jealous, calm, etc. (which might not
work if it goes against their character too much - or might even have a
reverse effect, if the person rejects the emotion).

BTW. Two movies related to the Butterfly Effect are "The Butterfly Effect"
(did you guess ?) and "Run, Lola, Run" (which I haven't actually seen yet) -

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0289879/ (The Butterfly Effect)
http://www.killermovies.com/r/runlolarun/reviews/ate.html (Run Lola Run)

David Fisher


Ben Rudiak-Gould

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Sep 27, 2005, 7:58:01 PM9/27/05
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David Fisher wrote:
> BTW. Two movies related to the Butterfly Effect are "The Butterfly Effect"
> (did you guess ?) and "Run, Lola, Run" (which I haven't actually seen yet)

Don't forget the insect flapping its wings in _Brazil_, which precipitates
all of the events of that movie. Admittedly they don't show what would have
happened without the insect, and indications are it wouldn't have made much
of a story.

-- Ben

dgen...@hotmail.com

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Sep 27, 2005, 8:36:13 PM9/27/05
to

>
> * Or instead of thoughts, the player could have the ability to suggest an
> emotion - happy, sad, tired, angry, jealous, calm, etc. (which might not
> work if it goes against their character too much - or might even have a
> reverse effect, if the person rejects the emotion).
>
> BTW. Two movies related to the Butterfly Effect are "The Butterfly Effect"
> (did you guess ?) and "Run, Lola, Run" (which I haven't actually seen yet) -
>

"Sliding Doors"
is another one.

"Groundhog Day" isn't quite the same setup, but might suggest some
ideas for IF.

In literature,
"Replay" by Ken Grimwood, about a man who replays his life several
times.

Dave

Mark J. Tilford

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Sep 28, 2005, 12:12:39 PM9/28/05
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On Sat, 24 Sep 2005 11:56:52 -0400, Paul Drallos <pdra...@tir.com> wrote:
>

> Here's what I'm thinking: Often, I look back and consider the various
insignificant but critical events that brought me to where I am. Things
that could easily have gone another way but would have led to a vastly
different outcome.

Did you play Second Chance in the Spring Thing?

--
------------------------
Mark Jeffrey Tilford
til...@ugcs.caltech.edu

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