IF as art (was: Are text games ...)

4 views
Skip to first unread message

Bob Newell

unread,
Nov 11, 1993, 11:04:58 PM11/11/93
to
>Part of the problem is this: if you look at all the IF that's out there
>(free, shareware, commerical) it's painfully obvious that there's a general
>lack of basic *craft* -- just the basic ability to put words on the screen
>that say what the author really wants them to say. It is possible to have
>art without craft, but it's much less likely.
In her own way, my female collaborator made this point. That much IF lacks
basic writing craft, and therefore becomes a collection of, to her,
uninteresting puzzles.

>The book world has many hoops to jump through before the novelist gets
>published. There are no such barriers for IF, because IF is not a popular
>medium right now. In this free-for-all period anyone can write IF and
>distribute it widely. This has good and bad points. (Mainly: good for
This raises the shareware/commercial business again. My one feeble effort,
The Pesach Adventure, had a fairly wide distribution judging from downloads
I could track, the CD it ended up on, etc. It wasn't very good but it
filled a niche in an area in which there was literally nothing (Jewish
religious school computer games). It has generated ZERO registrations,
though. But I didn't write it for gain, I wrote it because I felt like it.
And any other IF which, G-d willing, I ever get finished, will be in the
same category. I suspect many of us do IF because we want to. And, in
fact, that seems to be the only justification at the moment...

I sympathize with Dave Baggett's dilemma: shareware is widely played but
generates no money; Advention's commercial stuff will be seen by relatively
few people because the market isn't there. So what is the poor IF author to
do?

I've personally registered even some pretty dorky games, and plan to
register some more, just to support the art. But probably I'm not typical
in that respect.



>ADVENTIONS: We make Kuul text adventures! Ask about Unnkulian 1, 2, 0, 1/2
> PO Box 851 Columbia, MD 21044 USA / CIS: 76440,2671 / GEnie: ADVENTIONS
>

Espen Aarseth

unread,
Nov 12, 1993, 5:35:36 AM11/12/93
to
"Interactive fiction", or, as I prefer to call it, Adventure Games (AG),
*is* an art, or we wouldn't be having this discussion. It exists as an
ideal, around which we draw theories and criticisms, and most importantly,
try to create the artifacts themselves. As soon as you have a recognizable
class of humanly created objects, and the ability to say "this one is
better than that one", you have an art.

The problem lies elsewhere. AG is an art past its prime, or still in its
infancy, depending on how you look at it. Textbased AG (TAG) had a brief
but substantial popular success in the early 80s, but no breakthrough or
renaissance has occurred since then. What we got instead was the Graphical
AG (GAG), from Leisure Suit Larry to the 3D mysteries of Ultima Underworld
and beyond. That is where the industry moved. Now Hollywood is getting
interested, and we get cd-rom AG with digitized video clips, etc. Not that
this necessarily equals artistic progress, but it remains, structurally,
basically the same genre, and as such, more "important" (=commercially
successful) than ever before.

What depresses us here is that textbased AG never fullfilled its promise.
Remember we used to say "When only our Cervantes or Dickens comes along.."
(It hasn't happend yet, and people are getting impatient...)

The problem with TAG as art is that it is trying to be *another* art:
Literary fiction. We judge our art by another art's standard, and then of
course we find it inferior. Only when we get out from under this
inferiority-complex and try to establish a separate tradition with its
own standards of quality can the art of adventure games progress and try
to fullfill its potential.

There is obviously a need for the kind of gamestructure that AG offers.
But the decline of text AG and the corresponding rise of graphics AG
suggest that text isn't the most suitable front-end for this structure.

But even if Textbased AG doesn't make it as a commercial success, it will
probably continue to be the place where new ideas are born and developed.
The recent cd-rom GAGs tend to use structures that was state of the art in
TAG more than ten years ago. True avant garde can never be a commercial
success.

But personally I think that the quest for More "Literary" Values
in TAG is a dead end. We need a craft of our own!

__________________________________________________________________________
espen aarseth aar...@uib.no

Daniel C. Goodwin

unread,
Nov 12, 1993, 8:52:51 AM11/12/93
to
espen....@hf.uib.no (Espen Aarseth) writes:

>There is obviously a need for the kind of gamestructure that AG offers.
>But the decline of text AG and the corresponding rise of graphics AG
>suggest that text isn't the most suitable front-end for this structure.

Is there anything wrong with this sentiment? NO!!!!!
Very pithy and insightful commentary, Espen. The discussion on this news
group seems to me to largely focus on a dead art form: text-based games.

Interactive fiction, on the other hand, is one of the most dynamic and
exciting art forms of our time. When you finish mourning the death of
text-games, consider that they served their function in establishing
the set of paradigms appropriate to interactive-fiction, and that today
IF finally has the potential to reach a much wider audience, to become
much more culturally relevant.

yoursEtCetera,
-daniel <Daniel C. Goodwin> dgoo...@crl.com

Gerry Kevin Wilson

unread,
Nov 12, 1993, 5:23:21 PM11/12/93
to
In article <espen.aarseth...@hdbea.hf-fak.uib.no>,

Espen Aarseth <espen....@hf.uib.no> wrote:
>"Interactive fiction", or, as I prefer to call it, Adventure Games (AG),
>*is* an art, or we wouldn't be having this discussion. It exists as an
>ideal, around which we draw theories and criticisms, and most importantly,
>try to create the artifacts themselves. As soon as you have a recognizable
>class of humanly created objects, and the ability to say "this one is
>better than that one", you have an art.

I won't argue with this, I'm not THAT pedantic. :) Besides, AG/IF IS an
art. And it's an art which very few people have the ability or desire to
work with.

>The problem lies elsewhere. AG is an art past its prime, or still in its
>infancy, depending on how you look at it. Textbased AG (TAG) had a brief
>but substantial popular success in the early 80s, but no breakthrough or
>renaissance has occurred since then. What we got instead was the Graphical
>AG (GAG), from Leisure Suit Larry to the 3D mysteries of Ultima Underworld
>and beyond. That is where the industry moved. Now Hollywood is getting
>interested, and we get cd-rom AG with digitized video clips, etc. Not that
>this necessarily equals artistic progress, but it remains, structurally,
>basically the same genre, and as such, more "important" (=commercially
>successful) than ever before.

The problem here is that computers have long tried to be Average Joe Schmoe's
tool of choice. And by watching American sitcoms, you get a pretty good feel
for what average Joe Schmoe wants, an it ain't pretty. And I agree with your
statement that technology != artistic progress. In fact, we seem to have
regressed into our infancy, when we were just starting to get interesting.
How many Fantasy games have you seen made this year. Ok, now how many of
those were original in how their world-settings acted? You will find, that,
although the magic systems and the interfaces are different, there is
NOTHING particularly creative out there. I include Ultima in this batch.
Some may protest how great Ultima 7 is, but is the story and writing any
better that Ultima 4-6? I don't feel so. The Ultima series is locked into
a formula now from which it may never escape, and that ceases to be original
very quickly.

>What depresses us here is that textbased AG never fullfilled its promise.

[snip, nice Cervantes note though.]

Well, at least we have our Johnathon Swift, "Professor" Brian Moriarty, to
remember fondly. Now, if only he'd write games again.

>The problem with TAG as art is that it is trying to be *another* art:
>Literary fiction. We judge our art by another art's standard, and then of
>course we find it inferior.

[snip]

Believe me, I wouldn't judge any IF I wrote by such an unnatural standard.
Literary writers have had centuries to get it right, we've only had a few
decades, so don't take it so hard. My standards are very simple.
1.) Is it fun to play?
2.) Does it get my message across?
3.) Does it allow the player much freedom?
4.) Are the characters unique and well-done?
5.) Does it have replayability?

Simple, but they cover a lot of things. I even put them in order of
importance to me, although 2 and 3 are fairly interchangeable.

>But the decline of text AG and the corresponding rise of graphics AG
>suggest that text isn't the most suitable front-end for this structure.

Lord, I hope not. It's pretty damn hard to do anything artistic with a
graphic adventure. See my earlier comment on Joe Schmoe for an explanation
of why I feel that TAG/IF hasn't gotten anywhere lately. Or, the short
version...With art, you can't please everyone, but with schlok, you can
please the vast majority. (i.e. Sitcoms, and graphical games.) Infocom
can't be seen as a true indicator of public opinion though. Its mighty
reign was ended artificially by a stupid spreadsheet, which causes me endless
grief and should be a valuable lesson to all game companies. "Don't mix
business with leisure." And since Infocom, no one has given TAG a chance
here in America. Infocom was the only TAG company that ever really did
anything major, and there's no telling what might have happened if Activision
hadn't stuck its oil-stained, mouldy, crappy finger into their soup.

>But even if Textbased AG doesn't make it as a commercial success, it will
>probably continue to be the place where new ideas are born and developed.

[snip]


>But personally I think that the quest for More "Literary" Values
>in TAG is a dead end. We need a craft of our own!
>__________________________________________________________________________
>espen aarseth aar...@uib.no

I dunno. Someone has to revive it before it can be a source of new ideas for
the industry. Plus, we have to come up with the new ideas, and then get them
to the public! There's nothing wrong with literary values, you just have to
concentrate on the proper ones. Like for instance, has anyone ever put a
flashback into an IF game? Or how about foreshadowing? Characterization?
Plot movement? How about incorporating some of the aspects of lyrical prose
into an IF game, or poetry? What about the 36 basic plots? I know DAMN well
that with all the text IF we have, we still haven't touched on them all. I
also feel that any IF writer should be read up on good escapist literature,
because that is what IF is for, to escape. Not neccessarily into a better
place, just a more interesting one. Don't get bogged down into a better
parser, get bogged down in a better story. As it stands, a Text IF parser is
infinitely superior to a graphics one, since it already allows you to do so
many more things not related to the game. And let's get some more original
worlds out there, and not so many clones of the same ones. Well, I have once
again reached the end of another pep talk/brainstorming session, so get out
there and WRITE!

--
*=== If there's one thing I've learned in this silly old thing called ===*
*=== Life, it's....umm....oh Hell, I've forgotten. ===*
*=== whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu ===*
*=== Disclaimer: I am insane. Deal with it. ===*

Gerry Kevin Wilson

unread,
Nov 12, 1993, 5:38:05 PM11/12/93
to
Well, I won't really argue the same points here as I did in my last post, you
can read that yourself. But, do you really thing that graphical IF allows
that much artistic expression? I mean, you can't even rely on an unusual
style of drawing/painting for your expression. And words...God forbid we
should actually have to READ on a computer. I dunno, I'm only 18, and
already I feel like a stodgy old man just because I don't agree with you. I
keep waiting for someone to say "Get with the times, Gramps." so that I can
beat them with my cane. Why do simple words frighten the computer game
industry so much? What's wrong with reading? Why is the writing getting so
neglected in their games, don't they care what they produce? And how come
text games are dead without even a fair trial? Why do I bother? What's the
meaning to Life, the Universe, and Everything? To write, or not to write,
that is the question. Or rather, that's not the question. I can't help but
write. It's a part of me, a part which you say is worthless. Well, so be it
then, cast me into my grave now, and seal up the earth after me. For whom
does the bell toll? It tolls for creativity. It tolls for the loss of an
art form. It tolls for Infocom. It tolls...for me.

"Art is like a flower.
Beautiful, but delicate, oh so delicate."
-Kevin Wilson

Espen Aarseth

unread,
Nov 13, 1993, 11:16:00 AM11/13/93
to

Kevin (Gerry?), although your last msg was probably directed at Daniel's,
let me make a few comments on both your posts:

> But, do you really thing that graphical IF allows
> that much artistic expression? I mean, you can't even rely on an
> unusual style of drawing/painting for your expression. And words...
> God forbid we should actually have to READ on a computer.

There are some problems here. Media genres such as TAG and GAG are
constrained by their economical conditions. Because GAGs are expensive to
produce, as a rule you get mostly "formula" games, with perhaps less than
fullfilled "artistic" potential. But economy affects quality TAG also, as
the Infocom demise shows. And, BTW, I don't think it is right to equal
TAG history with Infocom: Level 9, Melbourne House, Scott Adams, where
are they now? Some of those were rather low-art formula exploiters
-- but it didn't save them.

As with film or (dare I say it) TV vs books, GAGs can be as good/hibrow/
artsy as TAGs. WE SHOULD NEVER DEFINE QUALITY BY MEDIUM. That's just
silly. Even though the economical constraints tend to inhibit "free
expression" in GAGs, it is not inhibited by the medium itself.

And as for the written word, GAGs rely on it too. (We could define the
difference between arcade games and graphical adventures by whether text
is functionally important or not). In a GAG such as Ultima *Underworld*
(I haven't played Ultima 7 so I can't comment on that), illiteracy will
get you nowhere.

The reason why GAGs have taken over from TAGs is that they are better at
conveying spatial information to the user. And since the AG genre is
*very* spatial, almost by definition, this is a natural migration.

__________________________________________________________________________
espen aarseth aar...@uib.no

Steve Dunham

unread,
Nov 13, 1993, 6:39:05 PM11/13/93
to
Espen Aarseth (espen....@hf.uib.no) wrote:

: The reason why GAGs have taken over from TAGs is that they are better at


: conveying spatial information to the user. And since the AG genre is
: *very* spatial, almost by definition, this is a natural migration.

Ahh. The real problem; today's generation no longer has any
imagination. Here we fall into the same old rut; it was said that `A
picture is worth a thousand words'. But the words of, zB Tolkien,
have painted for me pictures more splended than any I have seen; it is
only real life that these word-painted pictures have fallen short of
for me.

If you will, I will go out on a limb here and suggest that this lack
of imagination is due to lack of practice, or rather lack of thinking.
This in turn I would blame on the Educational system, which, I
believe, neglects to encourage students to think, and even often
encourages them not to think. I've seen the students, seen the
results.

I'm sorry for belabouring your ear (or rather eye); it is just that
this is a `pet peave' of mine and one, for which I have not found a
solution.

Steve Dunham
dun...@gdl.msu.edu

Shawn FitzGerald

unread,
Nov 18, 1993, 3:09:27 PM11/18/93
to
In the not-so distant past dunham@cl-next4 (Steve Dunham) wrote:

>Ahh. The real problem; today's generation no longer has any
>imagination. Here we fall into the same old rut; it was said that `A
>picture is worth a thousand words'. But the words of, zB Tolkien,
>have painted for me pictures more splended than any I have seen; it is
>only real life that these word-painted pictures have fallen short of
>for me.

I will ignore the obvious sweeping generalities made in the previous
statement and concentrate on what appears to be the point. It is unfair to
say that imagination becomes compromised when words are replaced with
pictures. The key element of imagination in the case of IF and adventures
games (which are two very different things, but I am from the literary
hypertext camp and am probably biased) is projection. The point of an
adventure game is to project yourself into the role of the character. The
degree to which this is succeeds is based both on the quality of the
creator and the skill of the participant. Tolkien painted very vivid
images in his writing, and after reading a couple of chapters you can't
help but get a feel for the world he describes. A skillfully crafter
adventure game draws you into its world and allows ease of interaction.
Both text based and graphical based games hinge on the solving of puzzles.
A great deal of imagination is required to solve clever puzzles in either
form.

>If you will, I will go out on a limb here and suggest that this lack
>of imagination is due to lack of practice, or rather lack of thinking.
>This in turn I would blame on the Educational system, which, I
>believe, neglects to encourage students to think, and even often
>encourages them not to think. I've seen the students, seen the
>results.

Since there is no evidence for this argument other than "I say so" I find
I have nothing to say.


--
Shawn FitzGerald, purveyor of fine turnips since 1992
UMCC, U of M computing club (chun...@umcc.umich.edu)
Alternate Mail: chun...@io.com, 99fi...@lab.cc.wmich.edu

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages