Genre Study 2: Fantasy

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David Librik

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Apr 25, 1995, 3:00:00 AM4/25/95
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whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu (Gerry Kevin Wilson) writes:

>Mini-sermon #3: Mixing Signals
> To me, there's just something grating about stepping across different
>folklores within the same game without a good explanation. In one room, you
>match wits with a Chinese dragon, in the next you fight a minotaur, before
>going out to catch a leprechaun. It's sort of distracting, and Sierra is
>probably the worst one about swiping puzzles willy-nilly from different
>stories, squishing them together, and expecting to get something
>intelligible. It is in any game author's best interests to present a unified
>atmosphere, and staying within the bounds of your chosen genre is a very
>good guideline to help you do this.

This is pretty clearly a case of Your Mileage May Vary. Most of the really
good Fantasy stories I've read consist of big mish-mashes of folklore
traditions which the author has made his own, synthesizing it all into
something original and distinctive. Susan Cooper's series _The Dark Is
Rising_ is the best example of this, and _The Lord Of The Rings_ borrows
freely from common European themes, cross-culturally. Both Cooper and
Tolkien, needless to say, have created something new, and one doesn't
read them for their faithfulness to the traditional folklore.

There is an strain in modern Fantasy writing in which the author, who
apparently was a Comparative Literature student in college, writes for
readers who are all amateur folklorists. The sort of breathless
attention to scrupulous accuracy, while better than just pathetically
getting it wrong, produces a dull book. Morgan Llewelyn is a good
example of this: she markets as Fantasy books which are essentially
rewrites of the Irish legends -- apparently for those who are unable
to appreciate the wonderful available translations of the original material.

So: give me wise old dragons, hyperactive little men, and menacing unseen
half-human hybrids lurking in mazes. Keep me enchanted with your own
vision. Don't break the "unified atmosphere," but don't get all literal-
minded on me. Once I have to start thinking about mundane things like
Bulfinch's Mythology, you've lost me.

- David Librik
lib...@cs.Berkeley.edu

Gerry Kevin Wilson

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Apr 25, 1995, 3:00:00 AM4/25/95
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From whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu Mon Apr 24 23:12:05 1995
Date: Mon, 24 Apr 1995 23:11:50 -0700 (PDT)
From: Gerry Kevin Wilson <whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu>

Welp, this post is about genres. Let's just consider for a moment
the variety of text games out there today. You can break things down both
into the mainstream genres, and then into setting-specific subgnres. Let's
look at a another broad genre this time, Fantasy. I will do others in
follow-up posts 1-3 at a time, eventually adding this section on genres to my
authorship guide. It is intended to be a source of ideas for prospective
writers, and not a complete catalog of genres, but filling in of gaps I leave
is appreciated. I am assuming previous knowledge of the subgenres as I write
them.

[insert he=he/she disclaimer.]

FANTASY:
Fantasy involves magic in the same way that science fiction involves
advanced technology. In fact, fantasy is a lazy man's sci-fi. You can evoke
the same effects without having any rationale for them at all. It can all be
tossed aside with an "It's magic." and a knowing wink. Again, as in sci-fi,
the widgets too often become the focus of the story, rather than the plot and
the characters. This is, if not a fatal mistake, at least a tragic one.
When I hear folks going on about how good this or that Might and Magic clone
is, I just have to shrug and roll my eyes a bit. I've seen maybe three
computer FRPGs with any real class. Ultima 4 was undoubtedly one. It had an
interesting story, and characters that actually seemed to have a bit of
personality. Off the top of my head I can't remember what the other 2 were,
so you'll all have to live without knowing. Sorry. Anyways, more in
relation to IF, fantasy subgenres tend to be location based more than
anything else. This is because most fantasy is based in some part on
folklore from the area in which the game is set. If you don't know your
folklore, then you might find yourself a little short on ideas. Still,
there's no secret fantasy writer's covenant saying you can't make up a new
fantasy setting. Watch out, though. This post is nowhere near as complete
as my last post, on Science Fiction.

BRITAIN:
Ah yes, the old dragons and dungeons hack and slash setting. What
was originally a land of epic Christian quests and romances has been changed
into a beehive of underground tunnels filled with orcs, goblins, and trolls.
This is of course, thanks primarily to Gary Gygax, the man who spawned the
very first RPG. To be honest, I find the earlier mythos of knights and
chivalry, and Chaucer to be much more interesting than even the most
intricate modern fantasy setting. There is something missing in these
cobbled together jigsaw puzzle games. You often find Greek mythology,
Babylonian folklore, and all other sorts just sort of tossed together with
nary a care. I have a deep dislike for this sort of thing. (see Mini-sermon
#3) But in general, just keep in mind my words about Chaucer, romance, and
Chivalry, and I think you'll be able to come up with some interesting stuff.

AMERICAN INDIAN:
All too often, the folklore of smaller groups is ignored in favor of
more mainstream bunk. The American Indian tribes have a vast storehouse of
tales and legends that are pretty much untapped in the video game industry.
Their legends center around animals, in general. Their heroes can often
become animals, or outdo them at the thing they do best, such as outswim a
salmon or outwrestle a bear. The Coyote often appears as well, either as a
trickster, or a protector of man. Often both. The stories are told simply,
in a style that you must hear/read to really understand. If someone was to
ask me for an idea for a text adventure, this subgenre is where I'd direct
them.

AZTEC:
I know a lot less about Aztec folklore than I do about American
Indian folklore. I use this culture merely to show the great diversity of
tales and legends floating around out there if you only look. The Irish have
their tales of the Sidhe, while the Russians have their Christian saints and
monsters from earlier times. The Germans have some rather odd tales, as do
the Arabs. 1001 Arabian Nights is required reading. You'd be astounded at
the stories in this so-called kiddie's book. Some pretty steamy stuff in
there! The Australians and the Aborigines have some fascinating legends,
including a few rather nifty ones about a creature called the Bunyip. Why,
even here in America there are folktales. The early colonnials were
surrounded by a variety of unusual creatures, plants, and people, so be sure
that their fertile imaginations gave fruit to many tales, including the
hoop snake, Paul Bunyan, and some rather fanciful creatures, among others.
One type of bird was supposed to have laid square eggs to keep them from
rolling down the hills where the birds' nests were!

Herein follow several types of unusual magic.

SHAMANISTIC:
I characterize this magic by the calling upon of various spirits and
gods for aid in the casting of spells. Direct symbolism is often used when
seeking certain results. A bowl of water may be poured on the ground before
or during a dance to call down rain. A hunt may be reenacted by people in
costume to ensure a bountiful catch. Grain or meat may be burned to ensure
a good harvest the next year. The symbolism is generally very
straightforward, with demons depicting illnesses, famine, and other horrors
of human life. Masks, beads, furs, staves, and other implements are also an
integral part of this sort of magic.

DRUIDIC:
Druidic magic has, thanks again to Gary Gygax, come to mean something
altogether different than what was originally intended. The Druids were a
sort of club or secret society in Britain that often met at stone circles,
such as Stonehenge, and indeed have become indellibly connected to such
so-called 'places of power'. My facts may be somewhat confused in this area,
but as I seem to recall, the Druids never really did any sacrifices, or at
least not human sacrifices. The earlier religions that built the stone
circles are accredited with the sacrifices. Even then, I cannot remember
whether or not there is any credibility to the rumors of human sacrifice.
But then, if the historic druids were fairly harmless and
non-magical, that leaves us only Mr. Gygax's viewpoints to work with. He
(or I should say, his company) saw Druids as priests of nature, tending to
animals, trees, and the like. They were adept at making poultices, potions,
and other natural concoctions, as well as in the mystic arts of healing.
Bear in mind that I can find little or no historic evidence to support any
such claims about the druids. As far as I can tell, the various indiginous
tribes were the closest thing to early environmentalists.
Of course, don't let me stop you from depicting things however you
like. The essence of fiction is that it's not true, something which some
people tend to forget now and then. After all, what makes Sherlock Holmes
any less real than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? In many minds of today, he is
far more real, regardless of actual fact.

NECROMANTIC:
Mankind has long been fascinated by death and dying. The Egyptians,
as I'm sure you've heard over and over, built great shrines to their kings,
believing that they would live on in the spirit world with everything they
were buried with. Vikings were buried with entire ships. Tales in Jamaica
abound with zombi, the walking dead. In fact, zombi (now zombies), are a
favorite subject of low grade B movies. Witness Return of the Living Dead
(part 3!) as proof of that. Vampires, once barely intelligent living
corpses, have now been spruced up and given all sorts of nifty powers,
largely thanks to Hollywood. And although there is generally very little
creativity going on in this area, there was a cute series of movies awhile
back (Evil Dead pts. 1 and 2, and The Army of Darkness.) that did a really
enjoyable spoof of these earlier, boring works.
The thing to do here, is to avoid stereotypes, as in all fiction.
Try and drag yourself away from the image of the dark cloaked, long haired,
cackling necromancer standing knee deep in the murk of the cemetary, calling
up one skeleton after another to serve him. (Although, done properly, even
that could be pretty well done.) Cease with the numbing hordes of shuffling
zombies chanting, "Brains. Brains." (see Mini-sermon #4) In short, it might
be interesting to see the occasional cigar-smoking, booze-swilling, balding
necromancer, summoning up a skittering horde of dead mice to terrorize pretty
ladies. Once, anyways. :)


Mini-sermon #3: Mixing Signals
To me, there's just something grating about stepping across different
folklores within the same game without a good explanation. In one room, you
match wits with a Chinese dragon, in the next you fight a minotaur, before
going out to catch a leprechaun. It's sort of distracting, and Sierra is
probably the worst one about swiping puzzles willy-nilly from different
stories, squishing them together, and expecting to get something
intelligible. It is in any game author's best interests to present a unified
atmosphere, and staying within the bounds of your chosen genre is a very
good guideline to help you do this.

Mini-sermon #4: Originality
Wow, is this a gripe. How many times do I gotta cross a troll bridge
for gods sake? Oh, hooray, another goblin that's too dumb for words. Oh
boy, can it be? Yes! The object of this game is to take the foo, and throw
it in the X, where X = {volcano, fiery pits, abyss, ocean} to destroy it.
There's nothing that turns me off like an unoriginal plot, unless its yet
another of one of the standard stereotypical NPC classes. There are easy
ways to make your games and characters stand out from the crowd. As I state
in my authorship guide, the key is details. If you get the details right,
then the NPC/plot isn't going to be as boring as it would have been. The
fact that the minotaur is an age old plot device can be made up to me by
describing his thunderous treads, and grim, mangy fur. You can get me
interested again by describing the small hoard of flies that constantly bite
at him, causing him to snort in anger and frustration. By describing the
rasp of his whetstone as he squats down on his mud-encrusted hooves to
sharpen his mighty, gleaming axe. Details are key.

--
<~~~VERTIGO~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~SPAG~~~~FIFTH~ISSUE~DUE~VERY~SOON~~~~~~~~~|~~~~~~~>
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< reviews, ratings, and advertisements...all about text adventures. | /~\ | >
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MeiTien

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Apr 26, 1995, 3:00:00 AM4/26/95
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I have been reading all your posts and downloaded the authorship and read
that also. It helped me a lot. But, I wonder why there is no mention of
any asian favored fantasy or subjects? Has IF been focused strictly on
western cultures due to its highly language dependent art?

Mei-Tien

Gerry Kevin Wilson

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Apr 27, 1995, 3:00:00 AM4/27/95
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See, just as I wouldn't write a game from a woman's point of view because
I couldn't do justice to the viewpoint, neither would I try and expound
too much on a subject that I couldn't do justice to (at least in my own
opinion). I would love to see a post about writing Asian Fantasy appear
here on raif, but I don't think I could pull it off.
--
<~~~~~~~S~W~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~AVALON~~~~~~~DUE~IN~THE~SUMMER~OF~1995~~~~~~|~~~~~~~>
< ERT O A In the midst of the Vietnam War, one man dies, and is | ~~\ >
< V IGO F R charged with a quest from King Arthur. Live the quest! | /~\ | >
<_______T_E_____________...@uclink.berkeley.edu__|_\__/__>

John Holder

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Apr 27, 1995, 3:00:00 AM4/27/95
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Thus spake MeiTien (mei...@aol.com):
] I have been reading all your posts and downloaded the authorship and read

] that also. It helped me a lot. But, I wonder why there is no mention of
] any asian favored fantasy or subjects? Has IF been focused strictly on
] western cultures due to its highly language dependent art?

Mei-Tien,
I would say that it is far more likely that most IF has been written by
people who have been educated in the west, which means, in general, that
we don't know diddly about the east. Basically our education system is
pretty biased - I cannot recall learning much of anything about eastern
culture and traditions in my education, although in college I did learn
a very little about eatern religions.

So I think I would find some eastern-themed IF games highly interesting
for two reasons, learning (hopefully), and entertainment. Of course,
I am assuming that siad game would be well written...

John
__ __
__/\_\ John Holder - jho...@nmsu.edu /_/\__
/\_\/_/ Computer Science - New Mexico State University \_\/_/\
\/_/\_\ I Brew the Beer I drink! /_/\_\/
\/_/ WWW: http://speedracer.nmsu.edu/~jholder \_\/

Gareth Rees

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Apr 30, 1995, 3:00:00 AM4/30/95
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MeiTien <mei...@aol.com> wrote:
> I have been reading all your posts and downloaded the authorship and
> read that also. It helped me a lot. But, I wonder why there is no
> mention of any asian favored fantasy or subjects? Has IF been focused
> strictly on western cultures due to its highly language dependent art?

Have you played Erica Sadun's AGT game "The Sound of One Hand Clapping"?
It isn't authentically Eastern, but it does attempt to capture some of
the right flavour.

--
Gareth Rees

MeiTien

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May 1, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/1/95
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John,

I see. I guess it is not so easy to describe eastern culture based
adventures in English to begin with. But I am glad to know if such IF
exists, there will be people interested in it.

Mei-Tien

Magnus Olsson

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May 2, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/2/95
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In article <GDR11.95A...@stint.cl.cam.ac.uk>,

Well, I beg to differ. You're right in that "One Hand Clapping" "isn't
authentically Eastern". However, it's not really an "attempt to capture
some of the right flavour". In the author's own words, its a piece
of "Chinoiserie"; what she's trying to capture is not the "eastern way
of thinking" (if there is such a thing) but the Western notion of
Eastern thinking. This may sound like splitting hairs, but it's really
quite importanta: the world in "One Hand Clapping" isn't really Chinese,
nor is it meant to be; it's an idealized China created by Western
imagination. (The reason I can write this is that I've asked the
author about what I perceived to be inconsistencies and got basically
the above answer).

It would be really interesting to see what a person with a real Chinese
or Japanese background has to say about "One Hand Clapping"... If you're
interested in my own, very "Western" and Eurocentric opinions, please
read my review in the latest issue of SPAG.

Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se) / yacc computer club, Lund, Sweden
Work: Innovativ Vision AB, Linkoping (magnus...@ivab.se)
Old adresses (may still work): mag...@thep.lu.se, the...@selund.bitnet
PGP key available via finger (to df.lth.se) or on request.

MeiTien

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May 2, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/2/95
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Gareth,

Thanks for mentioning this title.

Mei-Tien

MeiTien

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May 3, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/3/95
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Now you got me interested to play "One hand clapping" so that I can tell
you how I think about it from a person who has Chinese background.

Please let me know where to find "One Hand Clapping".

Thanks.
Mei-Tien

Magnus Olsson

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May 5, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/5/95
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Ftp to ftp.gmd.de, change mode to binary, cd to if-archive/games/pc,
download onehand.zip.

This is the PC version, but there are C sources for the run-time
modulethat compile just fine under Unix.

Please email me if you have any more questions.

MeiTien

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May 6, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/6/95
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Magnus,

I found onehand.zip and played it a bit. Don't know where the story is
leading yet, but I do get a general feeling. I have never heard about such
places or scenaries described in One Hand Clapping, it is a fantasy world
for sure. So far I just browsed around places, it is fine, but nothing
really Eastern, may be I mean the depth of Eastern culture is now shown.

I wonder if there is a fantasy IF based on a quest to learn about eastern
culture and language, will that be interesting to a lot of people? Or if
there is anything like that exists for Western culture?

Mei-Tien

Phil Goetz

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May 10, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/10/95
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In article <3ni408$l...@agate.berkeley.edu>,

Gerry Kevin Wilson <whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu> wrote:
>the Arabs. 1001 Arabian Nights is required reading. You'd be astounded at
>the stories in this so-called kiddie's book. Some pretty steamy stuff in
>there!

Required reading? I hope not. It's huge! Has anybody here actually
read the whole thing? It has 1001 stories in it! It's, like, 10 volumes!
More than half of them are about sex.

I don't like to be negative, but my main reaction to the science fiction
post is that trying to enumerate possible plots is not a very useful
approach to science fiction.

Phil Go...@cs.buffalo.edu

Gerry Kevin Wilson

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May 10, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/10/95
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In article <3opdge$j...@azure.acsu.buffalo.edu>,

Phil Goetz <go...@cs.buffalo.edu> wrote:
>
>Required reading? I hope not. It's huge! Has anybody here actually
>read the whole thing? It has 1001 stories in it! It's, like, 10 volumes!
>More than half of them are about sex.

Heh, you just don't have any patience. Would I be recommending them if I
hadn't read them? Of course, it does get kind of irritating when you're
recursed into a story within a story within a story within a story within
a story. I've counted up to six levels of recursions. Yeesh.

>I don't like to be negative, but my main reaction to the science fiction
>post is that trying to enumerate possible plots is not a very useful
>approach to science fiction.

Old news, Phil. No further genre posts are forthcoming. Few got
anything useful out of them. I reckon I've said about all I can say on
the topic of game writing (and it's all in my authorship guide if you
missed it.) I mean, once you've written such a big pile of stuff, what
is there left to say?

--
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Gareth Rees

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May 10, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/10/95
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Phil Goetz <go...@cs.buffalo.edu> wrote:
> Has anybody here actually read the [Arabian Nights]? It has 1001

> stories in it! It's, like, 10 volumes!

You could read a shorter translation. Sir Richard Burton's version is
enormous, but the Mardrus & Mathers translation is only four volumes.
And there aren't 1001 stories, there are 1001 *nights*; the longer
stories take Sharazad (aka Scheherezade) some weeks to tell.

--
Gareth Rees

L.Roberts

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May 10, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/10/95
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In article <3oghpl$i...@newsbf02.news.aol.com>, MeiTien <mei...@aol.com> wrote:
>
>
>I wonder if there is a fantasy IF based on a quest to learn about eastern
>culture and language, will that be interesting to a lot of people? Or if
>there is anything like that exists for Western culture?
>
>Mei-Tien

That's an interesting idea, I don't know of any games like that.

I'm working (slowly ) on a game based on The Journey to the West
(sometimes called 'Monkey'). I don't know anything about Chinese culture
but Lanxuin, my wife, is going to help me add those touches to the game.

I'd like to use Chinese (and a few Sanskrit) terms in the game, but I
don't want to confuse the player. I could replace 'north', 'south',
'east', 'west', 'get', 'drop' with their Chinese equivalents, but I
think most people would get distressed at interacting with the game like
this.

I'll slowly feed the player with Chinese words and names, via names of
NPCs, items and spell-names etc. I don't want to try to teach the poor
guy (or gal) too much, because I think they'd soon stop playing. I think
it's best to get someone to learn while they're having fun, even if they
learn just a likkle.

I am also writing a game with all the text and commands in Enochian. Does
anyone have an Enochian spell-checker ? };^)*

Luke

Carl Muckenhoupt

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May 10, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/10/95
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whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu (Gerry Kevin Wilson) writes:

>Heh, you just don't have any patience. Would I be recommending them if I
>hadn't read them? Of course, it does get kind of irritating when you're
>recursed into a story within a story within a story within a story within
>a story. I've counted up to six levels of recursions. Yeesh.

John Barth's "Menelaiad", found in the book _Lost in the Funhouse_, nests
seven deep. And it's a short story. Just thought I'd mention it.

--
Carl Muckenhoupt | Is it true that Kibo habitually autogreps all of Usenet
b...@tiac.net | for his name? If so: Hi, Kibo. Like the sig?


Jason Dyer

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May 10, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/10/95
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Gerry Kevin Wilson (whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu) wrote:
: In article <3opdge$j...@azure.acsu.buffalo.edu>,
: Phil Goetz <go...@cs.buffalo.edu> wrote:
: >Required reading? I hope not. It's huge! Has anybody here actually
: >read the whole thing? It has 1001 stories in it! It's, like, 10 volumes!
: >More than half of them are about sex.
: Heh, you just don't have any patience. Would I be recommending them if I
: hadn't read them? Of course, it does get kind of irritating when you're
: recursed into a story within a story within a story within a story within
: a story. I've counted up to six levels of recursions. Yeesh.

Project Gutenberg has a shortened version, The Arabian Nights
Entertainments, with ALOT of editing. Try ftp.cdrom.com /pub/gutenberg
or something along those lines, then find the filename arabn11.

--
Jason Dyer - jd...@indirect.com

Alexander Williams

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May 12, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/12/95
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In an arcane scroll, Alexander Williams quotes the holy scripturist
L.Roberts, replying to the mystic words as written, saying:

>I am also writing a game with all the text and commands in Enochian. Does
>anyone have an Enochian spell-checker ? };^)*

(chuckle) Are all the descriptions going to be in mystic
squares? And, if I read it aloud, will there be a non-epsilon
chance of summoning Raphael?
You can count me in for playing it, though. ;)
--
tha...@runic.mind.org (Alexander Williams) | PGP 2.6 key avail
Should we shed our mental pants and compare | DF 22 16 CE CA 7F
the size of our consciousnesses? | 98 47 13 EE 8E EC
Jan Sand to Marvin Minsky | 9C 2D 9B 9B

Magnus Olsson

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May 13, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/13/95
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In article <3ophrk$9...@agate.berkeley.edu>,

Gerry Kevin Wilson <whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu> wrote:
>In article <3opdge$j...@azure.acsu.buffalo.edu>,
>Phil Goetz <go...@cs.buffalo.edu> wrote:

>>I don't like to be negative, but my main reaction to the science fiction
>>post is that trying to enumerate possible plots is not a very useful
>>approach to science fiction.
>
>Old news, Phil. No further genre posts are forthcoming. Few got
>anything useful out of them.

I can just speak for myself, of course, but though I can certainly
live without them (no offence intended), I did find your "genre posts"
useful at least in one way: by enumerating all common plots (I was
almost going to write "all possible plots", but I sincereley hope
that's not the case :-)), you force people to think about plots in
general, and in particular about whether their own plot ideas are as
original as they think. The experience can be a bit depressing if one
has aspirations to originality :-).

But you have written other stuff that is more useful, and above all
more constructiv, and I hopw too see more of that stuff. See below.

> I reckon I've said about all I can say on
>the topic of game writing (and it's all in my authorship guide if you
>missed it.) I mean, once you've written such a big pile of stuff, what
>is there left to say?

Lots and lots. For example, you could go more into depth; while very
amusing reading, your authorship guide is a bit superficial in some
aspects. What I think would be most illuminating, and most instructive
for other people, is analyses of texts, from real IF, other works, or
made up to illustrate the pont: is this a good way of making a point,
is this text effective in an IF game, would it be more suitable for a
novel, what makes some IF games better than others from a literary
point of view, etc. And, of course, in each case: why or why not?

Anyway, I've enjoyed your posts on the art of writing, and I would
miss them if they stopped.

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