Mindsets and Literature

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J. D. Berry

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Jan 8, 2003, 6:31:54 PM1/8/03
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If the mindset of an interactive fiction (IF) player differs from that

of a static fiction (SF) reader, does the fictional experience also differ?

IF mindset: solve the issues at hand. (A game mentality)

If I'm a player, I'm likely to be the protagonist of the work. Achieving

this character's goals and/or making the story progress are my top

priorities. I'll be wrapped in the immediacy of the situation, just as the

PC would. I, the player, may catch on to the story's overall theme

while playing, but only when I've finished the game might I ponder its

minor themes and metaphors.

(Adam's "9:05" played on this attitude to great effect, I thought, but

it's not what I'm getting at here. That was a well-written piece, but I

don't think the focus was literature. (There's a "man's inhumanity to

man" thing going on, I guess. ;) ))

SF mindset: connect with the work itself. (An experience mentality)

If I'm a reader, I'm looking at the big picture. I'm not the protagonist

(although I may identify with him.) The story progresses as long as

I keep reading. I therefore can spend my mental energies thinking

about the nature of what has been presented and what its elements

may represent. I'm likely to speculate on what will happen next, soon

and much later. Also, I can get lost (in a good way) in the stream of

consciousness, not worrying about a timer that will cause the story

to end abruptly if I don't find the platinum key.

I'm certainly not suggesting players always miss the big picture or

never catch themes and metaphors while they're playing (just

because I personally am guilty of this!). Likewise, readers can and

do feel the pressure of a protagonist's situation.

But does the burden of the protagonist's responsibilities affect the

experience of the work-as-literature?

If so, does this explain why a work of IF often gains on replay? The

next time through (if there aren't vastly different paths), it's

experienced on a static level (because progressing now becomes

almost as simple as just reading).

And, if so, (my main question, really), would the IF author be advised

to focus themes and employ literary techniques through the PC's

direct experiences rather than through the narrative. Because the

narrative won't be processed and absorbed the way it would be by a

static reader.

Notes:

Of course, I'm referring to story and theme-oriented works of IF here.

"Ad Verbum", we still love you.

Apologies if this has already been covered (I Googled, but not

exhaustively) or if I've stepped on the toes of an upcoming IF

Theory article.


Mike Roberts

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Jan 8, 2003, 6:56:59 PM1/8/03
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"J. D. Berry" <jdberryE...@cox.net> wrote:
> If the mindset of an interactive fiction (IF) player differs from
> that of a static fiction (SF) reader, does the fictional experience
> also differ?

Is the IF mindset the same as raif's entrenched mentality?

--Mike
mjr underscore at hotmail dot com

Kevin Forchione

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Jan 8, 2003, 8:00:11 PM1/8/03
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"Mike Roberts" <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> wrote in message
news:7Z2T9.30$8J5...@news.oracle.com...

> "J. D. Berry" <jdberryE...@cox.net> wrote:
> > If the mindset of an interactive fiction (IF) player differs from
> > that of a static fiction (SF) reader, does the fictional experience
> > also differ?
>
> Is the IF mindset the same as raif's entrenched mentality?

I suspect that this is indeed the case. One can perhaps equate the two
through the transformational geometry of the GPL.

--Kevin


Cedric Knight

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Jan 9, 2003, 7:12:30 AM1/9/03
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"J. D. Berry" <jdberryE...@cox.net> wrote

> If the mindset of an interactive fiction (IF) player differs from that


> of a static fiction (SF) reader, does the fictional experience also
differ?
>
> IF mindset: solve the issues at hand. (A game mentality)
> If I'm a player, I'm likely to be the protagonist of the work.
Achieving
> this character's goals and/or making the story progress are my top
> priorities. I'll be wrapped in the immediacy of the situation, just as
the
> PC would. I, the player, may catch on to the story's overall theme
> while playing, but only when I've finished the game might I ponder its
> minor themes and metaphors.

...


> does the burden of the protagonist's responsibilities affect the
> experience of the work-as-literature?

This seems to be the case *for some people*, but, personally, it doesn't
affect the experience for me that way.

The puzzles may distract very slightly from the theme, but they can be
analogous to a storyteller stopping and saying 'So, what do you think
Alice does next, children?' to make sure the kids are paying attention
to the story and motivation.

OTOH, players may take long breaks during difficult puzzles and so
things which are thematically juxtaposed in the author's mind can be far
apart in the player's. Also, a player who found the puzzles frustrating
may at the end of a piece possibly think 'Was that all it was about?
Why did I bother?'

For example, in an rgif thread <aoim8a$q76$1...@news1.ucsd.edu> in Oct,
"Jeff J" <jef...@hotmail.com> explained one reason he didn't enjoy
'Photopia':

> Put off by many of the devices as well... I just hunkered down into a
> search for the end game. I guess it's obvious that anyone that's in
> that frame of mind will miss any good that he can take away from the
> piece. If you start skimming the text the same way you randomly click
> on GUI's for hotspots, there's no way the mood of writing can
> penetrate your psyche.

[
JDB:


> If so, does this explain why a work of IF often gains on replay? The
> next time through (if there aren't vastly different paths), it's
> experienced on a static level (because progressing now becomes
> almost as simple as just reading).

Don't think so. Non-interactive fiction is also often read &
experienced differently the second time through (there may be analogies
to puzzles in reading NIF). It's possible to see a film twice, the
first time critically, aware you are watching a fiction, the second
receptively and immersed in the story.
]

> And, if so, (my main question, really), would the IF author be advised
> to focus themes and employ literary techniques through the PC's
> direct experiences rather than through the narrative. Because the
> narrative won't be processed and absorbed the way it would be by a
> static reader.

IMHO yes. The narrative *should* be absorbed provided it is not so
disorienting that the player comes to believe it's just a string of
assorted set pieces. However, the other elements of the player's
interaction (default responses, PC's and narrator's voice and style,
means of exploration, puzzles, NPCs, background) are just as important
in forming an impression of what a work of IF is all about. If, say, a
particular puzzle does not fit with an overall literary intention, it
may be best to take it out, as otherwise it will dilute the subject of
the story.

My 2p's worth.

CK

Andrew Plotkin

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Jan 9, 2003, 11:45:23 AM1/9/03
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Here, J. D. Berry <jdberryE...@cox.net> wrote:

> And, if so, (my main question, really), would the IF author be advised
> to focus themes and employ literary techniques through the PC's
> direct experiences rather than through the narrative. Because the
> narrative won't be processed and absorbed the way it would be by a
> static reader.

Mmm. My experience is that I *do* absorb IF narrative the same way I
do static prose. I don't have much trouble "multitasking" -- keeping
track of both the immersive experience and the narrative byplay
(assuming there is any).

It doesn't seem that different from reading a book, and paying
attention to both the portrayed fictional events and the writing.

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
* Make your vote count. Get your vote counted.

Gadget

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Jan 9, 2003, 11:45:40 AM1/9/03
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On Wed, 08 Jan 2003 23:31:54 GMT, "J. D. Berry"
<jdberryE...@cox.net> wrote:

>
>
>But does the burden of the protagonist's responsibilities affect the
>experience of the work-as-literature?
>

First: I'm always a bit cautious when an author says he is going to
write literature, be it static or IF. I don't believe an author can
make that assessment. The best an author can do is write something
that is true... something that evokes an emotional response in the
reader in an honest and pure way.

Whether something is literature or not is a judgement to be made by
the reader. There isn't a committee that sits around saying: "this is
literature and this isn't". Oh sure, there are people who think they
are the judges of what is and isn't literature but in the end it is a
deeply personal verdict, to be made by the individual reader.

>
>If so, does this explain why a work of IF often gains on replay? The
>
>next time through (if there aren't vastly different paths), it's
>
>experienced on a static level (because progressing now becomes
>
>almost as simple as just reading).

That is precisely why I don't replay IF. Stories I can read dozens of
times, since it sweeps me away without asking me to make an effort. If
I replay IF I am very aware that I have to jump through the same hoops
to read the same bits of story. I consider this boring. YMMV.


>And, if so, (my main question, really), would the IF author be advised
>to focus themes and employ literary techniques through the PC's
>direct experiences rather than through the narrative. Because the
>narrative won't be processed and absorbed the way it would be by a
>static reader.
>

I think you mistake 'theme' for 'composition'. A theme isn' t just bit
of info which are given at set times. Theme can be something like
'finding freedom' or 'love' or 'money is the root of all evil'. This
can be derived from the things the PC experiences, the way rooms are
described and how NPCs act. The order of the events is not a necessity
to get a theme across.
-------------
It's a bird...
It's a plane...
No, it's... Gadget?
-------------------
To send mail remove SPAMBLOCK from adress.

Kathleen

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Jan 9, 2003, 1:18:31 PM1/9/03
to
(reposting from Google, as my AOL reply didn't seem to appear.
Appologies if there are now two)

From: "J. D. Berry" jdberryE...@cox.net
>If the mindset of an interactive fiction (IF) player differs from
>that of a static fiction (SF) reader, does the fictional experience
>also differ?

Yes. It has to differ, much as watching a baseball game isn't the same
experience as playing the game itself.

>IF mindset: solve the issues at hand. (A game mentality)
>
>If I'm a player, I'm likely to be the protagonist of the work.
>Achieving this character's goals and/or making the story progress
>are my top priorities. I'll be wrapped in the immediacy of the
>situation, just as the PC would. I, the player, may catch on to
>the story's overall theme while playing, but only when I've finished
>the game might I ponder its minor themes and metaphors.

Unless those themes are necessary for solving bits of the game.

>SF mindset: connect with the work itself. (An experience mentality)
>
>If I'm a reader, I'm looking at the big picture. I'm not the
protagonist
>(although I may identify with him.) The story progresses as long as
>I keep reading. I therefore can spend my mental energies thinking
>about the nature of what has been presented and what its elements
>may represent. I'm likely to speculate on what will happen next, soon
>and much later. Also, I can get lost (in a good way) in the stream of
>consciousness, not worrying about a timer that will cause the story
>to end abruptly if I don't find the platinum key.

Right, and with that lack of control comes a lack of responsibility.
You put yourself in the hands of the author and hope it turns out
alright. While that's also true of IF, in IF more of the burden of the
quality of the experience shifts to the player. Of course, a good book
can have you racing through pages to try to get to the end, ultimately
requiring you to reread the book to figure out what actually happened
once you got there.

>does the burden of the protagonist's responsibilities affect the
>experience of the work-as-literature?

Of the protagonist responsibilties or of the players? Is the
protagonist so rushed the player can't afford to experience the world
(as was complained about of Prized Possession - "4 moves and you die
unless you do something right"),or is the player rushing through the
game and simply not taking the time to look around (as I feel during
many comp games - particularly large comp games.) If it's the former,
then it's bad game design. If it's the later then it's an unfortunate
side effect of the competitions 2 hour limitiation and possibly the
fault, again, of the author for not keeping that in mind. Both cases
would obviously be a "Yes" answer to your question, and negatively so.

However, a clever author could turn that to their advantage, using
that adreneline rush to increase the literary bite of the game (by
keeping the player focused and decreasing the players interest in
fruitless, mimesis killing actions (THROW POTATOES AT CEILING)), while
still allowing them to feel in charge of the play... a best of both
worlds. A Yes, for the positive.

>If so, does this explain why a work of IF often gains on replay? The
>next time through (if there aren't vastly different paths), it's
>experienced on a static level (because progressing now becomes
>almost as simple as just reading).

No, not static - at least not in a good game. The first time through I
try to be mind reader - trying to find the "right" way that will lead
to the end. Interesting side paths bypassed as "too risky" the first
time through can be explored in depth on futher play. In fact, for a
non-puzzle game (as I inveriably end up try EVERYTHING anything before
I find the solution in a puzzle game), I find a second time is often
MORE interactive, as I'm no longer afraid of making a wrong turn and
"ruining" it.

For me, Galatea was much more enjoyable the second time through.

>And, if so, (my main question, really), would the IF author be
advised
>to focus themes and employ literary techniques through the PC's
>direct experiences rather than through the narrative. Because
>the narrative won't be processed and absorbed the way it would be
>by a static reader.

? You lost me (have pity on a lowly programmer). Isn't everything
that results from a command going to be narrative of some sort?

Kathleen

-- Excuse me while I dance a little jig of despair

Kathleen

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Jan 10, 2003, 12:01:25 AM1/10/03
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"Cedric Knight" <ckn...@gn.babpbc.removeallBstosend.org> wrote in message news:<NIdT9.3713$xE1.539584@stones>...

> "J. D. Berry" <jdberryE...@cox.net> wrote
>
> > If the mindset of an interactive fiction (IF) player differs from that
> > of a static fiction (SF) reader, does the fictional experience also
> differ?
> >
> > does the burden of the protagonist's responsibilities affect the
> > experience of the work-as-literature?

> The puzzles may distract very slightly from the theme, but they can be


> analogous to a storyteller stopping and saying 'So, what do you think
> Alice does next, children?' to make sure the kids are paying attention
> to the story and motivation.

That's true, so long as the storyteller listens to the children and
varies the story appropriatly. "Alice slays the dragon? Ok, so Alice
walks up the dragon brandishing her firey sword..."

However, in that case, the kids are probably too busy saying "Oooo...
Oooo... pick me! pick me!" to even be following the story.

I think that puzzles and "literary content" probably aren't often
found together in the same work - but I would love to have examples
thrown at me showing me to be wrong.

Kathleen

-- Excuse me while I dance a little jig of despair.

J. D. Berry

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Jan 10, 2003, 8:28:09 PM1/10/03
to
"Kathleen" <mfis...@aol.com> wrote in message
news:e6fc9551.03010...@posting.google.com...

> >And, if so, (my main question, really), would the IF author be
> advised
> >to focus themes and employ literary techniques through the PC's
> >direct experiences rather than through the narrative. Because
> >the narrative won't be processed and absorbed the way it would be
> >by a static reader.
>
> ? You lost me (have pity on a lowly programmer). Isn't everything
> that results from a command going to be narrative of some sort?

Let me use an example.

There's a passage at the very end of Part I of
"Madame Bovary" (now, I'm only use this work as illustration
and not as comparison to works of IF.):

"One day, as she was tidying a drawer in readiness to leave,
she [Emma Bovary], pricked her finger on something. It was
the wire in her wedding-bouquet. The orange-blossom was yellow
with dust, and the silver-fringed satin ribbons were fraying at
the edges. She threw it on the fire. It burst into flame
quicker than dry straw. Then it was like a red bush on the
cinders, being gradually eaten away. She watched it burning. The
little imitation berries crackled, the wires twisted, the braid
melted; and the paper petals withering away, hovering in the
fireplace like black butterflies, finally vanished up in
the chimney."

A "beginning" reader would think, "yeah, OK, interesting description,
what's next?"

The "experienced" reader might speculate, "I wonder if
that was a metaphor for her marriage with Charles."

Had this been IF...
the player might UNDO because she probably needed the bouquet
later to solve a puzzle and has just made the game
UNWINNABLE. ;) She might "LOOK in FIREPLACE."
She might go back in the text looking for first-level
nouns to examine. Because of the responsibility of advancing
the story, she might just think "yeah, OK, interesting
description. Do I have to do anything else to advance the
story?" -- ending up with the same effect as the beginning reader
experienced.

Would Flaubert-as-IF-author needed to have funneled
the above interactively? I know there are people here who
don't like to read more than a few sentences at a time
or who want the fiction broken up into interactive bits.
(And, yes, I'm no Flaubert...)

> x drawer

Sifting through your clothes, you happen upon
your wedding-bouquet.

> get bouquet

Some of the brittle blossoms break as you pick it
up.

etc...

(I think they were using version 3 Inform libraries
back then, so factor that in... ;) )

What I was originally getting at, then, was, would
the beauty of Flaubert's paragraph lose anything
either in beauty or in conveying the metaphor.

I realize people like Andrew would be fine with the
full text as originally written, while simultaneously
being able to act as puzzle-solver and plot-mover.

Just wondered if that's the norm.

Jim

Joey Narcotic

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Jan 10, 2003, 6:15:40 PM1/10/03
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"Kathleen" <mfis...@aol.com> wrote in message
news:e6fc9551.0301...@posting.google.com...

> I think that puzzles and "literary content" probably aren't often
> found together in the same work - but I would love to have examples
> thrown at me showing me to be wrong.

You can get it in non-interactive fiction. Eg, Umberto Eco's fiction
is quite puzzle-based, but I wouldn't hesitate to call it literature.
It might be hard to get what I mean by that without having read Eco;
I'm thinking particularly of _Foucault's Pendulum_ here. This isn't
explaining it well, but there's a strong element of readers needing
to figure it out for themselves, rather than just following what they
are told as is usually the case.

I tend to think of literature as having more to do with beauty of
form and with emotional effect than with storytelling. It's as
slippery and hard to define as that elusive beast, Art.

But my own reckoning, whether IF has puzzles in it or not has little
bearing on whether it's literature or not. The integration of the
puzzles may have an effect, but not their mere presence. To take two
almost-random Galatea (my absolute favourite piece of IF, btw) and A
Change In the Weather are both literature, as far as I'm concerned.
Despite my preference for Galatea, A Change In the Weather's overall
structure is much more elegant. The writing in both instances, though
very different, is beautiful. They have almost nothing in common
other than being IF, but they're both literature to me.

Regards,
Joe


Kathleen

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Jan 13, 2003, 12:55:27 PM1/13/03
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"J. D. Berry" <jdberryE...@cox.net> wrote in message news:<JqKT9.13545$mg1.1...@news1.east.cox.net>...

> "Kathleen" <mfis...@aol.com> wrote in message
> news:e6fc9551.03010...@posting.google.com...
>
> > >And, if so, (my main question, really), would the IF author be
> advised
> > >to focus themes and employ literary techniques through the PC's
> > >direct experiences rather than through the narrative. Because
> > >the narrative won't be processed and absorbed the way it would be
> > >by a static reader.
> >
> > ? You lost me (have pity on a lowly programmer). Isn't everything
> > that results from a command going to be narrative of some sort?
>
> Let me use an example.
>
> There's a passage at the very end of Part I of
> "Madame Bovary" (now, I'm only use this work as illustration
> and not as comparison to works of IF.):

<snip eloquent passage with bouquet of flowers and multiple levels of meaning>

> A "beginning" reader would think, "yeah, OK, interesting description,
> what's next?"
>
> The "experienced" reader might speculate, "I wonder if
> that was a metaphor for her marriage with Charles."

Yup, I'll buy that.

> Had this been IF...
> the player might UNDO because she probably needed the bouquet
> later to solve a puzzle and has just made the game
> UNWINNABLE. ;) She might "LOOK in FIREPLACE."
> She might go back in the text looking for first-level
> nouns to examine. Because of the responsibility of advancing
> the story, she might just think "yeah, OK, interesting
> description. Do I have to do anything else to advance the
> story?" -- ending up with the same effect as the beginning reader
> experienced.

Yup, as a player I would have done all of the above. :) I would hope
the author would supply equally compelling responses for LOOK IN
FIREPLACE.

> Would Flaubert-as-IF-author needed to have funneled
> the above interactively? I know there are people here who
> don't like to read more than a few sentences at a time
> or who want the fiction broken up into interactive bits.
> (And, yes, I'm no Flaubert...)
>

> > get bouquet
>
> Some of the brittle blossoms break as you pick it
> up.
>
> etc...

Sounds sort of familar... Wasn't there a game that did that? Something
about the sea and woman and a rose... name escapes me. :)

> What I was originally getting at, then, was, would
> the beauty of Flaubert's paragraph lose anything
> either in beauty or in conveying the metaphor.

Not if the paragraph was kept intact. I think, if the game had
positioned itself as a literary piece (cringes at the label - perhaps
story piece is better), then the original would be fine. If you
threw a paragraph like that into... oh... 9:05... then it would seem
out of place. You could make the same argument for movies as well -
the lovely voice over to start LotR would seem ludicrous at the
front of Die Another Day... even if there were crystal women swimming
in the background.

By the time the player reaches the bouquet passage in a "Madame Bovary"
game, they should be primed for it. Of course, that still doesn't prevent
then from trying THROW MASHED POTATOES AT CEILING, and spoiling the whole
effect - but that's another thread.

> I realize people like Andrew would be fine with the
> full text as originally written, while simultaneously
> being able to act as puzzle-solver and plot-mover.
>
> Just wondered if that's the norm.

I thought our bylaws specifically prevented having a norm.

Kathleen <thumbing through them and frowning>

MFischer5

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Jan 8, 2003, 11:36:52 PM1/8/03
to
From: "J. D. Berry" jdberryE...@cox.net
>If the mindset of an interactive fiction (IF) player differs from that
>of a static fiction (SF) reader, does the fictional experience also differ?

Yes. It has to differ, much as watching a baseball game isn't the same


experience as playing the game itself.

>IF mindset: solve the issues at hand. (A game mentality)


>
>If I'm a player, I'm likely to be the protagonist of the work. Achieving
>this character's goals and/or making the story progress are my top
>priorities. I'll be wrapped in the immediacy of the situation, just as the
>PC would. I, the player, may catch on to the story's overall theme
>while playing, but only when I've finished the game might I ponder its
>minor themes and metaphors.

Unless those themes are necessary for solving bits of the game.

>SF mindset: connect with the work itself. (An experience mentality)


>
>If I'm a reader, I'm looking at the big picture. I'm not the protagonist
>(although I may identify with him.) The story progresses as long as
>I keep reading. I therefore can spend my mental energies thinking
>about the nature of what has been presented and what its elements
>may represent. I'm likely to speculate on what will happen next, soon
>and much later. Also, I can get lost (in a good way) in the stream of
>consciousness, not worrying about a timer that will cause the story
>to end abruptly if I don't find the platinum key.

Right, and with that lack of control comes a lack of responsibility. You put


yourself in the hands of the author and hope it turns out alright. While that's
also true of IF, in IF more of the burden of the quality of the experience
shifts
to the player. Of course, a good book can have you racing through pages
to try to get to the end, ultimately requiring you to reread the book to
figure out what actually happened once you got there.

>does the burden of the protagonist's responsibilities affect the
>experience of the work-as-literature?

Of the protagonist responsibilties or of the players? Is the protagonist

so rushed the player can't afford to experience the world (as was complained
about of Prized Possession - "4 moves and you die unless you do something
right"),
or is the player rushing through the game and simply not taking the time
to look around (as I feel during many comp games - particularly large comp
games.) If it's the former, then it's bad game design. If it's the later then
it's an unfortunate side effect of the competitions 2 hour limitiation and
possibly
the fault, again, of the author for not keeping that in mind. Both cases would
obviously be a "Yes" answer to your question, and negatively so.

However, a clever author could turn that to their advantage, using that
adreneline rush to increase the literary bite of the game (by keeping the
player
focused and decreasing the players interest in fruitless, mimesis killing
actions (THROW POTATOES AT CEILING)), while still allowing them to feel in
charge of the play... a best of both worlds. A Yes, for the positive.

>If so, does this explain why a work of IF often gains on replay? The


>next time through (if there aren't vastly different paths), it's
>experienced on a static level (because progressing now becomes
>almost as simple as just reading).

No, not static - at least not in a good game. The first time through


I try to be mind reader - trying to find the "right" way that will lead to
the end. Interesting side paths bypassed as "too risky" the first time
through can be explored in depth on futher play. In fact, for a non-puzzle
game (as I inveriably end up try EVERYTHING anything before I find the
solution in a puzzle game), I find a second time is often MORE interactive,
as I'm no longer afraid of making a wrong turn and "ruining" it.

For me, Galatea was much more enjoyable the second time through.

>And, if so, (my main question, really), would the IF author be advised


>to focus themes and employ literary techniques through the PC's
>direct experiences rather than through the narrative. Because
>the narrative won't be processed and absorbed the way it would be
>by a static reader.

? You lost me (have pity on a lowly programmer). Isn't everything that


results from a command going to be narrative of some sort?

Kathleen

Jdyer41

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Jan 14, 2003, 1:40:52 AM1/14/03
to
>From: robo...@aol.com (Robotboy8)

>So maybe people should code in a makes_game_unwinnable variable that changes
>all text to red (or emphasized, or just print an error message, or SOMETHING)
>from then on, so that the player would _know_?

It has been done before in _Path to Fortune_ by CE Forman and Jeff Cassidy.
http://www.wurb.com/if/game/237

It is simply a *** You have made the game unwinnable *** prompt which can
be turned off if the user so desires.

I vaguely recall one other IF that does the same, but it is escaping my
memory. Anyone?

Jason Dyer
jdy...@aol.com

Lucian P. Smith

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Jan 14, 2003, 10:03:58 AM1/14/03
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Jdyer41 <jdy...@aol.com> wrote in <20030114014052...@mb-mm.aol.com>:
:>From: robo...@aol.com (Robotboy8)

'Nevermore' had a command ('>WINNABLE', IIRC) that would tell you if you
had put the game in an unsolvable state, and I don't think that was the
first to use this technique.

-Lucian

Gadget

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Jan 14, 2003, 11:21:39 AM1/14/03
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On 14 Jan 2003 15:03:58 GMT, "Lucian P. Smith" <lps...@rice.edu>
wrote:

>: It is simply a *** You have made the game unwinnable *** prompt which can
>: be turned off if the user so desires.
>
>: I vaguely recall one other IF that does the same, but it is escaping my
>: memory. Anyone?
>
>'Nevermore' had a command ('>WINNABLE', IIRC) that would tell you if you
>had put the game in an unsolvable state, and I don't think that was the
>first to use this technique.
>
>-Lucian

How does this help? If the player forgets to check this he might play
on and on while never knowing if he may be wasting his time...

And typing WINNABLE after every move of consequence would break
mimesis considerably...

Daphne Brinkerhoff

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Jan 14, 2003, 5:54:35 PM1/14/03
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"Lucian P. Smith" <lps...@rice.edu> wrote in message news:<b018su$33j$1...@joe.rice.edu>...

_At Wit's End_ and _Zero Sum Game_ also had this feature -- in AWE the
"winnable" command, in ZSG the automatic warning. But I think someone
had tested ZSG by committing irrevocable acts, and it didn't warn
them. <searches>

Yep, it was Paul O'Brian:

http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian/97rev2.html#zero

--
Daphne

Jaap van der Velde

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Jan 14, 2003, 6:00:43 PM1/14/03
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On Thu, 09 Jan 2003 01:00:11 GMT, "Kevin Forchione"
<ke...@lysseus.com> wrote:

>> > If the mindset of an interactive fiction (IF) player differs from
>> > that of a static fiction (SF) reader, does the fictional experience
>> > also differ?
>> Is the IF mindset the same as raif's entrenched mentality?
>I suspect that this is indeed the case. One can perhaps equate the two
>through the transformational geometry of the GPL.

Stare into the trench and the trench will stare into you...

Grtz,
JAAP.

Rikard Peterson

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Jan 14, 2003, 9:09:25 PM1/14/03
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Gadget wrote in news:8hd82v866gbmf29ih...@4ax.com:

> On 14 Jan 2003 15:03:58 GMT, "Lucian P. Smith" <lps...@rice.edu>
> wrote:
>
>>'Nevermore' had a command ('>WINNABLE', IIRC) that would tell you
>>if you had put the game in an unsolvable state, and I don't think
>>that was the first to use this technique.
>

> How does this help? If the player forgets to check this he might
> play on and on while never knowing if he may be wasting his
> time...

He wouldn't have to wonder if he's made something unwinnable every time
he's stuck. That's something I tend to do.

Rikard

Lucian P. Smith

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Jan 15, 2003, 9:12:39 AM1/15/03
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Gadget <gad...@spamblockhaha.demon.nl> wrote in <8hd82v866gbmf29ih...@4ax.com>:
: On 14 Jan 2003 15:03:58 GMT, "Lucian P. Smith" <lps...@rice.edu>
: wrote:

:>'Nevermore' had a command ('>WINNABLE', IIRC) that would tell you if you

:>had put the game in an unsolvable state, and I don't think that was the
:>first to use this technique.
:>
:>-Lucian

: How does this help? If the player forgets to check this he might play
: on and on while never knowing if he may be wasting his time...

: And typing WINNABLE after every move of consequence would break
: mimesis considerably...

The nice thing about 'winnable' is that it gives meta-information when
(and only when) the player is in the mood to get some meta-information. A
*Bzzt! That was Wrong!* message 'breaks mimesis' by inserting
meta-information in the middle of the gameflow, forcing the player to
switch mental gears. Later on, when the player is taking a mental respite
from acting out the character, and types, 'winnable', they don't have to
shift gears to process the information.

As for playing on without knowing they're 'wasting their time'--that's a
game design issue. Either you design the game so the player can
accomplish meaningful things even though they can't reach the optimal
ending (by gaining more information; experimenting with items or the
environment, etc.) or you try to push them back out of gameplay so they
realize they're stuck and go back to an earlier save. A 'Winnable'
command eases this transition.

But it's not an easy thing to pull off in a non-annoying way, which is why
so many games have moved to the 'you can always reach the ending' model.
(A good example of a game that *does* pull this off--without a 'winnable'
command, mind you--is 'So Far'. At least, it was for me.)

-Lucian

OKB (not okblacke)

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Jan 15, 2003, 11:23:22 AM1/15/03
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Lucian P. Smith wrote:

> As for playing on without knowing they're 'wasting their
> time'--that's a game design issue. Either you design the game so
> the player can accomplish meaningful things even though they can't
> reach the optimal ending (by gaining more information;
> experimenting with items or the environment, etc.) or you try to
> push them back out of gameplay so they realize they're stuck and go
> back to an earlier save.

I guess that's potentially true, but I think it's just as
possible in practice that the unwinnable state crops up accidentally.
That is, the author hadn't intended to allow "important" stuff to happen
after victory was blocked, but whoops, he forgot to make sure that the
player picked up the cheez key before the space station exploded, and
now it (along with the key) has indeed exploded and you can go on doing
all the meaningful actions you would have done otherwise, except when
you get to the very end where the cheez door is you'll find you're
totally blocked.

This may not even be an accident, but more of an indifference on
the part of the author. ("If the player gets herself into an unwinnable
situation, that's her problem.") Obviously the author CAN take this
issue on consciously, but I think that it's much easier to avoid doing
so. That is, unwinnable situations sort of crop up organically in
writing games, whereas always-winnable games don't really, so unless he
makes a special point of caring, he's likely to produce a potentially
unwinnable game.

Most likely this means the game author should make an effort in
this area, but I'm just saying there's an important third case besides
the two you mentioned.

--
--OKB (not okblacke)
"Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is
no path, and leave a trail."
--author unknown

Zachary H.

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Jan 15, 2003, 11:51:38 AM1/15/03
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For all practical purposes one could upload a 'game' to the archive in
which all there is to do is start the game and hit the space bar 100
times cycling through 100 'more' prompts. Is that still a game?

If you answer no, then some sort of delaying technique is needed to
make it IF. Puzzles. I would argue that from the point of the casual
novel reader, even moving from room to room, the most basic of all IF
commands or techniques is a puzzle, because the question is
essentially: can I win the game from this room or do I have to type
'north'.

By claiming the above, I am saying that the responsibility of the
player (i.e. puzzles) is also part of the story. The text one reads
and the actions one takes are the whole of the experience. If the
player merely scans the text for words he might employ in his next
command, he is focusing more on the interaction and less on the
fiction. However, the concept that the fiction is literature in spite
of the responsibility is bogus. The two are inseperable from that
point of view (but not necessarily from the other). If, you were to
write say an IF game of Crime and Punishment, the text taken straight
from the novel, but you focused the players action
upon..say...something mundane and completely beyond the themes of the
novel...like finding a key to a chest where the axe is hidden or
combining all the ingredients to make the protagonist a cup of coffee
would be to destroy the 'literature.' Even though all the text is the
same.

Claiming to write a puzzle game, or even a puzzle game with a good
story, is entirely different from writing a story one can move through
personally. For the former, the puzzles are the story...the
latter...the story is the puzzle.

If you are attempting to write literature as IF, and I can only speak
on that in terms of what has already been declared literature, meaning
classic works, then everything ought to focus the players attention
upon the situation. Admittedly, the verbs in standard IF libraries
focus more upon action in the sense of doing, than experience. They
are geared toward puzzle games. I wouldn't categorize all action
within a game as necessarily 'responsibility' in the sense it detracts
from the flow of the narrative. If Raskolnikov enters the old ladys
apartment building to kill her and suddenly finds himself in a
maze...then yes, the theme is lost in a senseless responsibility.

But I do think the last question you posed brings into focus an
extremely difficult subject for IF, which novels on the otherhand have
little structural problem with...motivation.

As players we begin a game with a predisposed motivation to see the
final credits, but it is difficult to create an in-game motivation for
every move the player must make. Obviously, it is near impossible and
has to be left most of the time to the default "I-gotta-finish-this"
motivation. However, a good formula would be to view it on a chapter
level, which might bring into focus the themes and the story to a
greater degree.

To do that, I would suggest the structure in which the story is the
puzzle to each chapter, but each chapter's mystery, its puzzle, is
uncovered by a series of relevant object/item/move/action puzzles. In
other words, from a hierarchical view, an action puzzle should lead
back to, or to greater understanding of, the question concerning the
story in each section. A puzzle that leads directly to another puzzle
is redundant as far as the story is concerned and should be avoided if
the author is concerned with his work as 'literature.' Personally,
instead of 'literature' I'd just say that the author is more concerned
with telling a story, than stumping you with a game. Literature is too
loaded.

And don't take any of this to signify contempt for puzzle games. I
know many don't think they are the fashion, but I still like them.
They are usually less bogged down.

Kathleen

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Jan 15, 2003, 5:09:16 PM1/15/03
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"Zachary H." <mensche...@rcn.com> wrote in message
news:b5eb7bcb.03011...@posting.google.com

> For all practical purposes one could upload a 'game' to the archive in
> which all there is to do is start the game and hit the space bar 100
> times cycling through 100 'more' prompts. Is that still a game?

Do all uploads to the archive have to be games?

> If you answer no, then some sort of delaying technique is needed to
> make it IF. Puzzles.

I disagree... and I'll explain in a second...

> I would argue that from the point of the casual
> novel reader, even moving from room to room, the most basic of all IF
> commands or techniques is a puzzle, because the question is
> essentially: can I win the game from this room or do I have to type
> 'north'.

What about pieces where there is no winning, or even an end (JDBerry's
_Ribbons_ comes to mind). What about games where there really aren't
any puzzles and no matter WHAT you do, the game ends (_Aisle_)?

> Claiming to write a puzzle game, or even a puzzle game with a good
> story, is entirely different from writing a story one can move through
> personally. For the former, the puzzles are the story...the
> latter...the story is the puzzle.

But are they really so different? In both cases you could think of
the player as being required to manipulate something for the piece
to continue. The nature of the manipulation (objects/people/text)
determines how people with catagorize the piece (game/story).

> But I do think the last question you posed brings into focus an
> extremely difficult subject for IF, which novels on the otherhand have
> little structural problem with...motivation.

Yup... that's a toughie.

> As players we begin a game

... there's that word again...

> with a predisposed motivation to see the
> final credits, but it is difficult to create an in-game motivation for
> every move the player must make. Obviously, it is near impossible and
> has to be left most of the time to the default "I-gotta-finish-this"
> motivation. However, a good formula would be to view it on a chapter
> level, which might bring into focus the themes and the story to a
> greater degree.

I've tried to do that with my last few pieces** (though I consider them
to be more scenes than chapters). The problem you can run into - and
one which I never resolved - is that you end with a piece that feels
on rails. It's not easy (at least it wasn't for me) to figure out
how to allow freedom of movement for the player but still constrain
them to a "chapter" (or scene). The more the author tries to enforce
the story (as the author sees it), the less choice the player ultimately
has.

After several attempts, I've decided that path is "doomed" (at least
as I've implemented it) and I'm trying a different approach with
with my current WIP.

Kathleen

** Masquerade and Prized Possession

-- Excuse me while I dance a little jig of despair


--
Posted via Mailgate.ORG Server - http://www.Mailgate.ORG

J. D. Berry

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Jan 15, 2003, 7:12:34 PM1/15/03
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> A puzzle that leads directly to another puzzle
> is redundant as far as the story is concerned and should be avoided if
> the author is concerned with his work as 'literature.' Personally,
> instead of 'literature' I'd just say that the author is more concerned
> with telling a story, than stumping you with a game. Literature is too
> loaded.

I wasn't intending the snotty meaning of the word "literature".
Story-telling and the literary elements used to achieve that was what
I was going for. So I lumped them all under that word.

But I agree that the word is loaded. And only now do I realize
the cringes, especially in this group, it might have caused. But, really,
I was just trying to spur some discussion on how to make better
IF in general. And better writing usually equals better games.

Jim

Joe Mason

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Jan 15, 2003, 11:34:59 PM1/15/03
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In article <b5eb7bcb.03011...@posting.google.com>, Zachary H. wrote:
> For all practical purposes one could upload a 'game' to the archive in
> which all there is to do is start the game and hit the space bar 100
> times cycling through 100 'more' prompts. Is that still a game?

A good example is "Journey to Alpha Centauri (In Real Time)". It's what
the title says. Is it a game?

Joe

Jdyer41

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Jan 16, 2003, 5:51:48 PM1/16/03
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>>>From: robo...@aol.com (Robotboy8)
>>>So maybe people should code in a makes_game_unwinnable variable that changes
>>>all text to red (or emphasized, or just print an error message, or
SOMETHING)
>>>from then on, so that the player would _know_?
>> From: Jdyer41 <jdy...@aol.com>

>> It has been done before in _Path to Fortune_ by CE Forman and Jeff Cassidy.
>> http://www.wurb.com/if/game/237
>From: "Lucian P. Smith"

>'Nevermore' had a command ('>WINNABLE', IIRC) that would tell you if you
>had put the game in an unsolvable state, and I don't think that was the
>first to use this technique.

I vaguely recall this newsgroup had discussion of the feature some time
before Path to Fortune but Path to Fortune was the first to implement it.

Then again, I haven't played *everything*. Some early IF can be surprising.
Anyone have an earlier candidate (than 1995)?

What are the ways things can be made unwinnable?
- Left an item behind/didn't perform an action in a section that can no longer
be
reached
- Broke something
- Used a one-shot item in the wrong place (try Return to Doom for some
interesting examples of this)
- Forgot/didn't write down information necessary later (not trivial, for
instance
Journey has a really nasty bit with that)
- Missed something in timing (all of Change in the Weather, really)
- Countdown with not enough time (say, Varicella)

For timing and countdown instances the unwinnable prompt doesn't make much
sense -- by the time you get it even if you could win backing up one step you'd
have
to make every move perfect thereafter.

Of course the game can't check if you've been writing down information.

If you've got "one-shot item in the wrong place" puzzles unwinnable prompts
defeat their purpose.

If you leave an item behind, the unwinnable prompt gives no clue as to what
was left behind, or if it wasn't leaving something behind but you had to push
the
red button.

So, out of this list, the only completely acceptable prompting would be for
'broke something',
but then it's usually obvious the game is unwinnable.

Jason Dyer
jdy...@aol.com

Mike Sousa

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Jan 20, 2003, 9:32:02 AM1/20/03
to

I've included a WINNABLE system command in all my releases. At first
blush it doesn't appear to be a big deal to code -- but it is. The only
time the WINNABLE command is executed without player intervention is
when the meta-command SAVE is attempted. Saving an unwinnable game just
didn't make any sense to me.

-- Mike

Kevin Forchione

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Jan 20, 2003, 2:55:58 PM1/20/03
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"Mike Sousa" <mjsousa_R_...@attbi.com> wrote in message
news:3E2C0866...@attbi.com...

> Lucian P. Smith wrote:
> > Jdyer41 <jdy...@aol.com> wrote in
<20030114014052...@mb-mm.aol.com>:
> > :>From: robo...@aol.com (Robotboy8)
> >
> I've included a WINNABLE system command in all my releases. At first
> blush it doesn't appear to be a big deal to code -- but it is. The only
> time the WINNABLE command is executed without player intervention is
> when the meta-command SAVE is attempted. Saving an unwinnable game just
> didn't make any sense to me.

Well... I should rather think it depends on how dramatic the *losing* is.

I pose the question - can a work of Fiction, even an Interactive one, be
_dramatic_ if there is no possibility of losing
_the_boon_that_is_being_sought_?

In which case, by removing the possibility of loss programmatically from a
game/story, aren't we removing it psychologically from the player's mind as
well, and consequently diluting the dramatic tension of the story?

Shouldn't the losing of a game be as enjoyable as the winning?

--Kevin


Rikard Peterson

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Jan 20, 2003, 4:22:56 PM1/20/03
to
Kevin Forchione wrote in
news:ivYW9.13$si...@newssvr19.news.prodigy.com:
> "Mike Sousa" <mjsousa_R_...@attbi.com> wrote in message
> news:3E2C0866...@attbi.com...
>
>> I've included a WINNABLE system command in all my releases. At
>> first blush it doesn't appear to be a big deal to code -- but it
>> is. The only time the WINNABLE command is executed without
>> player intervention is when the meta-command SAVE is attempted.
>> Saving an unwinnable game just didn't make any sense to me.

IMHO that's a good idea. (Your system, I mean.)

> I pose the question - can a work of Fiction, even an Interactive
> one, be _dramatic_ if there is no possibility of losing
> _the_boon_that_is_being_sought_?
>
> In which case, by removing the possibility of loss
> programmatically from a game/story, aren't we removing it
> psychologically from the player's mind as well, and consequently
> diluting the dramatic tension of the story?

That partly depends on the definition of losing. Let me take a very
popular book as an example: The Lord of the Rings. I can be pretty
certain that Frodo won't die in the first two books, since the story
is about him and I know the story is divided into three books. That
doesn't stop me from being afraid for his life when he's attacked.

I could say that it's the same thing in a game. I don't find the
story weaker just beacuse I know that I will be able to experience
the whole story to the end (if I can solve the problems that are in
my way). If I were to compare the game with a book, losing would be
similar to losing by bookmark and having to read it all over from the
start.

In case you haven't guessed it yet, I generally prefer games where a
WINNABLE command always would return true. There are obvious
exceptions to the rule, but I don't think a game loses anything by
not having dead ends.

> Shouldn't the losing of a game be as enjoyable as the winning?

No, it shouldn't. Then what would the point of winning be? Losing a
game can be enjoyable, but never as enjoyable as winning unless
there's something wrong about the game.

Rikard

Mike Sousa

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Jan 20, 2003, 4:34:11 PM1/20/03
to
> Well... I should rather think it depends on how dramatic the *losing* is.
>
> I pose the question - can a work of Fiction, even an Interactive one, be
> _dramatic_ if there is no possibility of losing
> _the_boon_that_is_being_sought_?
>
> In which case, by removing the possibility of loss programmatically from a
> game/story, aren't we removing it psychologically from the player's mind as
> well, and consequently diluting the dramatic tension of the story?
>
> Shouldn't the losing of a game be as enjoyable as the winning?
>
> --Kevin
>

Good point. However, I think there's a difference between allowing the
player to get to the "You have died" message without the program warning
you vs. letting the player do irreparable damage (such as saving a game
that cannot be won). Then there are some games that never let you get
to the "You have died" message. I've written both types and I prefer
death -- sorta gives the game a bit of an edge. (by the by, death =
game over)

There are relatively few players today and with time being at a premium,
I made the choice of saving the game for them. You can certainly argue
that by having this safety net it does dilute the dramatic tension of
the story. Spoiler for "Till Death..." in the next paragraph.

There is a scene that gives the player one shot of opening a door which
leads to an escape. If the player doesn't do the right action, the game
will do it for them, thus continuing the scene. Of course, having the
PC die was not an option (plot-wise) so the game needed to account for
that. But by having no possibility of death, the sense of urgency is
definitely diminished... (now, one could argue that the player doesn't
know that they can't die, but I'm not talking as the player)

Anyway, having no possibility of losing is not what I meant to convey.
Anyone that has played "At Wit's End" knows all too well that the "You
have died" message can pop up way too often. However, if you're about
to save the game 1 turn before that message is preparing to display, the
game will warn you. FWIW, I've actually received positive feedback on
this feature.

I think your initial question is aimed more at games that will never
produce the "You have died" message...

-- Mike


Mike Roberts

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Jan 20, 2003, 4:35:22 PM1/20/03
to
"Kevin Forchione" <ke...@lysseus.com> wrote:
> I pose the question - can a work of Fiction, even an Interactive
> one, be _dramatic_ if there is no possibility of losing _the_boon_
> _that_is_being_sought_?
>
> In which case, by removing the possibility of loss programmatically
> from a game/story, aren't we removing it psychologically from the
> player's mind as well, and consequently diluting the dramatic
> tension of the story?

This is certainly at the heart of the question of what "interactive" really
means, and I think it underlies a lot of the recurring design debates here
(ask/tell vs. menu conversations, should it be possible for the player
character to die, are motivational/moral/ethical boundaries good or bad). I
think this is a more complicated question than it's commonly taken to be,
though, and I'm going to play devil's advocate and argue for the contrarian
answer to your question.

Let me start by pointing out that you could think of static fiction as a
sort of degenerate case of interactive fiction, where the interaction has
been reduced to the *MORE* prompt. In a book or a movie, there's no way for
the viewer to affect the outcome; everything that happens has been
determined by the author, and there's no possibility of any variation. And
yet it's been well demonstrated that it's possible to have drama in static
fiction. Clearly, the viewer's control over events is not the source of the
drama.

You could argue that in static fiction, it's the viewer's uncertainty that
gives rise to the dramatic tension. Yes, the book or movie has been fixed
in its medium, the events set down, the fate of the characters a certainty;
but until the readers reads the book or the viewer views the movie, she
doesn't know what's going to happen. For the viewer, the events unfold as
they're viewed, and the tension comes from not knowing what comes next.

But I don't think that's a satisfactory explanation. Consider this: have
you ever watched a movie or read a book more than once? The experience
re-reading or re-watching something isn't exactly the same as the first time
through, so the not-knowing is certainly worth something; but, at least for
me, repeated viewings are definitely not completely free of dramatic
tension. There are a few movies and TV show episodes that I've seen so many
times that I know exactly what happens in minute detail, and yet every so
often, I'll be watching one of these yet again and I'll catch myself
experiencing anxiety or some other vicarious emotional response, and I'll
think to myself: you *know* they're going to get out of this safely, you
even know exactly how and when they get out of it safely, so why all the
nervous tension? Maybe I'm the only one with this defective capacity for
re-experiencing vicarious emotion on repeat viewings, but I very much doubt
it, because I don't think so many people would go back to see the same movie
again and again if they didn't get anything emotional out of the repeat
viewings.

For an analogy from static fiction that's perhaps even closer to the
always-winnable IF game, consider series television. If you're watching a
weekly action series, you know with very high confidence that the main
characters are going to get out of whatever bind they get into, and you can
even predict when they're going to get out of it, certainly to five-minute
precision but often better. Does this rob series TV of all dramatic
tension? A little, maybe, but not all.

So here's my theory. You're absolutely right that dramatic tension requires
some sort of uncertainty, some danger of loss or danger of failure. But I
think that that uncertainty and that danger is, and has to be, entirely
internal to the story's world, not part of the outside world that contains
the viewer and the book. And not part of the outside world that contains
the player and the computer: so the number of possible ways the story can
play out on the computer isn't relevant, because it's not part of the world
where the drama happens. I think this is the only way repeat viewings or
series television could possibly be rewarding; in the outside world, you
know that the story is set in stone and can only play out one way, and you
might even know exactly what way that is, but the joy comes from putting
yourself into the story's world where the dice have yet to be thrown.

--Mike
mjr underscore at hotmail dot com

Joey Narcotic

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Jan 20, 2003, 6:48:17 PM1/20/03
to
"Mike Roberts" <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> wrote in message
news:k0_W9.12$Xw2...@news.oracle.com...

> You could argue that in static fiction, it's the viewer's
> uncertainty that gives rise to the dramatic tension. Yes, the
> book or movie has been fixed in its medium, the events set down,
> the fate of the characters a certainty; but until the readers reads
> the book or the viewer views the movie, she doesn't know what's
> going to happen. For the viewer, the events unfold as they're
> viewed, and the tension comes from not knowing what comes next.
>
> But I don't think that's a satisfactory explanation. Consider this:
> have you ever watched a movie or read a book more than once?

[lots of good stuff snipped]

I myself re-watch many of my favourite films and re-read many of my
favourite books reasonably often (and also re-play much of my
favourite IF).

For me, a lot of the tension on subsequent readings/viewings comes
from watching the characters make bad choices, and thinking to myself
"Come on, you can do it differently this time, please!" I'm always
consciously aware that they CAN'T make different decisions this time
around, and somehow that makes the tension even greater. The book The
Grifters by Jim Thompson did this for me, for example.

Whereas in IF, bad decisions often can be reversed on subsequent
playthroughs. Obviously.

However, in some IF stories, I find that tension can come from making
a wrong decision and paying the price for it - being eaten by a
greeblie, or whatever - and then restoring and trying again, finding
that the next choice I make also gets me eaten by a greeblie, etc.
Often instead of producing tension, this just pisses me off. But when
it's really well done, it really gets me. There was a particular
section of Anchorhead which I found incredibly difficult, but which I
just had to replay again and again until I got through it because I
couldn't bear to walk away from the computer leaving the PC dead in
those circumstances.

And when I played it again, even though I could remember EXACTLY what
to do, despite over a year passing between playthroughs - a testament
to how much impact Anchorhead had on me, that I could remember it in
that much detail for that long - it still got to me. I couldn't type
the commands fast enough - even though the speed I typed had no
bearing on anything other than how fast the words flew by on the
screen.

So when you say...

> So here's my theory. You're absolutely right that dramatic
> tension requires some sort of uncertainty, some danger of loss
> or danger of failure. But I think that that uncertainty and that
> danger is, and has to be, entirely internal to the story's world,
> not part of the outside world that contains the viewer and the
> book. And not part of the outside world that contains the player
> and the computer: so the number of possible ways the story can
> play out on the computer isn't relevant, because it's not part of
> the world where the drama happens.

... I have to agree 100%. What's important is how involved you are in
the story. It doesn't matter whether it's a book, movie, work of IF, a
song (I still hold my breath at the end of "Highway Patrolman" by
Bruce Springsteen) or whatever. The mechanics of how that involvement
is created differs for each medium, of course.

Regards,
Joe


Mike Roberts

unread,
Jan 20, 2003, 10:26:14 PM1/20/03
to
"Joey Narcotic" <joeyna...@nospam.paradise.net.nz> wrote:
> However, in some IF stories, I find that tension can come from
> making a wrong decision and paying the price for it - being eaten
> by a greeblie, or whatever - and then restoring and trying again,
> finding that the next choice I make also gets me eaten by a greeblie,
> etc. Often instead of producing tension, this just pisses me off. But
> when it's really well done, it really gets me.

Yeah, absolutely. I think this is an area ripe for innovation, because I
feel like we've barely scratched the surface here. Virtually the only plot
device along these lines that's well established is player character death,
or the almost equivalent walking undeath of the unwinnable state. I think
we could benefit from some new devices for creating tension in an
interactive work. Not that I have the solution; it's something I've been
puzzling over for a while, but the best I can offer is some random
observations.

First, I'm not claiming that alternative devices have never been invented.
It's just that none of the alternatives that have been invented seem to be
generalized enough to enter our shared toolbox yet.

For example, Monkey Island (the original) had a timed puzzle toward the end
that required you to do a certain thing at a certain time. If you missed
the time window, you failed the puzzle. In any Infocom game, missing the
window would have simply meant PC death; but that was contrary to the
always-winnable design rule of MI, so they had to come up with something
else. Their solution was to commute the death penalty to a milder
punishment: moving the PC a ways away, so you had to backtrack a bit to get
back to the point where you'd have another opportunity to attempt the timed
puzzle. This meant the penalty was entirely in-game, but still had a real
cost to the player and the PC (the backtracking time). The real-time nature
of a graphical game is useful in this technique, but I think it would still
translate to at least some text games; the trick, I think, is to balance
things so that the penalty is not so light that the player won't notice it,
but not so severe in terms of hassle that they'll resort to save/restore to
bypass it. Perhaps this balance could be achieved by taking advantage of
the player's (we hope) immersion: the penalty could be seen to be much more
severe for the player character than it actually is for the player. The
penalty could humiliate the PC in front of other characters, for example,
without causing such inconvenience for the player that they reach for the
save/restore button.

Another example: Kaged managed to be pretty un-cruel but still include a
number of timed-style puzzles that I thought were very effective at creating
the kind of palpable urgency you described in reference to Anchorhead:

> I couldn't type the commands fast enough - even though the

> speed I typed had no bearing on anything [...]

Kaged's trick, it seemed to me, was creating the appearance of timed puzzles
without actually timing them. Or rather, its timed puzzles had such
generous time limits, and such clear objectives, that most players woud
never actually encounter the limits. On missteps, rather than killing the
PC, the game would ratchet up the intensity of the described imminent
danger.

Second, a couple of ideas.

What I'm hoping we as a group come up with at some point is a bag of tricks
that's analogous to the one filmmakers have - something a little more
diverse than just killing the PC on a wrong move. When a film director
wants to create tension, she doesn't show the main character walking down
the street and then abruptly getting shot in the head by an assailant who
appears from behind a corner. Instead, she shows the character walking,
then shows the assailant watching, then back to the walking, then the gun,
then the walking again, etc. This kind of film technique doesn't translate
directly to most IF because of the player/PC knowledge-sharing issue; if the
player sees the assailant around the corner, they just won't take the PC
down that particular street. Player/PC knowledge sharing probably also
makes many other static fiction techniques hard to translate, which might
explain why our toolbox is so spartan.

There is a technique in film and static fiction that I think would translate
well, but which I don't think I've seen used in IF as a tension generator.
It's the simple technique of the repeated pattern: you let the player know
that a situation is dangerous not by showing the PC getting killed on the
first attempt, but rather by showing one or two other characters getting
killed doing the same sort of thing. When the PC's turn comes, we know
exactly how much danger we're in. Every horror movie ever made uses this
device. The lights go out, so Mark heads to the dark scary cellar to
change the fuse; we don't see Mark again until his corpse falls out of the
cupboard with multiple stab wounds. Courtney needs to find that old
yearbook, so she goes up to the dark scary attic to look for it; corpse,
multiple stab wounds. We understand what's at stake when the main character
has to go out to the dark scary barn to see what's spooking the horses.

Repeated patterns can take other forms than the same thing happening to
different characters. You can instead have the similar things all happen to
the player character, but make the earlier instances less dire than the
later ones. For example, the PC has to cross a chasm on a tightrope, and
there's some special thing we have to do to balance our possessions.
PC-death way: save, tightrope, fall, die, restore, repeat. Repeated pattern
way: the PC encounters an earlier balancing act over a shallow river, where
the worst that happens is falling in and getting wet; PC tries a few times
and learns how to balance there. When the player gets to the chasm, they'll
know the danger the PC is in, because they'll remember how easy it was to
fall into the shallow river earlier - but they'll also know what to do
without having to go through a save/try/restore loop in meta-game space.

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 11:06:57 AM1/22/03
to
In article <g93X9.27$Xw2...@news.oracle.com>,

Mike Roberts <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> wrote:
>"Joey Narcotic" <joeyna...@nospam.paradise.net.nz> wrote:
>> However, in some IF stories, I find that tension can come from
>> making a wrong decision and paying the price for it - being eaten
>> by a greeblie, or whatever - and then restoring and trying again,
>> finding that the next choice I make also gets me eaten by a greeblie,
>> etc. Often instead of producing tension, this just pisses me off. But
>> when it's really well done, it really gets me.
>
>Yeah, absolutely. I think this is an area ripe for innovation, because I
>feel like we've barely scratched the surface here. Virtually the only plot
>device along these lines that's well established is player character death,
>or the almost equivalent walking undeath of the unwinnable state. I think
>we could benefit from some new devices for creating tension in an
>interactive work.

I think you're overemphasizing the role of PC death here - so let's be
more general and speak of fear of *losing*. Killing off the PC is after
all just a rather crude way of telling the player that the game's
over. Another aspect of it is that killing the PC can, as you write,
be viewed as a plot device, but the possibility of losing is much more
fundamental than that.

In fact, the concept of losing is of course inherent in the
game-nature of IF. But when one thinks of it, the concept of "losing"
- or, rather, failing at a critical task - is a very common
tension-producing device in much static fiction and many films. Again,
it can be a plot device (the action-movie bomb expert defusing a bomb;
should he snip the red or the green wire?) but it can also act on a
deeper level.

>Their solution was to commute the death penalty to a milder
>punishment: moving the PC a ways away, so you had to backtrack a bit to get
>back to the point where you'd have another opportunity to attempt the timed
>puzzle. This meant the penalty was entirely in-game, but still had a real
>cost to the player and the PC (the backtracking time).

But does this really cause dramatic tension? If there is some in-game
time limit, then there is a gain the threat of failure: if you don't
solve the puzzle, the PC loses valuable time, which means that he may
fail at his mission - and we get dramatic tension from this fact; it's
just that it's "softer" than if an incorrect solution killed the
player outright.

On the other hand, if there is no such time limit in the game, I'd say
we don't get dramatic tension in the usual sense. The player may very
well experience tension because he knows that if he does something
wrong, he'll have to spend ten more minutes re-tracing earlier steps,
but is this much different from the tension created by the more
traditional situation, where the player knows that if he doesn't solve
the puzzle, he won't be able to progress in the game?

Taken to extremes, I think this would be a dangerous route for
IF as a dramatic experience: you could have a situation where failing
to solve a puzzle means absolutely nothing to the plot (the PC is just
delayed a little in a non-time-critical context) but frustrates the
player - "Damn, now I'll have to walk across the entire map *again*".

Of course, in a pure IF-as-puzzle-game context, frustrating the player
is (in a sense) the entire point of the exercise :-).

>Perhaps this balance could be achieved by taking advantage of
>the player's (we hope) immersion: the penalty could be seen to be much more
>severe for the player character than it actually is for the player. The
>penalty could humiliate the PC in front of other characters, for example,
>without causing such inconvenience for the player that they reach for the
>save/restore button.

Here you're onto something more promising, I think (again from a "drama"
perspective). You "penalize" the player's mistake by something that
matters to the PC (public humiliation) but doesn't impede the player's
progress at all.

In fact, if done well, this can enhance the playing experience: in a
comedy game, for example, the player could watch the PC's humiliation,
feel with him, laugh at him, and feel that he, as a player, has had
more fun this way than if he hadn't made the mistake and the PC had
just succeeded in an efficient but boring way.

But - and this is a big "but" - I think that the game-nature of IF
tends to make the player reach for the save/restore button anyway, adn
this is for two reasons:

Firstly, gamers are perfectionists. It's inherent in the game
situation that one tries to maximize one's score; and even if there is
no score, it is quite conceivable that the player, after having
laughed at the funny situation, restores just because he wants to do
his best as a player, and that means making the PC do *his* best.

Secondly, there's a kind of gamer's paranoia caused by the fact that
in so many games, suboptimal performance at one point makes the game
harder further on. Even if the PC's public humiliation doesn't seem to
impede his progress right now, how can the player be sure that, say,
the NPCs who witnessed the PC's humiliation won't be harder to
cooperate with further on?

This happens in real life and in literature as well, of course, but
the fact that the player is playing a game will make it more important
to get everything *right* (which takes us back to the first point
above).

>What I'm hoping we as a group come up with at some point is a bag of tricks
>that's analogous to the one filmmakers have - something a little more
>diverse than just killing the PC on a wrong move.

In a way, we already have a toolkit for creating dramatic tension, but
I have the feeling that those tools mostly come from literature than
from the cinema.

But perhaps you're talking about more concrete plot devices? I can
think of a few that are roughly equivalent to the threat of imminent
death: for example, the sensitive mechanism that must be manipulated,
but where one wrong move wrecks the entire device; the burglar alarm
that goes off if you take a move in the wrong direction; the NPC
patient who dies if the PC surgeon can't stop the bleeding.

All of these are the plot equivalents of defusing a bomb: one wrong
move, and the game is over, even though the PC survives. Perhaps it's
just that PC death is so overused in games?

>When a film director
>wants to create tension, she doesn't show the main character walking down
>the street and then abruptly getting shot in the head by an assailant who
>appears from behind a corner.

This is because there is a very important distinction between
(traditional) films and games: films are normally causal; it's rare
for a film audience first to see a character being shot, and then
being taken back in time to see the same character turning the same
corner and getting shot again. But it has been done, and it works.

>Instead, she shows the character walking,
>then shows the assailant watching, then back to the walking, then the gun,
>then the walking again, etc. This kind of film technique doesn't translate
>directly to most IF because of the player/PC knowledge-sharing issue; if the
>player sees the assailant around the corner, they just won't take the PC
>down that particular street.

Unless they *have to*, for other reasons. That could actually be a way
to create dramatic tension: the PC is chased down the street by rabid
wombats; the player knows that there's an armed assassin behind the
corner, but he's willing to take his chances with the robber rather
than with the wombats.

>Player/PC knowledge sharing probably also
>makes many other static fiction techniques hard to translate, which might
>explain why our toolbox is so spartan.

It limits the toolbox, but not very much, I think. After all, much
static fiction is written from a strict first-person or
tight-third-person point of view, where the author never describes
anything the protagonist doesn't experience; this limits the toolbox
in exactly the same way as the knowledge sharing problem does in IF.

And yet those authors manage to create tension...

>There is a technique in film and static fiction that I think would translate
>well, but which I don't think I've seen used in IF as a tension generator.
>It's the simple technique of the repeated pattern: you let the player know
>that a situation is dangerous not by showing the PC getting killed on the
>first attempt, but rather by showing one or two other characters getting
>killed doing the same sort of thing. When the PC's turn comes, we know
>exactly how much danger we're in.

This, I think, is more a matter of how to show (rather than telling)
that a situation is dangerous. (The tension-creating device is forcing
the player to perform said action when he knows that it's dangerous.)

And this is perhaps where the PC death device is the most over-used:
far too many games choose to show the player that something is
dangerous by first letting him try it, killing him off, and then
forcing him to try it again. Flashy, yes. But seriously overused.

If the situation is not too exotic, I think it suffices to give the
player more commonplace clues that it's dangerous. If it is a
(reasonably) everyday situation, the player may even know this without
any extra information.

For example, in a game where the PC has to climb the icy roof of a
skyscraper in winter (a la "Heroine's Mantle"), I'll feel the tension
even if it's impossible to die in the game. Even if a false step has
no more sinister consequences than a message "Oops! You almost lost
your footing," my heartrate is bound to go up - simply because of
immersion in a situation I *know* is dangerous.

--
Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se)
PGP Public Key available at http://www.df.lth.se/~mol

Papillon

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 12:19:51 PM1/22/03
to
m...@df.lth.se (Magnus Olsson) wrote:

>But perhaps you're talking about more concrete plot devices? I can
>think of a few that are roughly equivalent to the threat of imminent
>death: for example, the sensitive mechanism that must be manipulated,
>but where one wrong move wrecks the entire device; the burglar alarm
>that goes off if you take a move in the wrong direction; the NPC
>patient who dies if the PC surgeon can't stop the bleeding.
>
>All of these are the plot equivalents of defusing a bomb: one wrong
>move, and the game is over, even though the PC survives. Perhaps it's
>just that PC death is so overused in games?

OTOH, failure through non-death can, at times, lead to a great deal of
frustration - particularly if the game outright tells you "You have failed"
and forces the game to stop. It makes the game feel more limiting, if your
character is still alive and able to try and yet the game won't allow you
any method of continuing.

To use the surgeon - let's say the game is about developing a romance with a
particular NPC, and then at some point you have to use your medical skills
on said NPC, and the NPC dies if you fail. It's fairly obvious that the game
is over at this point - your goal is now out of reach.

However, if the game were about something else, and a patient dies on you,
and the game then informs you "Your incompetence has cost an innocent life.
Your career is over. You are banished from the hospital and spend the rest
of your days as a drunk bum in an alley."... the player could have the urge
to protest. "What, there's absolutely nothing I can do to restore my career?
I want a lawyer! I want a new career! This one mistake should not ruin my
life!"

Perhaps I'm overdramatising, but my point is that there is an urge to
continue to struggle, as long as the character is alive to carry on. Being
told "Nope, nothing else you can do, you lose" is frustrating.

Hey, I enjoy coming up with wacky schemes in RPGs when all hope seemed
lost....

HC

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 12:58:10 PM1/22/03
to

"Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote in message
news:b0mfj1$q6i$1...@news.lth.se...

One of the games that had the most tension for me was Metamorphoses. There
was at least one puzzle that was solvable in a couple differnent ways. The
solution I came up with involved having the character lose a cherished
posession, and I couldn't think of an alternate solution at the time. The
story did an exellent job of playing up the tension of that moment just
before I comitted to the loss of the item. I still finished the game, but I
somehow felt saddened by the loss because it was well-written. When I
discovered that there was another solution to the puzzle (in fact, there
were several), and that it changed the character of the scene from a moment
of loss to a moment of triumph, it helped solidify that game as one of my
favorites.

The threat of death/loss/inconvenience to the PC needn't have a negative
practical effect for the player him/herself. If the story is well-told,
there can be a threat to the character, but not the player.

HC

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 12:58:58 PM1/22/03
to
In article <97kt2vo8uv4t2j6ir...@4ax.com>,

Papillon <papillo...@bigfoot.com> wrote:
>OTOH, failure through non-death can, at times, lead to a great deal of
>frustration - particularly if the game outright tells you "You have failed"
>and forces the game to stop. It makes the game feel more limiting, if your
>character is still alive and able to try and yet the game won't allow you
>any method of continuing.

Yes, that's true. Some games seem a bit too eager to tell me that
"You have failed, there's no point in continuing" even though I, the
player, thinks that it would be meaningful to continue.

Perhaps this is one reason why PC death is so common: it's so definitive.
"But I want to continue playing!"
"You're dead. Shut up!"

I think that a game must always motivate a failing ending in a way that
makes the player feel that he/she really has no options left. Killing the
PC is a drastic way of doing this. In "Uncle Zebulon's Will", the only
failing ending is if the PC gets his memory wiped - then he goes home,
happily unaware that he was supposed to search for something.

Neil Cerutti

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 1:11:03 PM1/22/03
to
In article <b0mfj1$q6i$1...@news.lth.se>, Magnus Olsson wrote:
> In article <g93X9.27$Xw2...@news.oracle.com>,
> Mike Roberts <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> wrote:
>>Yeah, absolutely. I think this is an area ripe for innovation,
>>because I feel like we've barely scratched the surface here.
>>Virtually the only plot device along these lines that's well
>>established is player character death, or the almost equivalent
>>walking undeath of the unwinnable state. I think we could
>>benefit from some new devices for creating tension in an
>>interactive work.
>
> I think you're overemphasizing the role of PC death here - so
> let's be more general and speak of fear of *losing*. Killing
> off the PC is after all just a rather crude way of telling the
> player that the game's over. Another aspect of it is that
> killing the PC can, as you write, be viewed as a plot device,
> but the possibility of losing is much more fundamental than
> that.

<SNIP>



> Taken to extremes, I think this would be a dangerous route for
> IF as a dramatic experience: you could have a situation where
> failing to solve a puzzle means absolutely nothing to the plot
> (the PC is just delayed a little in a non-time-critical
> context) but frustrates the player - "Damn, now I'll have to
> walk across the entire map *again*".
>
> Of course, in a pure IF-as-puzzle-game context, frustrating the
> player is (in a sense) the entire point of the exercise :-).

> Here you're onto something more promising, I think (again from


> a "drama" perspective). You "penalize" the player's mistake by
> something that matters to the PC (public humiliation) but
> doesn't impede the player's progress at all.

I'm not sure this has ever been done. You make some good
arguments against the idea, below.

<SNIP>

> This happens in real life and in literature as well, of course,
> but the fact that the player is playing a game will make it
> more important to get everything *right* (which takes us back
> to the first point above).

This attitude probably grew from experience. Most games are
ultimately unforgiving.

>>What I'm hoping we as a group come up with at some point is a
>>bag of tricks that's analogous to the one filmmakers have -
>>something a little more diverse than just killing the PC on a
>>wrong move.
>
> In a way, we already have a toolkit for creating dramatic tension, but
> I have the feeling that those tools mostly come from literature than
> from the cinema.

The reason I think dramatic devices do not translate directly to
IF, is that they are generally *not* a device in IF--the PC
really is risking death and failure. Characters in movies and
books normally aren't actually facing death or failure at all.

The strategy that has worked is to remove finality from death or
failure, as opposed to removing the possibility. _Spider and Web_
came up with a novel way to do this. The earliest games used
"orange smoke" to similar ends (although usually it meant you
couldn't win, but could still make progress).

> All of these are the plot equivalents of defusing a bomb: one
> wrong move, and the game is over, even though the PC survives.
> Perhaps it's just that PC death is so overused in games?

When watching "Lethal Weapon 8", we know that Riggs and Murtaugh
are actually totally safe from that bomb. IF gives us no such
reassurance. So I think most literary devices may be too strong.

<SNIP remainder of good article>

--
Neil Cerutti <cer...@trans-video.net>

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 1:31:06 PM1/22/03
to
In article <b0mmrn$r31b3$1...@ID-60390.news.dfncis.de>,

Neil Cerutti <cer...@trans-video.net> wrote:
>When watching "Lethal Weapon 8", we know that Riggs and Murtaugh
>are actually totally safe from that bomb.

However, we're usually willing to suppress that knowledge, just as
we suspend our disbelief.

>IF gives us no such reassurance.

On the other hand, in IF we know that we can UNDO.

>So I think most literary devices may be too strong.

Possibly. We really need some good examples of games where such
devices work/don't work.

Joey Narcotic

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 2:03:00 PM1/22/03
to
1234567890123456789012345678901234567890123456789012345678901234567890
"Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote:

> But - and this is a big "but" - I think that the game-nature of IF
> tends to make the player reach for the save/restore button anyway,
> adn this is for two reasons:
>
> Firstly, gamers are perfectionists. It's inherent in the game
> situation that one tries to maximize one's score; and even if there
> is no score, it is quite conceivable that the player, after having
> laughed at the funny situation, restores just because he wants to
> do his best as a player, and that means making the PC do *his*
> best.
>
> Secondly, there's a kind of gamer's paranoia caused by the fact
> that in so many games, suboptimal performance at one point makes
> the game harder further on. Even if the PC's public humiliation
> doesn't seem to impede his progress right now, how can the player
> be sure that, say, the NPCs who witnessed the PC's humiliation
> won't be harder to cooperate with further on?
>
> This happens in real life and in literature as well, of course, but
> the fact that the player is playing a game will make it more
> important to get everything *right* (which takes us back to the
> first point above).

[Lots of great stuff snipped before & after]

These are great points, and I'm sure they ring true for many people.

Personally, though, I don't like to restore unless I actually have to,
eg I'm dead, or I've put the game in an unwinnable state (and I want
to be warned in an ABOUT message or something if this can be done), or
if I've had to leave the game alone while I take the wombat for a
walk.

Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I like making mistakes in
games. It makes me feel like the PC is a sadder but wiser person. I
totally identify with that HC said about Metamorphoses on this level.
I make a lot of mistakes in my Real Life - and though I said the other
night "It kills me that I didn't go and see Janes Addiction," I notice
that I'm not actually dead.

Making a mistake and then going "No, I'm going to restore and pretend
I didn't do it!" breaks mimesis for me.

Hm, I'm not entirely sure my points cohere.

Regards,
Joe

I went out to see if I could fall in love again
That was my mistake, that was my mistake
- Split Enz


Mike Roberts

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 2:18:21 PM1/22/03
to
"Neil Cerutti" <cer...@trans-video.net> wrote:
> The reason I think dramatic devices [for creating tension]

> do not translate directly to IF, is that they are generally *not*
> a device in IF--the PC really is risking death and failure.
> Characters in movies and books normally aren't actually
> facing death or failure at all.

By this, do you mean that characters in static fiction aren't actually
facing death or failure because their fate is fixed in the staticness of the
work? If so, that's really what I'm trying to get at here. In static
fiction, there is no way for anything to happen but what the author has set
down - but that doesn't matter to the reader if they're immersed in the
story's world, because from the characters' perspective the future is still
uncertain, and failure or death are real possibilities. Static fiction
manages to create tension on the mere potential for failure or harm. The
thing I'm interested in is translating this to IF, so that we can have games
that actually lack unwinnable dead-ends but still create tension for the
player.

> When watching "Lethal Weapon 8", we know that Riggs
> and Murtaugh are actually totally safe from that bomb. IF
> gives us no such reassurance. So I think most literary devices
> may be too strong.

In a sense, the save/try/restore pattern ends up mapping to the static
fiction case of pre-ordained success, I think. The PC doesn't *really* fail
or die; we just see how events *would* play out if the PC took a certain
incorrect course of action, and then we restore and get back into the true
timeline where we know the PC will ultimately succeed by trying something
else. So, to my mind, it doesn't hold water when people say that the
existence of unwinnable positions is necessary for true dramatic tension in
IF (I'm not saying you're making this argument - I'm just continuing my line
of reasoning here; and certainly some people have made this argument, that
it's impossible to have dramatic tension in a game that's perpetually
winnable). If dramatic tension actually required that something real be at
stake, the game would have to truly end if the player reached one of these
dead ends, and never let that player come back for another chance; or at
least exact a penalty more onerous than making them type >restore.

What I'm trying to say is that save/try/restore is a literary device of
sorts (it's even been used in film at least once - "Run Lola Run"). I'd
have to agree that most literary devices wouldn't translate well to IF; or,
at least, it's not clear how they'd translate. But I'm still interested in
whether there are any generalizable devices, apart from save/try/restore,
that would work in IF.

Adam Thornton

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 3:08:40 PM1/22/03
to
In article <XYAX9.46$8w2....@news.uswest.net>,

HC <DJHipp...@yahREMOVEoo.com> wrote:
>One of the games that had the most tension for me was Metamorphoses. There
>was at least one puzzle that was solvable in a couple differnent ways. The
>solution I came up with involved having the character lose a cherished
>posession, and I couldn't think of an alternate solution at the time.

There were several like that, where your actions could subtly influence
the "winning" ending. (There are quite a few endings, and there's not a
clear "best" one, IMHO). One of my favorite things was to find a way to
solve each of the puzzles elegantly, and *not* have to give up that
cherished possession. By the time I got to an ending I considered
satisfactory, my character was naked, but still had her aforementioned
possession. Brilliant game design.

Adam

P.S. As an aside, _Metamorphoses_ quotes _Little, Big_. But perhaps it
should be quoting _AEgypt_ (also by John Crowley), which quotes the same
passage from _Little, Big_, but puts it in a historical novel by
Fellowes Kraft. Although _AEgypt_ and _Love and Sleep_, the first two
volumes of that particular tetralogy, are out-of-print and darn
expensive, they are available as e-books from amazon.com. (The third,
_Daemonomania_, is in print, and the fourth does not yet exist.)
However, they're only available in some odious .LIT format parseable
only by Microsoft Reader, which only runs on Win32 and WinCE, forbids
printing, and requires you to activate a Passport ID to run it at all.
However, all is not lost. I hear, that, if you are unconcerned about
the DMCA and don't mind being a feelthy pirate and reading texts on
devices other than the one on which you licensed the work, there's a
pretty decent LIT-to-HTML extractor available; from there your book--I'm
sorry, the pirated book of material you aren't licensed to read anywhere
except on the original device--can trivially be converted into PDF or
PDB format, so you can read it on your Palm or other handheld device, or
indeed, on any platform which supports an HTML browser.

Joey Narcotic

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 3:29:22 PM1/22/03
to
"Mike Roberts" <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> wrote:

> In a sense, the save/try/restore pattern ends up mapping to the
> static fiction case of pre-ordained success, I think. The PC
> doesn't *really* fail or die; we just see how events *would* play
> out if the PC took a certain incorrect course of action, and then
> we restore and get back into the true timeline where we know the PC
> will ultimately succeed by trying something else.

There's an action/adventure game called In Cold Blood which has a
pretty ingenious version of this. In the game, the PC has mostly
completed his mission at the start of the game, and has then been
captured by the enemy and is being tortured to find out how he
accomplished it. The game itself is the PC trying to sort out in his
own mind what actually happened. Whenever you die, it goes back to him
in the cell saying, "No, It can't have been that way! I've got to
remember..."

It's a pretty dreadful game, but I thought this was a nice idea.

> If dramatic tension actually required that something real be at
> stake, the game would have to truly end if the player reached one
> of these dead ends, and never let that player come back for another
> chance; or at least exact a penalty more onerous than making them
> type >restore.

Reminds me of William Gibson saying that the Neuromancer game should
electrocute the player if the character dies. :-)

Regards,
Joe


Mike Roberts

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 3:34:03 PM1/22/03
to
"Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote:
> I think you're overemphasizing the role of PC death here -
> so let's be more general and speak of fear of *losing*.

Agreed - I was just using PC death as shorthand for unwinnable position.

> >The [monkey island] solution was to commute the death


> >penalty to a milder punishment: moving the PC a ways away,

> >so you had to backtrack a bit [...]


>
> But does this really cause dramatic tension? If there is some
> in-game time limit, then there is a gain the threat of failure: if you
> don't solve the puzzle, the PC loses valuable time, which means
> that he may fail at his mission - and we get dramatic tension
> from this fact; it's just that it's "softer" than if an incorrect
> solution killed the player outright.

Anecdotally speaking, it worked for me, in that it made me tense by
requiring me to do the necessary sequence of steps within the time limit.
In fact, I don't see any real difference in terms of the feeling of urgency
between having to backtrack when the time limit expires and having to
restore; in either case, I get another chance at the puzzle. The only
difference is that one is in-game and the other is meta-game.

I suppose you could draw a distinction between dramatic tension, which is
what the player character experiences, and vicarious tension, which is what
the player experiences. It seems to me the vicarious tension is the same in
both the timer/restore and timer/backtrack cases: in either case, the player
knows that she'll get another chance if she fails. The PC's experience
isn't the same, though: in the restore case, the PC only experiences one
successful attempt, because the timelines where the PC fails cleave off and
disappear into the quantum manifold; in the backtrack case, the PC knows
about the many attempts and thus knows that failure isn't final. I'm not
sure which way has more dramatic tension for the PC. In the restore case,
the PC knows that failure is a real possibility, but never experiences it.
In the backtrack case, the PC knows that failure is never final, but has a
consuming obsession with overcoming the obstacle no matter how many times he
fails. The true stakes are arguably higher for the restore-case-PC; but the
personal stakes are arguably higher for the backtrack-PC, who might be seen
to more deeply feel the defeats and ultimate victory than the
restore-case-PC, who always succeeds on the first attempt and must be left
wondering if the situation was really as dire as it looked.

> >[on making the penalty for failure something the PC experiences,
> >rather than some inconvenience for the player]


>
> But - and this is a big "but" - I think that the game-nature of IF
> tends to make the player reach for the save/restore button

> anyway, adn this is for two reasons: [gamers are perfectionists;
> players might fear a hidden cost will show up later]

Quite; I might well behave this way myself, for those exact reasons. If the
game were to assure me from the outset that it was perpetually winnable, I
might be able to overcome the urge, but even then I might proceed from a
"clean" saved position just in case. This might just be a matter of having
been trained by the present body of games, where it's typical for games to
have unwinnable states; if it became typical for IF to be perpetually
winnable, or for some subset of IF to be perpetually winnable, players'
habits might change.

> >When a film director wants to create tension, she
> >doesn't show the main character walking down the

> >street and then abruptly getting shot [...]


>
> This is because there is a very important distinction between
> (traditional) films and games: films are normally causal; it's
> rare for a film audience first to see a character being shot,
> and then being taken back in time to see the same character
> turning the same corner and getting shot again. But it has
> been done, and it works.

Yes, but that's a different sort of thing; and interestingly, it doesn't
create tension when we see the character about to get shot the second time,
because we know that events are pre-ordained *within* the context of the
story world. We might feel other emotions, such as dread or sadness (or
vengeful righteousness, if it's the bad buy who's getting shot), but not
tension. In film, the backward-time-shift isn't a tension-generating
device; it's more often used to create mystery, so that we wonder how these
characters came to be in this position.

> >Instead, she shows the character walking, then shows the

> >assailant watching, then back to the walking, [etc].


> >This kind of film technique doesn't translate directly to most IF
> >because of the player/PC knowledge-sharing issue; if the player
> >sees the assailant around the corner, they just won't take the PC
> >down that particular street.
>
> Unless they *have to*, for other reasons. That could actually be a
> way to create dramatic tension: the PC is chased down the street
> by rabid wombats; the player knows that there's an armed assassin
> behind the corner, but he's willing to take his chances with the
> robber rather than with the wombats.

Interesting idea.

> It limits the toolbox, but not very much, I think. After all, much
> static fiction is written from a strict first-person or tight-third

> person point of view, where the author never describes anything
> the protagonist doesn't experience; this limits the toolbox in
> exactly the same way as the knowledge sharing problem does
> in IF.

Excellent point; it makes much more sense to use techniques appropriate to
constrained point-of-view as a starting point.

> And this is perhaps where the PC death device is the most
> over-used: far too many games choose to show the player
> that something is dangerous by first letting him try it, killing
> him off, and then forcing him to try it again. Flashy, yes. But
> seriously overused.

I think this pretty much boils down my argument. I'd add, though, that at
least one reason it's so overused is that it doesn't seem that we have a lot
else in the way of established devices.

> If the situation is not too exotic, I think it suffices to give the
> player more commonplace clues that it's dangerous. If it is a
> (reasonably) everyday situation, the player may even know
> this without any extra information.
>
> For example, in a game where the PC has to climb the icy roof
> of a skyscraper in winter (a la "Heroine's Mantle"), I'll feel the
> tension even if it's impossible to die in the game. Even if a false
> step has no more sinister consequences than a message "Oops!
> You almost lost your footing," my heartrate is bound to go up -
> simply because of immersion in a situation I *know* is
> dangerous.

That seems sensible enough; the nagging problem is that I've seen so few
examples like this that really work. Maybe I'm belaboring the obvious here,
and the magical solution I'm looking for is just good writing. But it seems
that in static fiction, you have a pretty big toolbox of ready-made dramatic
devices - not just shopworn cliches for amateurs, but the basic structural
elements of almost every story. The problem is that those devices often
don't seem to translate well to IF; you look at novice authors struggling to
make their story ideas into games, and you see the mismatch.

Neil Cerutti

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 3:49:43 PM1/22/03
to
In article <b0mo1a$qg50f$1...@ID-178465.news.dfncis.de>, Magnus

Olsson wrote:
> In article <b0mmrn$r31b3$1...@ID-60390.news.dfncis.de>,
> Neil Cerutti <cer...@trans-video.net> wrote:
>>When watching "Lethal Weapon 8", we know that Riggs and Murtaugh are
>>actually totally safe from that bomb.
>
> However, we're usually willing to suppress that knowledge, just
> as we suspend our disbelief.

I don't think we supress it. My claim is that the reason it's a
enjoyable dramatic moment *is* the knowledge that they are
superhumanly safe. If we truly suppressed it, it wouldn't be
enjoyable (setting aside, for now, horror, in which only a very
small number of characters actually enjoy this kind of
protection -- after all, a lot of games aren't trying to be
horror. Come to think of it _Lethal Weapon 2_ is more of a horror
film than an action film, but hold, I'm getting circular).

>>IF gives us no such reassurance.
>
> On the other hand, in IF we know that we can UNDO.

...or RESTART. But if that were a totally satisfying alternative,
we wouldn't need to have this discussion. ;-)

>>So I think most literary devices may be too strong.

I actually meant "devices for creating dramatic tension
as used in static storytelling" in the above sentence.

> Possibly. We really need some good examples of games where such
> devices work/don't work.

My thinking leads me to advocate puzzles/situations that may be
difficult, but are impossible to fail at except by giving up or
being deliberately wrong. A couple of good examples come to mind:

* The Babelfish puzzle from _Hitchhiker's Guide_.
(Actually, the machine may run out of Babelfish eventually... I
don't remember.)

* The language puzzle from _The Edifice._

* Rubix Cube

* Most mazes. Yes! Though it's been done to death.

* A winnable game, considered as a unit.

Another thing these situations have in common is that they are
solved in frequent and obvious increments. Even though you didn't
quite get the Babelfish, you think you are a little bit closer.
Even though you still can't speak Nalian well enough, you know a
little more than you did before. Etc...

Even the most unforgiving puzzle/situation has the last of my
bullet-points to hang it's mean hat on -- that's where UNDO and
RESTART enter the picture.

--
Neil Cerutti <cer...@trans-video.net>

Neil Cerutti

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 3:53:07 PM1/22/03
to
In article <RbCX9.13$6i4...@news.oracle.com>, Mike Roberts wrote:
> "Neil Cerutti" <cer...@trans-video.net> wrote:
>> The reason I think dramatic devices [for creating tension] do
>> not translate directly to IF, is that they are generally *not*
>> a device in IF--the PC really is risking death and failure.
>> Characters in movies and books normally aren't actually facing
>> death or failure at all.
>
> By this, do you mean that characters in static fiction aren't
> actually facing death or failure because their fate is fixed in
> the staticness of the work?

Not exactly. I mean their fate is fixed by the conventions of the
genre in which they exist. But we so seem to be arriving at
similar conclusions.

--
Neil Cerutti <cer...@trans-video.net>

Jeffrey F Pack

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 4:29:10 PM1/22/03
to
"Joey Narcotic" <joeyna...@nospam.paradise.net.nz> writes:

> There's an action/adventure game called In Cold Blood which has a
> pretty ingenious version of this. In the game, the PC has mostly
> completed his mission at the start of the game, and has then been
> captured by the enemy and is being tortured to find out how he
> accomplished it. The game itself is the PC trying to sort out in his
> own mind what actually happened. Whenever you die, it goes back to him
> in the cell saying, "No, It can't have been that way! I've got to
> remember..."

> It's a pretty dreadful game, but I thought this was a nice idea.

It is a nice idea. Seems like an IF game with this conceit could be
awfully popular...

Jeff

Jeffrey F Pack

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 4:41:38 PM1/22/03
to
"Mike Roberts" <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> writes:

> "Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote:
> > I think you're overemphasizing the role of PC death here -
> > so let's be more general and speak of fear of *losing*.
>
> Agreed - I was just using PC death as shorthand for unwinnable position.
>
> > >The [monkey island] solution was to commute the death
> > >penalty to a milder punishment: moving the PC a ways away,
> > >so you had to backtrack a bit [...]
> >
> > But does this really cause dramatic tension? If there is some
> > in-game time limit, then there is a gain the threat of failure: if you
> > don't solve the puzzle, the PC loses valuable time, which means
> > that he may fail at his mission - and we get dramatic tension
> > from this fact; it's just that it's "softer" than if an incorrect
> > solution killed the player outright.
>
> Anecdotally speaking, it worked for me, in that it made me tense by
> requiring me to do the necessary sequence of steps within the time limit.
> In fact, I don't see any real difference in terms of the feeling of urgency
> between having to backtrack when the time limit expires and having to
> restore; in either case, I get another chance at the puzzle. The only
> difference is that one is in-game and the other is meta-game.

For me, dramatic tension (for the player) in IF comes not from the
threat of the PC's death, whose sting has been abated by SAVE/RESTORE/
UNDO, but by the existence of Crucial Moments where the player's
decision can deeply affect the story, and once a path is chosen the
player is committed to it. The correct-action-or-death situation is a
case of this, if a simple one. (It's also easier to do than a
branching plot.)

Jeff

Mike Roberts

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 4:50:29 PM1/22/03
to
"Neil Cerutti" <cer...@trans-video.net> wrote:
> I don't think we supress [our knowledge that the hero is
> effectively invulnerable]. My claim is that the reason it's a

> enjoyable dramatic moment *is* the knowledge that they
> are superhumanly safe.

That's an interesting idea. I've always thought of the thrill as coming
from being able to vicariously experience the danger with no actual danger
to yourself, but you're saying that this knowledge of invulnerability goes
one step further, extending to the characters themselves. I can see a
certain logic in this; it seems to fit with the narrative that we're
psychologically compelled to fit to our own experiences, where life consists
of a series of close calls that all work out reasonably well in the end (in
that we're still alive to consider how well they worked out). This would
actually seem to argue against ever killing the PC (or equivalent) in IF,
but perhaps save/restore is the safety valve there.

Introspectively speaking, I'm not sure I approach static fiction this way;
every so often, I'll notice that I'm *too* caught up in something, and I'll
remind myself that it's just a movie or whatever, and this dissipates the
tension. For me, it seems like it's usually more satisfying when I don't do
that, which makes me think that I enjoy things more when I don't assume
superhuman safety.

> My thinking leads me to advocate puzzles/situations that
> may be difficult, but are impossible to fail at except by giving
> up or being deliberately wrong. A couple of good examples

> come to mind: [Babelfish in Hithhiker's Guide; others].

I do think those kinds of situations are better suited for games than
imminent-peril situations. They don't tend to inspire tension, though, or
at least not the same kind.

Mike Roberts

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 4:59:20 PM1/22/03
to
"Jeffrey F Pack" <jf...@howsit.cc.columbia.edu> wrote:
> For me, dramatic tension (for the player) in IF comes not
> from the threat of the PC's death, but by the existence of

> Crucial Moments where the player's decision can deeply
> affect the story, and once a path is chosen the player is
> committed to it.

How does this inherently create dramatic tension, though? It seems to me
that tension is created in the anticipation of a "crucial moment," not in
the playing out of the consequences of the decisive point. I once again
have to point to static fiction, where tension manifestly doesn't depend on
multiple plot branches being possible. It's not clear to me how the
existence of a plot branch in IF in itself creates tension; if you only find
out later that a decision did result in a plot branch, you didn't have any
reason to think it was important at the time.

Jeffrey F Pack

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 5:10:52 PM1/22/03
to
"Mike Roberts" <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> writes:

> "Jeffrey F Pack" <jf...@howsit.cc.columbia.edu> wrote:
> > For me, dramatic tension (for the player) in IF comes not
> > from the threat of the PC's death, but by the existence of
> > Crucial Moments where the player's decision can deeply
> > affect the story, and once a path is chosen the player is
> > committed to it.
>
> How does this inherently create dramatic tension, though? It seems to me
> that tension is created in the anticipation of a "crucial moment," not in
> the playing out of the consequences of the decisive point.

Well, yes. It's when I perceive that my decisions take on more
meaning than moving objects around. And it's about perception at the
time, largely irrelevant to what actually occurs. (It's possible to
have tense situations where all the choices converge to the same
plotline, and branching situations that offer no tension because the
player doesn't know they're there.)

Jeff

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 5:21:24 PM1/22/03
to
In article <RbCX9.13$6i4...@news.oracle.com>,
Mike Roberts <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> wrote:

>"Neil Cerutti" <cer...@trans-video.net> wrote:
>> Characters in movies and books normally aren't actually
>> facing death or failure at all.
>
>By this, do you mean that characters in static fiction aren't actually
>facing death or failure because their fate is fixed in the staticness of the
>work?

I agree with what Neil wrote in his answer to your post: it's not
because their fate is fixed, but because it's a genre convention that
they succeed (unless we're talking classical tragedy, where it's a
genre convention that they fail).

>If so, that's really what I'm trying to get at here. In static
>fiction, there is no way for anything to happen but what the author has set
>down - but that doesn't matter to the reader if they're immersed in the
>story's world, because from the characters' perspective the future is still
>uncertain, and failure or death are real possibilities. Static fiction
>manages to create tension on the mere potential for failure or harm.

That, and, I think, uncertainty about just *how* the heroes are going
to succeed. I've sometimes asked myself why I find it so exciting when
the heroes of an action film face "certain death", when I *know* that
they're going to survive. The best answer I have is that it's partly a
wilful disregard of knowledge (analogous to suspension of disbelief),
but mostly I'm excited not so much by the question "Is James Bond
going to escape?" but rather "How is James Bond going to escape?"

In other words, even though the eventual outcome is known, the
*details* of that outcome are unknown.

>The
>thing I'm interested in is translating this to IF, so that we can have games
>that actually lack unwinnable dead-ends but still create tension for the
>player.

Don't we already have such games? This is not rhetorical question: I
haven't played enough recent games to know the answer. Are really all
games that can't be made unwinnable also lacking in dramatic tension?

>In a sense, the save/try/restore pattern ends up mapping to the static
>fiction case of pre-ordained success, I think. The PC doesn't *really* fail
>or die; we just see how events *would* play out if the PC took a certain
>incorrect course of action, and then we restore and get back into the true
>timeline where we know the PC will ultimately succeed by trying something
>else.

Heh. That's *exactly* how I rationalize restoring from a save in
CRPG's like Baldur's Gate and Jagged Alliance II, after some tactical
mistake on my part has led to the risly demise of one of the PCs:
"That was just an exploration of a possible timeline; now we're back
at the *real* timeline where things don't go so badly".

>So, to my mind, it doesn't hold water when people say that the
>existence of unwinnable positions is necessary for true dramatic tension in
>IF

As I see it, dramatic tension can still be created by the uncertainty
of exactly what is going to happen; it's a matter of not *if* you're
going to win, but *how*.

Another take on it is this:

When a piece of IF is viewed as a completed but yet unrevealed story
(as opposed to the potential story of interactive mythos or RPGs),
winnability is a meta-phenomenon - something extraneous to the
story. Suppose that the PC is having some huge problem that is going
to destroy her (or even kill her) if she doesn't overcome it. That the
game can't be made unwinnable means that no matter how the player
plays, he can reach a state where the PC has overcome her problem.
But as long as the player hasn't found a path to that state, the PC is
still facing doom *inside the story* - and it's that prospect of doom
that creates the dramatic tension.

Which is, I suppose, more or less what you're driving at.

>If dramatic tension actually required that something real be at
>stake, the game would have to truly end if the player reached one of these
>dead ends, and never let that player come back for another chance; or at
>least exact a penalty more onerous than making them type >restore.

I suppose this is one reason why some people actually remove the
possibility to save or undo (there are other reasons as well).

All this also depends on how the game is designed, and if the
possibility to undo decisions is part of the rules or not. Nethack and
most other roguelike games, for example, only allow one savefile,
which is deleted on a restore. Backing up the savefile is widely
considered as cheating, and I tend to agree, because it changes the
feel of the game. Similarly, I think tabletop roleplaying would be
a very different experience if the players could say to the GM, "Look,
things have been going so badly lately, so let's back up and pretend that
last month's events never happened".

But, of course, both roguelikes and tabletop RPGs are quite different
types of games from most IF.

Mike Roberts

unread,
Jan 22, 2003, 6:03:29 PM1/22/03
to
"Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote:
> [...] but mostly I'm excited not so much by the

> question "Is James Bond going to escape?" but
> rather "How is James Bond going to escape?"

Absolutely (and this is a bit of a lost art in action films, where the
answer to "how will they get out of this seemingly impossible bind" is
usually "by doing the blatantly physically impossible"; but that's another
conversation). This plays into IF puzzle games to some extent, although
it's a key part of what makes good puzzle design so difficult: in the Bond
movies, part of the fun is being surprised by Bond's clever solution that
you'd never have thought of. In IF, the fun is in being surprised when the
clever solution occurs to you-the-player. (Again, though, different
conversation.)

> >thing I'm interested in is translating this to IF, so
> >that we can have games that actually lack unwinnable
> >dead-ends but still create tension for the player.
>
> Don't we already have such games? This is not rhetorical
> question: I haven't played enough recent games to know
> the answer. Are really all games that can't be made
> unwinnable also lacking in dramatic tension?

It's hit and miss, and good examples seem pretty rare. Based on some comp
reviews over the past few years, and the occasional comment in raif, I think
there's a certain amount of conventional wisdom that losability is indeed
required for there to be drama. I pointed out a couple of counterexamples
way back at the start of the thread - Kaged is a good one, I think, because
it has puzzles that look and feel almost like traditional timed solve-or-die
puzzles without actually imposing save/restore loops on most players.

To take an example that didn't work for a lot of people, there was a scene
in my game "The Plant", toward the end, where you're locked in a room with
the bad guys about to burst in. You have to figure out the clever way to
escape; the bad guys just outside were there to create a sense of urgency,
so they banged on the door and huffed and puffed. A number of reviewers
pointed out that the no-death policy of the game robbed the scene of any
genuine sense of urgency for them, because they knew there wasn't any real
threat. I'm still not sure how to fix that scene.

Adam Thornton

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Jan 22, 2003, 6:32:43 PM1/22/03
to
In article <WuFX9.27$6i4...@news.oracle.com>,
Mike Roberts <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> wrote:
>The bad guys just outside were there to create a sense of urgency,

>so they banged on the door and huffed and puffed. A number of reviewers
>pointed out that the no-death policy of the game robbed the scene of any
>genuine sense of urgency for them, because they knew there wasn't any real
>threat. I'm still not sure how to fix that scene.

Oh, that's easy. You go to the reviewers' houses, with a length of
pipe. And you say, "Remember how there wasn't any real threat in _The
Plant_? Well, you're right: there wasn't any real threat in the game."

And then you hit 'em in the knees with the pipe.

Adam

Joe Mason

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Jan 22, 2003, 7:24:09 PM1/22/03