class on if (update)

5 views
Skip to first unread message

Stephen Ramsay

unread,
Sep 11, 2003, 9:26:06 PM9/11/03
to
I posted to this list some time ago announcing my intention to teach an
upper-division class in interactive fiction this fall at the University
of Georgia. Several people asked me for updates on how it's going, so I
thought I'd drop a quick note.

I have a great group of students (about 12) -- most are English majors,
but there are a few from other humanities disciplines. I have some
serious writers in the class, a few gifted hackers, and at least six
die-hard game fanatics. Most had played IF before, but none of them
very extensively.

The first few weeks of class were mostly taken up with playing games and
discussing them in class. Over the past few weeks we've played
Adventure, Anchorhead, A Change in the Weather, Photopia, and Jigsaw --
none of them very deeply, of course, but enough to get a sense for
what's going on (they have to pick one to play through so they can write
a game critique due around Thanksgiving).

Our discussions have been wide-ranging and very interesting. Here are a
few issues that seem particularly persistent:

1. I suggested to them that the formal constraints of, say, a sonnet or
a novel, ironically seem to enable artistry. We've tried to ask
ourselves to what degree the formal constraints in IF do the same.

2. We've played some very puzzle-intensive games (A Change in the
Weather) and some games with virtually no puzzles (Photopia). We've
talked a lot about whether puzzles and "conventional narrative" are in
conflict with one another. Is it possible to achieve the same level of
pathos one experiences in Photopia with a game like Weather?

3. Several of my students have wondered whether Andrew Plotkin is a
sadist. I, of course, wanted to talk about the degree to which the
author figures as a presence in these games (or what sort of situations
make us feel that presence or not).

4. We've spent a lot of time talking about immersion. Most students
found themselves feeling very much "in the world" in some situations,
but that other situations forced them out of that mode. We've talked a
great deal about what gives rise to these different impressions.

5. One can't go anywhere on pleases in IF, say anything one likes to an
NPC, touch everything in a room, examine all objects in complete detail,
and so forth. We've spent a lot of time (and here we're moving in to
game development a bit) talking about how authors "hide the seams" in
the game world -- and what "hiding the seams" means in the context of
art more generally.

Of course, I'm deeply indebted to this community for having raised these
issues many times on this list. My students seem to find them just as
provocative as you do.

My students have now started studying Inform and have been brainstorming
game ideas. I'm actually quite pleased at how quickly they're picking
it up -- a couple managed to write complete (though necessarily small)
games before we even started. One particularly bright student figured
out how to write a routine that lets you glue objects together!

We have a long way to go in Inform in the next several weeks, so we'll
see how it goes. If people are interested, I'll continue to post
updates.

Hope all is well,

Steve

--
Stephen Ramsay
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Georgia

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Sep 11, 2003, 9:59:10 PM9/11/03
to
Here, Stephen Ramsay <sra...@uga.edu> wrote:
> 3. Several of my students have wondered whether Andrew Plotkin is a
> sadist.

<snort>

You are aware, are you not, that my original "software company" -- the
label I used on my work when I was in high school -- was "Sadistic
Software"? It's still visible on the version info in my _Inhumane_.

I trust you gave them some notice that I've changed my approach since
_A Change in the Weather_. Well, somewhat. I hope.

> Of course, I'm deeply indebted to this community for having raised these
> issues many times on this list. My students seem to find them just as
> provocative as you do.

This all sounds unbearably cool. I hope (and humbly entreat) that you
are able to put together some of what comes out of class discussion,
and post it here.

--Z

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

Quintin Stone

unread,
Sep 11, 2003, 10:21:11 PM9/11/03
to
On Fri, 12 Sep 2003, Stephen Ramsay wrote:

> We have a long way to go in Inform in the next several weeks, so we'll
> see how it goes. If people are interested, I'll continue to post
> updates.

If I'd had a class like this in college, I might not have dropped out.

/====================================================================\
|| Quintin Stone O- > "You speak of necessary evil? One ||
|| Code Monkey < of those necessities is that if ||
|| Rebel Programmers Society > innocents must suffer, the guilty must ||
|| st...@rps.net < suffer more." -- Mackenzie Calhoun ||
|| http://www.rps.net/ > "Once Burned" by Peter David ||
\====================================================================/

Michael Coyne

unread,
Sep 11, 2003, 10:41:03 PM9/11/03
to
On Fri, 12 Sep 2003 01:26:06 +0000, Stephen Ramsay said to the parser:

> I have a great group of students (about 12) -- most are English majors,
> but there are a few from other humanities disciplines. I have some
> serious writers in the class, a few gifted hackers, and at least six
> die-hard game fanatics. Most had played IF before, but none of them
> very extensively.

Steve, sounds like you've got a really interesting course going there, and
I second Zarf's request for any tidbits that you can dole out to us.

I realise that if you're now into programming Inform in the class, your
students are probably pretty busy, but I have to ask what may be questions
with obvious "Well of course!" answers....

a) have they been made aware of the existence of r.a.i-f and r.g.i-f?
b) are they aware of the IF Comp?
c) do you have any IF Comp-related activities planned for the class? e.g.
playing or judging some of the games? Maybe a useful assignment would be
submitting reviews of a few games, or even beta-style reports.
d) have they been told about the cabal?

Naturally, the answer to d) should be "They have been told that it
doesn't exist."

--
coyneATmbDOTsympaticoDOTca
What do you mean, I need a signature?

Steve Mading

unread,
Sep 12, 2003, 8:51:06 PM9/12/03
to
Stephen Ramsay <sra...@uga.edu> wrote:
: I posted to this list some time ago announcing my intention to teach an

: upper-division class in interactive fiction this fall at the University
: of Georgia. Several people asked me for updates on how it's going, so I
: thought I'd drop a quick note.

Wow, that sounds very cool. I'm surprised only 12 people signed up.
Was it pitched as a programming class or a literature class? In
other words, which department of the university is it under: English
or Comp Sci (or something else)?

: I have a great group of students (about 12) -- most are English majors,


: but there are a few from other humanities disciplines. I have some
: serious writers in the class, a few gifted hackers, and at least six
: die-hard game fanatics. Most had played IF before, but none of them
: very extensively.

: The first few weeks of class were mostly taken up with playing games and
: discussing them in class. Over the past few weeks we've played
: Adventure, Anchorhead, A Change in the Weather, Photopia, and Jigsaw --
: none of them very deeply, of course, but enough to get a sense for
: what's going on (they have to pick one to play through so they can write
: a game critique due around Thanksgiving).

Does this mean that they have to solve the game to be able to
write the paper and pass the class? That could make some of
those annoying puzzles *really* annoying if they come across
any of them:
"Hey, Bill, how did you do in that weird class. You know,
that one Ramsay tought?"
"*Sigh*, I didn't pass. I couldn't guess the verb."
"Huh?"

: Our discussions have been wide-ranging and very interesting. Here are a


: few issues that seem particularly persistent:

: 1. I suggested to them that the formal constraints of, say, a sonnet or
: a novel, ironically seem to enable artistry. We've tried to ask
: ourselves to what degree the formal constraints in IF do the same.

My response to this would be that it's not the constraint, its
the control. A novel author is no more constrained by the medium
than an interactive fiction author. But the novel author has total
control over what happens in his story, and the interactive fiction
writer does not. That is what makes the novel writer more enabled
to be artistic - control over what the final outcome looks like.
With interactive fiction, the final work of "art" is actually
designed by a comittee of two people - the writer and the player
of the game. (And in that regard, two different transcripts, of
the same game played by different people doing different commands,
can be thought of as two different works of art.)

Phrased that way, it really isn't the slightest bit ironic that
the novel writer is more enabled to be artistic. IF is really
art by comittee, and it's a committee of two people, the programmer
and the player, who don't know what each others' goals actually are.
The same problem would occur if two authors agreed to write a
novel together where they trade off every other paragraph, but
then they never tell each other where they want the story to go.

The art comes from the author's control over it, not the constraint
of the medium (which is really the medium's control over the author).

Stephen Ramsay

unread,
Sep 12, 2003, 11:41:25 PM9/12/03
to
On 2003-09-13, Steve Mading <mad...@baladi.bmrb.wisc.edu> wrote:
> Stephen Ramsay <sra...@uga.edu> wrote:
>: I posted to this list some time ago announcing my intention to teach an
>: upper-division class in interactive fiction this fall at the University
>: of Georgia. Several people asked me for updates on how it's going, so I
>: thought I'd drop a quick note.
>
> Wow, that sounds very cool. I'm surprised only 12 people signed up.
> Was it pitched as a programming class or a literature class? In
> other words, which department of the university is it under: English
> or Comp Sci (or something else)?

It was offered through the English department -- cross-listed for both
lit. majors and creative writing students, but open to all.

> Does this mean that they have to solve the game to be able to
> write the paper and pass the class? That could make some of
> those annoying puzzles *really* annoying if they come across
> any of them:
> "Hey, Bill, how did you do in that weird class. You know,
> that one Ramsay tought?"
> "*Sigh*, I didn't pass. I couldn't guess the verb."
> "Huh?"

They don't necessarily have to solve the game to complete the
assignment, though I would expect them (with a couple of months of lead
time) to be able to get considerably into the game.

> My response to this would be that it's not the constraint, its
> the control. A novel author is no more constrained by the medium
> than an interactive fiction author. But the novel author has total
> control over what happens in his story, and the interactive fiction
> writer does not.

Actually, a novel author is quite constrained. It is not possible to
create, for example, sound in a novel. But that is precisely what
prompts an author like Lawrence Durrell to describe the sound of birds
being startled from the steps of a library as "the sound made when the
pages of a great tome are turned over." The constraint demands a
certain ingenuity, which in turn leads to artistry. The constraints of
the stage abound with similar examples, as does poetry. One might say
that a free verse poet has "total control" over the words in the poem,
but one would not therefore say that is necessarily more artistic than,
say, a sonnet -- we might even be inclined to say the opposite.

It is also, I think, not entirely accurate to say that a novelist has
"total control" over what happens in a story. There is also a reader in
this equation who will elaborate, misconstrue, surmise, interpret, and
judge. Authors attempt to control such reactions (this is perhaps the
essence of what "rhetoric" means), but that control is necessarily
partial. It strikes me that what you are claiming for interactive
fiction is actually an inherent part of all artistic interactions, and
that we are speaking not of kind but of degree.

> The art comes from the author's control over it, not the constraint
> of the medium (which is really the medium's control over the author).

But this is a sort of tautology, isn't it? What does it mean to
"control" something if not to take its limitations and bend them to
one's will? An art form with absolutely no practical limitations (which
is somewhat difficult to conceive, I think) would probably merit some
other term.

Steve

--
Stephen Ramsay
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Georgia

email: sra...@uga.edu
web: http://cantor.english.uga.edu/
PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11

Daniel Phillips

unread,
Sep 13, 2003, 1:01:35 AM9/13/03
to
Stephen,

Prior to this general fall semester beginning, I actually sought out
your course ID at the University of Georgia web site. I remembered
seeing a fairly "general interest" description there. No specific
mentioning of the course being Interactive Fiction related, though, as
much as I was hoping to see it.

If only I lived in Georgia. I'm pretty positive that numerous other
people are thinking the same. It's interesting that you got the
people you did. Conveniently enough there are some hackers and
hard-core game players. Did the actual course list describe the
nature of this season's agenda for your course ID? How were the
students attracted to this course, and are they satisfied about what
they're going to learn, and are learning?

I'd like to comment on the worth of the nature of your course as it
relates to English and related degrees of interest. Naturally, I
think it's an excellent idea! What a most enjoyable way to
create/study wonderful works of art, refine writing, and learn of the
process of development and programming all at the same time. And
collaborative teamwork, at that, which is usually a good skill to
practice on.

And this, considering that it is in part the "game" field, which
generally seems to be looked down upon in educational institutions. I
feel these things are looked at by decision makers of that class as
not being "serious", practical, or purposeful. Similar in reasons to
why Tolkien is not being taught anymore, I suppose.

I don't know how this was pulled off as a viable course, but my hearty
congratulations. Hidden within the face value of things can often be
a deeper, worthier purpose as I think your course has proved. I hope
you continue to teach it, that perhaps it can spread around the
country, and that your students and you enjoy the course and spread
the word about Interactive Fiction.

I was wondering: Do you happen to have a syllabus about that you're
willing to share?

On Fri, 12 Sep 2003 01:26:06 GMT, Stephen Ramsay <sra...@uga.edu>
wrote:

Daniel Phillips
bandi...@toppler.zworg.com
[+]bandito[-]spam = [-]toppler[+]zworg.com

Stephen Ramsay

unread,
Sep 13, 2003, 5:22:09 PM9/13/03
to
On 2003-09-13, Daniel Phillips <ban...@zworg.com> wrote:
> Stephen,
>
> Prior to this general fall semester beginning, I actually sought out
> your course ID at the University of Georgia web site. I remembered
> seeing a fairly "general interest" description there. No specific
> mentioning of the course being Interactive Fiction related, though, as
> much as I was hoping to see it.

The course was listed as a "topics course," which is UGA-ese for
"courses that professors feel like teaching, but that don't fit into any
obvious category." You were probably looking at the general course listings for UGA. Most students would have seen this description:

"With the emergence of digital technology has come a profusion of new genres of narrative textuality--from hyperfiction and epistolary weblogs to video games and text-only live theater. This course will consider the constraints and potentials of these new media by focusing on "interactive fiction" (the mature form of the old fashioned text-adventure game). We will not merely study the genre, however. Much of this course will be devoted to learning how to create interactive fictional narratives using a programming language specifically designed for IF."

I'm sure you won't regard that as a great description, but I was a bit
worried about it not getting approved by the department. As it
happened, my colleagues all think it sound great.

> If only I lived in Georgia. I'm pretty positive that numerous other
> people are thinking the same. It's interesting that you got the
> people you did. Conveniently enough there are some hackers and
> hard-core game players. Did the actual course list describe the
> nature of this season's agenda for your course ID? How were the
> students attracted to this course, and are they satisfied about what
> they're going to learn, and are learning?

I had conceived of the course as a one-off, but it seems like a huge hit
-- the student's are *way* into it, and I've had a legion off pissed-off
graduate students approaching me and asking why I'm not offering a
graduate section.

I thought for sure I'd have a full class (my lab is capped at 17). One
student suggested that "When students see a description like that, they
figure, 'Oh, there's got to be a catch.'" And, of course, there is: you
have to be willing to learn an entire programming language in some
detail.

However, "humanities computing" is a concentration area in our
department, and many of students in my intro. section have expressed
interest.

> I'd like to comment on the worth of the nature of your course as it
> relates to English and related degrees of interest. Naturally, I
> think it's an excellent idea! What a most enjoyable way to
> create/study wonderful works of art, refine writing, and learn of the
> process of development and programming all at the same time. And
> collaborative teamwork, at that, which is usually a good skill to
> practice on.

Oh, absolutely. It's really the essence of my own research area as
well. Most of my work is about the implications of computer technology
for literary hermeneutics (I design software that creates complex
visualization of narrative texts). This course really brings together
much of what I want my students to think about.

> And this, considering that it is in part the "game" field, which
> generally seems to be looked down upon in educational institutions. I
> feel these things are looked at by decision makers of that class as
> not being "serious", practical, or purposeful. Similar in reasons to
> why Tolkien is not being taught anymore, I suppose.

Well, if you're the right age you may want to think about UGA. We have
a medievalist on the faculty who is a noted Tolkien scholar, and he
teaches a course on it every couple of years.

I actually think game studies, software studies, and humanities
computing are all on the rise. There are some old foggies out there
who resist all of this, but I think they're really in the minority.
Younger professors are very in touch with the fact that games are
becoming of the most important genres of the new century. There's also
been some really, really top-notch scholarship of late by really, really
top-notch critics.

> I don't know how this was pulled off as a viable course, but my hearty
> congratulations. Hidden within the face value of things can often be
> a deeper, worthier purpose as I think your course has proved. I hope
> you continue to teach it, that perhaps it can spread around the
> country, and that your students and you enjoy the course and spread
> the word about Interactive Fiction.

I think most people would be surprised at what an "English course" it
is. We're really talking about all the same issues we discuss in a
Shakespeare course, but this particularly genre forces us to notice
things that are hard to see in more conventional works. It is, as far
as I am concerned, utterly impervious to charges of lack of rigor and
depth.

> I was wondering: Do you happen to have a syllabus about that you're
> willing to share?

Yes.

http://cantor.english.uga.edu/cocoon/classes/engl4890.html

I have hesitated to draw public attention to this document because there
are a couple of, um, commercial games that I am making available to my
students. I have them mounted on a server accessible only to the class,
and I have threatened them with bodily harm if they attempt to break
through the defences and pop these onto a file sharing service. I
couldn't find a license on the Activision Masterpieces CD, but I'm sure
they wouldn't like it (and I hope they're not watching this list!).

Steve

--
Stephen Ramsay
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Georgia

Michael Coyne

unread,
Sep 14, 2003, 9:19:46 PM9/14/03
to
On Fri, 12 Sep 2003 01:26:06 +0000, Stephen Ramsay said to the parser:

> I have a great group of students (about 12) -- most are English


> majors, but there are a few from other humanities disciplines. I have
> some serious writers in the class, a few gifted hackers, and at least
> six die-hard game fanatics. Most had played IF before, but none of
> them very extensively.

[reposting this because it seems to have been cancelled by Pan]

Steve, sounds like you've got a really interesting course going there,
and I second Zarf's request for any tidbits that you can dole out to us.

I realise that if you're now into programming Inform in the class, your
students are probably pretty busy, but I have to ask what may be
questions with obvious "Well of course!" answers....

a) have they been made aware of the existence of r.a.i-f and r.g.i-f?
b) are they aware of the IF Comp?
c) do you have any IF Comp-related activities planned for the class?
e.g. playing or judging some of the games? Maybe a useful assignment
would be submitting reviews of a few games, or even beta-style reports.
d) have they been told about the cabal?

Naturally, the answer to d) should be "They have been told that it

doesn't exist." Because it doesn't.

--
coyneATmtsDOTnet

ems...@mindspring.com

unread,
Sep 14, 2003, 10:59:36 PM9/14/03
to
Stephen Ramsay <sra...@uga.edu> wrote in message news:<5UL8b.2527$fm2...@bignews1.bellsouth.net>...

> On 2003-09-13, Daniel Phillips <ban...@zworg.com> wrote:

> > I was wondering: Do you happen to have a syllabus about that you're
> > willing to share?
>
> Yes.
>
> http://cantor.english.uga.edu/cocoon/classes/engl4890.html

Cool stuff, but you've attributed Worlds Apart to me, depriving
Suzanne Britton of her rightful honors.

-- Emily

Stephen Ramsay

unread,
Sep 14, 2003, 11:25:15 PM9/14/03
to

Good heavens!

Thank you so much. That is, of course, a misprint. I will fix it
immediately.

Thanks!

Steve

(P.S. You appear so many times on the syllabus, Emily. I must have
gotten carried away :)

Steve Mading

unread,
Sep 15, 2003, 3:16:05 PM9/15/03
to
Stephen Ramsay <sra...@uga.edu> wrote:

I disagree strongly with the notion that adding constraints increases
artistry. Consider the degenerate case, where so many constraints
are added that the creator of the work has no choice but to make
only one kind of work. (Pull a lever, and out pops a book). We
don't consider this to be art because for it to be art the creator
has to have some say-so in what occurs. Otherwise we'd be considering
the guy running the printing press where a book is being made to be
an artist. The more the medium limits you, the less you can put
your own decisions into the final work. The kind of constraints
you mentioned in the above paragraph are merely constraining which
senses can be use to communicate the story to the audience. They
don't constrain the actual content of that story. The kinds of
constraints in IF actually constrain the content of the story
itself, which is far more limiting to the artistry than the
relatively trivial issue of which senses are used to communicate
the story. (Otherwise IF stories that only display text (with
no multimedia) should be just as artistic as a novel, if the
senses used were the only factor involved, but clearly they are
not.)

: It is also, I think, not entirely accurate to say that a novelist has


: "total control" over what happens in a story. There is also a reader in
: this equation who will elaborate, misconstrue, surmise, interpret, and
: judge. Authors attempt to control such reactions (this is perhaps the
: essence of what "rhetoric" means), but that control is necessarily
: partial. It strikes me that what you are claiming for interactive
: fiction is actually an inherent part of all artistic interactions, and
: that we are speaking not of kind but of degree.

:> The art comes from the author's control over it, not the constraint
:> of the medium (which is really the medium's control over the author).

: But this is a sort of tautology, isn't it? What does it mean to
: "control" something if not to take its limitations and bend them to
: one's will?

"Bending it's limitations to one's will" is a concept I cannot fathom
the semantic meaning of. (Actually, I can, but only in a way that
doesn't make sense, so I'm assuming I'm not understanding you.)

: An art form with absolutely no practical limitations (which

Mike Roberts

unread,
Sep 15, 2003, 4:55:41 PM9/15/03
to
"Steve Mading" <mad...@baladi.bmrb.wisc.edu> wrote:
> The kinds of constraints in IF actually constrain the content
> of the story itself [...].

How so?

It seems to me that, in the worst case, you can always resort to a cut scene
to include any content that you could include in a novel. It's more
artistic if you can find a more interactive way to present the same content,
but I think that plays into the original point about constraints and
artistry.

--Mike
mjr underscore at hotmail dot com

dreamfarmer

unread,
Sep 15, 2003, 6:20:01 PM9/15/03
to
Stephen Ramsay <sra...@uga.edu> wrote in message news:<Og98b.68

>
> 1. I suggested to them that the formal constraints of, say, a sonnet or
> a novel, ironically seem to enable artistry. We've tried to ask
> ourselves to what degree the formal constraints in IF do the same.
>

I think this is a really interesting idea. I agree that the formal
constraints of many art forms (at least, written ones, which is what
I'm most familiar with) enable artistry, or at least artistic
endeavor.

As I understand it, this is because structure is crucial to the
development of a meaningful work of art. Predefined structures like
sonnets, haiku and novels all allow an artist to work on the content
without worrying overly about the form.

It's also true, though, that an awareness of the limitations of the
structure encourage an artist to develop workarounds-- find the right
syllables for a haiku, find the right meter and rhyme for a sonnet.
Find the right words to describe music in a novel, along with the
correct plot elements in order to keep the story solid.

The constraints, however, aren't just the physical limitations of the
medium, but also the time-tested rules that enable the work to
function and be understood-- and to some extent define what its
function is.

Consider: in a short story, red herrings are against the rules. You
don't, as they say, put the gun on the wall (and mention it
explicitly) unless it's going to be meaningful later.

A novel may have extraneous objects as part of a description simply
because the allowable word count for a novel is so much higher than
for a short story. But it isn't satisfying for a novel to leave loose
ends and unanswered questions, whereas a short story often does.

Following rules like this make a story have a satisfying cohesion. You
can break these rules-- but doing so is best left to somebody who has
demonstrated a thorough understanding of the rules and has a specific
reason for breaking them, rather than a novice.

In IF, 'red herrings' -- that is, explicit objects extraneous to the
plot -- are acceptable, sometimes even encouraged in order to support
mimesis (as long as they're properly implemented). The status of
unresolved plotlines and loose ends has yet to be satisfyingly
hammered out (I think). However, in modern IF, mazes are definitely
Against The Rules, and should only be implemented by somebody who has
a demonstrated mastery of the existing rules-- and a really good
reason for breaking them. A constraint beyond those of the medium
itself... and there are more.

IF should be written in present tense, second person-- but there are
games that break this rule, for better or worse.

IF should be interactive-- that is, satisfyingly responsive to the
desires of the player, but several very impressive works have been
released that aggressively ignore that rule.

IF often has a prologue, and usually has an ending. It usually
contains concrete locations to explore. And so on and so forth.

All together, the existing constraints of IF do encourage certain
kinds of artistry (the portrayal of character, for example, and the
development of puzzles), but I think that because it is still a very
young art form, a lot of the rules are still being hashed out.
Typically, one must acquire mastery over existing structures before
moving on to inventing your own personal structure, but because the
rules of IF are still being developed, it seems like every year or
two, a new structural innovation shows up. As time passes, I imagine
the ideas that work will be integrated into one of a handful of common
structural solutions for IF, until at last there's a few time-honored
formats like those of various forms of poetry and theater.

I'm curious what conclusion your students arrived at on this subject!

--Chrysoula

Stephen Ramsay

unread,
Sep 15, 2003, 11:49:19 PM9/15/03
to
On 2003-09-15, dreamfarmer <exst...@msn.com> wrote:
> As I understand it, this is because structure is crucial to the
> development of a meaningful work of art. Predefined structures like
> sonnets, haiku and novels all allow an artist to work on the content
> without worrying overly about the form.
>
> It's also true, though, that an awareness of the limitations of the
> structure encourage an artist to develop workarounds-- find the right
> syllables for a haiku, find the right meter and rhyme for a sonnet.
> Find the right words to describe music in a novel, along with the
> correct plot elements in order to keep the story solid.

But don't you think the latter idea is the dominant one in most instances of
artmaking? I don't know if it's possible to write the "content" of,
say, a haiku poem "without worrying about the form" It's impossible to
write a haiku poem without an awarness of the constraints which the
genre imposes.

That relationship is agonistic to a certain degree, but fruitfully so.


--
Stephen Ramsay
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Georgia

Steve Mading

unread,
Sep 16, 2003, 12:35:05 AM9/16/03
to
Mike Roberts <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> wrote:

: "Steve Mading" <mad...@baladi.bmrb.wisc.edu> wrote:
:> The kinds of constraints in IF actually constrain the content
:> of the story itself [...].

: How so?

Because the author cannot entirely control the content of the story
unless the story is "railroaded" such that it is a lie to call it
"interactive". If there is only one answer to each puzzle, and
you can only solve the puzzles in one order, and you can only
walk through the rooms in one order, then the fiction isn't
at all interactive. The input of the player serves only to determine
how far into the story you go before you die, not what the content
of the story actually is. It works like this: There is an inverse
relationship between how much control the author has and how much
the player has - they sum up to the same amount. If one has more
control, the other has less. Thus the author's control is maximized
when the story is not interactive (player has no control), and
(if this was technically feasable) minimized when the story is
100% interactive (player has total control). In practice, IF games are
somewhere between the two. Ones with a specific plot give the player
less control, and ones without a specific plot give the plaer more
control. The thing is, the ones with a more rigid plot are often
more enjoyable, specifically because they allow the author to be
more artistic (not because he is more constrained, as you claimed,
but because he is LESS constrained when more of the control is
taken away from the player and put in his lap.)

: It seems to me that, in the worst case, you can always resort to a cut scene


: to include any content that you could include in a novel.

A cut-scene is not interactive fiction. (Not that I'm saying
that's a bad thing - just that it isn't correct to claim the
strengths of using a cut-scene as being a feature of interactive
fiction. A cutscene is a place where the author felt the need
to insert some non-interactive fiction into the otherwise
interactive work.)

: It's more


: artistic if you can find a more interactive way to present the same content,
: but I think that plays into the original point about constraints and
: artistry.

I thought the original claim was that more constraints made things
more artistic, with the implied premise that IF is less artistic
than a novel because it is less constrained than a novel. The
above paragraph, on the other hand, seems to use the exact
opposite premise, that an IF game is more artistic, so I don't
think that plays into the original point at all.

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Sep 16, 2003, 12:56:55 AM9/16/03
to
Here, Steve Mading <mad...@baladi.bmrb.wisc.edu> wrote:

> It works like this: There is an inverse relationship between how
> much control the author has and how much the player has - they sum
> up to the same amount. If one has more control, the other has less.

That's way oversimplified. Any game has many levels on which that
give-and-take occurs. The player won't perceive all those levels
equally. More or less the whole challenge of writing IF is presenting
appropriate ranges of action *at appropriate levels of abstraction*,
so that the player feels that *both* his own actions and the story's
development are unforced.

Steve Mading

unread,
Sep 16, 2003, 12:51:26 AM9/16/03
to
dreamfarmer <exst...@msn.com> wrote:
: Stephen Ramsay <sra...@uga.edu> wrote in message news:<Og98b.68

:>
:> 1. I suggested to them that the formal constraints of, say, a sonnet or
:> a novel, ironically seem to enable artistry. We've tried to ask
:> ourselves to what degree the formal constraints in IF do the same.
:>

: I think this is a really interesting idea. I agree that the formal
: constraints of many art forms (at least, written ones, which is what
: I'm most familiar with) enable artistry, or at least artistic
: endeavor.

: As I understand it, this is because structure is crucial to the
: development of a meaningful work of art. Predefined structures like
: sonnets, haiku and novels all allow an artist to work on the content
: without worrying overly about the form.

I would characterize the phrase "without worrying about overly
about the form" as meaning "can use any form you feel like",
which mose certainly not the case for something like Haiku.
Thinkng 'Okay - three lines: first is 5 sylables, second is 7,
and the last is 5" *is* worrying about the form. Thinking,
"Okay, write some words" is not.

: It's also true, though, that an awareness of the limitations of the


: structure encourage an artist to develop workarounds-- find the right
: syllables for a haiku, find the right meter and rhyme for a sonnet.
: Find the right words to describe music in a novel, along with the
: correct plot elements in order to keep the story solid.

: The constraints, however, aren't just the physical limitations of the
: medium, but also the time-tested rules that enable the work to
: function and be understood-- and to some extent define what its
: function is.

: Consider: in a short story, red herrings are against the rules. You
: don't, as they say, put the gun on the wall (and mention it
: explicitly) unless it's going to be meaningful later.

Unless it's a mystery. Then red herrings are not just allowed,
but actually expected. Even in a short story mystery. If
the only stuff that exists is stuff that is relevant, then
it makes the mystery too easy.

: A novel may have extraneous objects as part of a description simply


: because the allowable word count for a novel is so much higher than
: for a short story. But it isn't satisfying for a novel to leave loose
: ends and unanswered questions, whereas a short story often does.

: Following rules like this make a story have a satisfying cohesion. You
: can break these rules-- but doing so is best left to somebody who has
: demonstrated a thorough understanding of the rules and has a specific
: reason for breaking them, rather than a novice.

: In IF, 'red herrings' -- that is, explicit objects extraneous to the
: plot -- are acceptable, sometimes even encouraged in order to support
: mimesis (as long as they're properly implemented). The status of
: unresolved plotlines and loose ends has yet to be satisfyingly
: hammered out (I think). However, in modern IF, mazes are definitely
: Against The Rules,

Mazes are not necessarily against the "rules". Only mazes that fold
space are against the "rules" (.i.e. the famous "Maze of twisty
little passages" that violated the principle of giving the player
something that is spatially possible.)

: and should only be implemented by somebody who has


: a demonstrated mastery of the existing rules-- and a really good
: reason for breaking them. A constraint beyond those of the medium
: itself... and there are more.

: IF should be written in present tense, second person-- but there are
: games that break this rule, for better or worse.

: IF should be interactive-- that is, satisfyingly responsive to the
: desires of the player, but several very impressive works have been
: released that aggressively ignore that rule.

: IF often has a prologue, and usually has an ending. It usually
: contains concrete locations to explore. And so on and so forth.

: All together, the existing constraints of IF do encourage certain
: kinds of artistry (the portrayal of character, for example, and the
: development of puzzles), but I think that because it is still a very
: young art form, a lot of the rules are still being hashed out.

I think that there is actually a new layer of "art" that lays
underneath the work of fiction in IF these days in modern
commercial adventure programs. That new layer is the art of
building a believable interaction system *without* putting a
story on top of it yet. The creation of the game "engine" is
itself a work of art. In the world of text adventures we
have things like INFORM, TADS, QUEST, and so on. But in the
"video game" world that same role is also played by the engine
behind the story. Say you are playing Arcanum, or Fallout.
They both use the same engine behind the story, even though
the stories are totally different. And I do think it is
correct to qualify the creation of that engine as a seperate
work of art from the creation of the story that runs on top
of it. (Much like the creation of the archetect that builds
a theatre is a separate work of art from the play that is
going on in that theatre.)

: Typically, one must acquire mastery over existing structures before

Mike Roberts

unread,
Sep 16, 2003, 1:30:26 AM9/16/03
to
"Steve Mading" <mad...@baladi.bmrb.wisc.edu> wrote:
> mjr:

> : "Steve Mading" <mad...@baladi.bmrb.wisc.edu> wrote:
> :> The kinds of constraints in IF actually constrain the content
> :> of the story itself [...].
>
> : How so?
>
> Because the author cannot entirely control the content of the
> story unless the story is "railroaded" such that it is a lie to call
> it "interactive".

What does the author's degree of control over the story have to do with
constraints on the content of the story? I don't understand what you're
getting at here. Maybe an example would help - could you give me an example
of content that is impossible to put in an interactive game?

Perhaps my point was unclear. I was mainly asking what you meant when you
said that constraints in IF constrain the content of the story itself. The
first thing that came to mind was that you meant certain subject matter
couldn't be addressed in IF, like you couldn't write a story set on a moon
of Saturn or something, but that obviously makes no sense. So the next
thing that came to mind was that you couldn't have certain kinds of things
happen, because they depend too much on the player doing a specific thing at
a specific time, thus my cut scene comment. Was my second guess what you
were getting at, or was it something else?

> It works like this: There is an inverse relationship between how
> much control the author has and how much the player has - they
> sum up to the same amount.

I don't think I agree. If you broaden the context to think about
non-narrative games, you can look at things like chess, where the "author"
totally controls the rules, hence the players have severely limited choices
within those rules, but an endless variety of interesting potential games
nonetheless emerges.

> Thus the author's control is maximized when the story is

> not interactive (player has no control) [...]

You seem to be equating player control and interactivity. This is a common
position, but one I disagree with. I've gone on at length before about how
they're actually orthogonal; see, for example,
http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=vP0oa.11%24bd1.64%40news.oracle.com.

> : It's more artistic if you can find a more interactive way to
> : present the same content, but I think that plays into the original
> : point about constraints and artistry.
>
> I thought the original claim was that more constraints made things

> more artistic, [...]

Yes, which is what I was getting at: interactive = more constraints on
authorship = more artistic.

> [...] with the implied premise that IF is less artistic than a novel


> because it is less constrained than a novel.

No, no, no - my point was that an IF author is more constrained because of
the interactive element. On that we seem to agree. My objection was to the
assertion that the *content* is constrained. As I see it, it's the
structure and form that's constrained, not the content. But as I said, I'm
not sure I know what you were getting at when you said that it was.

Jaap van der Velde

unread,
Sep 16, 2003, 2:43:37 AM9/16/03
to
On Sat, 13 Sep 2003 00:51:06 +0000 (UTC), Steve Mading
<mad...@baladi.bmrb.wisc.edu> wrote:

>Stephen Ramsay <sra...@uga.edu> wrote:
>: 1. I suggested to them that the formal constraints of, say, a sonnet or
>: a novel, ironically seem to enable artistry. We've tried to ask
>: ourselves to what degree the formal constraints in IF do the same.

I'm sorry, I have misplaced the original post this quote appeared in,
so I'm responding to Steve Madings reply instead.

A number the discussions on this group have converged on the
constraints of IF in its current medium: the PC and in some cases the
handheld computer. You can find many a discussion on Google about
reading off the screen and the resulting need for brevity.

Also, I was wondering about you definition of IF? What exactly do you
consider to be IF. If the answer to my question is in the syllabus, I
am sorry, but I was unable to reach the URL you provided.

Greetings,
JAAP.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
"The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe
is that it has never tried to contact us."
-- Calvin and Hobbes (Bill Watterson)

dreamfarmer

unread,
Sep 16, 2003, 11:15:04 AM9/16/03
to
Stephen Ramsay <sra...@uga.edu> wrote in message news:<3Lv9b.13737$Ci3....@bignews3.bellsouth.net>...

> On 2003-09-15, dreamfarmer <exst...@msn.com> wrote:

> > It's also true, though, that an awareness of the limitations of the
> > structure encourage an artist to develop workarounds-- find the right
> > syllables for a haiku, find the right meter and rhyme for a sonnet.
> > Find the right words to describe music in a novel, along with the
> > correct plot elements in order to keep the story solid.
>
> But don't you think the latter idea is the dominant one in most instances of
> artmaking? I don't know if it's possible to write the "content" of,
> say, a haiku poem "without worrying about the form" It's impossible to
> write a haiku poem without an awarness of the constraints which the
> genre imposes.
>
> That relationship is agonistic to a certain degree, but fruitfully so.

Steve Madding also wrote:

> I would characterize the phrase "without worrying about overly
> about the form" as meaning "can use any form you feel like",
> which mose certainly not the case for something like Haiku.
> Thinkng 'Okay - three lines: first is 5 sylables, second is 7,
> and the last is 5" *is* worrying about the form. Thinking,
> "Okay, write some words" is not.


By 'worrying about the form', I meant 'designing a successful form'.
For many people, following an existing form is easier than creating
trustworthy new structures. Why? Well, there's this theory that
constraints encourage creativity within their boundries... (I wonder
if anybody has read _Starburst_ by Frederick Pohl? It's a short little
science fiction novel that spins around the idea that the more limited
in resources humans are, the more innovative they become (but the more
resources they have, the less they're likely to bother innovating))

When you're working with an existing structure, you don't have to
worry about defining the boundries in the same way you do when you're
inventing something new. You can focus all of your attention on the
content.


--Chrysoula

Steve Mading

unread,
Sep 16, 2003, 5:19:44 PM9/16/03
to
Mike Roberts <mj...@hotmail.com> wrote:
: "Steve Mading" <mad...@baladi.bmrb.wisc.edu> wrote:
:>
:> I thought the original claim was that more constraints made things
:> more artistic, [...]

: Yes, which is what I was getting at: interactive = more constraints on
: authorship = more artistic.

:> [...] with the implied premise that IF is less artistic than a novel
:> because it is less constrained than a novel.

: No, no, no - my point was that an IF author is more constrained because of
: the interactive element. On that we seem to agree.

Ah, now the point of miscommunication becomes clear.
That was not at all clear before this post. You see, I am approaching
this from the standpoint of someone who thinks that the novel is far
more artistic than IF, and assumed this as an obvious, axiomatic fact,
and had thus (falsely) assumed you though the same as well. Thus
when you said more constraints equals more art, I assumed this statment
contained the implication that you also believe novels are more
constrained than IF.

(I'm not saying I'm not entertained by IF - but often entertainment
is different from art. (And I typically am more in the mood for
entertainment.) )

: My objection was to the


: assertion that the *content* is constrained. As I see it, it's the
: structure and form that's constrained, not the content. But as I said, I'm
: not sure I know what you were getting at when you said that it was.

The content is the setting, the characters, and the actual sequence of
events that occur in the story. IF still allows the author control over
the first two, but not the last one (With the caveat that if the
game is railroaded, then he still does, but it's not much of an
interactive work anymore at that point (the player cannot decide
anything about the story at all.))

Steve Mading

unread,
Sep 16, 2003, 5:22:45 PM9/16/03
to
dreamfarmer <exst...@msn.com> wrote:
: Stephen Ramsay <sra...@uga.edu> wrote in message news:<3Lv9b.13737$Ci3....@bignews3.bellsouth.net>...

: Steve Madding also wrote:

Assuming, of course, you consider defining the boundries to even
be necessary, otherwise you don't have to and you can just focus
on the content even easier without any boundries in the way.

dgr...@cs.csbuak.edu

unread,
Sep 16, 2003, 7:15:34 PM9/16/03
to
Stephen Ramsay <sra...@uga.edu> wrote:
> I posted to this list some time ago announcing my intention to teach an
> upper-division class in interactive fiction this fall at the University
> of Georgia. Several people asked me for updates on how it's going, so I
> thought I'd drop a quick note.

What interpreter are you using to play the games?

--
David Griffith
dgr...@cs.csbuak.edu <-- Switch the 'b' and 'u'

David Thornley

unread,
Sep 16, 2003, 11:31:35 PM9/16/03
to
In article <bk7upg$5oi$1...@news.doit.wisc.edu>,

Steve Mading <mad...@baladi.bmrb.wisc.edu> wrote:
>
>Ah, now the point of miscommunication becomes clear.
>That was not at all clear before this post. You see, I am approaching
>this from the standpoint of someone who thinks that the novel is far
>more artistic than IF, and assumed this as an obvious, axiomatic fact,
>and had thus (falsely) assumed you though the same as well.

In my experience, it isn't even correct to say that the novel is more
artistic than IF. It depends a lot on which novel and which IF.

Moreover, this is by no means a fair comparison. IF was written by
a few companies a while back, and since then has been written by
a few dozen amateurs in their spare time (who, in my opinion, have
achieved better art than their commercial predecessors - at least
the good ones did).

Novels have been written for a *long* time by various sorts of
people including bona fide geniuses. Defoe is usually credited
with writing the first novel in English; when did he live? In
the meantime, we have had many centuries of professionals and a
large corpus of knowledge about how to write novels.

Even so, I still occasionally wind up reading novels with less artistic
merit than some IF (in my judgement, anyway).

If we were to consider the IF of 2200, after generations of professionals
had done their best and legions of academics had studied IF (yeah, right),
I think that could be fairly compared to 20th-Century novels.

--
David H. Thornley | If you want my opinion, ask.
da...@thornley.net | If you don't, flee.
http://www.thornley.net/~thornley/david/ | O-

Joe Mason

unread,
Sep 17, 2003, 2:21:50 AM9/17/03
to
In article <bk656n$enr$1...@reader2.panix.com>, Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> Here, Steve Mading <mad...@baladi.bmrb.wisc.edu> wrote:
>
>> It works like this: There is an inverse relationship between how
>> much control the author has and how much the player has - they sum
>> up to the same amount. If one has more control, the other has less.
>
> That's way oversimplified. Any game has many levels on which that
> give-and-take occurs. The player won't perceive all those levels
> equally. More or less the whole challenge of writing IF is presenting
> appropriate ranges of action *at appropriate levels of abstraction*,
> so that the player feels that *both* his own actions and the story's
> development are unforced.

But this give-and-take is as much dependant on the content of the story
as its form. Sometimes you have to make such tradeoffs because part of
your story just can't be told interactively - for instance, if it
requires a particular motivation on the part of the PC. That's why
there are restraints of content on IF, not just of form like in a
sonnet, which led someone (um, I've lost track of who was arguing what)
to claim that IF doesn't fit the pattern of greater art from a more
constrained medium.

It strikes me that a movie is a better analogy than a novel here,
though, because the content of a movie is similarly constrained by
special effects budgets and the difficulty of showing abstracts.

Joe

Joe Mason

unread,
Sep 17, 2003, 2:22:46 AM9/17/03
to
In article <Sdx9b.194$c65.26...@newssvr13.news.prodigy.com>, Mike Roberts wrote:
> What does the author's degree of control over the story have to do with
> constraints on the content of the story? I don't understand what you're
> getting at here. Maybe an example would help - could you give me an example
> of content that is impossible to put in an interactive game?

The canonical example is Romeo and Juliet. You just can't tell the
story without at least one protagonist acting like a lovesick idiot.

Joe

Mike Roberts

unread,
Sep 17, 2003, 3:55:56 AM9/17/03
to
"Joe Mason" <j...@notcharles.ca> wrote:
>mjr:

> > Maybe an example would help - could you give me an example
> > of content that is impossible to put in an interactive game?
> The canonical example is Romeo and Juliet. You just can't tell the
> story without at least one protagonist acting like a lovesick idiot.

Even granting that it's impossible to lead a player into making the PC act
like a lovesick idiot, of which I'm not completely convinced, couldn't this
story still be cast in interactive form by making the PC a character other
than Romeo or Juliet? The PC doesn't necessarily have to be the
protagonist.

To clarify my position, I'm not saying that any arbitrary string of
sentences can be an interactive story; that's not what I mean by "content."
I'm talking about the next level of abstraction up - setting and plot and
character and so on. I'm sure there are plenty of strings of sentences that
can't be cast satisfyingly in interactive form. What I'm getting at is that
there are lots of ways to tell the same story, so it's harder to buy that
there exist stories for which there are no possible interactive renditions.

If we're defining "content" in terms of the specific rendition of a story -
if you'd answer my proposal above by saying that the only way to tell the
story you wanted to tell is for the PC to be Juliet - then, sure, I agree
that there's content that won't work interactively.

Christopher Martino

unread,
Sep 17, 2003, 1:01:53 PM9/17/03
to
I do think constraints enable artistry to a great degree, but the
relationship isn't proportional. Here, I'll offer the word "boundaries" for
constraints and "craftsmanship" for artistry. Most constraints in any
medium are choosen by the creator as the best method for expressing their
vision. A poet can choose any number of ways to write a poem, but if he
chooses a haiku, then he'd better obey the stop sign at the end of the line.
A painter can't paint off the canvass, etc.

Anyway, one of the major constraints in IF is the lack of control over the
player. A good IF author will allow multiple solutions to a puzzle, but a
great one can subtly lead the player to some of the most dramatic solutions.
In other words I can show you the door, but you have to walk through it.
And I guarantee you'll try if I put a sign that says "Warning: Do Not Enter"
on it.
Cm

"dreamfarmer" <exst...@msn.com> wrote in message
news:a839f13.03091...@posting.google.com...

dreamfarmer

unread,
Sep 17, 2003, 4:24:55 PM9/17/03
to
Steve Mading <mad...@baladi.bmrb.wisc.edu> wrote in message news:<bk7uv5

> Assuming, of course, you consider defining the boundries to even
> be necessary, otherwise you don't have to and you can just focus
> on the content even easier without any boundries in the way.

I completely disagree. Without boundaries the content has no structure
or form; without structure, the content is incomprehensible. I think
instead people may choose to work within boundaries so familiar they
can't imagine working outside them-- but even so, trusting only in a
subconscious awareness of the boundaries is equivalent to trusting
that you're incredibly gifted. Consistent, well-received results
depend on thoroughly understanding the rules and limitations of what
you're trying to do. This is one reason why it's so important to read
what you want to write, or watch what you want to film (or whatever).

Additionally, I personally find rules and structures inspiring, and
the more limiting the criteria, the more quickly I come up with an
idea. This may just be a function of a subconsious sorting methodology
but the end result is the more boundaries I have, the easier it is for
me to focus on content. Coming up with an idea for a game I want to
write based on 'Write a game' is hard work. Coming up with an idea
after being told 'write a six hour game' is a bit easier. Being told
'come up with a six hour pirate game that features a swordfight and a
redhead' practically designs itself, comparatively.*

*Some might claim that that the more criteria are involved, the more
'obvious' the end result is, and thus the less creative work one has
to do. But to them I say this: Ask 10 people each to write a ten
minute long game that features a raft, a child, a magpie, and the Mona
Lisa, and you'll get 10 wildly different games.* And you'll get them
more quickly than if you simply asked them to write a ten minute game.
And a lot more quickly than if you just asked them to write a game.
And thus, constraints enable creativity.


*At least two of which will be missing one element. Yet still,
creativity was enabled.

So there's my theory of constraints and art.

--Chrysoula

Rexx Magnus

unread,
Sep 18, 2003, 9:58:02 AM9/18/03
to
On Mon, 15 Sep 2003 19:16:05 GMT, Steve Mading scrawled:

>: certain ingenuity, which in turn leads to artistry. The constraints of
>: the stage abound with similar examples, as does poetry. One might say
>: that a free verse poet has "total control" over the words in the poem,
>: but one would not therefore say that is necessarily more artistic than,
>: say, a sonnet -- we might even be inclined to say the opposite.
>
> I disagree strongly with the notion that adding constraints increases
> artistry.

*snip for context*

Having done art - and also having had to make 3d models with limitations -
I *know* that limitations cause you to have to be more creative or
artistic. Creativity and artistry in this case comes from trying to work
out how to do what you want within limitations - which causes you to be
more creative. If you're given every tool in the universe with which to
complete a task, there's no scope for creativity, as you just grab the one
that does the job the easiest.

--
UO & AC Herbal - http://www.rexx.co.uk/herbal

To email me, visit the site.

A.P. Hill

unread,
Sep 18, 2003, 3:47:05 PM9/18/03
to
> Having done art - and also having had to make 3d models with limitations -
> I *know* that limitations cause you to have to be more creative or
> artistic. Creativity and artistry in this case comes from trying to work
> out how to do what you want within limitations - which causes you to be
> more creative. If you're given every tool in the universe with which to
> complete a task, there's no scope for creativity, as you just grab the one
> that does the job the easiest.

Are you saying that if I had all the ingredients to a salad, that I
couldn't make a creative dish? Why is everyone an expert and
theologian of shit? I even question those with credentials.

A.P. Hill
"Allow me to explain how awesome I am in ten essentials steps for your
easy memorization practices that are practical for most standard
PDA's."

Rexx Magnus

unread,
Sep 18, 2003, 5:03:06 PM9/18/03
to
On Thu, 18 Sep 2003 19:47:05 GMT, A.P. Hill scrawled:

> Are you saying that if I had all the ingredients to a salad, that I
> couldn't make a creative dish? Why is everyone an expert and
> theologian of shit? I even question those with credentials.

No, but if you had to cut a branch off a tree and had only a rope to do it
with, you'd be creative in the way you did it. If you had access to a
chainsaw, you wouldn't.

Mine is an opinion. If you don't think people should have those - what are
you doing on usenet?

Adam Thornton

unread,
Sep 18, 2003, 7:07:43 PM9/18/03
to
In article <61188078.03091...@posting.google.com>,

A.P. Hill <aph...@altavista.com> wrote:
>Are you saying that if I had all the ingredients to a salad, that I
>couldn't make a creative dish? Why is everyone an expert and
>theologian of shit? I even question those with credentials.

I could do something very creative with salad ingredients and
A.P. Hill.

Adam

Daryl McCullough

unread,
Sep 18, 2003, 7:37:19 PM9/18/03
to
Mike Roberts says...

>
>"Joe Mason" <j...@notcharles.ca> wrote:
>>mjr:
>> > Maybe an example would help - could you give me an example
>> > of content that is impossible to put in an interactive game?
>> The canonical example is Romeo and Juliet. You just can't tell the
>> story without at least one protagonist acting like a lovesick idiot.
>
>Even granting that it's impossible to lead a player into making the PC act
>like a lovesick idiot, of which I'm not completely convinced, couldn't this
>story still be cast in interactive form by making the PC a character other
>than Romeo or Juliet? The PC doesn't necessarily have to be the
>protagonist.

I sort of agree with Joe's point. To the extent that the player makes
important plot choices, a story that depends on a specific plot isn't
going to be told. If the story is *about* living with the consequences
of bad choices, then you can't tell the story unless those choices are
made.

Yes, there are ways in IF to take specific choices away from the player,
for instance, by giving those choices to an NPC, or by starting the action
after the crucial has already been made.

--
Daryl McCullough
Ithaca, NY

Mike Roberts

unread,
Sep 18, 2003, 10:13:54 PM9/18/03
to
"Daryl McCullough" <da...@atc-nycorp.com> wrote:
> I sort of agree with Joe's point. To the extent that the player makes
> important plot choices, a story that depends on a specific plot isn't
> going to be told. If the story is *about* living with the consequences
> of bad choices, then you can't tell the story unless those choices are
> made.

I guess this hinges on whether you see interaction as equivalent to the
ability to make plot choices; I don't, as I mentioned a few messages
upthread. If you see the "I" in IF as necessarily meaning you can choose
your own plot, if greater interactivity is defined as more control over
plot, then I agree that there are numerous stories can't be made to work as
IF.

But by that definition, though, I'd think that essentially nothing we know
today as IF is actually "interactive," since all of these works constrain
plot to some extent, and most of them constrain plot very rigidly. Maybe
more to the point, I'm skeptical that there's such a thing as IF at all by
this definition. To my way of thinking, an essential element of fiction -
maybe even the essential element - is pattern. Fiction is a story where the
events have some meaning, or at least fit into some kind of pattern or
structure. If a reader/player is controlling the series of events, then you
get something more like real life than fiction - in a bad way, in that
events rarely add up to anything coherent. You only get fiction with those
rare series of events that add up to some sort of recognizable pattern - and
I think they're very rare indeed; if they were commonplace, it would be a
heck of a lot easier to write a good novel.

(I think it's this, more than the "combinatoric explosion" at the
programming level, that makes it so difficult to create branching plots in
conventional text IF. It's not the workload of actually writing the
branches; it's the impossibility of making them all interesting stories.)

David Graves and others theorized ten years ago on using an AI to discern
the pattern in a completely player-driven environment and extrapolate the
observed pattern into a plot. The idea was that the AI would infer a plot
line from the actual events so far, and then inject new events that would
advance the inferred plot line (one NPC would shoot another at just the
right moment, say, or someone would reveal just the right secret). If the
player ran with that, great, and if not, the AI would continuously
reevaluate the situation and come up with a series of new plots to fit
events as they unfolded. Nice idea, but even if the AI issues weren't
daunting enough, I'm pretty convinced it's not even possible in principle.
It's like trying to draw a straight line through a hundred random points -
one time in 10^100, maybe, the points will happen to fall in such a way that
there's anything like a line there, and the rest of the time it'll just be
random static. It's also like one of those exercises where author A writes
a chapter and sends it to author B, who writes the next chapter and sends it
back to author A, who writes the next chapter, wash rinse repeat. It rarely
works, and even so it's a much easier problem, because both authors are
intentionally trying to drive the plot somewhere.

So I'm not sure there's such a thing as IF, if interactive==plot choice.
Interactive entertainment, more like: SimCity being the canonical example.
Sometimes an interesting storyline comes out of a SimCity session, but
that's the exception, and it's certainly not why you play; you play for the
pleasurable process and the sense of accomplishment at reducing entropy. IF
has something different to offer, I think, which is why I think it's more
useful to look at what kinds of interaction are possible when the plot is
constrained.

A.P. Hill

unread,
Sep 18, 2003, 10:28:33 PM9/18/03
to
eh coffee material.

Gene Wirchenko

unread,
Sep 19, 2003, 1:14:10 AM9/19/03
to
ad...@fsf.net (Adam Thornton) wrote:

You will take corn flakes and love them.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko

Computerese Irregular Verb Conjugation:
I have preferences.
You have biases.
He/She has prejudices.

Rikard Peterson

unread,
Sep 19, 2003, 4:50:55 AM9/19/03
to
David Thornley wrote in
news:3f67d597$0$42047$a186...@newsreader.visi.com:

> In my experience, it isn't even correct to say that the novel is
> more artistic than IF. It depends a lot on which novel and which
> IF.

I agree, and don't think it's really possible to do that sort of
general comparision. Is an oil painting more artistic than an
aquarelle? They have different limitations and possibilities. Or who is
more creative - a composer or the musician that perform the music?

But if we ask whether the constraints inherit in an art form can help
inspire the creation of a work and make it more artistic, then we have
a valid question and this is after all what a large part of this thread
is about. Interesting discussion, but regardless of your position in
that matter you can't draw the conclusion that either art form is more
artistic.

Rikard

Paul O'Brian

unread,
Sep 19, 2003, 10:48:00 AM9/19/03
to
On Wed, 17 Sep 2003, dreamfarmer wrote:

> Ask 10 people each to write a ten
> minute long game that features a raft, a child, a magpie, and the Mona
> Lisa, and you'll get 10 wildly different games.

And indeed, it's just this sort of concept which has powered various
mini-comps over the past several Springs. For instance, the Chicken-comp,
which asked authors to write a game around the theme of a chicken crossing
a road, produced 19 wildly different games.

> * And you'll get them
> more quickly than if you simply asked them to write a ten minute game.
> And a lot more quickly than if you just asked them to write a game.

Well, now here I'd want to complicate your premise a bit. It makes sense
to me to argue that suggesting a theme or a particular set of
requirements could help jumpstart design. On the other hand, there may
very well be a balance point with that sort of thing, beyond which too
many requirements can actually hamper design. For instance, have a look
at:

http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/mini-comps/mini-comp/premise.txt

This was the set of requirements for the first mini-comp, written by
Lucian Smith, and I'd suggest that they were complex and demanding enough
that they resulted in a fairly sparse pool of entries. I think that one of
the big reasons the chicken-comp produced more games was that its premise
was less constraining.

Another data point is the annual competition, which stipulates very few
constraints on games (and even those get bent or broken quite a bit), but
which has resulted in a very large number of entries for most years it's
existed.

--
Paul O'Brian obr...@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
SPAG 34 soon... watch this space!

Paul O'Brian

unread,
Sep 19, 2003, 10:54:57 AM9/19/03
to
On Wed, 17 Sep 2003, Christopher Martino wrote:

> In other words I can show you the door, but you have to walk through it.
> And I guarantee you'll try if I put a sign that says "Warning: Do Not Enter"
> on it.

One technique that I haven't seen mentioned much in this thread is to
simply have all the interesting parts of the game be accessible only via
the choices you want the player to make. For instance, in Michael Gentry's
"Little Blue Men", you have the option of working at your job like you're
supposed to, but that option results in the game being three moves long.
Only by getting up from your desk and creating havoc do you get to see
more stuff. "A Change In The Weather" employs a similar approach.

By some of the logic I've seen upthread, this approach could be labeled
"non-interactive", but I'd contend that by that standard, no game can
possibly be sufficiently interactive, at least not without complete AI.

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Sep 27, 2003, 8:00:32 AM9/27/03
to
In article <CDtab.2136$4M7.67...@newssvr21.news.prodigy.com>,

Mike Roberts <mj...@hotmail.com> wrote:
>David Graves and others theorized ten years ago on using an AI to discern
>the pattern in a completely player-driven environment and extrapolate the
>observed pattern into a plot. The idea was that the AI would infer a plot
>line from the actual events so far, and then inject new events that would
>advance the inferred plot line (one NPC would shoot another at just the
>right moment, say, or someone would reveal just the right secret). If the
>player ran with that, great, and if not, the AI would continuously
>reevaluate the situation and come up with a series of new plots to fit
>events as they unfolded. Nice idea, but even if the AI issues weren't
>daunting enough, I'm pretty convinced it's not even possible in principle.

Hmm. Human game masters in RPGs can do something like this; "improvising"
an adventure as it were.

However, you can argue that an RPG where this is possible isn't
"completely player-driven" - a skillful GM can give the illusion that
the players are driving the environment, but even if the GM is making
up a story to fit the players' actions, the GM is not giving them
complete freedom to do what they like.

Anyway, even if you accept this as an example of what Graves et al were
trying to automate, I suspect the problem is AI-complete.

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

Quintin Stone

unread,
Sep 27, 2003, 12:57:42 PM9/27/03
to
On 27 Sep 2003, Magnus Olsson wrote:

> However, you can argue that an RPG where this is possible isn't
> "completely player-driven" - a skillful GM can give the illusion that
> the players are driving the environment, but even if the GM is making up
> a story to fit the players' actions, the GM is not giving them complete
> freedom to do what they like.

Sorry, I just don't see this. How does crafting a reactive story somehow
limit player freedom?

/====================================================================\
|| Quintin Stone O- > "You speak of necessary evil? One ||
|| Code Monkey < of those necessities is that if ||
|| Rebel Programmers Society > innocents must suffer, the guilty must ||
|| st...@rps.net < suffer more." -- Mackenzie Calhoun ||
|| http://www.rps.net/ > "Once Burned" by Peter David ||
\====================================================================/

Mary K. Kuhner

unread,
Sep 27, 2003, 1:19:14 PM9/27/03
to
In article <Pine.LNX.4.44.03092...@yes.rps.net>,

Quintin Stone <st...@rps.net> wrote:
>On 27 Sep 2003, Magnus Olsson wrote:

>> However, you can argue that an RPG where this is possible isn't
>> "completely player-driven" - a skillful GM can give the illusion that
>> the players are driving the environment, but even if the GM is making up
>> a story to fit the players' actions, the GM is not giving them complete
>> freedom to do what they like.

>Sorry, I just don't see this. How does crafting a reactive story somehow
>limit player freedom?

I don't think "freedom to do what they like" is the right way to put
it, but if the GM is manipulating events to make a story, there is
a noticable player-level effect which the players can't escape.

I played under a GM who strongly believed "no plan survives contact
with the enemy." The things that happened in his games were always
plausible, and they always involved at least partial failure of the
characters' plans. That is, until we learned to do our planning
covertly and pretend we were improvising: then we began to succeed.

I would argue that, although the GM never stopped the PCs from doing
anything they chose, there was an element of constraint in this
situation; it was quite different, subjectively, from a game in which
the GM sets up a world and impartially arbitrates it.

Mary Kuhner mkku...@eskimo.com

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Sep 27, 2003, 2:28:40 PM9/27/03
to
In article <bl4gqi$ou2$1...@nntp3.u.washington.edu>,

Mary K. Kuhner <mkku...@kingman.gs.washington.edu> wrote:
>In article <Pine.LNX.4.44.03092...@yes.rps.net>,
>Quintin Stone <st...@rps.net> wrote:
>>On 27 Sep 2003, Magnus Olsson wrote:
>
>>> However, you can argue that an RPG where this is possible isn't
>>> "completely player-driven" - a skillful GM can give the illusion that
>>> the players are driving the environment, but even if the GM is making up
>>> a story to fit the players' actions, the GM is not giving them complete
>>> freedom to do what they like.
>
>>Sorry, I just don't see this. How does crafting a reactive story somehow
>>limit player freedom?
>
>I don't think "freedom to do what they like" is the right way to put
>it, but if the GM is manipulating events to make a story, there is
>a noticable player-level effect which the players can't escape.

(...)

>I would argue that, although the GM never stopped the PCs from doing
>anything they chose, there was an element of constraint in this
>situation; it was quite different, subjectively, from a game in which
>the GM sets up a world and impartially arbitrates it.

Yes, something like that. What I had in mind can perhaps be expressed
as "freedom to *attempt* to do what they like" rather than "freedom to
do what they like".

A somewhat extreme example: the players know that the mines of Moria
is a bad place and they don't want to go there. However, the GM really
wants his improvised adventure to contain an encounter with the balrog
who dwells in Moria.

So no matter how the players try to avoid going to Moria, the GM makes
sure they end up there. If they try to cross the mountains, a
convenient blizzard blocks the passes. If they decide to give up their
quest and go off in a totally different direction, or if they flatly
*refuse* to go anywhere nere Moria, the GM may even resort to divine
intervention to get them there.

If done well, this will not be obvious (well, the divine intervention
probably will).

This as opposed to a game in which the GM is just implementing the
world impartially and the players really can avoid going to Moria or
confronting the balrog, or, on the other hand, a typical computer game
where the "GM" (computer) can't improvise and the game simply
disallows any action that the player may take to avoid the plot.

Of course, real games are seldom as clear-cut as that, but I hope you
get the idea.

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Sep 27, 2003, 2:51:22 PM9/27/03
to
In article <bl4kso$7t1qb$1...@ID-178465.news.uni-berlin.de>,

Magnus Olsson <m...@df.lth.se> wrote:
>In article <bl4gqi$ou2$1...@nntp3.u.washington.edu>,
>Mary K. Kuhner <mkku...@kingman.gs.washington.edu> wrote:
>>In article <Pine.LNX.4.44.03092...@yes.rps.net>,
>>Quintin Stone <st...@rps.net> wrote:
>>>Sorry, I just don't see this. How does crafting a reactive story somehow
>>>limit player freedom?

(...)

>A somewhat extreme example: the players know that the mines of Moria
>is a bad place and they don't want to go there. However, the GM really
>wants his improvised adventure to contain an encounter with the balrog
>who dwells in Moria.
>
>So no matter how the players try to avoid going to Moria, the GM makes
>sure they end up there.

Ack. That was a bad example, because it sounds indistinguishable from
a traditional, scripted adventure with a pre-determined plot.

Let me see if I can salvage it:

The GM does not start the session with a finished plot involving an
encounter with the balrog of Moria. He does actually start out by
inventing a reactive plot based on what the players do.

However, in his campaign preparations he's prepared Moria and the
balrog. And during this game session, he realizes that the improvised
plot is leading right up to the balrog. Perhaps the balrog is really
the only plausible prime mover for the plot events that the GM can
think of.

At this point, the game changes character and the plot becomes less
reactive and more a traditional plot. However, the players aren't
supposed to notice that.


A totally different example, perhaps more to the point: the GM is in
fact giving the players rather free reins. The players want to steal
cars and fence them to afford more cyberware, and the GM lets
them. However, by pure chance the fence the players choose is an
important NPC in the game world. When the players get into an argument
with the NPC and decide to waste him, the GM doesn't want his world
cumbling, so he finds out some _deus ex machina_ way of saving the
NPC.

Quintin Stone

unread,
Sep 27, 2003, 5:02:43 PM9/27/03
to
On 27 Sep 2003, Magnus Olsson wrote:

> Ack. That was a bad example, because it sounds indistinguishable from a
> traditional, scripted adventure with a pre-determined plot.
>
> Let me see if I can salvage it:
>
> The GM does not start the session with a finished plot involving an
> encounter with the balrog of Moria. He does actually start out by
> inventing a reactive plot based on what the players do.
>
> However, in his campaign preparations he's prepared Moria and the
> balrog. And during this game session, he realizes that the improvised
> plot is leading right up to the balrog. Perhaps the balrog is really the
> only plausible prime mover for the plot events that the GM can think of.
>
> At this point, the game changes character and the plot becomes less
> reactive and more a traditional plot. However, the players aren't
> supposed to notice that.
>
> A totally different example, perhaps more to the point: the GM is in
> fact giving the players rather free reins. The players want to steal
> cars and fence them to afford more cyberware, and the GM lets them.
> However, by pure chance the fence the players choose is an important NPC
> in the game world. When the players get into an argument with the NPC
> and decide to waste him, the GM doesn't want his world cumbling, so he
> finds out some _deus ex machina_ way of saving the NPC.

Okay, that I can understand, but then I would argue that in these
examples, the GM is not running purely reactive games. In both cases, the
GM is using a certain amount of predeterministism to limit the characters'
choice. I certainly agree with you on that. I see a purely reactive game
as something that gives players carte blanche with regard to interaction
with the game world. In other words, if the players decided to
assassinate their own king/president/religious leader, they would actually
have the possibility of succeeding. Of course, the challenge to running a
game like this is that it's nearly impossible to prepare for it because
players/characters can be so damn hard to predict. I've never run one,
and I frankly wouldn't want to. It takes a certain type of exceedinly
adaptive and creative mind.

Otherwise, one of the keys to good GMing is to hide the fact that the
players are being railroaded. Just like in good IF.

Mike Roberts

unread,
Sep 27, 2003, 8:02:25 PM9/27/03
to
"Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote:
[about the idea of an AI that would dynamically construct a plot
based on player inputs, and my skepticism that such a thing is
possible in general]

> Hmm. Human game masters in RPGs can do something like this;
> "improvising" an adventure as it were.

I agree - human-moderated RPG's are a perfect test bed for this, since we
can factor out the AI problem due to the presence of the equivalent natural
intelligence. The question then is whether human moderators can let the
players go arbitrarily "off book" and improvise on the fly to construct
something that we'd recognize as a satisfying narrative - with
foreshadowing, rising action, seemingly loose threads that eventually tie
together in a meaningful and inevitable way, and ultimately a climax that
not only makes sense in light of the events up to that point, but also
*explains* the earlier events, fitting them into a logical pattern that
wasn't obvious until the end. My experience with human-moderated RPG's is
limited, so the fact that I haven't seen it happen doesn't mean it can't,
but this just seems extremely difficult on the face of it. I'd speculate
that it can and does happen, but very rarely, and the vast majority of the
time you just get random sequences of events that don't add up to anything
greater than the sum of their parts.

Another example that strikes me as related is the after-the-fact sequel.
This is pretty common in sf and fantasy, right? An author writes a book,
conceived as a completely stand-alone novel, but it turns out to be so
popular that it's worth turning it into a series. The author can't go back
and change the first book, since it was already published, so they're
constrained by history in much the same way our hypothetical AI is
constrained by the sequence events up to any given point in the game. I've
read a few books from series like this, and sometimes they can work, but by
and large the sequels are never as good as the first book. And it's
exceedingly rare for the sequels to *add* anything to the first, the way
we'd like our AI to add a sense of meaning to the overall series of events.
More often, you get something like Twin Peaks or The X Files in its later
years, where at some point there's so much baggage from earlier in the
storyline that it's impossible to add anything new or tie anything old
together without resorting to utter illogic or some deus ex machina device.

There's one thing I want to make clear about my point about improvisational
RPG's here. I'm not saying that they can't be fun. What I'm saying is that
I think it's exceptionally rare for an improvisational RPG to fit the
conventional criteria to be a satisfying narrative. This suggests that this
kind of game has something else to offer besides the narrative part. In the
broader computer game design community, I think most designers these days
are pushing in that direction, looking for a more experiential style of play
rather than a narrative style. My own interests tend more toward the
narrative stuff, though, so that's why I'm focusing on this aspect of it.

> Anyway, even if you accept this as an example of what Graves et
> al were trying to automate, I suspect the problem is AI-complete.

That much seems absolutely clear. As I recall, Graves had the idea that it
could be done without strong AI, using instead a sufficiently complete
theory of plot and an algorithm for assembling modular plot elements, but it
all seemed pretty vague to me.

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Sep 28, 2003, 3:01:00 AM9/28/03
to
In article <Pine.LNX.4.44.03092...@yes.rps.net>,
Quintin Stone <st...@rps.net> wrote:
>On 27 Sep 2003, Magnus Olsson wrote:
>> A totally different example, perhaps more to the point: the GM is in
>> fact giving the players rather free reins. The players want to steal
>> cars and fence them to afford more cyberware, and the GM lets them.
>> However, by pure chance the fence the players choose is an important NPC
>> in the game world. When the players get into an argument with the NPC
>> and decide to waste him, the GM doesn't want his world cumbling, so he
>> finds out some _deus ex machina_ way of saving the NPC.
>
>Okay, that I can understand, but then I would argue that in these
>examples, the GM is not running purely reactive games. In both cases, the
>GM is using a certain amount of predeterministism to limit the characters'
>choice. I certainly agree with you on that. I see a purely reactive game
>as something that gives players carte blanche with regard to interaction
>with the game world.

My point was not that human GMs can't run a purely reactive game. It's
just that I haven't seen it happen. But see below.

I was making the weaker point that a human GM can at least run what the
players perceive as a reactive game.

>In other words, if the players decided to
>assassinate their own king/president/religious leader, they would actually
>have the possibility of succeeding.

I think the difficulty for the GM is not so much that kind of scenario,
but one or both of the following:

a) The GM has been able to generate some kind of plot as a pure reaction
to player actions (this subthread started as a comment to the idea that
an AI should be able to do that in a computer game) but then the players
do something that destroys that plot. This could be salveagable or not:
suppose the reactively-generated plot centers on protecting the King's
life against assassins, and the players then decide to kill the King;
in that case, the GM plot could go on, just with the players on the
other side.

But suppose on the other hand that the plot centers on a mad scientist
inventing time travel, and the players kill off the scientist before he's
done his seminal experiment? This would probably force the GM to scrap
that plot altogether. Some GMs may see that as a challenge; others may
just tire of the entire business. An RPG must be rewarding to the GM
as awell as to the players.

Which brings me to scenario

b) In a game of high adventure, the players find it more lucrative to
sell cars and refuse to follow up any possible adventure-generating
leads. In other words, the players only perform the kind of mundane
actions that the GM can't use to generate an interesting plot. "The
Sims, the role-playing game" anyone?

In this case, the GM is reduced to running a simulation. You may find
GMs who want to do this, but I suspect most GMs won't want to do
that. Again, an RPG must be rewarding to the GM.

Of course, a hypothetical AI GM doesn't necessarily to be motivated by
human motives such as wanting to have fun. But we'd end up with a pure
simulation, not what we were looking for, viz. an AI or human GM
turning arbitrary player actions into "fiction".

A.P. Hill

unread,
Sep 28, 2003, 10:40:37 PM9/28/03
to
Yes, all know me as a GM, ask your questions now, I'll try best to
ablige.

Improvization eh. I recall premade modules with much delight. One
Top Secret module 'Operation Fastpass' I GM'd had pc's assisting in a
russian defection. Well, at the beginning of the module, the pc's
agreed to do the mission then decided on the plane over they would
assassinate the man. All of sudden the 28 pages of pre made opses was
obsolete.

Hmm, of DD, I recall only one module not needing major improvization
and that would be the original Ravenloft. The other 56 modules
required wit and wisdom that only yours truly could successfully
mander.

Dice would help me make ethical decisions, lord knows I no nothing of
ethics.

A.P. Hill
Foosball Master

Adam Thornton

unread,
Sep 29, 2003, 5:19:37 PM9/29/03
to
In article <bl60vc$8b8sf$1...@ID-178465.news.uni-berlin.de>,

Magnus Olsson <m...@df.lth.se> wrote:
>a) The GM has been able to generate some kind of plot as a pure reaction
>to player actions (this subthread started as a comment to the idea that
>an AI should be able to do that in a computer game) but then the players
>do something that destroys that plot. This could be salveagable or not:
>suppose the reactively-generated plot centers on protecting the King's
>life against assassins, and the players then decide to kill the King;
>in that case, the GM plot could go on, just with the players on the
>other side.

This is the "plot emerges dialectically from character" argument first
proposed by Aristotle in, I believe, his _Poetics_, and espoused by
Chris Crawford in his Erasmatron. My reaction to this school can be
found in the Holodeck sequence of _SM:TUC_.

>But suppose on the other hand that the plot centers on a mad scientist
>inventing time travel, and the players kill off the scientist before he's
>done his seminal experiment?

Well, in this particular instance, that's not much of a hindrance.
After all, the scientist from the future with the time machine can
always arranged to have replaced himself in the past with a simulacrum
which the players killed instead.

>b) In a game of high adventure, the players find it more lucrative to
>sell cars and refuse to follow up any possible adventure-generating
>leads. In other words, the players only perform the kind of mundane
>actions that the GM can't use to generate an interesting plot. "The
>Sims, the role-playing game" anyone?

I fear this is about to happen with the pirate game I'm about to run.
My players are going to prefer buckling swashes to participating in the
Subtle Literary Plot I have for them. Not sure how much I want to force
the issue.

Adam

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Sep 30, 2003, 4:17:35 AM9/30/03
to
In article <bla7l9$hl7$1...@news.fsf.net>, Adam Thornton <ad...@fsf.net> wrote:
>In article <bl60vc$8b8sf$1...@ID-178465.news.uni-berlin.de>,
>Magnus Olsson <m...@df.lth.se> wrote:
>>a) The GM has been able to generate some kind of plot as a pure reaction
>>to player actions (this subthread started as a comment to the idea that
>>an AI should be able to do that in a computer game) but then the players
>>do something that destroys that plot. This could be salveagable or not:
>>suppose the reactively-generated plot centers on protecting the King's
>>life against assassins, and the players then decide to kill the King;
>>in that case, the GM plot could go on, just with the players on the
>>other side.
>
>This is the "plot emerges dialectically from character" argument first
>proposed by Aristotle in, I believe, his _Poetics_,

I must confess to not having read Aristotle's _Poetics_ (and no doubt
a certain troll will be all over me for that :-) ) but was Aristotle
really discussing _interactive_ storytelling? I think there's a
difference between the way plot emerges from character in traditional
storytelling (vastly simplified, an author can't make her characters
jump through any hoops she wants without sacrificing internal
consistency and a lot of other nice things) and the way an
"interactive storyteller"/GM/AI is attempting to make artistic sense
of the actions of a different physical person (the player).

>My reaction to this school can be
>found in the Holodeck sequence of _SM:TUC_.

Seems like I'll have to replay SM:TUC. I had hoped to avoid that :-).

>>But suppose on the other hand that the plot centers on a mad scientist
>>inventing time travel, and the players kill off the scientist before he's
>>done his seminal experiment?
>
>Well, in this particular instance, that's not much of a hindrance.
>After all, the scientist from the future with the time machine can
>always arranged to have replaced himself in the past with a simulacrum
>which the players killed instead.

In case the GM didn't actually plan for this contingency beforehand
and worked it into the character, I'd say this would be a typical case
of deus ex machina.

>>b) In a game of high adventure, the players find it more lucrative to
>>sell cars and refuse to follow up any possible adventure-generating
>>leads. In other words, the players only perform the kind of mundane
>>actions that the GM can't use to generate an interesting plot. "The
>>Sims, the role-playing game" anyone?
>
>I fear this is about to happen with the pirate game I'm about to run.
>My players are going to prefer buckling swashes to participating in the
>Subtle Literary Plot I have for them. Not sure how much I want to force
>the issue.

Well, how about having your pirates buckle their swashes (or,
alternatively, swash their buckles) in a Subtly Literarary way?

Adam Thornton

unread,
Sep 30, 2003, 9:00:36 PM9/30/03
to
In article <blbe6v$a6sgd$1...@ID-178465.news.uni-berlin.de>,

Magnus Olsson <m...@df.lth.se> wrote:
>I must confess to not having read Aristotle's _Poetics_ (and no doubt
>a certain troll will be all over me for that :-) ) but was Aristotle
>really discussing _interactive_ storytelling?

Dunno. How "interactive" was Classical Greek drama? Probably not.

>Well, how about having your pirates buckle their swashes (or,
>alternatively, swash their buckles) in a Subtly Literarary way?

My players, alas, don't cotton to Subtle Literacy. They're more into
pillaging, I'm afraid.

Adam

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages