[Comp01/Theory] Narrative, Crossword Get Divorce

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ems...@mindspring.com

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Nov 27, 2001, 9:37:33 PM11/27/01
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Very mild spoilers for All Roads, Schroedinger's Cat and Prized
Possession ahead (ie, there is no information you wouldn't pick up
quite close to the beginning of each game):

One of my chief objections to the game play of Kathleen Fischer's
Comp01 entry "Prized Possession" is that it is extremely choppy.
There are scenes in which the player is only allowed a few moves
before being whisked away to another new context; not only is there a
great deal of pressure to get those moves right, but this didn't
really give me enough room to explore the environment. I kept being
set down in new places without knowing what or where they were.

Thinking about this led me back to some issues that I've been
contemplating recently apropos of the Theory book, but that have been
simmering in the back of my head for much longer than that; some of my
original raif posts two years ago were related to this same topic.
Namely, what does it do to the fabric of a game to insert cuts: to
move the player without his consent to a new location, to change the
circumstances, to fastforward time for a bit? This, as far as I can
tell, is one of the effective innovations of post-commercial IF; I
don't recall many Infocom games making use of it, say. Yes, there
were cut-scenes in which things happened which you might not be able
to control, where you suddenly got a large swath of descriptive text
narrating the next bit of story. But was there much actual
displacement where you the player were *not shown* significant
portions of the PC's actions?

In one sense, I think the inclusion of such cuts is quite freeing, in
that it means that the player is not forced to act out in full all the
mediocre or tedious passages of the PC's life; and while in some
genres we may suppose that there are no tedious passages (the Zork
adventurer never seemed pressed by a need to fill out tax returns on
his take), this hardly holds for all of them. Allowing the player to
inhabit a certain location or scene only for a limited amount of time
makes life considerably easier for the game author, as well: several
of J. Robinson Wheeler's games, for instance, take a good deal of
their charm from the rapid progression of the plot (BAP, Centipede,
Kissing Bandit), which prevents one from poking too hard at the
scenery. I don't think that that means, or has to mean, that a game
with a large number of elided events is necessarily *less interactive*
than games without them: there may be great freedom of action within
the scope of an individual scene. But in a sense the amount of damage
that the player can do to the intended plot structure is contained a
bit.

On the other hand, there is a certain artificiality in this: the naive
connection, player = PC, is broken once again. The player is reminded
that the PC has experienced things while the player wasn't looking;
the disparity of PC/player knowledge is greater (a point that
particularly made Prized Possession more difficult to play; I often
found myself uncertain of what my PC was trying to achieve, so it
wasn't easy to help her do so).
One of the (to me) extremely intriguing things about All Roads is that
it does this cutting as well, but in such a way as to make it integral
to the player/PC relationship.

So here's the slightly outrageous conclusion that I've come to:
managing a game by transitional junctures, in which the player is
allowed into only one scene at a time, provides a way of structuring
the plot that was in Older Days done primarily through the canny
placement of puzzles and the selective locking of doors; it allows the
narrative to triumph and frees it from the crossword. The transition
is not absolute; not all games with scene-organization are necessarily
puzzleless, and I certainly didn't think of Kathleen's game as
containing no challenges. But the focus of the game seemed to be to
move the action forward, not to fiddle with fiddly buttons, say. One
might argue that the most influential early example of this form is
Photopia; I haven't done enough research to be sure that that's true.
But I hesitate to identify this simply as 'that trick Photopia does'
because I want to distinguish it from plot railroading, or from the
presentation of scenes out of order.

Increasingly, it seems, we're seeing works that use this or some
similar technique of plot structure to at least subordinate if not
eliminate puzzles; if they are there, they are there peripherally, and
the real *meat* of the game is the narrative. And possibly this is
also generating something of a backlash, in the form of numerous
puzzle-box games without plot. As noted earlier, there were quite a
number of these in the competition. They're not my personal favorite,
though done cleanly they can provide an entertaining diversion; I
think care still needs to go into the creation of elegant text, and to
describing objects in a way that invites interaction. What put me off
Schroedinger's Cat, for instance, was not the news that there was no
plot (though I was daunted), but the careless punctuation and the fact
that there was nothing diverting to do on the side while I was
frustrated by the main puzzle. Someone complained that it was a game
with cats that didn't implement >PET; and while I found the complaint
amusing at the time, I think it actually does explain some of what I
found offputting about the game. If it had been a *luxurious* puzzle
box with silken-furred cats, that might have been another story. I
*did* play Magic Toyshop much of the way through, and Enlightenment;
and I did enjoy Colours, despite its bugs, because of some intriguing
atmospheric touches.

Anyway. It is not my intention to herald the End of Good
Old-Fashioned Games; what I'm suggesting is not that anything in
particular is Dead, but that techniques of presenting a story (or a
non-story) have crept into common usage without very much discussion.
I'm curious about the implications.

ES

Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 27, 2001, 11:26:38 PM11/27/01
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ems...@mindspring.com <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:

> So here's the slightly outrageous conclusion that I've come to:
> managing a game by transitional junctures, in which the player is
> allowed into only one scene at a time, provides a way of structuring
> the plot that was in Older Days done primarily through the canny
> placement of puzzles and the selective locking of doors; it allows the
> narrative to triumph and frees it from the crossword.

Well, since I'm not involved in any controversial threads right now
and can spare the time...

(note: two lies.)

...I'll give *my* outrageous reaction: I think that authors are
picking up the idea because they think it's the way to avoid puzzles
in interactive fiction. But actually it's a way to avoid interactivity
in interactive fiction. And therefore it's ultimately a dead end.

(I could add qualifiers to that, but hell, it's late and I'm not
actually so good with the sparing the time. Sorry.)

I note that the one Comp01 game with this structure that really
appealed to me -- the one where I didn't see the structure as a
weakness -- was _All Roads_, where the scene structure formed a *big
fat* implicit puzzle. It wasn't a puzzle in the game structure -- you
don't have to Figure It Out to win -- but it was certainly a puzzle.

> And possibly this is
> also generating something of a backlash, in the form of numerous
> puzzle-box games without plot.

In case it's not obvious, I think that's a dead end as well.

--Z (still has some sort of vision of what IF ought to be... still has
more ideas than time, of course, so that doesn't do a lot of good)

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

MFischer5

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Nov 28, 2001, 12:02:36 AM11/28/01
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From: ems...@mindspring.com (ems...@mindspring.com)

>One of my chief objections to the game play of Kathleen Fischer's
>Comp01 entry "Prized Possession" is that it is extremely choppy.

You were certainly not alone in that opinion. :) I think that Masquerade
probably did a better job of transitions than Alys (Prized Possession) - mostly
likely because Masquerade had a lot more beta-testing that Alys did (my fault -
didn't give the poor folks even a fraction of the time they needed). Just
because Alys failed in that respect, doesn't mean that the effect can't be done
right, just that I didn't do it right this time.

Ah well, there's always next time.

>Namely, what does it do to the fabric of a game to insert cuts: to
>move the player without his consent to a new location, to change the
>circumstances, to fastforward time for a bit?

I don't see it as moving the player forward without their consent anymore than
jumping off a cliff moves the player downward without their consent (again,
assuming the moving in both cases is properly done).

If the point of the scene is concluded, there is little reason for the player
to be left lollygagging around. I think the player DOES need acclimation time
at the front end of a scene - something Alys was woefully lacking.

Kathleen (out of time for the moment)

MFischer5

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Nov 28, 2001, 3:02:15 AM11/28/01
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From: Andrew Plotkin erky...@eblong.com
>ems...@mindspring.com <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
>
>> So here's the slightly outrageous conclusion that I've come to:
>> managing a game by transitional junctures, in which the player is
>> allowed into only one scene at a time, provides a way of structuring
>> the plot that was in Older Days done primarily through the canny
>> placement of puzzles and the selective locking of doors; it allows the
>> narrative to triumph and frees it from the crossword.
>
>...I'll give *my* outrageous reaction: I think that authors are
>picking up the idea because they think it's the way to avoid puzzles
>in interactive fiction.

Well, I can say that *this* author didn't have that in mind. :)

I don't see it as away to avoid puzzles, but as a way to progress the story. In
"traditional" IF, if you push the big red button and the machine turns into a
turtle a walks away, and that is good thing, then would you (the player) be
dispondent because you can no longer play with the machine and push the
remaining buttons which have no use? (Ok... maybe a little dispondent. I would
probably UNDO to see what else it would turn into - but that's neither here nor
there)

In story IF, when you have solved the "puzzle" of the scene and the scene is
over, it's over. Time to move on. If you leave they player loitering about they
are likely to start throwing mashed potatoes at the ceiling or querying NPC's
about the color of their bunny slippers... definite mood killers in all but a
fewest of circumstances.

I think it's a matter of what sort of game you are writing. I definitely agree
that _All Roads_ handled transitions masterfully, but I also think that the
logic behind Jon's transitions is not really applicable to other games any more
than giving all PC's amnesia is a general solution to the problem of the player
beginning the game not knowing who their character is.

>But actually it's a way to avoid interactivity
>in interactive fiction. And therefore it's ultimately a dead end.

I disagree - not that interactivity is a dead end, I agree with that - but I
don't think that warping players from scene to scene, from time to time, in a
generally sequential fashion is a way to simply avoid interactivity, or even
that it has anything to do with interactivity any more than walking through a
one way door or jumping into a pit does in "traditional" IF. There is no
reason you couldn't have plenty of interactivity within the context of a single
scene, come to a conclusion of sorts, and then warp the player on to the next
scene.

It is also possible for to create a game where players "move" within multiple
scenes in a single area. Masquerade did that somewhat during the ball (and a
royal pain it was, too). The game I'm working on now does that extensively.

Kathleen

Chip Hayes

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Nov 28, 2001, 3:03:08 AM11/28/01
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Emily...

I really enjoyed that post on IF techniques. It touches on a number of
thoughts that, over the last couple of years, have intrigued me in much
the same way.

While I have not been a major contributor in here over the years, I have
been an avid reader of the newsgroups, a player of the games, and a
hobbyist programmer of Inform ever since I discovered it about six years
ago. Prior to that, my IF experience is rooted in the dark ages, when I
first got that finicky cassette tape to load up a Scott Adams game (it
was "Pirate Adventure," if I recall) on my new Apple II, and became as
hooked as if I had mainlined the silly thing.

Over the years I've programmed my own IF for sheer fun. First in BASIC,
then Pascal, then C, and finally Inform. During the '80's, I
gamma-tested about a dozen of Infocom's games, which was a real blast,
as it gave me a very fleeting peek at their development process, and an
ability to communicate with those people who were supplying me with my
main stash.

All of this personal history nonsense is to give you a better idea from
where my own preferences spring -- I've been an IF fan from the early
days, and back then clever puzzling was king. To be honest, it still is
in my mind. I've always loved a good puzzle. However, I've also made a
pretty good living as a writer. Granted, it's been in television, not
literary prose; but the combination of interests certainly gives this
old English Lit major a well-rounded perspective on the current state of
affairs in the IF world.

Your thoughts on the shifting techniques in IF have made me think about
what I've watched evolve in IF lately. And what sticks out for me is
that there's not so much a supplanting of the old going on, but an
exhilerating expansion of the art form itself.

In a way, it's much like the early days of film. Though the medium
started out as nothing more than a stationary recorder of theatrical
plays, someone first had the idea to move the camera, or to go in for a
close-up, or to use clever editing to elicit an emotional response.

What excites me about the IF world right now is that I get to watch (and
maybe contribute to one of these days) a new art form find both its
extremities and its limitations.

To comment on some of the specifics in your post:

> Namely, what does it do to the fabric of a game to insert cuts: to
> move the player without his consent to a new location, to change the
> circumstances, to fastforward time for a bit?

Like any narrative medium, doesn't it just come down to good
storytelling? The fabric is as strong as its weave, and all that?
However, to comment specifically on strict, linear storytelling -- it is
a definite challenge to make such a beast entertaining. Ask any daytime
TV writer. U.S. Soap Operas tell stories in real time. All the stories
happen on the same day(s). Think about trying to weave a number of
stories together, involving around thirty characters, where all the
action takes place in the same time frame -- then do that for 260 hours
a year, and you'll understand why a good head writer on a soap is
rolling in dough like a baker's knuckles; yet also has the life
expectancy of a fruitfly.

In short, the cut-scene helps immensely by making story-telling easier
and more confined, but the real trick is in making whatever story you're
telling interesting, however you frame it time-wise. I know that seems
an over-simplification; but it's amazing how many times that basic tenet
gets lost in the frantic shuffle of plot, characterization and theme.

> I don't recall many Infocom games making use of it, say.

Shogun and Journey were failed attempts, I think. Plundered Hearts
showed some early thinking along those lines with its opening sequence;
and the three-act structure of Trinity also comes to mind.

> On the other hand, there is a certain artificiality in this: the naive
> connection, player = PC, is broken once again.

Hmm. Are you saying there was ever a solid player/PC connection in
early IF? Or, as I tend to think, it's still an ideal that only the
best games over the years (and not just the later ones) have only
touched on?

Stepping away from IF a moment... Citizen Kane sucks me in every time,
yet bounces all over the place time-wise. Yet I also watched the
original Twelve Angry Men again the other night... can't get much more
time-locked than that. But it held me riveted nonetheless. Yes, I know
these are movies, not works of IF, but my point again is that it still
comes down to good storytelling.

And I don't necessarily mean just plot. I've not been as impressed with
any game lately as much as I was with Galatea. Not a whole lot of story
there... but it sucked me in and told what it wanted to tell as well as
it possibly could. Mainly because I was entranced by the depth and
drawing of the character -- which of course is an integral part of good
storytelling. And it was a hell of an impressive piece of programming
on top of it all.

> So here's the slightly outrageous conclusion that I've come to:
> managing a game by transitional junctures, in which the player is
> allowed into only one scene at a time, provides a way of structuring
> the plot that was in Older Days done primarily through the canny
> placement of puzzles and the selective locking of doors; it allows the
> narrative to triumph and frees it from the crossword.

<snip>

> One might argue that the most influential early example of this form is Photopia;

I was very impressed with Photopia when I first played it. Solid
writing. A breakthrough in the genre. And good storytelling to boot.
I think it exemplifies more than any other game the rubicon IF has
crossed in recent years, i.e. it ain't the same old genre any more.

But did it give me the same thrill as when I first solved the babel fish
puzzle? Or the same emotions when Floyd first sacrificed his little
self for me? Not really. But that's the nostalgic, puzzle-loving old
fart in me probably. What it, and a few games since, did do, was to
make me smile at the possibilities.

You think of how a youngish art form like film has progressed in so
little time. Or the serialized novel since Dickens first made it
popular (Guiding Light is celebrating its 65th year in production in a
few months... how's >that< for a linear story?) Or the detective novel
since Poe first created it. It's really exciting to think about what
lies ahead, whether it's puzzle bazed IF, puzzle-less narrative,
multi-directional endings, Turing-proof NPC's, or... ideally, a
wonderful combination of them all; in the end simply telling a good story.

Anyway, you're quite right in pointing out that IF styles have changed
without enough discussion in here. You got >me< to start blathering,
after all.

And I really do hope we haven't seen "...the End of Good Old-Fashioned Games."

See, I've been feeling a bit perplexed lately... reading all the various
posts about puzzle-games being passe. I'm about to finish a game I
started writing thirteen years ago while weathering the writer's strike
of 1988. I may enter it into Adam Cadre's Spring Comp, if he's open to
such a creature. It's a mindless piece of drivel, with no literary
value whatsoever. An unabashed treasure hunt that exists solely for its
puzzles. It even has a scoring system (Zarf forbid!). And the player
can die in all sorts of horrible ways. I'm sure the game can probably
be made unwinnable in fashions I can't even imagine yet. But I'm having
an absolute ball writing it. And someone out there might actually enjoy
playing it. And until someone else with a whole bunch of money offers
me a six-figure guarantee against a well-defined adjusted gross to do
the same amount of work I'm putting in for simply the sheer enjoyment of
it all... well, isn't that what it's all about?

CH

Magnus Olsson

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Nov 28, 2001, 4:53:35 AM11/28/01
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Severe-ish spoliers for "All Roads" below. You have
been warned.

In article <a69830de.01112...@posting.google.com>,

ems...@mindspring.com <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
>One of the (to me) extremely intriguing things about All Roads is that
>it does this cutting as well, but in such a way as to make it integral
>to the player/PC relationship.

One of the most interesting aspects of "All Roads" is that the cuts
really aren't cuts in the usual sense; the player really experiences
everything the PC experiences. Nothing is elided; the PC's consciousness
jumps between times and places in synch with the narrative.

Perhaps one could view this as a deconstruction of the normal
scene-cut-scene structure in modern fiction.

--
Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se, m...@pobox.com)
------ http://www.pobox.com/~mol ------

Magnus Olsson

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Nov 28, 2001, 5:14:31 AM11/28/01
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In article <9u1p1u$kbt$1...@news.panix.com>,

Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>ems...@mindspring.com <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
>
>> So here's the slightly outrageous conclusion that I've come to:
>> managing a game by transitional junctures, in which the player is
>> allowed into only one scene at a time, provides a way of structuring
>> the plot that was in Older Days done primarily through the canny
>> placement of puzzles and the selective locking of doors; it allows the
>> narrative to triumph and frees it from the crossword.

(...)

>...I'll give *my* outrageous reaction: I think that authors are
>picking up the idea because they think it's the way to avoid puzzles
>in interactive fiction. But actually it's a way to avoid interactivity
>in interactive fiction. And therefore it's ultimately a dead end.

That may be true for much current IF, but it doesn't have to be that
way. If the scenes are sufficiently large and interactive, I can't
see it as a big problem that the PC "jumps" between them.

An observation:

A couple of years ago, when I was working on a big, plot-driven IF
under the working name of "A Meat Thing", I found myself up against a
problem: The protagonist starts out essentially trapped in an
apartment and has to find her way out. Then she has to get through the
city sprawl to meet an important NPC. Two scenes were pretty clear in
my head: escape from the flat and meeting with NPC. But I never could
find out how to do the intervening part in an interesting way.

In retrospect, I think I was trapped in the traditional IF way
of thinking - the story has to be continuous; to me, at the time,
jumping between scenes simply wasn't an option.

Sean T Barrett

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Nov 28, 2001, 5:25:35 AM11/28/01
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MFischer5 <mfis...@aol.com> wrote:
>In story IF, when you have solved the "puzzle" of the scene and the scene
>is over, it's over. Time to move on. If you leave they player loitering
>about they are likely to start throwing mashed potatoes at the ceiling or
>querying NPC's about the color of their bunny slippers... definite mood
>killers in all but a fewest of circumstances.

Anyone care to analyze "Spider & Web" under the 'chopped up scenes'
model?

>I think it's a matter of what sort of game you are writing. I definitely
>agree that _All Roads_ handled transitions masterfully, but I also think
>that the logic behind Jon's transitions is not really applicable to other
>games any more than giving all PC's amnesia is a general solution to the
>problem of the player beginning the game not knowing who their character is.

Agreed (and I think zarf would agree as well).

But I think the thrust of the scene-complaint is not that it's
senseless to move the player out of scene 1 and into scene 2
when there's nothing left for the player to do in scene 1, but
rather that the very idea of doing this is to buy into a model
where that fictional propulsion from scene 1 to scene 2 has
triumphed over the notion of immersing the player in the game,
the notion that the player's interactivity is meaningful and
significant. Note how I said "when there's nothing left for
the player to do in scene 1"--there's clearly more things for
the player _character_ to do, namely get to scene 2, and by
choosing to structure with this kind of narrative propulsion
you're choosing the Narrative over the "Crossword".

But here I'll side with you for just a moment by agreeing--what
you're giving up isn't actually interactivity nor is it puzzles.

What you're giving up is simply that identification of player
with player character[*] and that sense of control that permeates
most IF; hence I think you *are* giving up interactivity in the
sense that we normally associate with IF, and it starts to move
closer to "press space bar to read next page".

SeanB
[*] An identification that happens even when the PC is not
an everywoman.

Magnus Olsson

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Nov 28, 2001, 6:36:39 AM11/28/01
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My impression of the thread so far is that people object to having an
ongoing plot split up into separate scenes, with non-interactive cuts
in between.

I've been thinking of a differently-structured narrative, something
like a picaresque novel, where the protagonist is faced with a series
of rather unrelated adventures (or, if they're related, the relation
is fairly weak). In static fiction, this kind of story ranges from a
novel with very independent scenes, each of which comes to its own
conclusion, to a sequence of short stories that share a protagonist.

In IF, this would be a game consisting of a series of sub-games
- or perhaps even a sequence of short, separate, games - where
the PC emerges from each sub-game perhaps with some new equipment or
abilities (sorry, I seem to be in a rather CRPG-ish mode), and
then enters a new sub-game with new premises and a new plot.

THat is, instead of chopping up one long plot into scenes, we
string lots of self-contained scenes together to form a plot.

Thoughts?

Florian Edlbauer

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Nov 28, 2001, 6:42:07 AM11/28/01
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Andrew Plotkin :

> ems...@mindspring.com <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:

> > So here's the slightly outrageous conclusion that I've come to:
> > managing a game by transitional junctures, in which the player is
> > allowed into only one scene at a time, provides a way of structuring
> > the plot that was in Older Days done primarily through the canny
> > placement of puzzles and the selective locking of doors; it allows the
> > narrative to triumph and frees it from the crossword.

> ...I'll give *my* outrageous reaction: I think that authors are


> picking up the idea because they think it's the way to avoid puzzles
> in interactive fiction. But actually it's a way to avoid interactivity
> in interactive fiction. And therefore it's ultimately a dead end.

If anybody cares, I think that you are both wrong...

Narrative must in some way impose its own structure (for example
junctures as in Prized Possession) on the game. Narrative needs
linearity to a degree. But without the traditional map or landscape,
without a certain degree of *choice* (e.g. which object to take or
leave, which puzzle to tackle first), there is no interactivity.

Just a map with some objects is old-fashioned and (at least for me)
boring.

That was why I thought of Anchorhead as revolutionary: It had the
wandering about the map, the many possibilities and choices - and it
achieved effects like suspense by narrative, by limiting that wideness
at certain points (especially day 3).

Florian


PS for those fluent in German:
I've discussed this issue in a review of Anchorhead available at
http://www.textfire.de/tests/anchor.htm
[see especially 4th paragraph]

M. D. Krauss

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Nov 28, 2001, 9:29:44 AM11/28/01
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On 28 Nov 2001 11:36:39 GMT
m...@df.lth.se (Magnus Olsson) wrote:

Just one... That sounds like a good idea to me. It would be especially effective if it all managed to come together somehow surprisingly at the end. Okay, that was two thoughts. Good night. :)

-M


>
>
> --
> Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se, m...@pobox.com)
> ------ http://www.pobox.com/~mol ------


--
To email me convert my address to something resembling reason

ems...@mindspring.com

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Nov 28, 2001, 9:48:27 AM11/28/01
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mfis...@aol.com (MFischer5) wrote in message news:<20011128000236...@mb-de.aol.com>...

> From: ems...@mindspring.com (ems...@mindspring.com)
> >One of my chief objections to the game play of Kathleen Fischer's
> >Comp01 entry "Prized Possession" is that it is extremely choppy.
>
> You were certainly not alone in that opinion. :)

Aw. Well, I think it would've worked with more lead-in space.



> >Namely, what does it do to the fabric of a game to insert cuts: to
> >move the player without his consent to a new location, to change the
> >circumstances, to fastforward time for a bit?
>
> I don't see it as moving the player forward without their consent anymore than
> jumping off a cliff moves the player downward without their consent (again,
> assuming the moving in both cases is properly done).

Perhaps I should've said, "without their participation."


> If the point of the scene is concluded, there is little reason for the player
> to be left lollygagging around. I think the player DOES need acclimation time
> at the front end of a scene - something Alys was woefully lacking.

The thing is, of course, that in standard linear fiction there is room
for exposition at the beginning of a new paragraph; "Three days later,
Alys was on the road to London when..." I don't think there's any
real disparity between the requirements of literature and the
requirements of IF, in this respect.

In any case, in case it wasn't clear (and it seems both from your post
and from Magnus' that it might not have been), I don't think this kind
of scene cutting is necessarily a bad thing. I just think that we
haven't finished learning the technique of using it.

ES

Dan Schmidt

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Nov 28, 2001, 9:19:18 AM11/28/01
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m...@df.lth.se (Magnus Olsson) writes:

| I've been thinking of a differently-structured narrative, something
| like a picaresque novel, where the protagonist is faced with a series
| of rather unrelated adventures (or, if they're related, the relation
| is fairly weak). In static fiction, this kind of story ranges from a
| novel with very independent scenes, each of which comes to its own
| conclusion, to a sequence of short stories that share a protagonist.
|
| In IF, this would be a game consisting of a series of sub-games
| - or perhaps even a sequence of short, separate, games - where
| the PC emerges from each sub-game perhaps with some new equipment or
| abilities (sorry, I seem to be in a rather CRPG-ish mode), and
| then enters a new sub-game with new premises and a new plot.

An early part of Heroine's Mantle kind of does this: you are given
like four little (simulated) missions to try out some of your powers.
It was fun.

--
http://www.dfan.org

Dan Schmidt

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 9:21:32 AM11/28/01
to
ems...@mindspring.com (ems...@mindspring.com) writes:

| What does it do to the fabric of a game to insert cuts: to move the


| player without his consent to a new location, to change the
| circumstances, to fastforward time for a bit? This, as far as I can
| tell, is one of the effective innovations of post-commercial IF; I
| don't recall many Infocom games making use of it, say. Yes, there
| were cut-scenes in which things happened which you might not be able
| to control, where you suddenly got a large swath of descriptive text
| narrating the next bit of story. But was there much actual
| displacement where you the player were *not shown* significant
| portions of the PC's actions?

I don't know if this really counts, but Hitchhiker's jumped around all
over the place. In that case it wasn't eliding parts of a linear
narrative, though, it was jumping from person to person and forward
and backward in time. I remember being very disconcerted at the time.

--
http://www.dfan.org

ems...@mindspring.com

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 9:55:01 AM11/28/01
to
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message news:<9u1p1u$kbt$1...@news.panix.com>...

> ems...@mindspring.com <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
>
> > So here's the slightly outrageous conclusion that I've come to:
> > managing a game by transitional junctures, in which the player is
> > allowed into only one scene at a time, provides a way of structuring
> > the plot that was in Older Days done primarily through the canny
> > placement of puzzles and the selective locking of doors; it allows the
> > narrative to triumph and frees it from the crossword.

> ...I'll give *my* outrageous reaction: I think that authors are


> picking up the idea because they think it's the way to avoid puzzles
> in interactive fiction. But actually it's a way to avoid interactivity
> in interactive fiction. And therefore it's ultimately a dead end.

The ultimate rebuttal of this, I think, will have to be in the form of
a game, rather than of an argument. But: just because you haven't
seen it done yet doesn't mean it *can't* be done. I don't see why
there can't be games with interactivity in the scenes and cuts between
them; saying that the player *must* participate in all events
experienced by the PC means that you lose a vast number of possible
plot types. Maybe the important events of my epic are spread out over
twenty years; surely I am not going to grind the player through every
intervening day of the PC's life, just to get to the good bits.



> (I could add qualifiers to that, but hell, it's late and I'm not
> actually so good with the sparing the time. Sorry.)

Hey, it's your argument.



> > And possibly this is
> > also generating something of a backlash, in the form of numerous
> > puzzle-box games without plot.
>
> In case it's not obvious, I think that's a dead end as well.

Dead end how? It's obvious that although it wasn't everyone's cup of
tea, something like Schroedinger's Cat appealed to some people enough
to keep them entertained and speculating for hours. A niche market,
yes, maybe. But then, so's AIF, and romantic IF, and ... well, a
number of things.

> --Z (still has some sort of vision of what IF ought to be... still has
> more ideas than time, of course, so that doesn't do a lot of good)

ES (thinks that we have only scratched the surface of what IF can be)

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 9:58:52 AM11/28/01
to
>The thing is, of course, that in standard linear fiction there is room
>for exposition at the beginning of a new paragraph; "Three days later,
>Alys was on the road to London when..." I don't think there's any
>real disparity between the requirements of literature and the
>requirements of IF, in this respect.

The problem is, rather, how do you do that exposition in IF? In
graphic adventures and RPGs it's usually done with FVM (full motion
video) cut scenes, but cut scenes in IF tend to be just large blocks
of non-interactive prose, which is generally frowned upon.

Perhaps the cut scenes could be not totally non-interactive, but just
very linear and railroaded? That is, the individual scenes are "deep
interactive", non-linear and driven by the player's actions, while the
transitions, while still interactive, are plot-driven?

>In any case, in case it wasn't clear (and it seems both from your post
>and from Magnus' that it might not have been), I don't think this kind
>of scene cutting is necessarily a bad thing.

In that case, it was I who wasn't very clear :-). I found it rather
obvious that you (Emily) viewed scene cutting in a positive light and
that it was Zarf who thought it was bad.

Jon Ingold

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 10:27:23 AM11/28/01
to
> The problem is, rather, how do you do that exposition in IF? In
> graphic adventures and RPGs it's usually done with FVM (full motion
> video) cut scenes, but cut scenes in IF tend to be just large blocks
> of non-interactive prose, which is generally frowned upon.
>
> Perhaps the cut scenes could be not totally non-interactive, but just
> very linear and railroaded? That is, the individual scenes are "deep
> interactive", non-linear and driven by the player's actions, while the
> transitions, while still interactive, are plot-driven?

But it should be noted, that FMV sequences are usually pretty rubbish. I've
played the 4 tomb raider games, which each have a plot of sorts; but a video
sequence in which you are informed of x, y and z are as non-immersive as the
fat-block-of-text approach taken by Infocom.

If you need to do exposition, you have to be a little more skillful, I
think, in dribbling information into the game-world, through the objects
around, through character's comments, through what comes drifting into the
PC's mind. Which is to say the obvious:-

If you want your player to feel immersed, he's going to have to learn about
the world as though he was in it. And the way people learn about the world
is through --experiencing-- it (or hearing about it).

Jon


David Brain

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 11:21:00 AM11/28/01
to
In article <9u2c6v$6vc$1...@news.lth.se>, m...@df.lth.se (Magnus Olsson) wrote:

> Severe-ish spoliers for "All Roads" below. You have
> been warned.
>
> In article <a69830de.01112...@posting.google.com>,
> ems...@mindspring.com <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
> >One of the (to me) extremely intriguing things about All Roads is that
> >it does this cutting as well, but in such a way as to make it integral
> >to the player/PC relationship.
>
> One of the most interesting aspects of "All Roads" is that the cuts
> really aren't cuts in the usual sense; the player really experiences
> everything the PC experiences. Nothing is elided; the PC's consciousness
> jumps between times and places in synch with the narrative.
>
> Perhaps one could view this as a deconstruction of the normal
> scene-cut-scene structure in modern fiction.
>

Surely "All Roads" was a response to the "Memento" thread earlier in the
year? You remember - the one where a number of people complained that
discussing even the idea of telling a story backwards would spoil their Comp
entry?

As it happens, the first two games I played in the Comp this year were "All
Roads" and "Vicious Cycles", and I wondered for a moment if /everyone/ had
entered non-chronological narratives...

--
David Brain

"The text adventure is as dead as a dodo" Steven Poole, Trigger Happy
"Oh yeah?" rec.arts.int-fiction

Rikard Peterson

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 11:28:39 AM11/28/01
to
Chip Hayes wrote a long message that I'm not quoting here (read the
original post instead), since I just wanted to say: "Well said!"

Rikard


Kathleen M. Fischer

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 12:42:16 PM11/28/01
to
>===== Original Message From "Jon Ingold" <ji...@cam.ac.uk> =====

>If you need to do exposition, you have to be a little more skillful, I
>think, in dribbling information into the game-world, through the objects
>around, through character's comments, through what comes drifting into the
>PC's mind. Which is to say the obvious:-

I agree... sort of. But you must also be careful that your dribbles are
nibbled by the player, and that you don't place information some might
consider vital to understanding the backstory in, say, the results of
examining a smallish object that abruptly appears near the end of the second
scene of your game. :)

Though I think dribbling is ultimately the way to go (and try to do it that
way in my games), keeping tracking of WHAT has been dribbled and somehow
ensuring that the player finds out everything they *might* want to know
before
they continue is a real problem. What if the player performs all necessary
functions in the scene but has yet to examine the otherwise unimportant Bit
Of
Scenery (a photo on a table, a painting on the wall), which will offer some
useful (but not critical) bit of backstory. Do you require it before things
move on? Eeeek, I hope not. Such things could quickly get out of hand. I can
just see myself examining everything in sight, trying to find all the
missing
"triggers". Do you create a some sort of puzzle which would require the
player
to examine it? That would get old fast and would probably seem forced
anyway,
leaving replaying players playing a game of Textual Twister as they try to
hurridly poke and prod their way through the scene to get to the next one,
trying to remember what they did to move things on the previous time
through.
I suppose you could go with an infodump at the end of the scene to try to
catch up lagging players, but that would REALLY seem forced and take much of
the fun of exploration out of the game.

<sigh>

No easy answers, only more questions.

>If you want your player to feel immersed, he's going to have to learn about
>the world as though he was in it. And the way people learn about the world
>is through --experiencing-- it (or hearing about it).

Yes - but most people don't have to experience the world in the present to
find out who they are/were and what they did to lead to where they are at
the
moment, or to understand where they are supposed going.

Kathleen

-- Prized Possession (Comp2001)
--
http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/possess
-- Masquerade (Comp2000, nominated for Best Story (XYZZY's))
-- http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/inform/Mask.z5
-- The Cove - http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/inform/Cove.z5
-- Excuse me while I dance a little jig of despair

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 1:38:04 PM11/28/01
to
In article <3C09...@MailAndNews.com>,

Kathleen M. Fischer <greenG...@MailAndNews.com> wrote:
>>===== Original Message From "Jon Ingold" <ji...@cam.ac.uk> =====
>>If you want your player to feel immersed, he's going to have to learn about
>>the world as though he was in it. And the way people learn about the world
>>is through --experiencing-- it (or hearing about it).
>
>Yes - but most people don't have to experience the world in the present to
>find out who they are/were and what they did to lead to where they are at
>the
>moment, or to understand where they are supposed going.

Indeed. If you were to take what Jon is saying to the letter, you'd
have to give the PC total amnesia, or make him a newborn baby. The
first being dreadfully clichéd, the second being very original, but
hard to do something with.

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 1:49:15 PM11/28/01
to

SUCK

Fortunately, this is a hardwired mammalian reflex. You are rewarded
with rich creamy goodness.

[Your score has gone up one point. Your first point ever!
Congratulations.]

WEE

[Don't worry about that right now.]

ASK MOM ABOUT CROWN JEWELS

[You don't know the word "ask". Give it a few years, okay?]

CRY

[You don't know the word "cry" -- no, wait, you've figured it out.]

Baby cries.

--Z

Roger Carbol

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 1:56:55 PM11/28/01
to
(No spoilers for anything here.)

> Namely, what does it do to the fabric of a game to insert cuts: to
> move the player without his consent to a new location, to change the
> circumstances,

This is not so unusual, I think; the roller coaster from the
amusement park in Sorceror basically whisked the PC along for
X number of turns while preventing most interaction.


> to fastforward time for a bit?

This too is not so very strange -- most commonly seen when characters
fall asleep. They may or may not sleep, but generally time is
advanced, possibly into a new scene. Making each day distinct unto
itself (as was seen in Anchorhead and numerous other games) seems to
be a rather natural way to do it.


> But was there much actual
> displacement where you the player were *not shown* significant
> portions of the PC's actions?

I think this is the interesting crux of your discussion -- and it
doesn't have much inherently to do with scenes or structure at all.

I'm reminded of the early days of movies, in which you'd often
see, say, a couple of guys driving down to the police station, and
you'd get a few minutes of footage of a car whooshing along a
highway, etc.

I suspect I'm not generally fond of this in the sense that it tends
to violate one of the older guidelines of traditional fiction -- the
idea of Show, Don't Tell. One of IF's biggest strength is its ability
to capitalize on this, I think. Instead of merely telling the reader
"You're a tiny cog in a giant bureaucratic mechanism" or "Something is
very wrong in this tiny seaside town", IF can show the player these
things, allow him to make his own conclusions based on how he can
interact with the surroundings.

In contrast, some of the worst IF has too much Telling, in the
sense of "You're feeling really scared now" or "You're romantically
attracted to the NPC." To intentionally summarize the PC's actions
for the player is a tricky thing to do well, I imagine.


> In one sense, I think the inclusion of such cuts is quite freeing, in
> that it means that the player is not forced to act out in full all the
> mediocre or tedious passages of the PC's life;

I think this isn't really a problem, or rather, it's a fairly basic
part of game design not to submit the player to drudgery.


> Allowing the player to
> inhabit a certain location or scene only for a limited amount of time
> makes life considerably easier for the game author, as well

And the player, typically, in the sense that it reduces the number
of options the must choose from. But surely this is nothing new.


> I don't think that that means, or has to mean, that a game
> with a large number of elided events is necessarily *less interactive*
> than games without them: there may be great freedom of action within
> the scope of an individual scene. But in a sense the amount of damage
> that the player can do to the intended plot structure is contained a
> bit.

Certainly, if a player cannot significantly alter the plot, the game
is less meaningfully interactive. I think the answer to "how do I
stop the player from smashing my pretty plot" is not "restrict his
actions and the repercussions of his actions so that he simply can't"
but rather "motivate the player and give him with a plot that's more
rewarding as a whole than as a wreck."


> So here's the slightly outrageous conclusion that I've come to:
> managing a game by transitional junctures, in which the player is
> allowed into only one scene at a time, provides a way of structuring
> the plot that was in Older Days done primarily through the canny
> placement of puzzles and the selective locking of doors; it allows the
> narrative to triumph and frees it from the crossword.

Looks like a false duality to me. The difference between a locked
door that requires a key and an imposing bouncer who requires a hug
is superficial. The advantage of traditional barriers is that it's
usually obvious that they are a barrier, and so the player has some
clue already about how to advance the state machine of the game.
The more intangible the barriers become, the more likely it is that
the player won't understand where they are or how to resolve them.

> But the focus of the game seemed to be to
> move the action forward, not to fiddle with fiddly buttons, say.

But *everything* in a game is, basically, a black box with some
fiddly buttons. Grant Stern is just a box that spits out some
responses based on which buttons you push by feeding him words.

Granted, just how the author dresses up these boxes to look like
people and cats and automobiles is vitally important to the
enjoyment of the work, but I don't think any of that changes what's
really under the hood.

Of course, you can just disconnect all the buttons and let the
black box chug along regardless of how much the player pounds on it.
In general, as a player, I don't particularly care for that.


.. Roger Carbol .. rca...@home.com

Alan DeNiro

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 2:02:10 PM11/28/01
to
>
> I've been thinking of a differently-structured narrative, something
> like a picaresque novel, where the protagonist is faced with a series
> of rather unrelated adventures (or, if they're related, the relation
> is fairly weak). In static fiction, this kind of story ranges from a
> novel with very independent scenes, each of which comes to its own
> conclusion, to a sequence of short stories that share a protagonist.
>
> In IF, this would be a game consisting of a series of sub-games
> - or perhaps even a sequence of short, separate, games - where
> the PC emerges from each sub-game perhaps with some new equipment or
> abilities (sorry, I seem to be in a rather CRPG-ish mode), and
> then enters a new sub-game with new premises and a new plot.
>
> THat is, instead of chopping up one long plot into scenes, we
> string lots of self-contained scenes together to form a plot.
>
> Thoughts?


Does something like Halothane fall under this category? Even though
there was an overarching plot--technically--and some recurring images
and themes, the game was more of a constellation of scenes rather than
having any hard and fast throughline. Many of the puzzles were
optional, but the ur-puzzle, I guess, was figuring out the
relationship between the different chapters. The TONE of the work FELT
very picaresque, and I know that that's not very precise, but I think
that's one of the reasons Halothane worked so well for me. The lively,
kinda jaunty writing (and sense of play) provided the cohesion that
the structure didn't necessarily provide. In terms of interactivity,
while I knew that in the middle of a particular vignette the player
didn't have a huge range of options, the "constellation effect" gave a
convincing illusion of expansiveness. To continue the analogy, the
game might have been like a jumble of stars in the sky, but it guides
the player to connect the dots and create structure. The reaction to
Halothane at the time was somewhat polarized, so I don't know how much
of that had to do with the picareque form, or the game itself, or
both.

Alan

OKB -- not okblacke

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 4:21:32 PM11/28/01
to
buz...@TheWorld.com (Sean T Barrett) wrote:
>But I think the thrust of the scene-complaint is not that it's
>senseless to move the player out of scene 1 and into scene 2
>when there's nothing left for the player to do in scene 1, but
>rather that the very idea of doing this is to buy into a model
>where that fictional propulsion from scene 1 to scene 2 has
>triumphed over the notion of immersing the player in the game,
>the notion that the player's interactivity is meaningful and
>significant.

I disagree with this. Just because the player cannot do everything does
not mean that the interactivity is not significant. The obvious counterexample
is a game where the LACK of interactivity is significant. (Rameses is an
example here, although it doesn't elide a lot with scene-cuts.) I see
interactivity as separate from the crossword. You can have a game which is
very interactive AND tells a story AND from time to time shoves the player
through. In short, just because the player is not able to affect the scene
change doesn't mean he can't affect the game. (This discussion bears a
resemblance to the discussion a few months ago about game-altering choices vs.
micro-interactivity.)

>What you're giving up is simply that identification of player
>with player character[*] and that sense of control that permeates
>most IF; hence I think you *are* giving up interactivity in the
>sense that we normally associate with IF, and it starts to move
>closer to "press space bar to read next page".

Fundamentally, I think that interactivity is far different from control.
I agree that most IF I've seen to date tends to put the two together, but I
think this is just tradition rather than a fundamental truth of the medium.

--OKB (Bren...@aol.com) -- no relation to okblacke

"Do not follow where the path may lead;
go, instead, where there is no path, and leave a trail."
--Author Unknown

Gregg V. Carroll

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 4:42:12 PM11/28/01
to
m...@df.lth.se (Magnus Olsson) wrote in message news:<9u2i87$89k$2...@news.lth.se>...

> In IF, this would be a game consisting of a series of sub-games
> - or perhaps even a sequence of short, separate, games - where
> the PC emerges from each sub-game perhaps with some new equipment or
> abilities (sorry, I seem to be in a rather CRPG-ish mode), and
> then enters a new sub-game with new premises and a new plot.
>
> THat is, instead of chopping up one long plot into scenes, we
> string lots of self-contained scenes together to form a plot.

The game I'm working on has a subplot in the middle that consists
independantly of the overall arc (or I should say, appears that way to
the player). It weaves into the original story at its conclusion, but
initially it appears to have little to do with the first half of the
game. It's a bit risky, and I'm not 100% sure I can pull it off, but
I'm going to give it go. The point is to balance out the first half of
the game, which is fairly puzzle intensive (although it develops the
story quite a bit) with a section that is less about puzzles and more
about exploration and figuring out the logic of the landscape. The
final act is going to be almost completely made up of interacting with
an NPC, with very little physical movement or puzzles, and will
actually be an optional ending, but also the optimal one, because it
will tie everything together. The other endings will have a certain
amount of ambiguity associated with them. Point score will not
indicate success either, since it will be possible to hit the target
score about 3/4 of the way through.

That's the *plan* anyway, but you know what they say about that. :)

Gregg

Lucian P. Smith

unread,
Nov 28, 2001, 5:11:53 PM11/28/01
to
Magnus Olsson <m...@df.lth.se> wrote in <9u2de7$799$1...@news.lth.se>:

:>ems...@mindspring.com <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
:>
:>> So here's the slightly outrageous conclusion that I've come to:
:>> managing a game by transitional junctures, in which the player is
:>> allowed into only one scene at a time, provides a way of structuring
:>> the plot that was in Older Days done primarily through the canny
:>> placement of puzzles and the selective locking of doors; it allows the
:>> narrative to triumph and frees it from the crossword.

: (...)

: An observation:

: A couple of years ago, when I was working on a big, plot-driven IF
: under the working name of "A Meat Thing", I found myself up against a
: problem: The protagonist starts out essentially trapped in an
: apartment and has to find her way out. Then she has to get through the
: city sprawl to meet an important NPC. Two scenes were pretty clear in
: my head: escape from the flat and meeting with NPC. But I never could
: find out how to do the intervening part in an interesting way.

: In retrospect, I think I was trapped in the traditional IF way
: of thinking - the story has to be continuous; to me, at the time,
: jumping between scenes simply wasn't an option.


Here's another perspective, from a very different arena.

I'm involved with a group called ComedySportz--we do improv games and
scenes and such, many like the ones on "Who's Line Is It Anyway".

It is very easy, when performing a scene, to forget to cut. You wave to
your wife, say, "Well, I'm off to work," and go mime opening a door,
walking a bit, mime opening a car door, get in, mime driving while the
sound guy gives you engine noises, walk around the stage in a circle, mime
braking, mime opening the car door again, then wave to the guy who just
entered the stage again and say, "Hi, Bob!"

It's possible to do this in a funny way, and if you're particularly good
at mime it can be fun to watch, but goodness--who cares? One of the
things we practice is to say, "Well, I'm off to work," and *exit the
stage*. Then someone else can come on, say, "Arrgh! The elephants are
stampeding already and Tarzan is late *again*!" and that's your cue to
swing in on the 8:30 vine.

So, for IF, I think our instinct is the same as the improv instinct, to
run around in a circle on the stage before we get to the interesting bit.
The nature of classic IF puzzles is that they can really fit in anywhere,
so if you have a drive-to-work scene, you can code up a find-the-key
puzzle, a how-do-I-shift puzzle, and an avoid-the-cop puzzle, but as
we move more into narrative IF, you realize more clearly that the scene as
a whole just needs to be dropped. So in one bit you exit your house, the
screen clears, and then the elephants are stampeding. Nice and to the
point.

Classic IF didn't need to do this, because the puzzles could go anywhere.
Same in improv if all you care about is silly walks and clever mime. I
think we've discoved the cut-to technique because narrative pacing has
risen in importance. You could still use the technique in a puzzle-fest.
But you're more likely to *have* to use the technique in order to tell a
particular story at a certain pace.

-Lucian

Christine Indigo

unread,
Nov 29, 2001, 1:49:57 AM11/29/01
to
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message news:<9u3bjb$7v6$1...@news.panix.com>...

> Magnus Olsson <m...@df.lth.se> wrote:
> > Indeed. If you were to take what Jon is saying to the letter, you'd
> > have to give the PC total amnesia, or make him a newborn baby. The
> > first being dreadfully clichéd, the second being very original, but
> > hard to do something with.
>
> SUCK
>

But we've already got plenty of games that suck.

*bats eyes at Zarf*
None of yours, though.


> Fortunately, this is a hardwired mammalian reflex. You are rewarded
> with rich creamy goodness.

Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Double Entrende.

>
> [Your score has gone up one point. Your first point ever!
> Congratulations.]
>
> WEE
>
> [Don't worry about that right now.]
>
> ASK MOM ABOUT CROWN JEWELS
>
> [You don't know the word "ask". Give it a few years, okay?]

In about two years, you'll use it enough to make up for all of the
times that you couldn't. No, wait, that's the word "why." Whoops.

Jon Ingold

unread,
Nov 29, 2001, 7:43:27 AM11/29/01
to
> Surely "All Roads" was a response to the "Memento" thread earlier in the
> year? You remember - the one where a number of people complained that
> discussing even the idea of telling a story backwards would spoil their
Comp
> entry?

No, actually "All Roads" was complete by the time of the Memento thread (you
can check the dates in the game text and Google if you like), and this
author was mighty pissed off to read that thread too.

Jon


Jon Ingold

unread,
Nov 29, 2001, 7:47:28 AM11/29/01
to

"Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote in message
news:9u3auc$e7i$1...@news.lth.se...

That's not really what I mean - the _player_ has total amnesia, because as
you say, he's not been there before. The PC needn't, because he has, and so
long as he's willing to pass comment, reference and metaphor as he goes it
should be possible to build up some sort of picture without him having sit
down and say: Look, here's how the hyperdrive works, then we can get on.
(c.f. bad sci-fi)

The point is rather - you don't *need* to fill the player in on the entire
background of the PC's life, and you don't *need* to tell them everything at
the start. Instead you can just accept that it takes a little time for a
PC/player bond to build. That's where the skillful dribble of information
comes in.

Jon


Jon Ingold

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Nov 29, 2001, 7:51:18 AM11/29/01
to
> I agree... sort of. But you must also be careful that your dribbles are
> nibbled by the player, and that you don't place information some might
> consider vital to understanding the backstory in, say, the results of
> examining a smallish object that abruptly appears near the end of the
second
> scene of your game. :)

I'd probably best add that's, um, deliberate.

[ And to relate to the thread; you have to make sure all the *important*
stuff is going to be found by your player. And if you add irritating little
extra dimensions, that's your call. Depending on how you want the game to be
experienced, of course. ]

Jon


Magnus Olsson

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Nov 29, 2001, 8:10:56 AM11/29/01
to
In article <9u5aml$rpr$1...@pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk>,

I see. But that's not quite what you said, because we normally don't
have little voices in our heads that pass comments on things we do
:-).

>The point is rather - you don't *need* to fill the player in on the entire
>background of the PC's life, and you don't *need* to tell them everything at
>the start. Instead you can just accept that it takes a little time for a
>PC/player bond to build. That's where the skillful dribble of information
>comes in.

This is the same problem as the one that's almost archetypical in bad
(static) SF: Infodumps. It's irritating, both in static and
interactive fiction, when the plot grinds to a halt in order for some
character (or the narrator) to deliver a lecture on hyperdrive
theory. What you suggest is generally better.

But that doesn't mean that we can do without exposition; and I
interpreted what Emily wrote as being about the need for exposition in
general after a cut, not necessarily in the form of an infodump.

And I think that the principle of avoiding infodumps shouldn't be
taken too literally. Suppose we have a fifteen-year cut in the
narrative, during which the protagonist has grown up, married, had
children, and been awarded the Nobel prize for her work on temporal
dislocation. We *could* of course just dump the reader in the middle
of this and let her figure things out, but the result may be
intellectual overload and major confusion; we could also present the
reader with a five-page infodump, which will probably bore her to
tears, or we could aim for some middle ground.

That is, a *shortish* recapitulation of what has happened during the
cut might be appropriate. Or might not; there's more than one way of
skinning a cat.

BTW, an - on the surface - very different opinion can be found in one
of Nathan's Comp 01 review (at
http://gblues.diaryland.com/011109_22.html):

>Competition rules should require that authors include a text file
>with the following information:
>
>* Object of the game
>
>Why am I here? Where am I going? What am I supposed to know going into the
>game? This is where you can include an introduction to the player character,
>describe the game, and inform the player what they are trying to do.
>
>(remaining points snipped)

Taken at face value, this seems to contradict everything that we're
saying, but what I think the reviewer is really after is not that every
game should start with a character bio and complete briefing, but rather
that we shouldn't be dumped in the middle of nowhere without purpose or
motivation. I just think (like you, Jon) that this information can be
provided in small portions.

David Brain

unread,
Nov 29, 2001, 9:38:00 AM11/29/01
to
In article <9u5af4$rk9$1...@pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk>, ji...@cam.ac.uk (Jon
Ingold) wrote:

Ok fair enough. It just seemed a logical conclusion to draw.
Was it inspired by Memento at all? Or was that just a coincidence?

I'm still glad you entered it; it was my second-favourite game in the Comp
and congrats on the result you got!

For the record, I thought Silicon Castles was the best "game" in the Comp,
even though it wasn't really IF.

--
David Brain

"The text adventure is ... as dead as a dodo" Steven Poole, Trigger Happy
"Oh yeah?" rec.arts.int-fiction

Matthew Russotto

unread,
Nov 29, 2001, 10:08:08 AM11/29/01
to
In article <9u5af4$rk9$1...@pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk>,

Can we discussed Iain Banks "Use of Weapons"?

--
Matthew T. Russotto russ...@pond.com
=====
Get Caught Reading, Go To Jail!
A message from the Association of American Publishers
Free Dmitry Sklyarov! DMCA delenda est!
http://www.freedmitry.org

Adam Thornton

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Nov 29, 2001, 10:52:51 AM11/29/01
to
In article <u0cjqok...@corp.supernews.com>,

Matthew Russotto <russ...@wanda.pond.com> wrote:
>In article <9u5af4$rk9$1...@pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk>,
>Jon Ingold <ji...@cam.ac.uk> wrote:
>>No, actually "All Roads" was complete by the time of the Memento thread (you
>>can check the dates in the game text and Google if you like), and this
>>author was mighty pissed off to read that thread too.
>Can we discussed Iain Banks "Use of Weapons"?

While we're on the topic, "Fusillade" reminded me a lot of Banks' "The
Bridge."

Adam

Dennis G. Jerz

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Nov 29, 2001, 12:15:23 PM11/29/01
to
"Lucian P. Smith" <lps...@rice.edu> wrote in message
news:9u3nf9$o8t$1...@joe.rice.edu...

> Classic IF didn't need to do this, because the puzzles could go anywhere.
> Same in improv if all you care about is silly walks and clever mime. I
> think we've discoved the cut-to technique because narrative pacing has
> risen in importance. You could still use the technique in a puzzle-fest.
> But you're more likely to *have* to use the technique in order to tell a
> particular story at a certain pace.
>
> -Lucian

I think this is pretty well stated. I remember when I finished Myst, and
Atrus said something like, "You can go back and explore if you want to." I
had very carefully made sure that I had completed every task (collecting
pages, IIRC), and had saved the game right before I was supposed to make a
final choice; thus, there wasn't any story left to experience. But it was
kind of nice having a fully-unlocked set of worlds, where I could wander
around admiring the scenery.

I suppose the best of all possible IFs would have enough puzzles to satisfy
the puzzle-players, and enough story to satisfy the... uh... the
story-wanters. Jigsaw and Trinity have clear mechanisms (literally, in the
game world) that govern when you move between sections. If you're ready to
leave, you do.

Lucian's reference to improv is particularly interesting to me. Good improv
artists know when to hand off to the next guy; if the other team members
have to fight to get their chance to shine, they'll be less likely to give
you a good set-up line (since they figure it'll be a long time before they
get a chance to steer the scene).

The IF author has to script a text that will respond to the player's
improvs. As a player, I don't mind when a cut-scene takes control -- as
long as there's payback. A change in point of view, a jump in time, or a
"thank goodness I didn't have to go through that" feeling (as when a long
journey is elided) makes a cut scene worth it to me. But a cutscene that
takes control away from me, and forces me to do things that I, the player,
didn't commit to doing? That's disruptive.

>kill vampire

You kill the vampire. [Cutscene describing a harsh battle, with
dialogue, etc.]

You then decide to return to London...


While I might prefer a narrative description of the battle, I might excuse
the programmer from the chore of having to code a battle sequence, if the
characters, dialogue, motivation, etc. in the narrative portion of the game
were good enough. As a player, I think I'd rather read a mediocre cutscene
(as long as it was very short) than suffer through an equally mediocre
puzzle (a gratuitious maze or Towers of Hanoi puzzle, for instance).

--
Dennis G. Jerz, Ph.D.; (715)836-2431
Dept. of English; U Wisc.-Eau Claire
419 Hibbard, Eau Claire, WI 54702
------------------------------------
Literacy Weblog: www.uwec.edu/jerzdg


Kathleen M. Fischer

unread,
Nov 29, 2001, 12:25:01 PM11/29/01
to
>===== Original Message From "Jon Ingold" <ji...@cam.ac.uk> =====
>> I agree... sort of. But you must also be careful that your dribbles are
>> nibbled by the player, and that you don't place information some might
>> consider vital to understanding the backstory in, say, the results of
>> examining a smallish object that abruptly appears near the end of the
>second
>> scene of your game. :)
>
>I'd probably best add that's, um, deliberate.

Uh... actually, I was thinking of the smallish object in MY game, not YOUR
game.

(Yes, I know I said "your", but I was trying to be specifically general...
or
is that generally specific?)

Kathleen (great, now I'm sounding like an episode of Sheep In The Big City.)

ally

unread,
Nov 29, 2001, 12:49:59 PM11/29/01
to
From: "Jon Ingold" ji...@cam.ac.uk

From the point of view of someone with a short attention/euphoria span,
wouldn't electronic feelies really help level the disparity between player
and PC knowledge -- without feeling grafted on or infodumpish? Unless
I idenitfy with the PC, and that's rarely the case, and unless the PC *is*
indeed amnesiac or confronted with the Unfamiliar, I'd rather have some
initial impression of where and who and why I am--most of all, though, of
what the world I'm about to enter *feels* like.

An evocative in-game exposition helps a lot, of course. But if there's a
hyperdrive to not only use but *repair*, I'd rather consult a Sirius
Cybernetics Corp. brochure or a schematic diagram instead of memorising
several chunks of Starfleet-Academy-reminiscing. Puzzle-solving types
may disagree. Well, everyone may, YMMV et cetera.

(I don't need explanations for everything that happens, I don't consider
IF an equation where "optimal" input results in "optimal" output (I don't
usually care about "solving" a game either), but ...--ohwell. It just gives
me this warm, fuzzy feeling of dealing with a polished, made-with-love
work. Not that you can expect every author to be a skilled designer or
illustrator, but someone's recently suggested a collaborators' page for
multimedia people somewhere, and I'd love it if that worked.)

--
e hyphen mail colon space kitzapoo at gmx dot co dot uk
if all else fails, meow

Magnus Olsson

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Nov 29, 2001, 1:02:23 PM11/29/01
to
In article <9u5qfc$107a$1...@wiscnews.wiscnet.net>,

Dennis G. Jerz <Jer...@uwec.edu> wrote:
>But a cutscene that
>takes control away from me, and forces me to do things that I, the player,
>didn't commit to doing? That's disruptive.
>
> >kill vampire
>
> You kill the vampire. [Cutscene describing a harsh battle, with
>dialogue, etc.]

I think such a cutscene would be appropriate in a text adventure,
since fight scenes don't work very well in the medium.

> You then decide to return to London...

But this is the worst kind of railroading and putting thoughts in
the PC's mind at the same time.

Eytan Zweig

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Nov 29, 2001, 1:23:23 PM11/29/01
to

"Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote in message
news:9u5t7f$3lf$2...@news.lth.se...

> In article <9u5qfc$107a$1...@wiscnews.wiscnet.net>,
> Dennis G. Jerz <Jer...@uwec.edu> wrote:
> >But a cutscene that
> >takes control away from me, and forces me to do things that I, the
player,
> >didn't commit to doing? That's disruptive.
> >
> > >kill vampire
> >
> > You kill the vampire. [Cutscene describing a harsh battle, with
> >dialogue, etc.]
>
> I think such a cutscene would be appropriate in a text adventure,
> since fight scenes don't work very well in the medium.
>
> > You then decide to return to London...
>
> But this is the worst kind of railroading and putting thoughts in
> the PC's mind at the same time.
>

Actually, I believe it all depends on how the story was presented to you
before.

If you started the game in the vampire's crypt, knowing nothing about
yourself save that there's a vampire to be killed, and little additional
information has been provided so far, than the above would feel totally
arbitrary.

If part 1 of the game took place in London, where your lover was bitten by a
vampire which you must slay in part II, and the player is imparted with a
strong sense of "I don't want to be away from her any more than I must",
this might be a totally appropriate way of getting the player to part III
where he discovers that the vampire is not really dead but has returned with
a vengence.

Eytan


Magnus Olsson

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Nov 29, 2001, 1:37:56 PM11/29/01
to
In article <9u5uem$6k45a$1...@ID-101183.news.dfncis.de>,

Eytan Zweig <eyt...@yahoo.com> wrote:
>
>"Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote in message
>news:9u5t7f$3lf$2...@news.lth.se...
>> In article <9u5qfc$107a$1...@wiscnews.wiscnet.net>,
>> Dennis G. Jerz <Jer...@uwec.edu> wrote:
>> > You then decide to return to London...
>>
>> But this is the worst kind of railroading and putting thoughts in
>> the PC's mind at the same time.
>>
>
>Actually, I believe it all depends on how the story was presented to you
>before.

(...)

>If part 1 of the game took place in London, where your lover was bitten by a
>vampire which you must slay in part II, and the player is imparted with a
>strong sense of "I don't want to be away from her any more than I must",
>this might be a totally appropriate way of getting the player to part III
>where he discovers that the vampire is not really dead but has returned with
>a vengence.

I don't think so *as Dennis' example stands*.

I agree with the principle: in your case, the player shouldn't be
object to being told that he decides to go to London. But that the
telling must be done in a much more convincing way than just the
flat statement "You then decide to go to London." If the author is
going to decide what the player does next, the player must be made
to feel that this is the only sensible choice, or at least the choice
that she'd make given the ability to make it.

I still think that in IF, it's preferable to let the player make the
decision (you can railroad her as much as you like, as long as you
give the illusion that it's her decision), but choices such as
"Do I go to London or do I stay at home and fight the rest of the
vampires here in Sunnydale" aren't exactly among the easiest ones
to implement in text IF. At least not in a way that feels natural.

Dennis G. Jerz

unread,
Nov 29, 2001, 4:07:15 PM11/29/01
to
"Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote in message
news:9u5t7f$3lf$2...@news.lth.se...

> In article <9u5qfc$107a$1...@wiscnews.wiscnet.net>,
> Dennis G. Jerz <Jer...@uwec.edu> wrote:
> >But a cutscene that
> >takes control away from me, and forces me to do things that I, the
player,
> >didn't commit to doing? That's disruptive.
> >
> > >kill vampire
> >
> > You kill the vampire. [Cutscene describing a harsh battle, with
> >dialogue, etc.]
>
> I think such a cutscene would be appropriate in a text adventure,
> since fight scenes don't work very well in the medium.
>
> > You then decide to return to London...
>
> But this is the worst kind of railroading and putting thoughts in
> the PC's mind at the same time.
>

Er... yes. I meant that the cutscene about the battle was excusable, if it
helped the story, but that a cutscene in which the author tells you what you
decided to do is disruptive. So, I agree completely with Magnus. I didn't
explain my example very well, I guess.

--
Dennis G. Jerz, Ph.D.; (715)836-2431
Dept. of English; U Wisc.-Eau Claire
419 Hibbard, Eau Claire, WI 54702
------------------------------------
Literacy Weblog: www.uwec.edu/jerzdg

> --

Dennis G. Jerz

unread,
Nov 29, 2001, 4:20:35 PM11/29/01
to
"Eytan Zweig" <eyt...@yahoo.com> wrote in message news:9u5uem$6k45a$1@ID-

> If part 1 of the game took place in London, where your lover was bitten by
a
> vampire which you must slay in part II, and the player is imparted with a
> strong sense of "I don't want to be away from her any more than I must",
> this might be a totally appropriate way of getting the player to part III
> where he discovers that the vampire is not really dead but has returned
with
> a vengence.


Yes, a compelling backstory would provide context for such a narrative
shift, and thus I think that such a narrative shift could deliver sufficient
payoff that the disruption (if you can call it that) would be worthwhile.

I don't mind being disrupted when I'm reading, as long as the disruptions
are part of the author's creative efforts, and not distractions from
whatever value the game has. For example, in "Beinig Andrew Plotkin," I got
a little tired of the POV-switching, since whoever was the NPC at the time
seemed to be the one with all the brilliant ideas, and I didn't get a sense
that (aside from a few room descriptions) the game was really that much
different based on who was the PC at the time. But the in-jokes and parodic
value of the game encouraged me to put up with minor inconveniences, since
the payoff was good. (I never finished the end game of BAP, just like I
never got across the damn ice floes in Winter Wonderland, possibly because I
hate tightly-timed puzzles.)


--
Dennis G. Jerz, Ph.D.; (715)836-2431
Dept. of English; U Wisc.-Eau Claire
419 Hibbard, Eau Claire, WI 54702
------------------------------------
Literacy Weblog: www.uwec.edu/jerzdg
>

> Eytan
>
>


Dennis G. Jerz

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Nov 29, 2001, 4:33:19 PM11/29/01
to
"Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote in message
news:9u5va4$3lf$4...@news.lth.se...

> [...]


> I don't think so *as Dennis' example stands*.

D'oh! I hope I cleared that up a little.

> [...]


> I still think that in IF, it's preferable to let the player make the
> decision (you can railroad her as much as you like, as long as you
> give the illusion that it's her decision), but choices such as
> "Do I go to London or do I stay at home and fight the rest of the
> vampires here in Sunnydale" aren't exactly among the easiest ones
> to implement in text IF. At least not in a way that feels natural.

True. As you point out, the illusion of control goes quite a long way. I'm
also reminded of Stephen Granade's essay on why AI is not necessary for good
IF. It's OK to close off pathways if the stuff that is left for the player
to do is rewarding enough.

I certainly don't fault, say, Infocom's Nord and Bert for having wild scene
changes. Nick Montfort's Ad Verbum did a better job of unifying a bunch of
language puzzles... the narrative (what there was of it in those games)
didn't at all suffer from plot shifts, because the player's enjoyment came
from the language puzzles. Similarly, some Fine Tuned players complained
about the railroading, but others were still able to enjoy it (when it
wasn't crashing the interpreter, that is) for other reasons.

--
Dennis G. Jerz, Ph.D.; (715)836-2431
Dept. of English; U Wisc.-Eau Claire
419 Hibbard, Eau Claire, WI 54702
------------------------------------
Literacy Weblog: www.uwec.edu/jerzdg
>

OKB -- not okblacke

unread,
Nov 29, 2001, 4:42:43 PM11/29/01
to
ally...@aol.comedy (ally) wrote:
>An evocative in-game exposition helps a lot, of course. But if there's a
>hyperdrive to not only use but *repair*, I'd rather consult a Sirius
>Cybernetics Corp. brochure or a schematic diagram instead of memorising
>several chunks of Starfleet-Academy-reminiscing. Puzzle-solving types
>may disagree.

I am definitely not the puzzle-solving type, but I do disagree. My
perspective is that if there's a hyperdrive to repair, I (as the player)
shouldn't have to know how to actually repair it. I don't want to have to read
external documents, nor do I want dry instructions thrust at me in the middle
of the game, nor do I want to have to remember all the reminiscing. I want to
be able to read the reminiscing and get a general idea of what's up so, when
the time comes, I can do something like OPEN COVER. REMOVE DILITHIUM. INSERT
NEW CRYSTAL. (Or even just REPAIR HYPERDRIVE WITH DOOMAFLADGY.)

Dennis G. Jerz

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Nov 29, 2001, 4:48:21 PM11/29/01
to
"Jon Ingold" <ji...@cam.ac.uk> wrote in message
news:9u5aml$rpr$1...@pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk...

>
> "Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote in message
> news:9u3auc$e7i$1...@news.lth.se...
> > Indeed. If you were to take what Jon is saying to the letter, you'd
> > have to give the PC total amnesia, or make him a newborn baby. The
> > first being dreadfully clichéd, the second being very original, but
> > hard to do something with.
>
> That's not really what I mean - the _player_ has total amnesia, because as
> you say, he's not been there before. The PC needn't, because he has, and
so
> long as he's willing to pass comment, reference and metaphor as he goes it
> should be possible to build up some sort of picture without him having sit
> down and say: Look, here's how the hyperdrive works, then we can get on.
> (c.f. bad sci-fi)

It's not just s-f, of course. The "fish out of water" plot, in which a
person from one culture is thrown into another culture, and the reader
learns about the new culture by watching the protagonist try to fit in (or
rebel) is a well-established device. Rags-to-riches; riches-to-rags; baby
raised by animals; commoner elevated to the peerage; a marriage outside the
peer group.

My point is that a PC doesn't have to have total amnesia in order to
encounter certain things for the first time. The problem is that if the PC
is a highly-trained technical expert, and the player is not, how do you get
the player to think like the PC is supposed to think? Well, if you're
really thinking in simulationist terms (that is, if the object would be
fiddly and complex in real life, it ought to be fiddly and complex to play
with) you need to do what the graphics simulation games do, and create
training puzzles that teach the player the skills that the PC needs to get
the job done. Since such a time-consuming process would probably get in the
way of serious storytelling, we don't see much that combines the two.

But if the information dribble only teaches about objects, it's not going to
form a satisfying narrative. You don't need narrative to teach the player
the complex skills that the PC knows about. But without narrative, the
skill-acquiring ought to be rewarding in and of itself. Such a game won't
be to everyone's liking, but the medium is flexible enough to handle that
reality.

Tom Smith

unread,
Nov 29, 2001, 5:14:07 PM11/29/01
to
> And I think that the principle of avoiding infodumps shouldn't be
> taken too literally. Suppose we have a fifteen-year cut in the
> narrative, during which the protagonist has grown up, married, had
> children, and been awarded the Nobel prize for her work on temporal
> dislocation. We *could* of course just dump the reader in the middle
> of this and let her figure things out, but the result may be
> intellectual overload and major confusion; we could also present the
> reader with a five-page infodump, which will probably bore her to
> tears, or we could aim for some middle ground.
>
> That is, a *shortish* recapitulation of what has happened during the
> cut might be appropriate. Or might not; there's more than one way of
> skinning a cat.

cf. the extraordinary chronological jumping about in Wuthering Heights


> I see. But that's not quite what you said, because we normally don't
> have little voices in our heads that pass comments on things we do
> :-).

speak for yourself :P


no, but seriously: we do, they just work sub- or semi-consciously (if
such a state exists); IF has no way to do this except by using 'you
feel...' or 'you see...' messages which are, as has been said several
times, awful. Instead we have to either be terribly, terribly subtle
and careful about what we tell the player and how we tell it, or we
follow the accepted convention and describe the subconscious as
consciousness.


yrs incomprensibly,
Tom Smith

ally

unread,
Nov 29, 2001, 5:28:00 PM11/29/01
to
From: bren...@aol.comRemove (OKB -- not okblacke)

>ally...@aol.comedy (ally) wrote:
>>An evocative in-game exposition helps a lot, of course. But if there's a
>>hyperdrive to not only use but *repair*, I'd rather consult a Sirius
>>Cybernetics Corp. brochure or a schematic diagram instead of memorising
>>several chunks of Starfleet-Academy-reminiscing. Puzzle-solving types
>>may disagree.
>
> I am definitely not the puzzle-solving type, but I do disagree. My
>perspective is that if there's a hyperdrive to repair, I (as the player)
>shouldn't have to know how to actually repair it. I don't want to have to
>read
>external documents, nor do I want dry instructions thrust at me in the middle
>of the game, nor do I want to have to remember all the reminiscing. I want
>to
>be able to read the reminiscing and get a general idea of what's up so, when
>the time comes, I can do something like OPEN COVER. REMOVE DILITHIUM.
>INSERT
>NEW CRYSTAL. (Or even just REPAIR HYPERDRIVE WITH DOOMAFLADGY.)

While I do like the general idea of having feelies that are strongly
integrated into the game itself, or rather: that are *part* of the game itself,
I suppose I chose the wrong words ("schematic diagram", "consult").

I thought of those as external "nudges in the right direction" rather than
external documentation (I've got enough of that to not want any in IF, I
guess).

Machinery in particular is so difficult for me to visualise that I'd rather
have some "encouraging" idea of what the sum of all the sliders, slots,
levers, panels and doomafladgies is supposed to be, looks like, works
like. Excellent writing helps, but only to some extent. (I had problems
figuring out the pillars and gate in So Far, and rarely get a true "sense
of place" in IF--this, however, might be a language issue that doesn't
apply to native speakers.)

Something like the Heart of Gold advertisement Ford enthuses about in
HHGG would just be tangible enough for me to make it worth it.
(Obviously, I'm not a text-only purist.)

~ally

Nick Montfort

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Nov 30, 2001, 2:27:12 AM11/30/01
to
It seems silly to reenter raif after several lurking years by replying
to an already enormous thread, particularly with a long post. But here
I go.

Regarding the supposed 'divorce' of narrative and the crossword, was
the crossword was ever involved at all, much less a partner in
marriage? What 'puzzles' from pre-computer times are these IF
'puzzles/problems/challenges' that we're talking about really related
to? With maybe one exception I doubt there is much relationship at all
between IF and the crossword. There are relationships to earlier
forms, certainly, but it would seem important to specify the
particular types of puzzles that are involved.

Many puzzles, as with many of those in Emily's Metamorphoses, seem
related to understanding of the world. If you understand what object X
is and what it does, and similarly for objects Y and Z that are around
-- and maybe it isn't clear, maybe you have to think or experiment --
you can figure out how to apply these to make progress. That's
assuming you know what to do -- determining your goal is often another
puzzle. You can think of the coal mine section of Zork here. Perhaps a
situational puzzle is more related than a crossword? I have several
other ideas, too, but I'm interested to hear what other people think
the 'puzzle' heritage of IF really is.

Personally, I find that puzzles can be very related to the excellence
of IF, because the pleasure of recognizing things about the world and
making these things work for you is a great one -- as good as
'narrative' is, certainly. On the subject of narrative, no interactive
fiction is simply 'a story' nor does it have 'a story' behind it, as
we know when we design games. Every game, every work of IF, is a
system for generating stories, not *a* story but multiple stories. The
transcript that is produced in a session is a narration of a story.
Maybe a boring one: a story that describes a few turns of collecting
treasures in a cave. Still, you could tell it to a friend. "First I
went east. Then I picked up this emerald. Then I looked at it and it
was beautiful. ..." Maybe, instead, it's an interesting one. Maybe
some of these interactive generators produce interesting and complex
stories and others produce *only* boring stories -- and maybe some of
the games that produced the boring stories are still more fun. The
point is that with books on IF theory in the works, we can no longer
afford to be imprecise about what IF is, by, for instance, calling it
'a story' and glossing over the more complex thing that IF really is,
or -- even worse -- saying offhand that some IF is 'story IF' and some
isn't. A work of interactive fiction generates stories -- you have to
work, or 'play' it in order to make them happen; otherwise they won't
be presented for you to read. Some of the pleasures of IF come from
reading the stories generated by it; some of them come from figuring
things out and 'playing.'

I do think the discussion of jumps in the narrative is important, but
it helps to first distinguish between, say, an interactive story
generator and a story. A 'jump' doesn't *just* change the story. It
doesn't preclude puzzles, either. What it does is also affect how you
play the IF, and what you can or can't do with it, such as going back
to areas that you have 'jumped' away from. Of course, works of IF are
plenty of other things besides interactive story-generators that
contain puzzles. They're also simulated worlds, for instance -- and
maybe you like being able to get around the simulated world instead of
being moved around it by forces beyond your control ... unless these
forces are really cool.

This discussion of fundamentals may seem boring, but I'm concerned
with them, and I hope a few others are. I think a solid theory really
should address these issues first in the hopes of then understanding
the immediate problems more deeply.

-nm

ems...@mindspring.com

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Nov 30, 2001, 9:23:50 AM11/30/01
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ni...@nickm.com (Nick Montfort) wrote in message news:<ae605ba7.01112...@posting.google.com>...

> It seems silly to reenter raif after several lurking years by replying
> to an already enormous thread, particularly with a long post. But here
> I go.
>
> Regarding the supposed 'divorce' of narrative and the crossword, was
> the crossword was ever involved at all, much less a partner in
> marriage?
<snip>

The terminology I used was Graham's, and it was meant as a shorthand
for ideas already floating around the community, rather than as a
thoughtful description of what I actually perceive IF puzzles to be.

<more snip>

> I do think the discussion of jumps in the narrative is important, but
> it helps to first distinguish between, say, an interactive story

> generator and a story...

> This discussion of fundamentals may seem boring, but I'm concerned
> with them, and I hope a few others are. I think a solid theory really
> should address these issues first in the hopes of then understanding
> the immediate problems more deeply.

Okay.

My response to this question runs over 5000 words, so I am not posting
it, but you may visit it here:

http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/whatsif.html

and feel free to dismember it and its conclusions as you like.

ES

ems...@mindspring.com

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Nov 30, 2001, 3:19:36 PM11/30/01
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ems...@mindspring.com (ems...@mindspring.com) wrote in message news:<a69830de.01113...@posting.google.com>...

> ni...@nickm.com (Nick Montfort) wrote in message news:<ae605ba7.01112...@posting.google.com>...
> > It seems silly to reenter raif after several lurking years by replying
> > to an already enormous thread, particularly with a long post. But here
> > I go.
> >
> > Regarding the supposed 'divorce' of narrative and the crossword, was
> > the crossword was ever involved at all, much less a partner in
> > marriage?
> <snip>
>
> The terminology I used was Graham's, and it was meant as a shorthand
> for ideas already floating around the community, rather than as a
> thoughtful description of what I actually perceive IF puzzles to be.

<etc>

It has been pointed out to me that my tone in the previous message is
a bit abrupt, perhaps to the point of peevish curtness. Such was
certainly not my intent; the message was, however, composed in the
very wee-est hours of the morning after I had spent considerable time
writing the essay itself. So if I was curt, it was due to my being up
a good four or five hours past my bedtime.

I trust no offense was taken.


With that said, I would like to address the methodological point that
Nick raised by implication and which I may seem to have brushed off,
about the IF Theory book itself.

Writing about IF has been undertaken so far, for the most part, by
practitioners of the craft; much that has been written has been
intended as didactic treatise or as inspirational tract, to convey to
new authors what works and what does not work. Some of this writing
has been very technical: it passes on specific techniques of the
craft, down to questions such as how to code doors properly or how to
correctly excise the "score" command from one's game. This sort of
thing one might consider equivalent to a master painter teaching his
apprentice how to grind pigments and mix them with a proper base.
Then there is writing that addresses somewhat more general issues of
achieving a specific narrative or game goal: how to make NPCs
lifelike, how to structure puzzles so as to make them fair, and so on.
This writing doesn't tell the would-be author what code to use, but
it offers guidance on structure, layout, planning. This is, perhaps,
like teaching the painter to create an underdrawing, and to use proper
perspective, and other such techniques -- all still unquestionably
technical skills, but somewhat abstracted from the pure mechanics of
painting-production.

Beyond that, we have debates about what is possible and what is
desirable. Should we have AI to run our games? Can we have it? How
would we design it? Are "puzzleless" games IF? What does it mean for
a game to be "puzzleless"? Is mimesis necessary and desirable, and
how is it achieved?

But even this -- which we might consider on a level with a painterly
debate about composition or style -- does not get at the deep question
of what Interactive Fiction *is* in relation to other forms of art or
game; of how it stands in relation to its author and its reader; of
the art-status of prose that is produced partly by automated means; of
what it is that we are even thinking of when we talk about a work of
IF, since we do not experience the code itself purely and directly,
but transform the output by our interaction with it.

This sort of question, if I understand rightly (though I certainly
have not enumerated thoroughly), is what the more literary-academic
contingent think of when they hear the words "IF Theory." To longtime
raif denizens, accustomed to the sorts of discussions we most often
have here, "IF Theory" tends more to evoke the idea that there will be
some discussion of craft, but that the most-technical level will be
avoided. No code, just writing tips. And this dichotomy of
expectation isn't unreasonable. Some of my co-editors want a book
they can show to their colleagues in academe and say, "look, here is
the beginning of an approach to understanding IF in the terms of our
discipline. Let us respect it and investigate it as it deserves."
And some of them have no need to convince anyone of anything, but
want, rather, a book that will draw together the best fruits of the
craft discussion and improve on them, offering insights to new and
seasoned authors and to players who want to make themselves
IF-literate.

As I try to explain on the website for the book, --
(http://www.iftheory.com, for those playing along at home) -- I don't
think those two goals are entirely incompatible. Theories do not
arise in a vacuum; they pertain to something particular, and a failure
to ground theories about art in the realities of craft can lead to the
most ludicrous mistakes. I am reminded of a ground-breaking article
on ancient sculpture that, seemingly for the first time, set out to
investigate seriously the tools available to an ancient sculptor and
to try to understand what effects they would have had. The theory
section *needs* the history and craft sections, not least because if
we are to introduce this material to new members of the academic
community not already familiar with IF, they will need to know
something about the body of work in question. Just as it is
impossible to sit down and have a deep theoretical discussion about
Impressionism without ever having clapped eyes on a Monet or a Renoir,
so also it is impossible to discuss IF usefully, however abstract that
discussion might be, without knowing something about instances of
actual IF, and the intentions and methods that shaped them.

One can talk a bit, I suppose, about the dissociation of text from
author, and consider, in general terms, how some of the past century's
literary-critical techniques apply to a model in which the reader is
permitted to participate directly in the shaping of the text itself.
I've talked about this myself somewhat, though informally; traditional
texts you can approach from the angle of authorial intent, or from the
angle of reader intention; you can look at the historical context and
culture of the writing, or you can attempt to divorce the text from
everything and look at it itself alone. Or you can prod it for weak
points and self-contradictions, for moments where its explicit and
implicit meanings somehow run counter to each other, and wait for the
whole thing to come apart into a messy aporia. But how do we consider
these theoretical approaches with respect to a text that essentially
*does not exist* without the reader? Where the reader-response is
incorporated into every transcript, every textual performance? Does
the game become a bit more like music, then, or a play, transcribed
and then acted out? If so, it's like a play in which the audience is
brought onstage at the beginning and forced to act the leading role,
without knowing any of his lines.

Ultimately, though, no such discussion can proceed beyond basics
without the evidence of the works themselves, and I think it would be
arid and unrewarding to try.

Conversely, the craft section will, I think, benefit considerably by
the addition of the theory section: techniques of writing IF change
constantly as new avenues are discovered, because the form is still in
its infancy, as art forms go. We have a bit of a
headstart-by-analogy, since there is the whole history of literature
to inform us about prose writing techniques; but this is problematic,
and thinking about the nature of the problems involved does sometimes
lead to dramatic new concepts and approaches on the craft end.

What we are trying to do, is, I realize, a difficult and complex task.
Is this going to be the Definitive Work on Theory about IF for All
Time? No; it can't be. One learns as one goes, not only how to write
IF, but how to write about it, and criticism itself has an evolution:
this is why there is not only art history but also art historiography.
Where we can benefit from the instruction of criticism in other arts,
I am happy to do so; where we need to travel new ground, and I fear it
will be often, I rely on the good will, the energy, and the
ever-surprising insights of the rest of the community. What we do not
yet know, we must hope to discover by talking.

-- Emily

Sean T Barrett

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Nov 30, 2001, 4:34:28 PM11/30/01
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ems...@mindspring.com <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
>My response to this question runs over 5000 words, so I am not posting
>it, but you may visit it here:
>http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/whatsif.html

A very nice essay.

One random thing that struck me was that a comment you made
about Photopia and All Roads was pretty much exactly the words
I was looking for to explain what I think people meant by
saying "Gostak" wasn't IF--that the "puzzle" of Gostak wasn't
traditional IF: "This shifts the interactivity of the
experience largely into the realm of the pure intellectual,
in the player's head: do you understand, or do you not?"

Anyway, it seems no definition of IF is really possible beyond
Wittgensteinian family resemblences, and a lot this essay
builds on the reader's existing knowledge of works of IF
(and some, like Threading The Labyrinth, not necessarily
that well known); communicating 'what is IF' to people
not already familiar with it is going to be quite a challenge.

The first problem will simply be deciding what sense of IF
the book is meant to cover.

SeanB

Nick Montfort

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Nov 30, 2001, 5:54:43 PM11/30/01
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> http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/whatsif.html

> and feel free to dismember it and its conclusions as you like.

Well -- nice. I certainly don't propose a dismemberment, unless I
later take a limb or two in order to assemble some theoretical
creature, then applying galvanic force to it. But continuing the
discussion seems like a great idea.

For now I'm going to leave aside puzzles and goals and benchmarks --
as well as the very interesting point you mention regarding the
composition in performance of Homeric epic as formulated in Albert
Bates Lord's The Singer of Tales. (I'll mention, through, that this is
taken up by Janet Murray in Hamlet on the Holodeck in relation to
interactive narrative.) I'll try to get to these in another post or on
a Web page of my own at some point.

Your discussion of beginnings and endings seems a particularly
essential one, and your comments, distinguishing "win" and "loss"
states and the cardinality of those, are a great start on this topic.
I'm not going to offer much on that point here, but if you want to
consider the works really pointing out the difference between the
"concluding text" and the end of an IF session, Shrapnel and Rematch
seem of course to be the ones to look at.

I'll make my comments about definitions and such, since that's what I
posted about originally. From <
http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/whatsif.html >:

"IF is a program that takes input in the form of text, and returns
output, also in the form of text."

This is the right starting point, I think, and it's an element of the
definition I gave last year at < http://www.altx.com/ebr/ebr11/11mon/
>:

"Interactive fiction of the text adventure sort accepts textual,
natural-language input ... In response to this input, usually a
command to the main character in the story, actions and events
transpire in a simulated world and text is produced to indicate what
has happened. Then, unless the character has progressed to some
conclusion of the story, the operator is allowed to provide more input
and the cycle continues."

(Silly me. I said "the story" in a rather unfortunate way, didn't I.)
I think Dennis Jerz already has agreed with you as well, based on his
earlier statement of what IF is <
http://www.uwec.edu/jerzdg/orr/articles/IF/intro.htm >.

I also agree that natural language understanding, for some meaning of
"understanding," is essential.

Some points we differ on -- I think a simulated world is required, for
instance -- really just mean that you're willing to include more under
the term IF than I am, and you'd rather leave what I call IF in the
"vast majority" category within that bigger set. I do think it's most
interesting to look at only those things that do model a world as
being IF, with other things as boundary cases or exceptions;
otherwise, it seems you'd have to admit that chatterbots like Eliza,
accepting text and returning text, are IF. The theory of chatterbots
probably is useful, but it doesn't seem completely applicable to
things like Adventure, Zork, Trinity, AMFV, and the winners of the IF
Comps; it seems best really to distinguish the two as different sorts
of things. I'd also say that it's best to specify that IF tends "to
represent, in some form, an environment or imagined world whose
physical space we can explore" not just "in some form" but by actually
modeling this as code and data structures or as objects (in the OOP
sense), etc. Otherwise that part of the definition would allow Dante's
Inferno to be IF, since it certainly does represent an imagined world
"in some form." (Of course, the Inferno doesn't take natural language
input, but hopefully you can see what I mean as far as what's
important about the nature of the "world" and its representation in
IF.)

As for "story," when I use the term I am indeed talking in the
formalist sense: a sequence of events connected by time and causality.
(A narrative is a particular telling of such a story.) Actually even
Threading the Labyrinth can be understood to present a series of
events ("I approach the labyrinth. ... I search through it all ...")
amid exposition, but I wouldn't want to have to prove this to anyone.
I think we agree that the world-model-type IF generates narratives,
and that a work of IF can be enjoyable whether or not these narratives
are any good, depending upon how it's designed.

Threading the Labyrinth has what it calls a "one-word parser," and I'm
not sure how its interface is any different than that of, say, Shelley
Jackson's Patchwork Girl at the level of "understanding." In Patchwork
Girl (a hypertext novel), you can click on any word that is displayed.
(Some provide a default text, but nevertheless you can click on
anything to get a new text.) In Threading the Labyrinth, you can type
any word that is displayed. They're both good works of computer lit,
but I'm not sure how one of these has any more "understanding" of
language than the other, or that it makes sense to consider them IF by
your definition. I suspect hypertext theory will be important in
dealing with Threading the Labyrinth and Space Under The Window
despite their being made in TADS and Inform, and I wouldn't look to
those works to define what IF is. They are interesting cases that IF
theory should take note of, though.

There is a lot more to be said, but I'll need more time to ponder and
write on order to start in on some of these other topics in a
worthwhile way.

-nm

Dennis G. Jerz

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Nov 30, 2001, 6:32:22 PM11/30/01
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<ems...@mindspring.com> wrote in message
news:a69830de.0111...@posting.google.com...

> I am reminded of a ground-breaking article
> on ancient sculpture that, seemingly for the first time, set out to
> investigate seriously the tools available to an ancient sculptor and
> to try to understand what effects they would have had. The theory
> section *needs* the history and craft sections, not least because if
> we are to introduce this material to new members of the academic
> community not already familiar with IF, they will need to know
> something about the body of work in question.

Hear, hear.

Much IF scholarship is published and circulated for readers who may or may
not have ever played a text game all the way through, but who have probably
read transcripts of IF sessions. Just as there's only so much sculpture you
can understand by looking at photos of sculpture, there's only so much IF
that you can understand by looking only at transcripts. An academic essay
is written under rules of citation, evidence, and argument that lend
themselves very well to the examination of linear texts. As such, current
scholarship on the subject does not always catch the full range of
possibilities that could be examined by a set of texts written by people who
are intimately familiar with the form being examined. Janet Murray, in her
respected _Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace_,
has separate bibliographies for print sources and digital sources. Fair
enough. But the printed sources are alphabetized according to the last name
of the author, and the digital sources are alpahabetized according to title
of the work. My chief criticism of Murray's book is that it does not
address the issues of authorship -- not just the philosophical issues of
what happens to the concept of authorship, but how is the product shaped by
the tools available. (Since the book has the word "narrative" in the title,
I can excuse it for overlooking the puzzle component of IF.)

It's my hope that, because the chief audience for the IF Theory book will
probably be people who don't need to be told what IF is, this collection of
essays will be able to take the issues much, much farther. It will be up to
the section editors to write introductory essays that make the contributions
more accessible to a wider audience; the contributors are then free to focus
all their energies on saying whatever needs to be said, without having to
reach for analogies (like the photo/sculputre one above) that are tiresome
for those who don't need them in order to engage with the subject matter.

I'm currently researching an article designed to address the question of how
IF is affected by the tools available to IF authors. The easy answer is,
"Yes, of course authors are affected by the tools they use." But how,
exactly? To what extent? And what does the present state of experimental
interactive narrative (which is happening in this community, not in the
silicon valley game factories) say about the future of computer-mediated
creative forms?


> But how do we consider
> these theoretical approaches with respect to a text that essentially
> *does not exist* without the reader? Where the reader-response is
> incorporated into every transcript, every textual performance?

I know Emily's questions are rhetorcal; she's not really asking me to reply,
but for anybody who's curious, I would like to take this moment to
reccommend Nick Motfort's review of Espen Aarseth's _Cybertext_. Here's a
choice bit, focusing on the term "interactive fiction".

[T]his term can cause loud gnashing of teeth among hypertext authors. They
ask, "if these things are interactive fiction, what is my work - not
interactive?" (This complaint usually comes from the people who brought you
"serious hypertext," a phrase that clearly suggests everything else is not
serious.) This would be a reasonable question in many cases, but literary
terms often employ adjectives that are not exclusively descriptive of a
single form. http://www.electronicbookreview.com/ebr11/11mon/index.html

(End of Montfort quote.)

So... here's a clear sign that IF can, could, and should benefit from taking
the time to define its own critical vocabulary. Yes, that vocabulary is
constantly developing on the net, and would still be very healthy, vital,
and useful without a book. (I'm just trying to beef up what would otherwise
be a "hear hear" post.)

FWIF, I didn't read either Nick's or Emily's posts as confrontational or
argumentative.. at least, not in any but an intellectual, rhetorical sense.

Sean T Barrett

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Nov 30, 2001, 6:56:44 PM11/30/01
to
Nick Montfort <ni...@nickm.com> wrote:
>Your discussion of beginnings and endings seems a particularly
>essential one, and your comments, distinguishing "win" and "loss"
>states and the cardinality of those, are a great start on this topic.
>I'm not going to offer much on that point here, but if you want to
>consider the works really pointing out the difference between the
>"concluding text" and the end of an IF session, Shrapnel and Rematch
>seem of course to be the ones to look at.

Also keep in mind 'Aisle', which, like Schroedinger's Cat, has
no ending, but which still seems "more like traditional IF"--perhaps
because it builds on other trappings of the form of IF in a
more traditional way. (That is, all sorts of commands that we
associate with IF [a purely accidental not inherent relation]
are valid.)

>I also agree that natural language understanding, for some meaning of
>"understanding," is essential.

Since "natural language understanding" is AI jargon for something
more ambitious, it is probably best to be more specific about what
is meant (e.g. input accepted is a small constrained set of natural
language--hence the input/transcript reads as language) and avoid
the jargon term entirely.

Also, where do computerized CYOAs lie? Do we accept those as
selecting *textual* choices on a menu and hence having text
input and hence being IF? What about paper CYOAs then? Or
if we don't allow computerized CYOA, what do we do about
a hypothetical Bo3-alike's purely-numeric-conversations or
that one LoTech game whose name I never remember?

>otherwise, it seems you'd have to admit that chatterbots like Eliza,
>accepting text and returning text, are IF. The theory of chatterbots
>probably is useful, but it doesn't seem completely applicable to
>things like Adventure, Zork, Trinity, AMFV, and the winners of the IF
>Comps; it seems best really to distinguish the two as different sorts
>of things.

Yes.

>I'd also say that it's best to specify that IF tends "to
>represent, in some form, an environment or imagined world whose
>physical space we can explore" not just "in some form" but by actually
>modeling this as code and data structures or as objects (in the OOP
>sense), etc. Otherwise that part of the definition would allow Dante's
>Inferno to be IF, since it certainly does represent an imagined world
>"in some form."

Hmm, but if Scott Adams sits across the table from you and you
issue commands and he gives you the responses from Adventureland
off the top of his head, is that not still IF?

Trying to formulate the definition this way--based on the actual
"physical" structures underlying the behavior--seems the wrong
way to go about it; instead, you want to talk about the behavior;
clearly, the experience of Dante's Inferno as it is and a hypothetical
truely-IF Dante's Inferno are radically different things on the
experiential side regardless of how they're implemented, so I think
it makes more sense to simply nail down what you mean by
"to represent in some form...[something] we can explore" more
concretely.

>As for "story," when I use the term I am indeed talking in the
>formalist sense: a sequence of events connected by time and causality.
>(A narrative is a particular telling of such a story.)

This is one of those definitional things I never learned...
so, 'story' is a sequence of events, 'narrative' is a telling
of a story [in words(?)], and what is 'plot'?

SeanB

Dennis G. Jerz

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Nov 30, 2001, 7:17:22 PM11/30/01
to
I'm thinking of making a web page that collects links to various different
"What is IF" articles. That is, I'm thinking of doing it if enough people
think it's worthwhile and post their favorite links. (Translation: Dennis is
curious, but lazy.)

Here's a start.

http://www.ifcompetition.org/comp01/if.html
http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/whatsif.html

Slightly different focus, but still important.

http://www.brasslantern.org/players/howto/tadownload.html

Are there alternatives?

Eytan Zweig

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Nov 30, 2001, 8:27:32 PM11/30/01
to

> >As for "story," when I use the term I am indeed talking in the
> >formalist sense: a sequence of events connected by time and causality.
> >(A narrative is a particular telling of such a story.)
>
> This is one of those definitional things I never learned...
> so, 'story' is a sequence of events, 'narrative' is a telling
> of a story [in words(?)], and what is 'plot'?
>

Well, these definitions can vary considerably between one literary theory
and another, but a useful definition is that a "plot" is the basic plan that
the story is built around - for instance, a plot might be (in very basic
terms) - "Protagonist must take treacherous journey, facing dangerous foes
who are capable of trickery, to reach a safe haven"; this plot could work
for many stories - two examples would be Homer's _Odyssey_ and "Little Red
Riding Hood".

Eytan