A personal vision of IF: The Next Generation

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David Daniel

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May 3, 1991, 7:54:44 AM5/3/91
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David Daniel (The man with no disclaimer) tro...@polari.UUCP
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Verus amicus est tamquam alter Idem.

David Daniel

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May 4, 1991, 8:42:24 AM5/4/91
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The editor decided to do a number on me. What follows should have been the
orginal posting:


Since there's been such a good discussion going on regarding the nuts & bolts
of IF (parsers, et al) I wanted to write about how it might all fit together
to produce a very playable game.

First off, calling the product an adventure game would be unfair. There would
certainly be adventure involved, but we need to divorce ourselves from the
stereotypical visions that that term produces. I see the next advance in the
field as truly interactive fiction. Call if an Interactive Fiction Package (IFP)

Imagine an IF game that read like a novel. It would be broken down into
chapters like a novel and each chapter would (like a novel) introduce some
aspect of the plot, a conflict, a major or minor charactor, etc. I see the
final release of such an IFP containing about the same number of words of
text as a standard novel (60K-100K words). What it wouldn't share with a novel
is what comprises a game: freedoms, barriers and purposes.

The games that we have discussed here all have some combination of the above
three factors. The ones with good parsers gave the player more freedom to
communicate with the program and made playing the game more fun. The puzzles,
riddles, monsters, etc. comprised many of the barriers as did the game
environment itself. The purpose of the game was of course to finish as well
as to perform the tasks required to win.
My idea of an IFP would also fit the above example. It would be the writer's
responsibility to keep a balance on the 3 Factors. Without a balance the game
loses playability. On the subject of goals you have two catagories: major goal
and minor goals. The major goal might be to save the world from destruction
with many minor goals that needed to be achieved in order to do that.
As for freedoms: too many freedoms can become a barrier in itself, and etc.


As for graphics, I don't necessarily see a problem with them. In fact I'd like
to see graphics used to add to the reality/challenge factor of the game.
For example: Let's say that an IFP had a modern day storyline where you had
been framed for murder. The police are looking for you and you have to find
the real killer before you're caught by the cops or the real killer finds you.
Suppose you're searching the victim's apartment for clues when you discover a
wallet under the couch. Is it the
victim's or the killer's? You would of course look thru the contents of the
wallet. That's where the graphics would come in. Instead of the program
telling you: "You find a credit card in the wallet", you would see a graphic
of a MasterCard. It would be up to the player then to determine if the data
on the card was or might be pertinent. We know the victim's name was Joe Bloe
but the name on the MasterCard is Fred Jones, could he be the killer?
One would be smart to make a note of the credit card number. It might be
important later, and etc.

Another aspect of reality that's ignored in adventure games is time. My idea
of an IFP would employ time as it applies to the real world. Stores have
business hours, as do attorneys, etc. If you want to talk to your lawyer you
can't expect to find him in his office at 10:30 pm. The player would have to
manage his time in order to accomplish his minor and major goals.

Storyline: I know I am a bit tired of dungeons and orcs and dragons and it
seems that many in this group are too. I'd like to see other more realistic
and challenging environment employed. The real world can be a rather challenging
place yet it's an environment we've all hade some experience with. For an IFP
I think the classic: Ordinary-person-in-a-extraordinary-situation would be
a good way to start. It would challenge a player to apply himself mentally to
the task and apply what he knows about to unfamiliar situations. How would YOU
feel if you were framed for murder with
both the police and the killer after
you? How would you go about the task of determining the identity of the killer
and bringing him to justice?

As I said earlier, the IFP would be in chapter form with a relatively large
amount of text. Very little would be "handed" to the player by the program.
Gone would be the days of, "There is a sword here!" The player would have to
pay close attention to the narrative and use his wits and imagination to
determine his best course of action. In fact I'd leave it to the player to
put the game into "command mode" in order to address the parser. No more
blurbs of text followed by a prompt.

Some interesting features could be employed as well. Imagine being able to
chose which charactor you played. In the above example you could chose to be
the killer or the innocent man. It would be like two games in one. If you
succeeded with one charactor you could tackle the game anew from the opposite
side!
Two player possibility: How about being able to have both main charactors
(killer and innocent man) be played by two people? The program would allow you
to choose a one or two player option at the start of the game. In two player
mode the program would save a datafile that would be read when the second player began his round. The environment
would be altered as a result of the earlier player's actions. You might end
your round in your apartment sorting thru clues to find the the killer is
outside your door when you begin your next round!

I've gone on long enough, but I wanted to get my ideas written down and into
a forum for discussion.

Joel Scotkin

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May 4, 1991, 12:33:55 PM5/4/91
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Your description of the next generation of IF matches very closely with
a current adventure game on the market! Rise of the Dragon, (not sure who
wrote it) contains all the factors you mention. Text is sparse, as it
is a graphics oriented game, but voice and thought bubbles and intense
interlude scenes are used to give much of the effect and effectiveness of
an interactive novel. Finding and using clues works exactly like you
describe, time is handled - stores open and close, the mayor works short
hours, etc. The games was written with many (>10, at least, if I remember
right) endings and scenarios, all dependent on the results of your actions,
and this leads an excellent interactive feel, as well as lending to the
realism of the plot line - ie, what you do actually changes the course of
the game.

The game takes up about 8 megabytes and runs on IBMs, but is by far the
closest I have ever seen to a game that does what you want, and it comes
very close indeed. Playing time is comparable to the time to read a novel -
about 3 (intense) hours.

Note : i have nothing to do with the company that made this game,
whoever they are.

Joel Scotkin
cs15...@cs.brown.edu

T Borg

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May 4, 1991, 7:23:22 PM5/4/91
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Story Writing Programs

1. The Collaborator is an interactive software program designed for the
creation and analysis of stories for television and feature films. It
conducts an ongoing conversation with you, leading through 70 key
dynamically programmed questions fleshing out Aristotle's six elements
of drama. You can leave the Questions section any time and enter a
Character section where a template is displayed for the different
characters and you can add descriptions, dialog samples, etc.

2. Houdini allows you to dump in your characters, locations, and events.
You then crosslink and string together as many of these events as
possible, creating conflicts, growth and resolution. Houdini helps you
organize the mess into a coherent plot, sure to please your agent and
your publisher.

3. Plots Unlimited is an interactive computer program for writers of
screenplays, novels, short stories, plays and television scripts
offering you thousands of plots, sub-plots and character relationships.
It will deliver professionally structured stories for any genre; give
you the flexibility to start stories at any plot-point, then develop
them forward or backward.


These programs run on an IBM PC. Has anyone had any experience with them
or comments and recommendations? Are they worthwhile?

Stephen P Spackman

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May 4, 1991, 8:34:47 PM5/4/91
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In article <39...@polari.UUCP> tro...@polari.UUCP (David Daniel) writes:

|First off, calling the product an adventure game would be unfair. There would
|certainly be adventure involved, but we need to divorce ourselves from the
|stereotypical visions that that term produces. I see the next advance in the
|field as truly interactive fiction. Call if an Interactive Fiction Package (IFP)

I can't stand marketing talk. Let's call it an adventure game until we
can compete quality-wise with Walter Jon Williams and Zelazny, ok?

|Imagine an IF game that read like a novel. It would be broken down into
|chapters like a novel and each chapter would (like a novel) introduce some
|aspect of the plot, a conflict, a major or minor charactor, etc. I see the
|final release of such an IFP containing about the same number of words of
|text as a standard novel (60K-100K words). What it wouldn't share with a novel
|is what comprises a game: freedoms, barriers and purposes.

I think you're being doctrinaire. The only reason *I'm* discussing
games here is that I think we can do a good game now, and true IF is
going to have to wait a decade or so anyway, because there are
technical problems to be solved with interactive plotting (hell, even
the RPG format still needs working on, and that doesn't aspire to
fictionhood...).

Frankly, I think games should be games and fiction should be fiction.
What does a novel need with game structure? (Competent novels have
been written with no real conflict at all, for instance. It's
coherent, both artistically and critically).

IF may be a bit more like a comic book than a novel, but at least we
should be looking for good quality comic book.... :-)

|The games that we have discussed here all have some combination of the above
|three factors. The ones with good parsers gave the player more freedom to
|communicate with the program and made playing the game more fun. The puzzles,
|riddles, monsters, etc. comprised many of the barriers as did the game
|environment itself. The purpose of the game was of course to finish as well
|as to perform the tasks required to win.

So you see, by this point I'm not with you. Puzzles, riddles and
monsters don't belong. That's filler, put there because the prose is
incompetent and the dynamic plotting problem isn't solved. So people
don't get bored with what is still a very trivial environment (compare
the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy BOOKS with the GAME. See what I
mean?).

|My idea of an IFP would also fit the above example. It would be the writer's
|responsibility to keep a balance on the 3 Factors. Without a balance the game
|loses playability. On the subject of goals you have two catagories: major goal
|and minor goals. The major goal might be to save the world from destruction
|with many minor goals that needed to be achieved in order to do that.
|As for freedoms: too many freedoms can become a barrier in itself, and etc.

A more typical goal in a novel is "marry jane" or "survive to the end
of the day". Aright, so I'm _tired_ of cataclysmic SF....

|As for graphics, I don't necessarily see a problem with them. In fact I'd like
|to see graphics used to add to the reality/challenge factor of the game.

It's a question of genre, is all. I like novels more than movies, I
think. They're less intense (except for the really good ones), but
text is a fine medium. Maps are useful though.

|For example: Let's say that an IFP had a modern day storyline where you had
|been framed for murder. The police are looking for you and you have to find
|the real killer before you're caught by the cops or the real killer finds you.

This is a television plot. No wonder you're thinking visually :-).

|Suppose you're searching the victim's apartment for clues when you discover a
|wallet under the couch. Is it the
|victim's or the killer's? You would of course look thru the contents of the
|wallet. That's where the graphics would come in. Instead of the program
|telling you: "You find a credit card in the wallet", you would see a graphic
|of a MasterCard. It would be up to the player then to determine if the data

We don't have the graphics. You need to see a wallet under a couch,
you need to see the card peeking out of the worn leather car-holding
bit, you need to be able to see some blurry room behind the card....

Otherwise it's going to have the "programmed learning" feel: you're
not in a world, you're in a flow chart, and this picture is the
current box....

|on the card was or might be pertinent. We know the victim's name was Joe Bloe
|but the name on the MasterCard is Fred Jones, could he be the killer?
|One would be smart to make a note of the credit card number. It might be
|important later, and etc.

< It's filthy under the couch. What a slob this guy must have been!
After a moment, your eyes adjust and you see a wallet.

> What's in the wallet?

< A few small bills. Change. A bus transfer. Some business cards. Some
credit cards.

> How much cash?

< Ten, twelve bucks. Another two in quarters.

> The credit cards?

< The first one's a MasterCard.

> ^D (more detail)

< Name: Joe Blow
Expy: 11/91

> ^D (more detail)

< Number: 5191 2066 5035 4028 (1653)
It's kinda grubby, and UNSIGNED.

> ^D (more detail)

< It's made of plastic. It's got a small notch in one corner. What
more can I say?

|Storyline: I know I am a bit tired of dungeons and orcs and dragons and it
|seems that many in this group are too. I'd like to see other more realistic
|and challenging environment employed. The real world can be a rather challenging
|place yet it's an environment we've all hade some experience with. For an IFP
|I think the classic: Ordinary-person-in-a-extraordinary-situation would be
|a good way to start. It would challenge a player to apply himself mentally to
|the task and apply what he knows about to unfamiliar situations. How would YOU
|feel if you were framed for murder with
|both the police and the killer after
|you? How would you go about the task of determining the identity of the killer
|and bringing him to justice?

No argument except that it seems excessively dramatic (maybe this is
your taste) and it's technically much easier to do SF or fantasy
because the AUTHOR doesn't need to know everything about everything
(not that I'm not frequently pissed of by science fiction authors who
thik they know about computers... :-).

|As I said earlier, the IFP would be in chapter form with a relatively large
|amount of text. Very little would be "handed" to the player by the program.
|Gone would be the days of, "There is a sword here!" The player would have to
|pay close attention to the narrative and use his wits and imagination to
|determine his best course of action. In fact I'd leave it to the player to
|put the game into "command mode" in order to address the parser. No more
|blurbs of text followed by a prompt.

I think this is just a question of efficiency in the user interface.
I've been trying to interest people in discussing this, but... :-).
Why would there be "chapters"? Isn't it more natural for the player to
determine hir own segmentation, depending on what's going on?

|Some interesting features could be employed as well. Imagine being able to
|chose which charactor you played. In the above example you could chose to be
|the killer or the innocent man. It would be like two games in one. If you
|succeeded with one charactor you could tackle the game anew from the opposite
|side!

Harder to write, but it HAS been done before. What's REALLY tough is
making sure that the second game has the same outcome as the first
(believe it or not, this has ALSO been done in an RPG, but it took
some effort on the GM's part...). But maybe that isn't what you meant.

|Two player possibility: How about being able to have both main charactors
|(killer and innocent man) be played by two people? The program would allow you
|to choose a one or two player option at the start of the game. In two player
|mode the program would save a datafile that would be read when the second player began his round. The environment
|would be altered as a result of the earlier player's actions. You might end
|your round in your apartment sorting thru clues to find the the killer is
|outside your door when you begin your next round!

If you're playing in "rounds" the two characters can't meet, can they?
Or are you having the characters be fairly autonomous, and not
directly controlled by the players (like you write the agenda for the
day and then read what happens)?
----------------------------------------------------------------------
stephen p spackman Center for Information and Language Studies
systems analyst University of Chicago
----------------------------------------------------------------------

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