[CONTEST] My reviews, Part 3 (very long)

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Paul O'Brian

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Dec 3, 1996, 3:00:00 AM12/3/96
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Continued from Part 2:

REVERBERATIONS -- by Russell Glasser
This game was strong on good intentions, but rather weak on execution. The
plot of the pizza delivery boy who foils the giant conspiracy was clever
and lots of fun to play through, but the enjoyment was dampened by several
technical problems in the game's interface. Witty remarks abounded, and
some unlikely actions were anticipated quite hilariously, but the positive
effect of these features was counterbalanced by some logical errors in the
game's construction. It was a fun game, and with some polishing could be
a real gem of IF, but in the state it was in for the competition, its
great ideas were bogged down by flawed coding and language.
Prose -- In some areas the prose was outstanding -- economical
descriptions which brought off the flavor of an object or area without
getting mired in detail. In other areas the prose failed to note rather
important aspects of a scene (the most grievous offense occurring at
the very first room of the game.) Finding the clever responses was the
greatest pleasure in the game, though sometimes the "SoCal" references
felt quite self-conscious; overall the game's prose was like the game
itself: strong ideas weakened by problems in key areas.
Difficulty -- I never found myself resorting to the hints, but I was
occasionally forced to solve problems in the game by exploiting the
logical errors in its structure. For example, the beginning sequence
gives no indication that a pizza needs to be delivered -- I didn't find
out until I tried to leave town and the game told me "You aren't
leaving town until you deliver that pizza." What pizza? Why, the one
never mentioned in the initial room description! Consequently, the game
was somewhat difficult, but for the wrong reasons.
Technical -- coding -- The game suffered from several coding problems,
including not only the one mentioned above, but a disappearing door
(to the mayor's office), a store manager who only notices stealing
when it conflicts with the plot, a pizza box and note which drift from
room to room, and several rooms which do not contain text for items
mentioned in their description. On the other hand, there are some
shining moments in the coding as well, such as tailored responses to
YES and NO.
-- writing -- The writing's occasional proofing errors provide a
bit of unintentional humor, such as when the game describes the
district attorney as being "only... uh, ten years old than you!"
Plot -- The plot of the game was great! The fun and zaniness of foiling
the conspiracy made the game's technical errors much more
forgivable. Several moments in the plot were even quite inspired, and
felt intuitively right in the unfolding story. Examples include
kicking the window while hanging on the ledge and throwing the bomb
in the sewer.
Puzzles -- Some of the puzzles (such as getting past the security guard
and getting rid of the bomb) were quite good and managed to achieve the
subtle balance between the problem logically blocking the narrative
and the solution advancing it. The puzzles that presented real problems
were based on coding flaws rather than conceptual ones, such as the
initial pizza problem and the final rope problem, which defeats so many
attempted verbs that one *feels* like jumping off the building.
OVERALL -- A 7.9

RIPPLED FLESH -- by Ryebread Celsius
Having already played the author's other competition entry, I sincerely
dreaded playing this one. Probably my low expectations contributed to my
feeling that this game was actually slightly better than PUNKIRITA QUEST.
Sure, the writing is still riddled with errors, and sure, the plot and
premise still make absolutely no sense, and yes, the coding is very poor
and the design even more so, but at least this time I had some faint grasp of
what was *supposed* to be happening. Perhaps this derives from the fact
that FLESH takes a more realistic setting and thus less needs to be
explained by the author's inadequate verbal skills. Of course, that
doesn't mean I liked it -- just that it was less painful than the other
game. Progress? Perhaps -- I'll just try to judge the game on an objective
basis rather than on its dubious achievement of being a better piece of
work than PUNKIRITA.
Prose -- The descriptions were weak, and the overall feel of the game
evoked walking through the brain of a mental patient -- a series
of non sequiturs, loosely tied together by an irrational framework.
The writing suffered under so many errors that they seriously occluded
the author's ability to communicate, and this problem was compounded
by the fact that many (most, actually) of the objects and rooms in the
game seemed to have no real purpose or function.
Difficulty -- I found it possible to move through the game without much
trouble, which is a good sign; at least the language problems didn't
render the game so opaque that it was simply impossible to complete
without a walkthrough. Mainly the point of the game simply seemed to
be finding one's way through a maze of rooms -- the one real puzzle
(the wardrobes) had its effect spoiled by the fact that one didn't
really gain much of anything by solving it.
Technical -- coding -- Coding problems abounded. Nothing fatal, but
certainly plenty of the nonsensical and downright baffling. For
example, how about those lights that get turned on so brightly that
they blind the character, yet in the next turn the room is still dark?
-- writing -- Really quite terrible. My only hypothesis is that
the author is a student (rather than a speaker) of English, and a
rather poor one at that. A dictionary and a spell-checker would improve
things immensely -- then the proofreading can begin.
Plot -- No, there wasn't one. A bunch of random events tied together by
a whacked-out ending does not a plot make.
Puzzles -- I mentioned the game's only real puzzle above. Other than that,
the game's "puzzle" was just walking through the exit in each room
until finally arriving at the "win game" room. Nothing much made sense,
and so the whole experience ended up being unsatisfying. The real
brain-twister is why the author chose to enter this piece into the
competition in the first place.
OVERALL -- A 2.0

THE METEOR, THE STONE, AND A LONG GLASS OF SHERBET -- by Angela M. Horns
I was very impressed with "Sherbet", a highly inventive adventure which
puts yet another imaginative spin on the Zork mythos. The game's prose is
at a very high level of quality, its world is very well-designed, and
several aspects of the documentation (the context-sensitive hints and the
diplomatic "briefing") were very well done indeed. I didn't get through
the entire game in the two hours allotted, and I found myself resorting to
the hints quite a lot. Often, this was because a logical puzzle had me
stumped, but the first two times were due to puzzles which didn't offer
enough alternative syntax. Unfortunately, these two situations inured me
to looking at the hints, thinking perhaps that my other obstacles were
due to syntax problems as well. Apart from this one flaw, "Sherbet" was
a truly excellent piece of work -- well-plotted with clever puzzles,
a strong sense of unfolding narrative, and rife with the pleasures of
revisiting an old friend in a new context.
Prose -- The game's writing consistently maintains an exceptional level of
quality. The vacuous' Amilia's ramblings serve exquisitely to define
her character, and the "briefings" concisely draw the player's
diplomatic situation while quietly evoking Zorkian echoes. I found
myself just a little confused by some of the cave descriptions, but
this was mainly due to the sense of scope which the author unerringly
conveys.
Difficulty -- As I mentioned, the game was too difficult (and large) for
me to complete in the two hours allotted for judging time, and part of
this difficulty arose from problems with the first two puzzles. After
finally summoning the bird of paradise, I spent a good fifteen minutes
trying to pour, put, rub, insert, or otherwise attach the sherbet to
the elephant before finally resorting to the hints only to discover
that the game demanded I "throw" the sherbet glass. However, in other
spots the difficulty of the game was quite legitimate and logical, as
in the instance of the ladder problem, which was another solution I
found in the hints rather than finding it myself.
Technical -- coding -- On the whole, the game was very well coded, and I
never found the kind of irrational flaws which can snap the suspension
of disbelief in interactive fiction. There were a few spots where the
game suffered from a lack of synonyms, especially the elephant (as
described above) and the hook (one must again "throw rope over hook"
but cannot stand on the table or hamper, lasso the hook, simply "throw
rope", "put rope on hook", or even "throw rope onto hook".) When these
problems are eliminated , the game will be very strong indeed.
-- writing -- "Sherbet" is a well-written and well-proofed piece
of work in which I don't recall noticing any technical mistakes.
Plot -- It was a great pleasure to get embroiled in the plot, and the
premise of the main character as a diplomat rather than an adventurer
provided a break from cliche married with a plausible reason for the
snooping called for by the game's structure. I'm looking forward to the
endgame, which I hope will offer a tie between the game's diplomatic
beginnings and its Zorklike middle.
Puzzles -- Mostly discussed above in "Technical -- coding" and
"Difficulty." Many of the puzzles were real pleasures (panning and the
ladder come to mind) and the twist on treasure collecting (giving all
the treasures to the Zork adventurer) was brilliant. Once the puzzles
are better coded the game will be really first-rate.
OVERALL -- A 9.3

SMALL WORLD -- by Andrew Pontious
I really enjoyed this game a great deal, and it definitely gets points for
originality. The literalized version of the game's title made for a
charming premise, and because the premise was so heavily based on setting,
the brand of fantasy which resulted was perfect for interactive fiction.
Wandering through the miniaturized world was really a treat, although
sometimes I found it difficult to retain my suspension of disbelief,
especially since some of the obstacles to my progress seemed just a little
*too* arbitrary. For example, the inventory management problem caused by
the lack of gravity in the majority of the game's locations was a major
pain in the neck. I didn't feel that I was doing anything clever or
solving an intellectual challenge when I had to trudge back to Dawn
anytime I wanted to get something from the backpack. Puzzles like this,
which tended toward the arbitrary, were the game's weakness. From the weak
gravity problem to the "loose ring" to the capricious magic rod, the game
took advantage of its whimsical setting to create puzzles which were
irrational and divorced from reality, and failed to provide enough hints
and description to make them reasonably solvable. On the other hand,
some puzzles (such as the satellite/snow puzzle and the lagoon) did a
very nice job of exploiting the game's scenario to witty ends.
On the whole, "Small World" was a delightfully well-written game which has
a few flaws, but is nevertheless lots of fun.
Prose -- The prose which describes the world is very well done indeed, and
much of the time I really felt a part of the situation because of how
well the worlds Lilliputian proportions were described. The game
obviously draws heavily on "Gulliver's Travels", especially in its
description of the player staked to the ground by tiny people, and
though it shares none of Swift's social commentary, it does convey a
distinct sense of his imaginative milieu. The main weakness in the
prose related to the puzzles. In puzzles such as the loose ring and the
rod, I didn't feel that enough description was provided to allow me to
reasonably predict the outcomes of my actions, and consequently I ended
up solving some puzzles by force. (e.g. how would I know that something
made of silver would buoy me?)
Difficulty -- I found the game rather difficult, and ended up referring to
the "cheat" hints a number of times (13, or so I'm told by the game).
Unfortunately, much of this reliance was due to the lack of
information described above or, in one case, to a lack of synonyms.
When these features are improved, the game's difficulty will be well
pitched.
Technical -- coding -- There's little to complain about in the coding of
"Small World," so I hope my quibble doesn't receive undue focus. On the
whole the game was very smoothly implemented, and I never found myself
searching for the right word, except for once. Of particular note were
the game's warnings before moving to an unsolvable state, and its
ingenious hinting system. The one area in which I had trouble was in
receiving the "that verb isn't implemented" response to "CLEAN SOCKS."
When that verb wasn't available, I presumed I was on the wrong track
altogether, not that I simply needed to "WASH" the socks instead. It
took a "cheat" to get me out of that one.
-- writing -- The game's writing was technically proficient.
Mr. Pontious does a nice job of eliminating errors in grammar and
spelling.
Plot -- The plot of the game was really quite sweetly designed, creating
a childhood fantasyland which was evocative not only of Jonathan Swift,
but also C.S. Lewis' Narnia works, Lewis Carroll, and Bill Watterson.
The battles between Heaven and Hell were a very nice touch, and
I smiled at the gentle ending, which packs the character off to the
hiking trip with a refreshed perspective.
Puzzles -- This is my main difficulty with the game. As I mentioned above,
some of the puzzles were really delightful and smart, while others
felt a bit lazy. I think, though, that with the addition of richer
descriptions for crucial objects such as the ring and the pipe (whose
mechanism is mysterious to me even now), and with a closer attention
to synonyms, these wrinkles will be well-ironed.
OVERALL -- An 8.8

THE HOUSE OF THE STALKER -- by Jason Clayton White
A promising beginning turns into an excruciating series of coding and
design errors and irritating writing. It's hard to know where to
begin with the criticisms. The tone of many of the responses was a kind of
smarmy, smart-alecky wit which undercut any dramatic buildup or fear
created by the tense premise. The underlying idea is good, but its
execution was rife with logic errors. I can think of at least a dozen
plausible solutions that were not implemented. For example, if I squirt
the killer with Drano then try to go to the porch for help, I'm told "You
can't go that way." (Oh no, he's so dangerous he can make my door
disappear!). Another example: I can wander through my entire house without
meeting the killer, so why don't I just call the police? Well, not one
single room in the house has a phone. Add to this some fundamental coding
errors, unconvincing writing, and "read the author's mind" puzzles, and
the result is a distinctly unenjoyable game.
Prose -- The opening sequence of the game got me quite interested, but
most of the other prose served to undo tension rather than create it.
For example, the author tries to create emotional depth to the
character by describing a recent divorce. After about a paragraph of
this, the game says "Now that you've had a good cry, maybe you'd like
to try preserving your life some, hmm?" The condescension and flippancy
in this narrative tone completely destroy any gradually building sense
of empathy or emotional urgency. Also, object descriptions give no
thought to the interactivity of the game. For example, every time you
look at the TV, an announcer breaks into a show and says the exact same
thing. The hair dryer is described as having its cord hanging off the
sink... no matter where you take it. This is lazy writing, and it
obliterates suspension of disbelief.
Difficulty -- I used the hints to get through the entire game once I
realized that there was only one way to solve it and that was by
doing exactly what the author had in mind, since no reasonable
alternatives are provided. This kind of difficulty tests one's
patience, not one's intelligence.
Technical -- coding -- Coding errors were everywhere. For example:
The player must remove a scarf from a doll, but this can only be done
in the room where the doll is originally located. Trying "YANK SCARF"
anywhere else gets a response of "You can't see any such thing."
Another example: "PUSH CHAIR" gets the response "You push the chair
over to the bookcase." "PUSH CHAIR TO BOOKCASE" gets the response
"You can't see any such thing." The only other character in the
program, the killer, wasn't even implemented as animate. ("SHOW
PICTURE TO KILLER." gets "You can only do that to something animate.")
Like the writing, the coding was lazy and ineffective.
-- writing -- There were very few technical errors in the
writing. It's frustrating -- a good idea with technically sufficient
writing ought to have been a much better game.
Plot -- The premise had the promise of being extremely gripping and
intense. The idea that danger lurks around every corner of a familiar
setting has the potential to be great interactive fiction. However, by
the end of the game, the idea of plot degenerated into a series of
arbitrary but extremely specific actions performed on the killer's
body.
Puzzles -- The puzzles were very difficult because of their arbitrary
nature. One has to do a very specific and exact sequence of actions
to the killer's body before the game won't respond to "KILL STALKER"
with "Violence isn't the answer to this one."
OVERALL -- A 2.5

STARGAZER: AN ADVENTURE IN OUTFITTING -- by Jonathan Fry
Stargazer worked quite well as a prologue, but I'm not sure I cared for it
much as a stand-alone game. Just about the time I thought the action was
about to start, the entire game ended. This made for a rather
anticlimactic experience, especially since I worked through the game in
well under the two hours allotted. Also, the game's brevity worked at
cross purposes to its genre; confusing references and unfamiliar objects
can usually be let slide in fantasy since they are sure to be explained
later. Not so in "Stargazer." Aside from these problems, however, the
piece was fairly enjoyable. There were a few technical problems, but
nothing too great, and the author created a world I wanted to learn more
about, which is certainly a step in the right direction. Stargazer worked
well as a prologue -- I look forward to the game.
Prose -- Aside from the sometimes awkward or convoluted sentence structure
("One reason for this is that this is also...", "...any other senses
you may have."), the prose worked fairly well. I got a nice sense of
the turbulence of the river, and I thought the dialogue worked fairly
well. Nothing was wonderfully well-crafted, but most was certainly
serviceable.
Difficulty -- I found the game quite easy -- I finished it in about 40
minutes. Unfortunately, this ease aided the sense of anticlimax
triggered by the game's abrupt ending.
Technical -- coding -- Overall the coding was strong, though there were
a few weak points. These points included: two separate moss/lichen
objects which shared names, so that in one location "X MOSS" yielded
"Which do you mean, the moss or the lichen?" over and over again;
an object which is on a rock across a rushing river, yet which can
still be touched or moved, a god who demands a sacrifice when the verb
"sacrifice" isn't in the game's vocabulary, and a dusty lens which
responded to "X DUST" with "You can't see any such thing."
-- writing -- The writing was sometimes rather awkward, but
it was generally correct in spelling and grammar.
Plot -- Well, Stargazer didn't contain much plot, though it did have
the beginnings of one, and probably contained a lot of foreshadowing
(though it's difficult to tell without seeing the story ahead).
What was there was an intriguing beginning, but not much more.
Puzzles -- While quite easy, the puzzles moved the story along well, and
were very well integrated with the storyline. I'll be interested to
see what challenges the author has in store in the actual game.
OVERALL -- A 6.6

TAPESTRY -- by Daniel Ravipinto
I thought this was really an impressive piece of work. Yes, it was a bit
heavy-handed at times, and probably a little too derivative of Neil
Gaiman's visions of Fate and Evil in his Sandman cycle. But nonetheless, I
found the situations compelling, the dilemmas convincing, and if a work
is going to be derivative of someone, you could do a hell of a lot worse
than Gaiman. I sometimes resented having my emotions so blatantly
manipulated (somewhat akin to my feelings in a few Spielberg films) by
the Dickensian drama of the mother and wife with wasting illnesses, the
struggling family business on the edge of ruin, and the innocent "victims
of inexorable fate" in the form of an onrushing car. Still, the fact is
that the work succeeded in pushing my emotional buttons, and I was moved by the
story. Tapestry is an ambitious piece, and both its successes and its
failures are due to its exploration of the possibilities of interactive
fiction. For example, the feeling of not being able to control the car
despite what you order the character to do is an extremely chilling one,
and it is an effect that would not pack the same potency were it attempted in
static fiction. By the same token, though, exchanges with the wraith
seemed a bit forced due to the limits of the medium -- often complex points were
reduced to the level of trying different versions of "tell wraith about
x". I have to admit, even though I'm educated enough to recognize
"Morningstar" as Lucifer (the author even whispered in my ear to tell me
so), I still chose his path my first try through the game. At the
endgame, I was forced to think about my choices, and to recognize that I
had been (and therefore could be) manipulated into making a choice that
was wrong for the character, even if it wasn't morally wrong, even if it
is the choice I myself would have made under the circumstances. It wasn't
a nice feeling.
Prose -- The prose tended toward the histrionic at times, and
unfortunately this actually occasionally diluted the emotional impact
of the situations. However, my experience of those moments was that
they stuck out from the general trend of the writing, which was quite
craftily done, and in fact sported some moments of real intensity and
poignancy despite the occasional clich.
Difficulty -- I didn't find the game too difficult to get through, but
then again it wasn't particularly puzzle-oriented. In fact, the path of
Morningstar required a great deal more puzzle-solving than the path of
Clotho (which is the other one I tried). Is there a message here?
Technical -- coding -- On the whole the coding was quite proficient. I
was a little unhappy with what I perceived as some shortcuts (for
example, a medicine bottle not implemented as a container), and the
author's realistic setting caused a few problems with Inform's standard
responses. (Examples: entering "DIAL 911" and being told "You don't
know that phone number.", and being told that I really should clean the soot
that's collected on my carpet, yet "CLEAN SOOT" receives a reply of "You
achieve nothing by this.") Apart from these details, the coding was
accomplished quite handily.
-- writing -- Grammatical and/or spelling problems and typos
were not entirely absent, (I remember noticing an "a" used in place of an
"at" or some such) but they were very few and far between.
Plot -- I found the plot quite compelling. The prologue worked quite well
for me, (though I did appreciate the "begin" command after my first
time through) and the mutually exclusive endings were well planned.
Ultimately, the game's plot boils down to the idea that moral dilemmas
can be extremely powerful in the medium of interactive fiction. I think
this is a very, very good idea indeed.
Puzzles -- As mentioned above, this work wasn't really very
puzzle-oriented. The puzzles that were included were integrated well
with the game -- no gratuitous grafted-on "crossword" elements -- and
this was both a strength and a weakness. The strength: nothing
interrupted the suspension of disbelief created by the game's dramatic
scenarios. The weakness: character-driven puzzles (which most of these
were) all too often boiled down to how to fill in the blanks on "tell
____ about ____."
OVERALL -- A 9.4

Whew! Once again, my hearty congratulations to all the authors, and thanks
to those of you who gave me feedback on my game. Hmmm. I also just
realized that apparently my spell-checker put accented "e"s (which my
news posting program can't handle) for every time I wrote the word
"cliche", making it come out "clich". Oops. Well, so much for perfection.
On to next year!

Paul O'Brian obr...@ucsu.colorado.edu
"It makes no difference which one of us you vote for! Your planet is
doomed! DOOMED!"
-- Kodos


Michael Straight

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Dec 10, 1996, 3:00:00 AM12/10/96
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Spoilers for Tapestry and In The End

On Tue, 3 Dec 1996, Paul O'Brian wrote about Tapestry:

> Ultimately, the game's plot boils down to the idea that moral dilemmas
> can be extremely powerful in the medium of interactive fiction. I think
> this is a very, very good idea indeed.

One of the things good fiction can do is allow you to experience the world
through someone else's viewpoint, or experience a situation that you would
not be able to in real life. After playing In The End and Tapestry, I
wonder if whether IF might not put the player/reader too close to the
story to achieve the desired effect. They show us some possibilites for
IF unavailable in ordinary fiction - you don't just read about someone who
kills himself or kills his wife, you actually do it. However, unless the
player/reader can really get into the role-playing, I think the effect is
actually less powerful than reading an ordinary story.

I found Tapestry frustrating because, when I was initally presented with
the three options, I was inclined to go with the "face up to what you've
done and try to deal with it" option (not only because Lucifer was pushing
the "change the past" option). However, when I realized that it was going
to entail not just remembering my past but actually ignoring my dying
mother, killing my wife, and running down an innocent girl, I didn't want
to do that -- so I quit the game and replayed it Lucifer's way.

Now if Tapestry had been done as a set of three linked short stories (or
three Sandman comic books), the narration would get me "inside the head"
of the protagonist and attempt to make me understand how he was thinking.
But since, in the game, *I* was the protagonist, I had a hard time
separating myself - my ideas, emotions, morals, reactions, etc. - from the
character, and I think I was less able to have empathy for the character
and more like I was being told how to feel. I wasn't just being asked to
identify with someone who had killed his wife, I was being asked to kill
my wife! So instead of trying to "experience it" I balked!

I had similar problems with In The End. Where a well-written short story
could have told me how this fellow felt, shown me his reactions to the
world around me, possibly given me some empathy for his decision to kill
himself, the game was asking me to react in ways that I didn't think the
situation warranted. It put me in a *more* judgemental role, since it was
asking me to choose what action to take, rather than just try to
understand the decisions someone else had made.

Perhaps it was the nature of the dilemnas posed in each of these cases.
The part of Tapestry that tugged at me the most was when I had to choose
between helping the old couple keep their business and going to see my
mother. The situation of having to make the choice was a "real"
experience - no matter which decision I made, I had the experience of
being confronted with the choice.

I'd be interested in other people's thoughts on whether the things I've
mentioned seem like inherent limits in IF or whether these were just early
attempts at something that would be more effective with better writing and
characterization (not that I'd say the writting in either game was bad).
At this point, I'm inclined to argue that at lease some kinds of
situations are *easier* to empathize with when you're reading about
someone else instead of being asked to live them yourself.

Michael Straight is at two-hundred-something points in Curses.
FLEOEVDETYHOEUPROEONREWMEILECSOFMOERSGTIRVAENRGEEARDSTVHIESBIITBTLHEEPSRIACYK
Ethical Mirth Gas/"I'm chaste alright."/Magic Hitler Hats/"Hath grace limits?"
"Irate Clam Thighs!"/Chili Hamster Tag/The Gilt Charisma/"I gather this calm."


Paul O'Brian

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Dec 11, 1996, 3:00:00 AM12/11/96
to

On Tue, 10 Dec 1996, Michael Straight wrote:

> Spoilers for Tapestry, Trinity, and In The End


>
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> One of the things good fiction can do is allow you to experience the world
> through someone else's viewpoint, or experience a situation that you would
> not be able to in real life. After playing In The End and Tapestry, I
> wonder if whether IF might not put the player/reader too close to the
> story to achieve the desired effect. They show us some possibilites for
> IF unavailable in ordinary fiction - you don't just read about someone who
> kills himself or kills his wife, you actually do it. However, unless the
> player/reader can really get into the role-playing, I think the effect is
> actually less powerful than reading an ordinary story.

I'm not sure I agree with you in all cases. Sometimes, as you say, IF has
access to effects which traditional fiction cannot achieve, and I think
that sometimes those effects can make an IF story more powerful -- it
depends on the choices the author has made. I think that this discussion
hinges on the notion of how "participatory" a medium is. I would argue
that both traditional fiction and interactive fiction are participatory
media (at least, according to my theory of reading) but that interactive
fiction is *more* participatory, because it demands that players add their
own input in order to drive the plot. This situation requires more
surrender from the reader because it reduces the distance between reader
and author; to some extent, the reader must cooperate with the author if
the story is ever to be finished. However, I don't think that what makes
the story more or less powerful is how much the reader can "get into the
role-playing", but rather what kinds of situations the reader is asked to
participate in, and how those situations are presented in overall terms.
To address the specific examples you brought up:

> I found Tapestry frustrating because, when I was initally presented with
> the three options, I was inclined to go with the "face up to what you've
> done and try to deal with it" option (not only because Lucifer was pushing
> the "change the past" option). However, when I realized that it was going
> to entail not just remembering my past but actually ignoring my dying
> mother, killing my wife, and running down an innocent girl, I didn't want
> to do that -- so I quit the game and replayed it Lucifer's way.

As I perceived it, the point of Tapestry was to make you feel uncomfortable
in exactly this way. The reason the story worked for me is that, it used
the more participatory nature of interactive fiction to place readers in a
situation where they are forced to choose between two unpleasant options,
in the context of those choices already having been made. Now, two things
mediate the interface between the player and these choices: one is the
fact that you are revisiting scenes that the character has already lived,
and other is the fact that the prologue pushes strongly towards the "fix
your past" option. These mediations are what make the path of Clotho and
the presence of the Wraith so powerful -- the reader is forced to examine
the situation that Morningstar presents in the prologue, but in far
greater complexity than Morningstar has presented it. As you observed,
*neither* option is good, and playing it Lucifer's way doesn't *really*
mean you get to fix the character's past, just that you trade one evil for
another. I would suggest that readers who are placed in the situation of
actually making this choice, rather than seeing a protagonist make it, are
asked to think about the choice that much more carefully because of their
participation in it, thus enhancing identification with the character
rather than impeding it.

> Now if Tapestry had been done as a set of three linked short stories (or
> three Sandman comic books), the narration would get me "inside the head"
> of the protagonist and attempt to make me understand how he was thinking.
> But since, in the game, *I* was the protagonist, I had a hard time
> separating myself - my ideas, emotions, morals, reactions, etc. - from the
> character, and I think I was less able to have empathy for the character
> and more like I was being told how to feel. I wasn't just being asked to
> identify with someone who had killed his wife, I was being asked to kill
> my wife! So instead of trying to "experience it" I balked!

As indeed you were meant to balk. It seems to me that no narration can get
you "inside" the head of a character as much as actually *being* inside
the head of the character and making that character's choices for him. I
also had a hard time separating myself, as I mentioned in my review, but I
think that is Tapestry's strength; it makes you walk a mile in the shoes
of Timothy Hunter (I think that was the character's name) far more
powerfully than traditional character identification could. And I might
point out that you weren't being asked to kill your wife. You were being
asked to make a choice between killing your wife and blackmailing a doctor
& ruining his practice. Neither option is a good one, but that's the
idea, and the lack of separation between you and the character makes that
choice loom the larger.

> I had similar problems with In The End. Where a well-written short story
> could have told me how this fellow felt, shown me his reactions to the
> world around me, possibly given me some empathy for his decision to kill
> himself, the game was asking me to react in ways that I didn't think the
> situation warranted. It put me in a *more* judgemental role, since it was
> asking me to choose what action to take, rather than just try to
> understand the decisions someone else had made.

Interesting that you group these two games -- I found them very different
experiences, linked only by the fact that you must do something unpleasant
in order to advance the story. I agree completely with your analysis of
this one, but not with your connecting it to Tapestry. Where Tapestry
placed players in the center of compelling (if somewhat overdramatic)
dilemmas, In The End made no such use of IF's participatory nature. In
fact, In The End went *against* the participatory nature of IF, because it
placed you in the shoes of a character and then demanded (on punishment of
the game going on endlessly) that you perform an action which flies in the
face of any such participation; for In The End, to quit is to win.
Tapestry asked players to make hard choices -- In The End asked players to
wander around the world finding new and exciting things and meeting
interesting people and hoped that players would get "I hate myself and I
want to die" from this. Consequently, I agree with you that In The End
would be stronger as a short story. Even a story written with as few clues
to the motivation of the character's suicidal urges as was the game would
be a less aggravating experience for its lessened participation. However,
I question the notion that Tapestry could be more powerful in a
traditional medium. Watching someone make a hard choice is not as
wrenching an experience as making that choice yourself. Hence my statement
that moral dilemmas can be very powerful in the IF medium.

> Perhaps it was the nature of the dilemnas posed in each of these cases.
> The part of Tapestry that tugged at me the most was when I had to choose
> between helping the old couple keep their business and going to see my
> mother. The situation of having to make the choice was a "real"
> experience - no matter which decision I made, I had the experience of
> being confronted with the choice.

Right! It's like the lemming-killing scene in "Trinity" -- Morarity
consciously put the player in a morally uncomfortable position and in
doing so brought home the horror of killing in a way only interactive
fiction could have done so powerfully.

Gareth Rees

unread,
Dec 12, 1996, 3:00:00 AM12/12/96
to

I found that "Tapestry" was unsettling because it confused the player
with the protagonist. Here I am, directing the actions of Timothy
Hunter, someone with a strong personality and detailed life history. I
want to know what *he* thinks about the moral question at the heart of
the game, but instead the question is turned around and I am asked what
*I* think. Well, I know what I think about the issue; my own views
aren't very interesting to me. I'd prefer to find out what the
protagonist (and by extension, the author) have to say on the subject.

--
Gareth Rees

Andrew Plotkin

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Dec 12, 1996, 3:00:00 AM12/12/96
to

Oh, good -- now we have people who think "Tapestry" is too preachy
(pushing what the author thinks too hard) and people who think it's *not
preachy enough*.

I am entertained. :)

--Z

--

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
borogoves..."

Xiphias Gladius

unread,
Dec 15, 1996, 3:00:00 AM12/15/96
to

Gareth Rees <gd...@cl.cam.ac.uk> writes:

>I found that "Tapestry" was unsettling because it confused the player
>with the protagonist. Here I am, directing the actions of Timothy
>Hunter, someone with a strong personality and detailed life history. I
>want to know what *he* thinks about the moral question at the heart of
>the game, but instead the question is turned around and I am asked what
>*I* think. Well, I know what I think about the issue; my own views
>aren't very interesting to me.

So, before playing this game, you knew exactly how you'd react if forced
to choose between being with your mother when she died and saving a
business?

I didn't.

I still don't, but I'm closer to knowing than I was before playing.

I enjoyed _Tapestry_ *because* it allowed me to explore how I felt about
certain issues that I hope I never have to deal with. I learned about
myself, which, I think, is the point of much great literature. It wasn't
a story about "Timothy Hunter" as much as it was a story about *a person*
(which, I believe, the epologues make clear), and as such, it was *meant*
to have relevance to the player.

Anyway, I liked it.

- Ian

Michael Straight

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Dec 17, 1996, 3:00:00 AM12/17/96
to


On Wed, 11 Dec 1996, Paul O'Brian wrote:

> > Spoilers for Tapestry, Trinity, and In The End

> As indeed you were meant to balk. It seems to me that no narration can get


> you "inside" the head of a character as much as actually *being* inside
> the head of the character and making that character's choices for him. I
> also had a hard time separating myself, as I mentioned in my review, but I
> think that is Tapestry's strength; it makes you walk a mile in the shoes
> of Timothy Hunter (I think that was the character's name) far more
> powerfully than traditional character identification could.

Well, I disagree. In a traditional narrative, the narrator gets me inside
the character's head by telling me what he's thinking or at least letting
me watch his reactions. In Tapestry, I was asked to role-play a character
that I didn't know much about other than the facts of his actions. Did
Timothy kill his wife because he loved her too much to let her suffer or
because her illness was inconvenient to him and he'd stopped loving her?

> And I might
> point out that you weren't being asked to kill your wife. You were being
> asked to make a choice between killing your wife and blackmailing a doctor
> & ruining his practice. Neither option is a good one, but that's the
> idea, and the lack of separation between you and the character makes that
> choice loom the larger.

Except that in real life, I would have had the option of neither
blackmailing the doctor or killing my wife. In Tapestry I was being asked
to role-play either Timothy-who-can-kill-his-wife or Timothy-who-can-
blackmail-a-doctor. A narrative might have presented either of these
Timothys in such a way as to make me sympathetic to him and perhaps help
me have more compassion for someone who makes this kind of choice.
Tapestry, instead of trying to help me empathize with Timothy, asked me
what I would do in Timothy's shoes, putting me in a more judgemental frame
of mind (by asking me to make a judgement).

As I mentioned in the original post, I think Tapestry was much more
compelling in the first scene where you have to choose between visiting
your mother or helping the couple, because it is a genuine either-or
dilemma - I didn't see a third option that the game prevented me from
choosing and neither seemed so obviously "right" to me that it was an easy
decision.

Maybe my point is that IF seems more successful in making you empathize
with situations than with decisions. Having to choose between visiting
your mother and helping the couple was a situation that the game could put
me in. But the decision to kill one's wife or commit suicide is much
harder to get a player to role-play and, I think, more effectively
communicated by a traditional narrative that gets inside the character's
head so that you are asked to watch and try to understand him rather than
take his place and make a decision about what you would do in that
situation.

Michael Straight would love to have an IF author prove him wrong.

Paul O'Brian

unread,
Dec 18, 1996, 3:00:00 AM12/18/96
to

On Tue, 17 Dec 1996, Michael Straight wrote:
> On Wed, 11 Dec 1996, Paul O'Brian wrote:
>
> > > Spoilers for Tapestry and In The End

>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>

> > It seems to me that no narration can get
> > you "inside" the head of a character as much as actually *being* inside
> > the head of the character and making that character's choices for him. I
> > also had a hard time separating myself, as I mentioned in my review, but I
> > think that is Tapestry's strength; it makes you walk a mile in the shoes
> > of Timothy Hunter (I think that was the character's name) far more
> > powerfully than traditional character identification could.
>

> Well, I disagree. In a traditional narrative, the narrator gets me inside
> the character's head by telling me what he's thinking or at least letting
> me watch his reactions. In Tapestry, I was asked to role-play a character
> that I didn't know much about other than the facts of his actions. Did
> Timothy kill his wife because he loved her too much to let her suffer or
> because her illness was inconvenient to him and he'd stopped loving her?

Fair enough. We disagree. I think that such a question is exactly what the
game wants you to be asking, and I think that's a good thing. If
Tapestry's main character had been better defined, the game would have
been less interesting, because when you are asked to role-play a character
you don't know much about other than the facts of his actions, you
yourself create that character's moral structure, rather than seeing it
laid out for you. Imagine if you knew that Timothy Hunter was a callous,
uncaring jerk who killed his wife because, as you say above, the
illness was inconvenient to him. The choices necessary to play that
role would become clear, but Tapestry's dilemmas would no longer
be dilemmas, and it would become an unappetizing journey through the mind
of a reprehensible person.

> As I mentioned in the original post, I think Tapestry was much more
> compelling in the first scene where you have to choose between visiting
> your mother or helping the couple, because it is a genuine either-or
> dilemma - I didn't see a third option that the game prevented me from
> choosing and neither seemed so obviously "right" to me that it was an easy
> decision.

I agree that this section was stronger. I'm wondering if perhaps the time
limit is what made it more compelling. When the hospital calls, there
isn't time to equivocate about the decision. However, in the "sick wife"
scene, there's always the option of not making a choice. The game hints
that this has been going on for quite some time, but I certainly tried to
find some way to avoid both blackmail *and* euthanasia. However, where the
first scene locked me between 2 unpleasant options by use of a time limit,
the second scene simply didn't let the action advance until one of the
choices had been made. Perhaps you and I both found ourselves thinking
"Why couldn't we just wait until she died naturally?"

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