IF Design Issue

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Jesse Burneko

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Nov 22, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/22/99
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This post contains mild spoilers for MUSE: An Autumn Romance. You have
been duly warned.

Okay, now that I'm done defining my idea of puzzleless IF I can talk about
what I originally set out to talk about. I've been thinking about
non-genre litterature. Stuff such as Waiting To Exhale, or Wuthering
Heights or Jude The Obscure.

These types of stories are usually focused on people and the conflicts
these people have to deal with. They are character studies, often
organized around a theme. I've really wanted to try to make IF work in
this medium. Now, put aside NPC implementation issues. It may be
difficult and tedius but even with current limitations it can be made to
work. I've SEEN it work. Particularly, in MUSE: An Autumn Romance which
is an attempt at this very thing.

One feature of this category of litterature I've noticed is that if
you look purely at the plot, the events that occur in the time frame of
the story you could probably shrink the novel down to about fifty pages.
Most of the novel (and often the best parts) come from a collection of
backstories. Individual short stories, often about individual characters,
that enhance an understanding of the overall story. For example the author
might tell a 20 page sub-story about what happened to Susan when she was
5 years old all to explain the motivation for Susan's next action or
thought in the context of the main plot.

However, when you restrict the point of view to a single POV working
supposedly in real time (that is you are experiencing the character's life
as it happens) a lot of this backstory drops out. Restricing the
character to a single POV in a novel isn't a problem because even if the
story is first person there can be lots of digressions as the character
reflects back on the events.

MUSE, for example could be exapanded into novel length without adding
anything to the sequence of events that are already there. All you have
to do is flesh out the thoughts and reflections of the main character and
add backstories of each of the characters that can be told.

So, what I want to do, is figure out a way to incorporate those story
enriching backstories and thoughtful digressions BACK into interactive
fiction without limiting the interaction and with out launching into long
preachy speeches where the player is just typing wait. And I don't like
the idea of having the game flash back and forth in time either. The
story should still feel like, the player is role-playing a character in a
real-time momement by moment scenario.

I hope this clear.

So, any thoughts?

Jesse Burneko


Jim Aikin

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Nov 22, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/22/99
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BrenBarn wrote:
>
> Well, my comp99 entry (Lomalow) was almost all backstory. The problem
> that many people have noted, though, is that it loses a lot of interactivity,
> and creates long speeches (although in this case you'd be typing ASK MAN ABOUT
> PIT instead of WAIT -- even worse, because of the extra finger work :-).
> But one of the devices I used was a history book which the player reads to
> gain information about the characters in the game. Now, obviously you don't
> want to just have a huge library which inexplicably houses books describing
> each character's history; but you can use similar "triggers". For example,
> perhaps if the player character, carrying a flute, walks into the living room,
> where Old Man Bokum (an NPC) is sitting, OMB will launch into a short
> discussion of how he used to be quite a flute player in his day. Other aspects
> of Bokum's character can be revealed similarly, or by other characters with
> other triggers.
> Of course, this breaks up Bokum's backstory into lots of little nuggets,
> which may not be what you want. But it's an idea. . .

This is probably a good technique.

It's worth noting, IMO, that the problem is intrinsic to the medium of
IF. A flashback is an info-dump, and thus by definition non-interactive.
In Myst and Riven it's handled with documents that you find and read --
and they're not really very interesting, in spite of the cute drawings.
Having the player find a spool of old 8mm movie film, or say a
videotape, might be more engrossing.

If you break the info-dump up into little bits that the player has to
"find," they can be accessed in any order. This can be a problem if
you're trying to put a dramatic incident into the back-story, as opposed
to vignettes. But it can also be interesting, because different players
may find or not find different bits and pieces of the back-story, which
may cause them to interpret present-time events in different ways. This
type of multidimensional experience is bound to be hard to do well, but
it's bound to be worth exploring too.

The other option is to move the player INTO the flashback scenario
interactively -- something like what Graham did in Curses, where you
find yourself in the tent on the battlefield or wherever. This adds a
much more interesting form of multidimensionality, but it's harder to
find an in-the-scenario justification for it: Is the player experiencing
a dream? A hallucination? Has she stepped through a magic door at the
foot of the garden?

Maybe the central question is, why are you wanting to do a flashback?
What is it about your particular story that seems to demand it? Because
if you know the answer to that one, you'll be well on your way to
devising an appropriate mechanism.

--Jim ("for assorted pontifications, push red button") Aikin

Jesse Burneko

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Nov 22, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/22/99
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On 23 Nov 1999, Trig wrote:

> Like the main story, you need the sub plots to unfold. For example: You're
> searching through an old box filled with Mary's things and run across a picture
> of a young man who turns out to be her brother who can then pump for more
> information (not to put to fine a point on it).
>
> I hope you get the idea, because I've been typing way too long. Thank you and
> goodnight.
>

Yes, I do get the idea and this is a very good idea and the very thing I'm
looking for. Thank you.

Jesse


Jesse Burneko

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Nov 22, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/22/99
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On Tue, 23 Nov 1999, Robb Sherwin wrote:

> 3. Write the backstory in the form of a straight fiction novel. Make
> sure that you grab the attention of the player right from the get-go,
> so that while they are scanning your text for the correct word they
> can't help but read the whole thing, engrossed by your singular wit
> and creative abilities.

No, I really want to weave this kind of drama into the game itself. The
idea being that discovery of this information is PART of the interaction.
How, when and if things are discovered having an impact on the
interpretation and perhaps decisions of the player.

Jesse Burneko


Jesse Burneko

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Nov 22, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/22/99
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On Mon, 22 Nov 1999, Jim Aikin wrote:

> If you break the info-dump up into little bits that the player has to
> "find," they can be accessed in any order. This can be a problem if
> you're trying to put a dramatic incident into the back-story, as opposed
> to vignettes. But it can also be interesting, because different players
> may find or not find different bits and pieces of the back-story, which
> may cause them to interpret present-time events in different ways.

Yes, this is EXACTLY the effect I want to achieve. That's what sets the
interactive part of the game appart from a static novel. The ORDER in
which events occur in and the elements at are seen vs. the elements that
are not scence affect the interpretation of every aspect of the story.

> The other option is to move the player INTO the flashback scenario
> interactively -- something like what Graham did in Curses, where you
> find yourself in the tent on the battlefield or wherever.

This is the very thing I want to avoid.

Incidentilly I guess I should have said, what is a good way to weave these
backstory elements into an interactive story OR what would be a good thing
to replace it with if, as one poster pointed out, these ideas are mutually
exclusive.

Another issue in this type of situation is the passage of time. If a
character in a novel is college student the author can just write, "After
biology...." but if the player is PLAYING the character they would have to
go to biology class or perhaps skip it which would cause other
concequences but we don't want to bog the player down with unnecessary
tasks. Now it's easily missed and forgiven if the player doesn't have to
say, put their clothes on in the morning or have to bathe. But how do you
gracefully skip over major events likes going to class without interupting
the flow of LIVING this character's life.

Jesse Burneko


Emily Short

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Nov 22, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/22/99
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>Another issue in this type of situation is the passage of time. If a
>character in a novel is college student the author can just write, "After
>biology...." but if the player is PLAYING the character they would have to
>go to biology class or perhaps skip it which would cause other
>concequences but we don't want to bog the player down with unnecessary
>tasks. Now it's easily missed and forgiven if the player doesn't have to
>say, put their clothes on in the morning or have to bathe. But how do you
>gracefully skip over major events likes going to class without interupting
>the flow of LIVING this character's life.

Frame your story so that it contains no occasion for biology classes. What
you're playing isn't the character's life -- it's a carefully selected,
non-boring segment thereof.

That may sound very dogmatic, but I think I-F forces you to respect the
dramatic unities more than most genres. Whatever happens needs to happen
either a) over one unbroken stretch of time (typical) or b) with
recognizable scene-changes at specific points (cf Chix Dig Jerks or
Tapestry). There's no excuse for putting in wads of routine events as
filler -- any more than it's necessary, when designing an I-F house, to put
in a bathroom with all the fixtures. I'm all for mimesis as long as it
doesn't get in the way of the story's art.

So the question is: why do we need the biology class? If it's only there to
remind us of what college is like and thus provide realism, then skip it
entirely. If some lapse of time is genuinely required, then do a scene-cut
-- or else have all the real action of the game take place after biology,
with evidence about what happened before larded in.

ES

Jesse Burneko

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Nov 22, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/22/99
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On Mon, 22 Nov 1999, Emily Short wrote:

> So the question is: why do we need the biology class? If it's only there to
> remind us of what college is like and thus provide realism, then skip it
> entirely. If some lapse of time is genuinely required, then do a scene-cut
> -- or else have all the real action of the game take place after biology,
> with evidence about what happened before larded in.

We don't need the biology class. That's the point. Starting after is all
well and good but what if this story were supposed to span a whole YEAR of
this characters life? The type of novels I originally listed often deal
with long periods of times quite often as long as a few years or pehaps
the entire life cycle of a single indivual.

Jesse Burneko


Kathleen M. Fischer

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Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
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In article <Pine.GSO.4.10.99112...@aludra.usc.edu>,
Jesse Burneko <jbur...@aludra.usc.edu> wrote:

> Most of the novel (and often the best parts) come from a collection of
> backstories. Individual short stories, often about individual
> characters, that enhance an understanding of the overall story. For
> example the author might tell a 20 page sub-story about what happened
> to Susan when she was 5 years old all to explain the motivation for
> Susan's next action or thought in the context of the main plot.

<snip>

> So, what I want to do, is figure out a way to incorporate those story
> enriching backstories and thoughtful digressions BACK into interactive
> fiction without limiting the interaction and with out launching into
> long preachy speeches where the player is just typing wait. And I
> don't like the idea of having the game flash back and forth in time
> either. The story should still feel like, the player is role-playing
> a character in a real-time momement by moment scenario.

If I'm understanding you correctly, what you are asking for is mutually
exclusive. You want to include something that happened to Susan when she
was 5, but you don't want to use flash backs or speeches. I wouldn't
know how to do that in a novel either. What's left? If you want to
describe something that happens in the past you must either put the
player into the past, have an NPC describe the event, or throw a text
passage of the PC's reminicance... right?

One think you can do is have examining objects trigger memories.
Something like:

> x american football
The pigskin is worn bare on the ends, a testimony to the countless hours
you spent playing catch with your dad. Even now the smell of freshly
mown grass is enough to take you back to those warm summer days when
life was a little bit simpler, a little bit sweeter. <blah blah blah>

... Of course, I would imagine you could only put in a short paragraph
or two in before the player eyes start to glaze over.

Kathleen

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


Sent via Deja.com http://www.deja.com/
Before you buy.

BrenBarn

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Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
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>So, what I want to do, is figure out a way to incorporate those story
>enriching backstories and thoughtful digressions BACK into interactive
>fiction without limiting the interaction and with out launching into long
>preachy speeches where the player is just typing wait. And I don't like
>the idea of having the game flash back and forth in time either. The
>story should still feel like, the player is role-playing a character in a
>real-time momement by moment scenario.
Well, my comp99 entry (Lomalow) was almost all backstory. The problem
that many people have noted, though, is that it loses a lot of interactivity,
and creates long speeches (although in this case you'd be typing ASK MAN ABOUT
PIT instead of WAIT -- even worse, because of the extra finger work :-).
But one of the devices I used was a history book which the player reads to
gain information about the characters in the game. Now, obviously you don't
want to just have a huge library which inexplicably houses books describing
each character's history; but you can use similar "triggers". For example,
perhaps if the player character, carrying a flute, walks into the living room,
where Old Man Bokum (an NPC) is sitting, OMB will launch into a short
discussion of how he used to be quite a flute player in his day. Other aspects
of Bokum's character can be revealed similarly, or by other characters with
other triggers.
Of course, this breaks up Bokum's backstory into lots of little nuggets,
which may not be what you want. But it's an idea. . .

From,
Brendan B. B. (Bren...@aol.com)
(Name in header has spam-blocker, use the address above instead.)

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

Trig

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Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
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>So, any thoughts?
>
>Jesse Burneko
>

Before I begin, I would like to start with a little story about my fifth
birthday...

Actually, I think the problem that you are running into is trying to compare
two very different mediums. In a novel, you can write four pages about the
front porch, and people will read it because they are =reading=. There aren't
any other expectations from a book. You know exactly what to expect every time
you turn the page. More text.

So why not four screens of text about the front porch? Well, the answer is
obvious. The first command typed after that will be "quit". One of the
challenges of IF is being able to say a lot with very few words. If you want
to include a lot of flowery background, it needs to be inset in every object
the player handles and allow the player to take in as much or as little as s/he
desires.

Just about everyone playing these works has virtually unlimited access to
fiction. It's the interactive part that pulls us in. What you probably want
to do is throw in an object like the old football with a little interesting tid
bit and a hint at where the player might find more info in this direction, like
visiting the backyard or the old barn, etc...

Like the main story, you need the sub plots to unfold. For example: You're
searching through an old box filled with Mary's things and run across a picture
of a young man who turns out to be her brother who can then pump for more
information (not to put to fine a point on it).

I hope you get the idea, because I've been typing way too long. Thank you and
goodnight.


Trig
--
"This may look like a slab of liver, but really, it's an external brain pack!"

Robb Sherwin

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Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
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On Mon, 22 Nov 1999 12:53:41 -0800, Jesse Burneko
<jbur...@aludra.usc.edu> wrote:
>I hope this clear.

>So, any thoughts?
>Jesse Burneko

Well, you could do what Magnetic Scrolls did and institute a
manual-as-copy-protection scheme.

"The Pawn" had a pretty decent sized novella that was included in the
same box. If you wanted to save, you had to look up a word on a
particular line that was, in turn, on a particular page. The story
that came with the game was a fun, solid read and totally set the
scene for everything that was to come afterwards. OK, it was
irritating to look up the words, but you can implement the same type
of effect without the irritation factor.

This is how I would tackle the problem:

1. Pull a Chris Crawford and say, at the game's very first screen,
something to the effect of, "Please do not play this game without
reading the instruction manual. It will only frustrate you and make no
sense."

2. When the player goes to save, have the game say, "Please input the
word at page #1, line #2, word #10." And then make sure it's always
the same word and that, really, anything they put in there is OK.

3. Write the backstory in the form of a straight fiction novel. Make
sure that you grab the attention of the player right from the get-go,
so that while they are scanning your text for the correct word they
can't help but read the whole thing, engrossed by your singular wit
and creative abilities.

4. Laugh diabolically and wave your XYZZY Award in the face of all
that would oppose you.

Personally, I don't think you can *make* a player read anything in
your game, be it a back story, a cut scene or a line that says that
"first time players of this game should type 'about'". But this might
help.

--Robb


=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
Robb Sherwin, Fort Collins CO
Reviews From Trotting Krips: http://ifiction.tsx.org
Knight Orc Home Page www.geocities.com/~knightorc

John Hill

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Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
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Jesse Burneko wrote:

> Okay, now that I'm done defining my idea of puzzleless IF I can talk about
> what I originally set out to talk about. I've been thinking about
> non-genre litterature. Stuff such as Waiting To Exhale, or Wuthering
> Heights or Jude The Obscure.

Don't know Jude the Obscure.

(snip)

> And I don't like
> the idea of having the game flash back and forth in time either. The
> story should still feel like, the player is role-playing a character in a
> real-time momement by moment scenario.

I guess that "non-genre" is the biggest hoop you're trying to jump
through here. An example of SF IF with a lot of backstory was
"Mindwheel." The protagonist travels through the memories of four dead
folks, virtual reality style. Obviously you don't want anything that
surreal, but there might be some compromise you could make with Weird
that wouldn't fall too far into fantasy.
You probably want to avoid that postmoderny feeling too...

> enriching backstories and thoughtful digressions BACK into interactive
> fiction

Giving up for the moment on "enriching backstories,"
"thoughtful digressions" could be event-triggered

e.g. If player recently encountered baseball bat prior to visiting
cemetary, then character could reflect that his father once hit
a ball out of Wrigley Field, and got his picture in the paper.

If however player encountered bat just prior to visiting favorite
local tavern, character thinks of that one time that Joey tried
to rip them off, so they took Joey out back for a little talk.

The "seen baseball bat" flag should expire pretty quick, because I
don't really care if the character has rummaged through the attic yet
or not; this isn't a puzzle. I want to know how fresh "baseball bat"
is in the player's mind.

Wow, this could get messy real fast, and I don't mean Joey.

If player has been delivered "Joey_Memory," that causes JoeyNPC
to enter the game. Joey's a dirty vagrant now. Give him a dollar.
Joey gives you an old baseball card.

Anyway. Newbie's a-ramblin'.

Emily Short

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Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
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>> So the question is: why do we need the biology class? If it's only there to
>> remind us of what college is like and thus provide realism, then skip it
>> entirely. If some lapse of time is genuinely required, then do a scene-cut
>> -- or else have all the real action of the game take place after biology,
>> with evidence about what happened before larded in.
>
>We don't need the biology class. That's the point.

I'm sorry, I phrased that poorly. What I meant was, what function does
*mentioning* the biology class play in the story?

>Starting after is all
>well and good but what if this story were supposed to span a whole YEAR of
>this characters life? The type of novels I originally listed often deal
>with long periods of times quite often as long as a few years or pehaps
>the entire life cycle of a single indivual.

Right. Bluntly, I don't think that _Wuthering Heights_ or its ilk are
eligible for translation to I-F (though, in fact, all the action of WH is
constrained within a *relatively* short time period through the Lockwood
frame story. But I assume you would want the player in the role of Cathy or
Heathcliff, not as the external observer.) If you're not willing to jump
through time, I don't know how you could avoid making such a game almost
unendurably tedious. Not to mention that your average Bronte or Hardy
extravaganza turns on nuances of character as much as on actual action, and
therefore is doubly ineligible to be I-Fified.

I realize that's decidedly not the answer you're looking for. But consider
the durable compactness of Ibsen or Chekhov. Many years of suffering may
lie behind the story, but the story itself is tightly delineated. If what
you want is I-F that feels more like *literature*, then I think that is the
direction that it needs to go -- towards plays and short stories, not
towards the sprawling magnificence of the nineteenth century novel. Which
brings up the question of how to endow the player character with more
personality and nuance -- but that's a different problem entirely.

ES

Kevin Forchione

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Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
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Jesse Burneko <jbur...@aludra.usc.edu> wrote in message
news:Pine.GSO.4.10.991122...@aludra.usc.edu...

> No, I really want to weave this kind of drama into the game itself. The
> idea being that discovery of this information is PART of the interaction.
> How, when and if things are discovered having an impact on the
> interpretation and perhaps decisions of the player.

Theatre.z5 does this kind of thing. The history of the theatre is scattered
about the building in pages of a journal. Some of them are clues to solving
puzzles, but even the puzzles have a history to them.

--Kevin

Daryl McCullough

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Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
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It seems to me that there are two reasons that
most IF is not as rich in background stories as
a novel can be:

(1) You are stuck in one character's skin, and
(2) You are stuck in the present.

The obvious way out of this is to allow the player
to "play" more than one character, and allow him/her
to explore more than one moment in time. A game that
made use of time and body-hopping to tell a
story is "Photopia" by Adam Cadre.

Daryl McCullough
CoGenTex, Inc.
Ithaca, NY


Jesse Burneko

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Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
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On Tue, 23 Nov 1999, Emily Short wrote:

> I'm sorry, I phrased that poorly. What I meant was, what function does
> *mentioning* the biology class play in the story?

For believability and realism. If the story spans one month in the life
of a college student then there should be references to classes, homework
and other obligations. Obviously we don't want the player to DEAL with
these obligations because, yes that would be tedious. But those elements
should be present. Haven't you ever read a book and found yourself
thinking, "This guy is supposed to be a student but he never seems to go
to class or have homework to do." In fact the rather brillant twist of the
film Sixth Sense, if you've seen that, almost mocks the audience's
willingness to ignore such missing details. Since I am not willing to
ignore those details I thought it was a BAD film until the end.

> Not to mention that your average Bronte or Hardy extravaganza turns on
> nuances of character as much as on actual action, and therefore is
> doubly ineligible to be I-Fified.

I don't know if I agree with this statement. It's these nuances of
character that I think are lacking from IF today and I'm trying to work
out techniques of weaving them in.

Jesse Burneko


Kathleen M. Fischer

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Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
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In article <81diji$caq$1...@nntp9.atl.mindspring.net>,
"Emily Short" <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:

> Not to mention that your average Bronte or Hardy
> extravaganza turns on nuances of character as much as on actual
> action, and therefore is doubly ineligible to be I-Fified.

Not to be argumentative, but I'm extremely curious as to why you
think that is true. Could you be more specific?

I'm less familiar with Wuthering Heights, but I can certainly
see Jane Eyre (Charlette Bronte) as fodder for IF. You couldn't
include everything from the book, but then the 2-4 hr. movies
that come out periodically don't include the whole book either.

Emily Short

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Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
to
> > I'm sorry, I phrased that poorly. What I meant was, what function does
> > *mentioning* the biology class play in the story?
>
> For believability and realism. If the story spans one month in the life
> of a college student then there should be references to classes, homework
> and other obligations. Obviously we don't want the player to DEAL with
> these obligations because, yes that would be tedious. But those elements
> should be present. Haven't you ever read a book and found yourself
> thinking, "This guy is supposed to be a student but he never seems to go
> to class or have homework to do."

Of course. A not unrelated phenomenon is the plethora of teen dramas on
the WB in which no one ever seems to have any homework to do.

But I think the way to deal with this is to arrange things so that classes
don't come up *within the timeframe of the game story*. You can have bio
textbooks lying around your dorm room, dire warnings about the final
pencilled onto your calendar, scribbled marginal notes from your lab
partner -- all the physical evidence of that as part of your life.
But make the I-F take place at a time when no biology intervenes.

> In fact the rather brillant twist of the
> film Sixth Sense, if you've seen that, almost mocks the audience's
> willingness to ignore such missing details. Since I am not willing to
> ignore those details I thought it was a BAD film until the end.

Right. I know what you mean.



> > Not to mention that your average Bronte or Hardy extravaganza turns on
> > nuances of character as much as on actual action, and therefore is
> > doubly ineligible to be I-Fified.
>

> I don't know if I agree with this statement. It's these nuances of
> character that I think are lacking from IF today and I'm trying to work
> out techniques of weaving them in.

Fine. But I think there are a lot of events pivotal to a
nineteenth century novel that you couldn't incorporate into I-F because
they consist of purely internal developments. How would you implement,
eg.:

-- Jane Eyre dreaming about traveling across the moors carrying a baby,
then deciding not to give up her struggle to survive;

-- Emma Bovary growing bored of her provincial existence and her
unglamorous husband;

-- Jean Valjean repenting of his crimes and turning to an upright life;

or even

-- Mr. Darcy recognizing how his behavior might appear to Elizabeth.

These events are real turning points in the novels in which they occur,
but they could be replicated in I-F only as states in the player's mind.
[Barring the invention of some really surreal verbs like "repent",
"forgive", "regain hope", and, most ludicrously, "recognize an important
truth about self".] Delusions tried to do things with the
self-comprehension theme, and I thought it had a wonderful and creepy idea
but was critically flawed in execution. Tapestry also tried to do the
journey to self-knowledge, and that I just found squirmy and
uncomfortable: I don't like having my spiritual state narrated to me. As
for Photopia, I hesitate to say anything at all because people have such
strong and disparate reactions to it. But I think it's a different ball
of wax anyway -- more an immersive story than a truly interactive one.

What you *can* do is model just the crux of the story, in which the years
of accumulated experience find their expression in the external action of
two hours. This gets back to what you were saying originally about
backstory and primary story: the primary story can often be written out
fairly briefly. If you don't want to skip periods of time or resort to
flashbacks or extended monologues (and I understand why you might find
those options unappealing), then you have to filter in the backstory
through some other method.

ES

Emily Short

unread,
Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
to

----------
In article <81f3q9$jll$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>, Kathleen M. Fischer
<green_g...@my-deja.com> wrote:

>> Not to mention that your average Bronte or Hardy
>> extravaganza turns on nuances of character as much as on actual
>> action, and therefore is doubly ineligible to be I-Fified.
>

>Not to be argumentative, but I'm extremely curious as to why you
>think that is true. Could you be more specific?
>
>I'm less familiar with Wuthering Heights, but I can certainly
>see Jane Eyre (Charlette Bronte) as fodder for IF. You couldn't
>include everything from the book, but then the 2-4 hr. movies
>that come out periodically don't include the whole book either.


My problem with Jane Eyre as I-F is that many of the turning points are
purely internal and could not be expressed by external actions. The bare
bones of the story could be compacted, I suppose, and I am more than happy
to agree that Mr. Rochester's house would make a splendid milieu. (Most
Gothics are rich enough in setting to make fun I-F; I think, though, that
something like Ann Radcliffe's _Mysteries of Udolpho_ [a prime specimen of
the kind of nonsensical romance Austen was lampooning with _Northanger
Abbey_] would be far *better* fodder for I-F than anything by any of the
Brontes. Radcliffe's characters are fairly underdeveloped, their adventures
are episodic and silly, and there is a plentiful supply of bandits,
smugglers, wordy servants, mysterious portraits, ghastly legends, secret
passageways, skeletons hidden behind black veils, and caches of portentous
letters under the floor. Everything that happens, happens more or less on
the surface; the *psyche* of our heroine is not the primary battleground.)

Whereas, in Jane Eyre, primary events include personal decisions (to run
away when the mad wife in the attic is revealed; *not* to marry the
missionary cousin) and complicated conversations (Mr. Rochester disguised as
a gypsy. Mr. Rochester playing charades. Mr. Rochester out in the garden.)
Now as I see it in trying to program that you give yourself a tremendously
difficult task -- namely, to provide the player with the vicarious
experience of falling in love and then going through various stages of
desparation and determination. You also have to a) force the player to
choose the "correct" path for Jane [which leads to a sense of inevitability
a la Jigsaw] or b) account for the proliferating possibilities when the
player instead decides to commit bigamy or kill herself or tell Mr.
Rochester to go to hell. And I still think you'd wind up with a
choose-your-own-adventure style of story, with only a very limited menu of
options in any given situation.

Probably better would be to emulate the *feel* of Jane Eyre -- the haunting
evocative quality of the setting and dreams -- and abandon the plot in favor
of something simpler and more direct.

ES

Jim Aikin

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Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
to
Emily Short wrote:
>
> Probably better would be to emulate the *feel* of Jane Eyre -- the haunting
> evocative quality of the setting and dreams -- and abandon the plot in favor
> of something simpler and more direct.

Exactly right. IF is _not_ conventional fiction, and conventional
fiction provides some very misleading models. Mood and setting are tools
that we can adapt directly. Plot is a problem, unless it's sandwiched
into an info-dump.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. What we're doing
in this thread is theorizing about something that hasn't been done
(yet). Potentially a useful exercise, but I want to see how it plays out
in WinFrotz. If you have evocative theories, I'd urge you to put them to
the test! Even in a short work.

--Jim Aikin

*********************************
Those instances of it
which do not possess
the quality referred to
as 'swing' are meaningless.
--Duke Ellington
*********************************

Jesse Burneko

unread,
Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
to
On Tue, 23 Nov 1999, Jim Aikin wrote:

> Emily Short wrote:
> >
> > Probably better would be to emulate the *feel* of Jane Eyre -- the haunting
> > evocative quality of the setting and dreams -- and abandon the plot in favor
> > of something simpler and more direct.

No, see I'm not trying to ADAPT an existing work into IF that would be
hard but as you listed in the previous post about accounting for as many
decisions as possible I DON"T think you'd end up with a choose your own
adventure at all, because there is a much finer level of detail of
interaction. Perhaps the big picture view of the plot might be choose
your own adventurish and I think that can't be avoided. HOWEVER, each
scene will have subtle variations on it, plus the ORDER in which the
scences occur, etc. Basically, when I design an IF of this nature (I have
many sketch ideas, nothing concrete, nothing near implementing) I plan the
plot like I would a static novel but then for each of the key scenes and
moments I have and think about: Well, what would happen if the main
character DIDN'T decide to do that and then try to follow as many of those
alternative paths as possible.

> Exactly right. IF is _not_ conventional fiction, and conventional
> fiction provides some very misleading models. Mood and setting are tools
> that we can adapt directly. Plot is a problem, unless it's sandwiched
> into an info-dump.

I disagree. I don't think you need infodumps or at least I think you can
do infodumps in a more interactive and engaging way. Think about when
your friend is relating to you some important event that happened to you.
Do feel irritated because your friend isn't letting you talk? When a
character on stage is giving a siloquey are you bored because the action
isn't moving? No. Why? Because you are emotionally engaged in these
scenarios so, if well crafted an info dump will draw you in not put you
off. Especially, if you CAN interupt it. For example in the middle of
the friends story you can type> ASK Jane about <some aspect of her story>
which interupts her current info dump and puts her on another part of it.

> Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. What we're
> doing in this thread is theorizing about something that hasn't been
> done (yet). Potentially a useful exercise, but I want to see how it
> plays out in WinFrotz. If you have evocative theories, I'd urge you to
> put them to the test! Even in a short work.

Well, I think MUSE: An Autume Romance came damn near close. Infact MUSE
is currently my favorite IF interms of combining literary and technicial
technique. Right up there are Tapestry and Photopia as well. MUSE had
the right character ideas and Tapestry had the right decision ideas. Now
they need to be combined and I'm working on it. I don't want to blow it
so I'm tinking with the designs until I'm happy.

Jesse Burneko


Emily Short

unread,
Nov 23, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/23/99
to
>On Tue, 23 Nov 1999, Jim Aikin wrote:
>
>> Emily Short wrote:
>> >
>> > Probably better would be to emulate the *feel* of Jane Eyre -- the haunting
>> > evocative quality of the setting and dreams -- and abandon the plot in favor
>> > of something simpler and more direct.
>
>No, see I'm not trying to ADAPT an existing work into IF

I understand that *you* are not suggesting such an adaptation -- this was in
answer to Kathleen's specific question about why I thought translating JE
would be difficult.

>> Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. What we're
>> doing in this thread is theorizing about something that hasn't been
>> done (yet). Potentially a useful exercise, but I want to see how it
>> plays out in WinFrotz. If you have evocative theories, I'd urge you to
>> put them to the test! Even in a short work.
>
>Well, I think MUSE: An Autume Romance came damn near close. Infact MUSE
>is currently my favorite IF interms of combining literary and technicial
>technique. Right up there are Tapestry and Photopia as well. MUSE had
>the right character ideas and Tapestry had the right decision ideas. Now
>they need to be combined and I'm working on it. I don't want to blow it
>so I'm tinking with the designs until I'm happy.

I admit I'm having trouble envisioning, from your description, exactly how
this would work, but I wish you luck -- it sounds like the end product would
be worthy, and I'm sure that *I* won't be the one to come up with it -- the
thought of putting any such thing into execution makes my head swim...

Mary J Mcmenomy

unread,
Nov 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/24/99
to
: What you *can* do is model just the crux of the story, in which the years

: of accumulated experience find their expression in the external action of
: two hours. This gets back to what you were saying originally about
: backstory and primary story: the primary story can often be written out
: fairly briefly. If you don't want to skip periods of time or resort to
: flashbacks or extended monologues (and I understand why you might find
: those options unappealing), then you have to filter in the backstory
: through some other method.

This, as I understand it, is what the _original_ question was about. The
passage-of-time question may be a red herring; more to the point, where
does PC nuance come from?

Of the top of my head, I'd submit the following:

1. Memory -- delicately grafted onto the descriptions of objects, as
several others have suggested. These can be larded around suggestively so
that, like the clues in Deadline, they gradually build up a picture of
what has happened.

2. Range of permitted activities. Think seriously about what physical,
psychological, and moral restrictions affect how your character might act.
Do not allow actions that fall outside this range.

Both of these have been discussed before, so I'll move on to my own pet
issue: the PC as viewpoint character. The typical narrative voice of IF
is a little sarcastic and tends to break character, at least once in a
while. It says things like "You can't be serious" and "Real adventurers
do not use such language." (Not to mention my all-time Infocom favorite,
"Talking to yourself is a sign of impending mental collapse.") Some of
these things are automatic responses built into the library. But will a
PC who has serious issues because he thinks he's overweight and can't get
a date respond to ">x me" with "As good-looking as ever."? Clearly not.

I submit that, since the PC is also the viewpoint through which you
experience the story, every room and object description subtly conveys
information about him [*]. Broadly, I think this information falls into the
following subcategories:

3. Diction. How high or low is the PC's language? Does he talk in
slang, in academic jargonese, in Ciceronian crescendos?

I don't think it's necessary to resort to things like deliberate
mispelling or orthographical representations of dialect in order to get
across the sense of a unique voice. (Personally I find mispelling and
shoddy grammar so annoying that I tend to quit any game in which they're
too widespread.)

4. Mental context. In what terms does the PC describe things? Does he
draw comparisons to art ("a clear fall of light, direct out of an early
Netherlandish painting"), or popular culture ("spikier hair than Lisa
Simpson"), or science ("such dense cake that the light is starting to
bend around it")?

5. Implicit bias. It can be clumsy, or at least arch, to tell the
character in so many words what he thinks of something, in this style:

***
Nursery
Anything cute gives you stomach pains, and just walking in here makes you
wonder whether you should check up on your ulcer. The crib is crammed to
bursting with fluffy little stuffed lambs -- which must be great if Baby
suffers from insomnia. Overhead (and looking no less substantial than
the cottony livestock) are a lot of cottony clouds painted on a
pewter-blue ceiling.

You catch yourself frisking your pockets for the packet of floss you know
you've got around somewhere.
***

A little much, right? What if you want to tell the player how the PC
feels about something without resorting to that kind of smart-aleck
mental state? It is possible to embed the bias into the description a
bit less blatantly:

***
Nursery
Self-consciously adorable in the tradition of "Precious Moments",
the nursery sports a sky-blue ceiling and the requisite silver-lined
clouds. A generous armload of stuffed animals lines the wicker crib, none
of them showing the least bit of wear.
***

It's possible to work in hints about a character's emotional state in
much the same way, to make him angry or happy or touchy, and to imply
sub-surface reactions to things.

All of these techniques may seem relatively trivial -- you want to give
your characters the depth of Anna Karenina, and I'm suggesting a
collection of attitudinal poses for them. But I think that you can build
up a lot of implied history for a character this way, especially if you're
thoughtful and consistent about it. Moreover, the more the player is
forced to think the like the PC, the better the plot is likely to work
emotionally. It's possible for the IF player to reject or laugh at
statements like "You're terrified by the approach of Golrog the SlugMan";
it's a lot harder for him to filter out the consistent subtle messages
imbedded in the very nature of the world description. After all, if he
tries, what does he have left?

-- Mary McMenomy

Note: FWIW, most of these ideas are rehashed from one of my personal
bibles of character writing, Orson Scott Card's _Character and Viewpoint_.
It isn't written with IF in mind, obviously, but it does have a lot to say
about how to tell the reader something without resorting to overt
exposition.

------
* Having the reactionary nature proper to a classicist, I use "he" in its
time-honored generic sense. If this really bugs you, just think "he or
she" whenever you see it. Thank you.


Adam Cadre

unread,
Nov 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/24/99
to
Jim Aikin wrote:
> Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. What we're doing
> in this thread is theorizing about something that hasn't been done
> (yet). Potentially a useful exercise, but I want to see how it plays
> out in WinFrotz. If you have evocative theories, I'd urge you to put
> them to the test! Even in a short work.

Hooray!

I've been grumping elsewhere that I'm almost afraid to look through
raif some days. Why? Because every so often I'll think, "Hey, this
might be a good idea for a game" and start coding, and a few months
later, voila, a game. Whereas on raif, folks will often post, "Hey,
you know what would make a good game? What if you could..." My idea
now looks derivative, and it took the poster all of three minutes to
undermine months of work.

Note that I am *not* trying to suppress discussion, nor am I implying
any malice on the part of these posters, or anything like that.

But still, when people start blue-skying, I run for the bomb shelter.

-----
Adam Cadre, Sammamish, WA
http://adamcadre.ac

Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/24/99
to
Adam Cadre <a...@adamcadre.ac> wrote:
>
> I've been grumping elsewhere that I'm almost afraid to look through
> raif some days. Why? Because every so often I'll think, "Hey, this
> might be a good idea for a game" and start coding, and a few months
> later, voila, a game. Whereas on raif, folks will often post, "Hey,
> you know what would make a good game? What if you could..." My idea
> now looks derivative, and it took the poster all of three minutes to
> undermine months of work.

You noticed the blurb I put on _Hunter_, right?

--Z

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

Nick Montfort

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Nov 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/24/99
to
Jesse Burneko <jbur...@aludra.usc.edu> wrote:

> I've been thinking
> about non-genre litterature. Stuff such as Waiting To Exhale, or
> Wuthering Heights or Jude The Obscure.

I call this literary fiction - it is its own "genre" in certain ways.

> One feature of this category of litterature I've noticed is that if
> you look purely at the plot, the events that occur in the time frame
> of the story you could probably shrink the novel down to about fifty

> pages. Most of the novel (and often the best parts) come from a
> collection of backstories.

The extreme example of this, which is a very useful work to consider for
writing IF, is George Perec's Life: A User's Manual. There is no action
in the novel. Everything that is described takes place at the same
instant. People are frozen in time, getting out of their bathtub or
feeding their cat. But, in moving the "camera" around an apartment
building and looking through all the items that are there, a very rich
story unfolds. Here's a work that consists entirely of ">examine the
ashtray" type of actions, from the point of view of the narrator and
reader, but manages to reveal an incredible word and an amazing plot.

This sort of "object-oriented" storytelling is fairly different than
what I was trying to do in my recent attempt at literary interactive
ficiton, but I think it has a lot of potential and is worth further
investigation. It definitely applies to IF. Looking at objects, alone or
in conjunction, might reveal different stories depending upon what one
had looked at before. A hand-cranked shortwave radio might seem to just
be a gadget, for instance, at first glance. Then the player notices a
spear in the umbrella stand - a real spear brought back from that time
the owner of the apartment went on safari in Africa. Looking back at the
hand-cranked radio, it's evident that it's not just a toy, it was
actually used during that safari. What station is it set to? What was he
listening to during those African nights? Etc...

This isn't a shocking, novel suggestion. It's been done in IF for a long
time. But it could be done more intricately, even taking center stage in
a lot of storytelling - as it does in Perec's novel.

Life: A User's Manual is not, literally, puzzleless, by the way. In fact
one of the main characters is a maker of jigsaw puzzles, and the
construction and solving of puzzles is critical to the ideas and plot.

-Nick M.

John W. Kennedy

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Nov 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/24/99
to
Emily Short wrote:
> (Most
> Gothics are rich enough in setting to make fun I-F; I think, though, that
> something like Ann Radcliffe's _Mysteries of Udolpho_ [a prime specimen of
> the kind of nonsensical romance Austen was lampooning with _Northanger
> Abbey_] would be far *better* fodder for I-F than anything by any of the
> Brontes.

I always thought this passage from Jane's "Henry & Eliza" was classic
I-F.

No sooner had Eliza entered her Dungeon than the first
thought which occurred to her, was how to get out of it
again.

She went to the Door; but it was locked. She looked at
the Window; but it was barred with iron; disappointed in
both her expectations, she dispaired of effecting her Escape,
when she fortunately perceived in a Corner of her Cell, a
small saw & Ladder of ropes. When the saw she instantly
went to work & in a few weeks had displaced every Bar but
one to which she fastened the Ladder.

A difficulty then occurred which for some time, she knew
not how to obviate. Her Children were too small to get
down the Ladder by themselves, nor would it be possible
for her to take them in her arms, when _she_ did. At last she
determined to fling down all her Cloathes, of which she had
a large Quantity, & then having given them strict Charge
not to hurt themselves, threw her Children after them.
She herself with ease discended by the Ladder, at the
bottom of which she had the pleasure of finding her little
boys in perfect Health & fast asleep.

Her wardrobe she now saw a fatal necessity of selling,
both for the preservation of her Children & herself. With
tears in her eyes, she parted with these last reliques of her
former Glory, & with the money she got for them, bought
others more usefull, some playthings for Her Boys and a
gold Watch for herself.

But scarcely was she provided with the above-mentioned
necessaries, than she began to find herself rather hungry,
& had reason to think, by their biting off two of her fingers,
that her Children were much in the same situation.

--
-John W. Kennedy
-rri...@ibm.net
Compact is becoming contract
Man only earns and pays. -- Charles Williams

Jesse Burneko

unread,
Nov 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/24/99
to
On Wed, 24 Nov 1999, Adam Cadre wrote:
> Jim Aikin wrote:
> > Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. What we're doing
> > in this thread is theorizing about something that hasn't been done
> > (yet). Potentially a useful exercise, but I want to see how it plays
> > out in WinFrotz. If you have evocative theories, I'd urge you to put
> > them to the test! Even in a short work.
>
> Hooray!
>
> I've been grumping elsewhere that I'm almost afraid to look through
> raif some days. Why? Because every so often I'll think, "Hey, this
> might be a good idea for a game" and start coding, and a few months
> later, voila, a game. Whereas on raif, folks will often post, "Hey,
> you know what would make a good game? What if you could..." My idea
> now looks derivative, and it took the poster all of three minutes to
> undermine months of work.

Oh, I COMPLETELY agree. I hate it when someone says hey what about a game
based on X idea or Y plot twist and I've been mulling around with the idea
for some time. I figured that non-genre if or literary fiction as one
poster called it has been on most IF writers minds for a long time and
infact several attempts, MUSE, Tapestry, In The End, even Photopia have
already been done. So discussing further technique and ideas seemed
harmless since this isn't discussion of a SPECIFIC idea there by
undermining anyones creativity.

Jesse Burneko


MFischer5

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Nov 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/24/99
to
Subject: Re: IF Design Issue
From: "Emily Short" ems...@mindspring.com

>My problem with Jane Eyre as I-F is that many of the turning points are
>purely internal and could not be expressed by external actions.

And many are not. I'd imagine it's a matter of choosing your battles wisely.

> Now as I see it in trying to program that you give yourself a tremendously
>difficult task -- namely, to provide the player with the vicarious
>experience of falling in love and then going through various stages of
>desparation and determination.

That depends on what you feel is necessary in order to tell the tale. IF isn't
a novel, and there are things it doesn't do as well, that is true. But there
are things it does better. After Jane leaves Thornfield she ends up on a town
searching for food. This isn't that exciting to read about in the book, but
would carry over to IF particularly well, as a player might be more likely to
feel the desperation of not being able to find any food after trying many
doors, than a passive reader would be. Thornfield Hall itself would be
wonderful in IF.

You also have to a) force the player to
>choose the "correct" path for Jane [which leads to a sense of inevitability
>a la Jigsaw] or b) account for the proliferating possibilities when the
>player instead decides to commit bigamy or kill herself or tell Mr.
>Rochester to go to hell.

That's true for any piece of IF. Certainly true for my WIP. I think I spend
more time trying to keep players from doing things than providing them things
TO do. And sometimes the ramifications can be expressed in a simple paragraph.
Go ahead. Let the player stay at Thornfield instead of leaving. Then have a
paragraph describing how she was murdered in her bed by the first wife. QED.

>Probably better would be to emulate the *feel* of Jane Eyre -- the haunting
>evocative quality of the setting and dreams -- and abandon the plot in favor
>of something simpler and more direct.

The plot being of a governess who falls in love with her master, finds out he's
married, runs away, and returns. I still don't see why you couldn't do it.
Players are willing to do all sorts of wierd things to win a game, why is
having your PC be attracted to an NPC so much wierder? Jane Eyre is actually
even easier on this point as Mr. Rochester pursues her instead of the other way
round.

Kathleen M. Fischer

Jesse Burneko

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Nov 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/24/99
to
On Tue, 23 Nov 1999, Emily Short wrote:
> I admit I'm having trouble envisioning, from your description, exactly how
> this would work, but I wish you luck -- it sounds like the end product would
> be worthy, and I'm sure that *I* won't be the one to come up with it -- the
> thought of putting any such thing into execution makes my head swim...

I admit _I'M_ having trouble envisioning how this will work. That's why I
started this whole discussion. :) I have some ideas and I've tinkered
around with some designs. I thought I'd just see what other people
thought about how to accomplish these litterary effects.

Thank you for all you insightfulness by the way.

Jesse Burneko


Emily Short

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Nov 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/24/99
to

----------
In article <383C0B55...@attglobal.net>, "John W. Kennedy"
<rri...@attglobal.net> wrote:

>I always thought this passage from Jane's "Henry & Eliza" was classic
>I-F.

<snip hilarious passage>
This is truly wonderful, but I am a little concerned about the probable
implementation of the following segment:

> ...she instantly


> went to work & in a few weeks had displaced every Bar but
> one to which she fastened the Ladder.

which I envision going something like this:

>saw bar
Which Bar do you mean, the first Bar, the second Bar, the third Bar, or the
fourth Bar?

>first
What part of the first Bar do you want to saw, the top or the bottom?

>bottom
You saw ineffectually at the bottom of the first Bar.

>saw bottom of first bar
You saw ineffectually at the bottom of the first Bar.

>g
You saw ineffectually at the bottom of the first Bar.

>g.g.g.g.g.g.g.g.g.g
You saw ineffectually at the bottom of the first Bar.
You saw ineffectually at the bottom of the first Bar.
You saw ineffectually at the bottom of the first Bar.
You saw ineffectually at the bottom of the first Bar.
You saw ineffectually at the bottom of the first Bar.
You saw ineffectually at the bottom of the first Bar.

Finally you succeed in sawing through the bottom of the first Bar. Oh no!
You have accidentally cut through the rope Ladder!

There is already a gap in the bottom of the first Bar!
There is already a gap in the bottom of the first Bar!
There is already a gap in the bottom of the first Bar!

>undo
Undone.

>x rope
Alas, the rope Ladder is only a frayed Fragment of its former Self.

>[word one might expect at this juncture]
Such language from a Lady!


ES

Emily Short

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Nov 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/24/99
to
----------
In article <19991124160157...@ng-fm1.aol.com>, mfis...@aol.com
(MFischer5) wrote:

>>My problem with Jane Eyre as I-F is that many of the turning points are
>>purely internal and could not be expressed by external actions.
>
>And many are not. I'd imagine it's a matter of choosing your battles wisely.

I suppose I would say that if you only choose the external conflicts from
_Jane Eyre_, you drastically modify the nature of the plot -- making the
adaptation no longer _Jane Eyre_ at all. But I don't think that arguing
over what makes a story itself is likely to yield anything, so I'll leave it
there. I agree with you that there are elements from JE that would be
excellent to use (including the food search, as you mention.)

>You also have to a) force the player to
>>choose the "correct" path for Jane [which leads to a sense of inevitability
>>a la Jigsaw] or b) account for the proliferating possibilities when the
>>player instead decides to commit bigamy or kill herself or tell Mr.
>>Rochester to go to hell.
>
>That's true for any piece of IF. Certainly true for my WIP. I think I spend
>more time trying to keep players from doing things than providing them things
>TO do. And sometimes the ramifications can be expressed in a simple paragraph.
>Go ahead. Let the player stay at Thornfield instead of leaving. Then have a
>paragraph describing how she was murdered in her bed by the first wife. QED.

Okay -- but that's not very different from the ***You have changed the
course of history*** effect whenever you do The Wrong Thing in Jigsaw.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not picking on Jigsaw: I liked it a lot. But the
game wasn't set up to deal effectively with the ramifications of any moral
choice other than the one Graham had selected, and that made the choice seem
a lot less like a choice. It also didn't bother me so much because that was
still very much a puzzle game -- and also because one of the central themes
is the inevitability of a given fate. Whereas I don't think that the
Railroad Plot would work as well for _Jane Eyre_ or many other works of its
ilk because a large part of what makes those stories good is the moral
growth of the main character. If the I-F author keeps coming along and,
like a Bonzai artist, snipping off any unsuitable shoots, the main character
can only reach one outcome. Free will? What free will? And if there is
only one set of choices that doesn't lead to an immediate "***You Have Done
The Wrong Thing***" message (however elegantly that is phrased), the value
of the moral choices is immediately obviated.

>>Probably better would be to emulate the *feel* of Jane Eyre -- the haunting
>>evocative quality of the setting and dreams -- and abandon the plot in favor
>>of something simpler and more direct.
>
>The plot being of a governess who falls in love with her master, finds out he's
>married, runs away, and returns. I still don't see why you couldn't do it.
>Players are willing to do all sorts of wierd things to win a game, why is
>having your PC be attracted to an NPC so much wierder? Jane Eyre is actually
>even easier on this point as Mr. Rochester pursues her instead of the other way
>round.

I've played a bunch of games where the PC was attracted to an NPC, and vice
versa. Many of them I even liked. I got much guilty amusement from
Plundered Hearts. But I have yet to play one where I was as engrossed
in/convinced by the love affair as I am by those in many books. (What is it
that Rochester tells Jane? "When so many miles come broad between us, I'm
afraid that cord of sympathy may break"? Something like that. I read it
when I was fourteen, which I suppose was an impressionable age, but it stuck
with me. Over-the-top schlock it might be, but it's GOOD over-the-top
schlock and I defy any scene in current I-F to match it.) It's not just a
question of getting the player to go along "in order to win"; it's also a
question of writing.

Again, though, this is one of those situations where I would be totally
happy to have someone create a counterexample...

ES

Emily Short

unread,
Nov 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/24/99
to

----------

Hey -- you're welcome to it, such as it is. I enjoy kicking around this
kind of question, even if it is "blue-skying"...

ES

Emily Short

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Nov 24, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/24/99
to

----------
In article <81fdct$5n6$1...@netnews.upenn.edu>, mcme...@mail1.sas.upenn.edu
(Mary J Mcmenomy) wrote:


>: What you *can* do is model just the crux of the story, in which the years
>: of accumulated experience find their expression in the external action of
>: two hours. This gets back to what you were saying originally about
>: backstory and primary story: the primary story can often be written out
>: fairly briefly. If you don't want to skip periods of time or resort to
>: flashbacks or extended monologues (and I understand why you might find
>: those options unappealing), then you have to filter in the backstory
>: through some other method.
>
>This, as I understand it, is what the _original_ question was about. The
>passage-of-time question may be a red herring; more to the point, where
>does PC nuance come from?

Okay, sort of. I think there are two interlocked questions:

1) how do you make a nuanced PC
and
2) how do you make the sort of plot that a nuanced PC deserves work in I-F.

We've mostly been kicking around the second part of that, maybe, but I don't
think they're completely separable.

[Diction, Mental Context:]

I think to some extent this is already done, as witness "Exhibition". My
only problem with that was that I was getting so much Mental Context (if you
want to call it that) at once. It was a very interesting exercise, but I
think I prefer my descriptive passages shorter so that I can approach them
more selectively. I'd rather get to direct the PC's focus a little bit.

>***
>Nursery
>Anything cute gives you stomach pains, and just walking in here makes you
>wonder whether you should check up on your ulcer. The crib is crammed to
>bursting with fluffy little stuffed lambs -- which must be great if Baby
>suffers from insomnia. Overhead (and looking no less substantial than
>the cottony livestock) are a lot of cottony clouds painted on a
>pewter-blue ceiling.
>
>You catch yourself frisking your pockets for the packet of floss you know
>you've got around somewhere.
>***
>
>A little much, right? What if you want to tell the player how the PC
>feels about something without resorting to that kind of smart-aleck
>mental state? It is possible to embed the bias into the description a
>bit less blatantly:
>
>***
>Nursery
>Self-consciously adorable in the tradition of "Precious Moments",
>the nursery sports a sky-blue ceiling and the requisite silver-lined
>clouds. A generous armload of stuffed animals lines the wicker crib, none
>of them showing the least bit of wear.
>***

Actually -- and I mean this gently -- I think they're both a little much.
*But* I think I do see what you're getting at. It's certainly a different
*kind* of approach altogether from the camera-objective description like

*******
Nursery
The sky-blue ceiling has been painted with clouds. A wicker crib sits
beside the wall.

There are some stuffed lambs in the crib.
*******

(Hmm -- when you boil it down, there's a lot more attitude than there is
physical description in your examples. And I even added that bit about
where the crib was in order to make it all feel a little less stark.)

I guess my real question is, how far is this sort of thing going to get you?
(Boy, I'm really starting to feel like a nay-sayer here... but my sense is
that good I-F comes from a careful observation of the bounds of the medium.
Like Ukrainian egg-dying. It's very pretty, but you can't get the Mona Lisa
on there.)

Maybe this was all kind of off-the-cuff and the technique you're talking
about would work better if I could see the full application. Would you care
to make it interesting? How about a small example game, or something?
Needn't be complex, just an environment...

ES

MFischer5

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Nov 25, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/25/99
to
Subject: Re: IF Design Issue
From: "Emily Short" ems...@mindspring.com
>I suppose I would say that if you only choose the external conflicts from
>_Jane Eyre_, you drastically modify the nature of the plot -- making the
>adaptation no longer _Jane Eyre_ at all. But I don't think that arguing
>over what makes a story itself is likely to yield anything, so I'll leave
>it there.

<aside> Have you seen the movie version with William Hurt? Horrible. Absolutely
horrible. How in the world they could slap the Jane Eyre name on it is beside
me. It's not just a Readers Digest version, it's blatently wrong. </aside>

I don't think IF could make a *true* recreation of Jane Eyre as Bronte wrote
it. I don't think a movie could either (the best I've seen stars Timothy
Dalton). I do think that a story *like* Jane Eyre could be made with IF if the
author was careful to work with the strengths of the medium. I know that I'm
not capable of doing it. :) I'm a programmer that likes to write, not the
other way round. However, I simply don't see anything in the medium that
prohibits someone who is talented with words (hey, Aikin, are you listening?)
from creating a piece of *literature* in IF.

>Whereas I don't think that the Railroad Plot would work as well for _Jane
>Eyre_ or many other works of its ilk because a large part of what makes
>those stories good is the moral growth of the main character.

Part of moral growth is the understanding of the ramifications on ones actions.
In "real life" we think these through in our heads "If I cross against the
light I might get to the maxi-mall faster, then again I could get run over by a
bus". In IF we allow the player the vicarious thrill of being bus bait. :)
<hmmm... not exactly a moral choice> How aboutL: If I become a bigamist it goes
against everything I have been taught. If I don't, I will be unhappy forever.
Bronte partially answered that question herself when she considers Rochesters
mistress who bore Adel (sp) - Jane would be no better if she remained with him.
One could actually show that. Heavy handed, it's true, but it could be done.

> "When so many miles come broad between us, I'm
>afraid that cord of sympathy may break"? Something like that. I read it
>when I was fourteen, which I suppose was an impressionable age, but it stuck
>with me. Over-the-top schlock it might be, but it's GOOD over-the-top
>schlock and I defy any scene in current I-F to match it.)

There isn't any, that I've seen. And I'm afraid I don't know anyone who could
write it and pull it off as nicely either. Maybe it's a 19th century thing.

>It's not just a question of getting the player to go along "in order to win";
>it's also a question of writing.

Absolutely. But the question remains. If we had such a writer in our midst,
would the medium support their writing? :)

Kathleen


Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 25, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/25/99
to
Emily Short <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
>>>You also have to a) force the player to
>>>choose the "correct" path for Jane [which leads to a sense of inevitability
>>>a la Jigsaw] or b) account for the proliferating possibilities when the
>>>player instead decides to commit bigamy or kill herself or tell Mr.
>>>Rochester to go to hell.
>>
>>That's true for any piece of IF. Certainly true for my WIP. I think I spend
>>more time trying to keep players from doing things than providing them things
>>TO do. And sometimes the ramifications can be expressed in a simple paragraph.
>>Go ahead. Let the player stay at Thornfield instead of leaving. Then have a
>>paragraph describing how she was murdered in her bed by the first wife. QED.
>
> Okay -- but that's not very different from the ***You have changed the
> course of history*** effect whenever you do The Wrong Thing in Jigsaw.

It's not even very different from Zork, where if you do the wrong thing
you find yourself stuck two hours later. Or just killed.

There are author-approved endings, and there are terminal game-states that
aren't endings. I rarely see IF players get them confused.



> Don't get me wrong, I'm not picking on Jigsaw: I liked it a lot. But the
> game wasn't set up to deal effectively with the ramifications of any moral
> choice other than the one Graham had selected, and that made the choice seem
> a lot less like a choice.

I think there's a weird little gap between the choices open to the
*player* and the choices open to the *protagonist*. The player is making
choices for the protagonist, and those choices are (to me) real choices,
as long as they're free at the time. Even if the game itself eventually
leads the player to a single ending (by making all but one option turn out
Incorrect.) It's still a story about a character with free will.

I don't know whether to call that a delusion common to IF, or just a
convention of the genre. But it does work for me, and it's what I try to
build into my games.

> Over-the-top schlock it might be, but it's GOOD over-the-top

> schlock and I defy any scene in current I-F to match it.) It's not just a


> question of getting the player to go along "in order to win"; it's also a
> question of writing.

Sure. Good writing is always a necessity. I for damn sure don't know how
to write a love story.

Graham Nelson

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Nov 25, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/25/99
to
In article <81hrqv$6cd$1...@nntp9.atl.mindspring.net>, Emily Short

<URL:mailto:ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
> Okay -- but that's not very different from the ***You have changed the
> course of history*** effect whenever you do The Wrong Thing in Jigsaw.
>
> Don't get me wrong, I'm not picking on Jigsaw: I liked it a lot. But the
> game wasn't set up to deal effectively with the ramifications of any moral
> choice other than the one Graham had selected, and that made the choice seem
> a lot less like a choice. It also didn't bother me so much because that was
> still very much a puzzle game -- and also because one of the central themes
> is the inevitability of a given fate.

Yes, that's a very fair criticism. It's true that "Jigsaw" is
quite "closed", and true also that this is intentional for vaguely
artistic reasons. But pragmatism came into it, too. An earlier
draft involved puzzles mixed far more freely across different
regions of the game, with heaps of going backwards and forwards.
It was intolerably difficult and also rather foolish (like "Curses",
although I think the whimsy of the latter just about gets away
with this). The key step in developing "Jigsaw", I now realise,
was when I decided that objects from one time zone could not be
taken to another (with certain logical exceptions). Most of
the feeling of closure stems from this, but it also made the game
playable rather than defeatingly gigantic.

--
Graham Nelson | gra...@gnelson.demon.co.uk | Oxford, United Kingdom


Neil K.

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Nov 25, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/25/99
to
re...@adamcadre.ac wrote:

> I've been grumping elsewhere that I'm almost afraid to look through
> raif some days. Why? Because every so often I'll think, "Hey, this
> might be a good idea for a game" and start coding, and a few months
> later, voila, a game. Whereas on raif, folks will often post, "Hey,
> you know what would make a good game? What if you could..." My idea
> now looks derivative, and it took the poster all of three minutes to
> undermine months of work.

Well, be thankful you've been able to at least crank out your work in a
few months. Think of us poor sods who've worked for years on projects only
to have our clever ideas undermined by a post or a game... Oh, woe!

Incidentally, I have to say I've been finding this thread really quite
interesting. And where did you appear from, Emily Short? You've posted
some alarmingly thoughtful stuff.

- Neil K.

--
t e l a computer consulting + design * Vancouver, BC, Canada
web: http://www.tela.bc.ca/tela/ * email: tela @ tela.bc.ca

Emily Short

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Nov 25, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/25/99
to

----------
In article <fake-mail-251...@rich-53-0245.direct.ca>,
fake...@anti-spam.address (Neil K.) wrote:

> Well, be thankful you've been able to at least crank out your work in a
>few months. Think of us poor sods who've worked for years on projects only
>to have our clever ideas undermined by a post or a game... Oh, woe!
>
> Incidentally, I have to say I've been finding this thread really quite
>interesting. And where did you appear from, Emily Short? You've posted
>some alarmingly thoughtful stuff.

Thanks!

...I've been on the outside of the I-F community looking in (nose pressed to
glass) for a long time, and a would-be I-F writer for even longer, but I was
trying not to succumb to the temptation to pontificate on the ng until I'd
actually got at least one game out there.

Unfortunately, everything I work on tends to become massively more complex
than I originally intended, and Real Life keeps intervening. Besides, I
found this topic too hard to resist. So there it is.

ES

Emily Short

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Nov 25, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/25/99
to
----------
In article <81ig9u$rg5$1...@nntp5.atl.mindspring.net>, Andrew Plotkin
<erky...@netcom.com> wrote:

>> Don't get me wrong, I'm not picking on Jigsaw: I liked it a lot. But the
>> game wasn't set up to deal effectively with the ramifications of any moral
>> choice other than the one Graham had selected, and that made the choice seem
>> a lot less like a choice.
>

>I think there's a weird little gap between the choices open to the
>*player* and the choices open to the *protagonist*. The player is making
>choices for the protagonist, and those choices are (to me) real choices,
>as long as they're free at the time. Even if the game itself eventually
>leads the player to a single ending (by making all but one option turn out
>Incorrect.) It's still a story about a character with free will.

Hmm. That's an interesting point -- though I still think that,
experientially, one loses the sense that there are real options. At worst,
I find myself at some obviously critical juncture and think not "What should
I do now?" but "I wonder which of these answers the author thinks is right."
Particularly troublesome in this regard are those games in which the plot
demands that you do something wrong/unpleasant. You (the player) know that
this is a bad idea, but the game shunts you down that path and then later
requests that you regret taking it.

It's a sticky issue, because plots in which the main character makes some
serious mistake and then has to live with it are often very interesting; in
literature, though, you solicit only the reader's sympathy, not his
acquiescence to everything the main character does. The trick, I guess, is
to get the player sufficiently into the mindset of the protagonist that, at
least within the context of the game, the "wrong path" looks acceptable at
the moment of choice.

>I don't know whether to call that a delusion common to IF, or just a
>convention of the genre. But it does work for me, and it's what I try to
>build into my games.

[Spider and Web SPOILERS]
.
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.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
It's interesting that you say so, because I found "Spider and Web" unusually
effective in this regard. It became clear early on that the protagonist's
mission was possibly wrong-headed, but I wasn't certain whether the
interrogator was just trying to manipulate me. Obviously *something* was
going on that I didn't understand. This effectively put me-the-player into
a quandary similar to the one being suffered by me-the-protagonist.
Fortunately, I-the-player was in the position of being able to save the game
and finish it several different ways. I was initially a bit frustrated that
the outcome of the choice isn't spelled out more concretely (what DOES
happen if I burn the papers? It might promote world peace, but won't my
superiors be angry? Or have I just transported myself into a wall of solid
rock anyway, so it doesn't matter?). But now I think that this works.

Of course, "Spider and Web" is also helped along by its very precise focus:
one event, one decision, a fairly short time-span and a restricted space.
Back to those dramatic unities.

ES

Emily Short

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Nov 25, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/25/99
to

----------
In article <19991124223200...@ng-cd1.aol.com>, mfis...@aol.com
(MFischer5) wrote:

<William Hurt Jane Eyre>
No, I haven't seen it. Sounds like that's just as well...

>I don't think IF could make a *true* recreation of Jane Eyre as Bronte wrote
>it. I don't think a movie could either (the best I've seen stars Timothy
>Dalton). I do think that a story *like* Jane Eyre could be made with IF if the
>author was careful to work with the strengths of the medium.

Ah. Then it sounds like we're on the same page: all I was really arguing is
that there are things in character-driven fiction that would be hard if not
impossible to put into I-F.


> However, I simply don't see anything in the medium that
>prohibits someone who is talented with words (hey, Aikin, are you listening?)
>from creating a piece of *literature* in IF.

Crunch.

I cavil at the word literature: I think I define it differently than other
posters on this thread do. From my point of view (linguistically
conservative, socially broad), literature is written art form to be
experienced by reading alone. By this definition, the Odyssey was not
literature until someone wrote it down, though it was wonderful poetry.
Likewise, no I-F will ever be literature, any more than will films -- though
some of them show a sophistication of craft equivalent to that of Tolstoy.
Furthermore, I don't exclude genre fiction from the category of literature.


What I take it Jesse Burneko means by literature is "a work in which
emphasis is placed on character, created with some narrative craft." I
agree that that falls within the potential range of I-F. So I think I do
agree with you. I am just uncomfortable with the terminology.


>> "When so many miles come broad between us, I'm
>>afraid that cord of sympathy may break"? Something like that. I read it
>>when I was fourteen, which I suppose was an impressionable age, but it stuck

>>with me. Over-the-top schlock it might be, but it's GOOD over-the-top


>>schlock and I defy any scene in current I-F to match it.)
>

>There isn't any, that I've seen. And I'm afraid I don't know anyone who could
>write it and pull it off as nicely either. Maybe it's a 19th century thing.

Maybe. For that matter, it might be hard to take such scenes seriously from
a 20th c. author, because the ambient culture is sufficiently cynical that
anything unflinchingly emotional is regarded with suspicion. Who's to say
that Charlotte Bronte would go over as well if she were working now? [This
moment of off-topic speculation brought to you by Borges and "Pierre
Menard...".]


>>It's not just a question of getting the player to go along "in order to win";
>>it's also a question of writing.
>

>Absolutely. But the question remains. If we had such a writer in our midst,
>would the medium support their writing? :)

As I see it, the three largest challenges presented by I-F as a medium are
the following:

1) Background (as addressed by Jesse): how do we teach the player enough
about the PC to make the story work?

2) Motivation: how do we involve the player adequately in the experiences of
the PC to make moral choices seem like important issues? (As opposed to
means to the puzzle-solving end.)

3) Concreteness: how do we implement the problems of the PC in such a way
that the player can make complex choices without recourse to sophisticated,
impossible-to-implement conversations or interior monologues?

(1) and (2) are obviously problems in written fiction, too, but there are
established modes of handling them. Exposition in I-F is particularly
difficult since anything longer than a few sentences starts to interrupt the
flow and cause eye-glaze. But (3) is the real stinger, which was what I was
(not very succinctly) pointing out with respect to _Jane Eyre_.

ES


MFischer5

unread,
Nov 26, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/26/99
to
>Ah. Then it sounds like we're on the same page: all I was really arguing
>is that there are things in character-driven fiction that would be hard if
>not impossible to put into I-F.

Very true. Just like there are things in literature that don't translate to
film or the reverse.

>I cavil at the word literature: I think I define it differently than other
>posters on this thread do. From my point of view (linguistically
>conservative, socially broad), literature is written art form to be
>experienced by reading alone. By this definition, the Odyssey was not
>literature until someone wrote it down, though it was wonderful poetry.

Fair enough. I'm a programmer :) I'm freely admit to using the word quite
broadly to encompass any well written story that doesn't feel "gamey".
Something with a real live plot, real live characters, ... etc. No doubt a
gross misuse of the word.

>What I take it Jesse Burneko means by literature is "a work in which
>emphasis is placed on character, created with some narrative craft." I
>agree that that falls within the potential range of I-F. So I think I do
>agree with you. I am just uncomfortable with the terminology.

I agree with your impression of Jesse's definition (ugh). Is there a better
word for such a thing?

>>Absolutely. But the question remains. If we had such a writer in our midst,
>>would the medium support their writing? :)
>
>As I see it, the three largest challenges presented by I-F as a medium are
>the following:
>
>1) Background (as addressed by Jesse): how do we teach the player enough
>about the PC to make the story work?
>
>2) Motivation: how do we involve the player adequately in the experiences
>of
>the PC to make moral choices seem like important issues? (As opposed to
>means to the puzzle-solving end.)
>
>3) Concreteness: how do we implement the problems of the PC in such a way
>that the player can make complex choices without recourse to sophisticated,
>impossible-to-implement conversations or interior monologues?

I agree with all of those, but 2/3 the way through my WIP the item that has
daunted me is what you mention briefly in #3.

4) Dialogue: how to communicate with NPC's in meaningful ways.

I think it's the number one hurdle (IMHO) separating IF from "real" novels and
deserves it owns number :)

Kathleen

Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 26, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/26/99
to
Emily Short <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
> As I see it, the three largest challenges presented by I-F as a medium are
> the following:
>
> 1) Background (as addressed by Jesse): how do we teach the player enough
> about the PC to make the story work?

I, a fairly stereotypical geek, mostly read sci-fi and fantasy. (Which
some would say are "not literature" by their very definition... heh. And I
*haven't* read _Jane Eyre_, so pardon my leaping in...) Anyway, those
genres are naturally loaded with techniques and conventions for conveying
huge amounts of background information quickly. Those seem to carry over
to IF easily enough -- at least for sci-fi and fantasy games.



> 2) Motivation: how do we involve the player adequately in the experiences of
> the PC to make moral choices seem like important issues? (As opposed to
> means to the puzzle-solving end.)
>
> 3) Concreteness: how do we implement the problems of the PC in such a way
> that the player can make complex choices without recourse to sophisticated,
> impossible-to-implement conversations or interior monologues?

I find that those come down to the same problem: mapping a plausible
storyline onto a very standardized set of commands. So that the player
isn't flounding around trying to guess verbs like "FEEL GUILTY", but also
doesn't feel like he's merely pulling levers on a machine. (Of course, he
*is* just pulling levers on a machine. :-) Disguising this is the basic
sleight-of-hand of IF.)

To some extent, as I posted earlier, this is handled by a convention of
ignoring the levers. We agree to read the game's output as a real
narrative, even when the seams show. (The same conventions must exist in
static written fiction, by the way. Whole thesis there somewhere.)

The rest, at least as I've seen it, is a matter of boiling down complex
choices to simple, concrete actions. You go north or south; you pick up
the ornament or smash it with a hammer; you drink the potion or hand it to
your best friend. If the text leading up to that point has done its job,
the player knows what the *real* choice was, and all the details involved
therein.

Your objection, I guess, is that this is still a one-bit choice -- option
A or option B -- and can't *really* represent a more complex range of
action. I dunno. Maybe I like simpler plotlines than you. :-) I think in
terms of pruning the protagonist's world down slowly, in the narrative
text, until he's left with a very simple choice.

Adam Cadre

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Nov 26, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/26/99
to
Emily Short wrote:
> Particularly troublesome in this regard are those games in which the
> plot demands that you do something wrong/unpleasant. You (the player)
> know that this is a bad idea, but the game shunts you down that path
> and then later requests that you regret taking it.

I prefer discussing concrete instances of phenomena to discussing the
abstract phenomena themselves, which can be tough when not everyone has
played the same set of games. I hope enough people have played the
games I want to discuss here that I'm not just wasting everyone's
time...

[spoilers for LITTLE BLUE MEN follow]

I believe it was Mary Kuhner who pointed out that the optimal ending
from the player's perspective is not the one in which things work out
best for the player-character, but that which wraps up the best and
most fulfilling story. Thus, the "best" outcome for the PC in LITTLE
BLUE MEN -- filing the papers away like a good drone and learning to
love himself -- isn't really any good for the player: four turns and
out is no fun. So you and your character can often be working at
cross purposes.

The exception here would be a game with truly equal branching paths
that never re-converge. Nothing in IF is coming to mind -- someday I
will finish PANTHEON, someday, someday -- but think of a Choose Your
Own Adventure book: it's entirely possible that readers could follow
every path and still disagree as to which is best, depending on their
tastes.

[spoilers for VARICELLA follow]

Now, VARICELLA sounds like the sort of game you had in mind in the
passage I quoted. The game doesn't really offer the opportunity for
moral choice: either you allow the PC's inclinations to direct your
choices, or you set the game aside. (Or you can always >WAKE UP, but
this isn't entirely unlike filing away those papers.) And yes, in the
end, the PC is punished. But is the player meant to stare at her
screen and cry, "What have I done?" Nah, not really. Sure, the ending
is meant to function partly as a reminder that, just in case you've
forgotten, the Primo's actions aren't deserving of a reward. But the
*player's* actions? The player has done nothing more vicious than type
on a computer. She hasn't even made any questionable moral choices,
since the game doesn't offer any real ethical choice. So she isn't
meant to feel regret, and she *is* rewarded -- rewarded with a fitting
ending to a story about a nasty man in a nastier world. At least,
that's the intention; whether it works is for the players to decide.

Now, I suppose one could argue that not setting the game aside is
itself a questionable moral choice. There is an Austrian movie called
FUNNY GAMES, which-- er, better add this for those who want to stop
here:

[spoilers for FUNNY GAMES]

The premise of FUNNY GAMES is that two polite young men break into a
house and torture and murder a suburban family. That's the whole movie.
And the killers repeatedly address the camera to tell you the viewer
that you have chosen of your own free will to witness this pain, that
you're free to walk out of the theater, that if you're still watching
then you must consider the suffering of others to be fine entertainment,
etc.

I personally don't think VARICELLA is quite the same thing, though I
suppose there are similarities. Unlike the creators of FUNNY GAMES,
I *don't* want you to prove your virtue by turning it off; I didn't
cram the game world with hundreds of years of history just so people
could play for three turns and delete the program. It therefore would
be silly of me to chastise the player for having had the courtesy to
play through to the end, and I don't think I have; the protagonist
gets his comeuppance, but he was around long before the player showed
up to scoot him around for a couple hours.

Daryl McCullough

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Nov 26, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/26/99
to
Andrew Plotkin says...

>...Good writing is always a necessity. I for damn sure don't know how


>to write a love story.

_So Far_ and _The Space Under The Window_ weren't love stories?

Daryl McCullough
CoGenTex, Inc.
Ithaca, NY


Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 26, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/26/99
to
Daryl McCullough <da...@cogentex.com> wrote:
> Andrew Plotkin says...
>
>>...Good writing is always a necessity. I for damn sure don't know how
>>to write a love story.
>
> _So Far_ and _The Space Under The Window_ weren't love stories?

No, they were stories about lovers, which is different and much easier.

Marnie Parker

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Nov 26, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/26/99
to
>Subject: Re: IF Design Issue (longish post)
>From: mcme...@mail1.sas.upenn.edu (Mary J Mcmenomy)
>Date: Tue, 23 November 1999 08:01 PM EST

Been reading this whole thread with interest. Trying to figure out how to save
it all to hard disk (well, how to save it all without tediously repeated
commands).

Anyway, since I tried several methods to incorporate several back stories into
a game, I found your comments especially interesting and agree A LOT can be
done in the ways you outline.

>Both of these have been discussed >before, so I'll move on to my own pet
>issue: the PC as viewpoint character. The >typical narrative voice of IF
>is a little sarcastic and tends to break >character, at least once in a
>while. It says things like "You can't be >serious" and "Real adventurers
>do not use such language." (Not to >mention my all-time Infocom favorite,
>"Talking to yourself is a sign of impending >mental collapse.") Some of
>these things are automatic responses >built into the library. But will a
>PC who has serious issues because he >thinks he's overweight and can't get
>a date respond to ">x me" with "As >good-looking as ever."? Clearly not.

This, specifically, was a very good point. Trouble is, if the author changes
the player to more than one character that would mean completely different
library sections for each different PC. Lots of work.

But you made me think and I am considering it.

Also, I guess I like lists. ;-) Haven't seen you post before (not that I
remember), hope you share thoughts again.

Later, Doe :-)


doea...@aol.com -------------------------------------------------
Kingdom of IF - http://members.aol.com/doepage/intfict.htm
Inform Tips - http://members.aol.com/doepage/infotips.htm
IF Art Gallery - http://members.aol.com/iffyart/gallery.htm


Jesse Burneko

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Nov 26, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/26/99
to
On Thu, 25 Nov 1999, Emily Short wrote:

> What I take it Jesse Burneko means by literature is "a work in which
> emphasis is placed on character, created with some narrative craft." I
> agree that that falls within the potential range of I-F. So I think I do
> agree with you. I am just uncomfortable with the terminology.

What I meant is: When you walk into a book store and you look around you
see shelf's labled Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Romance and Western.
Then you have this shelf Labled Fiction & Literature. I mean everything
on that shelf.

> >There isn't any, that I've seen. And I'm afraid I don't know anyone who could
> >write it and pull it off as nicely either. Maybe it's a 19th century thing.

I want to know how we got stuck in the 19th century. I guess it was
partially my fault for mentioning 2 19th century novels in my original
post. I really had more modern stuff in mind like: Waiting To Exhale, The
Chocolate War, An American Brat. I'm at a loss to list more titles
because admittedly I"m very much a genre reader but have been trying to
break the habit. I DO however, see a lot of films that are based on these
novels which is really where my original ideas started brewing. I've
since then started to pick these books off the shelves and examined their
structure and such.

> >>It's not just a question of getting the player to go along "in order to win";
> >>it's also a question of writing.
> >

> >Absolutely. But the question remains. If we had such a writer in our midst,
> >would the medium support their writing? :)

No, no no. See in the story I"m envisioning there is no "goal" ending.
There are only concequences of actions. Now, I know it's hard for an IF
author not to place subtle emphasis on an ending they prefer but the idea
would be for them to try as hard as possible not to. That's why I was
talking about envisioning a path and then finding places where the path
branches if the player doesn't do what you originally envisioned and then
follow these paths to their conclusions and repeat until you've fleshed
out the whole tree.

Now, the trick is to keep this tree limited in size which is where the
power of a good design comes in. First of all you make sure some paths
bend back in on themselves. Also you CAN limit some choices because you
have a strong well defined central character and their is simply things
they WONT do. This is indeed a lot like the design for a choose your own
adventure but because of the micro details of IF I'm convinced it won't
FEEL like a choose your own adventure. I mean did TAPESTRY feel like a
choose your own adventure when realisticaly there are only three possible
choices that you make up front to how the plot will flow?



> 1) Background (as addressed by Jesse): how do we teach the player enough
> about the PC to make the story work?

Well, actually, I was thinking more about other characters because it's
easy to teach the player about the PC via description wording, default
messages, mental comments etc because the player is essentially inside the
PCs head and has access to his or her thoughts.



> 2) Motivation: how do we involve the player adequately in the experiences of
> the PC to make moral choices seem like important issues? (As opposed to
> means to the puzzle-solving end.)

When you play a role playing game how do you get the characters to play
their characters? This doesn't seem to be an issue since, and maybe I'm
just more into this thing, when I start up a game that seems to have a
well defined central character I work hard to think as much like that
chatacter as possible. But that's just me. And as I said what the
player ultimately does is irrevalvent. Their actions will either be
blocked because of plot constraints or simply cause the story to flow in
another direction. So there is no need to motivate them in one direction
or another.



> 3) Concreteness: how do we implement the problems of the PC in such a way
> that the player can make complex choices without recourse to sophisticated,
> impossible-to-implement conversations or interior monologues?

I argue that conversations are not difficult to implement. They are
tedious to implement but not difficult. Interior monologues, well those
come out to through the PCs actions.

I really think you're still envision some type of "goal" oriented IF.
There is one best ending and we want the player to understand what that
goal is and motivate them to work at making the decisions that will lead
them to the goal and thereby showing off the plot the author originally
constructed. And I'm saying that's not what I'm talking about or
envisioning. There is no correct "goal" ending only consequences of
player actions, within human reason and coding limits, that drive the plot
to a conclusion that follows from those actions.

Jesse Burneko


Emily Short

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Nov 26, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/26/99
to

----------
In article <81l4lt$ge1$1...@nntp2.atl.mindspring.net>, Andrew Plotkin
<erky...@netcom.com> wrote:

>> 1) Background (as addressed by Jesse): how do we teach the player enough
>> about the PC to make the story work?
>

>I, a fairly stereotypical geek, mostly read sci-fi and fantasy. (Which
>some would say are "not literature" by their very definition... heh. And I
>*haven't* read _Jane Eyre_, so pardon my leaping in...)

I don't think this was meant to be a Bronte fest per se. And I think there
are some works of fantasy and SF that are fairly advanced in character
development (Octavia Butler's _Wild Seed_ comes to mind; early Orson Scott
Card; _Doomsday Book_; Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar stuff. Even something
relatively concept-based like _Diamond Age_.)

>Anyway, those
>genres are naturally loaded with techniques and conventions for conveying
>huge amounts of background information quickly. Those seem to carry over
>to IF easily enough -- at least for sci-fi and fantasy games.

Sure -- though I think it's harder to tell the player something about the
PC's own background in a way that will be convincing and not absurdly
expository. ["Your mother stands here. She is a woman of medium height
with flashing brown eyes, but a dowdy taste in dress. Seeing her there
reminds you of the time on your eighth birthday when she tripped bringing in
the cake and landed you with a faceful of chocolate frosting in front of all
your friends. She did her best to make it up to you but that incident was a
by-word on the playground for years."] After all, who thinks these things
about Mom every time she walks in the room?

Also, there's the continuous-prose problem. As a general rule (exceptions
granted to those with especially engaging prose style), I don't like reading
more than five or six lines of room description. If there's a lot to say,
I'd rather have it parcelled out into descriptions of individual objects.



>> 2) Motivation: how do we involve the player adequately in the experiences of
>> the PC to make moral choices seem like important issues? (As opposed to
>> means to the puzzle-solving end.)
>>

>> 3) Concreteness: how do we implement the problems of the PC in such a way
>> that the player can make complex choices without recourse to sophisticated,
>> impossible-to-implement conversations or interior monologues?
>

>I find that those come down to the same problem:

I separated them because one has to do with the internal state of the player
and the other with the externals of her game-playing. But I see your point.

>The rest, at least as I've seen it, is a matter of boiling down complex
>choices to simple, concrete actions. You go north or south; you pick up
>the ornament or smash it with a hammer; you drink the potion or hand it to
>your best friend. If the text leading up to that point has done its job,
>the player knows what the *real* choice was, and all the details involved
>therein.
>
>Your objection, I guess, is that this is still a one-bit choice -- option
>A or option B -- and can't *really* represent a more complex range of
>action.

No, actually, I don't object to that; at any given moment, after all, we're
only doing one thing. And if you want to widen the range of options, you
just provide a third door or a third path (Tapestry).

What I think I-F has a hard time dealing with is the internal choice (a
significant change of character's viewpoint/mode of thought that is not
directly expressed in behavior). Even when that's not the issue, though, I
think it's not always easy to find a way to pare down the options (as you
describe) to a single moment of decision with all the implications clearly
spelled out. But this again becomes more a writing problem than a coding
one.

ES

Emily Short

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Nov 26, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/26/99
to

----------
In article <Pine.GSO.4.10.991126...@aludra.usc.edu>, Jesse
Burneko <jbur...@aludra.usc.edu> wrote:

>> What I take it Jesse Burneko means by literature is "a work in which
>> emphasis is placed on character, created with some narrative craft." I
>> agree that that falls within the potential range of I-F. So I think I do
>> agree with you. I am just uncomfortable with the terminology.
>
>What I meant is: When you walk into a book store and you look around you
>see shelf's labled Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Romance and Western.
>Then you have this shelf Labled Fiction & Literature. I mean everything
>on that shelf.

Oh. Well, as I see it, that's an accident of the publishing industry. Most
of the best books I know don't fit readily into one of those categories;
many books written only for the sake of belonging to a category are, to put
it bluntly, trash. (Before someone flames me: yes, I read trash. I read
romance novels where the only difference from one to another is that one
hero has a rakish scar and the next one possesses the profile of a Greek
god. This stuff is fun. But the creative energy that went into it is
limited.) I think there are a lot of other genre books that qualify as
genuinely excellent writing (I'm especially fond of Elizabeth George
mysteries, for instance) and do not deserve to be looked down upon merely
because they have a certain coloration. There's a kind of built-in
snobbishness in the book industry which I find a bit foolish. I think it
would be a shame if that attitude were transferred to I-F.

>No, no no. See in the story I"m envisioning there is no "goal" ending.
>There are only concequences of actions. Now, I know it's hard for an IF
>author not to place subtle emphasis on an ending they prefer but the idea
>would be for them to try as hard as possible not to. That's why I was
>talking about envisioning a path and then finding places where the path
>branches if the player doesn't do what you originally envisioned and then
>follow these paths to their conclusions and repeat until you've fleshed
>out the whole tree.
>
>Now, the trick is to keep this tree limited in size which is where the
>power of a good design comes in. First of all you make sure some paths
>bend back in on themselves. Also you CAN limit some choices because you
>have a strong well defined central character and their is simply things
>they WONT do. This is indeed a lot like the design for a choose your own
>adventure but because of the micro details of IF I'm convinced it won't
>FEEL like a choose your own adventure. I mean did TAPESTRY feel like a
>choose your own adventure when realisticaly there are only three possible
>choices that you make up front to how the plot will flow?

Um... <very meekly> Yes.



>> 1) Background (as addressed by Jesse): how do we teach the player enough
>> about the PC to make the story work?
>
>Well, actually, I was thinking more about other characters because it's
>easy to teach the player about the PC via description wording, default
>messages, mental comments etc because the player is essentially inside the
>PCs head and has access to his or her thoughts.

Okay. I stand corrected. Still an issue, though.



>> 2) Motivation: how do we involve the player adequately in the experiences of
>> the PC to make moral choices seem like important issues? (As opposed to
>> means to the puzzle-solving end.)
>
>When you play a role playing game how do you get the characters to play
>their characters? This doesn't seem to be an issue since, and maybe I'm
>just more into this thing, when I start up a game that seems to have a
>well defined central character I work hard to think as much like that
>chatacter as possible. But that's just me. And as I said what the
>player ultimately does is irrevalvent. Their actions will either be
>blocked because of plot constraints or simply cause the story to flow in
>another direction. So there is no need to motivate them in one direction
>or another.

I still think that regardless of the shape of the plot possibilities (linear
or tree-like), there is an inherent challenge in making the player care
about the character he's playing. You beg the question by saying "have a
well-defined central character" -- because how do you create this
well-defined character when you don't have free rein over her actions, only
over her experience of them? Is character what a person does, or is it what
he perceives?

>> 3) Concreteness: how do we implement the problems of the PC in such a way
>> that the player can make complex choices without recourse to sophisticated,
>> impossible-to-implement conversations or interior monologues?
>
>I argue that conversations are not difficult to implement. They are
>tedious to implement but not difficult.

Perhaps you have a more elevated model of the NPC than I do. Or do you mean
resorting to things like "Talk to <NPC>", leaving all the dialogue direction
in the hands of the author?

ES

Adam Cadre

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Nov 26, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/26/99
to
Emily Short wrote:
> Is character what a person does, or is it what he perceives?

Was it Jean-Paul Sartre or Dick Van Patten who said "character is
action"?

Matthew T. Russotto

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Nov 26, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/26/99
to
In article <ant251141d07M+4%@gnelson.demon.co.uk>,
Graham Nelson <gra...@gnelson.demon.co.uk> wrote:

}Yes, that's a very fair criticism. It's true that "Jigsaw" is
}quite "closed", and true also that this is intentional for vaguely
}artistic reasons. But pragmatism came into it, too. An earlier
}draft involved puzzles mixed far more freely across different
}regions of the game, with heaps of going backwards and forwards.
}It was intolerably difficult and also rather foolish (like "Curses",
}although I think the whimsy of the latter just about gets away
}with this). The key step in developing "Jigsaw", I now realise,
}was when I decided that objects from one time zone could not be
}taken to another (with certain logical exceptions). Most of
}the feeling of closure stems from this, but it also made the game
}playable rather than defeatingly gigantic.

Isn't the mine^H^H^H^Hword you're avoiding "linear"?

--
Matthew T. Russotto russ...@pond.com
"Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in pursuit
of justice is no virtue."

Emily Short

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Nov 26, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/26/99
to
----------

In article <383E85...@adamcadre.ac>, Adam Cadre <a...@adamcadre.ac> wrote:

>The exception here would be a game with truly equal branching paths
>that never re-converge. Nothing in IF is coming to mind -- someday I
>will finish PANTHEON, someday, someday -- but think of a Choose Your
>Own Adventure book: it's entirely possible that readers could follow
>every path and still disagree as to which is best, depending on their
>tastes.

Right. Precisely.

<aside: this is arguably one thing that an I-F version of _Great
Expectations_ could do better than the book version. But don't expect me to
rush out and write it.>

*****

I was afraid you were going to bring up Varicella, because I knew just
enough about it to suspect that it fit my description of games in which the
protagonist is nasty. I'd been meaning to play it, but hadn't had time. So
when this post came through I went off and started it. I'm not done yet,
but I think I know enough to be able to answer the points you raise. Now I
just have to see if I can articulate something that seems relatively clear
to me, but might come across as grossly inconsistent.

I don't think what follows would count as a spoiler, since what I say is
general enough that one can pick up on it by about the third move into the
game, but just in case...

[Mild VARICELLA spoilers]

There.

I don't think Varicella is a game in which it matters terribly much whether
you-the-player consent morally to the actions of the protagonist. For one
thing, you do a good enough job of outlining from the beginning the
protagonist's view of the world that one is easily drawn in. One can't
really get past the prologue without understanding that, for the duration of
the game, moral considerations are to be set on a shelf to gather dust. So
you effectively carry off the "trick" I mentioned earlier:

>The trick, I guess, is
>to get the player sufficiently into the mindset of the protagonist that, at
>least within the context of the game, the "wrong path" looks acceptable at
>the moment of choice.

For another, the fact that the whole thing is rather, er, unserious in tone
itself creates a certain distance between protagonist and player character.
I don't think this is a *bad* thing; but I do think that whenever you treat
the main character in a humorous vein ["You have walked into a wall! How
unseemly!"] the player is pushed back a little and reminded of just exactly
what is going on -- namely, that he's typing commands into a computer.

Now, lest it seem as though I've just taken back everything that was
arguing before: What it comes down to, I think, is that Varicella is not
*about* a moral choice. It is about fiendish politicking. The development
of the main character as a person is not the key to the game (unless there's
something that's going to happen down the line that is not remotely
adumbrated at this point). So it's amusing.

In stories that turn on the development of the protagonist as a person
(which was the type of story I was originally discussing on this thread --
just to shove my comments back into context) I'm not sure that this would
work the same way. For what it's worth, I think there are fairly few works
of I-F so far that are about this (Tapestry and Muse come to mind), and only
one that I can think of that poses a moral problem that I found involving on
its own terms -- namely, Jigsaw.

[Jigsaw Spoilers]

As I said in an earlier post, it doesn't really bother me that Jigsaw
doesn't leave alternate moral choices open to the player, even though I
think the moral question is a good one. [I know it's purely speculative and
that the laws of Physics prevent anyone from ever actually facing the
dilemma of whether or not to meddle in history -- that doesn't mean it's not
a philosophically knotty point, related in kind to the real-life knotty
point of whether or not one person's abstract principles (in this case,
preserving the course of history) should be allowed to cause real harm to
another person. The struggle of mind and heart, justice and mercy,
integrity and compromise -- it's everywhere. Discard one, and you have
massive debt and a bureaucracy to match; lose the other, and you get
hard-hearted Republicanism. To quote Lord Peter Wimsey, the first thing a
principle does is kill someone.]

Since I first posted on this topic, I've been thinking about why Jigsaw
worked for me, and I came to the conclusion that part of it is that you have
Black to outline the path-not-taken: some of the most effective passages in
Jigsaw (IMHO) are those in which The Androgynous One realizes that playing
God doesn't always work as expected. So maybe Jigsaw is about a moral
choice, but *not* so much about the character development of the main
character. Since it's really a love story -- about the main character *and*
Black -- the evolution of the relationship is richer than the simple
evolution of the protagonist, and it's in the relationship that the moral
question is fought out.

(Of course, it also makes perfect sense that it would have been an
impossible game to play if the decision had been left open to the player.)

>The premise of FUNNY GAMES is that two polite young men break into a
>house and torture and murder a suburban family. That's the whole movie.
>And the killers repeatedly address the camera to tell you the viewer
>that you have chosen of your own free will to witness this pain, that
>you're free to walk out of the theater, that if you're still watching
>then you must consider the suffering of others to be fine entertainment,
>etc.

Twisty. I think I would be very annoyed to have paid money for this.

****

Wow. If I'd realized how addictive and time-consuming keeping up with this
newsgroup was going to be, maybe I wouldn't have started. I am, however,
enjoying myself immensely, so thank you, everyone, for letting me play in
your sandbox...

ES

Marnie Parker

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Nov 27, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/27/99
to
>Subject: Re: IF Design Issue
>From: Jesse Burneko jbur...@aludra.usc.edu
>Date: Fri, 26 November 1999 02:54 PM EST
>Message-id:

>No, no no. See in the story I"m envisioning there is no "goal" ending.
>There are only concequences of actions. Now, I know it's hard for an IF
>author not to place subtle emphasis on an ending they prefer but the idea
>would be for them to try as hard as possible not to. That's why I was
>talking about envisioning a path and then finding places where the path
>branches if the player doesn't do what you originally envisioned and then
>follow these paths to their conclusions and repeat until you've fleshed
>out the whole tree.

I tried that in Visualizing.

s
p
o
i
l
e
r

s
p
a
c
e

My first IF Art Show example.

Basically, there are two choices the player HAS to make if they want to see
most of the piece. The rest are all optional actions, the scoring is based on 1
point for one of two/three possible actions (per point). Actually, the scoring
is optional, but I put fullscore in for people who needed scores. One can play
it and ignore the score because they have to deliberately enter fullscore to
even see it.

It's short, but there are various things to do. And from the little feedback I
have received no one individual found ALL the things to do, some came close and
some only saw parts of it.

Problems: 1.) I had to make it very short, because, it was hard to do it that
way.
2.) Most people don't like that kind of thing.

Without a goal, it's simply not game-like enough for most players.

Which, of course, it why I call it IF Art.

So I wish you lots of luck.

MFischer5

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Nov 27, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/27/99
to
>Sure -- though I think it's harder to tell the player something about the
>PC's own background in a way that will be convincing and not absurdly
>expository. ["Your mother stands here. She is a woman of medium height
>with flashing brown eyes, but a dowdy taste in dress. Seeing her there
>reminds you of the time on your eighth birthday when she tripped bringing
>in the cake and landed you with a faceful of chocolate frosting in front of
>all your friends. She did her best to make it up to you but that incident was
>a by-word on the playground for years."] After all, who thinks these things
>about Mom every time she walks in the room?

You could probably choose a better object attach that latter description to if
it is important to the game. Say, a picture of a child's birthday party
prominatly placed in the room?

Kathleen

Jesse Burneko

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Nov 27, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/27/99
to
On Fri, 26 Nov 1999, Emily Short wrote:

> Oh. Well, as I see it, that's an accident of the publishing industry. Most
> of the best books I know don't fit readily into one of those categories;
> many books written only for the sake of belonging to a category are, to put
> it bluntly, trash.

Well true but that's not always the case. I for one find Stephen King
EXTREAMLY litterary with an intense deapth of character. But you still
find him shelved in the horror section.

> Um... <very meekly> Yes.

Oh... <equally meekly> Uh, okay.



> Is character what a person does, or is it what he perceives?

I envision it as a continual feed back loop. If the author bars an action
then there's an oppurtunity to expose a little bit of the character
because when the player attempts that action a character rich answer as to
why the action isn't allowed comes back. If the author allows the action
the author then has total control over how that action is percieved by the
central character, "When you are done you are shocked and appauld" or
"With a great sense of satisfaction you....." etc.

> Perhaps you have a more elevated model of the NPC than I do. Or do you mean
> resorting to things like "Talk to <NPC>", leaving all the dialogue direction
> in the hands of the author?

Well, I think "Talk to <NPC>" and "ASK/TELL" model are perfectly adequate
for the job depending on what you want to do. If you want to go for
natural language processing than if done right that works to. I guess
because I'm a computer scientist who specializes in artificial
intelligence, I have a pretty good grasp of the capabilities and
limitations of each of the techniques and I find them adequate if they're
used correctly.

Jesse Burneko


Mary J Mcmenomy

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Nov 27, 1999, 3:00:00 AM11/27/99