Re Reasoning agents

0 views
Skip to first unread message

Steven McQuinn

unread,
Feb 11, 1994, 4:17:34 PM2/11/94
to
In article <whittenC...@netcom.com>
whi...@netcom.com (David Whitten) writes:

> Joanne, you seem to be trying to actually write stories rather than games.

This thread raises some issues I've been grappling with in developing
concepts for interactive movie design. Specifically, this game/story
distinction seems to be an obstacle that many title designers are
struggling to overcome.

Myst and 7th Guest/11th Hour use puzzle solutions to unlock narrative
episodes, or scenes, these elements ultimately combining to compel the
solution to the subsuming narrative. The structure is fractal: puzzle
solutions allowing access to the pieces comprising a larger puzzle. All
this strikes me as a sophisticated form of page turning, unless it
allows for the development of a character arc--the basic transformation
of the way a character perceives the world and conducts herself/himself
in that world.

> What I'm envisioning is a list of base characteristics that can be used
> to build up a believable non player character (NPC). Each characteristic
> would make the NPC act in certain predictable ways, and draw conclusions
> based on being that kind of 'person'. For example: if the character is
> a DITCH-DIGGER, you wouldn't expect him to reason using long chains of
> deduction, whereas you would expect a PROFESSOR to do so.

Good fiction writers know how to tease us with apparent stereotypes,
then fool our expectations. I don't know how your approach compares
with Roger Schank's script theory for artificial intelligence, but it
seems to me that many, if not most, surprises in life and literature
result from what I call script-switching: You think you are in one
situation when really you are in an other.

> Some of my goals are to determine the best way of laying out a
> template so that people who are literately creative have the tools to
> create interesting IF without worrying about the kind of low level
> interactions we are discussing here.

I applaud your ambition. My perception of successful fiction, however,
is that "low level interactions" can count for a great deal eventually,
either in their cumulative effect or in their assumption of new
significance. Screen writing templates exist and may even be
computerized by now. Sample the books by Sid Field.

Much more to talk about regarding this issue from the writer's point of
view, and I'm very glad Joanne Omang jumped into the discussion. For
now, I'll drop my simple thoughts into the hopper, with high hopes of
hearing from other writers, title developers and, yes, even
programmers. :) :) !! We need to be talking to each other.

Steven....@m.cc.utah.edu


Phil Goetz

unread,
Feb 12, 1994, 9:57:04 PM2/12/94
to
In article <2jgsle$7...@u.cc.utah.edu> steven....@m.cc.utah.edu (Steven McQuinn) writes:
>All
>this strikes me as a sophisticated form of page turning, unless it
>allows for the development of a character arc--the basic transformation
>of the way a character perceives the world and conducts herself/himself
>in that world.

Part of the "basic plot" you read about in "how-to-write" books is
that the protagonist must change in a deep way by the end of the novel.
In IF, the participant is the protagonist, and isn't going to change.
Ipso facto, IF is without literary merit. QED? Or not QED?
That is the question.

Phil go...@cs.buffalo.edu
See my forthcoming book, "How to Write How to Write Books,"
Purple Prose Publishing, 42 /dev/null/blvd, Sim City CA 90210.

Gerry Kevin Wilson

unread,
Feb 12, 1994, 10:17:54 PM2/12/94
to
Well, you certainly could argue that MOST IF is without literary merit.
Of course, Trinity changed the way I think about nuclear war. It had an
intenseness that reached out and caught my imagination. Also, it is easy
to show how the character's (not player's) view changes in the game simply
through the language you use in your descriptions. So, at first, the enemy
alien he is trapped with is described as:

"The ghastly creature seems to leer at you out of a hundred Star
Patrol recruitment posters. Its beady red eyes squint in your direction.
Looking closer, you see that it is clutching one of its four arms to its
side. Chuckling, you see your chance, it is bleeding from that arm, a
viscious blue liquid."

And later, after the player (somehow) makes friends with it, and
gets to know the alien:

"Ith'qui, your trusted companion, stands at your side. He scans the
night for movement with his heat sensitive eyes, watching for movement. The
scar on his num'ia, or fighting arm, will bring him much honor if he can ever
make it home to his world. Two of his other three arms, the gat'ha and
yi'qua, are used for ceremonial washing, and eating, respectively. His other
arm seems to have some religious importance to it. He never uses it for any
menial purpose, as he does with his others."

Then, if the player discovered that the fourth arm was called a puq'in, used
only to greet family members and loved ones, the description would change
accordingly. I see no reason why such a scheme couldn't actually affect the
player's outlook on things if it was done unobstrusively, and the game was
really good. In any event, it would show how the character has grown and
evolved in his exploits.
--
<~~~~~E~~~G~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~|~~~~~~~>
< V R I O Software. We bring words to life! | ~~\ >
< T | /~\ | >
<_WATCH for Avalon in early '94!____wh...@uclink.berkeley.edu_|_\__/__>

Stephen R. Granade

unread,
Feb 13, 1994, 12:21:47 AM2/13/94
to

In a previous article, go...@cs.buffalo.edu (Phil Goetz) says:

>Part of the "basic plot" you read about in "how-to-write" books is
>that the protagonist must change in a deep way by the end of the novel.
>In IF, the participant is the protagonist, and isn't going to change.
>Ipso facto, IF is without literary merit. QED? Or not QED?

I would say, not QED. The first assumption of your statements is that
the protagonist *must* change. This is not necessarily the case. There
have been many books in which the protagonist stays the same; it is
those around him/her who change.

The second assumption is that the protagonist, being the player, won't
change. What if the player is playing a character (not him/herself) in
the game who does change? And what is to say that the player will
not change any as a result of the game? Granted, saying that "This game
will CHANGE YOUR LIFE!" is a bit of hyperbole, but the possibility of
change, however small, cannot be ruled out.

Finally, I don't agree that literary merit is defined by having the
protagonist change. It is more than that. It is the craft of the
writing, the realization of the characters, the ideas contained within
the framework of the art, &c. And what makes one novel possess "literary
merit" will not hold true to another novel of "literary merit." Why
then should we expect IF to have to hold rigidly to certain rules of
novels to possess literary merit?

Stephen
--
_________________________________________________________________________
| Stephen Granade | "My research proposal involves reconstructing |
| | the Trinity test using tweezers and |
| sgra...@obu.arknet.edu | assistants with very good eyesight." |

J A Stephen Viggiano

unread,
Feb 13, 1994, 1:52:49 PM2/13/94
to
In article <CL56v...@acsu.buffalo.edu> go...@cs.buffalo.edu (Phil Goetz) writes:

>Part of the "basic plot" you read about in "how-to-write" books is
>that the protagonist must change in a deep way by the end of the novel.
>In IF, the participant is the protagonist, and isn't going to change.
>Ipso facto, IF is without literary merit. QED? Or not QED?
>That is the question.

Not true. I've got an empty well house at the beginning of the game, and
I've got a well house filled with goodies at the end. Hence I have changed.
Q.E.D.

Seriously, there is much great literature in which the protagonist is
essentially stagnant. Philip Francis Queeg in Herman Wouk's _Caine_
_Mutiny_ comes to mind. The relief of Queeg comes about because he is
unable to change, in fact.

And to those of you who would argue that Willie Keith is actually the
protagonist, Wouk offers evidence to the contrary. After Willie is made
The Last Captain Of The _Caine_, he moves into Queeg's room. That's
the only way in which he can think of the Captain's cabin. So there. :-b

What change does Howard Roark undergo in Ayn Rand's _Fountainhead_? His
steadfast nature is central to the theme and the plot. Similar characters
are found in heroic literature everywhere; the archtype is perhaps Job
in the Bible.

Having the protagonist undergo a profound change is neither a necessary
nor a sufficient condition for good literature. Proof by counter-example,
Q.E.D.

--
"Whenever the winter winds become too strong. . . ." = Cole Porter
========================================================================
John Viggiano, js...@rc.rit.edu or sjv...@ritvax.isc.rit.edu
NAR 25615 I'm the NAR, and I vote!

Tom O Breton

unread,
Feb 13, 1994, 9:48:03 PM2/13/94
to
go...@cs.buffalo.edu (Phil Goetz) writes:
> Part of the "basic plot" you read about in "how-to-write" books is
> that the protagonist must change in a deep way by the end of the novel.

Yes, I know "how-to-write" books -- which BTW don't teach squat compared
to just sitting down and *writing* for someone or for some purpose --
often say that.

But I say it's just one tool for making a story interesting and should
not be universally reccomended for all things. I for one hate getting
the feeling while reading that the author has "filled in the blank" of
protagonist development so they would "have all the elements". It feels
so manipulative.

> In IF, the participant is the protagonist, and isn't going to change.

Yes and no. What is central to a not-interactive protagonist, and how is
it different than what's central to an IF protagonist?...

For one thing, you can't (or *shouldn't*, as I've argued in the past)
expect to control or even strongly influence an IF protagonist's
choices, personality, and so forth.

OTOH, exactly what the IF protagonist learns about the setting is a
*lot* more important than it is to an not-interactive protagonist.
Plenty of novels end without the protagonist knowing something
important, but an IF game that ends that way has failed.

I would say focus game knowledge for development. For instance, one
could say that the protagonist discovering Adventure's volcano scene is
an equivalent sort of development.

Tom

--
Having finished it's [sic] evil speech, the Tom spreads it's scaly
wings and soars away... (t...@world.std.com, TomB...@delphi.com)

Brian Scearce

unread,
Feb 14, 1994, 3:46:56 PM2/14/94
to
In article <CL56v...@acsu.buffalo.edu> go...@cs.buffalo.edu (Phil Goetz) writes:
> [The] protagonist must change in a deep way by the end of the novel.

> In IF, the participant is the protagonist, and isn't going to change.
> Ipso facto, IF is without literary merit.

There frequently *is* a change in the main character in IF. "You
escape from the island and return to your homeland", "You have deduced
that Sir Jack is impersonating the ghost, and prevent his insincere
marriage to your long-time friend, Tamara".

I'm not sure I understand the argument; if it's interesting to read
about these things in the third person, surely it's no less interesting
to have a hand in their resolution?

--
Brian Scearce b...@sector7g.eng.sun.com
The above does not necessarily represent Sun policy.
It's not Beavis and Butthead's fault that their viewers are as stupid as they are.

Steven McQuinn

unread,
Feb 14, 1994, 5:27:20 PM2/14/94
to
I'm glad to have inserted a thread that seems to weave well in this
newsgroup. Thank you for getting to the essence of my post by retitling
it.

Just a few responses to previous comments:

About Change:

Indeed, the character arc need not be the necessary or exclusive
geometry of the protagonist. There are many ways to portray how
character interaction yields a commentary on change. Imagine a story
where nobody changes, a "Ship of Fools" sinking under the weight of
either collective stupidity or the indifferent Hand of Fate. At the
very least, each doomed soul testifies to an existence lived well or
badly as change overtakes them all. The "literary" value of the story
resides in it's commentary about change and human nature. Could IF
incorporate _change_ into the adventure structure if it looked at the
concept thematically rather than "characteristically?" (That is to say,
if the circumstances of the story/game changed because the characters
themselves could not.)

About Literary Merit:

Geez, I don't care. What I ask from reading a book or viewing a movie
is a riveting experience that bequeaths to me some higher level of
perception afterward. Not being a player of IF disallows me from making
any generalizations about the IF experience. I am coming at the field
from the story end of the spectrum, wondering how advances in the
technology and revisions in my own thinking can combine to create truly
interactive stories which alter the way participants perceive the
world. For example, I would like to develop an interactive fiction as a
text or movie or game which kids could play in order to learn about
conflict resolution.

Literary Merit Score: ??? Social Merit Score: !!! Market Merit Score:
well, we'll see. Anybody want to collaborate?

Steven....@m.cc.utah.edu

Phil Goetz

unread,
Feb 14, 1994, 6:44:17 PM2/14/94
to
In article <2joo00$6...@engnews1.Eng.Sun.COM> b...@sector7g.Eng.Sun.COM (Brian Scearce) writes:
>In article <CL56v...@acsu.buffalo.edu> go...@cs.buffalo.edu (Phil Goetz) writes:
>> [The] protagonist must change in a deep way by the end of the novel.
>> In IF, the participant is the protagonist, and isn't going to change.
>> Ipso facto, IF is without literary merit.
>
>There frequently *is* a change in the main character in IF. "You
>escape from the island and return to your homeland", "You have deduced
>that Sir Jack is impersonating the ghost, and prevent his insincere
>marriage to your long-time friend, Tamara".

That's not a change in character; that's a change in circumstance.

To all those who provided counterexamples:
Certainly there are many varied examples of good literature.
But those whose protagonists' characters change, or come to a realization
which will change their outlook on life, are in the majority.
If I think of a few of my favorite books of fiction, I can group
them into those whose main characters do or do not change:

Do change:
1984
Lord of the Flies
Brave New World
Gateway
On a Pale Horse
The Once and Future King
Watership Down
The Hobbit
The Narnia chronicles
Flowers for Algernon
Of Mice and Men
the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges
Heart of Darkness
Hamlet
King Lear
Macbeth
Fahrenheit 451
Dandelion Wine

Don't:
Flatland
Huckleberry Finn
The Old Man and the Sea
My Dinner with Andre'
The Trial


The heavyweights tend to fall into the "do change" category.
Literary oddities like Flatland, Old Man and the Sea, The Trial,
and My Dinner with Andre' fall into the second.

Note how, in the Narnia chronicles, Lewis introduces a new major
character in every book. This is partly because the change from a
brat to a King or Queen of Narnia or at least a better person
(Edmund, Eustace, Jill, Shasta, Aravis) is a common theme, but
he can do it with each character only once. (Though he could
change them back again, like with Susan.)

Phil

David Baggett

unread,
Feb 15, 1994, 10:58:12 AM2/15/94
to
In article <CL8n9...@acsu.buffalo.edu>,
Phil Goetz <go...@cs.buffalo.edu> wrote:
>
>[Characters] Do change:

>
>the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges

Depends on the story. His typical formula is "here's this totally insane
thing that I'm going to document as though I were a sober researcher." In
this pattern, the narrator's viewpoint doesn't necessarily change at all,
and often there aren't any other characters (just like there aren't
characters in the traditional sense in a passage in an encyclopedia).

>Don't:
>Flatland

Flatland is good literature?! It's a "nice story" and an amusing
concept, but that's about it.

>Huckleberry Finn

This should be a strong "Do" entry; this follows the "romantic quest
pattern" which involves the character learning stuff and then returning to
"society" to tell them said stuff.

>The heavyweights tend to fall into the "do change" category.

Well, yes, but that doesn't (as others have pointed out) make this a check
box to be filled in. Having the protagonist change (e.g., "realize
important things about his situation") is an easy way to give the work an
underlying *theme*. If you can do that another way, fine, but without a
theme, the work is pointless.

Relating this to IF: Adventure, Zork, UU1, UU2, and most other text
adventures have no theme -- they are philosophically pointless exploration
games. The only good example of an IF game with any real point that I can
think of is Trinity, and to me Moriarty tried too hard with Trinity -- it
seems a bit strained at points.

For the IF authors in the crowd: Considering how few *entertaining* IF
games are written these days, I'd say we ought to be more concerned with
writing IF *at all*, much less IF with "literary merit". The easiest way
to never finish something is to try to meet some impalpable standard of
artistic quality. I've noticed that most respected writers' advice to
aspiring authors is to read a lot and write a lot, and not worry about
trying to write like someone else.

Finally, anyone who's interested in seeing the quality of IF improve ought
to take apart existing IF games in reviews. Take a game you've played and
really analyze it, then put your literary and technical findings on the IF
archive for others to read. These newsgroups would be perfect places to
discuss such reviews -- the recent favorable comments about Rylvania and
Curses were a good start, but surely we can go into more depth than "good
game/bad game"... Since theaudience for these games is so small,, feedback
is all the more important.

Dave Baggett
__
d...@ai.mit.edu Boot up, log in, drop out. MIT AI Lab
ADVENTIONS: We make Kuul text adventures! Email for a catalog of releases.
PO Box 851 Columbia, MD 21044 USA / CIS: 76440,2671 / GEnie: ADVENTIONS

Joanne Omang

unread,
Feb 15, 1994, 6:34:04 PM2/15/94
to
In re whether character change is required for an IF or any other F to have
literary merit: yes and no. There is what is called the "plot-driven novel"
where the chief character has adventures and emerges relatively unchanged at
the end, although much around him/her changes--Tom Jones, even something
like Lolita...cf the "character-driven novel" where the protagonist
undergoes transformation: From Here to Eternity, most modern
"literary" fiction. The character arc you speak of is the arc in which we
get to know and understand the character more and more deeply, as much as it
is an arc of change. The depth accrues from the character's reaction to
events and in relation to other people as the story moves; in fiction of
merit we come at the end to see the author's vision of the real world and
what the world requires of human beings who are--in some fundamental,
identifiable way--ourselves, and we recognize the gut-level truth of that
vision. That's good fiction, QED. I don't think "getting to know you" is
beyond IF, or I wouldn't be here. But I don't know enough about the tools
you use to know how it can be done...
Joanne


Eric Moyer

unread,
Feb 19, 1994, 6:45:32 PM2/19/94
to
In article <CL56v...@acsu.buffalo.edu> go...@cs.buffalo.edu (Phil Goetz) writes:
>Part of the "basic plot" you read about in "how-to-write" books is
>that the protagonist must change in a deep way by the end of the novel.
>In IF, the participant is the protagonist, and isn't going to change.
>Ipso facto, IF is without literary merit. QED? Or not QED?
>That is the question.
>
>Phil go...@cs.buffalo.edu

Not QED because one of your premises is incorrect: that the protagonist in a
good book must change meaningfully. In a good book, something has to change
meaningfully (otherwise what did you spend all of those pages/bytes doing?)
But the thing that changes does not need to be the protagonist. Just off
the top of my head, I can think of a book that has some modicum of literary
merit where the whole point is that the prot doesn't change: Thomas
Covenant...Lord Foul's Bane by Steven R. Donaldson.

Also, the change qualification is necessary but not sufficient to make a
good book. If I were to just sit down and dash out a book, giving no
thought to style or to maintaining interest, only to having a meaningful
change occur, my book would be worthless.

Emo...@cs.wright.edu

-------------------------------------==+==-------------------------------------
"A wise man once said nothing" | Emo...@cs.wright.edu
-------------------------------------_|+|_-------------------------------------

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages