Nonlinearity

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Brandon Van Every

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Aug 24, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/24/97
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Howdy folks, my name's Brandon and I just read a host of DejaNews
back-posts on the keywords "nonlinear." (And also "non-linear," just for
pedantry. :-) I noticed a recurring theme in the threads. Generally
speaking, IF works are deemed to have a beginning, a middle, and an end,
and if the middle can be traversed in many different ways, the game is
called "nonlinear." I'd like to offer a perception on this, based on many
years of playing text adventures, graphics adventures, etc.:

If the beginning and end are perceptible, then the game is linear.

What I'm saying is that if you want to walk through the alphabet from A to
Z, and you know about A and you know about Z, then it is really of no
consequence if you do

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
or
AIUKBLVGNMWCTHXYOSFPIQERJDZ

The result is that you've still covered all the letters A..Z. Players are
quite capable of remembering how many sub-problems they've dealt with.
They routinely employ a breadth-searching algorithm, asking themselves "how
many areas have I explored?" "Have I opened up all the doorways, walked
down all the passages?" More abstractly, "have I taken all the branches
yet?" Or more concretely, "have I gotten all the objects/keys yet?" The
archetypical example of this narrative structure was Zork I. Collect the
20 treasures of Zork, then you get to exit the game. So I ask what is the
point of calling such plot devices "nonlinear." Gaining B..Y is all just
an unordered or semi-ordered easter egg hunt, so why should we fool
ourselves into thinking we've achieved more than a moderate tweak of a pure
linear plotline?

Often people say the game is more nonlinear if the middle is "wide." As
the middle gets larger and larger, the illusion of flexibility can become
greater. A complementary way to say this, is that the beginning "A" and
the end "Z" are diminishing in perceptibility relative to the middle. In
the limit as the size of the middle approaches infinity, A and Z are so
vanishingly small as to escape notice. The player is left in a vast morass
of possibilities, wondering what to do with oneself. Having performed this
calculus upon the quantities A and Z, what is the important thing to
observe?

To achieve nonlinearity, there can be no beginning.
To achieve nonlinearity, there can be no end.

This also leaves the question of chained consequences. If A and Z vanish,
then why don't B and Y simply step up to take their place? This suggests
that B..Y can't merely be a reorderable chain of events linking A and Z.
They have to be something else, something with a different topology. As
the region B..Y approaches infinity, the topology B..Y has to leave A and Z
behind as mere vestigial appendages.

I am not sure how many different topologies are possible for this middle
region B..Y, but I'll offer one based upon life experience. Imagine a
large number of locations wherein one could exist. Call them branches,
plot nodes, objects, places on a map, whatever you like. The whole of the
arrangement is in flux, perhaps chaos. But now imagine that a few of the
locations are "stable states." These might represent the various emotions
and watermarks that you've arrived at in your life. Happiness. Feelings
of accomplishment. Ceremonies. Grief. Overwhelming fear. Desire.
Power. Failure. Redemption. Death. Birth. Attach whatever scenery you
want to these so-called "stable states," mark them as you will. The "goal"
of the game, if there can be such, is to find ways to move between these
states. Or perhaps find a state you like, and then stay there for awhile.

Can you formulate your own life as a linear plotline? When I was younger I
used to be able to. There was preschool, then elementary school, then high
school, then college. After that, the progressions started to blur.
Rather than do grad school I decided to study on my own, taking fate into
my own hands. I ran out of money and put my fate back in my parents hands.
Then I went into the working world, and found that my fate was entirely in
my hands. But also, that my motions were heavily chanelled by something
called "the real world," a feeling of wearing and tearing upon one's
personal energies that prevents freedom of movement in just any arbitrary
direction. I am now left wondering at my future, with several irons in the
fire, choosing which ones to push forwards and which ones will lie fallow.
Is it painting? Martial arts? 3D graphics? Music? Writing? Travel?
Money? Sex? Love? Marriage? Children? Divorce? Eternal bachelorhood?
Fame? Obscurity? Debauchery? Timidity? In other places and times it
might have been slightly easier to make these decisions, as society was
often willing to make them for you (and still is.) Cultures all over the
world will narrate one's life as a linear plotline, even if day-to-day
reality is not quite so. How much time do you spend searching for your own
answers? Translating that into physical action in your environment?
Bumping up against the seemingly impassable boundaries of the terrain, and
starting over? Often we come full circle and arrive at where we were
before.

Simply put, get rid of your linear assumptions about what the story is, and
what the goals are, and then you'll have a nonlinear narrative. Call it
"character development." *Your* character development, as you play the
game.

I'd welcome any discussion on the ideas above, or their practical
implementation in IF.


Cheers,
--
Brandon J. Van Every <vane...@blarg.net> DEC Commodity Graphics
http://www.blarg.net/~vanevery Windows NT Alpha OpenGL
------------------------------------------------------------------------
The anvil upon which you hammer another's words is as hard or as soft
as you care to make it. Wherein lies insight?

Magnus Olsson

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Aug 24, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/24/97
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In article <01bcb083$e874bbe0$539f...@hammurabi.blarg.net>,

Brandon Van Every <vane...@blarg.net> wrote:
>Howdy folks, my name's Brandon and I just read a host of DejaNews
>back-posts on the keywords "nonlinear." (And also "non-linear," just for
>pedantry. :-) I noticed a recurring theme in the threads. Generally
>speaking, IF works are deemed to have a beginning, a middle, and an end,
>and if the middle can be traversed in many different ways, the game is
>called "nonlinear." I'd like to offer a perception on this, based on many
>years of playing text adventures, graphics adventures, etc.:
>
> If the beginning and end are perceptible, then the game is linear.

IMAO, what you're offering is not just a "perception", but you're
trying to re-define the term "non-linear" as applied to games. While I
can see your point, and think that the distinction you are making
between what you call "linear" and "non-linear" is important, I think
that re-defining the terminology is a really bad idea, for several
reasons:

1) Re-defining established terminology always leads to
confusion. "Let's see, he was criticizing my game for being too
linear. Did he mean lienar in the old sense, or in Brandon's sense?"

2) The "traditional" distinction between "linear" and "non-linear"
games really is quite important from a game-play point of view. I'll
try to explain why below.

3) From what I understand of your article, "linearity" really isn't a
very good metaphor for what you're aiming at. The terms "linear"
suggests something that looks like a line, and if you draw a decision
graph for a "traditionally linear" game, then it will indeed *look*
linear (essentially, a straight line with little dead-end branches for
all the wrong decisions you can make).


>What I'm saying is that if you want to walk through the alphabet from A to
>Z, and you know about A and you know about Z, then it is really of no
>consequence if you do
>
>ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
>or
>AIUKBLVGNMWCTHXYOSFPIQERJDZ

The point you're misssing is that it's of *great* consequence from the
game-playing, as well as the artistic, point of view whether the game
*forces* you to do things in a certain order or not.

Linear games (in the traditional sense) are easier to write, because
the the author can be sure that when the player gets to scene D, he's
already experienced scenes A, B and C. From this point of view, a
highly non-linear game is like a play where the audience can choose to
see the acts in any order they like. Imagine what "Hamlet" would be
like if the audience had the option of seeing the final scene before
knowing about the ghost?

On the other hand, the player of a linear game (still in the
traditional sense) often feels "trapped" and constrained by being
forced to do things in a certain order. This is especially true if
he's stuck on some problem, say, getting the key to unlock the
wizard's castle. It makes a great difference to the player if he is
stuck at that point, or if he has the choice of going away and
exploring another part of the world while pondering the problem of the
key.

>The result is that you've still covered all the letters A..Z. Players are
>quite capable of remembering how many sub-problems they've dealt with.
>They routinely employ a breadth-searching algorithm, asking themselves "how
>many areas have I explored?" "Have I opened up all the doorways, walked
>down all the passages?" More abstractly, "have I taken all the branches
>yet?" Or more concretely, "have I gotten all the objects/keys yet?"

This, of course, rests on the entirely unwarranted assumption that the
player knows of all the sub-problems beforehand. You seem to be
thinking that in a linear game (again, in the traditional sense), the
player knows the entire plot of the game as soon as it starts, that he
is given, as it were a list of problems B, C, D, ..., Y and is told
that he has to solve them in that order, whereas in a non-linear game
he is given the same list and told that he can solve them in any
order.

Of course, things aren't like that in very many games. In most IF,
linear or non-linear, the player starts out with zero knowledge, and
only gradually learns of the problems he has to solve (or the plot
twists he will go through, in less puzzle-oriented IF). The crucial
difference is that in a linear game, the player is at first handed B,
then, once he's past it, he's handed C, once he's past that he's
handed D, and so on. In a non-linear game, he's perhaps handed B, C, D
and E at a time.

>The
>archetypical example of this narrative structure was Zork I. Collect the
>20 treasures of Zork, then you get to exit the game. So I ask what is the
>point of calling such plot devices "nonlinear." Gaining B..Y is all just
>an unordered or semi-ordered easter egg hunt, so why should we fool
>ourselves into thinking we've achieved more than a moderate tweak of a pure
>linear plotline?

You're taking a bird's eye's view of a piece of IF, viz. the view of
somebody who's already solved it and knows all the problems and plot
twists. This view is appropriate if you're talking about
re-playability (and you are entirely right in that re-playing Zork,
solving the puzzles in a different order, doesn't add very much to the
experience). But it doesn't mean that the difference between linear
and non-linear in the traditional sense isn't important.

>Often people say the game is more nonlinear if the middle is "wide." As
>the middle gets larger and larger, the illusion of flexibility can become
>greater.

In the following you are taking a slightly different tack, arguing for
expanding the possibilities in the "middle" part of the game towards
an infinite array of possibilities. I'll jump right to the conclusion:

>Simply put, get rid of your linear assumptions about what the story is, and
>what the goals are, and then you'll have a nonlinear narrative. Call it
>"character development." *Your* character development, as you play the
>game.

...which seems to be advocating the kind of IF championed by the
"simulationist" school. These ideas have great merit. They also offer
immense practical difficulties of implementation. My own opinion is
that we're talking about a different medium than today's plot-driven
adventure games (where the journey from A to Z is the important
thing). Of course, this medium has just as much a right to be called
"IF" as the Infocom-school of IF has.

I will not try to argue the relative merits of these two media. I
think that both have a right to exist, that both *should* exist, and
that they are sufficiently different that one shouldn't try to fit
them both into the same procrustean bed.

The purpose of this article is simply to counter your position that the
traditional distinction between "linear" and "non-linear" plots within
the medium of plot-driven IF is of no importance, and to argue that
you really should try to find some other terminology to avoid
confusing people.

--
Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se, zeb...@pobox.com)
------ http://www.pobox.com/~zebulon ------
Not officially connected to LU or LTH.

Andrew Plotkin

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Aug 25, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/25/97
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Brandon Van Every (vane...@blarg.net) wrote:
> I noticed a recurring theme in the threads. Generally
> speaking, IF works are deemed to have a beginning, a middle, and an end,
> and if the middle can be traversed in many different ways, the game is
> called "nonlinear." I'd like to offer a perception on this, based on many
> years of playing text adventures, graphics adventures, etc.:

> If the beginning and end are perceptible, then the game is linear.
>
> What I'm saying is that if you want to walk through the alphabet from A to
> Z, and you know about A and you know about Z, then it is really of no
> consequence if you do
>
> ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
> or
> AIUKBLVGNMWCTHXYOSFPIQERJDZ

{"I" twice? :-)}

Mmm. First of all, I agree with what Magnus said: the current meaning of
"linear" is well-known and useful, and not likely to change.

On to your actual point:

There are a couple of ways a story can be nonlinear, while still having a
fixed beginning and end.

One is the trivial one you mention -- a bunch of unrelated events, like
getting the treasures in Zork. Neither the player nor the author really
cares what order they happen in.

However, matters can go a little deeper. There may be different paths of
events that lead to a single conclusion: ABCZ or ABDZ or AEFZ, in your
analogy. These do in fact lead to different stories, even if all the
stories end the same way. The different paths can be *significantly*
different -- in terms of the story, even if not the game mechanics. They
may lend very different implications to the ending, or just leave the
player with different things to think about. I'm thinking of "I-0" here;
there are lots of different ways to "win", and in addition to the
different places you go to and the different people you meet, the
protagonist's character can develop somewhat differently.

Or: The *events* in the plotline may not be the same as the puzzles in the
game. I guess this is my basic objection to your POV; there can be a lot
going on in a game which *is* different depending on how you scramble it
around. It's not just a matter of getting the crystal skull or the
trident first. Where you go along the way can be significant.

> Simply put, get rid of your linear assumptions about what the story is, and
> what the goals are, and then you'll have a nonlinear narrative. Call it
> "character development." *Your* character development, as you play the
> game.

This is one kind of game. I'm generally interested in writing the more
traditional kind -- I have a linear story and I want to tell it. A
"nonlinear story", in the sense that you're using the word, is just
something I've never wanted to create. Well, except for the "Window"
experiment.

Of course, they're not completely separate categories either. I'm
currently working on an idea where there's an overall linear story, which
is also a pretty linear game. However, one particular side matter can
develop and end in a few different ways -- within certain limits,
admittedly. It doesn't affect the denoument of the plot; but players may
find it important anyway.

--Z

--

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

Brandon Van Every

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Aug 26, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/26/97
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Brad O`Donnell <s7...@romulus.sun.csd.unb.ca> wrote in article
<340300...@romulus.sun.csd.unb.ca>...
>
> So, what am I getting at? If you have a game which has events ABC...Z,
where
> A-Z are self-contained and don't heavily reference each other, "A"
happens
> first, "B" through "Y" happen in any order, and then "Z" has to happen,
then
> the game experience will be roughly the same no matter which way you
play it
> through because the *content* of the story remains static.

Yes, this is pretty much what I meant when I said if the endpoints A and Z
are perceptible, the game is linear. The content "feels" the same.
Doesn't really matter if it's been stirred up a lot.

One condition you imposed above, is that A..Z are "self-contained and don't
heavily reference each other." I was thinking about this problem in
relation to the 6! (factorial) example I mentioned earlier. What if
instead of viewing IF development as the exhaustive construction of
elements A..F, you view it as the exhaustive construction of relationships
between the elements A..F? i.e. instead of saying "my game is done" when
I've built:

A B C D E F

I say "my game is done" when I've built:

A-->B A-->C A-->D A-->E A-->F
B-->A B-->C B-->D B-->E B-->F
C-->A C-->B C-->D C-->E C-->F
D-->A D-->B D-->C D-->E D-->F
E-->A E-->B E-->C E-->D E-->F
F-->A F-->B F-->C F-->D F-->E

Now clearly, one thing you immediately notice is that there's a lot more
work to do. n*(n-1) more work to do, in fact. If all the relationships
are constructed by manual means, then one will certainly get out only what
one puts in. I wonder if there's any automatic way to author interesting
relationships? They don't all have to be interesting... you could generate
a somewhat larger grid by automatic methods, then manually insert some
interesting places in the grid. The quality of the effect will depend on
how "sparse" your good stuff is, and there's a balance to be struck here.
Scrolling map adventure games are usually "sparse" universes of this sort,
and the effect is often not interesting.

It is also not necessary to stop at relations between 2 elements. One
could do relations between 3 elements, in order to increase the game's
apparent depth. Who knows, maybe if the whole game is an interlocking grid
of 3 elements, it will appear to be "continuous" or "nonlinear?" Let's
assume you don't want any "local loops" in your game, i.e. a single
relational element leads to a diferent relational element, you can't get
stuck in one element "chasing your tail." (You could still chase your tail
across multiple elements.) You'd call your game "done" when you'd written:

A-->B-->C A-->B-->D A-->B-->E A-->B-->F
A-->C-->B A-->C-->D A-->C-->E A-->D-->F
A-->D-->B A-->D-->C A-->D-->E A-->D-->F
A-->E-->B A-->E-->C A-->E-->D A-->D-->F
A-->F-->B A-->F-->C A-->F-->D A-->F-->E

[and etc. for B, C, D, E, F]

Once again a lot more work, n*(n-1)*(n-2) more work to be precise.

> A game which has dynamic content, where options and paths get shut off
or
> opened based on player action (or inaction!) comes much closer to what I

> think of when I hear "nonlinear game." The content of both kinds of
game
> (open-middled and switching-station-middled) is usually organized
> somehow.

I tend to think of "static vs. dynamic content" in the same way as a
programmer thinks about "static vs. dynamic binding." Static binding
occurs at compile time, dynamic binding at runtime. Static means you can't
put anything "new" into the system, whereas with a dynamic system you can.
A switching-station game is a static construct, as the switches have all
been decided previously. If there are a sufficiently large number of
switches, then the game might give the *illusion* of dynamic content, as
the search space of the game might (might!) be larger than a player will
traverse in practice. My A-->B and A-->B-->C constructions above are an
example of this. But it's not really "dynamic" unless it's an open-ended
system. In the MUD and RPG universes, dynamic systems often exist because
the world has an "administrator" or "Dungeon Master" who can continuously
add unanticipated elements to the game. Lacking continuous human guidance
at runtime, IF is a little more hobbled. I think it may be possible to
construct a truly dynamic, open-ended system in IF, otherwise I wouldn't be
posting about this stuff. But I am not sure yet of the mechanism, let
alone whether the mechanism can produce something interesting to
experience.

Although, IF *is* guided at runtime by the player, so maybe there are
options to exploit here?

> *Here's the part that explains why things are done the way they are:*
>
> The closer you get to the extreme of non-linearity, the harder it is to

> organize the parts of the story into a coherent whole which conveys some

> intent of the author. (Nethack, for example, is very close to
non-linear,
> but few can tell you that playing it represented a story being built up
> around them, and even they admit that the story isn't a very deep one.)

I am wondering if systematic use of A-->B or A-->B-->C plot elements, as I
described above, would overcome this limitation. However, it certainly
comes at the expense of a lot of work. Nethack is more of a coordinate
system than a relational system, you make progress in the game by advancing
along various axes of wealth and power. Which is why the "story" is so
shallow.

> In the end, like always (*sigh*) we are left with a lot more questions

> than answers:
> Is there a way to organize events dynamically, so that
> different coherent wholes can be laced throughout a free-form work?

Don't know about dynamically. Statically, yes, you could always do A-->B,
A-->B-->C,
even A-->B-->C-->D interweaves as above.

> Can a game (or any story, really) be made so that every new event
> is completely derived from the consequences of all previous events?

Derived, I don't know, that's the "dynamic mechanism" question again. If
done statically (i.e. manually) it would take
n*(n-1)*(n-2)*(n-3)*..*(3)*(2)*(1) relational elements, i.e. n! relations.
You'd have to code every single plot permutation by hand. 6! = 720 and
that's a lot of work!

> Or should we just try to make the cohesive parts as "good" as possible,
> to help ensure a better experience under a traditional framework?

This isn't a mutually exclusive question, it's the "sparse grid" question.
How much manually done stuff needs to be in the sparse grid, for the grid
not to feel "sparse?"

> I doubt there are any quick answers to these questions. Linear or
> not, stories only have as much content as the author puts in them.

Well, is this really true in the abstract? For example, in painting I
usually don't paint every single detail. I allow the complexity of the
brushstrokes to create extra detail, thereby generating "The Painter's
Illusion." Recombinative systems and dynamic systems are the IF equivalent
of using the detail inherent in a brushstrokes. The question is how to
make good brushstrokes, and not make your canvas look like something you
cleaned your brush on!

Terence Fergusson

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Aug 26, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/26/97
to

In article <01bcb24c$bd7ee580$2e9f...@hammurabi.blarg.net>, Brandon Van
Every <vane...@blarg.net> scribed:

>
>
>Brad O`Donnell <s7...@romulus.sun.csd.unb.ca> wrote in article
><340300...@romulus.sun.csd.unb.ca>...
>>
>> So, what am I getting at? If you have a game which has events ABC...Z,
>where
>> A-Z are self-contained and don't heavily reference each other, "A"
>happens
>> first, "B" through "Y" happen in any order, and then "Z" has to happen,
>then
>> the game experience will be roughly the same no matter which way you
>play it
>> through because the *content* of the story remains static.
>
>Yes, this is pretty much what I meant when I said if the endpoints A and Z
>are perceptible, the game is linear. The content "feels" the same.
>Doesn't really matter if it's been stirred up a lot.

Hmmm... I'm tempted to rush back and look at Magnus' post, for his
definition of linear and non-linear.

Linear, as he said, is something based on a line. Non-linear, is not.
It's like 2D vs 3D.

Whether a game has a defined beginning and a defined end doesn't matter.
In fact, if we start getting pedantic about this, in even the simplest
piece of IF, there is no single end (unless we're subscribing to the
Lucasarts strategy). For instance, there is almost always at least two
endings; You win, or You die. True, the latter isn't a particularly
good ending, but it's an ending nonetheless.

Back to linear and non-linear; let's think of a flowchart. This
flowchart is a game tree of all the problems you can tackle at any stage
of the game. For instance, the game "Pick up the Phone Booth and Die!"
would have this tree:

Start --> Phone Booth Puzzle -> End
\
--> Die

It's not hard to say that this is a linear game, despite the fact it
only has one "puzzle".

Let's start citing some well known examples, shall we? Those who fear
spoilers should start looking away now.

Anyway, games that are merely a "collect all treasures then exit" are by
definition non-linear. That is because you should be able to tackle
getting all the treasures individually; sort of like ten different
quests for ten different objects. You might argue that that is just ten
parallel paths you travel down, with no relation to each other.

If we take Zork for an example, we can quickly see it's not ten or
twenty parallel paths. Many objects you find while getting closer to
one treasure are essential for finding another. To pick an example at
random: the jewelled egg you find cannot be opened by you. However,
when searching for the treasure in the thief's lair, you will
undoubtedly come across the thief, who is the only person in the game
who can open the blasted thing. Another better example: the sceptre
you find when you discover the coffin is the only way to cause the
rainbow to appear, where you'll find the pot of gold (IIRC). The whole
thing is an entire web of interconnected puzzles and events, but in the
end, they all lead to one definite end to the game. Using the A-Z
analogy, a Zork-like web might look like this:


->B--->E--->H-
/ \ \
A --->C--->F--->I--->J--->Z
\ /
->D--->G-

True, there is a start and a finish, but it can hardly be said to fit on
a 2-dimensional line, can it?

Now, for an example of what you were talking about parallel quests,
perhaps you meant something like "Nord and Burt Couldn't Make Head Nor
Tail Of It". This had many different quests that you accessed from a
main menu (but no beginning mind; you were dumped straight into the
midgame). None of the quests related to each other; you were placed at
the start with a predetermined set of objects for each section,
including the endgame once you'd completed all the rest. That was a
classic example of parallel linearity.

But for a truely linear game, I would perhaps suggest something like
"Journey". Yes, it was IF. But once you missed a branch in the game
tree, you couldn't go back to it. It was like one of those "Fighting
Fantasy" or "Create Your Own Adventure" books, or even the "Lone Wolf"
books to a lesser extent.

Or perhaps "Border Zone" gets that accolade. Not only were there three
distinct sections with no relation to each other, each section had a
strict time limit, forcing you to do things in a certain order to even
have a chance of winning. If you deviated once from that path, you
stood an unnnaturally high risk of completely messing up your chances of
completing that section.

I think "Trinity" should get a mention for an illusion of non-linearity.
It seems non-linear enough at the start; you have the option (once you
figure it out) to enter six or seven different sections, with the Omega
door being the last. But the unfortunate thing was that if you entered
certain doors without being properly prepared, you were dead. If you
entered them in the wrong order, you were dead. The way the sections
were laid out were highly linear, in my opinion.

Perhaps the most non-linear game I've ever played is "Curses". You
slowly expanded the map you could explore through solving various
puzzles that you could come to in almost any order. Once you figured
out the secret command to teleport between places, you realise that any
hint of linearity you had while trying to figure out which sub-sections
(the projector) to tackle in which order begins to disappear.

So what has all this got to do with anything? Well, perhaps the
definitions of linear and non-linear had to be made clear. Well, at
least clear as they are to me. I don't know if you'd agree with what
I've just written.

If any of you have ever played "Curses" through more than once, you'll
know what I mean. The content may be the same, but approach it in a
slightly different order, and you'll feel a world of difference.
Someone playing "Curses" for the first time would discover plot
relevations at different times should they play it in a different way,
which is perhaps why I'd say "Curses" is the most non-linear piece of IF
I've played.

Also, would anyone like to comment on the Ultima series? Particularly,
let's say, "Ultima 7 : The Black Gate" vs. "Ultima 7 : The Serpent
Isle"? "The Black Gate" has all manner of subquests, and non-linearity,
while "The Serpent Isle" restricts your movement, and seems highly
linear. Comments?

Lastly, someone mentioned "Nethack". Perhaps some of you'd like to play
through it a little. While the plot is rigid and structured (not
counting the variations if you play different characters, because then
we delve back into parallel linearity....), the actual game can be
tackled in innumerous ways. This option isn't available to us in most
text IF, and because text IF are closer to stories than anything else,
we probably wouldn't even want this option.

So, what is it that I'm trying to say? Perhaps that "Curses" is a very
good example of non-linearity (IMO), and that should be a good place as
any to start.

That said, I enjoyed "Jigsaw", and that isn't nearly as non-linear as
"Curses"....

Ciao,
Terence Fergusson
-- Student of Advanced Murphodynamics

Terence Fergusson

unread,
Aug 27, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/27/97
to

In article <01bcb2ba$79259aa0$8b9f...@hammurabi.blarg.net>, Brandon Van
Every <vane...@blarg.net> scribed:
>
>
>Terence Fergusson <t...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk> wrote in article
><Rc4iJGAY...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk>...

<Lots of snipping to cut down on bandwith>

>> Lastly, someone mentioned "Nethack". Perhaps some of you'd like to play
>> through it a little. While the plot is rigid and structured (not
>> counting the variations if you play different characters, because then
>> we delve back into parallel linearity....), the actual game can be
>> tackled in innumerous ways. This option isn't available to us in most
>> text IF, and because text IF are closer to stories than anything else,
>> we probably wouldn't even want this option.
>

>How many of those "innumerable" ways feel qualitatively different? If I
>kill something with a +5 sword or a Wand of Fireballs, the net effect is
>still force expended against a hit point target. To me, Nethack devolves
>into collecting various forms of weaponry to slay things. Psychologically,
>that's a pretty linear plot: KILL.

Interesting. I think I'll start this off by asking you what you feel
would make a non-linear game. So far, we've managed to dismiss multiple
beginnings and ends as parallel quests that the player will never see in
a single game.

I'm also interested in your point about micro versus macro linearity. I
wholly agree with this point. I think this is probably where much of
the discussion we've had up to this point lies.

The question is, how macro would you like it? Obviously with any game,
an extremest view would have every game as a linear experience:

You start the game, you play through the game, you win the game.

This cannot, as far as I know, be changed, since a beginning is
necessary to ease the player into the fiction, so that they know a
little about the background of the world they're in, and what their
first basic goal is. And an ending is required so that they extract
some measure of satisfaction after completing it, and not feel that
there were any loose ends hanging around.

If you start looking at this macroscopic view into more detail, then you
start coming across multiple paths, and possible interconnectivity, etc.
It's all a case of scope.

<pause>

Okay, now that I've read back to the first post, and reminded myself
about what you were proposing as non-linearity, I'll try and refer back
to that.

I think the next case is that IF is a game. Suppose, hypothetically, a
piece of IF was created where we just had a day in the life of some
normal Joe. We'll call it... "Little Computer People". (Actually, we
won't, but I couldn't resist that... ^_^)

The fact is, is that most people's real life is extremely and utterly
boring. Why? Our life may not seem boring to us, but it is. At least,
to other people. And why is that? Because our lives are mostly similar
to each others. Macroscopically, that is. Most of us will receive an
education, a large majority of us will seek employment, perhaps gain
employment, retire, etc. We have families, interaction with said
families, quarrels, arguments, reunions, etc. In other words, what this
hypothetical game has, is something that any person has to deal with all
day long anyway.

Of course, the imaginary game I've just described might not be what
you're postulating. The thing is, almost every book, game, etc; has at
least some purpose to them. There's always some excitement, underlying
tension, or something, that separates it from mundane everyday lives.

I think the challenge would be present this "character development",
while still making an enjoyable game. Unless we're not talking about
games. And if we're not, then why bother with IF, when we have the best
non-linear adventure available to us for free: real life. (And before
you say anything, yes, I know life isn't free. But I'm making a point
here ^_^)

Here's an interesting concept to add to this idea. The "save" slot.
Real life doesn't have saves. I wish it did. We know that when we make
a choice in real life, there is no way we can go back and see what would
happen if we did something else. Does this mean real life is just a
mixture of parallel quests? And would the inclusion of a "save"
facility detract from that? An idea at any rate.

Well, that's all I can think of at the moment.

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Aug 28, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/28/97
to

Brandon Van Every (vane...@blarg.net) wrote:
> > > But if Seattle and Portland
> > > are perceptibly relevant to the journey, then what you've really got is
> > > eight different stories about going from Seattle to Portland.
> >
> > Why? They're already related in one way, their endpoints, which leads the
> > player to view them as an artistic whole.

> I see no necessity in this. It's a possibility, not a necessity.

Ok, but it still disproves "what you've really got is eight different
stories." You could, or you could have one story, or lots of other
possibilities.

> > They may share midpoints too.
> > And then they may share themes, or *contrast* themes, or any number of
> > other possible relations. That kind of overall structure is what IF makes
> > *possible* that static fiction can't do.

> Much as you argued merely that "some such stories exist," I would say that
> well-integrated stories such as you describe are possible, but in practice
> not often achieved.

Nothing really worthwhile is *often* achieved. :)

> This leads me to inquire about the structural
> weaknesses of such stories. I would claim that the orientation of
> "proceeding from start to finish" is the major weakness, and a lot of
> scrambling of middle sections doesn't usually alleviate the structural
> tendency towards (boring) linearity.

> > > Let's say the game is 6!, ranging over A to F. If you can begin on any
> > > of
> > > A..F, and end anywhere that you didn't start, does that make the game
> > > "nonlinear?"
> >
> > I'd say so, yes.

> ...because?

Because if I called it "nonphlegmatic", "oily", or "epicene", people
would be even more confused?

> > > If you can begin on any A..F, and end on any A..F, then does not the
> game
> > > become an infinite loop? It would seem so if A..F are distinct,
> > > self-contained states.
> >
> > Doesn't seem that way to me. In fact I think you're confusing an *event*,
> > a particular thing that can happen, with the game's *state*, which
> > includes all the history that's happened up to the current event.

> The notion of "state" in programmatic terms does not necessarily, or even
> often, refer to the complete history of a program. Rather, it usually
> refers to the current state.

The program is programmatic, but the game, or story -- the ultimate
effect on the player -- is in the player's head, and that's the real
goal here. (For me.) If the player read two chunks of text in two
different orders, that's a different state for the player, even if the
program's current state doesn't encode that bit of information at all.

> Now that I've amplified my own use of the term "state," what would you say
> about my original question?

If you can really go from any program state to any other program state,
then yes, the program can be moved in an infinite loop. But this was never
what I meant. If I had six plot events, and I wanted the player to be able
to move from one to anoter in any order, I would certainly have six flags
to say whether each event had *occurred*. The protagonist can't do the
same thing twice. When all six events have occurred, the game is over, by
whatever means.

So in programmatic terms, there are lots of states here -- 2^6 final
states, and lots of intermediate states with some of the events undone.
But that's the least interesting analysis. The question is, what
difference does it make to the *story* that the events occurred in a
particular order. This may involve 2^6 game-over messages, or just one,
if the effect is all in the player's head; or a block of text with six
small changes controlled by some flags. Or something.

Analyzing IF as a program is not, I have found, useful. The possibilities
aren't limited by the nature of programming.

In another post, for example, you said something like "a game is a
directed graph because the underlying program is a directed graph" --
forgive me if I paraphrased inaccurately -- if I got it right, I say bosh.
We write the programs any damn way we want. You might as well say that
the underlying program is made of binary bits, and therefore every plot
point facing the player must be a black-or-white moral decision.

> > Small variations in text can produce quite a large change in impact.

> But again they don't have to, and the bulk of games I've seen have no
> appreciable effect in this regard. So this begs a few questions: (1) what
> textual devices are useful for imparting "global" or "long-term" changes in
> the perception of a game's history, (2) why do so many games not exhibit
> this kind of sophistication? For the latter, I think some of the reasons
> are structural.

I think more of the reasons are lack of experience in the authors,
which is why I keep experimenting.

Brad O`Donnell

unread,
Aug 28, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/28/97
to Brandon Van Every

Brandon Van Every wrote:

> What if
> instead of viewing IF development as the exhaustive construction of
> elements A..F, you view it as the exhaustive construction of relationships
> between the elements A..F? i.e. instead of saying "my game is done" when
> I've built:
>
> A B C D E F
>
> I say "my game is done" when I've built:
>
> A-->B A-->C A-->D A-->E A-->F
> B-->A B-->C B-->D B-->E B-->F
> C-->A C-->B C-->D C-->E C-->F
> D-->A D-->B D-->C D-->E D-->F
> E-->A E-->B E-->C E-->D E-->F
> F-->A F-->B F-->C F-->D F-->E


The first thing is that forming this kind of relationship
grid is not only common, but necessary. This is very
similar to what you have to do to match verbs up with the
objects in the game:


LookAT --> A LookAt --> B
Eat --> A Eat --> B

... so on and so forth. The
main frustration with this kind of grid is that for a large
percentage of the relationships, no intuitive or sensible
content exists! You can't LookAt the "Tune" object, all
you can really do is listen to it or play it.

Oh, sure, you can provide responses, and even wholesale
actions and story-based consequences from every combination
of noun and verb, but then the question becomes one of whether
or not adding a particular relationship will help or hurt the
game. If you make (to use a canonical example) "SCRAPE PARROT"
a relationship which has great consequences, you're going to
hear howls of protest from your beta-testers.

So then we're left with the question "Can we make each
relation meaningful, but rather one of "Should we?"

> I wonder if there's any automatic way to author interesting
> relationships?

Short answer: No. Long Answer: Yes, with a huge pile of "If"s.
(Maybe some other time..Not in this post, anyway)



> They don't all have to be interesting... you could generate
> a somewhat larger grid by automatic methods, then manually insert some
> interesting places in the grid. The quality of the effect will depend on
> how "sparse" your good stuff is, and there's a balance to be struck here.
> Scrolling map adventure games are usually "sparse" universes of this sort,
> and the effect is often not interesting.

I agree that there's a balance to be struck, in fact there's
a whole big yin-yang thing going on:

In a map game (we'll use Nethack again) a room with nothing in
it is "boring". But it might be useful, if the player is looking
for a place to heal up, eat, or do any of the other number of
things that the player needs to be secure and relaxed to do.

A room packed to the gills with bad-guys (say, David's treasure
Zoo) is "interesting" in that there is a lot of content, but the
danger (and tedium) involved in making use of the content can
make it frustrating and overwhelming.

Same thing in IF: if nothing you do, except that which advances
the plot, works, then the game is "sparse" or "boring".
But if there is a story-changing result behind every action,
the player becomes paranoid, and restricts himself.

The sparse parts give the player room to breathe, and are just
as integral to the work as the dense parts.


>
> It is also not necessary to stop at relations between 2 elements.

<snip about how to set-up three-element table>


> You'd call your game "done" when you'd written:
>
> A-->B-->C A-->B-->D A-->B-->E A-->B-->F
> A-->C-->B A-->C-->D A-->C-->E A-->D-->F
> A-->D-->B A-->D-->C A-->D-->E A-->D-->F
> A-->E-->B A-->E-->C A-->E-->D A-->D-->F
> A-->F-->B A-->F-->C A-->F-->D A-->F-->E
>
> [and etc. for B, C, D, E, F]
>
> Once again a lot more work, n*(n-1)*(n-2) more work to be precise.
>

This is somewhat analogous to what we already face when
working with verbs like PutOn, etc. Strangely enough, even
though the possibilities expand like a nuke, the places where
the relationships are valid is reduced at the same time.
( SCRAPE PARROT ON TABLE produces roughly the same effect as
SCRAPE PARROT ON DRESSER. To make one significantly different
from another would set off the howling beta-testers again. )


> I tend to think of "static vs. dynamic content" in the same way as a
> programmer thinks about "static vs. dynamic binding." Static binding
> occurs at compile time, dynamic binding at runtime. Static means you can't
> put anything "new" into the system, whereas with a dynamic system you can.

Ah... well, you can never put anything new into the system,
because all of these systems are finite. For example, I have
seen the entire content of Nethack: the source code is available.
That doesn't mean that it makes sense when seen as a whole, or
that it even should, but it is just an example of how even some
thing as dynamic as Nethack is simply the constant randomized
juxtaposition (Ahh..love that word!) of a finite set of elements.
I have not seen every permutation of those elements, but I laugh
at the funny bits just the same.

You can't put anything new into the system because there is
nothing new to put in. Authors are not creating a new reality,
but instead telling other people how they see reality, whether
it is the reality of life on the streets, a "what if" reality,
or whatever.

The analogy extends to programming in general: I used to be
against the idea of using a freeware graphics library, because
the author generally wants a little credit on the final product,
and that could lead to legal hassles down the road. Then, I
was thinking one day and realized that all programming is
rearranging little bits and pieces of other people's work into
a larger work. Even assembly language is like this.

In short, a system can't add relations dynamically because it
would have to contain elements at a later point that it didn't
have earlier. No finite system can do this.

Have I beaten this horse long enough? Probably. I apologize for
being so long-winded, but I just learned how to touch-type, and
that makes it easier. On to other things...


> A switching-station game is a static construct, as the switches have all
> been decided previously. If there are a sufficiently large number of
> switches, then the game might give the *illusion* of dynamic content, as
> the search space of the game might (might!) be larger than a player will
> traverse in practice.

This is why I like switching-station games such as I-0. (Have
you played I-0? It's lots of fun.) All we can ever hope for is
the illusion of dynamic content. If we're skillful in our
implementation of this illusion, maybe the player will go through
the game a couple of times, instead of using INFODUMP to find out
what he's missed.


> But it's not really "dynamic" unless it's an open-ended
> system.

Imagine a *really* open-ended system, where you start off with the
Big-bang.

BANG!
> WAIT 30 billion years.
You are born.
.....
You have died.
>wait 3000 years
You are now dust molecules floating above the earth.
>VIBRATE
...

Truly open-ended systems are not necessarily desirable, although I
can see how a game that you could play for months on end, constantly
discovering new things about your environment, might be desirable,
if not actually possible.

> I think it may be possible to
> construct a truly dynamic, open-ended system in IF, otherwise I wouldn't be
> posting about this stuff. But I am not sure yet of the mechanism, let
> alone whether the mechanism can produce something interesting to
> experience.

See above :)

>
> Although, IF *is* guided at runtime by the player, so maybe there are
> options to exploit here?

I figure that option, is already being exploited, although I don't
know how fully.


<snip>

> > Or should we just try to make the cohesive parts as "good" as possible,
> > to help ensure a better experience under a traditional framework?
>
> This isn't a mutually exclusive question, it's the "sparse grid" question.
> How much manually done stuff needs to be in the sparse grid, for the grid
> not to feel "sparse?"

I think the answer is: Less stuff than you would think, but
more than you would like.


>
> > I doubt there are any quick answers to these questions. Linear or
> > not, stories only have as much content as the author puts in them.
>
> Well, is this really true in the abstract?

Umm...no...but..er...
*Ahem*
Yes, it is the audience who injects a work with their own
personal meanings, but the content of the work remains the
same.

> For example, in painting I
> usually don't paint every single detail. I allow the complexity of the
> brushstrokes to create extra detail, thereby generating "The Painter's
> Illusion."
> Recombinative systems and dynamic systems are the IF equivalent
> of using the detail inherent in a brushstrokes. The question is how to
> make good brushstrokes, and not make your canvas look like something you
> cleaned your brush on!

This is what MacLuhanists and Sequential Artists call "closure".
The essence of closure is that the human mind wants to see
familiar relations among parts of a work, and in many cases can't
help but see a coherent whole where none really exists. The mind
fills in the details.

I think that applying the ideas of closure to IF can be beneficial.
In fact, some progress has already been made: we've been calling it
"Creating the illusion of nonlinearity"

*sigh* I've got tons more I'd like to say on these subjects, but
I've run out of steam. For now though, I'll leave you with a
couple of cryptic questions to think about:

When you're making an abstraction, (such as an IF) how do you know
what to leave out?

Whose story are you telling in an IF, anyway?

--
Brad O'Donnell
"A story is a string of moments, held together by memory."

Terence Fergusson

unread,
Aug 28, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/28/97
to

In article <87pvr0j...@razumovsky.thecia.net>, Dan Schmidt
<df...@thecia.net> scribed:

>Terence Fergusson <t...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk> writes:
>
>| Also, would anyone like to comment on the Ultima series? Particularly,
>| let's say, "Ultima 7 : The Black Gate" vs. "Ultima 7 : The Serpent
>| Isle"? "The Black Gate" has all manner of subquests, and non-linearity,
>| while "The Serpent Isle" restricts your movement, and seems highly
>| linear. Comments?
>
>I wrote a good deal of Ultima Underworld, which is not one of the above
>two games but is fairly similar in many ways, being an Ultima. For
>example, here are eight subquests corresponding to the eight virtues,
>etc. Sometimes the quests depend on each other a bit (e.g., you can't
>get to part 2 of quest B until you've gotten to part 3 of quest D). But
>there are usually a fair number of things you can do at once. Then, at
>the end, it all gets pretty linear again - in fact, I don't think the
>last two levels succeeded that well. RPG's do have the nice (sometimes)
>property of also having the "gain experience and items" quest, which can
>run in parallel with all the others but subtly interacts with them.

I've always admired Squaresoft for their Final Fantasy series in this
respect. All the time you play the game, you're accumulating skills,
spells, and levels. If you really want to go at it, you can always get
up to Lvl.99 and wipe out (most of) the opposition. And some of their
games even have a replay feature. This works because you usually only
get one set of the best weapons and armour, and also has a humour value
as you set your kick-ass characters through the early stages of the game
^_^

>One of the interesting things about Underworld is that it was a
>dungeon game, so there was (physical) level 1, level 2, etc. We
>specifically tried to avoid making the player clear out a level at a
>time, but people were so used to playing that way (from games like
>Wizardry) that they would refuse to go down a level until they had
>cleared the current one out. There was a monster on level 2 that
>was almost impossible to kill when you first found it, which delayed
>some people from going to level 3 for weeks...

I know the feeling. In fact, I frequently try to map all the levels in
Underworld (I and II) before I go on to the next. I suspect it's to
make sure you don't miss things; I've bypassed something in a few games
before only to forget about it later when I'm far ahead.

>We were actually very influenced by the Infocom games, and had to dumb
>down a lot of puzzles because they were puzzles, and Warren Spector
>(our producer) pointed out that in an Ultima, the player is always
>told explicitly what to do; they're not supposed to have to infer
>anything themselves. Grrr.

Aw.... But it still seems like you slipped a few in. The Frog Puzzle
is nice, as is the quick elevator puzzle in Level 1 of UU1.

>I played around two thirds of Ultima 7, and remember feeling that it
>was always pretty obvious what I had to do next, but I imagine the
>game was actually designed less linearly than that.

But then there were all the subquests you could discover just by walking
around and talking to people. That was very enjoyable.

>Serpent Isle was a monstrosity; even Warren (the producer of that game
>too) agrees.
>
>For what it's worth, my favorite "Ultima" was Savage Empire. I would
>have been happy to see Origin churn out a few more games for the
>"U6-machine."

Never played Savage Empire, so I can't comment on that. But I'm still
gonna buy Ultima 9 if I have the money, when it comes out. Any news on
that? ^_^

Oh, and what do the people at Origin think of the Squaresoft games? I
read an article about Squaresoft that commented on the different playing
styles of Japanese and American gamers, and why they were sometimes
loath to translate their games. One difference they said were that the
Japanese enjoyed an episodic feel to the game; they could go and
complete unrelated subquests that have nothing to do with the main
quest, and they like that. Squaresoft seemed to think that Americans
would take one look at this type of subquest and think "What was the
point of that. I'm no further on in the game, so why did I waste my
time doing all this...."

However, I think Ultima 7 has enough examples (can't comment on earlier
Ultimas, except Ultima 6 which also had a large number of little
subquests you could do; and Ultima 8, which was pretty much
straightforward) to show that maybe unrelated subquests actually go down
well. Comments?

Anyway, thanks for the message. I enjoyed it.

Brandon Van Every

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Aug 28, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/28/97
to

Giles Boutel <bout...@wcc.govt.nz> wrote in article
<01bcb27a$fcb4e8c0$6733...@WC034319.wcc.govt.nz>...
> >
> If you think of B as a puzzle, then perhaps multiple solutions would make
> it less linear. You'd still get the same events, but your response to
them
> (eg, one solution involves killing, one involves object manipulation and
> one involves social interaction) could change your perception of the
story,
> and of the character you play. This would seem a much easier way of
> changing story *content* (to borrow a pair of asterisks), without having
to
> plot out too much in the way of multiple story *lines* (there they go
> again).

It could change the perception of the story, but will it? Is the
psychological effect of the *multiple* solutions stronger than that of the
*single* event through which the player must pass? I think we probably
need a concrete example of this to discuss it any further, so that we can
rate the effect on something tangible. Any suggestions? Anyone feeling
creative?

Another point to consider is that even though multiple solutions may exist,
in a single session the player will generally only use one of them. This
implies that the perception of the story or the character only happens on a
re-play, and then only if the player thinks of the other things to do. I'd
rather see the changes in perception happen within a single story.
Implementation-wise, this runs afoul of a common problem in MUD universes:
the "reset" problem. Once the problem has been solved by method A, then
how do we reset the story so that it can again be solved by method B? And
if there's only 1 player in this universe, why does re-visiting the
*single* event even make any sense?

I think a partial answer here, is that the *single* event must somehow be
made a desireable place to return to. One possible definition for a
"nonlinear" game, is "a game with loops." In which case, the loops have to
be interesting and not merely repetitive. Any brainchilds on why someone
would want to keep coming back to the same event over and over again? The
only thing that immediately pops into my mind is that "people like to get
laid." That's hardly a be-all end-all of looping plot devices, but it's
one point of departure for developing something about the problem.

> The end text could easily be changed to reflect the decisions you
> made along the way,

Why would it be easy to change the end text? Doesn't this say something
about your underlying assumptions? Could you elaborate on how you see the
end text being changed/substituted?

Adam Cadre

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Aug 28, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/28/97
to

Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> The program is programmatic, but the game, or story -- the ultimate
> effect on the player -- is in the player's head, and that's the real
> goal here.

Ding! Zarf wins our daily drawing.

-----
Adam Cadre, Durham, NC
http://www.duke.edu/~adamc

Adam Cadre

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Aug 28, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/28/97
to

Will Grzanich wrote:
> A story is really nothing more or less than a narrative
> description of a character struggling to solve a problem.

Frequently. Not always.

> The computer geek's struggle to get his Dial-Up Networking connection
> to work, for instance, wouldn't make horribly good writing.

It could if it were written right.

> I'm actually rather glad there's no "save" feature in this great game
> we call "life." We'd be a race of arrogant, over-confident fools with
> no concept of fear or caution.

We'd have no need for fear or caution. And we'd be happy because
we could go back and erase our mistakes until we get things right.
I can't understand anyone who would reject this hypothetical as
somehow undesirable.

Will Grzanich

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Aug 28, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/28/97
to

Terence Fergusson wrote:

> The fact is, is that most people's real life is extremely and utterly
> boring. Why? Our life may not seem boring to us, but it is. At least,
> to other people. And why is that? Because our lives are mostly similar
> to each others. Macroscopically, that is. Most of us will receive an
> education, a large majority of us will seek employment, perhaps gain
> employment, retire, etc. We have families, interaction with said
> families, quarrels, arguments, reunions, etc. In other words, what this
> hypothetical game has, is something that any person has to deal with all
> day long anyway.
>
> Of course, the imaginary game I've just described might not be what
> you're postulating. The thing is, almost every book, game, etc; has at
> least some purpose to them. There's always some excitement, underlying
> tension, or something, that separates it from mundane everyday lives.

Just thought I'd throw something in here. What you're describing--a day
in the life of Joe--wouldn't be an actual *story*, nothing fit for
literature or for IF. (Note that I'm not pointing this out to you in
particular or anything--it seems pretty clear that you're aware of all
this.) A story is really nothing more or less than a narrative
description of a character struggling to solve a problem. Now, granted,
most of us struggle to overcome problems quite often, but some problems
are just a lot more interesting than others. The computer geek's


struggle to get his Dial-Up Networking connection to work, for instance,

wouldn't make horribly good writing. ;)



> Here's an interesting concept to add to this idea. The "save" slot.
> Real life doesn't have saves. I wish it did. We know that when we make
> a choice in real life, there is no way we can go back and see what would
> happen if we did something else. Does this mean real life is just a
> mixture of parallel quests? And would the inclusion of a "save"
> facility detract from that? An idea at any rate.

I'm actually rather glad there's no "save" feature in this great game we


call "life." We'd be a race of arrogant, over-confident fools with no

concept of fear or caution. What, then, would we do if we stepped into
one of those wretched no-save rooms? Hmm? ;^)

-Will

Adam Cadre

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Aug 28, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/28/97
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Brandon Van Every wrote:
> I think it may be possible to construct a truly dynamic, open-ended
> system in IF, otherwise I wouldn't be posting about this stuff. But
> I am not sure yet of the mechanism, let alone whether the mechanism
> can produce something interesting to experience.

This is why these types of theoretical discussions frustrate me. I
want to say, "Okay, look -- I'll code it up and prove it to you, okay?
Just wait there for eighteen months."

Carl Muckenhoupt

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Aug 28, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/28/97
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Brandon Van Every wrote:
>
> > I also had problems with the use of letters to stand for... what?
> > Events? Locations? Game states?
>
> All of the above. If you think like a programmer :-) you tend to see all 3
> of those notions as equivalent.

I don't see them as equivalent at all, at least in terms of linearity.
Let's consider these on a high level. Only consider significant parts
of game state (ie, "Does the player know the killer's identity?" rather
than "What are the locations of all the objects?"), only consider those
events that alter game state in that sense, and clump together groups of
mutually-accessible locations. In other words, only consider the things
that affect what the player perceives as the story.

Now, gaining access to a new location is certainly a kind of
state-altering event. But it's only one kind. And certainly, the set
of available location is part of the state, but it's only part. It's
perfectly possible to alter game state without entering a new location,
and most irreversible (or not-directly-reversible; see "Tube Trouble"
for examples) changes in game state do not cut off access to old
locations. Thus, except in certain very linear games (much of the
Sierra canon springs to mind), locations are not equivalent to events or
states. And at any rate, any reasonably nonlinear game isn't a
frogmarch from location to location until you've been to each exactly
once, but involves wandering around a lot and revisiting familiar
locations for new reasons - thus, your A-Z analysis is scarcely
applicable to them. A typical game would be more like
ABABABCABACBADAEFBACEBAEFABG.

Events and states are more closely related, and in a highly linear game
there would be a one-to-one relationship: each event would put the game
into a particular state. However, in a more typical game, game state is
composed of multiple elements.

A simple example: Once you've obtained the Holy Grail and the
Philosopher's Stone, you can perform the ritual that grants you eternal
life. (I realize that this is exactly the kind of thing you say you're
tired of; I choose the example for exactly that reason.) The Grail and
the Stone both have other uses (healing and transmutation,
respectively), and thus possession of either is significant; perhaps
possession of one even affects how the other can be obtained.

There are three Events: gain grail, gain stone, perform ritual. They
can be performed in two orders: GSR or SGR. At any rate, all three
events will occur over the course of the game.

There are five States: have nothing, have grail, have stone, have both
grail and stone, and immortal. We still have only two possible
orderings (it's still the same game, after all!), but each uses only
four of the states: NGBI or NSBI.

Thus, it is very important to your analysis whether the letters
represent Events or States. If they represent States, then your
assertion that most games simply mix the ordering around is false. Most
games have many states that the player never sees.

> > I don't think of stories, interactive
> > or otherwise, as a matter of "traversing nodes."
>
> Even though this is the underlying programmatic structure of nearly all
> text adventures? Certainly all the Infocom games were (in mathematical
> terms) a collection of rooms ("nodes") linked by passageways ("edges")
> creating the entire game universe (the "graph").
> Most adventure games are merely "traverse all the nodes of the graph until
> you've acquired all the available resources." That's why most adventure
> games "feel" the same, it's structural.

Up until this point, I thought the graph traversal you were referring to
was a traversal of a plot DAG. So all you want is rooms that you're not
required to enter? :)

> I would also say that the same holds true of the average Hollywood film.
> There is a very canned set of nodes that will be traversed, such as:
> shoot-out at the beginning, one person you like must be killed but it can't
> be the protagonist, obligatory sex scene between male and female lead,
> shoot-out at the end, etc. I could go on about other genres, I'll spare us
> all. :-)
>
> I became tired of IF when I realized that my algorithm to win any game was
> the same.
> "Traverse the nodes acquiring all available resources, use the resources to
> gain access to unavailable nodes, until the "final" node is reached."
>

All I can say about this is that your Hollywood formula refers only to
content, and your IF formula refers only to form. Indeed, it's more of
a format than a formula.

Not to discourage experimentation, but this complaint strikes me as a
bit like "All books are the same. You start at the beginning, you read
words in order until you get to the end, and then you stop. When I
realized this, I stopped reading books." There's a lot that can be done
within a particular format, and we're far from exhausting ours.
Furthermore, there are distinct reasons why this format has been as
popular as it is - chiefly that it provides the player with motivation.

That said, any new forms we can play with will only improve the world.
But please, you don't need to tell us that our games are boring in order
to convince of this.

> > What does your argument help us do or understand
> > that we couldn't do or didn't understand before?
>
> It would help engineer a simulated universe, rather than insisting on
> marching a person from start-to-finish. It might also make that universe
> "something more than boring." When I say "engineer," I mean that there are
> both theoretical requirements of plot device, and labor requirements for
> actually getting all the work done. One thing I developed is how much
> extra work you've got to do, if you want to make a game based on relational
> histories instead of independent elements thrown into a grab-bag.

Please explain. What is a "relational history"? A history of
relationships? Between what?

> As the
> length of the (recent) history increases, the additional work is
> unfortunately n(n-1), n(n-1)(n-2), n(n-1)(n-2)(n-3), ... etc. This becomes
> a lot of work rather fast!

What does the value n represent? The only thing I can think of that
would produce this effect is a grab-bag of n basically unrelated
elements, but with each combination and ordering of these elements made
into a special case for which the author writes code and/or prose. Is
this what you're proposing?

--
Carl Muckenhoupt ca...@earthweb.com
EarthWeb http://www.earthweb.com/

Neil K.

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Aug 28, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/28/97
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> This is why these types of theoretical discussions frustrate me. I
> want to say, "Okay, look -- I'll code it up and prove it to you, okay?
> Just wait there for eighteen months."

Merely eighteen months? :) I've been feeling that way for over five years!

Actually, whenever my game *is* finally released it should be an
interesting exercise to go through the r.a.i-f archives and compare the
finished product with some of my opinionated ramblings over the years.

Well. Not *that* interesting, I suppose... Sort of vaguely interesting.

- Neil K.

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

Carl Muckenhoupt

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Aug 29, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/29/97
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Will Grzanich wrote:
>
> Just thought I'd throw something in here. What you're describing--a day
> in the life of Joe--wouldn't be an actual *story*, nothing fit for
> literature or for IF. (Note that I'm not pointing this out to you in
> particular or anything--it seems pretty clear that you're aware of all
> this.)

I don't know about that. The story of Joe sounds an awful lot like
Joyce's _Ulysses_.

Matthew Daly

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Aug 29, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/29/97
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Dan Schmidt <df...@thecia.net>, if that is your REAL name, said:

>I wrote a good deal of Ultima Underworld, which is not one of the above
>two games but is fairly similar in many ways, being an Ultima. For
>example, here are eight subquests corresponding to the eight virtues,
>etc. Sometimes the quests depend on each other a bit (e.g., you can't
>get to part 2 of quest B until you've gotten to part 3 of quest D). But
>there are usually a fair number of things you can do at once. Then, at
>the end, it all gets pretty linear again - in fact, I don't think the
>last two levels succeeded that well. RPG's do have the nice (sometimes)
>property of also having the "gain experience and items" quest, which can
>run in parallel with all the others but subtly interacts with them.

It worked for me. Well, the endgame scene was hard to swallow, I suppose.
But, being an Ultima, the object is to prepare yourself for a large
challenge, and then to meet it. There are a huge number of ways to prepare
yourself (do you focus on brawn or magic? Is it worth fighting a dozen big
monsters to get a magic axe, or would you rather keep yourself focused on
the main quest?) but the ending is always going to be a dungeon march to
the climax in an Ultima. (Well, other than U6 -- you could almost solve
that game without any violence at all if you understood the crucial item
that you started the game with.)

>One of the interesting things about Underworld is that it was a
>dungeon game, so there was (physical) level 1, level 2, etc. We
>specifically tried to avoid making the player clear out a level at a
>time, but people were so used to playing that way (from games like
>Wizardry) that they would refuse to go down a level until they had
>cleared the current one out. There was a monster on level 2 that
>was almost impossible to kill when you first found it, which delayed
>some people from going to level 3 for weeks...

I never felt that way for some reason. The evil knight was the worst, but
I was happy to leave him behind and keep moving down. As long as I felt
sufficiently comfortable that I could handle the routine monsters on the
next level (and it seems to me that usually the first experiences you had
were with NPCs and not monsters) I would dive. It's not that different
from the normal Ultima series where something interesting was usually
happening at Bucaneer's Den but you couldn't get there until the middle of
the game.

>We were actually very influenced by the Infocom games, and had to dumb
>down a lot of puzzles because they were puzzles, and Warren Spector
>(our producer) pointed out that in an Ultima, the player is always
>told explicitly what to do; they're not supposed to have to infer
>anything themselves. Grrr.

Interesting. There was one room that I thought would have been an
interesting puzzle. I think it was a room where you had to arrange the
switches in a pleasing way so that you could jump to a room that had some
goodies. Of course, by the time I reached there I had acquired magic boots
that would let me accomplish godlike jumping, so I didn't need to think
about it.

>I played around two thirds of Ultima 7, and remember feeling that it
>was always pretty obvious what I had to do next, but I imagine the
>game was actually designed less linearly than that.

The first phases of 7 were unfortunate, IMHO. For those of you who are
unfamiliar with the game, you spend the opening half of the game going from
town to town trying to track down the leader of a religious order who is
always one day ahead of you. But it doesn't work in practice -- you can go
to town A, be told that Batlin is in town B, spend a year (i.e. 365 days
and nights) in the woods honing your fighting skills, go to town B, find
out that he was here until yesterday when he went to town C, return to town
A to find that a murder scene remained essentially untouched even though it
was in the center of the town's only stable, etc. It would have been more
interesting to have it be real-time, although that's a struggle for the
designer as well. (Like my arrival in town B could have prompted "Batlin?
Gee, he hasn't been here in AGES, but there sure were some wierd things
that happened last time he came through....")

>Serpent Isle was a monstrosity; even Warren (the producer of that game
>too) agrees.

I thought that the story was a little better, although I was never able to
finish it.

>For what it's worth, my favorite "Ultima" was Savage Empire. I would
>have been happy to see Origin churn out a few more games for the
>"U6-machine."

Never played that (or Martian Dreams). I was very pleased when I got
around to the two Underworld games, which I didn't think I would originally
enjoy (given the original descriptions which made it sound more like Rogue
than Ultima).

-Matthew
--
Matthew Daly I feel that if a person has problems communicating
mwd...@kodak.com the very least he can do is to shut up - Tom Lehrer

My opinions are not necessarily those of my employer, of course.

--- Support the anti-Spam amendment! Join at http://www.cauce.org ---

Brandon Van Every

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Aug 29, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/29/97
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Adam Cadre <ad...@acpub.duke.edu> wrote in article
<3405DD...@acpub.duke.edu>...

> Will Grzanich wrote:
>
> > I'm actually rather glad there's no "save" feature in this great game
> > we call "life." We'd be a race of arrogant, over-confident fools with
> > no concept of fear or caution.
>
> We'd have no need for fear or caution. And we'd be happy because
> we could go back and erase our mistakes until we get things right.
> I can't understand anyone who would reject this hypothetical as
> somehow undesirable.

Personally I don't agree with the premise that you can't erase things in
real life already. It's called "starting over." It's usually painful,
requires gut-wrenching decisions and a lot of work, but it's possible to
do. We often don't do it because we're too afraid, or else too settled in
the benefits of other mitigating circumstances to make the attempt.

"Instant" ability to try something else would be an interesting way to deal
with the universe. In some things we could do it already, if we wanted.
For example, how many different kinds of sex with how many different people
would you like to have? Yet it's easy to find oneself surrounded by it,
but not choosing it. It's also a pity that the real world does not contain
so many "currencies" that are widely recognized. We spend a lot of our
time trying to figure out what we really want to do in life, because it's
not readily apparent that we have a lot of options.

I can see how instantanaeity could generate a race of overconfident fools.
Why bother with refinement of one's sense of identity, if nothing really
matters anyways? It could also lead to structurelessness and boredom.
Then again, I already see these things happening in my own and other
people's lives anyways. I think we have the power to find out what the
answers are, but it is again the question of immortality, what would one
choose to do?

Terence Fergusson

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Aug 29, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/29/97
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In article <01bcb3fc$eef511a0$6733...@WC034319.wcc.govt.nz>, Giles
Boutel <bout...@wcc.govt.nz> scribed:
>
>
>Brandon Van Every <vane...@blarg.net> wrote in article
><01bcb3e0$bb6c1480$389f...@hammurabi.blarg.net>...

>> Giles Boutel <bout...@wcc.govt.nz> wrote in article
>> <01bcb27a$fcb4e8c0$6733...@WC034319.wcc.govt.nz>...
>> > >
>> > If you think of B as a puzzle, then perhaps multiple solutions would
>make
>> > it less linear. You'd still get the same events, but your response to
>> them
>> > (eg, one solution involves killing, one involves object manipulation
>and
>> > one involves social interaction) could change your perception of the
>> story,
>> > and of the character you play. This would seem a much easier way of
>> > changing story *content* (to borrow a pair of asterisks), without
>having
>> to
>> > plot out too much in the way of multiple story *lines* (there they go
>> > again).
>>
>> It could change the perception of the story, but will it? Is the
>> psychological effect of the *multiple* solutions stronger than that of
>the
>> *single* event through which the player must pass? I think we probably
>> need a concrete example of this to discuss it any further, so that we can
>> rate the effect on something tangible. Any suggestions? Anyone feeling
>> creative?
>>
>OK - looks like I didn't explain myself properly. I was picking up on the
>point about stories progressing from a to b to c (or from a to c to b) and
>how the same static events create the same story, even if they're
>encountered in a different order, because all the elements will be
>encountered by the end.
>
>Rather than replaying for different effect, I was thinking that multiple
>solutions could create two different stories for two people playing two
>games simultananously, as the part of the story that required player input
>would (or, more realistically, might) be different.
>
>Admittedly, this doesn't change the fact that things still run a to b to c
>(or whatever) - but these same static elements are being used to
>potentially create a number of stories that are different in more than just
>the order of events - does NPC "d" die?, is the time machine functional by
>the game's end, etc

I was gonna reply to this in one way, until I read this bit. Obviously,
you already know what I'm about to say (NPC "d" eh? Don't you mean "C"
or "M"? ^_^)

Anyone who wants a really good example of end text changes, should ask
someone to show them all the endings of Chrono Trigger. Most of the
endings aren't available to the player at the start, but once you've
completed it once, you can face off against the final boss at just about
any time. So you can see how not completing certain events (my
favourite is not helping Ayla against the Reptites in 65,000,000 BC)
affect the ending. It has tremendous replay value.

But Chrono Trigger might not be such a good example of non-linearity.
The main quest, in fact, is very linear. Yes, there are a few sub-
quests near the end that you can embark on to gain new weapons,
artifacts, etc., but it doesn't change the fact that the first part of
the quest involves you building up your party, getting the key quest
items, and finally facing off against the main boss.

But any which way, Chrono Trigger is an excellent example of end text
changing.

Well, there you go. One concrete example ready for discussion.
Comments, anyone?

J. F. Pack

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Aug 29, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/29/97
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In article <3405D29E...@uiuc.edu>, grza...@uiuc.edu says...

> Just thought I'd throw something in here. What you're describing--a day
> in the life of Joe--wouldn't be an actual *story*, nothing fit for
> literature or for IF. (Note that I'm not pointing this out to you in
> particular or anything--it seems pretty clear that you're aware of all

> this.) A story is really nothing more or less than a narrative
> description of a character struggling to solve a problem. Now, granted,
> most of us struggle to overcome problems quite often, but some problems
> are just a lot more interesting than others. The computer geek's
> struggle to get his Dial-Up Networking connection to work, for instance,
> wouldn't make horribly good writing. ;)

I disagree. It's not the nature of the story that makes it good or bad,
but the telling. There's a lot of high-fantasy "save-the-world" camp
that's atrociously written, and there's a lot of "mundane" stories that
are interesting because of the style of narration. The example of the
dial-up connection would probably only work in traditional IF if it
became a sort of puzzle (I picture a game similar to Bureaucracy), but
that's the fault of the medium, not the story.

FemaleDeer

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Aug 30, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/30/97
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>Real life doesn't have saves. I wish it did. We know that when we make
>a choice in real life, there is no way we can go back and see what would
>happen if we did something else. Does this mean real life is just a
>mixture of parallel quests? And would the inclusion of a "save"
>facility detract from that? An idea at any rate.

I'll vote for the save slot for real life. Bring it on!

Also I wouldn't mind having a restart either. Only in IF can you die and
come back. Seems a shame. I vote for being able to come back from the dead
in real life too.

Interesting thread -- real life seems linear as you are living it, you
know. I think someone mentioned that. You can't restore and try another
branch. A choice, one chosen, stays chosen.

I think linear games - most of the Infocom ones, for instance - can be
very interesting.

Hey, so can real life - not everyone's life is b-o-r-i-n-g. I like IF for
the mental challenge of the interactive puzzles and plot, for pure escape I
can read (which I do).

FD :-)
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Femal...@aol.com The Tame Computer
"Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or
freed a human soul." Mark Twain (or won a game)

Brandon Van Every

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Aug 30, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/30/97
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Carl Muckenhoupt <ca...@earthweb.com> wrote in article
<340607...@earthweb.com>...

> Brandon Van Every wrote:
> >
> > > I also had problems with the use of letters to stand for... what?
> > > Events? Locations? Game states?
> >
> > All of the above. If you think like a programmer :-) you tend to see
all 3
> > of those notions as equivalent.
>
> I don't see them as equivalent at all, at least in terms of linearity.
> Let's consider these on a high level. Only consider significant parts
> of game state (ie, "Does the player know the killer's identity?" rather
> than "What are the locations of all the objects?"), only consider those
> events that alter game state in that sense, and clump together groups of
> mutually-accessible locations. In other words, only consider the things
> that affect what the player perceives as the story.

Yes, fine, hold that thought for below.

> Now, gaining access to a new location is certainly a kind of
> state-altering event. But it's only one kind. And certainly, the set
> of available location is part of the state, but it's only part. It's
> perfectly possible to alter game state without entering a new location,
> and most irreversible (or not-directly-reversible; see "Tube Trouble"
> for examples) changes in game state do not cut off access to old
> locations. Thus, except in certain very linear games (much of the
> Sierra canon springs to mind), locations are not equivalent to events or
> states.

True, they are not commonly used as equivalent entities. As you point out,
events tend to happen only once, whereas rooms are crossed many times.
However, there's no reason for this distinction in the abstract, they can
be made the same. You could have both events and rooms happen only once,
i.e. a maximally linear, maximally boring game, although there might be an
interesting way to do it instead (good writing?). Or, you could have both
events and rooms repeat indefinitely. This could be a maximally non-linear
game, and it could still be quite boring (witness Nethack). But again,
there's hopefully a more interesting way to do it.

> And at any rate, any reasonably nonlinear game isn't a
> frogmarch from location to location until you've been to each exactly
> once, but involves wandering around a lot and revisiting familiar
> locations for new reasons - thus, your A-Z analysis is scarcely
> applicable to them. A typical game would be more like
> ABABABCABACBADAEFBACEBAEFABG.

But above, I thought you said that we'd only pay attention to "the
significant parts of game state?" Wandering around from room to room is
irrelevant. Only if you had a significant event occuring at each one of
your traversals above, would your recasting of my A..Z analysis be valid.
Looking at your traversal, I'm guessing that you consider each "new" letter
in the sequence to be a major event, so your traversal reduces as follows:

[AB]ABAB[C]ABACBA[D]A[E][F]BACEBAEFAB[G]

Because I don't care about intermediate/repeated room traversals, I would
have just written:

ABCDEFG

I guess this also implies that I wouldn't care about intermediate/repeated
event traversals. If you want to go throw the coin in the well for the
100th time, and have the djinni appear for the 100th time and tell you all
about a pretty linked sausage, that's fine by me. It's the structure of
the first-time traversals from event A-->B, or the first-time relation
between the elements
A-->B-->C that I'm interested in.

Also, since gaining access to a room is usually related to a one-time
event, you could see the effect of events mapped onto rooms by adding a
little more notation. Let's say that [] denotes a set of locations where
any room is accessible. Your room walk reduces to:

[[[[[[AB] C] D] E] F] G]

When you've acquired the set containing all of [ABCDEFG], the game is over.
Here I'm also assuming that you don't lose access to rooms as you go.
That would make the diagramming different. For example, let's say that
after entering D, you can no longer get back to A.

[[AB] C] [[[[BCD] E] F] G]

You'd have a game played in essentially 2 different sets. You could have
objects in [BCDEFG], they'd never have to know how to interact with
anything in [A]. The exact same thing could be done with events. Indeed,
it's usually a consequence of events, and in this manner rooms and events
are inseparable. They're all part of some big meta-graph, I could always
draw it for you by using extra boxes, brackets, circles, etc.

> A simple example: Once you've obtained the Holy Grail and the
> Philosopher's Stone, you can perform the ritual that grants you eternal
> life. (I realize that this is exactly the kind of thing you say you're
> tired of; I choose the example for exactly that reason.) The Grail and
> the Stone both have other uses (healing and transmutation,
> respectively), and thus possession of either is significant; perhaps
> possession of one even affects how the other can be obtained.
>
> There are three Events: gain grail, gain stone, perform ritual. They
> can be performed in two orders: GSR or SGR. At any rate, all three
> events will occur over the course of the game.

So, once I've got the grail, I'm not allowed to get rid of it? How about
the stone?



> There are five States: have nothing, have grail, have stone, have both
> grail and stone, and immortal. We still have only two possible
> orderings (it's still the same game, after all!), but each uses only
> four of the states: NGBI or NSBI.
>
> Thus, it is very important to your analysis whether the letters
> represent Events or States. If they represent States, then your
> assertion that most games simply mix the ordering around is false. Most
> games have many states that the player never sees.

Let's say my letters represent Events. I assert that most games simply mix
the ordering of Events. You didn't specify any plot dependencies between
getting the grail and getting the stone, psychologically it often doesn't
matter to the player, so I take it you don't have a problem with that.

Let's say my letters represent States. I assert that most games simply mix
the ordering of the States, and that a player can cover all of the States
in your example. This is true if N->G and N->B are reversible. Then I can
write NGNSBI, or NSNGBI. In the absence of any dependencies between G and
S, these state transactions are psychologically equivalent. Your claim
that "most games have many states that the player never sees" is only valid
if the states are (1) irreversible, and (2) dependent. If they're merely
irreversible, then psychologically the player really doesn't "care" about
that. You could try for textual juxtaposition in the player's mind, but
the game itself isn't going to behave differently.

My letters can represent whatever you like :-), but irreversible, dependent
States might require more syntax. Are we now struggling to build a syntax?

> > Most adventure games are merely "traverse all the nodes of the graph
until
> > you've acquired all the available resources." That's why most
adventure
> > games "feel" the same, it's structural.
>
> Up until this point, I thought the graph traversal you were referring to
> was a traversal of a plot DAG. So all you want is rooms that you're not
> required to enter? :)

In a sense, yes. The player almost always exhastively searches all
available nodes anyways, on replays if nothing else, so why should we
bother with a Directed Acyclic Graph that herds the player in a particular
direction? I have no problem with a game that's a general graph, i.e. it
can have infinite loops, and your only goal is to arrive at a room "that
you feel like being in." This implies that you may feel like blowing off
other rooms. Kinda like neighborhoods in a city. You may go everywhere
once, just to see what it's like and to find out what you're missing, but
you'll only keep coming back to the places you like. Until maybe one day
you get a wild hair up your ass and you say "Hey! Let's go party in
Suburbia for a change!" Whether that turns out to be an interesting
experience or not will probably depend on your mood.

> All I can say about this is that your Hollywood formula refers only to
> content, and your IF formula refers only to form. Indeed, it's more of
> a format than a formula.

"Form follows function." Prove a separation between form and content.

> Not to discourage experimentation, but this complaint strikes me as a
> bit like "All books are the same. You start at the beginning, you read
> words in order until you get to the end, and then you stop. When I
> realized this, I stopped reading books."

"All romance novels are the same" is a more appropriate analogy to the
current state of IF. There are some good romance novels out there but most
are genrefied, and the structure of the genre has a heavy hand in this.
Name me some works that violate my limited expectations, I'll go try 'em.

"I-0" was named as a pretty non-linear work that I should try, but I have
to admit that on my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd plays, I felt "herded towards the
proper end of the story." I found myself being trapped in rooms needing to
solve a puzzle to exit, although fortunately the hitchhiker rapist was a
bypass for that. I found myself wanting to give the rapist a blow job,
then clock him when his guard was down, then maybe kill him, but I couldn't
do that. (On the more positive side: I did appreciate that there was a way
to kill the rapist after all.) I could only think of one escape from Taco
Junta and that herded me immediately homewards. I wanted to have sex with
either the policeman, the Chevy driver, or the guys at the garage, but I
wasn't allowed. I tried to get it on with the Taco Junta girl, she wanted
it, but the game ended before 6pm when I was supposed to meet her. In
short, I felt that the game "usually got in the way of what I really wanted
to do." It was more non-linear than a lot of adventure games, but really
the game would need to go much farther to break free of that "you can't go
that way, solve the puzzle, get to the end" feeling. For me, ideally I
would want an open-ended game that's 1/2 reality, 1/2 fantasy. So that I
can kick the cop in the nuts, have him thank me for it because he likes it
like that, and then trade my underwear for his wheels as a matter of fair
exchange. Or maybe plug me full of .38 caliber holes in the kneecaps, if I
was in a more morbid mood that day.

> There's a lot that can be done
> within a particular format, and we're far from exhausting ours.
> Furthermore, there are distinct reasons why this format has been as
> popular as it is - chiefly that it provides the player with motivation.

I'll offer you a different analysis on that. Puzzle-solving and DAG plots
provide *some* players with motivation. If you like what's out there in
IF-land, then you come back for more. In this regard IF is a
self-selecting culture and community, and I wouldn't necessarily look to
the prevailent standards of the community as the be-all end-all of IF.
Remember that the vast majority of the buying public isn't interested in
active forms of entertainment, they like the passive stuff. Also, there
are people like me whose minds are active, but we "solve puzzles" all day
long at work and aren't looking for more of the same. With my limited free
time, feeling stuck in adventure game is quite comparable to trying to hunt
down some pernicious bug in a program, and I at least get paid for the
latter. I want to use my mind differently at the end of a day. More
creative, more expansive, less analytical.

> That said, any new forms we can play with will only improve the world.

Agreed.

> But please, you don't need to tell us that our games are boring in order
> to convince of this.

Actually, I don't know about that. Agreed that I don't need to convince
you about the value of expanding the forms. However, I think saying "hey!
I think this particular aspect of the form is boring!" is a powerful way to
actually get the form expanded. Particularly if I try to explain my view
in analytical detail, as it may trigger someone else to think up something
better, and in any event it refines my own objectives. It is true that
it's a two-edged sword as negativity can kill discussion. But really, one
can't get anything done solely by radiating roses and daisies all day long.
At some point one has to have an opinion, not be afraid to express it, and
not be afraid to act upon it, even if it ruffles some feathers along the
way.

> > One thing I developed is how much
> > extra work you've got to do, if you want to make a game based on
relational
> > histories instead of independent elements thrown into a grab-bag.
>
> Please explain. What is a "relational history"? A history of
> relationships? Between what?

Between the Events or States of the game. I'd suggest re-reading my
previous posts. I might have to turn them into web pages at some point,
when the ideas/explanations have been sifted enough.

> > As the
> > length of the (recent) history increases, the additional work is
> > unfortunately n(n-1), n(n-1)(n-2), n(n-1)(n-2)(n-3), ... etc. This
becomes
> > a lot of work rather fast!
>
> What does the value n represent?

The number of Events or States in the game.

> The only thing I can think of that
> would produce this effect is a grab-bag of n basically unrelated
> elements,

Yes. And as the number of interdependencies increases, you get
n(n-1)(n-2)... things you have to write up. This is simply Permutation, (n
r), "n things taken r at a time," where n=Events and r=how many events to
interrelate at once.

> but with each combination and ordering of these elements made
> into a special case for which the author writes code and/or prose. Is
> this what you're proposing?

Partially. I'd hope that some of the interrelations can be automatically
generated, or else (r) can be made small. Otherwise, the labor is
overwhelming.

Brandon Van Every

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J. F. Pack <cu...@brown.edu> wrote in article
<MPG.e70d21e1...@news.brown.edu>...

> In article <3405D29E...@uiuc.edu>, grza...@uiuc.edu says...
>
> I disagree. It's not the nature of the story that makes it good or bad,
> but the telling. There's a lot of high-fantasy "save-the-world" camp
> that's atrociously written, and there's a lot of "mundane" stories that
> are interesting because of the style of narration. The example of the
> dial-up connection would probably only work in traditional IF if it
> became a sort of puzzle (I picture a game similar to Bureaucracy), but
> that's the fault of the medium, not the story.

I agree with your disagreement, but then I disagree. :-) It doesn't have
to be a puzzle. Nothing *has* to be a puzzle. That's a weakness of the
author's use of IF, not a property of IF itself.

Brandon Van Every

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Giles Boutel <bout...@wcc.govt.nz> wrote in article
<01bcb3fc$eef511a0$6733...@WC034319.wcc.govt.nz>...

> Brandon Van Every <vane...@blarg.net> wrote in article
> <01bcb3e0$bb6c1480$389f...@hammurabi.blarg.net>...
> > Giles Boutel <bout...@wcc.govt.nz> wrote in article
> > <01bcb27a$fcb4e8c0$6733...@WC034319.wcc.govt.nz>...

> OK - looks like I didn't explain myself properly. I was picking up on the


> point about stories progressing from a to b to c (or from a to c to b)
and
> how the same static events create the same story, even if they're
> encountered in a different order, because all the elements will be
> encountered by the end.
>
> Rather than replaying for different effect, I was thinking that multiple
> solutions could create two different stories for two people playing two
> games simultananously, as the part of the story that required player
input
> would (or, more realistically, might) be different.

Interesting! The same A..Z, but 2 or more players stirring the soup so to
speak. If you take all combinations of players and states, I believe you
come up with a much larger grid of possibilities. You wouldn't necessarily
have to fill in all the grid elements, but let's see what the grid would
look like for Events A..D, 2 events related at at time, and 2 players. The
basic 1-player grid is:

A>B, A>C, A>D
B>A, B>C, B>D
C>A, C>B, C>D
D>A, D>B, D>C

That's 12 relations. Now I think if we take 2 players, we make a 2nd copy
of the grid, then pair all the combos of elements together. That's
12*12=144 relations. 3 players = 12^3, 4 players = 12^4, etc. Polynomial
expansion in the number of players!

So, does this save work? It does indeed make a huge grid, and I doubt one
could fill it manually. It's an interesting grid to work with, though. I
think you'd have to pick a very small number of Events and relate them to a
very small number of Players, where the uniqueness of a Player is selected
by some arbitrary criterion. A classic example would be the D&D notion of
"Player Class." [Cleric, Fighter, Wizard, Thief] all interact within the
same 3 events to produce 6^4 = 1396 grid elements. Hmm, that's still
pretty big....

> > Why would it be easy to change the end text? Doesn't this say
something
> > about your underlying assumptions? Could you elaborate on how you see
> the
> > end text being changed/substituted?
> >

> It would be easy because I'm not much of a programmer and I think I could
> implement it (so yes, it probably does say something about my underlying
> assumptions).

I agree that it's an easy programming problem. Why is it an easy
*psychological* problem? I don't think it is... how do you recombine
separate textual elements, so that a player really feels that they've
gotten a different ending with each combo, instead of a mere inventory of
their trials and tribulations throughout the game?

Brandon Van Every

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Terence Fergusson <t...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk> wrote in article
<JA+kuDAH...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk>...
> In article <3405DD...@acpub.duke.edu>, Adam Cadre
> <ad...@acpub.duke.edu> scribed:

> >Will Grzanich wrote:
> >> The computer geek's struggle to get his Dial-Up Networking connection
> >> to work, for instance, wouldn't make horribly good writing.
> >
> >It could if it were written right.
>
> I agree with this, but cannot think of any literary examples that
> readily spring to mind... um... I'm sure someone will think of
> something....

Since I intend to write a piece about my boring life in Seattle, I'll be
sure to cough up a chapter on something similarly mundane. :-) I think
that to be successful, such a story would either have to make use of
altered perceptions, or else metaphorize to something else. i.e. it has to
either "appear different" or "mean something different" than what you'd
expect by default, or it won't be interesting.

> In any case, it's probably a moot point for the entire human race to be
> able to "save". In fact, unless only one person in a lifetime could
> "save", the whole thing is highly vulnerable to paradox. Let's take a
> simple example, like Guy Fawkes trying to blow up parliament. Guy
> Fawkes fails, but before he's hanged (or even after... "Restart, Restore
> or Quit? ^_^) he restores his game before and successfully works out how
> to carry out his plan without a hitch. After the successful bombing,
> someone else restores to before the bombing to foil his plan. Foiled
> again, Guy restores to remove the new spanner in the works, and then is
> disaster is once again averted when.... I'm sure you get the picture.
> Somehow, I don't think I could imagine what a world would be like if
> *everyone* had a "save" facility....

Congrats, you've just elucidated a very interesting problem of IF as
applied to MUDs! On MUDs the "solution" is: we don't have infinite storage
resources, we can't keep track of the event histoies together, so if you
want to go back more than X minutes into the past you're SOL. So, how much
storage does your imaginary real-world universe contain?

Brandon Van Every

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Terence Fergusson <t...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk> wrote in article
<A2pGTCAZ...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk>...

> Interesting. I think I'll start this off by asking you what you feel
> would make a non-linear game. So far, we've managed to dismiss multiple
> beginnings and ends as parallel quests that the player will never see in
> a single game.

Well after much discussion here, I'm convinced that to be nonlinear the
game topology must have loops in it. It cannot be a Directed Acyclic Graph
where you're herded in a direction loosely described as "the finish line."
Rather, it needs to be a general graph. You'd start on A, you could go to
any of A..Z by some path, but you wouldn't be required to go to any of 'em.
Also, at any time you could end up right back where you started, if you
wanted to.

Next question is what's the non-linear equivalent of a "goal." The goal is
no longer "to finish the game." Instead, I'd see it as "to arrive at an
interesting point in the game." What is interesting is totally up to the
player. Presumably, that will change according to the player's personality
and current mood. Such a game could be designed for re-playability, and
for multiple players.

> You start the game, you play through the game, you win the game.
>
> This cannot, as far as I know, be changed,

Sure it can. You have to start the game. But you don't have to play it
through, you could quit at any time. Nor is it a requirement that you win.
This sort of thing actually happens even in games that weren't designed to
be this way: it's called "getting bored with the game and putting it down."

> since a beginning is necessary to ease the player into the fiction,
> so that they know a little about the background of the world they're in,

I disagree that it's necessary to "ease a player in." Drop 'em cold, if
you so desire. Often in real life when I have to do something "cold
turkey," the following happens to me. I make an initial stab at what I'm
doing. Then as I go along and gain more experience, I tend to re-evaluate
what I did in the beginning. Then I tend to re-do the beginning, more like
I did the middle when I was more experienced. This happens a lot with
things like hunting apartments. At the beginning I'm asking all the wrong
questions, only by the middle do I start to get a feel for it.

> and what their first basic goal is.

Let the player's first basic goal be to do whatever they feel like doing.
If the player can't formulate such a goal, then the goal of the computer
program should be to offer some options, so that the player can select one
and get going with it. "Do you want to play a violent game? A nice happy
flower-based game? A sex maniac game? A fundamentalist Baptist game?"
This can be worked into the narrative as well, it doesn't have to be an
interruption. I'll offer an example from the IF I've barely started to
write. It's about my boring life in Seattle, and it opens with you sitting
in a bedroom in an apartment that you're really sick of. After some
description about needing to find a new apartment, and all the stupid
yuppies making the rents go up, it says

Brainchilds that pop into your head:
"Should I move to San Francisco?"
"Should I move to Australia?"
"Should I masturbate?"
"Should I wait a few more months, then nab some place after everyone
leaves?"
"Should I join the Army?"
"Should I go clinically insane?"

I haven't figured out how I'll work in all those angles, or even if I'll
use all of 'em, but I'm starting with the "insane" part 'cause it's more
fun for me right now. :-)

For some people, a menu of suggestions doesn't help. In that case the
computer could go into "guided tour mode." How to trigger it? Well, you
could try to analyze the user's input patterns to detect frusturation, or
you could pop a question at some point, like "I'd rather let someone else
do the thinking for awhile, wouldn't you agree?" Or, an explicit command
like TOUR.

> And an ending is required so that they extract
> some measure of satisfaction after completing it,

Satisfaction doesn't have to come from an ending, it can come from a
journey, or where you are right now. If you are satisfied, you stay where
you are. When you get restless, you go somewhere else.

> and not feel that there were any loose ends hanging around.

Some people love completion, others hate it.

> If you start looking at this macroscopic view into more detail, then you
> start coming across multiple paths, and possible interconnectivity, etc.
> It's all a case of scope.

Yes, I think at the macro level, one arrives at the general looping graph
as I describe above. At a more micro level, you probably have linear
transitions between the various events. Athough it would be interesting to
see how "micro" you can make the loops, before the whole edifice falls
apart.

> The fact is, is that most people's real life is extremely and utterly
> boring. Why? Our life may not seem boring to us, but it is. At least,
> to other people. And why is that? Because our lives are mostly similar
> to each others. Macroscopically, that is. Most of us will receive an
> education, a large majority of us will seek employment, perhaps gain
> employment, retire, etc. We have families, interaction with said
> families, quarrels, arguments, reunions, etc. In other words, what this
> hypothetical game has, is something that any person has to deal with all
> day long anyway.

As I said in another post, I think for the mundane to become interesting it
has to either "look different" or "mean something different." Change of
perspective, or metaphor.

Dan Schmidt

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Terence Fergusson <t...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk> writes:

| In article <87pvr0j...@razumovsky.thecia.net>, Dan Schmidt
| <df...@thecia.net> scribed:
|

| >We were actually very influenced by the Infocom games [in Ultima
| >Underworld], and had to dumb down a lot of puzzles because they


| >were puzzles, and Warren Spector (our producer) pointed out that in
| >an Ultima, the player is always told explicitly what to do; they're
| >not supposed to have to infer anything themselves. Grrr.
|
| Aw.... But it still seems like you slipped a few in. The Frog Puzzle
| is nice, as is the quick elevator puzzle in Level 1 of UU1.

Yup, but all the real puzzles you had to "figure out" were in side
quests.

And there still were things you had to figure out in the main quests,
I suppose, like... oh, I forget it all now, it's been six years, but
like the one where *SPOILER* you have to play the flute in the right
place. Which were sort of level-3 or -4 puzzles on an Infocom scale
of 1 to 10.

The Bullfrog puzzle, by the way, was a homage to Bullfrog software,
makers of Populous, the first (that I recall) "God game", in which you
could raise and lower land on a map.

--
Dan Schmidt -> df...@alum.mit.edu, df...@thecia.net
Honest Bob & the http://www2.thecia.net/users/dfan/
Factory-to-Dealer Incentives -> http://www2.thecia.net/users/dfan/hbob/
Gamelan Galak Tika -> http://web.mit.edu/galak-tika/www/

Adam Cadre

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Aug 30, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/30/97
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Brandon Van Every wrote:
> "I-0" was named as a pretty non-linear work that I should try, but I
> have to admit that on my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd plays, I felt "herded
> towards the proper end of the story." I found myself being trapped
> in rooms needing to solve a puzzle to exit, although fortunately the
> hitchhiker rapist was a bypass for that. I found myself wanting to
> give the rapist a blow job, then clock him when his guard was down,
> then maybe kill him, but I couldn't do that. (On the more positive
> side: I did appreciate that there was a way to kill the rapist after
> all.) I could only think of one escape from Taco Junta and that
> herded me immediately homewards. I wanted to have sex with either
> the policeman, the Chevy driver, or the guys at the garage, but I
> wasn't allowed. I tried to get it on with the Taco Junta girl, she
> wanted it, but the game ended before 6pm when I was supposed to meet
> her. In short, I felt that the game "usually got in the way of what
> I really wanted to do." It was more non-linear than a lot of
> adventure games, but really the game would need to go much farther
> to break free of that "you can't go that way, solve the puzzle, get
> to the end" feeling. For me, ideally I would want an open-ended game
> that's 1/2 reality, 1/2 fantasy. So that I can kick the cop in the
> nuts, have him thank me for it because he likes it like that, and
> then trade my underwear for his wheels as a matter of fair exchange.
> Or maybe plug me full of .38 caliber holes in the kneecaps, if I
> was in a more morbid mood that day.

As I said in another post -- give me eighteen months.

GLEEMOTH

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Aug 30, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/30/97
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I've read every post to the Nonlinearity thread since it began. I've
thought about every point made by every poster. And now...

I have a headache.
;-)
Shay Caron (glee...@aol.com)

Neil deMause

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Aug 30, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/30/97
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Brandon wrote:
>> What does your argument help us do or understand
>> that we couldn't do or didn't understand before?
>
>It would help engineer a simulated universe, rather than insisting on
>marching a person from start-to-finish.

I think this is rapidly turning into one of those discussions like the
ones on "puzzleless" I-F: Show us what you mean, and then maybe we'll
understand better. It doesn't have to be a large game -- games like "In
The End" and "I-0" and "The Space Under The Window," in all their
strengths and flaws, have done more to push the envelope of game
development than all the theoretical discussions on Usenet.

I, for one, have been hearing speculation about "simulated universe" I-F
for a long time, and would be very interested in seeing what one looked
like, to see if I'd enjoy it.

Neil

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Dan Shiovitz

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Aug 31, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/31/97
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In article <01bcb53c$ff5113a0$939f...@hammurabi.blarg.net>,

Brandon Van Every <vane...@blarg.net> wrote:
>Carl Muckenhoupt <ca...@earthweb.com> wrote in article
><340607...@earthweb.com>...
>> Brandon Van Every wrote:
[..]

>that way, solve the puzzle, get to the end" feeling. For me, ideally I
>would want an open-ended game that's 1/2 reality, 1/2 fantasy. So that I
>can kick the cop in the nuts, have him thank me for it because he likes it
>like that, and then trade my underwear for his wheels as a matter of fair
>exchange. Or maybe plug me full of .38 caliber holes in the kneecaps, if I
>was in a more morbid mood that day.

The reason why I don't want to write these kind of games is that if
the player can do anything and all possibilities are played out, then
the author can no longer be writing any sort of story; all they're
doing is providing a virtual park for the player to wander around in.

One possible compromise revolves around open-ended actions but an AI
"director" that tries to maneuver the various characters into a
certain story. You can read about it here:
http://rhodes.www.media.mit.edu/people/rhodes/Papers/aaai95.html.
It's not acceptable now, though, since this is not in a workable
format now and probably won't be for quite some time.

>> There's a lot that can be done
>> within a particular format, and we're far from exhausting ours.
>> Furthermore, there are distinct reasons why this format has been as
>> popular as it is - chiefly that it provides the player with motivation.
>
>I'll offer you a different analysis on that. Puzzle-solving and DAG plots
>provide *some* players with motivation. If you like what's out there in
>IF-land, then you come back for more. In this regard IF is a
>self-selecting culture and community, and I wouldn't necessarily look to
>the prevailent standards of the community as the be-all end-all of IF.
>Remember that the vast majority of the buying public isn't interested in
>active forms of entertainment, they like the passive stuff. Also, there

I can't imagine that there is going to be much of a market among
passive people for interactive fiction.

>are people like me whose minds are active, but we "solve puzzles" all day
>long at work and aren't looking for more of the same. With my limited free
>time, feeling stuck in adventure game is quite comparable to trying to hunt
>down some pernicious bug in a program, and I at least get paid for the
>latter. I want to use my mind differently at the end of a day. More
>creative, more expansive, less analytical.

Even an interactive walk through an art museum still has "puzzles,"
even if they're just simple ones like "how do I get to the van gogh
exhibit?" that are just as easily solved by "look at map then walk to
exhibit".

Everything is a DAG in the sense that the player is constantly moving
forward in time. Unless you can erase the player's memory of an
event, it's impossible to have a loop where you see the same exact
thing over again.

[..]


>> But please, you don't need to tell us that our games are boring in order
>> to convince of this.
>
>Actually, I don't know about that. Agreed that I don't need to convince
>you about the value of expanding the forms. However, I think saying "hey!
>I think this particular aspect of the form is boring!" is a powerful way to
>actually get the form expanded. Particularly if I try to explain my view

I disagree. I think saying "Hey, I think this particular aspect of the
form is boring, therefore I wrote up this cool new game which does it
differently!" will expand the form. Anything else just expands the
newsgroup traffic. (but this has been said before, and is unnecessary)

[..]


>Brandon J. Van Every <vane...@blarg.net> DEC Commodity Graphics
>http://www.blarg.net/~vanevery Windows NT Alpha OpenGL
--

Dan Shiovitz :: scy...@u.washington.edu :: sh...@cs.washington.edu
..................................................................
"Alas, I do not rule the world and that, I am afraid, is the story
of my life: always a godmother, never a God." -- Fran Lebowitz
...http://weber.u.washington.edu/~scythe/home.html................

Magnus Olsson

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Aug 31, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/31/97
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In article <5uak9v$i...@nntp5.u.washington.edu>,

Dan Shiovitz <scy...@u.washington.edu> wrote:
>In article <01bcb53c$ff5113a0$939f...@hammurabi.blarg.net>,
>Brandon Van Every <vane...@blarg.net> wrote:
>>Carl Muckenhoupt <ca...@earthweb.com> wrote in article
>><340607...@earthweb.com>...
>>> Brandon Van Every wrote:
>[..]

>>that way, solve the puzzle, get to the end" feeling. For me, ideally I
>>would want an open-ended game that's 1/2 reality, 1/2 fantasy. So that I
>>can kick the cop in the nuts, have him thank me for it because he likes it
>>like that, and then trade my underwear for his wheels as a matter of fair
>>exchange. Or maybe plug me full of .38 caliber holes in the kneecaps, if I
>>was in a more morbid mood that day.

You're far from alone in wanting to see such games. In fact, what
you're describing seems to be a "simulationist" piece of IF: what is
essentially a detailed simulation of a world, interactive of course,
with the "fiction" label because you're creating/participating in a
narrative with literary aspects (as opposed to other simulations, or
games like Nethack, where you're creating a narrative of sorts but the
result can't be called literature, unless you write a book about your
experiences :-)).

I would also like to see games like that. However, I'm not sure I'd
want to write one, and even if I did, I'd probably want to write
"traditional" IF as well (what you, and nobody else, insist on calling
"linear" games).

>The reason why I don't want to write these kind of games is that if
>the player can do anything and all possibilities are played out, then
>the author can no longer be writing any sort of story; all they're
>doing is providing a virtual park for the player to wander around in.

I think you're unnecessarily pessimistic. There could still be a story
going on; it's just that you couldn't force the player to participate.

>>> There's a lot that can be done
>>> within a particular format, and we're far from exhausting ours.
>>> Furthermore, there are distinct reasons why this format has been as
>>> popular as it is - chiefly that it provides the player with motivation.
>>
>>I'll offer you a different analysis on that. Puzzle-solving and DAG plots
>>provide *some* players with motivation.

And that's really all there is to it. The audience is there, and it's
appreciative (so far). We don't expect *everybody* to like our games.
Now, if *nobody* liked them, if the *entire* audience left in disgust,
then the situation would change (though I suppose a few die-hard
enthusiasts would still be writing IF), but I don't think that's very
likely to happen for quite a few years.

>>If you like what's out there in
>>IF-land, then you come back for more. In this regard IF is a
>>self-selecting culture and community, and I wouldn't necessarily look to
>>the prevailent standards of the community as the be-all end-all of IF.

So what? This is true of *all* culture. If you aim at pleasing
*everybody* you'll end up with something totally washed-out and
harmless - and there'd still be lots of people who detested your
stuff. Think of musical genres.

>>Remember that the vast majority of the buying public isn't interested in
>>active forms of entertainment, they like the passive stuff. Also, there
>

>I can't imagine that there is going to be much of a market among
>passive people for interactive fiction.

Neither can I.

>>Actually, I don't know about that. Agreed that I don't need to convince
>>you about the value of expanding the forms. However, I think saying "hey!
>>I think this particular aspect of the form is boring!" is a powerful way to
>>actually get the form expanded. Particularly if I try to explain my view

No, it's actually a *lousy* way of getting the form expanded. If you provide
entirely negative, unconstructive criticism - "Hey, what you're ding
is boring, do something funnier instead" - you'll only piss people off
and make them reluctant to listen to you.

Granted, you're not as negative as that :-), but IMAO your theoretical
speculations are not very constructive either - you're being so very
general that what you're saying can't really be applied in practice
(I'm in particular thinking of the "A to Z" stuff where the letters
stand for so general entities that the whole thing becomes rather
unapplicable).

>I disagree. I think saying "Hey, I think this particular aspect of the
>form is boring, therefore I wrote up this cool new game which does it
>differently!" will expand the form. Anything else just expands the
>newsgroup traffic. (but this has been said before, and is unnecessary)

I think it needs to be said again, even though I'm sure certain people
will eat my liver for it: You have a very hard time persuading people
to do anything with purely theoretcial arguments, as long as the
theory isn't directly applicable to what's actually being done, or
what people already are thinking of doing.

--
Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se, zeb...@pobox.com)
------ http://www.pobox.com/~zebulon ------
Not officially connected to LU or LTH.

--
Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se, zeb...@pobox.com)
------ http://www.pobox.com/~zebulon ------
Not officially connected to LU or LTH.

Terence Fergusson

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Aug 31, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/31/97
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In article <5ubtlj$kpb$1...@bartlet.df.lth.se>, Magnus Olsson
<m...@bartlet.df.lth.se> scribed:

>>The reason why I don't want to write these kind of games is that if
>>the player can do anything and all possibilities are played out, then
>>the author can no longer be writing any sort of story; all they're
>>doing is providing a virtual park for the player to wander around in.
>
>I think you're unnecessarily pessimistic. There could still be a story
>going on; it's just that you couldn't force the player to participate.

Hmmm.... This reminds me a lot like Daggerfall. Nice game. Huge game
as well. It wasn't really as sophisticated as the hype said it was, but
if you didn't like the main plot, you could go off and do whatever you
wanted (within the game restrictions). But the main quest never
continued until you went back to it.

Frontier: First Encounters is another like this. This time, however,
all of the "story" quests (the ones that were unique, and were not
repeated) went on regardless. If you didn't take them up, someone else
would, and then the papers would report it. One brilliant example was
an assassination job you could do. If you did it, a new quest would
appear on the bulletin boards offering a reward for *your* destruction.
If you didn't take the assassination job, someone else would take it and
complete it, and then you'd be able to hunt them down for the reward.
Or you could ignore it completely and get on with trading, bounty
hunting, pirating, etc, to build up your money reserves. Maybe go
exploring, or buy a better ship, focus on combat, trading, and so on.

The hard part with text IF is the huge amount of detail that is usually
expected from it. The current parser and the diversity of the English
language means that an awful lot of programming usually has to be
directed to giving sensible answers to reasonable commands. And then
interaction of said objects is another factor. The interface we're
working with is not helpful for creating a huge limitless universe. But
since that's the interface we're using (and I doubt any other is more
suitable for text IF, and by interface, I'm not talking about any
particular language, but the standard parser system we've been using
since Adventure) is what we're stuck with, that's what we'll have to
make do with. Either way, it's gonna take a lot of work.

Alan Conroy

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Aug 31, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/31/97
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On 31 Aug 1997 16:04:35 +0200, m...@bartlet.df.lth.se (Magnus Olsson)
wrote:

>You're far from alone in wanting to see such games. In fact, what
>you're describing seems to be a "simulationist" piece of IF: what is
>essentially a detailed simulation of a world, interactive of course,
>with the "fiction" label because you're creating/participating in a
>narrative with literary aspects (as opposed to other simulations, or
>games like Nethack, where you're creating a narrative of sorts but the
>result can't be called literature, unless you write a book about your
>experiences :-)).
>
>I would also like to see games like that. However, I'm not sure I'd
>want to write one, and even if I did, I'd probably want to write
>"traditional" IF as well (what you, and nobody else, insist on calling
>"linear" games).

[snip]


>I think you're unnecessarily pessimistic. There could still be a story
>going on; it's just that you couldn't force the player to participate.

Just a few comments on your excellent post. Pardon the length of the
text...

Let me first define three terms so that the following makes sense:

SIMULATION: software which attempts to emulate the laws of the
physical world at some level and extrapolate up from there. A user
(or "player") introduces forces or objects into the virtual world
which results in believable reactions.

INTERACTIVE FICTION: A plot, an environment, a conclusion, and the
necessary glue to hold them together (NPCs, objects, etc), which a
player can interact with, but have no *significant* effect on.

INTERACTIVE MYTHOS: An environment including objects, which a player
not only interacts with, but can have significant effect on. No
inherent plot other than what the player imposes.

[I know that many people will likely disagree with details of these
definitions, or the names I used, but for the sake of argument, let's
let these definitions stand for the remainder of my text]

I see problems which arise from people confusing two or three of these
definitions. I believe they are inherently incompatible. What you
call "simulationist IF" is actually closer to an Interactive Mythos,
and doesn't really qualify as IF at all. Here's why. The use of the
term "Fiction" is accurate in that it means "of the imagination".
However, in actual usage, it implies a "story", with characters, plot,
rising action, climax, conclusion, et. al. By virtue of the fact that
there is a plot, and a foregone conclusion (or several conclusions),
even if they remain a mystery to the player, the interaction is of
necessity limited. I am aware of no game, for instance, where you
would be able to, instead of saving the princess from the dragon,
leave her to the dragon, kill her family, and assume the throne.
Someone could write that possible ending into the game, but what if
the player decided to do something else? If you were even able to
anticpate all the possible things that an inventive (and/or derranged)
individual would do, by the time you were finished, you would either
have an infinite number of plots, or no plot at all. Zork and
Adventure fit this category (no plot).

Does that mean that there is an inherent problem in Interactive
Fiction? Of course not. It is intended to tell a story and let you
interact with it. If it provides a couple of different possible
endings depending upon how the player interacts with the plot, then
that's added frosting to the cake. When you try to make it
"non-linear" (as described in previous posts), you are attempting to
change it into something it is not. To put it another way, it is what
it is. What it does it does very well.

So does an Interactive Mythos provide anything useful? Of course, but
don't try to make it be Interactive Fiction. It is, also, what it is.
The problem with IMs is that the player must be very self-motivated or
they will be bored. Since the entire plot relies upon their actions,
they have got to have a clear goal in mind or the game quickly becomes
pointless (no difference from real life there). As you mentioned,
most people prefer something passive, and so I believe that IMs are,
by definition, less appealing to most people. Possibly this could be
offset by offering the player a choice of some canned goals to strive
for, but nothing would require that they follow the goal.

Most problematic of the three categories is the Simulation. It is
impossible to simulate the physical world with 100% accuracy. First,
we don't know all the rules. If physists ever come up with a real
GUT, then there might be hope, but I'm not holding my breath. And,
does anyone REALLY know how to simulate a person, or the interaction
between any number of virtual people? Second, all of the computer
power and storage in the world could not accurately simulate the
movement of molecules in a gallon of standing water, much less what is
going on at the sub-atomic level (at least, not in real-time). Of
course, you can abstract up to a higher level, but the higher you
abstract, the less accurate the simulation becomes. So what if you
are happy with a level of simulation which is abstract enough to be
playable? Then you run into other problems. Your hero (the player)
in the game is much too likely to die, or otherwise fail. If James
Bond was real, he would likely have died on his first mission. No one
is that lucky. The enemy gunmen would not always miss. If you
simulate the player being shot, for instance, he's just as likely to
die from blood loss, or infection, or from additional bullets once he
is lying on the ground, senseless. This is one of the problems with
"critical hits" in role-playing games, and is why they are not often
used (they are almost always optional, if presented in the rules at
all). In other words, reality stinks, and doesn't often make for a
very good game. All this ignores the problems inherent with
incorporating magic, or psionics, or such. How do you simulate that
which isn't real to begin with. And if you do, how do you integrate
it into a simulation of real physical laws. I'm not saying that
someone can't do it, but it is non-trivial.

I realize that games of one category may have elements of the other
categories. However, the incompatabilities between them prevent any
Grand Unification Theory from forming which would allow a game to have
all the advantages of all three. But all hope is not lost. There is
already a type of game which has elements of all three categories. I
am speaking of Role Playing Games (human-mediated, not computer).
Effectively, you have a mythos (a campaign setting), a series of
fiction (modules, or scenarios), and simulation (the referee
determines if what the PCs are trying to do makes logical sense,
assigns a difficulty, and rolls up a result). A self-motivated player
can game forever without a module. The campaign provides the backdrop
for his game. Maybe he does let the dragon eat the princess, kills
the royal family, and usurps the throne. For the majority who need
the goals provided for them, scenarios provide the additional
framework. And yes, they are Interactive Fiction, by nearly anyone's
definition. Since the scenarios take place within the campaign
setting, half-motivated people can pursue their own goals while
keeping their interest through a series of scenarios.

So, if software existed which allowed a IM backdrop, with the ability
to integrate IF on an on-going basis, and some real-world modeling
subordinate to those, you would have something, I believe, for
everyone. Maybe you can have your cake and eat it too! However, it
won't happen until we realize the significant differences between the
three models and find a way to make them complement each other, rather
than trying to force one into another's mold.

- Alan Conroy

Gren

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Aug 31, 1997, 3:00:00 AM8/31/97
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Adam Cadre <ad...@acpub.duke.edu> wrote:

>Brandon Van Every wrote:
[snip]


>> I tried to get it on with the Taco Junta girl, she
>> wanted it, but the game ended before 6pm when I was supposed to meet
>> her. In short, I felt that the game "usually got in the way of what
>> I really wanted to do."

Hehe accually you can get it on with the Taco Junta girl...
To do it with her type "lick girl" etc. :-}


Dan Shiovitz

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Sep 1, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/1/97
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In article <Z20ADJAg...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk>,
Terence Fergusson <t...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk> wrote:
[..]

>The hard part with text IF is the huge amount of detail that is usually
>expected from it. The current parser and the diversity of the English

Yes. And more specifically, we want intelligent attention to detail,
complete with amusing responses. We want the game to give a special
response to XYZZY, and if we type "PUT DONUT HOLE IN DONUT" we want a
humorous acknowledgement of the fact that this is a totally different
case than "PUT ANYTHING ELSE IN DONUT". In short, we demand a level of
detail that can't be reproduced by computers as of present date, or
anytime soon. (We don't *really* demand this, of course. It's just
what the state of the art game is pictured as having.)

>language means that an awful lot of programming usually has to be
>directed to giving sensible answers to reasonable commands. And then
>interaction of said objects is another factor. The interface we're
>working with is not helpful for creating a huge limitless universe. But
>since that's the interface we're using (and I doubt any other is more
>suitable for text IF, and by interface, I'm not talking about any
>particular language, but the standard parser system we've been using
>since Adventure) is what we're stuck with, that's what we'll have to
>make do with. Either way, it's gonna take a lot of work.

I disagree with the idea that the parser is the problem. The problems
that I see with writing simulation-style IF is that there's virtually
no library support for predefined objects in any language. If I want a
sink in my TADS game, I have to go and write one from scratch. If I
want an ice-cream cone (that melts if it gets too hot, and so on), I
have to code that, too. If I want a wise old man that follows the
player around, giving advice in the form of zen koans, I have to code
him also. Furthermore, even if someone did go through the effort of
producing a massive library of predefined classes, giving default
boats, books, and bison, I don't think players would enjoy it. They'd
say "good game, but he obviously used the default libraries since his
sheep are all identical to the sheep used in games X, Y, and Z." At
least, that's what my reaction would be.

I'm not sure if we're really at the practical limit of how much work
one person can put into a game. It might be that in time, just as we
accept the fact that most Inform games have the "You can't take that"
response, we'll accept most Inform games with doors all having
basically the same kind of oak doors with brass handles. To me, these
feel like different sorts of sacrifices, and I prefer games not have
the standard "You can't take that" response anyway.

(On a related note, I'm on a mailing list for mud developers, on which
are several people working on serious simulation-style games. If you'd
like the address, e-mail me.)

> Terence Fergusson

Brandon Van Every

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Sep 1, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/1/97
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Adam Cadre <ad...@acpub.duke.edu> wrote in article
<340822...@acpub.duke.edu>...
> >
> > [I-0] was more non-linear than a lot of

> > adventure games, but really the game would need to go much farther
> > to break free of that "you can't go that way, solve the puzzle, get
> > to the end" feeling. For me, ideally I would want an open-ended game
> > that's 1/2 reality, 1/2 fantasy.
>
> As I said in another post -- give me eighteen months.

Ok will do. :-) Time is always the problem, isn't it?

Brandon Van Every

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Sep 1, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/1/97
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GLEEMOTH <glee...@aol.com> wrote in article
<19970830215...@ladder01.news.aol.com>...

> I've read every post to the Nonlinearity thread since it began. I've
> thought about every point made by every poster. And now...
>
> I have a headache.
> ;-)

Yes and having wrtten 1/2 of them in a very short period of time, it has
become something of a blur. I managed to do other things this weekend,
thankfully. I hope other people have their own $0.02 to add to the
subject, because I think I've probably spewed forth as many theoretical
ideas as I have to offer at this time. I need a round of actual game
writing to refine my own thoughts. But if someone else chimes in on one of
these posts, maybe they can trigger off a new round of discussion.

To help you with your headache (and my own!) I'll summarize what I think
are the "core" ideas. At least, this is what I feel I've gotten out of the
discussion, even if some of the ideas aren't new. A "nonlinear" game,
according to my own definitions:

(1) has no single endpoint. Nor does it have multiple endpoints. In fact,
it has no endpoints whatsoever. Expressing this mathematically: the game
is a general graph with loops in it. From any node in the graph, you can
get back to any other node in the graph somehow.

(2) has no singular goal. The "goal" of the game is to arrive at a game
state "that you like." If you like it, you stay there for awhile. If you
don't like it, or you get bored and restless with it, you move on to some
other game state. In this respect the game has something in common with
the "software toys" of Maxis, i.e. SimCity, SimAnt, etc. The difference is
that you might not care about building the "best" city or some such. You
might want to build the worst city, a city that's better in a different
way, a mediocre city, or not build cities at all. It depends on the
player's current goal, their own psychological satisfactions or
dissatisfactions with the current game.

(3) could have a single beginning. However, it could also have multiple
beginnings. For example you could start in a random location, or pick from
a list of available characters/personas. By design, where you start could
influence your perception of the game, but the game doesn't have to be
designed this way to be nonlinear.

(4) allows freedom of action and freedom of intention. The game should
refrain from herding players from room to room. Nor should it be necessary
to have a specific objective or "mindset" in order to move around in the
game. Let's say the game, broadly speaking, was about a quest for the Holy
Grail. If I wanted to play very seriously and actually find the Grail,
that should be possible. But if I wanted to blow off the Grail and ham it
up ala Monty Python, that should be possible as well. Or, maybe I want to
experience the quest as Salvador Dali might have, with the Grail as a
psychological symbol rather than the tangible product of a series of puzzle
solutions. Put another way, the "authorial intent" of the game should be
nonrestrictive. In a nonlinear game, it is not the author's job to shout
the narrative at the player. It is the author's job to construct an
environment in which the player will complete his/her own self-narration.

Brandon Van Every

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Sep 1, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/1/97
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Terence Fergusson <t...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk> wrote in article

<PfTV5AA8...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk>...
> In article <5ud9mc$6...@nntp5.u.washington.edu>, Dan Shiovitz
> <scy...@u.washington.edu> scribed:


> >I'm not sure if we're really at the practical limit of how much work
> >one person can put into a game. It might be that in time, just as we
> >accept the fact that most Inform games have the "You can't take that"
> >response, we'll accept most Inform games with doors all having
> >basically the same kind of oak doors with brass handles. To me, these
> >feel like different sorts of sacrifices, and I prefer games not have
> >the standard "You can't take that" response anyway.

I think there are practical limits to what one person can put in a game. I
also think that the practical $$$$ market for IF games is not "one-shot"
games, but rather the dynamic addition of content to 3d virtual world MUD
servers. At least, that's the only way I see anyone's gonna get paid to do
anything really interesting. This will require teams of authors, as the
whims of 1000+ users must be catered to simultaneously.

> I think people are getting tired of find a key to open a door puzzles.
> At least, in the normal sense. Of course, in some cases, it's
> unavoidable. In a realistic setting, some doors would be locked, and
> the key probably wouldn't be that nearby.

I'm tired of puzzles that are a "key in the lock" at ANY level of
abstraction. Unfortunately I suspect that this is fundamental to the
defnition of a "puzzle." A puzzle is, generally speaking, a barricade that
blocks you from acquiring a new resource. Or at least that's how I see the
notion of "puzzle" being used over and over again. Is there some other
possible notion of "puzzle?"

Terence Fergusson

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Sep 1, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/1/97
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In article <5ud9mc$6...@nntp5.u.washington.edu>, Dan Shiovitz
<scy...@u.washington.edu> scribed:
>In article <Z20ADJAg...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk>,
>Terence Fergusson <t...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk> wrote:
>[..]
>>language means that an awful lot of programming usually has to be
>>directed to giving sensible answers to reasonable commands. And then
>>interaction of said objects is another factor. The interface we're
>>working with is not helpful for creating a huge limitless universe. But
>>since that's the interface we're using (and I doubt any other is more
>>suitable for text IF, and by interface, I'm not talking about any
>>particular language, but the standard parser system we've been using
>>since Adventure) is what we're stuck with, that's what we'll have to
>>make do with. Either way, it's gonna take a lot of work.
>
>I disagree with the idea that the parser is the problem. The problems
>that I see with writing simulation-style IF is that there's virtually
>no library support for predefined objects in any language. If I want a
>sink in my TADS game, I have to go and write one from scratch. If I
>want an ice-cream cone (that melts if it gets too hot, and so on), I
>have to code that, too. If I want a wise old man that follows the
>player around, giving advice in the form of zen koans, I have to code
>him also. Furthermore, even if someone did go through the effort of
>producing a massive library of predefined classes, giving default
>boats, books, and bison, I don't think players would enjoy it. They'd
>say "good game, but he obviously used the default libraries since his
>sheep are all identical to the sheep used in games X, Y, and Z." At
>least, that's what my reaction would be.

I believe the parser is the problem. But it is not a problem that
anyone would particularly liked solved. This is because the problem is
that the current parser gives too much freedom of input; it asks you
what you want to do, and it asks you to enter that in standard English.
The state of the art game that you mentioned would have a perfect parser
on the level of ST:TNG's computer, able to understand 99% of anything
entered, and be able to act on the command logically.

But because of the freedom of input, there is an awful lot more work
that is entailed on covering all possibilities. The two games I
mentioned in the previous post - Frontier and Daggerfall - both have
restrictive input. You can't do enter commands in English in either of
the games; you're commands are severely limited to mouse movements,
icons, and the two buttons. And that is a lot easier to cover.

Basically, the IF parser is a problem, only because it gives us too much
freedom. But the thing is, we *want* that freedom. So it is only as
much as a problem as to give IF authors headaches when they want to try
an all-encompassing game with immense sophistication. And that was what
I was trying to say.

If you think about it, the people writing Daggerfall or Frontier didn't
have library-defined objects either (at least, not in the game-related
sense). But their work was probably significantly easier, because they
had such a restrictive interface.


Your point on library-defined objects is interesting. But ultimately, I
believe such libraries would only be useful for objects that are common
in IF, such as doors, tables, chests, etc. The number of common objects
in a single piece of IF is usually far outweighed by the number of
unique objects; and it is the unique objects that help make the game
what it is. I don't want to see the exact same puzzle in one game as I
did in another. Or at least, if I do, I would only want it to happen
occasionally, and be interspaced with unique puzzles, with new ways of
using objects, people, etc.

Unique objects, by definition, cannot be placed in a library, without
detracting from their inherent uniqueness. Such objects are also highly
influenced by the environment they're placed in. A laser pistol that is
placed in a mirror maze would require different programming than one
that was placed in a room with a set of lenses. Something as simple as
a bucket might need to be programmed differently if water is in the
game, or other kinds of liquids, and so on.

In my opinion, I believe libraries are probably going to be more useful
for pieces of code for verbs and situations. For instance, how about a
piece of code which temporarily disables SAVE and UNDO for a puzzle
room, or a piece of code that handles liquids, or a piece of code that
allows the grammar WAIT UNTIL <time>....

Yes, some of these have already been done, and that has been a
tremendous help to IF authors. Perhaps this is the way to go....

>I'm not sure if we're really at the practical limit of how much work
>one person can put into a game. It might be that in time, just as we
>accept the fact that most Inform games have the "You can't take that"
>response, we'll accept most Inform games with doors all having
>basically the same kind of oak doors with brass handles. To me, these
>feel like different sorts of sacrifices, and I prefer games not have
>the standard "You can't take that" response anyway.

Me neither. If you "can't take that", I tell them why. And do most
Inform games (not Infocom) with doors have the same old oak doors with
brass handles? Interesting question. A piece of IF I started had two
doors in the first section. The first was an entrance to a bookstore,
which was merely jammed, and had to be rammed, pushed or attacked to
open it. The second was a secret door that was invisible until a
prominent bookcase had been pushed aside, and couldn't be rammed. That
one was a standard "oak door with brass handle" door (as in, you needed
a sterotypical key, and that's the only way you're getting in).

Later, in a futuristic setting, you ended up appearing from nowhere into
a locked closet, where the door was sentient, but wouldn't obey your
commands. Searching through the junk, you found an emergency door
opener (not identified as such immediately) that was out of power.
After charging it (another puzzle) you pressed the button, and the door
opened. Would that class as our stereotypical "oak door"?

I think people are getting tired of find a key to open a door puzzles.
At least, in the normal sense. Of course, in some cases, it's
unavoidable. In a realistic setting, some doors would be locked, and
the key probably wouldn't be that nearby.

Comments, anyone?

Brandon Van Every

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Sep 1, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/1/97
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Neil deMause <ne...@echonyc.com> wrote in article
<3407E8...@echonyc.com>...


> Brandon wrote:
>
> I think this is rapidly turning into one of those discussions like the
> ones on "puzzleless" I-F: Show us what you mean, and then maybe we'll
> understand better. It doesn't have to be a large game -- games like "In
> The End" and "I-0" and "The Space Under The Window," in all their
> strengths and flaws, have done more to push the envelope of game
> development than all the theoretical discussions on Usenet.

Would love to oblige, but it's a non-trivial task and there are a lot of
design requirements to explore first. That's the stage I'm in. When I
understand what is needed, then I'll disappear and implement it. But I
haven't arrived at that point yet. Also, it's very important to "know
one's history" in any project of this sort. For instance, there's a whole
history of MUD developments that's relevant as well. They tend to have the
opposite problem: plenty of simulation, no story. So I think it's
important to collect a certain amount of information first. If you've
alredy heard a lot of theory on the subject, then I'd love to hear any
"good ideas" you've run into, as that would help me to move on to the
implementation stage faster.


Cheers,

Andrew Plotkin

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Sep 1, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/1/97
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Brandon Van Every (vane...@blarg.net) wrote:

> I'm tired of puzzles that are a "key in the lock" at ANY level of
> abstraction. Unfortunately I suspect that this is fundamental to the
> defnition of a "puzzle." A puzzle is, generally speaking, a barricade that
> blocks you from acquiring a new resource. Or at least that's how I see the
> notion of "puzzle" being used over and over again. Is there some other
> possible notion of "puzzle?"

A puzzle is something which requires the player to pay attention and then
act.

(The final cause, rather than the functional definition.)

--Z

--

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

LFrench106

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Sep 2, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/2/97
to

> I'm tired of puzzles that are a "key in the lock" at ANY level of
> abstraction. Unfortunately I suspect that this is fundamental to the
> defnition of a "puzzle." A puzzle is, generally speaking, a barricade that
> blocks you from acquiring a new resource. Or at least that's how I see the
> notion of "puzzle" being used over and over again. Is there some other
> possible notion of "puzzle?"

Well, there's the I-0 solution, i.e. have puzzles to get interesting
reactions (Curses has a 50-point puzzle like this; it doesn't aid your
progress through the game, but it does give an interesting reaction in
another part (That can be finished both before and after doing something)).


Brandon Van Every

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Sep 2, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/2/97
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LFrench106 <lfren...@aol.com> wrote in article
<19970902074...@ladder02.news.aol.com>...

> > I'm tired of puzzles that are a "key in the lock" at ANY level of
> > abstraction.
>
> Well, there's the I-0 solution, i.e. have puzzles to get interesting
> reactions (Curses has a 50-point puzzle like this; it doesn't aid your
> progress through the game, but it does give an interesting reaction in
> another part (That can be finished both before and after doing
something)).

Hmm.
(1) A puzzle that you're not required to solve. "Puzzle for puzzle's
sake."
(2) A puzzle that gives you an interesting result. "Puzzle for reward."


Cheers,
--

Kenneth Albanowski

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Sep 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/3/97
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In article <5ud9mc$6...@nntp5.u.washington.edu>,

Dan Shiovitz <scy...@u.washington.edu> wrote:
>
>I disagree with the idea that the parser is the problem. The problems
>that I see with writing simulation-style IF is that there's virtually
>no library support for predefined objects in any language. If I want a
>sink in my TADS game, I have to go and write one from scratch. If I
>want an ice-cream cone (that melts if it gets too hot, and so on), I
>have to code that, too.

I think this is just a secondary effect. Consider what would happen if we
_did_ have a "stock" ice-cream cone: now you have to give each room, and the
cone, a temperature, a description of the melting curve of the ice cream,
the concept of ice cream dripping, etc.

Then consider what you presumably wanted the ice-cream cone for in the first
place: some object that has characteristic X (say, edibility) that will
diminish with each use (lick the cone) and over time, so that by time Y, the
characteristic X will be gone.

With a good "stock" cone, programming in time Y is very complex, as you have
to back-propagate it to the environment, and all the other variables that
affect the cone.

This is in fact self defeating: the better the "stock" ice-cream cone gets,
the more work is required to make it behave like a simple puzzle object.

> If I want a wise old man that follows the player around, giving advice in
>the form of zen koans, I have to code him also. Furthermore, even if
>someone did go through the effort of producing a massive library of
>predefined classes, giving default boats, books, and bison, I don't think

>players would enjoy it. They'd say "good game, but he obviously used the


>default libraries since his sheep are all identical to the sheep used in
>games X, Y, and Z." At least, that's what my reaction would be.

With good stock sheep, that wouldn't be an issue. Each would react to its
environment, have random (within limits) characteristics of its own, etc.
Every bit of individuality would make them more difficult for the programmer
to control, of course.

>I'm not sure if we're really at the practical limit of how much work
>one person can put into a game. It might be that in time, just as we
>accept the fact that most Inform games have the "You can't take that"
>response, we'll accept most Inform games with doors all having
>basically the same kind of oak doors with brass handles. To me, these
>feel like different sorts of sacrifices, and I prefer games not have
>the standard "You can't take that" response anyway.

Actually, nearly all Inform games with doors _do_ have the same oak doors
with brass handles. They just paste little signs on them saying "this isn't
oak, it's a big boulder", and "this isn't brass, it's a little crack that
might prove really interesting if the sun hits it the right way".
--
Kenneth Albanowski (kja...@kjahds.com)

Kenneth Albanowski

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Sep 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/3/97
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In article <3405DD...@acpub.duke.edu>,
Adam Cadre <ad...@acpub.duke.edu> wrote:
>Will Grzanich wrote:
>> A story is really nothing more or less than a narrative
>> description of a character struggling to solve a problem.
>
>Frequently. Not always.


>
>> The computer geek's struggle to get his Dial-Up Networking connection
>> to work, for instance, wouldn't make horribly good writing.
>
>It could if it were written right.

Indeed. I never finished it, but I thought CosmoServe was very well written.

--
Kenneth Albanowski (kja...@kjahds.com)

Kenneth Albanowski

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Sep 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/3/97
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In article <Rc4iJGAY...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk>,
Terence Fergusson <t...@isla-mia.demon.co.uk> wrote:
>Also, would anyone like to comment on the Ultima series? Particularly,
>let's say, "Ultima 7 : The Black Gate" vs. "Ultima 7 : The Serpent
>Isle"? "The Black Gate" has all manner of subquests, and non-linearity,
>while "The Serpent Isle" restricts your movement, and seems highly
>linear. Comments?

** SPOILERS for Ultima 7 **

Agreed. In Ultima 7, you had something like maybe 8 actions that had to be
performed roughly in order, with a good chunk of the ones in the middle
being performable in any order. The first action is, of course, "start
playing the game", and there are approximately three end-points, "create the
Black Gate, and save the world", "enter the Black Gate, save yourself, and
probably doom the world, although you'll never find out", and "settle down
in a cosmopolitan city doing odd jobs and making occasional trips to the
gambling den just to lose your money". Note that the last end-point does not
actually involve the game exiting back to the OS. Consider it a dynamic end.

Ultima 7 had sufficient world interaction that it was just possible to do
this sort of thing. Supposedly Daggerfall had some of the same
characteristics, though with more bugs.

(I've always tried to play games in this fashion, and am annoyed/amused when
they don't allow it. Anyone remember Populous? (Speaking of Bullfrog...)
After killing off all but one of the enemy, I'd sit down and start cleaning
up the landscape, trying to create a decent world -- and that little idiot
would still keep trying to crawl off his island to take on the world single
handedly. There was no way to convince him/them to surrender, and even if
there was, that surrender would presumably end the level.)

Anyhow, if you work towards the static endings of Ultima 7, you've got
something like half a dozen things that must be done in the middle (if I
remember right), with little order involved. Many involve tests of strength
or skill, but these are not _directly_ predicated on some previous "event",
but rather on an RPG style accumulation of skills and possesions.

Some "events" have direct linear results (like disabling one piece of
magical equipment in turn deprives you of a teleportation mechanism), but
these results themselves do not cause linear effects. For example, the
primary result of losing that teleportation mechanism is that it is more
difficult to move about, thereby restricting somewhat your opportunities for
further improving your skills. If you have no sea transportation, you are
forced to expend effort purchasing a ship or finding a magic carpet.

Consider this a "fuzzy" system, instead of a digital one, if you like.

--
Kenneth Albanowski (kja...@kjahds.com)

Adam Cadre

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Sep 3, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/3/97
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Will Grzanich wrote:
> Re-read the part about "arrogant, over-confident fools."

It's impossible to be overconfident if you can never fail. Your
confidence is always grounded in reality.

Fools is a meaningless pejorative.

And I suspect that arrogance would be no more widespread in this ideal
world than it is now.

LFrench106

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Sep 4, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/4/97
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>Actually, nearly all Inform games with doors _do_ have the same oak doors
>with brass handles. They just paste little signs on them saying "this isn't
>oak, it's a big boulder", and "this isn't brass, it's a little crack that
>might prove really interesting if the sun hits it the right way".

Ah, yes, that oak boulder with a brass crack; to open it, you need a
Thrush, a special key, and to be there on a special day of the year.
(And of course, to get past the puzzle that follows you need a halfling
burgler...)

Luc French
Member of Narnwatch

Brandon Van Every

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Sep 4, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/4/97
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Adam Cadre <ad...@acpub.duke.edu> wrote in article
<340DE7...@acpub.duke.edu>...

>
> Will Grzanich wrote:
> > Re-read the part about "arrogant, over-confident fools."
>
> It's impossible to be overconfident if you can never fail. Your
> confidence is always grounded in reality.

But in that imaginary universe where everyone can save and restore their
state at will, it is also impossible to succeed. Someone can always undo
your work. Only if every interested party achieves consensus about the
outcome, can success truly be possible. Thus if one wishes to be a social
animal in this bold new universe, one might become very conscious of one's
failures. Or else one might become a hermit in order to guarantee success.

Odd... the more I examine this theoretical system, the more it seems like
real life?

> Fools is a meaningless pejorative.

If "fool" is taken as the opposite of "knowledge" or "wisdom," what
knowledge or wisdom can there be in a universe that continuously erases
itself? The inability to gain knowledge or wisdom might lead to one's
mental collapase, and a wish for death. Alternately, one may willingly
become a fool in order to avoid the angst.

Funny, sounds like real life again.

> And I suspect that arrogance would be no more widespread in this ideal
> world than it is now.

Arrogance is the mirror image of insecurity, and how secure can one be in a
world that is constantly undone? Those that are secure, would care not
about the nature of the world.