[Game Design] Stylistic question -- flashback narrative structure

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Jerry Kimbrough

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Sep 14, 2002, 2:13:16 PM9/14/02
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apologies if this message would be more relevant in RGIF.

after four years of lurking and playing pretty much every game on the
archive, i've decided to try my luck at actually writing a piece of
IF.

the story (at least the first half or so) is going to be told in
flashbacks from the PC's point of view. i don't want to spoil the
plot details that i've already come up with, but it's gonna deal
mainly with some type of unspecified war or battle that the main
character is telling a newspaper journalist about.

now, 'cause he's in the middle of a war, it's obvious that the
character is going to have the opportunity to die many, many times
throughout the course of the game. my question is -- and once again,
sorry if this question is discussed elsewhere in one of the FAQs -- if
the character were to die at some point in the flashback, should i
kick the player to the "you have died" prompt, or should i toss them
back to the conversation that he's having with the journalist, clue
the player about how to avoid dying at that point, and resume the
story from before the player died?

thanks in advance...

-- j.

Cryptonomic

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Sep 14, 2002, 3:31:27 PM9/14/02
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I cannot tell you what you should do but "Tex Murphy: Overseer" (a graphic
game) had an interesting way of doing this. The idea was that you were
telling your current girlfriend about your first case. Well, obviously you
survived it to be telling her the story. But, of course, that means you
cannot die in the game (which mainly takes place in the past) itself. Well,
how they handled it was that if you screwed up and did something that would
have gotten you killed, it flashes back to the present and the character
says something like: "Well, if I had done that, I would have been dead right
there! So, of course I did not do that..." Then it jumps back to the past
and you can continue. I thought that was somewhat clever.

So I would still leave the possibility for the player to screw up in some
ways but then perhaps segue into the present and have the player-character
offer a witty aside to the journalist as to why he did not do that or how
doing that would have been a really stupid move. The game "Spider and Web"
did something similar in the sense that you are recollecting to someone what
happened. You might want to download that and see how it was handled there.
(It is available in the IFArchive under the Inform section.)

- Cryptonomic


Brent VanFossen

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Sep 14, 2002, 5:01:00 PM9/14/02
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On 14 Sep 2002 11:13:16 -0700, thekim...@yahoo.com (Jerry
Kimbrough) wrote:

>sorry if this question is discussed elsewhere in one of the FAQs

I don't think this is in the FAQs.

> -- if
>the character were to die at some point in the flashback, should i
>kick the player to the "you have died" prompt, or should i toss them
>back to the conversation that he's having with the journalist, clue
>the player about how to avoid dying at that point, and resume the
>story from before the player died?

You might go back and play Spider and Web (Tangle.z5) again for a look
at how Andrew Plotkin did this - although his solution is probably
suitable for exactly one game. In summary, the player's failures are
not treated as deaths, but he also doesn't get much coaching on how to
do it right.

Perhaps your journalist could be the one to say "Yes, it probably
would have happened that way if you had (walked into the spinning
propeller), but that's not what you did, was it?" Or "But that wasn't
you, that was Private Becker, wasn't it?" Or something similar that
you carefully craft to make sense for every possible dead end. This
solution implies that the PC is either a liar or is quite forgetful,
and you'll have to be careful to make that plausible. Your story must
make sense. In any case, stories tend to grow with repeated tellings,
but I've never heard anyone brag about his own death (past tense). You
might have to treat all the missteps as things the PC had considered
doing, but of course, since he's alive to relate the tale, obviously
that wasn't the course he actually took.

The other solution is to railroad the player so he can't make fatal
mistakes. It seems a little odd to me that the player could die in a
flashback that ends the story - the whole idea of a flashback is that
the character has survived.

One of the limits of first person fiction is that the reader knows
from page one that the viewpoint character survived the story. The
trick is to build and release the tension with the drama of the story
itself and with *how* he survives. Check out some of the how-to books
that discuss static fiction writing and choosing a viewpoint (Sorry,
I'm not near my bookshelf and no specific titles spring to mind.).

---
Brent VanFossen

Joe Mason

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Sep 14, 2002, 9:30:46 PM9/14/02
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In article <c1c2828.02091...@posting.google.com>, Jerry Kimbrough wrote:
> now, 'cause he's in the middle of a war, it's obvious that the
> character is going to have the opportunity to die many, many times
> throughout the course of the game. my question is -- and once again,
> sorry if this question is discussed elsewhere in one of the FAQs -- if
> the character were to die at some point in the flashback, should i
> kick the player to the "you have died" prompt, or should i toss them
> back to the conversation that he's having with the journalist, clue
> the player about how to avoid dying at that point, and resume the
> story from before the player died?

Either would work. The latter might be seen as more forgiving, but also
maybe a bit derivative of Spider and Web (in which I found the
repitition *almost* got annoying, except I could tell by the writing
that the author was going somewhere with it so I was able to be
forgiving).

I think the reason it worked in Spider & Web was the confrontational
tone - since it's an interrogation, the interviewer can cut you off an
get angry if you "tell it wrong" with an action that would make you die.
In a friendlier interview, "getting it wrong" would seem much lamer, and
if it wasn't a big part of the story it would seem like you threw it in
to make the framing device fit nicely.

I'd prefer to be thrown right out to the "restore, restart, quit"
prompt. I don't see that so much as a complete story as an end of the
game session - in practice, I always restore anyway, so it's just a
forgotten thread that doesn't work out - so it doesn't really matter if
it contradicts the framing device. In fact, I'd prefer not to have my
attention drawn to the contradiction.

Some people are probably going to say that getting the opportunity to
try again without any work on their part is less annoying than having to
remember to save. I think if you make it clear (maybe by putting
a couple of deaths quite near the start where it's not much of a bother to
replay up to them) it wouldn't be hard to slip back into the habit of
saving often.

Maybe a good middle road would be to automatically restart from the end
of the last session with the journalist instead of just before you died.
(No cutesy conversation about how you just told the story wrong, just
"You have died. Press any key to restart the flashback.") That way the
framing device doesn't get too intrusive, but people still get a sort of
auto-save.

Joe

John Colagioia

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Sep 15, 2002, 10:14:03 AM9/15/02
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Jerry Kimbrough wrote:
[...]

> now, 'cause he's in the middle of a war, it's obvious that the
> character is going to have the opportunity to die many, many times
> throughout the course of the game. my question is -- and once again,
> sorry if this question is discussed elsewhere in one of the FAQs -- if
> the character were to die at some point in the flashback, should i
> kick the player to the "you have died" prompt, or should i toss them
> back to the conversation that he's having with the journalist, clue
> the player about how to avoid dying at that point, and resume the
> story from before the player died?

I think that either, or both (e.g., print "You have died," just like
the library would, but then just jump back to the main narrative),
could work, personally. The key is to not make it look artificial.
Other people have pointed to "Spider and Web," and at least one also
(rightly) mentioned that it's a trick that's probably suited only to
that game.

Newspaper interviews aren't (usually) so confrontational. Of course,
the PC and the interviewer could be teasing each other, but then it's
pretty much the "Spider and Web" issue.

A similar possibility is to make the death someone else's, when
leaving the flashback. After all, it *is* a war, and presumably
there are multiple people in the same situation you're in, regardless
of the mission (redundancy is good, when you're trying to win).

In fact, the death scene could be a final game death, wherein the
player realizes that he's not the same guy that's in the flashback
(but only if he dies).

Just a quick idea, at least. Certainly feel free to ignore it.

Quintin Stone

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Sep 18, 2002, 5:09:06 PM9/18/02
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On 14 Sep 2002, Jerry Kimbrough wrote:

> now, 'cause he's in the middle of a war, it's obvious that the character
> is going to have the opportunity to die many, many times throughout the
> course of the game. my question is -- and once again, sorry if this
> question is discussed elsewhere in one of the FAQs -- if the character
> were to die at some point in the flashback, should i kick the player to
> the "you have died" prompt, or should i toss them back to the
> conversation that he's having with the journalist, clue the player about
> how to avoid dying at that point, and resume the story from before the
> player died?

Character: And then I stepped into the pit and fell to my death.

Journalist: You, ah, fell to your death?

Character: Yup.

Journalist: So... you're dead?

Character: Yup.

Journalist: Uhm, okay.... *backs away slowly*


In other words, the journalist decides that the interviewee is a little
unbalanced. Just a thought.

/====================================================================\
|| Quintin Stone O- > "You speak of necessary evil? One ||
|| Weapons Master & Coder < of those necessities is that if ||
|| Rebel Programmers Society > innocents must suffer, the guilty must ||
|| st...@rps.net < suffer more." -- Mackenzie Calhoun ||
|| http://www.rps.net/ > "Once Burned" by Peter David ||
\====================================================================/


D. Jacob Wildstrom

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Sep 18, 2002, 6:37:46 PM9/18/02
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In article <Pine.LNX.4.44.020918...@yes.rps.net>,

Quintin Stone <st...@rps.net> wrote:
>Character: And then I stepped into the pit and fell to my death.
>
>Journalist: You, ah, fell to your death?
>
>Character: Yup.

You can do this in _Spider and Web_:

The man is staring at you as if at a joke he doesn't, quite,
understand. "And then you died."

>YES

The man shakes his head in disgust.

The response for >NO is better, though.

+------Archbishop, First Church of Mystical Agnosticism------+
| A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into |
| theorems. -Alfred Renyi |
+------------------------------------------------------------+
| Jake Wildstrom |
+------------------------------------------------------------+

Magnus Olsson

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Sep 19, 2002, 1:28:28 AM9/19/02
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In article <Pine.LNX.4.44.020918...@yes.rps.net>,
Quintin Stone <st...@rps.net> wrote:
>On 14 Sep 2002, Jerry Kimbrough wrote:
>
>> now, 'cause he's in the middle of a war, it's obvious that the character
>> is going to have the opportunity to die many, many times throughout the
>> course of the game. my question is -- and once again, sorry if this
>> question is discussed elsewhere in one of the FAQs -- if the character
>> were to die at some point in the flashback, should i kick the player to
>> the "you have died" prompt, or should i toss them back to the
>> conversation that he's having with the journalist, clue the player about
>> how to avoid dying at that point, and resume the story from before the
>> player died?
>
>Character: And then I stepped into the pit and fell to my death.
>
>Journalist: You, ah, fell to your death?
>
>Character: Yup.
>
>Journalist: So... you're dead?
>
>Character: Yup.

Or, in a more conventional game:

Journalist: So... you're dead?

Character: No. Well, you see, I *was* dead, but then this disembodied
voice asked me if I wanted another chance, and I was resurrected in
a cloud of orange smoke.

>Journalist: Uhm, okay.... *backs away slowly*


>In other words, the journalist decides that the interviewee is a little
>unbalanced.

She might have come to that conclusion earlier, when the character
described how he went round looking for Easter eggs by shouting
"XYZZY".


--
Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se)

Kato Jenkina

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Sep 19, 2002, 2:09:43 PM9/19/02
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> Character: And then I stepped into the pit and fell to my death.
>
> Journalist: You, ah, fell to your death?
>
> Character: Yup.
>
> Journalist: So... you're dead?
>
> Character: Yup.
>
> Journalist: Uhm, okay.... *backs away slowly*
>
>
> In other words, the journalist decides that the interviewee is a little
> unbalanced. Just a thought.

Brilliant. I'd end the game right there!

Paul O'Brian

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Sep 19, 2002, 6:20:05 PM9/19/02
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On Sat, 14 Sep 2002, Brent VanFossen wrote:

> Perhaps your journalist could be the one to say "Yes, it probably
> would have happened that way if you had (walked into the spinning
> propeller), but that's not what you did, was it?" Or "But that wasn't
> you, that was Private Becker, wasn't it?"

If you're using something like a first-person, present-tense narrative
voice, you may be able to keep the entire thing within the frame of the
conversation:

South Of Mine Field
So there I was, standing on a barren, blasted patch of ground. There was a
mine field to my north, and the compound was back west.

> N
For a second, I considered dashing into the minefield, but without a map I
knew I'd be blown to smithereens, so I stayed put and reconsidered.

--
Paul O'Brian obr...@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
SPAG 30 is coming!

Dave

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Sep 19, 2002, 8:00:04 PM9/19/02
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Paul O'Brian <obr...@ucsu.colorado.edu> wrote:

> If you're using something like a first-person, present-tense narrative
> voice, you may be able to keep the entire thing within the frame of the
> conversation:

> South Of Mine Field
> So there I was, standing on a barren, blasted patch of ground. There was a
> mine field to my north, and the compound was back west.

>> N
> For a second, I considered dashing into the minefield, but without a map I
> knew I'd be blown to smithereens, so I stayed put and reconsidered.

This sounds amazingly similar to the style of Infocom's "Journey".


--
David Griffith
dgr...@cs.csubak.edu

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