Spring Thing 2006 Reviews

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Mike Snyder

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May 2, 2006, 10:52:22 AM5/2/06
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Fourteen voters. Four games. Three sets of reviews. One day of discussion.

Even some mini-comps do better than that.

At any rate, I've posted my reviews to my website, here:

http://www.sidneymerk.com/spring06.shtml

These were previously posted here, and in SPAG #44. I've put them up on my
site for completeness, and to make linking easier if anybody is so inclined.

--- Mike.


Victor Gijsbers

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May 2, 2006, 11:05:14 AM5/2/06
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Mike Snyder wrote:

> Fourteen voters. Four games. Three sets of reviews. One day of discussion.
>
> Even some mini-comps do better than that.

So, what is the cause? The small number of voters intrigues me most:
voting in the Spring Thing would have taken hardly more time than voting
for even the minimal number of games in the IF competition, and all four
entries were of good quality, so it can hardly have been torture to play
them. So, what kept the voters away? How can the Spring Thing be made
more attractive?

(By the way, the comp was nevertheless very useful for me; I have had
several really interesting discussion about my piece over email.)

Regards,
Victor

dwh...@gmail.com

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May 2, 2006, 11:14:20 AM5/2/06
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I'm disappointed there hasn't been more discussion about the games,
or more reviews, and certainly more voters. Okay, so there were only
four entries but they were all of reasonably high quality and each had
points that were good enough in their own right. Even my least
favourite game of the Comp had more going for it than most of the
entries in last year's IFComp. There wasn't one game in the Spring
Thing that I played and wondered why it had even been written in the
first place (which is what one game made me think last year). But so
little discussion? Very disappointing indeed. If I didn't know
better, I'd think the folks on RAIF/RGIF were more interested in
discussing the 'idea' of game making than the actual games
themselves. :)

/shameless plug/

Here's probably as good a place as any to announce I've finished
updating my entry - The Warlord, The Princess & The Bulldog - and
it can be downloaded either from the main Adrift site -
http://www.adrift.org.uk/cgi/new/adrift.cgi - or my own website -
http://www.shadowvault.net/warlord.htm. Many thanks to Mike Snyder
whose (626 page!) transcript proved invaluable in fixing the game's
large number of errors/bugs and general problems.

/end of shameless plug/

On another note, I've started writing reviews of the games myself.

dwh...@gmail.com

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May 2, 2006, 11:17:40 AM5/2/06
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dwh...@gmail.com wrote:

> /shameless plug/
>
> Here's probably as good a place as any to announce I've finished
> updating my entry - The Warlord, The Princess & The Bulldog - and
> it can be downloaded either from the main Adrift site -
> http://www.adrift.org.uk/cgi/new/adrift.cgi - or my own website -
> http://www.shadowvault.net/warlord.htm. Many thanks to Mike Snyder
> whose (626 page!) transcript proved invaluable in fixing the game's
> large number of errors/bugs and general problems.
>
> /end of shameless plug/
>

Actually, it might be a good idea not to try and download it from my
website as I haven't got round to uploading it there yet.

*cries doh! Homer Simpson style*

It's on the main Adrift page, though.

Mike Snyder

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May 2, 2006, 11:46:44 AM5/2/06
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"Victor Gijsbers" <vic...@lilith.gotdns.org> wrote in message
news:29d2c$4457752a$9161cc34$24...@news2.tudelft.nl...

> Mike Snyder wrote:
>
>> Fourteen voters. Four games. Three sets of reviews. One day of
>> discussion.
>>
>> Even some mini-comps do better than that.
>
> So, what is the cause? The small number of voters intrigues me most:
> voting in the Spring Thing would have taken hardly more time than voting
> for even the minimal number of games in the IF competition, and all four
> entries were of good quality, so it can hardly have been torture to play
> them. So, what kept the voters away? How can the Spring Thing be made
> more attractive?

The chief reason I *almost* didn't play this year is that I expected medium-
to long-sized games. I expected every game to be in the 10 to 15 hour range,
and I had to decide to play games over multiple days (being unable to devote
long stretches to playing). I was surprised that all the games are shorter
than that, and only David's was what I expected as medium-sized. Maybe
others had the same thought, and just never got around to starting.

Or maybe people saw just four entries and figured they wouldn't bother this
year.

I don't think the Spring Thing is gaining the kind of momentum that launched
the annual competition. Maybe people see it as just another mini-comp. Even
though it's supposed to fill the spring gap, I get the feeling it's just not
generally recognized as anything more than a mini-comp. Maybe there can only
be one big "comp", and folks have stamina to go through it just once a year.

I may or may not finish a LoTech comp entry. I'm hoping to involve myself in
the annual competion again this year, but I might miss that too. I wish I
had the time and motivation to write a long game for next year's Spring
Thing, but (and I hate to say it) is it worth the effort for only fourteen
voters? Don't non-comp games get more play than that?

Maybe it's that there just isn't much to discuss. Those of us who played the
games enjoyed them to different degrees (most seem to agree that none of
them were bad), but maybe nobody has anything to really talk about. I was
waiting for somebody else to start a discussion, but I can think of a few
topics. For instance, am I the *only* one who thought the puzzle design in
"The Warlord..." was pretty clever? By chance has anybody written a
walkthrough, or even started on one? Maybe it would help illustrate just how
well it all worked. Nobody is (but probably should be) trying to make sense
of the PC's eventual "assistant" (yeah, the omnipotent one) in Pantomime, or
bugging Sherwin for a clue. There was a little talk about your game, but
mainly just in Dan Shiovitz's SPAG Specifics review.

Maybe we just don't like to talk *about* games anymore. As an IF author,
though, I'd feel more rewarded if 10 people played one of my games and
talked about it, as opposed to 100 people playing but saying nothing at all.
Haven't there been efforts to pick a particular game, get people to play,
and then discuss it? Cardinal Points? I guess I'm as guilty as anyone else
for not participating. It doesn't seem to be just the Spring Thing games --
we just aren't talking about specific games. Most of RGIF is talk about
playing games in general (interpreters, comp results, announcements), and
RAIF is busy with development discussion.

---- Mike.


Mike Snyder

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May 2, 2006, 12:04:24 PM5/2/06
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<dwh...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1146582860....@v46g2000cwv.googlegroups.com...

>
> I'm disappointed there hasn't been more discussion about the games,
> or more reviews, and certainly more voters. Okay, so there were only
> four entries but they were all of reasonably high quality and each had
> points that were good enough in their own right. Even my least
> favourite game of the Comp had more going for it than most of the
> entries in last year's IFComp. There wasn't one game in the Spring
> Thing that I played and wondered why it had even been written in the
> first place (which is what one game made me think last year). But so
> little discussion? Very disappointing indeed. If I didn't know
> better, I'd think the folks on RAIF/RGIF were more interested in
> discussing the 'idea' of game making than the actual games
> themselves. :)

I rambled some random thoughts in reply to Victor. Most of what I'd say is
there.

Aside from this, RGIF's recent topics are about IF interpreters (Zoom, a
question about voice-over, Gargoyle, Windows Frotz), the Bioware writing
comp results, some game announcements, the SPAG announcement, Eric Eve's new
game, a call for beta testers, the Tomb Raider mini-review, a book
announcement, Zorkspotting, some random comments, etc. Most of it is
certainly on-topic and applicable here, but I notice an absence of
discussion about specific games. Well, the budding Cardinal Points
discussion was a month ago, and the analysis of Tolti-Aph was definitely a
game discussion. Maybe too many of us write games too. :) If I'm playing and
discussing a game, then I'm not working on my own. It would be nice to see
more discussion *about* the games, though.

--- Mike.


dwh...@gmail.com

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May 2, 2006, 12:17:23 PM5/2/06
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Mike Snyder wrote:
> I wish I
> had the time and motivation to write a long game for next year's Spring
> Thing, but (and I hate to say it) is it worth the effort for only fourteen
> voters? Don't non-comp games get more play than that?
>

It's be interesting to know how many people downloaded the games
compared to how many actually voted.

> For instance, am I the *only* one who thought the puzzle design in
> "The Warlord..." was pretty clever? By chance has anybody written a
> walkthrough, or even started on one? Maybe it would help illustrate just how
> well it all worked.

There's actually a walkthrough available in the game. I was expecting
someone would have figured out the command for it by now but obviously
not. Or maybe no one's playing it...

Either way, if you can figure out you need to do to make the
"cheat" command work, you can open up the game's walkthrough and
all its hidden features.

Mike Snyder

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May 2, 2006, 12:23:11 PM5/2/06
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<dwh...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1146586643.3...@i40g2000cwc.googlegroups.com...

>
> It's be interesting to know how many people downloaded the games
> compared to how many actually voted.

From my mirror, there were 20 downloads of the main ZIP file last month. A
couple of those were probably me. I don't know how many came from the main
Spring Thing website. None have been downloaded from my mirror this month,
except one download of The Baron individually, and two of Pantomime.

---- Mike.


Mike Snyder

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May 2, 2006, 12:25:11 PM5/2/06
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<dwh...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1146586643.3...@i40g2000cwc.googlegroups.com...

> There's actually a walkthrough available in the game. I was expecting


> someone would have figured out the command for it by now but obviously
> not. Or maybe no one's playing it...
>
> Either way, if you can figure out you need to do to make the
> "cheat" command work, you can open up the game's walkthrough and
> all its hidden features.

I didn't figure it out. It has something to do with being able to re-enabled
"undo", right? Does the built-in walk-through cover the multiple puzzle
paths, or just the one for the full score?

---- Mike.


dwh...@gmail.com

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May 2, 2006, 1:56:39 PM5/2/06
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It doesn't actually cover "undo" being re-enabled if you type "xyzzy",
but you can get the password from the game from it which in turn will
allow you to open the game up in the Generator, enable the debugger and
use that to re-enable undo.

The walkthrough covers the events leading up to the full score.

To get the "cheat" command to work, you have to have a life score of 1,
so lots of throwing yourself onto mines, attacking people and the like
will get you there.

Emily Short

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May 2, 2006, 2:18:09 PM5/2/06
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Mike Snyder wrote:
> Maybe too many of us write games too. :) If I'm playing and
> discussing a game, then I'm not working on my own. It would be nice to see
> more discussion *about* the games, though.

I agree, though I'm not sure this is quite so much a grand malaise as
just a cyclical thing. As it happens, I did download all the Spring
Comp games with the intention of voting, but I only got through one of
them (The Baron) before the deadline.

I did think The Baron very interesting and would like to see more
discussion about it; I thought Dan Shiovitz's SPAG specifics review
raised some interesting points. A few brief spoilery comments follow:

S
P
O
I
L
E
R
S
P
A
C
E

The idea of asking the player about his intentions struck me as a novel
and very interesting possibility, and experientially it reminded me of
playing an RPG rather than IF; in my (admittedly not enormous)
experience of role-playing games, the GM often needs to ask for some
clarification about what it is the player is trying to accomplish, and
this reminded me of that.

This mechanism worked better for me at some points than at others. I
very much appreciated being asked why I was killing the fox kit, and
having the subsequent narration reflect my attitude. In this respect,
it brought into the realm of action some of the nuances that
conversation menus bring to conversation. It also had the same major
drawback, that extra level of mechanics that reminds you you're playing
a game. Nonetheless, there were a few moments which I thought were
quite ingenious.

Conversely, I think I was least persuaded of the efficacy of the
interview-style questions that asked me to decide how the story came
out. I suppose I can see why Gijsbers chose not to supply his own
ending narration to apply one construction or another on the events,
but it felt a bit strange and survey-like. Would it have been better
just to leave the aftermath open-ended for the player to envision, with
no questions? I don't know. It might have made the ending seem abrupt.
When I played the first time, though, I sort of assumed that it was
going to take my answers and then provide a short epilogue narrating
the outcome I'd described.

All that said, I'm really intrigued by the idea of giving the player
explicit control of the PC's motivation, and am sort of tempted to try
something involving this myself at some point.

The story underlying all this worked less well for me, perhaps because
I found it nearly impossible to sympathize with the protagonist. Child
molestation is fairly off-putting to start with, obviously, but it also
belongs to a category of evil which is very hard to involve someone
else in. I can empathize with the motives for a revenge shooting even
if I think it's wrong; it's harder for me to put myself in the mindset
of someone who abuses children, given that I do not myself find
children's bodies desirable. It's not enough to say "You feel a great
deal of desire for this person," because that conveys none of the
experiential drive of lust; Nabokov may come close to portraying a
perversion that the reader can sympathize with, but I would argue that
a) that is a very deft piece of writing; b) even so, _Lolita_ mostly
loses me once it moves from intention to action (though that may be
because a lot of my pleasure in the book comes from the sly humor of
the narrative voice, and it becomes less funny in the second part); and
c) Nabokov didn't have to struggle against the second-person problem of
attributing all these feelings to the reader-character.

I also objected somewhat to the fact that our evil deeds are veiled by
a psychotic fantasy so that we will participate in them at first
without understanding them. I can see why, I guess, but this has been
done before in IF (I would name names, but this would constitute
additional spoilers for two or three other games), and I am rarely
crazy about it, because I feel that it's kind of a bait-and-switch
scenario. If you want to write a game confronting the problem of a real
evil, then the challenging-but-necessary part is to get the player to
understand *why that evil would be attractive.*

[It hit me playing one of the endings of Slouching Towards Bedlam that
the whole game could be interpreted as a simulation of madness -- what
would I have to believe about the universe in order to take certain
drastic courses of action? How would I be sure I was right about my
perceptions? If everyone else thought I was crazy, what would I think
about myself? But the reason I found that idea an interesting
interpretation of the game (and note I don't think that's what we're
supposed to conclude, necessarily) is exactly that it never does break
the artifice; it never does step back and give you a clear read on
what's going on. {The Buffy episode "Normal Again" also comes to mind
here.}]

I had mixed feelings about the gargoyle, also. I thought the
parallelism was a little heavy-handed and the conversation often felt
somewhat stilted to me, but it also raised some interesting questions:
is it easier to forgive other people than yourself? Is that right? Am I
too easy on other people? Do I just happen to sympathize with the
person whose side of the story I hear, regardless of which is the more
injured party? I found it much easier to condemn the protagonist than
to condemn the gargoyle, even though I also thought the gargoyle was
doing something awful. (Granted, his crime against people is a little
more abstract, a little less horrific to envision -- but still, I
didn't approve.) So this was interesting to think about, but I was not
entirely persuaded by it as a bit of storytelling; it felt too staged.

Mike Snyder

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May 2, 2006, 3:33:30 PM5/2/06
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"Emily Short" <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote in message
news:1146593889.1...@j73g2000cwa.googlegroups.com...

I didn't get the feeling that my answers affected anything. It may be that
it happened so transparently that I didn't notice. I didn't kill the wolf (I
talked to it -- maybe even during my second partial play-through), and maybe
this did come up momentarily with the gargoyle. I guess I just had the
impression that I was answering questions without affecting the story. Even
the three or four questions at the very end caused nothing else to happen.
If the story was tailored to my prior answers, I didn't really pick up on it
except in a small way at the end (when talking to the daughter about the
parts of the dream, and making new decisions based on those original
decisions).

--- Mike.


Victor Gijsbers

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May 2, 2006, 5:05:34 PM5/2/06
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[CONTAINS SPOILERS for The Baron.]


Emily Short wrote:

> The idea of asking the player about his intentions struck me as a novel
> and very interesting possibility, and experientially it reminded me of
> playing an RPG rather than IF; in my (admittedly not enormous)
> experience of role-playing games, the GM often needs to ask for some
> clarification about what it is the player is trying to accomplish, and
> this reminded me of that.

When I play roleplaying games nowadays (where "nowadays" means "since I
started playing all these crazy experimental indie RPGs"), questions
about the why of an action are often asked, either by the GM or by
another player. (A division of roles which is increasingly losing
ground, by the way.) This is because the reason for doing something is
often what is interesting and important about the story, and your fellow
players want to be sure about it. If, in an RPG of mine, someone killed
a young wolf after killing its mother, I am sure somebody would ask he
player why his character did that. It often is the reason, not the
action, that reveals the man.

(One might say that reasons should me made clear by actions; well,
although the well-known formula "show, don't tell" is certainly true,
the improvisational storytelling that is roleplaying sometimes needs
aids that traditional writers do not need. For players of IF, it is
especially difficult to show their reasons through their actions.)

Something a bit like this was also present in the CRPG Planescape:
Torment. There, conversation menus often gave you the choice between two
identical sentences, except that one had '[Truth]' in front of it, and
the other '[Lie]'. It was not hard to see the different intentions that
lay between '[Truth] Sure, if you give me the key to the ancient tomb
I'll return the priceless artifact to you.' and '[Lie] Sure, if you give
me the key to the ancient tomb I'll return the priceless artifact to
you.' (This example is not literally from Torment.) I don't think
intentions were implemented more generally, though.


What is especially interesting to me is that in many of the RPGs I play,
the GM never has to ask for clarification about what the player is
trying to accomplish, because stating what you are trying to accomplish
is what the player does anyway. That is, the player does not say "I wish
to take this action", but "I wish to achieve this result", and that is
what the dice (or whatever) decide upon. These two possibilities are
called "Task resolution" and "Conflict resolution", and a good
description can be found here: http://www.lumpley.com/hardcore.html#4

Here is the exciting thought: maybe IF can have conflict resolution too?
Imagine a piece where you do not choose which actions you perform, but
instead what the result is of the whatever actions will turn out to be
performed... That is daydreaming though, as it would be very hard to
create using contemporary programming tools.


TRULY, THERE ARE MANY SPOILERS BELOW THIS LINE.


> Conversely, I think I was least persuaded of the efficacy of the
> interview-style questions that asked me to decide how the story came
> out. I suppose I can see why Gijsbers chose not to supply his own
> ending narration to apply one construction or another on the events,
> but it felt a bit strange and survey-like. Would it have been better
> just to leave the aftermath open-ended for the player to envision, with
> no questions? I don't know. It might have made the ending seem abrupt.
> When I played the first time, though, I sort of assumed that it was
> going to take my answers and then provide a short epilogue narrating
> the outcome I'd described.

I am seriously considering taking those 'surveys' at the end out of the
piece, as the number of complaints I've had about is now outweighing the
number of people that liked them. Because I absolutely do not want the
work to have the last word, I guess I'll have to make sure it always
just ends with a validation (short description) of the final action the
PC takes.

The idea of epilogues is somewhat intriguing; but they would either just
repeat what the player has typed, making them unnecessary; or they would
provide my own interpretation, giving the work the last word that it
desperately does not want.


> If you want to write a game confronting the problem of a real
> evil, then the challenging-but-necessary part is to get the player to
> understand *why that evil would be attractive.*

Well - no. That would be the challenge if your aim was to ask why people
would do the evil act that you are writing about, and that was simply
not what I wanted to explore in "The Baron". The motivation, if it can
be called such, of the protagonist is simply called "lust" and
symbolised by the only creature in the entire piece that you cannot
communicate with. It is assumed that this motivation exists and is so
powerful that the protagonist acted on it repeatedly, but it is neither
explained nor explored.

What I did want to explore was the protagonist's "moment of
consciousness" - the moment that he realises what he is doing. The piece
is an exploration of that moment. What does he think? What will he do?
Will he try to justify himself? Will he accept his guilt? Can he hope in
the face of near-certain defeat? Does guilt lead to despair? And so forth.

The other question I wanted to raise was: "If someone is conscious of
what he does and experiences his misdeeds as misdeeds and suffers
because of it - doesn't that make him human, no matter what he does?
Where lies the line between monster and human, between evil and
weakness?" The story wants the player to judge that.

I may have failed to raise those questions in a convincing way, or it
may be questions that you do not share with me; both could explain why
the piece failed to engage you overall. But I don't think I had the
burden to show why this evil was attractive, or that me not doing so
detracted from the piece.

> I had mixed feelings about the gargoyle, also. I thought the
> parallelism was a little heavy-handed and the conversation often felt
> somewhat stilted to me, but it also raised some interesting questions:
> is it easier to forgive other people than yourself? Is that right? Am I
> too easy on other people? Do I just happen to sympathize with the
> person whose side of the story I hear, regardless of which is the more
> injured party? I found it much easier to condemn the protagonist than
> to condemn the gargoyle, even though I also thought the gargoyle was
> doing something awful. (Granted, his crime against people is a little
> more abstract, a little less horrific to envision -- but still, I
> didn't approve.) So this was interesting to think about, but I was not
> entirely persuaded by it as a bit of storytelling; it felt too staged.

In retrospect, making the story what Mara Meijers calls "an episode of
non-delirious introspective surrealism" and what you call "a psychotic
fantasy" (ah, the power of words! ;) ) may not have been the most
stellar idea. It was, perhaps, a way to make the player manipulate
meanings rather than objects, but it may not have been the most
effective way of achieving that goal, given that a number of people
complain about not being able to manipulate what happens, about
heavy-handed symbolism or about the setting/story feeling unreal or
staged or cliche. Though there may be some people who like heavy-handed
symbolism, I suppose it is wise not to limit oneself to a small subset
of one's potential audience if one's potential audience is people who
like experimental IF. ;)

So those are points well taken, and I will certainly apply this lesson
in my next piece.

Another lesson is that, perhaps, I should use my time more economically.
Of course it is cool to have more than ten ways to get past the wolf, or
to have a conversation menu with more than 80 nodes of which the reader
will never see more than 10 on any play-through, or to have 18 different
conversations between the dolls in the dungeon (which I suppose
absolutely nobody has heard) depending on their state - but it may not
really be worth the effort.

(By the way: I would like to invite anyone who wishes to exchange the
role of critic/reviewer for that of teacher to do so. It doesn't seem
particularly useful to me to model these newsgroups after the literary
supplement of a newspaper rather than after a creative writing class.
Both formats have their uses, and although I certainly do not mind my
piece being judged in the way that reviews do (if I did, I would not
have entered it in a competition), I definitely welcome some more
personal, teacherly advice as well. It was, after all, a first attempt,
and I am sure I have a lot to learn.)

Kind regards,
Victor

Emily Short

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May 2, 2006, 5:10:18 PM5/2/06
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...

> > This mechanism worked better for me at some points than at others. I
> > very much appreciated being asked why I was killing the fox kit, and
> > having the subsequent narration reflect my attitude. In this respect,
> > it brought into the realm of action some of the nuances that
> > conversation menus bring to conversation. It also had the same major
> > drawback, that extra level of mechanics that reminds you you're playing
> > a game. Nonetheless, there were a few moments which I thought were
> > quite ingenious.
>
> I didn't get the feeling that my answers affected anything.

I'm not sure how much longterm difference it made whether you killed
the baby out of pity or out of meanness, in the sense of being tracked
by the story and reflected later. (Also, yeah, sorry, not a fox. I'm a
little dazed. Sorry.) It did affect the narrative at that moment and
thus have a ripple effect on my sense of the rest of the game, though.

Emily Short

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May 2, 2006, 5:55:00 PM5/2/06
to

Victor Gijsbers wrote:
> [CONTAINS SPOILERS for The Baron.]

> What is especially interesting to me is that in many of the RPGs I play,


> the GM never has to ask for clarification about what the player is
> trying to accomplish, because stating what you are trying to accomplish
> is what the player does anyway. That is, the player does not say "I wish
> to take this action", but "I wish to achieve this result", and that is
> what the dice (or whatever) decide upon. These two possibilities are
> called "Task resolution" and "Conflict resolution", and a good
> description can be found here: http://www.lumpley.com/hardcore.html#4
>
> Here is the exciting thought: maybe IF can have conflict resolution too?
> Imagine a piece where you do not choose which actions you perform, but
> instead what the result is of the whatever actions will turn out to be
> performed... That is daydreaming though, as it would be very hard to
> create using contemporary programming tools.

Yes, this is something I've thought about a bit since The Baron came
out, though I'm stuck on the question of how to let the player express
intentions -- of course the problem is that it's not going to be
possible to write IF in which the player is allowed to come up with a
kind of solution that is simply completely unanticipated by the author.
But some intermediate thing might be possible. I can just about imagine
how to rough out what I think of as "meta-actions" -- things like
>BLACKMAIL or >SEDUCE -- which the game would then resolve down to different specific scripts of actions depending on the situation and what the player had available to him. (Whether the results would be interesting to play is another question.)

This still doesn't really get at the conflict-resolution aspect as
such, I suppose. My (even more limited) experience of RPGs that do
something like this is that the actual determination of
conflict-success is based on a die roll, and I'm not sure I want to
introduce that kind of randomness to IF; it works in an RPG, but I am
not crazy about randomization of significant elements in interactive
fiction.

Perhaps in this case the conflict resolution should depend on whether
you in fact have the world in such a state that it is *possible* to
blackmail someone -- have you got interesting evidence on them, are
they afraid of you, do they have money to give you, etc -- so the game
would resolve the meta-action down to a list of things to do to try to
bring the blackmailing about, but then it might in fact fail if the
circumstances were wrong.

I've also seen systems in which the player has a limited number of
points (of some kind or other) which he can spend to make things work
out better for him, and I suppose another possibility would be IF in
which you are allowed to decide whether you succeed or fail at a given
meta-action, knowing that you are granted a maximum of N successes (or
something along those lines). The failures would then have to be
interesting also, affecting the world-model in some way, or there would
be no point in having them. At that point I think the player's
experience would be a little less like enacting the player character
and a little more like collaborative authorship: we're shaping a whole
narrative, in which there have to be some successes and some setbacks,
and it is up to the player to decide where those go and with respect to
what actions. This, I imagine, would be a massive undertaking to
program with any very substantial size of plot, but...

...ah, well, this is blue-sky stuff. But regardless of my reaction to
the story qua story, I thought The Baron brought up a lot of really
interesting questions about IF approaches, and was successful in that
respect.


> TRULY, THERE ARE MANY SPOILERS BELOW THIS LINE.
>
>
>
>

> The idea of epilogues is somewhat intriguing; but they would either just
> repeat what the player has typed, making them unnecessary; or they would
> provide my own interpretation, giving the work the last word that it
> desperately does not want.

No, I realized after I had played with it for a bit that this would not
be a good solution given the open-endedness of the work; it's just that
that is what I *thought* was going to happen. ("Why is he asking me
this? It must be so that...")

> > If you want to write a game confronting the problem of a real
> > evil, then the challenging-but-necessary part is to get the player to
> > understand *why that evil would be attractive.*
>
> Well - no. That would be the challenge if your aim was to ask why people
> would do the evil act that you are writing about, and that was simply
> not what I wanted to explore in "The Baron". The motivation, if it can
> be called such, of the protagonist is simply called "lust" and
> symbolised by the only creature in the entire piece that you cannot
> communicate with. It is assumed that this motivation exists and is so
> powerful that the protagonist acted on it repeatedly, but it is neither
> explained nor explored.
>
> What I did want to explore was the protagonist's "moment of
> consciousness" - the moment that he realises what he is doing. The piece
> is an exploration of that moment. What does he think? What will he do?
> Will he try to justify himself? Will he accept his guilt? Can he hope in
> the face of near-certain defeat? Does guilt lead to despair? And so forth.

Hmm. Okay, I can see this. Initial objection withdrawn, at least in its
original form.

But in that case I sort of feel as though I'm lacking a whole bunch of
the experiential background that would guide my feelings in the real
situation: the memory of what the evil was like and why I did it. I
might be horrified at what I'd done, but it seems as though there would
still be more, I don't know, continuity with the person I'd been, if
that makes sense.

> The other question I wanted to raise was: "If someone is conscious of
> what he does and experiences his misdeeds as misdeeds and suffers
> because of it - doesn't that make him human, no matter what he does?
> Where lies the line between monster and human, between evil and
> weakness?" The story wants the player to judge that.

This I did get, yes. I'm not sure I came up with an actual answer, but
then I'm not sure that answering it as such is the important part.

> In retrospect, making the story what Mara Meijers calls "an episode of
> non-delirious introspective surrealism" and what you call "a psychotic
> fantasy" (ah, the power of words! ;) ) may not have been the most
> stellar idea. It was, perhaps, a way to make the player manipulate
> meanings rather than objects, but it may not have been the most
> effective way of achieving that goal, given that a number of people
> complain about not being able to manipulate what happens, about
> heavy-handed symbolism or about the setting/story feeling unreal or
> staged or cliche. Though there may be some people who like heavy-handed
> symbolism, I suppose it is wise not to limit oneself to a small subset
> of one's potential audience if one's potential audience is people who
> like experimental IF. ;)

Yes, I can see the inclination, and am hardly in a position to condemn
the surrealist presentation as such -- Metamorphoses is in part a
surrealist approach to a personal question (though admittedly done in
such a way that many people didn't get what the question was, or didn't
see it as interesting). Mostly what bothered me was not that this
material was presented in symbolic form, but that my agency as player
was subverted in the opening section to some extent by the fact that
the work doesn't describe to me what is "really" going on. All right, I
suppose the idea is that even if I knew what was going on I would be
powerless to stop it (according to the premise of the game) and I would
also be faced with a passage so distasteful that I would probably stop
playing... hm.

Well, I don't know what the ready solution would be.

Dan Shiovitz

unread,
May 2, 2006, 9:16:05 PM5/2/06
to
In article <1146604218.7...@v46g2000cwv.googlegroups.com>,

Emily Short <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
>
>Mike Snyder wrote:
>> "Emily Short" <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote in message
>> news:1146593889.1...@j73g2000cwa.googlegroups.com...
>> >
>> > I did think The Baron very interesting and would like to see more
>> > discussion about it; I thought Dan Shiovitz's SPAG specifics review
>> > raised some interesting points. A few brief spoilery comments follow:
>> >
>> > S
>> > P
>> > O
>> > I
>> > L
>> > E
>> > R
>> > S
>> > P
>> > A
>> > C
>> > E
[..]

>> I didn't get the feeling that my answers affected anything.
>
>I'm not sure how much longterm difference it made whether you killed
>the baby out of pity or out of meanness, in the sense of being tracked
>by the story and reflected later. (Also, yeah, sorry, not a fox. I'm a
>little dazed. Sorry.) It did affect the narrative at that moment and
>thus have a ripple effect on my sense of the rest of the game, though.

As far as I can tell, the only difference any of your actions make is
in conversation later and a few cosmetic things -- for instance, if
you get killed by the wolf, you take on the shape of the wolf but then
turn back into a human at the gargoyle. The gargoyle comments on your
actions with the wolf in most cases, but it took me a number of
playthroughs to find out that your conversation with your daughter at
the end sometimes has you describing what you learned from the dream
scenario, and commenting specifically on your previous actions (eg,
something like "Getting killed by the wolf showed me that perhaps
total passivity could save me").

But yeah, clearly the main point of this game is "ok, here's this
scenario, what do you think about it?" not the more-usual-in-IF
"...what do you *do* about it?" So in that sense, your conversational
outcomes do affect the game because they are the game, or at least the
important part of it.

What might be a useful/interesting compromise between those two for
this game would be if the encounters weren't totally fixed, but zoomed
in on the conflicts the player seemed to be interested in. Like, say
you start out with the gargoyle, and ask the player what they think.
If they condemn its actions, then perhaps the next scene is with the
wolf, something theoretically further down the free-will chain and
arguably less responsible for its actions -- "ok, you condemned the
gargoyle -- will you condemn this too?" the game could ask. If the
player is ok with the gargoyle, of course, you do the opposite, and
ratchet up the scale: maybe instead of a gargoyle, it's, I dunno, a
vampire who actually kills his victims and comes off as more human, or
it's a werewolf who's human part of the time and actually interacts
with the people he later preys on.

I meant at some point to mention Adam Cadre's "23,040 Bridges"
experiment; folks who are interested in this game might enjoy having a
look at that:
http://adamcadre.ac/bridges/

--
Dan Shiovitz :: d...@cs.wisc.edu :: http://www.drizzle.com/~dans
"He settled down to dictate a letter to the Consolidated Nailfile and
Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation of Scranton, Pa., which would make them
realize that life is stern and earnest and Nailfile and Eyebrow Tweezer
Corporations are not put in this world for pleasure alone." -PGW

Dan Shiovitz

unread,
May 2, 2006, 9:36:12 PM5/2/06
to
In article <ee86a$4457c99c$9161cc34$12...@news2.tudelft.nl>,

Victor Gijsbers <vic...@lilith.gotdns.org> wrote:
>[CONTAINS SPOILERS for The Baron.]
>Emily Short wrote:
[..]

>Here is the exciting thought: maybe IF can have conflict resolution too?
>Imagine a piece where you do not choose which actions you perform, but
>instead what the result is of the whatever actions will turn out to be
>performed... That is daydreaming though, as it would be very hard to
>create using contemporary programming tools.

Hmm. It seems to me like in most RPGs with conflict resolution,
interest in the decision is created by saying "ok, there are stakes X
and Y, and we're going to roll dice to decide which happens -- is the
X worth the chance of suffering Y?" On the other hand, with task
resolution, interest is created by saying "ok, we're going to do X --
you don't really know what that's going to do" In both cases there's
randomness, and the second case has an additional unknown factor of
not knowing what the effect of the action is really going to be.

Now, I hate randomness in IF for important actions. So is there a way
to get interesting conflict resolution without randomness? It seems
like in this case you have to have the player choices be like "get X
but Y also happens, or get Z but W also happens", and the players have
to decide which they like better (or dislike less). This just restates
the problem in some sense, I guess. Pytho's Mask is an example of a
game that is sort of in this mold (or by your review you were
obviously hoping it was, anyway), but I think you could do a game that
is a more expanded version of this. (Slouching Towards Bedlam, like
Emily points out elsewhere, probably counts also.)

>TRULY, THERE ARE MANY SPOILERS BELOW THIS LINE.

[..]


>> If you want to write a game confronting the problem of a real
>> evil, then the challenging-but-necessary part is to get the player to
>> understand *why that evil would be attractive.*
>
>Well - no. That would be the challenge if your aim was to ask why people
>would do the evil act that you are writing about, and that was simply
>not what I wanted to explore in "The Baron". The motivation, if it can
>be called such, of the protagonist is simply called "lust" and
>symbolised by the only creature in the entire piece that you cannot
>communicate with. It is assumed that this motivation exists and is so
>powerful that the protagonist acted on it repeatedly, but it is neither
>explained nor explored.

If the protagonist's compulsions are totally inexplicable you run the
risk of alienating your audience, though -- the moral questions are
only interesting insofar as the PC is someone you're interested in,
and if the player's reaction is to throw up their hands and say "this
guy is inhuman, I don't want to hear him agonize" then the game loses
a lot of its value.

It seems like it's easy to get the player to connect superficially
with the PC -- they go along with what the game wants to do because
they want to be a good sport and enjoy themselves. But it's hard to
get something deeper. It's relatively easy to get players to make
grand gestures of suicide or sacrifice or whatever because they know
they can always undo. Sometimes games do manage to make these things
count more, but it's hard.

>Kind regards,
>Victor

Dan Shiovitz

unread,
May 2, 2006, 9:50:17 PM5/2/06
to
In article <A9L5g.8016$B42.4835@dukeread05>,
Mike Snyder <wy...@prowler-pro.com> wrote:
[..]
[spoilers for Pantomime]


>well it all worked. Nobody is (but probably should be) trying to make sense
>of the PC's eventual "assistant" (yeah, the omnipotent one) in Pantomime, or
>bugging Sherwin for a clue. There was a little talk about your game, but

Yeah, this was pretty wild. I'd be curious to hear how much of this
game was "and with one bound he was free" type copout, and how much of
it was Sherwin's original intention. Because, man, there's a lot of
weird shit in this game. The sun is the weirdest part, yeah, but this
whole thing about cloned presidents and baseball players and stuff,
and the PC is this chess celebrity, and he's stalking his ex in a
really creepy way (which puts the ending in a little different light),
and the strip club boss is turning himself into a giant golem or
something for no apparent reason, oh yeah, and a clone of you is
trying to kill yourself. By comparison, the stuff where you jump over
gates and toss boulders around is pretty normal (trying not to think
about how gravity being that low would affect the rest of society --
not at all, apparently).

It was also interesting that this didn't appear to be set in the same
world Sherwin normally sets his games in. It might just be a future
version thereof, I guess, but it had a somewhat different vibe.
Thinking back, another weird thing about this game was how the PC was
kind of a loner compared to some of Sherwin's other games -- there are
NPCs, but large chunks of the game are you wandering around a
mostly-deserted city.

I'm not sure if there is any real conclusion for these points, but I'd
definitely be interested in anything the author's got to share about
it. Maybe the point of the game is to just see how much Sherwin-brand
weirdness can be crammed into a single game by making it railroady
enough that people won't get stuck much. That's not much of a sales
pitch, but I guess the game worked for me, so hey.

>---- Mike.

Mike Snyder

unread,
May 2, 2006, 10:26:20 PM5/2/06
to
"Dan Shiovitz" <d...@cs.wisc.edu> wrote in message
news:e3928p$sh6$1...@cascadia.drizzle.com...

> In article <A9L5g.8016$B42.4835@dukeread05>,
> Mike Snyder <wy...@prowler-pro.com> wrote:
> [..]
> [spoilers for Pantomime]
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
> Yeah, this was pretty wild. I'd be curious to hear how much of this
> game was "and with one bound he was free" type copout, and how much of
> it was Sherwin's original intention. Because, man, there's a lot of
> weird shit in this game. The sun is the weirdest part, yeah, but this
> whole thing about cloned presidents and baseball players and stuff,
> and the PC is this chess celebrity, and he's stalking his ex in a
> really creepy way (which puts the ending in a little different light),
> and the strip club boss is turning himself into a giant golem or
> something for no apparent reason, oh yeah, and a clone of you is
> trying to kill yourself. By comparison, the stuff where you jump over
> gates and toss boulders around is pretty normal (trying not to think
> about how gravity being that low would affect the rest of society --
> not at all, apparently).

Yeah, it definitely featured some weird bits.

Before the part with the sun, I could tell something was going on. I'll need
to check my transcripts to figure out what, but there were parts where it
*seemed* as if the PC was referring to himself in the 3rd person. Or, as it
turns out, something else was commenting in a way that seemed out of place
in the game's narrative. I took it for an internal monologue, but it was the
sun all along. It even says so:

"I am the very center of our solar system. (snip) I am the person who has
been talking to you all this time."

Now, these prior bits could have been added to justify the miraculous escape
from the airlock. Even so, that's probably enough to justify it. It was
sudden, but it wasn't totally unhinted.

Could it be that the PC, Raif, is crazy?

---- Mike.


Emily Short

unread,
May 4, 2006, 12:35:14 AM5/4/06
to

Dan Shiovitz wrote:
> >> > S
> >> > P
> >> > O
> >> > I
> >> > L
> >> > E
> >> > R
> >> > S
> >> > P
> >> > A
> >> > C
> >> > E
>
> But yeah, clearly the main point of this game is "ok, here's this
> scenario, what do you think about it?" not the more-usual-in-IF
> "...what do you *do* about it?" So in that sense, your conversational
> outcomes do affect the game because they are the game, or at least the
> important part of it.
>
> What might be a useful/interesting compromise between those two for
> this game would be if the encounters weren't totally fixed, but zoomed
> in on the conflicts the player seemed to be interested in. Like, say
> you start out with the gargoyle, and ask the player what they think.
> If they condemn its actions, then perhaps the next scene is with the
> wolf, something theoretically further down the free-will chain and
> arguably less responsible for its actions -- "ok, you condemned the
> gargoyle -- will you condemn this too?" the game could ask. If the
> player is ok with the gargoyle, of course, you do the opposite, and
> ratchet up the scale: maybe instead of a gargoyle, it's, I dunno, a
> vampire who actually kills his victims and comes off as more human, or
> it's a werewolf who's human part of the time and actually interacts
> with the people he later preys on.

Interesting suggestion, though it seems as though it might come to feel
mechanical or heavy-handed -- more like a survey than like a story, if
you see what I mean. But perhaps there'd be a way to do it right.

Victor Gijsbers

unread,
May 4, 2006, 9:26:03 AM5/4/06
to
Emily Short wrote:

>> What might be a useful/interesting compromise between those two for
>> this game would be if the encounters weren't totally fixed, but zoomed
>> in on the conflicts the player seemed to be interested in. Like, say
>> you start out with the gargoyle, and ask the player what they think.
>> If they condemn its actions, then perhaps the next scene is with the
>> wolf, something theoretically further down the free-will chain and
>> arguably less responsible for its actions -- "ok, you condemned the
>> gargoyle -- will you condemn this too?" the game could ask. If the
>> player is ok with the gargoyle, of course, you do the opposite, and
>> ratchet up the scale: maybe instead of a gargoyle, it's, I dunno, a
>> vampire who actually kills his victims and comes off as more human, or
>> it's a werewolf who's human part of the time and actually interacts
>> with the people he later preys on.
>
> Interesting suggestion, though it seems as though it might come to feel
> mechanical or heavy-handed -- more like a survey than like a story, if
> you see what I mean. But perhaps there'd be a way to do it right.

"The Baron" is perhaps not the best context in which to discuss Dan's
suggestion, but I do think he is pointing out a very effective
technique. And, in general, it will not be too hard too integrate this
kind of questioning in the piece itself.

In one of the other posts in this thread, I gave an example where the
player had to choose between curing Margaretha from a deadly illness and
attending a meeting with the Queen. Let us suppose that, say, the
protagonist and her best friend Margaretha have been working from the
start of the piece to set an eleborate revenge plot in motion which will
end with the destruction of the royal house they deeply hate because it
is a bunch of cruel despots. In order to pull off this plot, the
protagonist has had to sacrifice all kinds of things she values; and the
question in the air is, therefore, "How many of the things you love are
you willing to sacrifice for freedom?"

Perhaps the protagonist learnt that one of the ladies in the castle (who
had come to trust her) was actually a sorceress, which is strictly
forbidden by the Crown and punishable by death. Her last important
choice was between (a) reporting the sorceress, knowing this would
result in the injust death of the woman AND in a 'thank you' appointment
with the Queen, something she needs to put the last stages of her plan
into motion; and (b) not reporting the sorceress, the results of which I
am less interested in here (but they should be interesting to the player).

She chose to do (a): she reported the sorceress, who was duly arrested
and executed - but not before she managed to put a terrible curse on
Margaretha. And therefore, the protagonist now has two possibilities:
(c) cure her friend and fellow conspirator Margaretha of the curse
before she dies, or (d) go to her appointment with the queen and exact
her revenge.

So what happened was this: the player said, by choosing (a):
"Sacrificing someone else's life may be a price worth paying for
freedom.". And then the game asked, by offering the possibilities (c)
and (d): "And is this true EVEN WHEN the life you have to sacrifice is
that of your best friend and fellow freedom-fighter?".

But it wouldn't read like a survey. It would read like a dramatic tale.
(If it were done well enough.)

Had the player chosen (b), the game might instead have created a
situation in which it asked the question: "Are you unwilling to kill for
freedom EVEN WHEN the results of tyranny are that Margaretha is executed?"


Constructing a plot that can encompass several of such junctures will
require some careful thought, but it seems very possible.


Regards,
Victor

Robb Sherwin

unread,
May 7, 2006, 4:50:56 AM5/7/06
to
>Yeah, this was pretty wild. I'd be curious to hear how much of this
>game was "and with one bound he was free" type copout, and how much
>of it was Sherwin's original intention.

Spoilers...
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

My girlfriend is into orchids and gardening, and I therefore find
myself in stores with names like "The Flower Bin" every so often. One
thing these stores always seem to have for sale are these giant copper
"face suns." I don't know if you've ever seen them, but man, are they
creepy. You can ignore them out in the real world where there's at most
one on a given house, but when they put twenty or thirty of them
together, the anthropomorphized suns start to form a kind of grinning
demon chorus.

So, I decided a long time ago that I wanted the Sun to be the narrator
of a game at some point. To me, just who is throwing out the prose in a
text game is a very interesting question. It probably comes from Zork,
where I believed that "Zork" himself (who responded to >zork with "At
your service.") was the person / thing describing all the depicted
events and being mean to you, but I like being able to answer that
question.

(The best face sun I've ever seen was in a tourist trap gift shop a
little bit north of Santa Fe. They had a sun just eating the moon like
it was a hunk of watermelon. The moon had a face as well, still alive
as it was getting consumed. Unbelievably unsettling. It was absolutely
inexcusable that I didn't buy it, but buying that thing takes your
right to complain the next morning if you wake up and your hair's
turned white. I need that right.)


>It was also interesting that this didn't appear to be set in the same
>world Sherwin normally sets his games in. It might just be a future
>version thereof, I guess, but it had a somewhat different vibe.

I wanted to write in a different setting, but I found myself still
describing locations as dystopian and crappy. That's something to work
on for the future. Putting a game on a planet's moon appealed to me
because of how different each moon really is. I read
www.nineplanets.org over and over again in developing Pantomime and
each world in the solar system seems to have some kind of gimmick. When
I was growing up we were taught that Jupiter had four moons worth
worrying about and a bunch of smaller, captured asteroids and that
Uranus had five moons, period (and so forth). And I had just always
assumed that every moon was spherical, like the Earth's moon, but then
you read about moons like Phobos and Hyperion that are too small to be
pulled into that shape and it's just fascinating. (Mars was also very
visible in the night sky when I was making this game. I totally get how
people from long ago named the stuff they saw at night after their gods
and made myths about them. It's very compelling.)

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