Anyway I've now downloaded it and played through it and made some
notes, and since there's not a current game of the week I'll be
encroaching on, I assume no one will mind if I jump the gun by a few
hours and set the ball rolling by posting some thoughts on it
straight away. I don't think anything I say really constitutes a
spoiler, but I'll add a spoiler space just in case anyone would
prefer to play the game before reading my notes.
The Fire Tower was an entry in the 2004 IF Art Show, in which it was
(deservedly) well received. I
played it when it first came out, but took another quick look at it
(it only takes about 30 minutes
to play through) to refresh my memory before writing these notes.
The Fire Tower bills itself as "A Virtual Summer Hike", and this is
essentially what it is. There's
no plot, no puzzles, and no goal save to complete the circuit and
enjoy the walk along the way. The
game can virtually be completed using movement commands alone,
although it would be rather missing
the point if one did not also make liberal use of EXAMINE and
perhaps some use of LOOK. Other
interactions are possible, not least with the items in the PC's
inventory, but they are completely
The game seems to do well what it sets out to do, namely to capture
the experience of walking a
particular route in the form of a work of IF (I say "seems" because
I have no first-hand experience
of the terrain it describes, and so cannot personally vouch for the
game's accuracy, which I simply
take on trust). It works for a number of reasons: the first is that
the author evidently knows the
area well and cares about it, and that she clearly has the literary
skill to describe it. Her
knowledge extends not only to the general topography of the area,
but also to its flora and fauna,
the PC being able to identify the precise species of each she
encounters along the way. The second
is that the author has worked, not only at describing the terrain,
but at describing the experience
of walking it, conveyed mainly through the messages displayed as the
PC moves from one location to
the next. The third is that the author has taken the trouble to
implement not only most of the
obvious objects one might try to examine (at least, most of those I
tried, although I wasn't
playing it in beta-testing mode) but also responses to several other
interactions the player might
attempt, even though few of them are actually allowed. The fourth
reason it worked for me (and this
is a much more subjective factor) is exploring space, where the
space is well laid-out and
engagingly presented (as here), is something I happen to enjoy doing
when playing IF,
I deliberately didn't look back at the reviews written by the art
show judges before writing this,
though I have some recollection of them, which may well be reflected
in my comments. One criticism
I recall concurring with at the time was that the signposts on the
trail could be confusing; if
you're told that the sign faces southwest and it's described as
pointing right towards the way you
want to go, which way is that? For some reason I didn't find it so
confusing this time round,
perhaps because I'd played it before, or perhaps because I finally
got the hang of what the author
meant. But this does perhaps relate to an issue that's been
discussed on these newsgroups more than
once, namely whether using compass directions is the easiest way for
players to navigate in IF. I'm
among those that think it is, and in a sense this game partially
illustrates this: once one I have
to start translating "A sign facing northeast pointing to the right"
into the direction I need to
move in, I start to feel a bit directionally-challenged; at least it
seems to need considerable
more processing than "The sign points southeast towards Bloggs
Hollow" or whatever. That said, the
way the signs were presented in the game probably gave a better
indication of what the trail signs
actually looked like than a description explicitly naming the
compass directions would have done,
although, ironically, that made them a little harder to follow than
they would have been in real
In practice this didn't matter, since the game doesn't allow the
player to take a wrong turn, and
ends up carefully nudging you onto the correct route if you look
like going astray. Again, IIRC, at
least one of the Art Show reviewers last year felt this to be a bit
restrictive, but I didn't
really feel that when I played it through again recently. The point
of the piece is to reproduce
the experience of walking a particular trail, so allowing the player
to roam at random would
undermine what the author is trying to achieve. In any case, the
author could hardly be expected to
implement the Appalacian Trail all the way to Georgia (a couple of
thousand miles, apparently), so
there had to be some mechanism to stop the player wandering too far
I had one or two minor niggles on my recent play-through. At various
points on your journey the PC
sits down for a rest. That's fine, but the game then makes you type
STAND on each occasion before
allowing you to go anywhere, which I found mildly irritating; I
would have preferred to see an
implicit STAND action in these situations. But perhaps the author
wanted to emphasize the end of
the rest-period as part of the experience. Also, there were one or
two places where I received a
sub-optimal response, e.g.:
You hear the distinctive sound of a woodpecker in the distance.
>listen to bird
Hm... you can't hear any birds at all just now.
>listen to woodpecker
In the distance, you hear a woodpecker's familiar drilling.
Although I'm probably in no position to be casting the first stone
about this sort of thing!
Also, I was a little disappointed when the view from a particular
location named several mountains
that could be seen, but the descriptions of the differently-named
mountains (or at least, of two of
them) turned out to be identical: I'm not saying I could have done
this better myself, but rather
that this felt a bit out of keeping with the rest of the piece.
In the main, though, The Fire Tower seems to have been implemented
very solidly, with some very
nice and occasionally surprising touches (which I shan't elaborate
on so as not to give any
Does the piece work as a work of Interactive Fiction? There's no
fictional element to speak of, and
the interaction is limited more or less to following a set trail. On
the other hand experiencing it
in the form of IF definitely adds something one would not get from
merely reading a transcript or a
guide-book, and I'd guess that something is the particular
immersivenes that comes from having to
move the action foreward by one's own interactions. There is, to be
sure, an element of adventure
in setting off for a solitary walk in uninhabited terrain, and some
of that comes through in the
writing; it is an element that's largely minimalized, however, since
there seems to be no
possibility of getting lost or of having to beat a tight time
constraint (e.g. getting back before
dark). It is made apparent from the outset that the NPC knows
exactly what she's doing and knows
the terrain well, so that the likelihood of mishap is minimal.
Clearly this is a deliberate choice
on the part of the author, to encourage the player to savour the
experience without any distracting
This does leave me with one small doubt, however: the fact that one
complete the game in about 30
minutes without encountering any significant challenges perhaps
makes it fall a little short of the
actual experience of hiking for several hours. Of course the
physical effort of typing on a
keyboard is never going to match the physical effort of going for a
long walk, but maybe having to
overcome a few obstacles on the way would have at least help
simulate some kind of effort. As it
was, arriving at the end of the game after a fairly quick
run-through left me with a slight sense
of anti-climax. But perhaps I should have spent more time savouring
each of the locations along the
way, which may have been what the author intended.
I guess this is where my issues with the game begin. The problem with
making a game that has no "fiction" element is that there is not much
motivation to engage with the player character. The intro to the PC
implies that she needs to "get away from it all." I assumed that she
at least would be pondering what she's getting away from during the
hike. But "think" "remember" etc. didn't have any impact on the game.
So you are reduced to trying to enjoy the hike itself, which is hard to
do in a virtual sense.
> The game seems to do well what it sets out to do, namely to capture
> the experience of walking a particular route in the form of a work
> of IF
While Jacqueline seems to have nailed the route, I think she could
actually have done more with the "hike" part. For anyone walking 16
miles through the mountains, taking a break to dip your feet in one of
the many streams and change your socks would be natural. But the game
wouldn't allow you to do that. Other near necessities -- putting on
bug spray, sunscreen, etc. -- were also not required. No blisters pop
up. The only trauma I got was a brief encounter with some wildlife,
for which doing nothing was the right answer. While I would not
advocate making the game tremendously difficult with
hunger/sunburn/pain daemons, some effects of a normal hike would've
been nice. If nothing else, a quick thunderstorm or something like
that. She's hiking 16 miles through some very steep terrain, after
all. It's more than likely some problems or minor challenges might
occur. I mean, what about lunch, after all? 16 miles through the
mountains with nothing more than trail mix? Not me, thanks!
> I had one or two minor niggles on my recent play-through. At various
> points on your journey the PC sits down for a rest. That's fine, but
> the game then makes you type STAND on each occasion before allowing
> you to go anywhere, which I found mildly irritating; I would have
> preferred to see an implicit STAND action in these situations.
I agree, particularly as the author sits you down, instead of you doing
> But perhaps the author wanted to emphasize the end of the rest-period
> part of the experience. Also, there were one or two places where I
> received a sub-optimal response, e.g.:
> You hear the distinctive sound of a woodpecker in the distance.
> >listen to bird
> Hm... you can't hear any birds at all just now.
> >listen to woodpecker
> In the distance, you hear a woodpecker's familiar drilling.
I also got this type of result, particularly with butterflies. The
description would tell me that a butterfly is passing by. "X
butterfly" would give the reply "While you've seen numerous
butterflies, you don't see any now." or some such text. A bit
> Also, I was a little disappointed when the view from a particular
> location named several mountains that could be seen, but the
> descriptions of the differently-named mountains (or at least, of two
> of them) turned out to be identical: I'm not saying I could have
> done this better myself, but rather that this felt a bit out of
> keeping with the rest of the piece.
Right. My problem with the fire tower itself is that I expected to
come to the top of the mountain and see a physical fire tower object.
Then you would climb up to the top of the fire tower (if it was
unlocked) to see the view. Instead, I couldn't tell whether I waa on
top of an actual fire tower or just in an open spot on the mountain.
If it was meant to be a physical fire tower building, then describing
it, the stairs going up (which tend to be creaky and a bit scarily
breathtaking, as you are climbing UP a tower sitting on top of a
mountain, heightening any vertigo you may have), the rooms inside it,
etc. would have been nice.
> This does leave me with one small doubt, however: the fact that one
> complete the game in about 30 minutes without encountering any
> significant challenges perhaps makes it fall a little short of the
> actual experience of hiking for several hours.
This should be magnified by the fact that the hike really was meant to
cover 16 miles (or so the text said). Hiking 16 miles along the
mountainous terrain of the Smokies is really a very full day in the
woods, not just a couple of hours. So I think the rapidity of the
playthrough without some of the typical challenges I described above
does kind of sell short how hard a trail this might be for the average
> As it was, arriving at the end of the
> game after a fairly quick run-through left me with a slight sense of
> anti-climax. But perhaps I should have spent more time savouring
> each of the locations along the way, which may have been what the
> author intended.
I would have spent more time "savoring" but I didn't see much of an
opportunity to do so. The descriptions seemed to have only an initial
and one other shorter description. "Listen, look, smell" tended to be
very repetitive, and very brief. Waiting in one place for an extended
period didn't change much. There were no weather issues to spice up
the day. "X" yourself talked about wearing shorts and getting bug
bites, but no bugs were biting. Or at least not while I played through
it. So, mostly what you got was movement, some sense of the grandeur
of the Great Smoky Mountains, but little insight into the PC and only a
touch of the rigors of such a hike.
Bottom line: this is a pleasant interlude, quick, and in some sense a
recommendnation piece for the Smoky Mountains and mountain hiking in
general. But most IFers will regret the lack of more "I" and the
complete absence of the "F" in IF. I think it would be an interesting
cell-phone or hand-held game if you were hiking the trail as you played
it, but otherwise, it's just a minor example of one of the many
variations that you can do in the envelope of an Inform game. I guess
this is one reason I've never been enamored of the art show concept.
But if that's your bag, the game is certainly pleasant. And if you're
ever in that part of Tennessee/North Carolina here in the good ol' USA,
then a visit to the Great Smoky Mountain park is absolutely worth your
time, a point which Jacqueline makes abundantly clear.
(This review is meant to be non-spoilery.)
Not having completed any IF Art Show games before, I was excited about
launching The Fire Tower and preparing to get under a hiker's skin. And
I must say I did get a real good close-up view of hiking. Great
landscape and really good writing, with an effortless feel to it - I
felt like the prose was not an obstacle between me and the scenery, but
a perfect medium for bridging the gap. There were some typos remaining
here and there, but not nearly enough to take away my enjoyment of the
Small map, few obvious objects, and no NPC:s. With a gamefile of over
260KB, I knew this had to be a pretty well fleshed out implementation.
And still I was surprised how much was implemented, like things the
player may expect to be there even though they're not explicitly
mentioned. And I liked how you could usually refer to wildlife that had
just passed by or could be heard far away, avoiding the typical "You
can't see any such thing.".
On the downside, I thought the story went on rails to a quite
unnecessary extent. I was always nudged in the right direction, which
is fine by me, but I wasn't even allowed to go in the wrong direction
or go back. Neither was I allowed to tamper with any of the objects I
came across, unless you count having a closer look at them. The game
even moved all my belongings back to their original position every time
I moved on to a new room, with a comment about me doing it because
it'll be easier to find everything that way. Maybe all these things
reflect how the PC would have behaved if it had been for real, but I
can't help feeling that I'm forced to act the way the PC would, to the
point where it almost ceases to be a game - it means I have pretty much
no decisions to make during the whole game.
The facts that the prose is excellent and that player decisions can't
really affect the outcome of the game would seem to make it akin to
Photopia, which I enjoyed a lot, but the difference here is that this
plays more like a game - you can try to do a lot, and there are
responses for almost anything you might try, but in the end, the game
will either not let you perform the actions at all, or it will let you
do it but then tell you that you reverse the action yourself.
The prose is great, the coding is solid, it's been well beta-tested (I
only found two minor bugs and some typos), and it does the job of
conveying the feel of hiking and being near nature really well. I was
frustrated by the lack of decisions, but if you see it purely as a
piece of art and not as a game that may not be a big issue. I wouldn't
be the least surprised if the next full-length piece Jacqueline puts
out wins several XYZZY awards. The Best Setting award she got for this
was certainly well deserved.
An excerpt -
You look uphill at the rather intimidating stretch of steep trail,
tighten your pack about your waist, and let out a long, slow breath.
You've done this stretch many, many times, but no matter how in shape
you get it always tends to kick your ass. Oh well, half begun is half
done (or some stupid cliché).
The trail is a steep mess of tree roots and rock, and for the next two
and a half miles you feel as if you're working out on a gigantic
natural stairmaster, dragging your heavy feet up one step at a time.
You plow along like that with your head down for over an hour, your
gaze rarely if ever straying from your boots to prevent tripping.
Mercifully, you reach the next trail junction.
Trail Junction (Appalachian and Mt. Cammerer Trails)
The trail is wide here, with lots of bare ground from so many hikers
having rested in this location before you. There's little to see here,
really, save for the trail sign that benevolently announces that you're
very close to your goal.
The wind picks up for a moment, cooling your skin in the growing heat
of the day.
There appear to be only woods in that direction, with no path among the
trees. The AT continues to the southwest, or you can visit the fire
tower by heading north.
You set off toward the fire tower. The trail runs along the top of a
rocky ridge, but it's well-used and, for the most part, easily walked.
The last few feet are a bit of a scramble, but you effortlessly manage
the boulders and find yourself standing triumphantly on the porch of
the fire tower.
There is a fire tower, it just isn't obvious in the room description.
Several "rooms" only had their directions in the signs, so if you
didn't READ the SIGNs then you risked plummeting to your death, which
was a little frustrating as the PC knew the trail by heart. But this
was only a minor annoyance. As the game is billed as a landscape, I
will judge it on those grounds, and it is exceptional. I only wish
conventional IF games showed this much love of the backdrop as the
author clearly has. There were several little IFish nits, like I had
socks in my inv but not shoes. Examine boots described my boots though,
but "x feet" got me "Which do you mean, the feet or the Tom's Creek?",
as it was a foot bridge.
As far as "Is this IF?", I've never really taken the genre at it's
literal title, as IF was just a term Infocom used that works better
than "text adventure". They meant "fiction" in the sense of a book, not
nessicarily as "untruth". And "fiction" doesn't have to be a
make-believe setting, just a story that isn't entirely factual. I'm
pretty sure it's not fact because, even though she did a very good job
of keeping the PC respectable, I did manage a "search tent" that
resulted in a default "You find nothing of interest." I hope this
didn't happen because, as she's a forest ranger, she could lose her
I don't think you could ever have an "Interactive Fact", unless you
control a PC who's currently typing. If you control General Custer,
either it's not interactive or it's not fact.
> There is a fire tower, it just isn't obvious in the room description.
I guess that was my point. When you name a game "The Fire Tower" and
you finally arrive at the location where that object is, I expected a
rather vivid description of it as part of the room description. I did
"look at view" and saw the whole view, without actually doing "x fire
tower", which would have clued me into the description of the building
and the door to entering it. But I still think the exterior
description of the fire tower should have been available here.
Instead, you are more or less encouraged to look at the view, not the
fire tower itself.
> As the game is billed as a landscape, I
> will judge it on those grounds, and it is exceptional.
Right. My major issue with the game isn't its "landscape" aspect. I
guess I'm not in love with the art show concept itself. A textual
representation of a landscape can't be as compelling as even a simple
slide show of photographs would be. IMHO, anyway. As I said, it's a
pleasant experience, but it's not something that would compel me to
play it more than once.
> There is a fire tower, it just isn't obvious in the room description.
Mt. Cammerer, Outside the Fire Tower
The Mt. Cammerer fire tower sits atop a jagged, rocky peak with a
commanding view of the surrounding mountains. It's a fantastic location
for such a structure, really, because you can see for miles in every
direction and it would be easy to spot a plume of smoke, particularly if
you used binoculars.
The room description maybe could have included more info on the tower, but
the room name, on the other hand, made it pretty clear to me that there
was a tower here and that I could enter it.
However, once inside the tower I took a seat and had this unfortunate
exchange with the game:
You'll have to get off the ground first.
You'll have to get off the ground first.
You'll have to get off the ground first.
You'll have to get off the ground first.
You'll have to get off the ground first.
That's not a verb I recognize.
You'll have to get off the ground first.
You'll have to get off the ground first.
I only understood you as far as wanting to stand.
>stand on ground
But you're already on the ground.
You'll have to get off the ground first.
I only understood you as far as wanting to exit.
>get off the ground
You get back up and brush off your clothes. Break's over.
Is it odd that only the exact syntax given in the error message was able
to save me gravity's irresistible pull? Most of me thinks it was just a
bug, but there's a tiny bit that wonders if it was intentional. :)
==--- --=--=-- ---==
Quintin Stone "You speak of necessary evil? One of those necessities
st...@rps.net is that if innocents must suffer, the guilty must suffer
www.rps.net more." - Mackenzie Calhoun, "Once Burned" by Peter David
>I don't think you could ever have an "Interactive Fact", unless you
>control a PC who's currently typing. If you control General Custer,
>either it's not interactive or it's not fact.
I don't really agree. I think you can take a known story or bunch of
facts presented as a story, and give the "player" the opportunity to
navigate and interact with a static surface plot in such a way that
they gain a deeper understanding of the background, the PC's or NPCs'
motives, or the impacts of the historical occurrences on other areas or
people in the "game world". This could either be through interaction
with or observation of scenery (including use of multiple levels of
scenery), accessing PC memories, descriptions of PC reactions to player
commands or plot developments, use of multiple PCs with differing
perspectives, and so on. Essentially the author is then presenting a
"game" with the objective of exposition to arrive at a deeper
understanding of the facts (the story or stories within the story) or
different ways of viewing the factual content. This approach could even
involve multiple mutually exclusive paths through the static surface
story, or multiple "endings" with different outcomes in terms of points
of view or emotional content.
Having said this, I don't it's at all easy to make this sort of thing
work, and to keep the "player" engaged as they play through the piece.
But I'm very glad that we've got the IF Art Show, and entries like 'The
Fire Tower' that venture into some of the little explored territories
>> As the game is billed as a landscape, I
>> will judge it on those grounds, and it is exceptional.
> Right. My major issue with the game isn't its "landscape" aspect. I
> guess I'm not in love with the art show concept itself. A textual
> representation of a landscape can't be as compelling as even a simple
> slide show of photographs would be. IMHO, anyway. As I said, it's a
> pleasant experience, but it's not something that would compel me to
> play it more than once.
Oh, I don't know - when I first played "World" - some of the landscape
elements were quite evocative, more so than a series of photographs could
have been. This may be down to the fact that you can almost convey the
emotional response to an environment, the smells, textures etc. and by
good choice of words - even get the player to feel as though they are
there, which simple pictures may not do. After all, isn't that the essence
To email me, visit the site.
Quite true. I guess I am more aiming at people not understanding that
"Interactive Fiction" is an idiom evolved from a slogan, and we all
know what "IF" really means. But my arguement was far too generic, and
it was specifically in reference to control over the PCs actions in a
standard-format game. If you can tell Custer to go home (or drink a
beer, or turn right instead of left) it's not fact, but if you can't
it's not interactive.
The idea you describe reminds me a little of Square's The Bouncer. It
was described as an "interactive movie" or something, but it was just
an rpg fighting game with FMV. You didn't really get how cool it was
untill you played again, as one of the main character's friends. You'd
watch the same scenes from different angles, gain new insights, and tie
up all the loose ends. The perspective of a few feet away would
sometimes give you a completely different view of what happened. (If
you do play, play through as Sion->Volt->Kou for the best effect).
> The room description maybe could have included more info on the
> the room name, on the other hand, made it pretty clear to me that
> was a tower here and that I could enter it.
Yeah, what flummoxed me the first time (when I wrote the original
comment) is that, where I come from, a fire tower is just that.
Literally, a tower. In most cases, a sort of tall, gantry-looking
structure with a single room at the top reached by a series of stairs
or ladders, and surrounded by an exterior deck with rails that gives
you a 360 degree view of the surrounding forests.
So when I read the room description, I thought I had somehow gotten to
the top of the physical tower, not just the top of the mountain. On
rereading, I finally understood that the fire tower was just a room
sitting at the top of the mountain, without the additional 5-6 story
laddered structure you would climb for the flatland forest type of
tower. But even so, given the "landscape" nature of the game, I would
have thought the room description would have detailed what the tower
looked like from the outside without having to "x" tower, since it was
obviously a prominent feature of the landscape.
> However, once inside the tower I took a seat and had this unfortunate
> exchange with the game:
> Is it odd that only the exact syntax given in the error message was
> to save me gravity's irresistible pull? Most of me thinks it was
> bug, but there's a tiny bit that wonders if it was intentional. :)
I had the same problem when I finally got in the tower. Odd, since
everywhere else you sit down, a simple "stand up" command works.
The whole idea of interactive "fact" sounds weird, but it does fit with
some game ideas I have had. One thing I was thinking about that could
be fascinating is the idea of a game where you are an aide to Robert E.
Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg, or somewhere like that. You would not
be able to influence the outcome, of course, but you could present the
story (a la the book, "Killer Angels" or some of the more literary
historians like Shelby Foote), by having the aide ride back and forth
to various parts of the battlefield to deliver Lee's messages.
Using an IF approach, you could get quite a bit of the story, the
landscape, the heat, and the emotion into something like that. A cross
between "fact" and "fiction" but it really could be an interesting way
to see the intricacies of such a complex event. You could even have
the player character switch back and forth between aides to Lee and
aides to the various Union army combatants.
Anyway, I would be most willing to play an "interactive fact" of that
sort, but on thinking about it as I am writing this, obviously it would
be a real labor of love to implement something of that scope. Maybe
when my kids are all in college, 15 years from now...
I was expecting the fire tower to be the climax of the game. This game
is all about descriptions, so I expected the fire tower to be the
climax description-wise too, with a quite impressive fire tower
experienced through at least three or four senses (tasting may be too
much to ask for). I didn't see much of a description of the tower, and
actually didn't think of examining it until I read your post! (Yeah, I
know, it shows what an amateur I really am!)
The reason for naming the game The Fire Tower may be that arriving to
the fire tower is indeed the climax of the hike, but not because of the
tower itself, but because of the *view* you get the tower. After all,
the author is clearly in love with the natural environment she's
describing (and does a great job of showing us why), so why would a
man-made structure be the climax?
Quintin Stone wrote:
> > However, once inside the tower I took a seat and had this
> > exchange with the game:
That's extremely odd! The parser must be incredibly confused here.
Could it be that the fire tower itself is modelled as an object rather
than a location, so the parser thinks all your efforts are about
leaving the fire tower, which you can't do until you've left the
ground? Sounds like the most likely explanantion to me. The parser's
behaviour when you're on an object inside another object which seems to
be real location to the player, is probably rather seldom seen and
perhaps not sufficiently tested.
> and the door to entering it. But I still think the exterior
> description of the fire tower should have been available here.
> Instead, you are more or less encouraged to look at the view, not the
> fire tower itself.
Fire towers are dull. You generally can't go in them because they're
locked. The whole point of climbing up to one is because the clearing
it stands in has a good view. (Unless of course you're a hardcore fire
tower geek who collects fire tower serial numbers.)
Pick a different user name to email me.
>Fire towers are dull. You generally can't go in them because they're
>locked. The whole point of climbing up to one is because the clearing
>it stands in has a good view. (Unless of course you're a hardcore fire
>tower geek who collects fire tower serial numbers.)
In Austria, if you get to the top of a mountain, there usually is a
a stamp with the name of the summit together with an inkpad, and you
can get a little book at the tourist information, where you can put
a stamp for every mountain you climbed. You can then go back to the
tourist information office, and if you've got a certain number of
stamps, they reward you the hiker's needle in silver or even gold.
I think this was mostly set up for German tourists, so that they
don't get bored. ;)
Don't you have such a thing in the USA?
"El arte no viste pantalones."
-- Rubén Darío
>The whole idea of interactive "fact" sounds weird, but it does fit with
>some game ideas I have had. One thing I was thinking about that could
>be fascinating is the idea of a game where you are an aide to Robert E.
>Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg, or somewhere like that. You would not
>be able to influence the outcome, of course, but you could present the
>story (a la the book, "Killer Angels" or some of the more literary
>historians like Shelby Foote), by having the aide ride back and forth
>to various parts of the battlefield to deliver Lee's messages.
Didn't you just complain about _The Fire Tower_ not being IF-fy
enough? ;) If you were limited to riding back and forth, this would be
similar, I guess.
>Using an IF approach, you could get quite a bit of the story, the
>landscape, the heat, and the emotion into something like that. A cross
>between "fact" and "fiction" but it really could be an interesting way
>to see the intricacies of such a complex event. You could even have
>the player character switch back and forth between aides to Lee and
>aides to the various Union army combatants.
Well, what you've got then would be historical fiction. Not that there
is anything wrong with that - on the contrary, I would like to see
more of that in IF. I think, IF is an excellent medium for that, what
with the player being able to examine their surroundings etc. But
I'd still like to have a compelling story to go with it or interesting
puzzles, or both.
>Anyway, I would be most willing to play an "interactive fact" of that
>sort, but on thinking about it as I am writing this, obviously it would
>be a real labor of love to implement something of that scope. Maybe
>when my kids are all in college, 15 years from now...
I don't think it would be too interesting for me as a player to get
presented with every little detail from any historic event, (let alone
a battle in a war I personally don't care about at all). If I were to
write such a thing, I'd take a few scenes I consider important, to
get across the feel of the whole thing. To me, the point of such a
game would be to make the player care about the event/era/whatever
I'd portrait. If they want more details, they can always read up on
the topic afterwards.
Yes, but in the example I'm talking about, you would be standing at the
periphery and watching some extremely dramatic events, not just looking
at the landscape. So, you could call it historical fiction rather than
"interactive fact," but it would certainly be more entertaining to me
than a landscape with no real story. Just the way my mind works, I
> In Austria, if you get to the top of a mountain, there usually is a
> a stamp with the name of the summit together with an inkpad, and you
> can get a little book at the tourist information, where you can put
> a stamp for every mountain you climbed. You can then go back to the
> tourist information office, and if you've got a certain number of
> stamps, they reward you the hiker's needle in silver or even gold.
> I think this was mostly set up for German tourists, so that they
> don't get bored. ;)
> Don't you have such a thing in the USA?
The only mountain tops that I've been to were along the Appalachian
Trail, and they certainly don't. The highest point, Clingmans Dome, has
a wheelchair-accessibe look-out tower (see
http://images.google.com/images?q=Clingmans%20Dome); there was a US
Geodetic Survey marker on top of Thunderhead Mountain (see
the other peaks are unmarked.
Of course, as evidenced by the look-out tower, these are relatively low
peaks. Just south of Thunderhead is Rocky Top, famed in legend and
song. These days you can rent horses in the valley, ride to the top,
and enjoy a picnic. I got there the hard way, but saw many families
doing just that.
Yeah, I don't think that's common in the US. Not enough of a
mountaineering/hiking culture, and the mountains tend to be either
really hard out west or really easy back east. So maybe the challenge
isn't there. Plus, neither the Appalachians nor the Rockies are very
populous (in a relative sense), so for most Americans, that type of
hiking seems like it requires an extended vacation, not just a day hike
at a local peak. So filling up your "local peaks" book isn't really an
option or a motivator for most people.
>Yes, but in the example I'm talking about, you would be standing at the
>periphery and watching some extremely dramatic events, not just looking
>at the landscape. So, you could call it historical fiction rather than
>"interactive fact," but it would certainly be more entertaining to me
>than a landscape with no real story. Just the way my mind works, I
I guess this would be like _The Battle of Walcot Keep_, then. ;) Mind
you, I haven't really played that game, only for a few turns, so I
might be wrong. For all I remember, I didn't find it particularly
involving, though. IMO, you'd have to give the player something
interesting to do, because otherwise you don't gain anything from
using a parser-based system. I think _The Fire Tower_ might just as
well have been written in HTML with hyperlinks to navigate or examine
The first is that this game seems to be proving quite hard to
discuss, once we've gone beyond the first few fairly obvious
observations (in that quite a few posts are discussing something
other than the game itself). Is this because there's actually not
much more to say about it, or is it because Fire Tower isn't a
terribly good match to the kind of critical apparatus we've learned
to bring to the appreciation of IF (evaluation of story, puzzles,
NPCs and the like)? I confess *I* find it hard to think of what else
one could say about it, but perhaps there would be more to say if we
had a more developed critical vocabulary for discussing the
depiction of space in IF, which is basically what this piece is
about. There seems to be general agreement that Fire Tower does this
reasonably well, but is there anything to be learned from the way it
does it? Or have we said it all when we say that the author does a
good job of evocative writing?
The second reflection is totally unrelated to the first, and
concerns something I omitted to say at the end of my original
review. At the start of "Fire Tower" there's a prologue in which the
PC takes her leave of a concerned husband/partner, who arranges to
pick her up at the end of the hike. The game ends with a message to
the effect that the PC's ride/lift turns up, but without any mention
of a reunion with the concerned husband/lover. For me, this added to
sense of anticlimax I felt at the end of the game -- the
husband/partner/lover ends up reduced to a mere taxi-driver, and
though the point of the piece is the hike, not the relationship, the
ending feels rather cold, almost chillingly so, as if the PC cares
much more for the view and the hike than the man who's come to
collect her. A brief cut-scene reunion dialogue between the PC and
her man at the end would have alleviated this, I think. As it is the
prologue sets up an expectation that the game fails to meet.
Yes. I expected that she would have thoughts about whatever issues
were going on in her life that the long hike would help resolve: thus
her need to have a day to get away from it all. Then she would meet up
with her guy and the reunion would say something about how successful
she was in reflecting on these issues.
Now, since this WAS a landscape entry, I understand that it didn't
*require* this type of inner development on the character's part, but
as you say, Eric, the prologue set it up so that you kind of expected
It could be worth noting that the author uses the often ignored space
*between* rooms to great advantage. At least in this story, the pieces
of text that bind rooms together are essential and do a very good job
of keeping the number of rooms down while still giving the feeling of
traveling a long distance. Of course, if the player had been allowed to
roam freely on the map, this would have been more difficult to
accomplish. Maybe that's why the author decided to restrict the
I'd also like to point out that Game of the Week doesn't actually mean
that we have to keep discussing a certain game for exactly one week.
Discussion lasts for as long as want it to. It could be less than a
week, or it could be more than a week.
> The second reflection is totally unrelated to the first, and
> concerns something I omitted to say at the end of my original
> review. At the start of "Fire Tower" there's a prologue in which the
> PC takes her leave of a concerned husband/partner, who arranges to
> pick her up at the end of the hike. The game ends with a message to
> the effect that the PC's ride/lift turns up, but without any mention
> of a reunion with the concerned husband/lover. For me, this added to
> sense of anticlimax I felt at the end of the game -- the
> husband/partner/lover ends up reduced to a mere taxi-driver, and
> though the point of the piece is the hike, not the relationship, the
> ending feels rather cold, almost chillingly so, as if the PC cares
> much more for the view and the hike than the man who's come to
> collect her. A brief cut-scene reunion dialogue between the PC and
> her man at the end would have alleviated this, I think. As it is the
> prologue sets up an expectation that the game fails to meet.
I agree that the prologue was so fleshed out that it would seem to be
an important part of the story, but the PC seems to immediately succeed
in her goal of forgetting all about her everyday troubles. I think the
game lacks a real ending anyway, and finishing up what's started in the
prologue could have provided that needed ending.
I thought the ending was quite an apt response to the prologue. The day
was for herself. Initially I thought there was tension between the two,
but by the end I realized it was more about other tensions that perhaps
made their relationship a little edgy. Her relief to meet up with her
loving partner at the end was resolution for me.
Having her talk to her partner any more than "How was it?" would have put
too much focus on the relationship and any possible problems, whereas the
focus should really be on the hike. And the hike is important because its
her form of meditation and renewal, and let's face it, the point of the
game. A little more warmth on her side in the prologue may have softened
her edge a little. I guess her pent-up stress gave her this edge, which
can easily be misinterpreted as relationship troubles.
I had no problem with this dynamic and I felt the ending was just right.
I gotta say, I quite liked this. The respect and love that the author has
of the trail really shone through the entire game. The writing was
descriptive without being too repetitive or excessive. Many things were
implemented and implemented well.
I didn't mind the motivation for the hike and had no problem playing this
role. I liked the fact that close to every response was given in a
personal manner (through the PC, rather than as an abstraction). There was
one (small) glaring exception: if you smell yourself late in the hike, it
says something along the lines of "You've been hiking all day, you have a
scent. Trust me." Trust who? I felt everything else kept the narrator as
an invisible conduit, but this little slip up was an oddity.
It was nice to play a strong female character, and the game didn't have to
announce the character's gender with a big flashing neon sign. But
building on this, some responses revealed an interesting sexual awareness.
Many games implementing clothes take a very prudish attitude to curious
players. However in The Fire Tower, the PC isn't shy enough to comment on
her own body and the various realities of hiking in relation to that. For
> x chest
You glance down at your chest and think of what awful things the sports
bra you're wearing does for the appearance of your breasts. Normally
perky, they are oppressed by lycra hidden beneath your shirt. Oh well.
This means they shall stay perky in the long run, and it's not as if
you're out to meet anyone today.
(Before you ask, my tired brain offered "chest" when it was grasping for
the word "shirt". No crudeness was intended. Honest!)
Do any non-adult games do this? I've never noticed. In any case, this only
added to the character, I thought. She had self-confidence, and thus
credibility (a timid, self-conscious PC wouldn't have worked as well). The
responses to "feel chest" or "feel hips" gave a nice hint that things were
okay between the PC and the partner (I guess).
Another thing I noticed was how I played the game. In a game whose
geography is psychologically tighter, I don't have much of a problem
zooming around madly, but in this case, I stepped from room to room quite
slowly, and I generally took things at a slower pace than usual. Did
anyone else have this happen? Maybe it's just been a long week for me :)
> zooming around madly, but in this case, I stepped from room to room
> slowly, and I generally took things at a slower pace than usual. Did
> anyone else have this happen? Maybe it's just been a long week for me
Yes, I did. Partly, I think, because there was also time advancement --
before I committed myself to walk far (and set the game clock forward),
I wanted to make sure that I'd seen what there was to see in a given
location. I found it pretty impressive that Jacqueline managed to get a
(relatively) small number of rooms to represent the experience of a
By way of contrast: while I enjoyed the treatment of California
geography in "Flat Feet", it never *felt* like the drive to, say, San
Francisco was a big deal, psychologically or in terms of effort. I
think in that case it would in fact have hindered the game play to make
more of that, and having the easily-drivable car was a feature, not a
drawback. Mostly I'm just interested in why the hike felt long (in
"Fire Tower") while the coast of California felt short (in "Flat Feet").
Good to hear!
First off, many thanks to Frederik for the idea of a Game of the Week
and for suggesting to kick it off with playing The Fire Tower. Thanks
also to Brett for making me aware of the fact that tFT was being played
and discussed on RGIF. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was in the woods and
away from the Internet while this discussion was going on, but I'm back
in the front country now and had the extreme pleasure of reading all of
the discussion at once. Thank you very much to everyone who took the
time to share their thoughts.
I hiked out a couple of days ago after having been away from the world
for a week and a half, and as I was moving through the lower stretches
of the Chilkoot Trail, a lush forest of hemlock and cottonwood trees
dotted with clear mountain cascades that are presently at full volume
due to snow melt in the southeast Alaskan high country, I had several
moments of déjà vu from my years in the Smokies. It really made me
want to come home and work on the rewrite of The Fire Tower, which I
still plan to do, regardless of whether or not any of you would be
willing to revisit it, and reading this discussion only intensified
that desire to revisit the piece.
The initial version, for the IF Art Show, was far from what I wanted in
the finished piece, but there was a deadline involved, and, as is so
often the case, I started on it a bit too late. A lot of criticisms I
keep reading echo my own regrets about the piece (restrictions to the
character's interaction with the environment, for instance), though
some of the 'lack of plot' and 'on rails' comments are really the
result of it being an Art Show piece. As such, the focus was the
landscape, and the Show actually requires that there be no real plot to
distract from that.
It's good to keep getting feedback, though, even redundant feedback; it
drives home the things that most need to be changed in a revision of
As some of you know, I've rehiked the setting since the initial release
of tFT (many thanks to Sam Kabo Ashwell and his feet for enduring all
sixteen and a half miles with me on that trip this past autumn). Had I
suspected it had much of a shot at a Xyzzy and that interest would be
revived to the extent that it has, I probably would have gotten on the
rewrite even sooner. At any rate, the updated game will be more true
to the landscape, and we kept track of the vast majority of plants and
animals seen along the way (which put us back at the trailhead well
past dark). My hope for the rewrite is that it can be an educational
tool of sorts, somewhat akin to Peter Nepstad's 1893: A World's Fair
Your pleas for better bear encounters, insect repellent, sun screen,
swimming, and improved snacks will also be incorporated. I guess I'm
the only one who will set out with just trail mix in my pack on a
I found it particularly interesting that people discussed wanting to
know just what it was that the character was trying to 'get away from'
and her relationship with the man who dropped her off at the beginning
of the game. I will, I think, keep the character a bit mostly as is,
which is sort of a middle of the road between ambiguous PC and
thoroughly fleshed out protagonist, because I'm comfortable with where
it stands and I seem to have received equal amounts of criticism on
both sides: some people really hated being her because it limited their
experience and they didn't like being told how the PC reacts to the
environment, while others felt that the PC wasn't developed enough and
they wanted to know more of what was happening in her head.
As much as I regret that a rewrite will limit my work on any other
major IF projects, I think that The Fire Tower provides a good
foundation for what could be something more, and I feel like the piece
is rough and unfinished at present. I could take what I learned from
it and do something completely new, and no doubt will at some point,
but I have my own personal reasons for fleshing this out a bit more.
And so I just wanted to thank everyone in the community one last time
for their continued feedback on this piece.
The waters of Usenet were once rich in posters. Then the Usenet
trawlers set their nets and devastated the population, leaving the
ecology in serious imbalance.
VERY IMPORTANT: Please direct all e-mail to my gmail.com account:
jacqueline.a.lott, as I do not check the e-mail I used to set up my
Eric Eve wrote:
> the fact that one
> complete the game in about 30 minutes without encountering any
> significant challenges perhaps makes it fall a little short of the
> actual experience of hiking for several hours. Of course the
> physical effort of typing on a keyboard is never going to match the
> physical effort of going for a long walk, but maybe having to
> overcome a few obstacles on the way would have at least help
> simulate some kind of effort.
I have got a similar impression on this point. The game doesn't properly
speaking fail to give a sense of the physical effort experienced by the
player character, but the impression is slightly shallow, in my opinion, as
it's done mainly through predefined responses to the player's travel
commands. Part of the point of the IF Art Show is to explore how
interactivity can be used to enhance immersion, so I can't help wondering if
the feeling of physical effort could have been passed on better by using a
more sophisticated form of interactivity than travel descriptions, and
trying to really simulate the effort, as you suggest.
Puzzles in story-driven games often serve this kind of purpose well, for
presenting the player with an intellectual challenge can quite capably back
up the impression of the PC's struggle to overcome a physical obstacle, in
that it can be used to slow down the story at the appropriate time and thus
create an intentional sense of frustration. But I'm not sure this solution
would be the right one in the present case, because puzzles always imply a
risk for players to get stuck. Getting players stuck in a game like The
Fire Tower would be undesirable, I think, since the feeling of not knowing
what to do next to achieve your goal is at odds with the experience of
hiking, where your goal and the path towards it are always obvious.
So I guess the question is: what would be the most appropriate way to slow
down the player's progress, or make it feel more like hard work, if at the
same time you absolutely want to avoid the risk that the player doesn't know
what to try next?
I think there is an element of answer in the crawling sequence of "Hunter,
in Darkness", which somehow achieved that quite well, although I can't
pinpoint what the magic behind this effect exactly is, let alone see how it
could be transposed to a game like The Fire Tower.