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The Gostak

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Carl Muckenhoupt

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Nov 19, 2001, 1:39:17 AM11/19/01
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"The Gostak" has been compared to "Lighan ses Lion" quite a lot, and
justly so: there's an undeniable similarity. The concept had been
rattling around in my brain for approximately ten years, and I had
started coding it at least twice before, but it was Lighan that inspired
me to actually sit down and finish it. If I didn't do it soon, someone
else would.

It wasn't called "The Gostak" at first. One planned title was "A Crime
Against Mimesis", but Adam Thornton stole that particular thunder in
1997. Later, I learned about gostaks from Jed Hartman's Logophilia page
(http://www.kith.org/logos/words/lower2/ggostak.html) and realized how
well the sentence "The gostak distims the doshes" - invented to
illustrate that we can get information from a sentence without referents
- fit the game's central conceit of learning to function in a world you
have no basis for imagining.

To be fair, there are quite a lot of referents in the finished version,
which is a good deal more concrete than my vague initial thoughts. But
there will never be a complete lexicon mapping the gostak dialect to
normal English, because some of the words simply don't correspond to
anything that actually exists. I've been asked several times now what
exactly a glaud is, and I have been evasive. The truth is that
everything I know about glauds can be found in the game: they restrict
movement, they have juffets (without which they smib into the brangy),
there are many different kinds (including animate and portable
varieties), and they are sometimes the tools of ghelipers (although not
always, or the gostak would have known there was a gheliper from the
beginning.) But if visualizing them as elephants or pineapples helps
you, please don't let me stand in your way.

Another one of the guiding principles was the use of words as treasures -
that learning a new verb is the reward for solving a puzzle. I don't
think I was quite successful at this; it would be better if verbs had
more wide-ranging uses. But those who dispatched the Cobbic glaud
without hints know what I was aiming at.

Speaking of hints, some people (notably zarf) have said that the game
can't be finished without them. This is not strictly true, and in fact
the hints were a rather late addition to the game, as was the
instructions menu. You can thank the playtesters for persuading me to
add them.

One reaction that puzzled me at first was the complaint that it isn't
really IF. After all, no one denies that Jabberwocky is a poem. Paul
O'Brian's review explains this complaint in more detail, and it's a valid
complaint. In the war between narrative and crossword, "The Gostak" is
not merely a rout but a massacre.

Probably the hardest part of writing the game was coming up with all the
words. I wanted it to sound like a convincing alternate dialect, and to
avoid the style of MIT hacker nonsense words (frob, gronk, blatz, zork),
although that certainly crept in (zank). The words "gostak", "distim",
"dosh" suggested certain phonetic patterns, which I tried to continue and
extend: delcot, boltep, stin, rask.

Anyway, I thank you for playing it, if you played it. I intend to
release the source code once I've fixed the outstanding bugs noticed
during the comp, and may do further revisions addressing gameplay issues.
It may not be the biggest crowd-pleaser, but enough people got into it
that I think I can consider the experiment a qualified success.

Sean T Barrett

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Nov 19, 2001, 2:39:57 AM11/19/01
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Carl Muckenhoupt <ca...@wurb.com> wrote:
>One reaction that puzzled me at first was the complaint that it isn't
>really IF. After all, no one denies that Jabberwocky is a poem. Paul
>O'Brian's review explains this complaint in more detail, and it's a valid
>complaint.

I actually can identify with the complaint that it's not really
IF, and the way I perceive this does not seem to match exactly
with what Paul wrote, so I will offer it.

Certainly Gostak falls into the set of "interactive experiences
delivered entirely through text"--and if that's what you mean by
IF, or 'the medium of IF', well ok. But other things fit that
description and aren't normally considered IF--computer-assisted
crosswords, or computer ASCII chess. IF as the genre we're
generally talking about is this particular combination of
interactivity/player-agency/storytelling, and a very strange
thing happens in gostak: the player ends up working on solving
puzzles that aren't even visible to the player-character.

Is that a *contradiction* of what it means to be IF? Not by
any *definition* I've heard of the term, but definitions aren't
really how we tend to understand things; we understand words
by extrapolation from the sets of things they refer to--see
Wittgenstein's 'family resemblences'.

This doesn't mean that the term 'IF' can't comfortably grow
to include this; and there are no doubt other games that do
this; but at a certain point, with the puzzle-solving
decoupled so heavily from the story (and, to a certain extent,
the interactivity), you might find yourself crossing over closer
to other sorts of games that we don't consider IF.

No doubt different people perceive this differently, though.

SeanB

Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 19, 2001, 10:57:52 AM11/19/01
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Carl Muckenhoupt <ca...@wurb.com> wrote:
> "The Gostak" has been compared to "Lighan ses Lion" quite a lot, and
> justly so: there's an undeniable similarity. The concept had been
> rattling around in my brain for approximately ten years, and I had
> started coding it at least twice before, but it was Lighan that inspired
> me to actually sit down and finish it.

I alternately toss "I'm sorry" and "you're welcome" out into the
audience, as appropriate. :)

> Speaking of hints, some people (notably zarf) have said that the game
> can't be finished without them. This is not strictly true

But it certainly seemed that way to this player, at the time.

One problem is that it's much harder to file clues in my head. In a
dungeon crawl, if I catch a glimpse of a glowing amethyst early in the
game -- even once -- I'll be sure to remember that fact *and* what I
did to trigger the message.

In _Gostak_, I had a terrible time remembering where and how I saw
that one critical word. The writerly mechanisms for emphasizing "this
word is important" aren't there -- or at least, they need to be buffed
up a lot to work as well.

> and in fact
> the hints were a rather late addition to the game, as was the
> instructions menu.

The *instructions* were a late addition?! I certainly would never have
gotten off the ground without them. Really, in the early parts of my
play session, the instructions and the game worked together *very*
well -- I assumed you had designed them as a unit.

> You can thank the playtesters for persuading me to
> add them.

Thank you, playtesters!

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
* Make your vote count. Get your vote counted.

Andrew Plotkin

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Nov 19, 2001, 11:00:07 AM11/19/01
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Sean T Barrett <buz...@world.std.com> wrote:
> Carl Muckenhoupt <ca...@wurb.com> wrote:
>>One reaction that puzzled me at first was the complaint that it isn't
>>really IF. After all, no one denies that Jabberwocky is a poem. Paul
>>O'Brian's review explains this complaint in more detail, and it's a valid
>>complaint.

> I actually can identify with the complaint that it's not really
> IF, and the way I perceive this does not seem to match exactly
> with what Paul wrote, so I will offer it.

> Certainly Gostak falls into the set of "interactive experiences
> delivered entirely through text"--and if that's what you mean by
> IF, or 'the medium of IF', well ok. But other things fit that
> description and aren't normally considered IF--computer-assisted
> crosswords, or computer ASCII chess. IF as the genre we're
> generally talking about is this particular combination of
> interactivity/player-agency/storytelling, and a very strange
> thing happens in gostak: the player ends up working on solving
> puzzles that aren't even visible to the player-character.

A theme that I whanged on very heavily in _Spider and Web_, to be
sure. See also _All Roads_, and other examples that it's too early in
the morning for me to think of. :)

Frank Borger

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Nov 19, 2001, 1:05:52 PM11/19/01
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Carl Muckenhoupt <ca...@wurb.com> writes:

> The truth is that everything I know about glauds can be found in the
> game: they restrict movement, they have juffets (without which they

> smib into the brangy), ...

Every time I read a sentence like this I ROTFL and forget thinking.
That's why I probably will never be able to finish this game.

However, if the fools didn't laugh, it wouldn't be the tao ...
--
Frank Borger | Aliloka chielo
fr...@tmt.de | estas sama chielo.
Bayreuth (49°57,566'N 11°34,473'O)

Sean T Barrett

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Nov 19, 2001, 1:35:39 PM11/19/01
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Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:

>Sean Barrett <buz...@world.std.com> wrote:
>> interactivity/player-agency/storytelling, and a very strange
>> thing happens in gostak: the player ends up working on solving
>> puzzles that aren't even visible to the player-character.
>
>A theme that I whanged on very heavily in _Spider and Web_, to be
>sure. See also _All Roads_, and other examples that it's too early in
>the morning for me to think of. :)

Well, see, I even started to mention Spider and Web in
that post, but the more I started to write about it,
the more it became obvious it wasn't the same thing at
all, so I didn't bother.

In Spider & Web, for most of the game, the player is trying
to solve the *exact* same problem as the player character.
The player is approaching the problem with significantly
less information, and in some cases is trying to solve the
same "current" problem of finding an acceptable deception,
and in some cases is having to solve some problem that the
PC already solved in the past.

In Gostak, the significant puzzle confronting the player
doesn't exist in the PC's world at all; it is a meta-puzzle.

SeanB

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