Archive for January, 2007|Monthly archive page

Everything I want to do

One problem I have in writing IF is that I try to stuff I think too many ideas into the same game. I don’t mean plot or character but things like, ‘what is agency’, or ‘what is the meaning of performance’. I think part of this problem is that I’m still trying to figure out the major things or the main form that I want my IF to take, its style so to speak. I feel that my IF should express something. Perhaps this is the problem.

The game I’m working now is in the thick of this problem. Its main theme is the agency of the player in the context of performance. Given that any IF game at least written with a language like TADS or Inform cannot be fully interactive, I feel it is important to define a mechanic of interaction that is central to the work (I’ve drawn a lot from the well of Victor Gijsbers and Emily Short for this principle). So what you end up with is a work that is interactive in a particular way, but a particular way that is central to the story you are trying to tell; I feel this is important, more important than creating some limited though general vocabulary such as Chris Crawford’s Deitko to contain the world-space.

So back to the agency of the player. What I want the game to do is explore what the player can do within a performance. This builds on what I’ve been thinking about in terms of two levels of immersion in IF. Since I think it might get old for the player to be in the world-space by themself, there is another actor. To take it out of the sand box there is a story (though I admit not much of one). Furthermore there is a set of mechanics, specific mechanics, by which the player will interact with the work. In turn the ‘work’ will comment on the player’s performance.

A key method of the mechanic will be to define abilities and disabilities within the interaction, to highlight the agency the player does have by reduction.

At first I sketched a fantasy or fairy tale setting for the game, but then in a fit of modernity I jacked the game into the present. However I wish to retain the sense of the fantastical, to make it an imaginative but not surreal game. I think it’s possible to capture the imagination of the player and use the strengths of the IF medium (to go from a grain of sand to the Milky Way in a blink of the eye), without resorting to real fantasy or fairy land. This is (almost) everything I want to do in this game.

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Revving up for Spring

If you can say that anything really ‘revs’ in the IF world, there are a couple of competitions on the near horizon that the IF world is revving up for (well, perhaps that’s wishful thinking, but even so).

Spring Thing is the major non-IFComp competition and it’s coming up fast. I’d like to see a good field in this comp.

Just announced is the 2007 IF Art Show.

Originally I planned to enter Spring Thing, but right now the Art Show looks like a more realistic venue.

Legends of Karinth vs. God Wars II

OK. For the last couple of months I wasn’t playing any muds. In fact I went so far as to delete all my mud bookmarks and shortcuts. I had reached some point where boredom and the realization I was wasting a lot of time staring at mud forums combined itself into an anti-mud brew I pretty much forced down for my own good.

Well for better or worse I’ve pretty much coughed up the last of that potion. Despite the fact that I think I know better, I’m still fascinated by text games. This fascination was thrown in high relief recently when a neighbor loaned us his Playstation and I put in some heavy time on Tony Hawk and Splinter Cell. These were the first console games I had played in probably a decade. Since I don’t play many PC games either I had suspected I was in something of a text aficionado bubble. However while these were good games, they in no way left text games in the dust. Though it was fun to customize my skater. I don’t think I’m unusual in that I love to read and write and I like games. I don’t know, maybe if I loved to draw and paint I would be playing WoW. Somehow I doubt it.

Getting back into mud world I wrote a post on TMC looking for a mud to build on. While I haven’t started building yet, as a result of the post I did start playing an excellent ROM, Legends of Karinth. If you’re into DIKU-likes I highly recommend it.

The title of this post sounds like it’s setting up a death match or something though that’s not really the case. But while I’ve been playing Karinth I’ve been thinking about God Wars II. I played GW II for a little while last year. There is no doubt in my mind that GW is an incredible mud. Basically, if you’ve never seen it, GW II is the implementation of many of those ideas you’ve see thrown around on mud design forums in the last few years. Many people talk, few do, but GW II has done it.

However I stopped playing GW II and I’m playing Karinth, a much less innovative game in many ways (though Karinth does have some cool systems). What Karinth has that GW II lacks are the traditional, story-based areas with a lot of color. What I’m hoping is that at some point GW II will add the color and then it will truly be an awesome game. But for now Karinth wins the match.

im(me)rsion

There’s a repetitive article about the keyboard interface, sort of, at Adventure Classic Gaming, the kind of article where I’m still not sure what its main point is. However the author, Leopold McGinnis, dances around what I thought was an interesting point. There are at least two kinds of immersion in a game (maybe more than two, I don’t know), especially with text adventures, immersion in the game interface, call it the parser level, and immersion in the story world.

Some game designers are talking about making their games more immersive by streamlining the interface. However McGinnis talks about getting really into interaction with the parser interface, exploring the text game space by trying out things that probably won’t get a response but are very rewarding when they do. All of this is separate from immersion in the story world itself. In a FPS it would be like standing in one spot and pressing different combinations of buttons to see what you would do, eventually you could learn the vocabulary of the keypad or joystick to express phrases and see what results you got from the game world. I have a feeling no one actually ever does that. It is not exactly like his example:

In Warcraft, you couldn’t just start to build a garden or crossbreed orcs with demon hunters.

That is more in the story world, no?

The thing I like about this expressiveness is the player is asserting their individuality. In the story world you necessarily limit the player’s options to what makes sense within a point of view. In the text game, in conversation with the parser, the player can reject this point of view as they please. I wonder if there’s a way to make this parser conversation have more meaning than the usual, where the player types a bunch of phrases (game conversation) until they get a response that has been coded (story conversation). Yes, in a sense some of this parser conversation deliberately is part of the story world, but I’m talking about what McGinnis writes about, where the player types things they sort of know won’t be in the game, but they’re playing a guessing game with the author: did they code that reply? A game operating on two levels.

Whether you want two levels of immersion, whether you want to emphasize the individual, is another question. I’ve been thinking lately about the value of a text adventure to a population that might be transforming itself into a post-literate, ex-self collective society. The ultimate cycle, from the tribe swapping stories (games) around the campfire, to the text as artifact, and back to the tribe(s) swapping video and audio games (stories) digitally.

Do I really want to make something of the past or something for the future? If self interest as self expression and text (not a ‘text’ if you know what I mean) is fundamentally an instrument of authoritarian power, you know, do I want to go there? Does the interactivity of the text game trump the (authoritarian) reification of its text, or for that matter, am I just screwed because text games aren’t really interactive anyway?

What I really need is a philosophy lesson.