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[CRITICAL ANALYSIS] Earth and Sky 3: Luminous Horizon

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January 5, 2005 3:14:20 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Review of Earth and Sky 3: Luminous Horizon
By Paul O'Brian
Awards: 1st Place, IF Comp 2004

In a post on r.a.i.f., I recently proposed a set of criteria for
reviewing or possibly "grading" interactive fiction. These
criteria primarily apply to games that emphasize the "story" aspect
of IF as opposed to basic "adventuring." My agenda is to promote
development and analysis of interactive stories to see if that helps
move IF upward & rightward along the artistic maturity curve. The
standards, consequently, are meant to be the "minimum" for what
comprises a modern, high quality IF story. As an exercise in using
these criteria, I am therefore grading the top 3 games in the IF Comp
to see how they would measure up. This is the first in the series,
which will cover Luminous Horizon, Blue Chairs, and All Things Devours.
I am starting with EAS3:LH not only because it won the IF Comp, but
because Paul is the one who suggested that I start doing reviews of IF
games in that original thread.:)  So here I go.

NOTE TO OTHER POSTERS: Feel free to question both my criteria and my
conclusions. I'm just doing this to see if the approach has value
when applied consistently to multiple games. So fire at will.

Genre: Superhero.

Storyline: Earth (Austin) and Sky (Emily) are brother and sister on a
quest to find their missing parents, who are of a scientific bent.
They get their powers (super strength for Earth; flying, shooting
electric blasts, and creating fog for Sky) from the special suits their
parents invented and left behind when they disappeared. Action takes
place in an isolated "fortress" of the alien enemy who has captured
their parents. This, the 3rd in the series, provides the culminating
story and final solution to the "where are our parents?" dilemma
first posed in the original.

--Criteria 1: Does the game deconstruct the rooms paradigm so
effectively that no map is required to play the game? If not, does the
story itself have elements that actually focus the PC on geography, so
that a map is necessary to the story itself, not just to the gameplay?
If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

EAS3:LH uses basic map directions for movement, but the story is
compact enough that no mapping exercise is required. You have to
remember the layout to manage the final sequence, but it is simple
enough that there is no problem with this. The compact dimensions of
the world map keep you focused on the gameplay and the puzzles instead
of direction finding. Nothing breakthrough, but competent use of the
world map to support the story. Thumbs up.

--Criteria 2: Does the author make game-related choices or
plot-advancing consequences inherent in the majority of actions the
player takes? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

There are several places in the story where your puzzle-solving
requirements can lead to some aimless wandering in search of clues, but
the game map is limited enough that the story thread is maintained.
The game doesn't force you forward, prod you, or give any major
unsolicited advice. However, the clever hint system that plays off the
ability to switch character identities usually keeps you moving.
"Talking to" your sibling gives you excellent hints at various
points. A number of scenes will play themselves out satisfactorily
without much brilliance on your part, as a result. While this is not
consistent throughout the game, and sometimes it may be too forced, I
think it meets the standard this criteria is trying to set. Thumbs up.

--Criteria 3: Does game play and choices made as a result advance the
player to multiple endings, with multiple paths to reach those endings,
in ways that are both supported by and supportive of the main story
trying to be told? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

There is really only one ending you are trying to reach, so this
criteria is difficult for EAS3:LH to meet. I would have liked to see
different paths through the game to get to that ending, but if there
were any significantly different avenues, I didn't find them. (Note
that I don't count "death" or "failure" as separate endings
or separate paths here.) In this type of game, having more than one
way to find/slay/escape the beast would be a plus. Thumbs down.

--Criteria 4: Is the story itself actually worth telling? Does it have
a narrative dynamic that would be worth relating in other media, so
that it is not purely a technical exercise? And is that dynamic
sustained throughout the course of the game so that the player
essentially *knows* the story, even if he/she doesn't fully understand
it or all its implications, on the first playthrough? If yes, thumbs
up. If no, thumbs down.

Another difficult criteria for EAS3:LH to meet. Since this story is
serialized, you really don't get the impact of the "quest" Earth
& Sky are on unless you played the previous two games. While the
feelies associated with the game bring you up to date, I'm not sure
it passes the test for a stand alone exercise. I tried to imagine
playing the game without having played the others, and the best I can
come up with is that you might like the game, but you probably
wouldn't be entranced with the story at the point where it picks up
in EAS3:LH. A tough call, however, because the overall EAS story is
pretty decent and well-told. Thumb sideways.

--Criteria 5: Do commands -- including movement commands -- really
support the story, i.e., if you are using compass directions, is the
player using a compass to navigate with at the time? If not, do the
commands truly enhance the mimetic effect being achieved in the game?
Are uncommon commands natural to the story and the responses to
incorrect commands helpful? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

The special commands in EAS3:LH are those controlling Sky's flying
and fogging powers and the ability to switch characters (more on the
character switching below). They suited what was in the game and
indeed were required for effective gameplay. Although the author did
nothing with the basic compass direction movements, the game map was
small enough that they did not become intrusive or burdensome. There
is little need to wander back and forth through the landscape, even
when you're stuck. Thumbs up.

--Criteria 6: Does the author have sufficient control of the pacing,
the narrative, the hints, other authorial mechanisms such as
flashbacks, memories, event intrusion, etc., so that the player can't
ever really get stuck and therefore fail to finish the game? If yes,
thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

Like most games that require puzzles to be solved to move from one part
of the game to the next, EAS3:LH has some problems with pacing.
However, the hint system can get you through most of these without
making you feel like you have stepped out of the game to look at a
cheat sheet. You can become stuck, particularly on the final scene and
the one "family feud" scene, where you can die or fail repeatedly,
but your partner gamely tries to get you through this with his/her
actions and/or hints. Thumbs up.

--Criteria 7: Does the author use timing or turn-related events or
scene-cuts that give the player the appropriate forward momentum
necessary to move from scene to scene and complete the game? If not, is
a slow pace and relatively open player "wandering" reflective of the
story and how it is being told? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

The author uses the device of switching voices to a narrative or
voiceover of the bad guy's conversations with his minion(s) between
significant scenes, which helps you understand what is going on and
effectively connects the scenes together. The scene cuts come as
byproducts of puzzle solving, not intrusively or automatically, but
they feel natural and help the player visualize what's about to
happen in the next phase of the game. Thumbs up.

--Criteria 8: If puzzles are included, are they natural byproducts of
the world model or the interactions of the PC/NPCs? Are the puzzles
absolutely necessary to advance the story being told? If yes, thumbs
up. If no, thumbs down.

The puzzles work in the context of the story being told, although they
weren't what I would call "brilliant" puzzles (you don't have
to be crazy smart to solve them). Since the point of this, however, is
that the heroes have super powers, the typical version of a locked door
puzzle can be solved by simply entering "break door." Although E&S
are scientists in training, the game doesn't go out of its way to
require scientific analysis to solve any of the puzzles. That might
actually be a lost opportunity. The biggest complaint about the
puzzles involves the "family feud" scene, where guessing the right
sequence of actions is difficult even when you know what you need to
do, more or less. Eventually, you figure it out though. Overall, a
somewhat limp thumbs up.

--Criteria 9: Does the game take risks in switching viewpoints
(varying the PC view between one or more of the game characters), using
different voice at different times (applying 1st, 2nd, 3rd and/or
stream of consciousness, perhaps all in one game), and/or breaking with
any other standard PC/NPC conventions (look, inventory, x me, etc.)?
Are those risks successful in the context of the game? If yes, thumbs
up. If no, thumbs down.

The game succeeds rather brilliantly here, by actually *requiring* that
you switch viewpoints (player's choice as to when) between Earth and
Sky as the game progresses. Some puzzles, in fact, require you to
switch from one to the other in order to finish solving them. Since
you also get a third-person or "listening in" view of the bad guy
and one of his minions in the scene cuts, this is about as robust a way
to meet this criteria as any game out there. Since the hint system is
also implemented as a conversation between the two characters, this
game really shows the way in terms of breaking with the basic
conventions in these areas. Definite thumbs up.

--Criteria 10: Is it well-written, well-told, well-edited,
well-tested? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

EAS3:LH is fairly well-written - believable in its switches between
different voices, consistent in its level and degree of description, no
obvious typos or mangling of English, etc. Since the story arc
actually transcends three games, of which this is the third, it is not
clear to me that the story would be "well-told" if the author
hadn't included a lot of introductory info and feelies. But
certainly there are no major, unintended gaps in story progression.
The game seems to be edited appropriately and the gameplay meets most
of the tests. Only one annoying thing occurs: if one of the E&S kids
has something, the other can't automatically take it from him/her
when it is needed (e.g., >Take new gizmo. reply "That seems to belong
to Austin." Which is annoying, since presumably these two are a
team). But otherwise, well done. Thumbs up.

--Extra Credit Criteria: Does the game break new ground in the story
being told, new genres, new plots, new structures, etc.? Does it avoid
complete cliches (amnesia, underground empires, etc.)? If yes, extra
credit. If no, then no extra credit.

The superhero genre is not new, but is rarely this well-executed.
EAS3:LH makes a place for itself with its nice variations on the theme,
but it doesn't really take any real risks. It avoids clich├ęs, but
doesn't really deserve any extra credit unless you like the way
certain cartoon sound effects (SKREE!) etc., were implemented as
full-color graphics. While this was interesting, without the comic
book pictures to go with the text, it didn't do much for me. Another
trick the author used was for menu selections. Selecting a numerical
menu item had two modes, instant response to one character or the
typical type the number, then hit return. I found the instant response
too jumpy, however, and resorted to the standard mode. No extra credit
awarded.

Total Score:

Thumbs Up: 8 out of 10
Thumbs Sideways: 1 out of 10
Thumbs Down: 1 out of 10
Extra Credit: None.

Net Score 8.5 thumbs up out of 10.

Final Comments:

Since my standards are meant to be the minimum criteria for a modern,
high-quality IF story, this would suggest that EAS3:LH needs a little
more refinement to meet the standard. However, I suspect that if the
scores were given for the whole EAS series, all the basic standards
would've been met. Thus the risk of serializing to this degree,
despite its valid comic book roots, may not be worth it for this story.

Or perhaps this says something more broadly about serializing for IF as
a storytelling medium. If a new episode of EAS came out every month,
like the old comics, then maybe this approach would work better.
Otherwise, it's a very good game in many respects, but it left me
wanting more. I suspect Paul is probably going to integrate the 3 EAS
games into one combined narrative at some point, and, if so, I will
certainly go back and replay it to experience the uninterrupted flow of
the end-to-end EAS story.

PJ
Anonymous
January 5, 2005 5:05:12 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

PJ wrote:
> Review of Earth and Sky 3: Luminous Horizon
> By Paul O'Brian
> Awards: 1st Place, IF Comp 2004
>
> In a post on r.a.i.f., I recently proposed a set of criteria for
> reviewing or possibly "grading" interactive fiction. These
> criteria primarily apply to games that emphasize the "story" aspect
> of IF as opposed to basic "adventuring." My agenda is to promote
> development and analysis of interactive stories to see if that helps
> move IF upward & rightward along the artistic maturity curve. The
> standards, consequently, are meant to be the "minimum" for what
> comprises a modern, high quality IF story. As an exercise in using
> these criteria, I am therefore grading the top 3 games in the IF Comp
> to see how they would measure up. This is the first in the series,
> which will cover Luminous Horizon, Blue Chairs, and All Things
Devours.
> I am starting with EAS3:LH not only because it won the IF Comp, but
> because Paul is the one who suggested that I start doing reviews of
IF
> games in that original thread.:)  So here I go.
>
> NOTE TO OTHER POSTERS: Feel free to question both my criteria and my
> conclusions. I'm just doing this to see if the approach has value
> when applied consistently to multiple games. So fire at will.

If everyone were aiming for your criteria, we would lose a lot of
diversity. We would lose EVERY OTHER VISION of IF except yours. How can
you think that this would help the artistic maturity curve? Is it
possible you're serious?

Greg
January 5, 2005 5:39:55 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Greg Boettcher wrote:

> If everyone were aiming for your criteria, we would lose a lot of
> diversity. We would lose EVERY OTHER VISION of IF except yours. How
can
> you think that this would help the artistic maturity curve? Is it
> possible you're serious?

I think you are assuming that my criteria for comparing games are
somehow inherently limiting. I am going to use them to review Blue
Chairs and All Things Devours as well as EAS3:LH. I expect both to
score pretty well, maybe even better than Luminous Horizon. Yet there
could scarcely be 3 more different games in tone, concept, or
execution. So I'm not sure there's any loss of diversity there.

It's also not meant to be a way to judge games that are mostly
"adventure" style productions. Isle of the Cult is an enjoyable game,
but it would score low on this criteria. Actually, I'm just trying to
come up with a consistent way to look at the differences and
similarities among the more literary or avant-garde, story-based games.
I sincerely doubt anyone will write games with these criteria in the
forefront of their mind. But as a sort of simple guideline for authors
thinking about these types of games, I think it could be useful as a
guide to potentially desirable features. And from a review
standpoint, it gives a way (for me at least) to see if there is some
consistent way to judge or evaluate games of this type.

PJ
Anonymous
January 5, 2005 6:50:02 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

David Whyld wrote:
> PJ wrote:
> --Criteria 1: ...
> --Criteria 2: ...
> --Criteria 3: ...
> etc etc
>
> Maybe it's just me but I'm not sure I really see the point of all
> these criterion (if that *is* the plural of criteria).

Criteria is the plural of criterion.


--
J. Robinson Wheeler Games - http://raddial.com/if/
JRW Digital Media Movie - http://thekroneexperiment.com
jrw@jrwdigitalmedia.com Comic - http://adamcadre.ac/comics.html
Anonymous
January 5, 2005 6:53:50 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

David Whyld wrote:
> Maybe it's just me but I'm not sure I really see the point of all
these
> criterion (if that *is* the plural of criteria).

criterion is singular and criteria is plural. I suppose I am the only
one who winces at "the criteria is" but I can't help it.

Cirk R. Bejnar
January 5, 2005 7:00:30 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Right. That's a typo on my part.
January 5, 2005 7:19:10 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

David Whyld wrote:

> Maybe it's just me but I'm not sure I really see the point of all
these
> criterion (if that *is* the plural of criteria). Take criteria 1:
what does
> it matter if the game deconstructs the rooms paradigm so effectively
that no
> map is required? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Assume the
answer is
> yes, is the game better or worse for it?

I'm assuming that for story-focused IF, then deemphasis on the map IS
generally a good thing, because then the story is the focus, not the
"world" the story is being played out in. I do make an exception in
that criterion though for whether having a complex, sprawling map is
intrinsic to the story or not. Remember, I am trying to gauge the
effectiveness of, and/or promote, "literary" or story-driven IF, so
other types of criteria are certainly valid in judging other types of
games.

> Personally I'd have sooner had a critical analysis along the lines of
"how
> good is the game? Is it well written? Is it an interesting game to
play? Is
> it easy or hard? Are you likely to play it again?" than criteria that
don't,
> on the face of it, really seem to mean a thing.

I think everyone writes those types of comments into their current
reviews of an individual game, but unless they review a whole lot of
games together and provide ratings, understanding how one game compares
against others reviewed at different times is difficult. What I'm
trying to do is boil what constitutes "good" into a set of consistently
applied categories that are story-focused, and can be used to compare
games no matter when the rating was done.

I'm not certain that it will work, but it's certainly not any worse
than the traditional way of doing IF reviews. For example, I'm not
really commenting on how "hard" or "easy" a game is except in the
context of the story and the flow of the game. If there's not a good
story or you can't understand it or get stuck and can't finish the
game, then that element gets a thumb down. Likewise, I'm judging
replays only from the standpoint of multiple paths, multiple endngs and
other "extra value" content. Some people never replay a game, no
matter how much they like it, just like they never reread a book. I'm
assuming any game that has a good story and can be finished with
multiple ways and multiple endings is probably worth playing again, so
that is what I am commenting on.

All this thread about really is that: is there a way to consistently
identify and compare "good" story-focused games? And, in doing so,
does that help authors identify types of features that could add
richness, content, playability, etc., to their games?

PJ
Anonymous
January 6, 2005 1:55:16 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

"PJ" <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote in message
news:1104956059.985065.29570@f14g2000cwb.googlegroups.com...
Review of Earth and Sky 3: Luminous Horizon
By Paul O'Brian
Awards: 1st Place, IF Comp 2004

--Criteria 1: Does the game deconstruct the rooms paradigm so
effectively that no map is required to play the game? If not, does the
story itself have elements that actually focus the PC on geography, so
that a map is necessary to the story itself, not just to the gameplay?
If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.
--Criteria 2: Does the author make game-related choices or
plot-advancing consequences inherent in the majority of actions the
player takes? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.
--Criteria 3: Does game play and choices made as a result advance the
player to multiple endings, with multiple paths to reach those endings,
in ways that are both supported by and supportive of the main story
trying to be told? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

etc etc

Maybe it's just me but I'm not sure I really see the point of all these
criterion (if that *is* the plural of criteria). Take criteria 1: what does
it matter if the game deconstructs the rooms paradigm so effectively that no
map is required? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Assume the answer is
yes, is the game better or worse for it?

Personally I'd have sooner had a critical analysis along the lines of "how
good is the game? Is it well written? Is it an interesting game to play? Is
it easy or hard? Are you likely to play it again?" than criteria that don't,
on the face of it, really seem to mean a thing.
Anonymous
January 6, 2005 1:56:29 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

PJ <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:
> There is really only one ending you are trying to reach, so this
> criteria is difficult for EAS3:LH to meet. I would have liked to see
> different paths through the game to get to that ending, but if there
> were any significantly different avenues, I didn't find them. (Note
> that I don't count "death" or "failure" as separate endings
> or separate paths here.) In this type of game, having more than one
> way to find/slay/escape the beast would be a plus. Thumbs down.

There were multiple ways to win the family feud, involving either a
defensive or a direct-attack route.

--Michael
Anonymous
January 6, 2005 8:32:23 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

In article <1104956059.985065.29570@f14g2000cwb.googlegroups.com>,
PJ <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:
[..]
>comprises a modern, high quality IF story. As an exercise in using
>these criteria, I am therefore grading the top 3 games in the IF Comp
>to see how they would measure up. This is the first in the series,
>which will cover Luminous Horizon, Blue Chairs, and All Things Devours.

I think this is a very good way to test out the criteria. I hope that
once you get them polished up you also apply them to some other
more-flawed games and show how the criteria help identify ways they
could improve.

[doing some fairly heavy editing here]

>--Criteria 1: Does the game deconstruct the rooms paradigm so
>effectively that no map is required to play the game? If not, does the
>story itself have elements that actually focus the PC on geography, so
>that a map is necessary to the story itself, not just to the gameplay?
>If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.
>
>EAS3:LH uses basic map directions for movement, but the story is
>compact enough that no mapping exercise is required. You have to
[..]
>of direction finding. Nothing breakthrough, but competent use of the
>world map to support the story. Thumbs up.
>

>--Criteria 2: Does the author make game-related choices or
>plot-advancing consequences inherent in the majority of actions the
>player takes? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.
>
>There are several places in the story where your puzzle-solving
>requirements can lead to some aimless wandering in search of clues, but
>the game map is limited enough that the story thread is maintained.
[..]
>think it meets the standard this criteria is trying to set. Thumbs up.
[..]

>--Criteria 5: Do commands -- including movement commands -- really
>support the story, i.e., if you are using compass directions, is the
>player using a compass to navigate with at the time? If not, do the
>commands truly enhance the mimetic effect being achieved in the game?
>Are uncommon commands natural to the story and the responses to
>incorrect commands helpful? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.
>
[..]
>indeed were required for effective gameplay. Although the author did
>nothing with the basic compass direction movements, the game map was
>small enough that they did not become intrusive or burdensome. There
>is little need to wander back and forth through the landscape, even
>when you're stuck. Thumbs up.

I have to say I'm kind of disappointed with the soft ride you're
giving LH here, when it seems pretty clear that it's routinely bumping
into your criteria. Have you just phrased the rules more harshly
than you intend them to be taken? Or, I dunno, are you really bending
things to make sure LH does ok?

[..]
>--Criteria 1: Does the game deconstruct the rooms paradigm so
>effectively that no map is required to play the game? If not, does the

I'm not sure what you mean by 'deconstruct' here. The second part of
the sentence suggests it just means "Does the game have an
understandable layout?", but it seems like that would perpetuate the
rooms paradigm rather than deconstruct it.

>--Criteria 6: Does the author have sufficient control of the pacing,
>the narrative, the hints, other authorial mechanisms such as
>flashbacks, memories, event intrusion, etc., so that the player can't
>ever really get stuck and therefore fail to finish the game? If yes,
>thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

I think this particular one is poorly phrased. It's pretty rare for
games these days for the player to be able to accidentally make the
game unwinnable, but I don't think that's exactly what you're talking
about here.

>--Criteria 8: If puzzles are included, are they natural byproducts of
>the world model or the interactions of the PC/NPCs? Are the puzzles
>absolutely necessary to advance the story being told? If yes, thumbs
>up. If no, thumbs down.

"Absolutely necessary" seems pretty strong here, and hard to defend --
just like you could strip out any particular sentence from a novel and
still make the novel work with a little editing, you could pull out
any puzzle from an IF game, so in that sense nothing is absolutely
necessary. Maybe the question should be just "Do the puzzles advance
the story?"

>The puzzles work in the context of the story being told, although they
>weren't what I would call "brilliant" puzzles (you don't have
>to be crazy smart to solve them). Since the point of this, however, is

I can't quite tell if you saying they don't require genius players to
solve is intended to be criticism or not. Certainly it seems to me
like this isn't desired behavior -- the ideal puzzle, to my mind, is
challenging but solvable by the vast majority of the audience. Also,
bear in mind that this is for the comp, so the game as a whole is
targetted at two hours playtime, which makes it difficult to have
really involved puzzles.

>that the heroes have super powers, the typical version of a locked door
>puzzle can be solved by simply entering "break door." Although E&S
>are scientists in training, the game doesn't go out of its way to
>require scientific analysis to solve any of the puzzles. That might
>actually be a lost opportunity. The biggest complaint about the

Well, maybe. It seems to me that scientists in comic books rarely
engage in any real scientific analysis as a way to solve problems --
I'm told that at most you get Reed Richards coming up and saving the
day deus-ex-machina style at the end of the comic.

[..]
>--Criteria 9: Does the game take risks in switching viewpoints
>(varying the PC view between one or more of the game characters), using
>different voice at different times (applying 1st, 2nd, 3rd and/or
>stream of consciousness, perhaps all in one game), and/or breaking with
>any other standard PC/NPC conventions (look, inventory, x me, etc.)?

This seems like kind of an odd trait to focus on, to be honest, but I
guess we can see how the other games measure up. Does the last part of
the sentence there really group changes in viewpoint into one bucket,
and every other break from IF conventions into the other bucket?
If so, that seems like a weird way to divide things. In general, how
does this point differ from the extra credit questions at the end?

>--Criteria 10: Is it well-written, well-told, well-edited,
>well-tested? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

It seems like this could stand to be broken down a lot more. As it is,
it comes off as a general "was this a good game? yes/no" question
which isn't particularly useful when trying to do an objective
evaluation. If you just mean "was the writing well done as writing?"
that would be reasonable, but then I don't think "well-tested" fits in
there.

[..]
>Since my standards are meant to be the minimum criteria for a modern,
>high-quality IF story, this would suggest that EAS3:LH needs a little
>more refinement to meet the standard. However, I suspect that if the

Hmm, it seems like you could phrase this a little better, to emphasize
that you're only talking about a particular style of IF. As it is it
sounds a little like you're saying that any modern game that wants to
be considered high-quality needs to fit these.

More generally, I think you're going to run into problems if you say
that a game must meet every single criterion you've laid out. For one
thing, you'll need to set the bar fairly low on each of them, which
will reduce the overall analytic powers of the rules.

>scores were given for the whole EAS series, all the basic standards
>would've been met. Thus the risk of serializing to this degree,
>despite its valid comic book roots, may not be worth it for this story.

Hmm, I dunno. You knocked off a point for not having multiple endings,
and adding prequels isn't going to help much with that. It's true you
knocked off half a point for not being a complete story arc, but, hrm,
I'm not convinced the arc here isn't pretty complete. The prequels are
nice, but you could also play this in a reasonably satisfying way as a
general "break into the bad guy's place and stop his evil plans"
game.

>Or perhaps this says something more broadly about serializing for IF as
>a storytelling medium. If a new episode of EAS came out every month,
>like the old comics, then maybe this approach would work better.

Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha.

>Otherwise, it's a very good game in many respects, but it left me
>wanting more.

Can you be a little more specific about this? Was it that you felt the
conclusion wasn't satisfying because of lack of backstory? Or because
of lack of, uh, forwardstory?

>I suspect Paul is probably going to integrate the 3 EAS
>games into one combined narrative at some point, and, if so, I will
>certainly go back and replay it to experience the uninterrupted flow of
>the end-to-end EAS story.

I have to say this doesn't seem real likely to me, although I believe
EAS 1 will be coming out in glulx form to match the others. I'm
curious why you think a single game would be a big improvement over
just playing the three in sequence.

>PJ
--
Dan Shiovitz :: dbs@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
January 6, 2005 8:35:27 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Dan Shiovitz wrote:

> I think this is a very good way to test out the criteria. I hope that
> once you get them polished up you also apply them to some other
> more-flawed games and show how the criteria help identify ways they
> could improve.

Thanks for the vote of confidence. In practice, as you note below, the
criteria will probably need some tweaking. I'm not going to do that
until I've done at least the first 3 though.

> >--Criteria 1:
> >--Criteria 2:
> >--Criteria 5:

> I have to say I'm kind of disappointed with the soft ride you're
> giving LH here, when it seems pretty clear that it's routinely
bumping
> into your criteria. Have you just phrased the rules more harshly
> than you intend them to be taken? Or, I dunno, are you really bending
> things to make sure LH does ok?

I'm not consciously trying to give EAS3:LH a soft ride, but I'm not
used to applying the criteria consistenly yet. My answers to the
criteria you were looking at above probably overlap (and contradict
themeselves) too much. I didn't want to slam the game 3 times for the
sloppiness in my own thought process. I should have tried to get my
commentary to be more fine grained, but I didn't want to write a book
or indulge in a spoiler-heavy review. No matter how hard you try and
set up "objective" categories for scoring, it is easy enough to let
subjective concerns creep back in.:)  This approach is certainly a work
in progress.

> [..]
> >--Criteria 1: Does the game deconstruct the rooms paradigm ...

> I'm not sure what you mean by 'deconstruct' here. The second part of
> the sentence suggests it just means "Does the game have an
> understandable layout?", but it seems like that would perpetuate the
> rooms paradigm rather than deconstruct it.

When I am talking about "rooms paradigm," I am talking about the
tendency of IF to indulge itself in a glorious & complex world map at
the expense of an outstanding, or even merely good, story. What I am
trying to promote, I guess, is a world map that is suitable, but is
almost entirely secondary to the story. "Deconstructing the rooms
paradigm", taken to the logical extreme, would be no rooms per se, no
standard movement directions, etc. That may be too extreme for
anything but one scene or conversational games. What I want to know
is: can you play the game and get the story without the world map
getting in the way of the story, a la the bazillion rooms in
Zork/Advent? Or, alternatively, if you want a highly complex and
expansive world structure, is the story dependent on that architecture?
I need to think of a better way to express that thought.

> >--Criteria 6: Does the author have sufficient control of the pacing
....
>
> I think this particular one is poorly phrased. It's pretty rare for
> games these days for the player to be able to accidentally make the
> game unwinnable, but I don't think that's exactly what you're talking
> about here.

On this point, I'm not really talking about winnability as much as I am
maintaining a dynamic storyline. I still find that many games
frustrate me with unnecessary puzzles or unclear commands to the
extent that I am forced to use the walkthrough or hints if I'm
interested in the story. If the story itself is not tight AND I run
into an unnecessarily complicated brick wall, I often quit, sometimes
for good. This probably occurs for me in 2/3rd of the comp games every
year, which is why I don't submit scores for the judging. What I am
trying to do with this criterion is weigh whether or not the author has
either made it so I (a) never get stuck at all or (b) get stuck, but in
an interesting fashion that makes me want to resolve it or (c) helps me
get unstuck through careful hints, a game device of some sort, etc.

> >--Criteria 8: If puzzles are included, are they natural byproducts
of
> >the world model or the interactions of the PC/NPCs? Are the puzzles
> >absolutely necessary ...
>
> "Absolutely necessary" seems pretty strong here, and hard to defend
--
> just like you could strip out any particular sentence from a novel
and
> still make the novel work with a little editing, you could pull out
> any puzzle from an IF game, so in that sense nothing is absolutely
> necessary. Maybe the question should be just "Do the puzzles advance
> the story?"

I need to reword that. Your solution is probably the right way to go.

> >The puzzles work in the context of the story being told, although
they
> >weren't what I would call "brilliant" ...
>
> I can't quite tell if you saying they don't require genius players to
> solve is intended to be criticism or not. Certainly it seems to me
> like this isn't desired behavior -- the ideal puzzle, to my mind, is
> challenging but solvable by the vast majority of the audience. Also,
> bear in mind that this is for the comp, so the game as a whole is
> targetted at two hours playtime, which makes it difficult to have
> really involved puzzles.

>...It seems to me that scientists in comic books rarely
> engage in any real scientific analysis as a way to solve problems --
> I'm told that at most you get Reed Richards coming up and saving the
> day deus-ex-machina style at the end of the comic.


I guess what I was thinking here is that in a game of scientific
superheroes, something more than using your powers in fairly obvious
ways might have enhanced the puzzles. I don't advocate having to know
fairly esoteric scientific principles to solve puzzles. And I realize
this is comic-book style, but it is a comic book in IF, where the
formalisms usually demand that there is some association between ALL
your skills and how you advance the game. "Logic" is all, in IF, and I
thought EAS3:LH leaned a little too much toward brute force. But it's
a fine line, esp. for a Comp game.

> [..]
> >--Criteria 9: Does the game take risks in switching viewpoints
> >(varying the PC view between one or more of the game characters),
using
> >different voice at different times (applying 1st, 2nd, 3rd and/or
> >stream of consciousness, perhaps all in one game), and/or breaking
with
> >any other standard PC/NPC conventions (look, inventory, x me, etc.)?
>
> This seems like kind of an odd trait to focus on, to be honest, but I
> guess we can see how the other games measure up. Does the last part
of
> the sentence there really group changes in viewpoint into one bucket,
> and every other break from IF conventions into the other bucket?
> If so, that seems like a weird way to divide things. In general, how
> does this point differ from the extra credit questions at the end?

I guess extra credit is anything I never thought of in a game that
blows me away. I am interested specifically in different viewpoints as
2nd person gets a bit old, but also, even if you're using 2nd person,
why most games have you stay with the protagonist only has always
puzzled me. (3rd person switches to the villain, which EAS3:LH did
use, were consistent, natural in the game, and significantly enhancing
to the progression of the story.)

Another convetional thing that bugs me is the constant "look," "x me",
"x <that>", "i" commands that you are almost forced to employ in most
games. If a game is so complicated that I constantly have to check to
see what I'm carrying, then I think mimesis is pretty weak. If you
need to know what you look like, the author should provide that in the
intro or else put a mirror in the relevant scene. And the propensity
of authors to hide things in the landscape, so that you have to search
everything in every room you go into, is also too widespread. If there
is a book on desk, it's reasonable to "read cover, open book, read
book," but it's unreasonable to have to first "x desk" to see that the
book is there. These are the kind of conventions I like to see
reinvented. Extra credit is there as a catchall for anything else
truly excellent that was hard to express in the other 10 criteria.

> >--Criteria 10: Is it well-written, well-told, well-edited,
> >well-tested? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.
>
> It seems like this could stand to be broken down a lot more. As it
is,
> it comes off as a general "was this a good game? yes/no" question
> which isn't particularly useful when trying to do an objective
> evaluation. If you just mean "was the writing well done as writing?"
> that would be reasonable, but then I don't think "well-tested" fits
in
> there.

Yes, this is a catchall for what I would call traditional reviewing
concerns. A game that has decent writing, has a decently told story,
is not full of typos, and plays without errors is the bottom line entry
standard for a "good" game. I rolled it into one entry just because it
seemed tedious to delineate these points more finely.

> [..]
> >Since my standards are meant to be the minimum criteria for a
modern,
> >high-quality IF story, this would suggest that EAS3:LH needs a
little
> >more refinement to meet the standard. However, I suspect that if
the
>
> Hmm, it seems like you could phrase this a little better, to
emphasize
> that you're only talking about a particular style of IF. As it is it
> sounds a little like you're saying that any modern game that wants to
> be considered high-quality needs to fit these.

I'm searching for terminology here. I'm not entirely sure all modern
games are, or need to be, story-driven. It's personally what I want to
promote, so I *am* saying (for now, anyway) that all games that purport
to literary merit should meet these standards. I'm not sure if that's
a "style of IF" or the distinction between "adventuring" or "story
telling" in IF. Or maybe its the IF version of storytelling in a
broader category of hyperfiction, CYOA, etc.

> More generally, I think you're going to run into problems if you say
> that a game must meet every single criterion you've laid out. For one
> thing, you'll need to set the bar fairly low on each of them, which
> will reduce the overall analytic powers of the rules.

Setting the bar low would not be the objective. In a sense, I'm
setting the bar high, because my review of EAS3:LH basically says, "it
didn't pass, it only got 8.5 out of the minimum 10" even though it just
won the IF Comp. I think the bulk of medium to low scoring games in
the comp, if tested by the same criteria, wouldn't come close.

> >scores were given for the whole EAS series, all the basic standards
> >would've been met. Thus the risk of serializing to this degree,
> >despite its valid comic book roots, may not be worth it for this
story.
>
> Hmm, I dunno. You knocked off a point for not having multiple
endings,
> and adding prequels isn't going to help much with that. It's true you
> knocked off half a point for not being a complete story arc, but,
hrm,
> I'm not convinced the arc here isn't pretty complete. The prequels
are
> nice, but you could also play this in a reasonably satisfying way as
a
> general "break into the bad guy's place and stop his evil plans"
> game.

I knocked off the 1/2 point for the story arc because I just couldn't
see folks being as involved in the game without all the feelies, author
intro, and *yes* the existence of the previous 2 episodes. To be
honest, I think it gave EAS3:LH an advantage denied to other games. It
would have been a very cold start for the game -- which standalone
games have to overcome completely -- without those prequel episodes, in
effect.

> >Or perhaps this says something more broadly about serializing for IF
as
> >a storytelling medium. If a new episode of EAS came out every
month,
> >like the old comics, then maybe this approach would work better.
>
> Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha.

Yes. Paul should knock out one of these every month. Not that he has
anything better to do, right?

> >Otherwise, it's a very good game in many respects, but it left me
> >wanting more.
>
> Can you be a little more specific about this? Was it that you felt
the
> conclusion wasn't satisfying because of lack of backstory? Or because
> of lack of, uh, forwardstory?
>... I believe
> EAS 1 will be coming out in glulx form to match the others. I'm
> curious why you think a single game would be a big improvement over
> just playing the three in sequence.

Well, how do I express this? I know EAS3:LH was meant to be a short
game, and it's meant to be a comic book game, but there just isn't the
rich feel to the interior of the game that Blue Chairs and similar
games give off. At the same time, until you get to the end, it doesn't
have the sense of urgency that All Things Devours immediately evokes.
In BC, almost anyone or thing you talk to either says something
evocative or has something you need or at least lets you know that
they're unimportant. It's great fun to listen to and learn about Dante
this way. In EAS3:LH, there are basically no NPC interactions except
the fights, there are virtually no secondary objects that help
understand things, and the game basically is very short. (Note: the
major interaactions in EAS3:LH are between Earth & Sky, but oddly
enough, the "change" command actually reduces the perception of their
interaction. Essentially, by switching identities, you are playing one
character in two bodies, which enhances gameplay but undercuts their
interactions quite a bit. And since the hint system is baked into
their discussions, talking too much to your sibling can actually be a
bit of a *spoiler.* I thought it was a great idea to change
identities, but it might have worked even better in Episodes 1 & 2 when
the pair weren't always in the same location with one another.)

Likewise, in ATD, the repeated deaths/restarts are a necessary
consequence if you want to build the mental picture necessary to solve
the major puzzle on your own. But in EAS3:LH, the similar restarts in
the last scenes of the game -- in the lab or escaping from the lab --
are nothing more than a search exercise to identify & avoid the one or
two false moves that get you killed or cause "failure" and the
destruction of humanity. If Paul had put all 3 episodes into one
extended game, I think you would have a more enthralling, integrated
story that you would want to play end-to-end, and the last scenes of
Episode 3 would be more compelling. As it was, I felt like the game
should either have had a more intricate path to get to Esrrua, or
multiple paths to get there, or more NPC-related play, or something.
Bottom line: To me, it was a satisfactory ending to the serial
overall, but not a totatlly satisfactory game standing alone.

Thanks for your excellent critique of my criteria. I'm glad to hear
that someone thinks the approach is useful, even if the execution is
not on par with the concept yet.

PJ
Anonymous
January 6, 2005 12:29:28 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

[addressing just one point for now.]

PJ wrote:
> Dan Shiovitz wrote:
> >PJ wrote:
>>> --Criteria 6: Does the author have sufficient control of the
>>> pacing ...
>>
>> I think this particular one is poorly phrased. It's pretty rare for
>> games these days for the player to be able to accidentally make the
>> game unwinnable, but I don't think that's exactly what you're talking
>> about here.
>
> On this point, I'm not really talking about winnability as much as I
> am maintaining a dynamic storyline. I still find that many games
> frustrate me with unnecessary puzzles or unclear commands to the
> extent that I am forced to use the walkthrough or hints if I'm
> interested in the story. If the story itself is not tight AND I run
> into an unnecessarily complicated brick wall, I often quit, sometimes
> for good. This probably occurs for me in 2/3rd of the comp games
> every year, which is why I don't submit scores for the judging. What
> I am trying to do with this criterion is weigh whether or not the
> author has either made it so I (a) never get stuck at all or (b) get
> stuck, but in an interesting fashion that makes me want to resolve it
> or (c) helps me get unstuck through careful hints, a game device of
> some sort, etc.

Your explanation makes sense and is reasonable. The problem is it is
(apparently) not objective. I, for one, got totally and completely
slamming-my-head-into-a-brick-wall wandering-around-for-forty-five-minutes
stuck. If it wasn't the comp I *would* have quit. If I were looking at this
criterion I would have to give EAS3 a resounding thumbs down, since (a) I
did get stuck, (b) the manner in which I got stuck was like a blank
dead-end, not interesting at all, and (c) the hints were not careful enough
to get me unstuck in a reasonable amount of time. Forty-five minutes out of
two hours is a large, large chunk.

(I feel bad posting anything about any comp game since my reviews aren't
released yet, but my review of EAS3 is done, it's just not out yet.)

--
Jess K., who, surprisingly, has Comp reviews that haven't yet been published
:) 
January 6, 2005 12:43:29 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Jess Knoch wrote:

> Your explanation makes sense and is reasonable. The problem is it is
> (apparently) not objective.

Well, objectivity is in the eye of the beholder. The criteria are
primarily useful in saying "these are the important points to consider
in looking for high-quality games." How the individual "scores" the
criteria depends, of course, on their subjective experience of the
game. I didn't get fatally stuck, or too close to it, like you did, so
my scoring might appear non-objective to you.

> I, for one, got totally and completely
> slamming-my-head-into-a-brick-wall
wandering-around-for-forty-five-minutes
> stuck. If it wasn't the comp I *would* have quit. If I were looking
at this
> criterion I would have to give EAS3 a resounding thumbs down, since
(a) I
> did get stuck, (b) the manner in which I got stuck was like a blank
> dead-end, not interesting at all, and (c) the hints were not careful
enough
> to get me unstuck in a reasonable amount of time. Forty-five minutes
out of
> two hours is a large, large chunk.

I'd be interested to know where you got stuck so bad. I got stuck at
the "family feud" for a while, but I restored and then solved it very
quickly thereafter. I'm assuming Paul wanted people to be stuck at the
lab fight, else he would've given you a little more leeway as to how to
win it. But that was cured relatively quickly by multiple undos and
restores and close attention to what both siblings were trying to do.
I thought the other places were fairly well-clued and, given the
sparseness of the landscape in the early part of the game, pretty clear
on what to focus on.

PJ
Anonymous
January 6, 2005 4:11:44 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

PJ wrote:
> Jess Knoch wrote:
>
>> Your explanation makes sense and is reasonable. The problem is it is
>> (apparently) not objective.
>
> Well, objectivity is in the eye of the beholder.

Er. Um. Huh? I agree that in using your criteria to evaluate a game, some
judgment calls have to be made. I think that makes it subjective, though,
which I thought was pretty much opposite of objective.

I don't mean to be flip; I'm genuinely confused a bit. I did read your
thread on raif where you posted these, and I thought objectivity in
*applying* the criteria was one of the goals.

> The criteria are
> primarily useful in saying "these are the important points to consider
> in looking for high-quality games." How the individual "scores" the
> criteria depends, of course, on their subjective experience of the
> game. I didn't get fatally stuck, or too close to it, like you did,
> so my scoring might appear non-objective to you.
>
>> I, for one, got totally and completely
>> slamming-my-head-into-a-brick-wall
> wandering-around-for-forty-five-minutes
>> stuck. If it wasn't the comp I *would* have quit.

possible spoilers for Luminous Horizons below....

..
..
..
..
..
..
..


> I'd be interested to know where you got stuck so bad. I got stuck at
> the "family feud" for a while, but I restored and then solved it very
> quickly thereafter. I'm assuming Paul wanted people to be stuck at
> the lab fight, else he would've given you a little more leeway as to
> how to win it. But that was cured relatively quickly by multiple
> undos and restores and close attention to what both siblings were
> trying to do. I thought the other places were fairly well-clued and,
> given the sparseness of the landscape in the early part of the game,
> pretty clear on what to focus on.

Actually, I knew what needed to be done at the family feud part pretty
quickly, and what happens in the lab fight I wouldn't consider "stuck"
since, as you say, if at first you don't succeed, you just try again.

No, what got me was what to do after beating the robots in the hallway and
finding the gizmos. I was sure that I had to figure out something with the
machine somehow, and the hints completely ran dry. I thought the other path
(the correct path) had been pretty clearly marked as impassable, so I tried
to explore the machine better. I was not able to do some things I was trying
to do, in the way of examining it, so I assumed I wasn't getting the right
syntax. But the hints ran dry and I wandered.

Anyway, I may be off the map with the getting-stuck part. In any case it's
difficult to come up with criteria like you have, and I think it's an
excellent idea to test them out on some recent games and see what you come
up with :) .

--
Jess K.
Anonymous
January 6, 2005 4:57:09 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

In article <1104970750.470238.207440@c13g2000cwb.googlegroups.com>,
PJ <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:
>David Whyld wrote:
>
>> Maybe it's just me but I'm not sure I really see the point of all
>these
>> criterion (if that *is* the plural of criteria). Take criteria 1:
>what does
>> it matter if the game deconstructs the rooms paradigm so effectively
>that no
>> map is required? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Assume the
>answer is
>> yes, is the game better or worse for it?
>
>I'm assuming that for story-focused IF, then deemphasis on the map IS
>generally a good thing, because then the story is the focus, not the
>"world" the story is being played out in.

I'm a bit puzzled by this criterion. Not so much by the desirability
of "deconstructing the rooms paradigm" or by the non-desirability
of mapping by themselves, but by your combining them.

It's easy to think of a game that doesn't "deconstruct the rooms
paradigm" at all, but remains solidly rooted in it, yet still has a
very simple geography so that no map is needed. Is that good or bad by
your criterion?

Conversely, it's conceivable to have a game that "deconstructs
the room paradigm" but still requires some sort of "mapping" - perhaps
you are in a maze of twisty emotional states, all alike :-).

And in which sense do you use the word "deconstruct" here? I'm not that
hot on PoMo terminology, but to me "deconstructing the room paradigm"
means more than just getting rid of the game map. (I'd say that
a game like Failsafe deconstructs the traditional relationship between
player, parser and game).

I haven't had time to read much of the "getting rid of rooms" thread
on r.a.i-f so it's quite possible that you've already answered my
question there...


--
Magnus Olsson (mol@df.lth.se)
PGP Public Key available at http://www.df.lth.se/~mol
January 6, 2005 5:41:19 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Jess Knoch wrote:
> PJ wrote:
> > Well, objectivity is in the eye of the beholder.
>
> Er. Um. Huh? I agree that in using your criteria to evaluate a game,
some
> judgment calls have to be made. I think that makes it subjective,
though,
> which I thought was pretty much opposite of objective.
>
> I don't mean to be flip; I'm genuinely confused a bit. I did read
your
> thread on raif where you posted these, and I thought objectivity in
> *applying* the criteria was one of the goals.

Well, that is one of the goals. But given the subjective nature of any
single person's game experience, you can't really get anything
resembling pure objectivity with one instance of data. I would hope
that, at some point, multiple reviewers are looking at games through
this same set of critical lenses, thereby enabling a more "objective"
view of each game to emerge. Right now, on this criteria for this
game, I said thumbs up, you said thumbs down. Both of us are being
"objective" in our opinion, but that opinion is based on our subjective
experience of the game, which obviously differed a bit. Not that
there's anything wrong with that.:) 


> possible spoilers for Luminous Horizons below....
>
> .
> .
> .
> .
> .
> .
> .
>
>
>
....
>
> Actually, I knew what needed to be done at the family feud part
pretty
> quickly, and what happens in the lab fight I wouldn't consider
"stuck"
> since, as you say, if at first you don't succeed, you just try again.
>
> No, what got me was what to do after beating the robots in the
hallway and
> finding the gizmos. I was sure that I had to figure out something
with the
> machine somehow, and the hints completely ran dry. I thought the
other path
> (the correct path) had been pretty clearly marked as impassable, so I
tried
> to explore the machine better. I was not able to do some things I was
trying
> to do, in the way of examining it, so I assumed I wasn't getting the
right
> syntax. But the hints ran dry and I wandered.

Right. What I liked about this part of the game was that Paul was
indeed "deconstructing the rooms paradigm" by having you interact with
objects that were apparently not in the current room. (I should have
mentioned that in the review itself.) I think most of us have trained
ourselves not to do that, so it takes a leap of faith to try it to
begin with. But this part was also well-hinted once you had the gizmos
from the hangar -- all the way to the end if you were playing Sky at
the time -- and I didn't see much trouble in finishing it. It's
inevitable in games like this that not everyone gets the same intuition
on the same puzzles. I got heavily stuck at times in Isle of the Cult
on things that, in retrospect, were WAY simple. This problem was
definitely harder, but if you go back and play Sky for awhile, talking
to Austin the whole way, I think you'll see the solution was there.

> Anyway, I may be off the map with the getting-stuck part. In any case
it's
> difficult to come up with criteria like you have, and I think it's an
> excellent idea to test them out on some recent games and see what you
come
> up with :) .


Thanks for the support. This approach is in *test mode* right now.
Hopefully, consistency, viability, and a more nuanced view of
*objectivity* will emerge on a par with the concept at some point.

PJ
January 6, 2005 11:21:54 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Raymond Martineau wrote:

> As a comparison, Ninja 1.30 appears to get a final rating of 5/10
under
> this system. You probably want Ninja 1.30 to rank much lower under
your
> criteria system, because of the issues that should have prevented
point
> gains weren't covered explicitly (as well as the fact that it was the
worst
> game in the competition). All in all, the criteria probably failed
the
> stress test.

I think you did what someone else suggested in showing where a bad game
might fail (or in this case pass) the criteria I dreamed up. I am
disheartened that Ninja (which did stink) would appear to be halfway
along the scale of a good game, but I would point out that my 10 thumbs
up is meant to be the *minimum* standard for a good game. Or, that is
to say, I think all games with a literary intent should be able to
muster 10 thumbs or close to it if they are really trying to tell a
solid IF story.

That's why picking Ninja as the *bad* game may be a little
misdirective, however. I'm not really trying to judge *all* games, or
even all Comp games, on these criteria. I'm judging the ones that are
actively promoting an end-to-end story or literay-type experience
(i.e., those that are heavy on the fiction, not the adventure) in the
context of their games. Pure adventure games are going to score very
randomly on this scale, as Ninja shows. But Ninja isn't trying to even
provide much of an adventure, much less a real story. It's Panks
trying to show/tell the rest of the IF community something about his
style of writing/programming games. Thus it is also mostly a
"technical exercise," and shouldn't be judged on this scale (though
Pank might disagree).

I would also dispute your interpretation on how to apply some of my
criteria against Ninja -- I think several more of the thumbs could
easily have been pointing down -- but your notion of the contrasting
review of the "less good" games in IF is a worthy one. Would criteria
like these work, uniformly, and if so, how? Your going through them
has already suggested some areas that need work. Thanks for that.

> It's disheartening to spend a lot of time on something like this only
to
> see this analysis within a short period of time. But at least it
does show
> the weakness of the system - perhaps other weaknesses could appear
with
> other badly written games.

Actually, it's not disheartening. If I didn't think criticism helped
improve things, I wouldn't be critiquing other folks' games!:) 

> My personal recommendation: The set of criterion provided has one
major
> flaw - it gives credit for things that meet the requirements. For
example,
> PTBAD 3 has frequent spelling and grammar mistakes but can qualify as
> well-edited because they are supposed to be there, and thus can
basically
> result in a free point.

> However hard you may try, there will always be the possibility that a
game
> will be released that is both low-quality, and achieves a high score
under
> this system. To counter this, it may be better to convert your
system to
> a subtractive scale, starting with a base score (e.g. 9), removing 1
point
> for each major criteria violated, then assigning extra credit. This
allows
> the system to be more flexible as you can easily add additional
penalties
> without having to redesign the system by removing another criterion
or
> having some other fluke such as a score out of 11.

That's a pretty good idea. When I get some more feedback, that's
probably one of the things I will do the most thinking about, because
my intent *is* for these standards to be taken as a base, and
everything at the base and above should be the quality games I'm
looking for. Everything below needs improvement. So that idea has
some power for me. Thanks for pointing out to me, by the way, how I
was screwing over "puzzleless" games. I need to see how to reword that
or, as you suggest, rebaseline things to 9, not 10, thumbs up.

Thanks for taking this seriously, even if you shredded me a bit. But
that's what beta-testing is all about.

PJ
Anonymous
January 7, 2005 1:17:23 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

On 5 Jan 2005 12:14:20 -0800, "PJ" <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:

>Review of Earth and Sky 3: Luminous Horizon
>By Paul O'Brian
>Awards: 1st Place, IF Comp 2004
>
>In a post on r.a.i.f., I recently proposed a set of criteria for
>reviewing or possibly "grading" interactive fiction. These
>criteria primarily apply to games that emphasize the "story" aspect
>of IF as opposed to basic "adventuring." My agenda is to promote
>development and analysis of interactive stories to see if that helps
>move IF upward & rightward along the artistic maturity curve. The
>standards, consequently, are meant to be the "minimum" for what
>comprises a modern, high quality IF story. As an exercise in using
>these criteria, I am therefore grading the top 3 games in the IF Comp
>to see how they would measure up.
[...]
>NOTE TO OTHER POSTERS: Feel free to question both my criteria and my
>conclusions. I'm just doing this to see if the approach has value
>when applied consistently to multiple games. So fire at will.

The best way to test your rating system is to test it with both extremes on
the game. In most cases, a standard rating criteria should give high
ratings for good games and low ratings for bad games, but I have a feeling
that this might not exactly be the case.

For my analysis of the rating system, I'm starting off with the lowest
ranked game in the Comp04, Ninja 1.30. This serves two purposes:

- To see which rating some random bad game (or the worst game) can get
under this system.
- To see how it compares to some random good game (or the best game), where
a larger difference is better.

>--Criteria 1: Does the game deconstruct the rooms paradigm so
>effectively that no map is required to play the game? If not, does the
>story itself have elements that actually focus the PC on geography, so
>that a map is necessary to the story itself, not just to the gameplay?
>If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

In Ninja 1.30, the rooms paradigm is deconstructed by a significant amount
- there are only 4 locations of note where the positioning can easily be
memorized. This meets the requirements for Thumbs Up (+1, Totaling 1/1.)

>EAS3:LH uses basic map directions for movement, but the story is
>compact enough that no mapping exercise is required. You have to
>remember the layout to manage the final sequence, but it is simple
>enough that there is no problem with this.

Actually, with EAS3, you don't have to remember the layout - it gives the
most obvious direction in the room description (provided it's not in stage
2 decomposition where there's a generic description - you see that when you
'change' after receiving the message "The room is seconds away from
collapsing".)

>--Criteria 2: Does the author make game-related choices or
>plot-advancing consequences inherent in the majority of actions the
>player takes? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

This criterion is vague or otherwise prone to misinterpretation.

In Ninja 1.30, the first set of actions (enter shrine, get sword, chop
tree, get idol and drop idol) all advance the gameplay to the final victory
condition where the idol was recovered.

The other set of actions involve examining your surroundings so that you
become fully aware and prepared against the enemy ninja. Based on what I
am reading from this criterion, Thumbs Up. (+1, Totaling 2/2.) If this is
not how it's interpreted, you may want to make things a bit more clear.

Of course, the game is faulty - if you examine the shrine for all 25 of
your turns, you basically get an obscene score and are basically guarenteed
to win the game without any effort.

>
>There are several places in the story where your puzzle-solving
>requirements can lead to some aimless wandering in search of clues, but
>the game map is limited enough that the story thread is maintained.
>The game doesn't force you forward, prod you, or give any major
>unsolicited advice. However, the clever hint system that plays off the
>ability to switch character identities usually keeps you moving.
>"Talking to" your sibling gives you excellent hints at various
>points.

Actually, I found that "Talking to" the other character was a liability to
the game rather than a bonus - it drew importance away from the "Change"
command which could have easily been glanced over and otherwise essential.
It also caused me to feel that the game was extremely railroaded and too
simplistic to deserve a high score.

>--Criteria 3: Does game play and choices made as a result advance the
>player to multiple endings, with multiple paths to reach those endings,
>in ways that are both supported by and supportive of the main story
>trying to be told? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

Ninja 1.30 has to proper endings - you either retrieve the idol, or you
kill the enemy ninja. The first of these is obviouslt supported under the
main story when you complete the required commands under a timer. The
second of these appears as an element of chance when you use up all 25
moves.

The proper way of going for the second ending is to examine everything to
become aware of your surroundings, and thus avoid being caught entirely
off-guard by the leap from the shadows. However, it is exploitable with the
degenerate tactic I mentioned above where you examine the shrine for all
the 25 turns (which maxes out your score and all but guarentees your
victory.)

The only thing preventing a full thumbs up is that the main plotline seems
to be a little rushed and things are not fully explained (e.g. why
examining everything or perhaps just one thing make you ultra-powerful),
and the fact on how you managed to slice a ninja in half with your bare
hands. The only possible result will be Thumbs Down. (Totalling 2/3.)

>--Criteria 4: Is the story itself actually worth telling? Does it have
>a narrative dynamic that would be worth relating in other media, so
>that it is not purely a technical exercise? And is that dynamic
>sustained throughout the course of the game so that the player
>essentially *knows* the story, even if he/she doesn't fully understand
>it or all its implications, on the first playthrough? If yes, thumbs
>up. If no, thumbs down.

Ninja 1.30 doesn't really have much of a story, nor is it really worth
telling. Thumbs down. (Totalling 2/4).


>
>Another difficult criteria for EAS3:LH to meet. Since this story is
>serialized, you really don't get the impact of the "quest" Earth
>& Sky are on unless you played the previous two games. While the
>feelies associated with the game bring you up to date, I'm not sure
>it passes the test for a stand alone exercise. I tried to imagine
>playing the game without having played the others, and the best I can
>come up with is that you might like the game, but you probably
>wouldn't be entranced with the story at the point where it picks up
>in EAS3:LH. A tough call, however, because the overall EAS story is
>pretty decent and well-told. Thumb sideways.

In this case, I'd say story in the third installment appeared insignificant
because of the comic feelie. While I haven't yet played the first two, it
appears that the other two installments seems larger and more interesting
than the latest competition entry. The third ending, while it does seem a
bit climatic and invokes a sense of urgency, feels like it could have been
much better (especially since the menu options could be skipped through.)

>--Criteria 5: Do commands -- including movement commands -- really
>support the story, i.e., if you are using compass directions, is the
>player using a compass to navigate with at the time? If not, do the
>commands truly enhance the mimetic effect being achieved in the game?
>Are uncommon commands natural to the story and the responses to
>incorrect commands helpful? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

The only special command in Ninja 1.30 involves chopping down the tree.
The rest of the standard commands do not burden the character (other than
using look at the rival shrine in order to detect the presence of the
idol). Compass directions are used arbitrarly but since it's not a burden
in EAS3, it can't be a burden in Ninja because of it's four/five locations.

While incorrect commands are not helpful (usually because it's something
that couldn't be understood anyway), the answer provided if you use the
command at the wrong time, such as cutting the tree without first getting
the sword.

The criterion would have been met, if it weren't for the ability to
"Examine cherries" wherever. Because of the scoping problem with the
examine command seems to be the only thing (which can be dismissed if the
rooms are close enought together), I'd give it a Thumbs Sideways. (+.5,
Totaling 2.5/5)

>
>--Criteria 6: Does the author have sufficient control of the pacing,
>the narrative, the hints, other authorial mechanisms such as
>flashbacks, memories, event intrusion, etc., so that the player can't
>ever really get stuck and therefore fail to finish the game? If yes,
>thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

In Ninja 1.30, I haven't heard any complaints about the game being
unwinnable. However, there is a bottleneck where you have to figure out to
type "Enter shrine". (Although I did talke a look at the .BAS file, I
don't remember seeing that line before completing the game.) As an
alternative, the player could resort to the observing everything, as
mentioned in the .TXT file.

The pacing isn't fairly strong for the rest of the game, but it doesn't
have to be for a small railroaded adventure.

Since the user can eventually find a way to complete the game without too
much trouble (even if he has to do a little guess-the-author's mind), I'm
giving it a Thumbs Sideways. (+.5, Totaling 3/6).

>--Criteria 7: Does the author use timing or turn-related events or
>scene-cuts that give the player the appropriate forward momentum
>necessary to move from scene to scene and complete the game? If not, is
>a slow pace and relatively open player "wandering" reflective of the
>story and how it is being told? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

Ninja 1.30 uses a 25-turn limit for the player to complete the game. It
seems to give an appropriate forward momentum as it will give the player a
sense of urgency to complete his task before he gets attacked. (Or, he can
choose to prepare himself for the conflict during this time.)

The only difference with this time-based event is that it encourages the
player to act faster in the next pass, provided that he isn't stuck. Since
this doesn't appear to violate the criterion as it is shown, Thumbs up (+1,
Totalint 4/7).

>--Criteria 8: If puzzles are included, are they natural byproducts of
>the world model or the interactions of the PC/NPCs? Are the puzzles
>absolutely necessary to advance the story being told? If yes, thumbs
>up. If no, thumbs down.

(As a side note, this results in a lost point or some other undefined
result for Tapestries and other similar games because of the lack of
puzzles.)

While the puzzle in Ninja 1.30 seems a little artifical (the tree seems to
be there for the sole purpose of being cut down to create a bridge), it
does seem necessary to advance the "true" plotline of recovering the idol -
however, it isn't required if you are going for the conquest ending. Since
this criterion doesn't yet seem weigh the quality or quantity of the
puzzles involved and that all of the puzzles are required to advance the
plot, Thumbs Up. (+1, Totaling 5/8)

In some way, it could be a Thumbs because of the world model - there's a
river with no bridge, and a fallen tree does function properly. It all has
to do with the interpretation.

I do not consider the "Enter Shrine" to be a puzzle, even though it's a
classic 'Guess the verb' defect. The way the author written the game
seems to imply that it was something expected by the user as opposed to
forcing the user to find the solution.

>--Criteria 9: Does the game take risks in switching viewpoints
>(varying the PC view between one or more of the game characters), using
>different voice at different times (applying 1st, 2nd, 3rd and/or
>stream of consciousness, perhaps all in one game), and/or breaking with
>any other standard PC/NPC conventions (look, inventory, x me, etc.)?
>Are those risks successful in the context of the game? If yes, thumbs
>up. If no, thumbs down.

Ninja 1.30 does not do this, aside from the removal of the abbreviations
(error message being "You cannot do that. You are not a master yet...")
Thumbs Down. (0, Totaling 5/9).

>--Criteria 10: Is it well-written, well-told, well-edited,
>well-tested? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

Ninja 1.30 is not well written because it doesn't tolerate any deviation in
the input (a simple extra space will confuse the parser). It isn't
well-told because some messages are not consistant (You are a master when
you try to 'quit', but aren't a master when you try to 'l'). There are
obvious grammer mistakes that change the meaning of some of the messages
("A ninja leaps from the shadows! You deftly avoided it, slicing it with a
mortal blow.").

It isn't well tested - otherwise there would have been extra handling for
the 'x' abbreviations, along with the ability to quit the game early. In
addition, the testing would have detected anomalies in scoring.

Thumbs Down (0, Totaling 5/10)

>
>--Extra Credit Criteria: Does the game break new ground in the story
>being told, new genres, new plots, new structures, etc.? Does it avoid
>complete cliches (amnesia, underground empires, etc.)? If yes, extra
>credit. If no, then no extra credit.

Ninja 1.30 doesn't break any new grounds. It could avoid a cliche,
although being a Ninja can be considered close enough that the extra credit
is not gained.

>Thumbs Up: 8 out of 10
>Thumbs Sideways: 1 out of 10
>Thumbs Down: 1 out of 10
>Extra Credit: None.
>
>Net Score 8.5 thumbs up out of 10.

As a comparison, Ninja 1.30 appears to get a final rating of 5/10 under
this system. You probably want Ninja 1.30 to rank much lower under your
criteria system, because of the issues that should have prevented point
gains weren't covered explicitly (as well as the fact that it was the worst
game in the competition). All in all, the criteria probably failed the
stress test.

It's disheartening to spend a lot of time on something like this only to
see this analysis within a short period of time. But at least it does show
the weakness of the system - perhaps other weaknesses could appear with
other badly written games.

My personal recommendation: The set of criterion provided has one major
flaw - it gives credit for things that meet the requirements. For example,
PTBAD 3 has frequent spelling and grammar mistakes but can qualify as
well-edited because they are supposed to be there, and thus can basically
result in a free point.

However hard you may try, there will always be the possibility that a game
will be released that is both low-quality, and achieves a high score under
this system. To counter this, it may be better to convert your system to
a subtractive scale, starting with a base score (e.g. 9), removing 1 point
for each major criteria violated, then assigning extra credit. This allows
the system to be more flexible as you can easily add additional penalties
without having to redesign the system by removing another criterion or
having some other fluke such as a score out of 11.
January 7, 2005 8:17:58 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Jan Thorsby wrote:
> "PJ" <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> skrev i melding
> news:1104956059.985065.29570@f14g2000cwb.googlegroups.com...
>
> >--Criteria 1: Does the game deconstruct the rooms paradigm so
> >effectively that no map is required to play the game? If not, does
the
> >story itself have elements that actually focus the PC on geography,
so
> >that a map is necessary to the story itself, not just to the
gameplay?
> >If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.
>
> Can this boil down to: Does wandering around a lot make the story
worse? It
> seems that when you use relatively unusual words (deconstruct the
room
> paradigm etc) in your criteria they become easier to misunderstand

Hmmm. That might be one way to express it. But I think the core of
this is, does the world map truly support the story, or is the story an
afterthought grafted onto the world map? In the second case, you tend
to get a lot of wandering behavior because the author is not
considering how the story should unfold dynamically over the multiple
scenes, but is only concerned with the puzzles, i.e, the portals
between different parts of the game. So I may need to junk the
"deconstruct the rooms paradigm" as a way of describing this criterion,
because it is confusing. You should go back and look at the thread I
started on r.a.i.f. where I first dreamed up these criteria. The topic
wasy "Rethinking Narrative in IF: Do we need to Eliminate Rooms?" I
think I expressed "deconstruction" more cohesively there. Here, it is
probably parceled out into more than one of the criteria.

> Criteria 3 and 9 seem dubious, at least considering this is supposed
to be a
> minimum requirement for a good story game. A story has to have
multiple
> paths or multiple viewpoints to be good?

For modern IF, I think that is almost certainly the case. The
advantage (if any) IF has over fiction is the ability of the player to
have the PC make real choices about the outcomes of the story. If the
ending is always the same (and I'm not counting death/failure as an
ending), even if the journey varies a bit you are giving up one of the
major assets of the art form. There *are* exceptions to this rule --
stories so binary in succeed or die terms (ATD comes to mind) that they
succeed anyway. But in general, I think the *goal* of IF is to explore
and colonize the multidimensional world of human choices in stories,
which is something book-based fiction just can't do effectively. So I
think it *is* a minimum standard criterion.

> >--Criteria 4: Is the story itself actually worth telling? Does it
have
> >a narrative dynamic that would be worth relating in other media, so
> >that it is not purely a technical exercise? And is that dynamic
> >sustained throughout the course of the game so that the player
> >essentially *knows* the story, even if he/she doesn't fully
understand
> >it or all its implications, on the first playthrough? If yes, thumbs
> >up. If no, thumbs down.
>
> I have some problem with the second sentence. It does not have to be
a bad
> story just because it can't be told in another media. Not all good
books can
> be made into a good movie.

Point taken, though on another thread, I asserted that any truly good
story can be told in multiple media. It is not always as *effective*
in another media, however. I'll think about rewording that sentence.


> Do you really think people should give up on the compass directions?
It is
> probably the way to move the PC around a map that requires the least
thought
> from the player, and thus the player can focus more on the story. And
I
> think lots of players know it is just a technical convenience, and
they
> don't expect the PC to have magical powers and always know where
north is.

I think compass directions are a crutch. A useful crutch, but a
crutch. I would like to see a game where all the compass directions
disappear and you have "walk left," "walk right," "turn around,"
"forward," "backward," etc. Up and down are probably OK, but do you
know anyone not following highway signs who consciously thinks: "Exit
cube. North. East. South." to go to the restroom? I think not, and
thus mimesis could be improved. We have compass directions because
Advent was a game by a guy who was a spielunker used to carrying a
compass around to explore unknown cave areas. Left and right are as
easily abbreviated as the major compass directions. In a room with
multiple exits, this creates a challenge, but I think one that can be
handled in multiple ways that enhance mimesis.

We mostly rely on compass directions & their abbreviations because we
make the maps *so* complicated. That's unnecessary, most of the time.
The real world is even more complicated and I don't see folks carrying
compasses unless they're in the army. If I suddenly transported you
into a deep underground mine w/o a compass, would you try consciously
try to establish north or go by "left/right/up/down" directions? Only
when you are lost in the woods, so to speak, do people start really
thinking about which side of the tree the moss grows on. (By the way,
Jon Ingold's My Angel does something like what I am talking about, but
his revisions to the whole IF conventional model are so large that I am
still pondering whether or not they work in practice.)

> > Although the author did
> >nothing with the basic compass direction movements, the game map was
> >small enough that they did not become intrusive or burdensome.
>
> Why are compass directions more burdensome with a larger map?

Here I am thinking about the practice of putting parts to puzzles in
widely spaced rooms on a sprawling map. On a large map, even when you
know what you are doing and have been there before, you constantly have
to run back and forth between rooms to find things that you forgot or
pick up things or press buttons or what have you. I think it's much
more effective when, if you've been there before, the author gives you
the option of "go to mirror room" instead of making you actually hike
there by the keyboard. But, in general, sprawling maps bug me because
usually the story doesn't really require the complexity or doesn't
mirror the complexity of the world. It's the authors who build a
beautiful world but forget the beautiful story that enables that world
to live in the player's mind whom I am chiding here.

> Can this boil down to: Is the player likely to get stuck?
>
> How does pacing make the player get stuck? Isn't it the other way
round,
> that getting stuck messes up the pacing?

On this one, what I am getting at is (a) the player shouldn't get
stuck; (b) it's the game author's job to encourage the player to keep
trying if they are stuck; (c) its the game author's *responsibility* to
get the player unstuck through hints, intrusive events, or some other
deus ex machina if they are stuck. Otherwise, being stuck destroys
pacing in the scence you're in and severely wounds the narrative
dynamic of the whole story arc. In my opinion, despite all that has
improved about IF over the years, there is still an authorial attitude
that says: I can only help you so far, if you're stuck after that, too
bad. To which I say: Wrong! The author is the GOD in this game. If
I'm stuck, utterly and completely stuck, it's your fault, so help me
out (and not with an InvisClue!). That's what this criteria is about.
Authorial control, end-to-end, top to bottom, no matter how much effort
it takes, while still leaving the player believing in and enjoying
their apparent freedom of action.


> I take it no puzzles means a thumbs up? Maybe you should change "Are
the
> puzzles absolutely necessary to advance the story being told?" to
"Does the
> puzzles advance the story being told?" Puzzles are seldom or never
> absolutely necessary.

Raymond M. above tweaked me on that. I will have to either reshape
this or else rebaseline it somehow. I didn't mean to imply that you
have to have traditional puzzles in a game. Far from it. I will
rethink, reword.

Thanks for your critique. This is definitely helping me shape up my
thought process.

PJ
Anonymous
January 7, 2005 12:11:50 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Thanks for the review, PJ. Just a couple of (possibly spoiler-laden)
comments...

On Wed, 5 Jan 2005, PJ wrote:

> There is really only one ending you are trying to reach, so this
> criteria is difficult for EAS3:LH to meet. I would have liked to see
> different paths through the game to get to that ending, but if there
> were any significantly different avenues, I didn't find them.

There are multiple solutions to both the family battle and the final
battle. Just FYI. Also, the game tries to account for a variety of
different situations while still advancing the plot. For instance, you
might leave Emily standing outside the fortress while you (as Austin)
explore the drill room. However, if you enter the family battle alone,
you'll find that she conveniently joins you. Also also, the intro plays
out quite differently depending on 1) how you answer the continuity
questions, and 2) which viewpoint character the game randomly chooses for
you to start with.

> Only one annoying thing occurs: if one of the E&S kids
> has something, the other can't automatically take it from him/her
> when it is needed (e.g., >Take new gizmo. reply "That seems to belong
> to Austin." Which is annoying, since presumably these two are a
> team).

Ah. Good point. I'll tighten that up in a subsequent release. However, in
the meantime, AUSTIN, GIVE ME THE GIZMO should work fine.

> I suspect Paul is probably going to integrate the 3 EAS
> games into one combined narrative at some point

If you mean this in the sense of "one big game", I'd say probably not.
Each one is different enough from the others that I don't want to try to
integrate them all together. However, I may find a way at some point to
package them up so that one episode can flow somewhat smoothly into the
next.

--
Paul O'Brian obrian@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
SPAG 39 is here! Check it out at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag
Anonymous
January 7, 2005 12:14:42 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

On Thu, 6 Jan 2005, Jess Knoch wrote:

> possible spoilers for Luminous Horizons below....
>
> .
> .
> .
> .
> .
> .
> .
>
>












> No, what got me was what to do after beating the robots in the hallway and
> finding the gizmos. I was sure that I had to figure out something with the
> machine somehow, and the hints completely ran dry. I thought the other path
> (the correct path) had been pretty clearly marked as impassable, so I tried
> to explore the machine better. I was not able to do some things I was trying
> to do, in the way of examining it, so I assumed I wasn't getting the right
> syntax. But the hints ran dry and I wandered.

Oh dear. That is good to know. I'll definitely try to improve the hinting
in that section for the post-comp release. Thanks for letting me know
about your experience, and sorry it was frustrating!

--
Paul O'Brian obrian@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
SPAG 39 is here! Check it out at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag
Anonymous
January 7, 2005 1:30:35 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

"Paul O'Brian" <obrian@ucsu.colorado.edu> wrote in message
news:p ine.GSO.4.58.0501070912460.9928@ucsu.colorado.edu...
> On Thu, 6 Jan 2005, Jess Knoch wrote:
>
>> possible spoilers for Luminous Horizons below....
>>
>> .
>> .
>> .
>> .
>> .
>> .
>> .
>>
>>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>> No, what got me was what to do after beating the robots in the hallway
>> and
>> finding the gizmos. I was sure that I had to figure out something with
>> the
>> machine somehow, and the hints completely ran dry. I thought the other
>> path
>> (the correct path) had been pretty clearly marked as impassable, so I
>> tried
>> to explore the machine better. I was not able to do some things I was
>> trying
>> to do, in the way of examining it, so I assumed I wasn't getting the
>> right
>> syntax. But the hints ran dry and I wandered.
>
> Oh dear. That is good to know. I'll definitely try to improve the hinting
> in that section for the post-comp release. Thanks for letting me know
> about your experience, and sorry it was frustrating!

Just a "me too" on this, but that's also where I got stuck. :)  I thought I
was supposed to do something with the machine, because the other path was
blocked. I think I figured it out from hints, though, but it took a while
before I gave in and looked. I don't remember exactly why it was that I gave
so much importance to the machine and none to the room blocked by robots,
but that's what happened. A clue or two would resolve it, I'm sure.

---- Mike.
Anonymous
January 7, 2005 3:22:00 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

I removed the spoilers.

Paul O'Brian wrote:
> On Thu, 6 Jan 2005, Jess Knoch wrote:
>
>>
>> [Jess as usual gets stuck in a game].
>
> Oh dear. That is good to know. I'll definitely try to improve the
> hinting in that section for the post-comp release. Thanks for letting
> me know about your experience, and sorry it was frustrating!

Hi Paul,

Sorry for the apparent delay in feedback. I thought most of the stuck-ness
would be apparent in the transcripts where I said things like "I need a
hint" and stuff like that :) .

Anyhow, just didn't want people thinking I was complaining in public without
at least trying to give feedback to the author.

Jess
Anonymous
January 7, 2005 4:09:25 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

"PJ" <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> skrev i melding
news:1104956059.985065.29570@f14g2000cwb.googlegroups.com...

>--Criteria 1: Does the game deconstruct the rooms paradigm so
>effectively that no map is required to play the game? If not, does the
>story itself have elements that actually focus the PC on geography, so
>that a map is necessary to the story itself, not just to the gameplay?
>If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

Can this boil down to: Does wandering around a lot make the story worse? It
seems that when you use relatively unusual words (deconstruct the room
paradigm etc) in your criteria they become easier to misunderstand

>--Criteria 3: Does game play and choices made as a result advance the
>player to multiple endings, with multiple paths to reach those endings,
>in ways that are both supported by and supportive of the main story
>trying to be told? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

>--Criteria 9: Does the game take risks in switching viewpoints
>(varying the PC view between one or more of the game characters), using
>different voice at different times (applying 1st, 2nd, 3rd and/or
>stream of consciousness, perhaps all in one game), and/or breaking with
>any other standard PC/NPC conventions (look, inventory, x me, etc.)?
>Are those risks successful in the context of the game? If yes, thumbs
>up. If no, thumbs down.

Criteria 3 and 9 seem dubious, at least considering this is supposed to be a
minimum requirement for a good story game. A story has to have multiple
paths or multiple viewpoints to be good?

>--Criteria 4: Is the story itself actually worth telling? Does it have
>a narrative dynamic that would be worth relating in other media, so
>that it is not purely a technical exercise? And is that dynamic
>sustained throughout the course of the game so that the player
>essentially *knows* the story, even if he/she doesn't fully understand
>it or all its implications, on the first playthrough? If yes, thumbs
>up. If no, thumbs down.

I have some problem with the second sentence. It does not have to be a bad
story just because it can't be told in another media. Not all good books can
be made into a good movie.

>--Criteria 5: Do commands -- including movement commands -- really
>support the story, i.e., if you are using compass directions, is the
>player using a compass to navigate with at the time? If not, do the
>commands truly enhance the mimetic effect being achieved in the game?
>Are uncommon commands natural to the story and the responses to
>incorrect commands helpful? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.

Do you really think people should give up on the compass directions? It is
probably the way to move the PC around a map that requires the least thought
from the player, and thus the player can focus more on the story. And I
think lots of players know it is just a technical convenience, and they
don't expect the PC to have magical powers and always know where north is.

> Although the author did
>nothing with the basic compass direction movements, the game map was
>small enough that they did not become intrusive or burdensome.

Why are compass directions more burdensome with a larger map?

>--Criteria 6: Does the author have sufficient control of the pacing,
>the narrative, the hints, other authorial mechanisms such as
>flashbacks, memories, event intrusion, etc., so that the player can't
>ever really get stuck and therefore fail to finish the game? If yes,
>thumbs up. If no, thumbs down.


Can this boil down to: Is the player likely to get stuck?

How does pacing make the player get stuck? Isn't it the other way round,
that getting stuck messes up the pacing?

--Criteria 8: If puzzles are included, are they natural byproducts of
the world model or the interactions of the PC/NPCs? Are the puzzles
absolutely necessary to advance the story being told? If yes, thumbs
up. If no, thumbs down.

I take it no puzzles means a thumbs up? Maybe you should change "Are the
puzzles absolutely necessary to advance the story being told?" to "Does the
puzzles advance the story being told?" Puzzles are seldom or never
absolutely necessary.
Anonymous
January 7, 2005 6:51:45 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

"PJ" <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> skrev i melding
news:1105103878.079205.308370@f14g2000cwb.googlegroups.com...
> Jan Thorsby wrote:
>> "PJ" <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> skrev i melding
>> news:1104956059.985065.29570@f14g2000cwb.googlegroups.com...

> The
> advantage (if any) IF has over fiction is the ability of the player to
> have the PC make real choices about the outcomes of the story.

I think giving the player the illusion that he can change the story, even if
he can't, can be just as important. And I think having the player trying to
avoid a loosing situation, even if you don't consider that a real ending
(and I would agree), can be important to a story. (And having the player
think he may get a loosing ending, even if there is none, can be important.)
Anonymous
January 8, 2005 3:35:03 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Paul O'Brian wrote:
> Thanks for the review, PJ. Just a couple of (possibly spoiler-laden)
> comments...
>
> On Wed, 5 Jan 2005, PJ wrote:
>
>>Only one annoying thing occurs: if one of the E&S kids
>>has something, the other can't automatically take it from him/her
>>when it is needed (e.g., >Take new gizmo. reply "That seems to belong
>>to Austin." Which is annoying, since presumably these two are a
>>team).
>
>
> Ah. Good point. I'll tighten that up in a subsequent release. However, in
> the meantime, AUSTIN, GIVE ME THE GIZMO should work fine.
>
I had the same problem from the opposite direction... when I
tried GIVE GIZMO TO EMILY, she refused to take it. Given that I'd
earlier tried EM, FOG and gotten a "stop ordering me around" response, I
didn't try EM, TAKE GIZMO or switching and trying AUSTIN, GIVE ME GIZMO.
Dropping the gizmo, switching to Emily, and taking the gizmo worked
fine, but it could have been smoother.

Huh. I nuked my transcript to make room for some other games,
and now can't recreate that problem.

Ah, I got it. The GIVE command works when Em is on the ground
with Austin, but if she's hovering overhead, it doesn't. Which makes
some sense, but the error message is, "Emily doesn't seem interested,"
not anything that would indicate that she's out of reach.

Hmm.

[starting as Emily, in the obvious place]
> touch plate
> d
> c
[as Austin]
> get gizmos
> c
[as Emily]
> austin, give me gizmo
> newer

... results in some weirdness, too.

I would like to see the ability to order the sibling to use
powers, though. The CHANGE command is always more efficient and makes
giving orders not strictly necessary, but in many situations it seems
more natural to request, in-game, the other sibling to do something
rather than switching and having the intention magically conveyed
through the player.

Oh, another bit of weirdness. In solving one of the puzzles, I,
as Austin, told Em to wait while I performed the necessary action to
open the path further (which, incidentally, I wasn't sure she would do,
because she'd already refused one order), then switched to Em and
clearly broke the instruction to wait by passing through the resulting
opening (with Austin accompanying). I then switched back to Austin in
the process of exploring the next area, so when I got to the Family
Feud, I was controlling Austin... and got the "Em rushes in saying, 'I
know you told me to wait...'" message, even though she was already
there.

--
John Campbell
jcampbel@lynn.ci-n.com
Anonymous
January 8, 2005 1:29:36 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

On Sat, 8 Jan 2005, John Campbell wrote:

> [a bunch of excellent feedback]

Hey, thanks! Those are some great points. Your message is going into the
"post-comp revision notes" file. I really appreciate your taking the time
to track down kooky little things like that.

> I would like to see the ability to order the sibling to use
> powers, though. The CHANGE command is always more efficient and makes
> giving orders not strictly necessary, but in many situations it seems
> more natural to request, in-game, the other sibling to do something
> rather than switching and having the intention magically conveyed
> through the player.

The ability to give such orders is present in the other games, especially
EAS2. I opted to leave it out of EAS3 specifically because I wanted people
to get used to using the CHANGE command rather than relying on the command
structure used in previous games. I know that what I lost in this tradeoff
was some of the naturalness of ordering your sibling around.

--
Paul O'Brian obrian@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
Twenty-eight reviews, three interviews, and more. Check it out in
SPAG 39 at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag. C'mon. Try it. It's free.
Anonymous
January 8, 2005 3:47:59 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

"PJ" <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote in message
news:1105103878.079205.308370@f14g2000cwb.googlegroups.com...
> I think compass directions are a crutch. A useful crutch, but a
> crutch. I would like to see a game where all the compass
> directions
> disappear and you have "walk left," "walk right," "turn around,"
> "forward," "backward," etc.

Then you may be interested in taking a look at Mike Roberts's game
"Rat in control", which was designed to put this to the test. It can
be played using either conventional compass directions or relative
directions such as 'left' and 'right'. My recollection is that most
people who tried it found it much easier to play with the
conventional compass directions.

This arose out of a discussion on r.a.i-f back in about March/April
2003 on the topic of using compass directions in IF; see
http://groups-beta.google.com/group/rec.arts.int-fictio...

-- Eric
January 8, 2005 4:57:47 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Eric Eve wrote:

> Then you may be interested in taking a look at Mike Roberts's game
> "Rat in control", which was designed to put this to the test. It can
> be played using either conventional compass directions or relative
> directions such as 'left' and 'right'. My recollection is that most
> people who tried it found it much easier to play with the
> conventional compass directions.

Thanks for the suggestion. I had forgotten about that game -- I didn't
play it back when Mike put it out there, not having time at that point
to play lab rat myself.:) 

But I played it for awhile this am after getting your note. I think
there is certainly something in thought that "relative directions" may
be simply too hard for text. But there are also difficulties in the
way Mike implemented it. For example:

--I am less sure it is the "left-right-forward" problem as much as it
is the "back" that was confusing to me. If you go "back" twice in a
row, you end up where you started from. All the other directions
always take you where you expect to go, i.e., left-right-forward.
That, of course, never happens using the regular compass directions
(unless you purposely reverse the commands) and may account for a large
part of the confusion. If you wanted to go south-south in a regular
game but that put you back where you started, you'd think you were in a
maze. Remembering to go back-forward every time takes some retraining.

--Left and look both start with l. While all the other directions
could be abbreviated appropriately, if you wanted to go left and hit
"l", you got a "look," almost as if you were in one of the "twisty
little passges" of yore. That contributed to the difficulties if you
played in relative mode first, because you first think: maybe this is
a maze I'm in. After awhile, you figure out what is happening, but by
then you're confused.

--I think he randomized it, but obviously, if you got the relative
directions first and played it long enough to be familiar with and
succeed at the tests, then replaying it using the compass commands
we're all used to was a breeze. I played around with the game for a
while in relative (but didn't map it) before starting on the first
mission. My scores were marginally higher for the relative section,
but would have been closer without the back & look confusion.

--Finally, the test is interesting, but not altogether fair. Whatever
our "mental models" are, those of us who play IF have one shaped almost
irrevocably by the model of compass directions in these types of games.
So it is bound to feel *easier* for most of us. The question would
be, if we practiced using those directions for several weeks, then went
on to a new game setup like Rat, would the scores be signicantly
different? I'm not sure they would be.

So, what does this all mean? I'm still not in love with compass
directions, obviously, but game design certainly has to account for
them in some other way if they're done away with. I think part of the
reason they're so accepted is we usually make our maps so
complicated that anything else is difficult to imagine in use. But if
you think about games like EAS3:LH or ATD from the last comp, those
maps were not so big that relative directions would have been a
problem.

Besides, I think there is a conceptually simple solution to the back
problem; namely, that "back" literally means back the player up over
his previous path for whatever number of times he/she types "back".
So, in essence, you are reversing or retracing your trail. Obviously,
this is technically more difficult to do than it is to conceive. But I
think it mirrors real life better than the compass directions -- if
you're in a confusing environment, you might not know where you're
going, but you usually can figure out where you've been. It might not
be best for a game that was meant to be a maze, but there might be some
testable there there.

PJ
Anonymous
January 9, 2005 7:38:59 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

In article <1105221467.392078.13040@c13g2000cwb.googlegroups.com>,
PJ <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:
[..]
>But I played it for awhile this am after getting your note. I think
>there is certainly something in thought that "relative directions" may
>be simply too hard for text. But there are also difficulties in the
>way Mike implemented it. For example:
>
>--I am less sure it is the "left-right-forward" problem as much as it
>is the "back" that was confusing to me. If you go "back" twice in a
>row, you end up where you started from. All the other directions
>always take you where you expect to go, i.e., left-right-forward.

'Back' works perfectly consistently with the other commands -- if you
go left and then right, you won't end up where you started, generally,
because your perspective reorients itself when you go left such that
to continue in that direction would be to go forward. That's what
relative directions mean.

Now, possibly what you want is an absolute directions model that
just doesn't use compass directions -- the player types 'forward',
'back', 'left', and 'right' but forward always corresponds to going
north and so on. I can see why that might feel more newbie-friendly,
but it'd have some problems of its own (eg, three lefts would no
longer be anywhere near one right).

>So, what does this all mean? I'm still not in love with compass
>directions, obviously, but game design certainly has to account for
>them in some other way if they're done away with. I think part of the
>reason they're so accepted is we usually make our maps so
>complicated that anything else is difficult to imagine in use. But if
>you think about games like EAS3:LH or ATD from the last comp, those
>maps were not so big that relative directions would have been a
>problem.

Hmm, I would advise you to search for and read the original thread
that caused Mike to write this game. The thing about relative
directions is that they don't mesh well with a 2d mental map of the
world; they only make intuitive sense with a 3d first-person
viewpoint. With a 2d map they require a bit of mental computation
every time you enter the room -- while with absolute directions you
know that the dining room is east of the kitchen, with relative
directions you have to know which way you came in by and compute which
way the bathroom must be, or else reread the room description.

Frankly, if you're going to argue for anything to replace compass
directions, I think you'd be best off arguing for the system where
you just type the room name --

Dining Room
This is the dining room; exits lead to the kitchen and front hall.
>KITCHEN
Kitchen
This is the kitchen; an exit leads to the dining room.
>DINING ROOM
etc.

This doesn't work well for wandering around from room to room
exploring (since you end up having to type much longer commands than
N/S/E/W), but I suspect your ideal game would't involve much random
exploration, and would probably benefit from the bonus that this style
of movement can let you type >KITCHEN from anywhere to go to the kitchen.

>PJ
--
Dan Shiovitz :: dbs@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
Anonymous
January 9, 2005 8:57:09 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

PJ wrote:
> I think compass directions are a crutch. A useful crutch, but a
> crutch. I would like to see a game where all the compass directions
> disappear and you have "walk left," "walk right," "turn around,"
> "forward," "backward," etc. Up and down are probably OK, but do you
> know anyone not following highway signs who consciously thinks: "Exit
> cube. North. East. South." to go to the restroom? I think not, and
> thus mimesis could be improved.

Do you know anyone who consciously thinks: "Turn around.
Forward. Turn right. Forward. Turn right. Forward. Turn left. Unzip
fly," to go to the restroom?

Navigation in the real world normally happens below the
conscious level. People don't think about what direction they're
walking. They think, "I gotta take a piss," and then, "Hmm, almost
one... maybe I'll go get lunch instead of going back to the cube...
haven't had Chinese in a couple days... hey, that new DBA's kinda hot...
X LEFT RING FINGER..." while their feet automatically carry them along
the route they've followed a thousand times before.

This supports allowing "GO RESTROOM" when you know how to get
there from where you are. It doesn't support using left/right directions
rather than north/south directions. The latter, in fact, comes far
closer to being unconscious - and therefore "mimetic" - for anyone who's
played IF games for any length of time.

And even for the complete newbie, I'd say that using a set of
absolute directions is much easier to handle than using a set of
relative directions that change with facing... it makes building a
mental world model simpler, and doesn't require keeping track of facing,
and, with less complexity, fades into the background more easily. And if
we grant that, I can't think of a set of absolute directions that
any random player off the street is more likely to be totally familiar
with, from real-world experience, than compass directions.

> We have compass directions because
> Advent was a game by a guy who was a spielunker used to carrying a
> compass around to explore unknown cave areas. Left and right are as
> easily abbreviated as the major compass directions. In a room with
> multiple exits, this creates a challenge, but I think one that can be
> handled in multiple ways that enhance mimesis.
>
> We mostly rely on compass directions & their abbreviations because we
> make the maps *so* complicated. That's unnecessary, most of the time.
> The real world is even more complicated and I don't see folks carrying
> compasses unless they're in the army. If I suddenly transported you
> into a deep underground mine w/o a compass, would you try consciously
> try to establish north or go by "left/right/up/down" directions? Only
> when you are lost in the woods, so to speak, do people start really
> thinking about which side of the tree the moss grows on. (By the way,
> Jon Ingold's My Angel does something like what I am talking about, but
> his revisions to the whole IF conventional model are so large that I am
> still pondering whether or not they work in practice.)

You know how your junior high English teacher told you that you
shouldn't use "said" all the time when writing dialogue, and made you
come up with a list of more exotic synonyms and use those instead? And
you know how it turns out that, in actual writing, "said" does its job
of attributing dialogue invisibly, and no one notices if you "overuse"
it, but those exotic synonyms leap out and draw attention to themselves
and away from the dialogue and the story it's telling, so you should be
careful to use them only when they contribute to the story?

This is like that. The compass directions are standardized to
the point of being invisible. When I tell my PC to go north, I'm not
asking myself how he knows which direction is north (in some games, in
fact, it's made clear that he *doesn't*, but has arbitrarily assigned a
"north" so as to be able to use the standard compass directions... EaS2
pops to mind). I'm navigating using a system of absolute directions
that's ingrained at such a low level that it doesn't require me to pay
attention to how I'm navigating. If the author takes away my compass
directions and gives me some other system of navigating, rather than
navigating automatically and without thinking, I suddenly have to pay
attention to the syntax I'm using to navigate and the structure of the
system of navigation, which draws attention away from the game and the
story it's telling.

Now, if the non-standard system of navigation contributes
markedly to the feel of the game, that may be a tradeoff worth making.
But it -is- a tradeoff. Removing the standard system of navigation is,
in and of itself, *bad*. Bad for immersion, bad for ease of play. It's
just that it's sometimes worth it.

If you're writing a game set entirely on a ship, for example,
you might want to use Forward and Aft, Port and Starboard, Topside and
Belowdecks, instead of the standard directions, to convey the "onboard
ship" atmosphere. But you should remember that what you're gaining in
nautical feel, you're paying for in confusion and distraction for every
player who expects the opposite of S to be N, not P. If you're making
those payments, you'd better be getting something substantial in return.

It's less of a tradeoff in situations where the standard compass
directions are breaking down anyway. If you can both navigate that ship
around the outside world and navigate around its interior, it might
actually reduce confusion to separate directions in the outside world
from directions onboard the ship, so that you always get from the Main
Deck to the Captain's Cabin by going A, regardless of whether the ship
is sailing E or W, and downstream is always W and upstream is always E,
no matter which way the ship's sailing. But still, it's a choice that
should be carefully considered, not a criterion where if the game
doesn't check it off, it's not meeting the minimum standards of good IF.

--
John Campbell
jcampbel@lynn.ci-n.com
Anonymous
January 9, 2005 12:21:13 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

I don't read all the newsgroup messages, and I'm not going to go back
and read all the stuff in the "do we need to get rid of rooms" thread
right now, so a blanket disclaimer: this message was posted in
ignorance of several things that may already have been said.

PJ wrote:
> I think you are assuming that my criteria for comparing games are
> somehow inherently limiting. I am going to use them to review Blue
> Chairs and All Things Devours as well as EAS3:LH. I expect both to
> score pretty well, maybe even better than Luminous Horizon. Yet
there
> could scarcely be 3 more different games in tone, concept, or
> execution. So I'm not sure there's any loss of diversity there.

I may have overreacted a bit. Your analyses of these comp games is
reasonable, but a lot of the things you've said have been overstated.
I'm still trying to understand your whole take on "rooms." I believe
you are doing yourself a disservice by claiming that a "deconstruction
of the room paradigm" is needed or wanted. What you really seem to be
saying is:

(a) You don't want to have to make a map. A lot of people are with you
on this.
(b) If a map is necessary, you'd like the game to "have elements that
actually focus the PC on geography." This is an interesting point,
although too abstract to really warrant a strong response. I'd like to
hear more examples of this before I decide if I agree or not. Can you
think of any games that are mostly good, but fail in this regard?
(c) You are especially interested in games that get rid of
compass-based navigation. I guess I am too, but compass-based
navigation is so useful that I don't think we'll ever see the end of
it. It's just like any other extremely useful artistic convention.
Gertrude Stein thought it would be interesting to try forgetting about
the meaning of words and write poems that are a roller coaster of sound
and images. It was an interesting experiment, but it didn't catch on.
Compassless games may hold more potential than this, but I don't think
they'll catch on in a big way either. I could be wrong.
(d) You are especially intersted in games that limit the size of the
game world, in order to improve the pacing of the story. I am too, if
such games are successful, but then there are those games that succeed
precisely because they would rather allow a certain level of player
freedom, rather than ensure that the story proceeds at a given pace.

Anyway, this is what you seem to mean. When you talk about
"deconstructing the room paradigm" or "getting rid of rooms," you don't
seem to be talking about getting rid of rooms at all. You should be
talking about "deconstructing the standard navigation paradigm"
instead, or "getting rid of conventional game geography" or "getting
rid of the need for mapping." I mean, even one-room games have one
room. You haven't forgotten that, have you?

The other thing is, all locations have always been known as "rooms" in
IF. Even when Tapestry begins in a place called "Nothing," that is a
room. Thus when you say you want to get rid of rooms, it is easy to get
the initial impression that you want to get rid of all locations. This
would do away with IF as we know it, replacing it with stuff like The
Space under the Window or Sun and Moon. I gather that this is not what
you meant.

But even according to my best understanding of what you're saying, your
position is still too limited for me. It would be one thing to talk
about the advantages of, e.g., placing a higher priority on narrative
pacing than player freedom, but in your previous thread you seemed to
be asking whether this should always happen. For me, the answer is
definitely no.

> Actually, I'm just trying to
> come up with a consistent way to look at the differences and
> similarities among the more literary or avant-garde, story-based
games.

That simply isn't true. You're not just looking for differences, you're
using those differences to evaluate games. Otherwise, you wouldn't have
said "thumbs up" or "thumbs down"; you'd have said "matches my
description" or "doesn't match my description."

> It's also not meant to be a way to judge games that are mostly
> "adventure" style productions. Isle of the Cult is an enjoyable
game,
> but it would score low on this criteria.

You could always say that The Isle of the Cult is a bad game, but if
you're saying that it's a good game that scores low with your criteria,
you've made your criteria seem trivial. As I've said, your criteria
*do* aim at evaluating games, not just describing or categorizing them.
It seems you've got a set of criteria that can be used to evaluate
geographically confined story-based IF, but doesn't work for any other
type of IF. Personally, I just don't see the interest in that.

> I sincerely doubt anyone will write games with these criteria in the
> forefront of their mind. But as a sort of simple guideline for
authors
> thinking about these types of games, I think it could be useful as a
> guide to potentially desirable features. And from a review
> standpoint, it gives a way (for me at least) to see if there is some
> consistent way to judge or evaluate games of this type.

I like the idea of using your criteria as a "guide to potentially
desirable features"; I agree with you on that, and I think that's
well-stated.

Are your criteria useful for reviewing? You can think so if you want.
For me, I admire reviewers who at least try to take a game on its own
terms. After that, if you object to those terms, you're always free to
say so.

As an author who's started two games (but not released any yet), I can
say that I have considered doing many of the things you suggest, like
allowing multiple solutions to a problem, and multiple endings based on
player choices. But so many of your criteria are based only on "what
would be good for those who want to write a certain kind of game" that
I find myself indifferent to whether anything I ever write gets a 0 or
a 10 based on your criteria. My games may even be exactly what you have
in mind, but I don't care.

Thus, I find myself heartily agreeing with you when you say "I
sincerely doubt anyone will write games with these criteria in the
forefront of their mind." I don't agree, however, that this is a
neutral statement. I think it represents a very strong criticism of
what you're saying.

I'm seriously not trying to offend you. But maybe it will be useful for
you to know why some people disagree with you, and why I think you've
overstated your case.

You've given the newsgroups a lot of food for thought, so thanks for
that.

Greg
January 9, 2005 3:41:32 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Greg Boettcher wrote:
>What you really seem to be saying is:
>
> (a) You don't want to have to make a map. A lot of people are with
you
> on this.
> (b) If a map is necessary, you'd like the game to "have elements that
> actually focus the PC on geography." This is an interesting point,
> although too abstract to really warrant a strong response. I'd like
to
> hear more examples of this before I decide if I agree or not. Can you
> think of any games that are mostly good, but fail in this regard?

I am struggling to refine this point a bit. But let me give you two
examples using the other two reviews I just did, ATD and Blue Chairs.

ATD got a "thumbs up" on this point, despite the fact that I did have
to make a map. I had to make a map not because the room structure was
overly complex, but because the gameplay demanded an intensive focus on
exactly when/where the PC was in order to solve the game. The gameplay
that required this was also directly tied to the story, so intertwined,
in fact, that you really couldn't have done without it.

Blue Chairs, on the other hand, could have been played almost entirely
mapless -- though it had far more rooms in total -- because of the way
the author divided the game into scene cuts, with the geography in each
scene cut fairly tight and understandable. The "scenes" drove the
story, the rooms within each scene were fairly optional, however. But
I only gave the game a sidways thumb because in the penultimate scene,
gameplay was focused on solving a fairly complex, "labyrinth-style"
puzzle. The complexity of this puzzle wasn't necessary to the story,
and the complexity of the labyrinth almost demanded you either wander
for quite some time or else make a map. This exercise did little but
offer some extended atmosphere on the PCs state of mind, but it went on
way too long. Thus, despite the overall game structure being
beautifuly put together and naturally transitioning from scenc to
scene, I gave it only the sideways thumb.

> (c) You are especially interested in games that get rid of
> compass-based navigation. I guess I am too, but compass-based
> navigation is so useful that I don't think we'll ever see the end of
> it. It's just like any other extremely useful artistic convention.
> Gertrude Stein thought it would be interesting to try forgetting
about
> the meaning of words and write poems that are a roller coaster of
sound
> and images. It was an interesting experiment, but it didn't catch on.
> Compassless games may hold more potential than this, but I don't
think
> they'll catch on in a big way either. I could be wrong.

I understand the point. The alternate point I am making is that we
think compass directions are easier because we're all trained to use
them. Did you ever hear why English-language typerwriters are laid out
on the standard QWERTY model? Early typewriters had a tendency to jam,
so they laid out the keyboard in a confusing fashion to actually *slow
down* typing speed. Various people have invented keyboard layouts
which optimize and substantially improve typing speed over the QWERTY
approach, but they've never caught on because everyone is trained in
QWERTY and no one wants to make the switch.

I have never been convinced that left-right, forward-backward is harder
than east-west, north south but check out Mike Robert's Rat in Control
game -- it convinced a lot of people that compass directions are
innately easier. Eric Eve posted about this somewhere else in this
thread. I went and played it for awhile this am, and there may be
something there, but I am not fully convinced that it's for any other
reason than the innate QWERTY-style bias we've all acquired over the
years.

> (d) You are especially intersted in games that limit the size of the
> game world, in order to improve the pacing of the story.

Yes.

> Anyway, this is what you seem to mean. When you talk about
> "deconstructing the room paradigm" or "getting rid of rooms," you
don't
> seem to be talking about getting rid of rooms at all. You should be
> talking about "deconstructing the standard navigation paradigm"
> instead, or "getting rid of conventional game geography" or "getting
> rid of the need for mapping." I mean, even one-room games have one
> room. You haven't forgotten that, have you?

I'm struggling with the lingo there. In the real world, we of course
are always in a location. You have to have at least one location, one
person, and and one event to have a story. What I don't like is the
excessive focus on the location to the detriment of the PCs and the
events. IF, as I have discussed elsewhere, almost by design leads us
as authors to focus execessive attention locations (and to some extent,
objects) over PCs and events. I think that undercuts the story, which
should always come first if you are trying to write interactive
*fiction,* as opposed to developing an adventure *game.*

> But even according to my best understanding of what you're saying,
your
> position is still too limited for me. It would be one thing to talk
> about the advantages of, e.g., placing a higher priority on narrative
> pacing than player freedom, but in your previous thread you seemed to
> be asking whether this should always happen. For me, the answer is
> definitely no.

There always has to be a balance betwwen the narrative and the player
choice in IF, because part of the beauty of IF is the fact that the
player has choices, which you don't find in a reader of fiction. I
think on balance, though, player freedom has been implemented for
*gaming* purposes to the detriment of storytelling.


> That simply isn't true. You're not just looking for differences,
you're
> using those differences to evaluate games. Otherwise, you wouldn't
have
> said "thumbs up" or "thumbs down"; you'd have said "matches my
> description" or "doesn't match my description."

Well, I prefer to think of it as a series of tests story-based IF
should have to pass to be considered "good" or "excellent" going
forward. But, of course, the minute you start handing out thumbs up or
numbers or what have you, you start comparing scores from one to the
next. Human nature demands it.

> You could always say that The Isle of the Cult is a bad game, but if
> you're saying that it's a good game that scores low with your
criteria,
> you've made your criteria seem trivial. As I've said, your criteria
> *do* aim at evaluating games, not just describing or categorizing
them.
> It seems you've got a set of criteria that can be used to evaluate
> geographically confined story-based IF, but doesn't work for any
other
> type of IF. Personally, I just don't see the interest in that.

The point I am making here is that there are different kinds of IF,
that can and should be judged differently. One kind is games like
IOTC, where you are not looking for a story but instead playing and
trying to complete an enjoyable game. The other kind is Blue Chairs,
where there is no scoring, the story is all, and the choice of ending
is up to the player. Blue Chairs is not an "adventure game" per se,
but an "interactive fiction" story. So if you applied my criteria to
IOTC, it might score low, but it's like measuring the batting average
of a basketball player. It's the wrong scale.

> I like the idea of using your criteria as a "guide to potentially
> desirable features"; I agree with you on that, and I think that's
> well-stated.

I hope that folks understand that. Every game can be unique and have
its own merits. My criteria are there to try and say, here's one way
to consider the range of things a game should take account of if it
wants to be considered outstanding. How you deal with the criteria is
up to you.

> Are your criteria useful for reviewing? You can think so if you want.
> For me, I admire reviewers who at least try to take a game on its own
> terms. After that, if you object to those terms, you're always free
to
> say so.

I came up with them at Paul O'Brian's suggestion that I should do
reviews. Whether using them for reviews is a good idea is debatable,
since I've only done 3 that way so far. On the other hand, having read
many IF reviews, I can't say that anyone else's system offers a lot
more consistency or feedback than mine does.

> Thus, I find myself heartily agreeing with you when you say "I
> sincerely doubt anyone will write games with these criteria in the
> forefront of their mind." I don't agree, however, that this is a
> neutral statement. I think it represents a very strong criticism of
> what you're saying.

I expect authors will write what they want or *need* to write (Stephen
King, on being asked about his penchant for horror stories, "what makes
you think I have a choice in what I write?"). But the criteria might
be useful for reviews, they might be useful for pedagogy, they might be
useful just for discussion. But they also might be useful over the
long run as a guide to desirable features in an interactive fiction
story (which you agreed with above). And if that's the case, I'm
fairly confident that over the long run they'll offer more as an
evaluative method than the usual Puzzles: 9, Story: 9, etc. Because
the criteria are trying to get at the mechanics of why and how the
story works, not just the fact that it does.

> I'm seriously not trying to offend you. But maybe it will be useful
for
> you to know why some people disagree with you, and why I think you've
> overstated your case.

You'll have to work a lot harder than merely disagreeing with me to be
offensive in my view.:) 

> You've given the newsgroups a lot of food for thought, so thanks for
> that.

That's another thing I'm trying to do. Stir the pot a bit. Thanks for
your response, even in opposition.

PJ
Anonymous
January 9, 2005 11:06:02 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

In article <1105018526.958542.102480@z14g2000cwz.googlegroups.com>,
PJ <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:
>
>When I am talking about "rooms paradigm," I am talking about the
>tendency of IF to indulge itself in a glorious & complex world map at
>the expense of an outstanding, or even merely good, story. What I am
>trying to promote, I guess, is a world map that is suitable, but is
>almost entirely secondary to the story. "Deconstructing the rooms
>paradigm", taken to the logical extreme, would be no rooms per se, no
>standard movement directions, etc. That may be too extreme for
>anything but one scene or conversational games. What I want to know
>is: can you play the game and get the story without the world map
>getting in the way of the story, a la the bazillion rooms in
>Zork/Advent? Or, alternatively, if you want a highly complex and
>expansive world structure, is the story dependent on that architecture?
>I need to think of a better way to express that thought.
>
I think "deconstruction of the room paradigm" is not a good way of
putting it, since most people (including me) don't really know
what you mean by "deconstruction" and "paradigm" (that word's
meaning has been bouncing around since Kuhn used it in "Structures
of Scientific Revolution" or whatever that was). I really don't know
what "deconstruction" means unless it means to tear something
down or reverse engineer it.

Anyway, what you're saying is pretty mainstream nowadays if you
apply it to mazes or food or sleeping puzzles. Originally, games
tended to have these as puzzles just to be puzzles, since early
text adventures were largely puzzles with enough backstory to
provide a bit of motivation and context. Games nowadays either
leave these out, have a reason for them in the context (a survival
game could be a series of eating and drinking and sleeping
puzzles, for example), or get rated badly.

I also don't see that what you're saying is controversial in
practice: good games have geography that supports the game.
Anchorhead, for example, is partly about the geography (try
to imagine the game with some sort of schematic map), and has
a spacious game world that pretty much requires mapping.
All Roads and Slouching towards Bedlam have geographical
elements, but they are sufficiently abstracted to not require a
map. Games that have too many rooms, and require a map
unnecessarily, get blamed for it.

--
David H. Thornley | If you want my opinion, ask.
david@thornley.net | If you don't, flee.
http://www.thornley.net/~thornley/david/ | O-
Anonymous
January 10, 2005 6:32:38 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

In article <1105303292.317049.71680@c13g2000cwb.googlegroups.com>,
PJ <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:
>
>Greg Boettcher wrote:
>> (c) You are especially interested in games that get rid of
>> compass-based navigation. I guess I am too, but compass-based
>> navigation is so useful that I don't think we'll ever see the end of
>> it.
>
>I have never been convinced that left-right, forward-backward is harder
>than east-west, north south but check out Mike Robert's Rat in Control
>game -- it convinced a lot of people that compass directions are
>innately easier.

There's also Andrew Plotkin's _Hunter, in Darkness_. Which doesn't
seem to have influenced many people either, not even Zarf himself
(who has used compass-based navigation in all his other games except
for the one-room _Shade_).

--
David Goldfarb |"We were walking backwards because if we walked
goldfarb@ocf.berkeley.edu | forwards our eyeballs would freeze."
goldfarb@csua.berkeley.edu | -- Graydon
January 10, 2005 7:27:54 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

David Thornley wrote:

> I also don't see that what you're saying is controversial in
> practice: good games have geography that supports the game.

Right. I'm not really trying to be controversial. I think many people
would agree with most of the criteria I have suggested. What I *am*
trying to do is systematize what I consider to be the elements of the
best "literary" or "story-based" IF into one review system. Some folks
have taken that notion as controversial.

> Anchorhead, for example, is partly about the geography (try
> to imagine the game with some sort of schematic map), and has
> a spacious game world that pretty much requires mapping.

But my problem with Anchorhead is exactly that. I *know* the town and
its geography are supposed to be part of the larger horror story being
told, but they are so complex, they get in the way (to me at least) of
the story. Anchorhead is a great game on many levels, but I don't
think it really requires such an expansive map to get the story told.

> All Roads and Slouching towards Bedlam have geographical
> elements, but they are sufficiently abstracted to not require a
> map. Games that have too many rooms, and require a map
> unnecessarily, get blamed for it.

I'm not sure they all get blamed for it enough, and not always for the
right reasons. Slouching is an example of how to portray the idea of a
"big map" while actually keeping room design fairly tight. It uses a
number of widely separated locations in London, but the device of
hiring a cab gets you from one place to the next without the player
having to actually walk the PC around the town. Each room grouping is
then fairly simple in design. You get the expansive feel that
contributes to the story's atmoshphere without having to develop an
intricate, Zork-style map. I don't hate large maps in pure adventure
games, but in story-based games, wide maps almost always hurt the
pacing, delivery, and scene transitions that make for effective
narrative in a story.

PJ
January 10, 2005 7:52:32 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

John Campbell wrote:
> This supports allowing "GO RESTROOM" when you know how to get
> there from where you are. It doesn't support using left/right
directions
> rather than north/south directions. The latter, in fact, comes far
> closer to being unconscious - and therefore "mimetic" - for anyone
who's
> played IF games for any length of time.

Aha! You're making part of my point. We like compass directions
because we've always used them in IF and thus they have become, to us,
unconscious and thus mimetic. But if someone asked me, "how do I get
to the restroom from your cube?" I'd say: go straight out to the main
hall, turn right, 2nd door on the left. If you reach the elevators
you've gone too far." I wouldn't say: South, West, West, South.
Which still doesn't mean relative directions are easier in an IF game.
Like I said, compass directions are a crutch. But they may be the best
crutch we have or will have. Whether we can ever devise a better, more
mimetic device, is still unknown. I would like to see it tried more
often, however.

> Now, if the non-standard system of navigation contributes
> markedly to the feel of the game, that may be a tradeoff worth
> making.

Yes. I admit that it is not yet tested that doing away with compass
directions will "contribute markedly" to the feel of a particular game.
What I do know is that in "wide map" IF with compass directions,
having to repeatedly run through a game using those directions detracts
markedly from the feel of the game, particularly if it is meant to be a
story-based game. So one aspect is the "wide map," and that may be
more of the problem. But in "small map" IF, I would contend that
compass directions are not *as* necessary and thus relative directions
might be more mimetic. A not fully tested hypothesis, as of yet.

> But it -is- a tradeoff. Removing the standard system of navigation
> is, in and of itself, *bad*. Bad for immersion, bad for ease of
> play. It's just that it's sometimes worth it.

I wouldn't say removing the standard system is *bad.* I would say it
is *risky* and perhaps even *bone-headed* if you want your game to be
successful, but it's all in the implementation. Poorly implemented =
*bad.* Well implemented, could = *good* or *great* or even
*outstanding, pathbreaking,* etc.

> But still, it's a choice that
> should be carefully considered, not a criterion where if the game
> doesn't check it off, it's not meeting the minimum standards of
> good IF.

Yes, I didn't actually downgrade any of the 3 games I reviewed for
using compasss directions. I am weaselling around that a bit by
including it in the criterion related to commands in general. If in
general, commands are well-implemented and appropriate, I'm not taking
anyone down for using compass directions at the moment.

Thanks for your comments. I'll keep plugging on this to see if I can
get any headway on it.

PJ
January 10, 2005 9:07:33 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

M.D. Dollahite wrote:

> So have I convinced you that absolute directions are for the best?
If not,
> think about what I've said a little harder and a little longer. If
you're
> still not convinced after that, then show us a better way. If it's
the
> compass-based terminology you dislike and not the objectivity, then
I'm totally
> behind efforts to come up with some alternate names for absolute
directions.
> If you still think you can make a relative navigation system that
won't confuse
> the heck out everyone and make the game heinously complicated, then
let's see
> what you can do. If the entire Netscape development team and I (not
to mention
> several other people I know) are willing to switch to Dvorak
keyboards, you
> should be able to find some people willing to get accustomed to
something other
> than compass directions -- *if* you come up with something that
*really is*
> better (even if it's only better for people who use relative
navigation in real
> life).

I think it's a combination of things. I'm not sure "alternate names"
for absolute directions is what I'm looking for. But you're right, I'm
not sure I have a good example of what it is that I think would be
better. I guess, if anything, it might be a mixture of approaches.

-- automated movement from room to rome, i.e., go to <room> if you've
already been there or the description tells you that it's there;
-- left/right/up/down/forward/reverse etc. for smaller map IF where
"relative" is less confusing;
-- perhaps a "back" function that does let you backtrack multiple
moves, since I think that is a natural part of exploring in real life
even if, technically, it's one back and then a lot of forwards or
opposite directions.
-- scene cuts or other mechanical methods (the cab in Slouching) to
reduce the number of pure "connector" rooms and move players from one
small scene to the next without having to wade through the game map so
often;
-- perhaps even compass directions when you're in an aspect of the game
where the physical geography -- you're in a forest, you're underground
in a cave, in a desert, on the ocean, in a labyrinth, etc. -- seem to
demand it. Particularly if you give the PC a compass or GPS with which
to navigate.

But you're totally right. A "show me" game is necessary to get any
movement on this point. That's why, as I said above, I actually wasn't
taking any points from anyone in the games I reviewed here on this
issue, despite the fact they all used compass directions. It's a
theory that somehow mimesis can be enhanced this way, but as many have
pointed out, the existing body of evidence is heavily weighted the
other way.

Thanks for your comments. Obviously, my thought process here is still
a work in progress.

PJ
Anonymous
January 11, 2005 1:35:54 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

>I understand the point. The alternate point I am making is that we
>think compass directions are easier because we're all trained to use
>them. Did you ever hear why English-language typerwriters are laid out
>on the standard QWERTY model? Early typewriters had a tendency to jam,
>so they laid out the keyboard in a confusing fashion to actually *slow
>down* typing speed. Various people have invented keyboard layouts
>which optimize and substantially improve typing speed over the QWERTY
>approach, but they've never caught on because everyone is trained in
>QWERTY and no one wants to make the switch.

I believe the Netscape corporation, back when it was a corporation before it
was bought out by AOL, had Dvorak keyboards on all their office computers. All
the employees had to learn them, and I think most still use them. I would get
a Dvorak board myself, but you can't get them retail, only mail-order. Since
I'm kinda picky about the springiness of my keyboard, I don't like to buy them
without a test drive.

>I have never been convinced that left-right, forward-backward is harder
>than east-west, north south but check out Mike Robert's Rat in Control
>game -- it convinced a lot of people that compass directions are
>innately easier. Eric Eve posted about this somewhere else in this
>thread. I went and played it for awhile this am, and there may be
>something there, but I am not fully convinced that it's for any other
>reason than the innate QWERTY-style bias we've all acquired over the
>years.

I was looking through RAIF archives the other day and came across an
interesting discussion. It was between Mike Roberts and... I don't remember
who else. But anyway, Mike was explaining how he always thought of his
surrounding geography in terms of an overhead map, while the other person said
he didn't think about his surrounding geography at all past the nearest four
walls, and what he did think about he thought of in relative terms. I'm like
Mike, I think in absolute directions, but it seems some people think in
relative directions. People who think in absolute directions will always be
more comfortable with a compass, while people who think in relative directions
might be more comfortable with left/right/forward.

This might lead one to think that both systems should be implemented so players
can use the one they prefer, but there's more to it than that.

I don't know of any studies to back me up, but I strongly suspect that people
who think in relative directions probably get lost a lot more often than people
who think in absolute directions, unless they know their routes very well or
have a sequence of landmarks to guide them. That's because people who use
relative navigation seem to only think as far as they can see, while people who
use absolute navigation think about everything they know about the whole
surrounding area. This offers an alternate explaination of the Rat In Control
test -- even someone who thought in relative directions would get lost by
virtue of poor navigation skills.

I also notice that people who want relative directions tend to be unclear even
of what they want. Someone said "back" in RIC didn't work as expected, but in
fact it works exactly the way a relative direction should -- it executed a 180
degree turn and then moved forward. Instead, that person wanted "back" to mean
"walk backwards without turning around" or even "retrace my earlier steps in
reverse", neither of which is consistent with the way left and right work. If
"back" were to mean "walk backwards", then we should also move left and right
without turning, and turn only when explicitly told to by the player. I expect
that would get annoying really fast, and would essentially turn into regular
compass directions with the one addition of being able to rotate the point of
reference. If "back" is to mean "reverse my path", then it becomes a kind of
"undo travel" command instead of a direction.

The other factor is that we typically assume in when writing IF that the PC can
move about the room as necessary to inspect, take, or otherwise manipulate
things without direct orders from the player. Indeed, it would be tremendously
burdensome for the player to have to micromanage the PC's actions that way.
Because of this, the PC exists in something of a quantum flux state: we cannot
know which way the PC is facing at any given moment, except possibly for the
one turn immediately after entering the room (even that's only 90%, since the
PC may have turned to take in the whole room during the look around). If the
PC spends any amount of time in the room, we no longer have a valid frame of
reference for relative directions, and the player will likely have forgotten
which way they entered the room from.

So I think even if you accept that players will tend to become lost (if I'm
right, players who prefer relative directions will probably be accustomed to
getting lost), using relative directions will still require accounting for
intra-room movement, reminding the player of every change in orientation, and
writing different room descriptions for every possible orientation within that
room. The problem complexity will grow exponentially, and even if you wrangle
all that, I suspect even players who like the idea of relative navigation will
be confused by the constantly changing geometry. Furthermore, if having to
include a list of absolute exits in every room description is burdensome,
imagine how bad it would be to have to clearly describe the relative locations
of *every single object*. You'd be so busy mechanically listing what's to the
left or right of what that you'd have no room for prose at all.

It should also be kept in mind that "north" doesn't necessary mean "north as
shown by a magnetic compass." It means "the direction that the PC has
arbitrarily chosen as a point of reference for navigating within the local
area, which for lack of a better word we will call 'north'." People like Mike
Roberts and me usually equate an arbitrary direction with north for the purpose
of our mental mapmaking, but that direction need not be magnetic north. It's
usually whatever direction we happen to be facing when we enter the location.

So have I convinced you that absolute directions are for the best? If not,
think about what I've said a little harder and a little longer. If you're
still not convinced after that, then show us a better way. If it's the
compass-based terminology you dislike and not the objectivity, then I'm totally
behind efforts to come up with some alternate names for absolute directions.
If you still think you can make a relative navigation system that won't confuse
the heck out everyone and make the game heinously complicated, then let's see
what you can do. If the entire Netscape development team and I (not to mention
several other people I know) are willing to switch to Dvorak keyboards, you
should be able to find some people willing to get accustomed to something other
than compass directions -- *if* you come up with something that *really is*
better (even if it's only better for people who use relative navigation in real
life).
Anonymous
January 12, 2005 7:20:04 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

In article <1105361552.723803.193430@c13g2000cwb.googlegroups.com>,
PJ <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:
>
>Aha! You're making part of my point. We like compass directions
>because we've always used them in IF and thus they have become, to us,
>unconscious and thus mimetic.

Bingo! Sticking to a standard is almost always the right thing to
do, unless you have a reason to do something different.

But if someone asked me, "how do I get
>to the restroom from your cube?" I'd say: go straight out to the main
>hall, turn right, 2nd door on the left. If you reach the elevators
>you've gone too far." I wouldn't say: South, West, West, South.

If you ask me how to drive somewhere, I'm going to include directions.
However, I don't think either in terms of north and south or left and
right when going to the restroom. I just walk there. Heck, if somebody
asked me how to get to the men's room from my cubicle, I wouldn't use
relative directions. "It's that way, but you'll have to go around
that group of rooms. It's easier if you start going that way."

>Which still doesn't mean relative directions are easier in an IF game.
>Like I said, compass directions are a crutch. But they may be the best
>crutch we have or will have. Whether we can ever devise a better, more
>mimetic device, is still unknown. I would like to see it tried more
>often, however.
>
If anybody thinks they've got a better idea, they're welcome to try.
This is true of all aspects of IF. New things are done by people
writing new games, and they can eventually become mainstream.

>Yes. I admit that it is not yet tested that doing away with compass
>directions will "contribute markedly" to the feel of a particular game.
>What I do know is that in "wide map" IF with compass directions,
>having to repeatedly run through a game using those directions detracts
>markedly from the feel of the game, particularly if it is meant to be a
>story-based game.

That's a matter of preference, I think. I have no problem with
compass directions, because I am moving on a map. The map may
be in my head, or maybe on paper, but it's there. Other brains
may differ.

So one aspect is the "wide map," and that may be
>more of the problem. But in "small map" IF, I would contend that
>compass directions are not *as* necessary and thus relative directions
>might be more mimetic. A not fully tested hypothesis, as of yet.
>
In a small map situation, I think giving the room names or whatever
would be more intuitive. I never stop to think whether the TV room
is to the left or right of me. I just go there sometimes.

In an IF game, this might be done by just typing the destination.

Actually, have you played Narcolepsy? It uses point-to-point
movement, mostly. You type where you want to be and you go there.
It seemed to work there. (Not to mention that the PC is one of
the best out there.)


--
David H. Thornley | If you want my opinion, ask.
david@thornley.net | If you don't, flee.
http://www.thornley.net/~thornley/david/ | O-
January 12, 2005 1:46:11 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

David Thornley wrote:

> Actually, have you played Narcolepsy? It uses point-to-point
> movement, mostly. You type where you want to be and you go there.
> It seemed to work there. (Not to mention that the PC is one of
> the best out there.)

Yes, I have. Narcolepsy is a good example of where I think a lot of
story-based games could go with movement. But I believe I will have to
do something of my own that successfully incorporates the entire
thought process before I can try to claim that non-compass based
movement should be the standard.

PJ
Anonymous
January 12, 2005 4:35:13 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

In article <1105303292.317049.71680@c13g2000cwb.googlegroups.com>,
PJ <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:

>I have never been convinced that left-right, forward-backward is harder
>than east-west, north south but check out Mike Robert's Rat in Control
>game -- it convinced a lot of people that compass directions are
>innately easier.

Try the old "battlestar" game; it's quite convincing in this respect
also. Uses relative directions and is nigh-unplayable as a result.

The orientation cues present in real life just aren't there in text
adventures, nor is our brain's automatic re-mapping function -- that
is, when we turn 90 degrees, we still understand that the exits are
where they were, even if they are to our left now when they were in
front of us before.
Anonymous
January 13, 2005 1:12:57 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

On Wed, 12 Jan 2005 13:35:13 -0600, Matthew Russotto
<russotto@grace.speakeasy.net> wrote:
>In article <1105303292.317049.71680@c13g2000cwb.googlegroups.com>,
>PJ <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:
>
>>I have never been convinced that left-right, forward-backward is harder
>>than east-west, north south but check out Mike Robert's Rat in Control
>>game -- it convinced a lot of people that compass directions are
>>innately easier.
>
>Try the old "battlestar" game; it's quite convincing in this respect
>also. Uses relative directions and is nigh-unplayable as a result.
>
>The orientation cues present in real life just aren't there in text
>adventures, nor is our brain's automatic re-mapping function -- that
>is, when we turn 90 degrees, we still understand that the exits are
>where they were, even if they are to our left now when they were in
>front of us before.
>
>

Well, the problem is that we really *don't* think in terms of relative
directions. Unless I've been blindfolded or am really really confused,
the direction I'm facing does *not* enter into the calculation of how
to get from point A to point B. I pick a side of the room, declare it
to be the "front", and no matter which direction I came from, no
matter which way I happen to be facing at the time, I navigate as if I
was facing that way.

This is, really, the same thing as a N-S-E-W compass.

For that matter, if I *am* blindfolded or confused, I *still* don't
navigate by relative direction. Instead, what I do is stumble around
the room expending a lot of effort to work out which side is "front",
then navigate using absolute directions.
Anonymous
January 20, 2005 7:46:28 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Greg Boettcher wrote:

> The other thing is, all locations have always been known as "rooms"
in
> IF. Even when Tapestry begins in a place called "Nothing," that is a
> room. Thus when you say you want to get rid of rooms, it is easy to
get
> the initial impression that you want to get rid of all locations.
This
> would do away with IF as we know it, replacing it with stuff like The
> Space under the Window or Sun and Moon. I gather that this is not
what
> you meant.

I don't speak for PJ and so won't hazard a guess at what he meant, but
I do think the idea of "getting rid of rooms" is an interesting one,
and wouldn't necessarily have consequences as extreme as those you
suggest.

Yes, all locations (including the outdoors, and even abstract places
like "Nothing" and "The Dark") have always been called "rooms" in IF.
But there's more to the term "room", as I-F loads it, than a mere
location: It's a structurally important *thing*, from which there are
(usually spatial) passages to other, similar, structurally important
things, and around which the story is organized. This isn't the way it
has to be.

Consider static fiction. Virtually all static fiction takes place in
locations, and the vast majority of it spends some time in actual
rooms. But these rooms have a very different, and generally much more
minor, structural role in the story than "rooms" do in most I-F. Most
of the action in the stories, most of the important transitions, aren't
marked by progression from one discrete place (even a place that's part
of a larger place, like "East Side of Field") to another place;
navigation, if it happens at all, is generally *very* incidental to the
story and described in passing. Characters in books are rarely (not in
the sense that few books do it, but in the sense that the books that do
it don't usually do it particularly often) described as "going north",
or "going to the left", for that matter.

It would be interesting to see, as a proof-of-concept, at least, a
piece of I-F with no navigation (compass-based *or* relative) at
all...not because the entire game takes place in one room, but because
navigation is treated as incidental to the plot and something the
player needn't bother with. I don't know that this would be successful,
but I think it would be interesting, and I don't think it's ever really
been tried.

I've sometimes tried to introduce I-F to people who complained that it
had too much "go north, go south" for them. I don't think they were
complaining about the use of *compass* directions; I think they were
complaining about the fact that so much of the player's time in
I-F--and so significant a part of their attention--is spent *moving
about*.
January 20, 2005 9:43:23 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

a...@avromandina.net wrote:

> ...there's more to the term "room", as I-F loads it, than a mere
> location: It's a structurally important *thing*, from which there are
> (usually spatial) passages to other, similar, structurally important
> things, and around which the story is organized. This isn't the way
it
> has to be.

Exactly!

> Consider static fiction. Virtually all static fiction takes place in
> locations, and the vast majority of it spends some time in actual
> rooms. But these rooms have a very different, and generally much more
> minor, structural role in the story than "rooms" do in most I-F. Most
> of the action in the stories, most of the important transitions,
aren't
> marked by progression from one discrete place (even a place that's
part
> of a larger place, like "East Side of Field") to another place;
> navigation, if it happens at all, is generally *very* incidental to
the
> story and described in passing. Characters in books are rarely (not
in
> the sense that few books do it, but in the sense that the books that
do
> it don't usually do it particularly often) described as "going
north",
> or "going to the left", for that matter.

We are on the same wave length. Others, of course, will argue that
static fiction is a different medium from IF, not requiring the same
type of "movement" from characters. Many will also say that the player
movement and rooms are what define IF. But I think our dependence on
rooms and the standard compass directions has more to do with tradition
and player comfort-levels than it does any particular requirements that
IF has a medium for storytelling.

> It would be interesting to see, as a proof-of-concept, at least, a
> piece of I-F with no navigation (compass-based *or* relative) at
> all...not because the entire game takes place in one room, but
because
> navigation is treated as incidental to the plot and something the
> player needn't bother with. I don't know that this would be
successful,
> but I think it would be interesting, and I don't think it's ever
really
> been tried.

This would be the ultimate "deconstruction" of the rooms paradigm, in
the terms that I have been trying to outline. I think it would be a
great breakthrough conceptually. Even if the majority of future IF
developers contiuned to use rooms and standard navigation approaches
for other reasons, at least the potential "roomless" approaches would
also be developed and expanded upon.

> I've sometimes tried to introduce I-F to people who complained that
it
> had too much "go north, go south" for them. I don't think they were
> complaining about the use of *compass* directions; I think they were
> complaining about the fact that so much of the player's time in
> I-F--and so significant a part of their attention--is spent *moving
> about*.

Right. That's my complaint. Even in games I love the most, I still
find it annoying navigating all over creation; even when I can do it
quickly, it seems pointless and always detracts from the story being
told.

You presented another way to think about eliminating rooms more clearly
and succintly than I ever did. Thanks.

PJ
Anonymous
January 21, 2005 1:28:45 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

PJ wrote:
> a...@avromandina.net wrote:
> > I've sometimes tried to introduce I-F to people who complained that
> > had too much "go north, go south" for them. I don't think they were
> > complaining about the use of *compass* directions; I think they
> > were complaining about the fact that so much of the player's time
> > in I-F, and so significant a part of their attention. is spent
> > *moving* about*.
>
> Right. That's my complaint. Even in games I love the most, I still
> find it annoying navigating all over creation; even when I can do it
> quickly, it seems pointless and always detracts from the story being
> told.

Funny, walking around from place to place and exploring is one of
my favorite parts of playing IF (and graphic adventures). This makes
it hard to relate to the difficulty other people have with it. What is
it, that people are impatient for something to *happen*?


--
J. Robinson Wheeler Games: http://raddial.com/if/
JRW Digital Media Movie: http://thekroneexperiment.com/
January 21, 2005 1:57:28 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

J. Robinson Wheeler wrote:

> Funny, walking around from place to place and exploring is one of
> my favorite parts of playing IF (and graphic adventures). This makes
> it hard to relate to the difficulty other people have with it. What
is
> it, that people are impatient for something to *happen*?

For me, the annoyance is not in the *initial* exploration, it's the
generally sprawling maps that many games provide. Clues are hidden in
some location, you have to solve the puzzle by repeatedly charging
around to find some item you've forgotten about or left somewhere, etc.
I like tighter scenes, less movement, even if the commands are quite
complex or the puzzles difficult. But then, I also like stories better
than puzzles and I don't mind games that are very linear or even "on
rails", as some people would say. Some of it is a matter of taste,
some of it is a gut feeling that "roomless" IF still hasn't been fully
explored or exploited, and I'm interested in what it might look like.
PJ
Anonymous
January 22, 2005 8:54:36 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

In article <1106332125.269490.114080@c13g2000cwb.googlegroups.com>,
J. Robinson Wheeler <jrw@jrwdigitalmedia.com> wrote:
>PJ wrote:
[..]
>> Right. That's my complaint. Even in games I love the most, I still
>> find it annoying navigating all over creation; even when I can do it
>> quickly, it seems pointless and always detracts from the story being
>> told.
>
>Funny, walking around from place to place and exploring is one of
>my favorite parts of playing IF (and graphic adventures). This makes
>it hard to relate to the difficulty other people have with it. What is
>it, that people are impatient for something to *happen*?

Well, I guess. I mean, whenever I'm playing a game, I want as much
stuff-I-am-interested-in as possible to be happening as often as
possible. I assume it's the same way for you and for everyone else --
the disagreement is basically over what stuff we're interested in,
what stuff we'll tolerate, and what stuff we find actively
irritating.

I think I'm a pretty run-of-the-mill player in that I am interested in
some exploration and finding cool stuff, some puzzle-solving, and some
plot exposition. But there've been plenty of people here who've griped
about useless plot exposition, or puzzles that feel pasted in, or
whatever, so clearly preferences differ.

My guess is that PJ wants to get as much story as possible in, and
feels like everything else, including random exploration for the sake
of exploration, is pretty much a waste of time. I think that to some
extent IF is guaranteed to be irritating in this respect, since it has
a world model and so you end up having to interact with that world
model, which generally doesn't lead to story directly.

I don't remember if anyone has suggested this already, but PJ, have
you looked at One Week? I haven't played it myself but I am informed
it's a pretty elaborate CYOA; that might get around your issues with
having to futz with objects unnecessarily.

>J. Robinson Wheeler Games: http://raddial.com/if/
--
Dan Shiovitz :: dbs@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
Anonymous
January 23, 2005 3:05:55 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

J. Robinson Wheeler wrote:
> Funny, walking around from place to place and exploring is one of
> my favorite parts of playing IF (and graphic adventures). This makes
> it hard to relate to the difficulty other people have with it. What
is
> it, that people are impatient for something to *happen*?

I do want to disassociate myself from the complaint a little. I
actually enjoy walking around from place to place and exploring quite a
bit--and actually, so long as it doesn't get out of hand (turning the
game into a big maze), I don't mind navigation taking a fairly
important role throughout the game. I *personally* (and I think I
differ from PJ in this) don't think that abandoning the rooms paradigm
is a minimum condition, or even a desideratum, for "modern I-F", or
even "modern story-based I-F". I just want to see it *tried*. I like
puzzles too, a lot, and I often like them even in serious games (e.g.,
So Far), but I'm happy puzzleless I-F has been tried. Not because I
think it's inherently superior, but because it opens up the medium in a
new direction.

As for the people who complained...well, I think that those people
*aren't* particularly fond of walking around from place to place and
exploring. It's not necessarily that they think anything but story is a
distraction, but that particular activity isn't something they enjoy.
That's OK--they don't have to like I-F, and I-F doesn't have to please
them--but I think it's worth thinking about whether that mutual dislike
is necessary. Is it really true that I-F has, fundamentally, nothing to
say to people who don't like moving about from place to place or
exploring? Even though I enjoy that aspect of I-F, it's not the only
aspect I enjoy...so I'd be curious as to just how necessary it really
turns out to be. Not so that we could eliminate it forever, but just so
that we'd have an alternative. That it might bring in more audience is
just a side benefit.
January 24, 2005 9:45:27 AM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

avrom@avromandina.net wrote:

> Is it really true that I-F has, fundamentally, nothing to
> say to people who don't like moving about from place to place or
> exploring? Even though I enjoy that aspect of I-F, it's not the only
> aspect I enjoy...so I'd be curious as to just how necessary it really
> turns out to be. Not so that we could eliminate it forever, but just
so
> that we'd have an alternative. That it might bring in more audience
is
> just a side benefit.

I happen to love almost all IF. But my current complaint is that too
many games rely on what I call "big map" IF, for no particular reason
other than it's easy to make rooms and traditional to do so. Sprawling
games can be quite enjoyable in many respects, but I think it's very
difficult for them to tell a tight story.

What I would like to see -- whether rooms are "eliminated" or not -- is
more story-based IF. To be successful and be more widely played, I
think authors will have to use tighter scenes and more control over
player movement -- not totally putting the game on rails, but forcing
the pace by variuos means -- in order to keep the story moving.

That's my mantra, story first. Everything that inhibits the story
without markedly enhancing player experience or the story's theme and
movement is suspect. But that doesn't mean I want CYOA games
either. I'm looking for a middle way, an alternative approach that
better satisfies the story jones without changing IF into either
hypertext or CYOA. Puzzles are fine, rooms are fine, lots of
navigation is fine -- as long as it really matters to the story. If it
doesn't, edit, rethink, rewrite. Otherwise, you're putting traditional
game mechanics first, and story second.

PJ
!