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[DISCUSSION] Review Criteria -- Literary or Story-Based Ga..

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January 11, 2005 1:10:37 PM

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

In a post on r.a.i.f., I recently proposed a set of criteria for
reviewing or possibly "grading" interactive fiction. The purpose was to
identify the elements of an outstanding *fiction* or *story-based*
game, with the idea that the criteria serve as a set of
minimum-standards that most games of that type should meet.

As an exercise in using these criteria, I graded the top 3
games in the IF Comp to see how they would measure up. These were
posted last week (January 5th, 6th, & 7th) on r.g.i.f. and attracted
some commentary.

This is the follow-up post I promised to summarize what I got as
responses and to highlight possible ways in which I may change the
criteria before doing another review in this type of format.

> Criterion 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.

Most people had a problem with the idea of "deconstructing the rooms
paradigm." The concept was unclear and could be taken to mean too many
different things. What I am probably going to do is reword this in
some form to convey the thought that, in regard to the world map, (1)
the story must come first, the world map second; (2) wide map IF is
suspect unless the story clearly requires a wide map; and (3) any game
that you can't complete without actually making a map is highly suspect
indeed, the exception being games like ATD where making a room/route
timing map was an integral part of solving the main puzzle.

> Criterion 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 got little discussion. I think it was subject to
misinterpretation because I didn't define what I meant "game-related
choices" and "plot-advancing" consequences in any detail. I will
probably correct that in future efforts.

> Criterion 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.

Posters here had some problem with the idea that all games should have
multiple endings. There was also some debate regarding what "an
ending" is, as well as what a "path" is. Again, I will try to tighten
up my definitions but, in principle, I think this criterion is a
valuable measure of modern, literary IF, because it does something
standard fiction can't: it enables player choice. So it's up to the
author to make that choice valuable and worthwhile by creating and
showing the player different endings based on that choice.

Note: I downgraded EAS3:LH a bit on this, because the overall ending
was fairly binary: win and save Earth; lose and have Earth basically
in a pickle. I don't count deaths as real endings, for the most part,
because it is usually involuntary. Some responders pointed out as
well, that although there weren't really different paths through
EAS3:LH, there were different solutions to the puzzles. I prefer to
keep that attribute of scoring in with the puzzles, not the endings, as
discussed below.

> Criterion 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.

Complaints here were on the basic subjectivity about what constitutes a
"good story," as well as on the "is it worth telling in another media?"
One of my beefs with IF in general is the thinness of the story in
many games, even ones that are meant to be story-driven. I do think
that any good story can be told in other media, though the same story
may be more *effectively* told in some media than others. I don't see
a real need to edit this one, as of yet.

> Criterion 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.

Much discussion here centered on whether you really need to get rid of
compass directions or not. I think it was a bit of a distraction to
the overall point of: do commands -- particularly unusual one -- come
naturally and act like you think they would? I am probably going to
reword this to minimize the compass directions issue until I see a game
(or write one myself) that shows an example of what I think is
possible.

Criterion 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.

There was little argument on this one, though some posters thought I
was talking about leaving the game in an unwinnable state. What I mean
here is, does the game create so little story, so little dramatic
tension, have such poor pacing and few clues or hints, etc., that a
player would rather quit than deal with a hard puzzle or confusing turn
of events. I may reword this criterion to say that expressly, just to
avoic the winnability issue.

Criterion 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.

This criterion is sort of a corollary to the previous one. This one is
asking whether the author is able to move you from scene to scene
instead of puzzle to puzzle or room to room. It may possibly be that
this one should be boiled up into #6.

Criterion 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.

Two major critiques here. I need to either add something about
"puzzleless" games so they can get this point, or rebaseline the whole
set of criteria so that puzzleless games are not starting at a
disadvantage. The other is that "absolutely" is an unnecessary
qualifier, since almost any puzzle could conceivably be left out other
than game like ATD, which is essentially one large puzzle. I agree on
both these points and will make some changes. I also want to make the
point that most puzzles should have multiple ways to solve them, or
paths that clearly can be taken around them, one or the other.

Criterion 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.

Here, some posters took issue with the idea that switching views,
voice, or breaking with other standard IF conventions was really
necessary. I think the best games do this, and do it consciously.
Since I am trying to promote the best types of games, I will leave it
as a criterion, but I will probably reword it a bit to get at what I
think are the *best* elements that I am seeking.

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

This catchall got little debate, though some posters felt it was too
broad and that some of the elements should be divided into their own
categories. Since I meant it to be a catchall, I'm not too motivated
to change it at the moment.

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.

Posters here thought the criteria as a bit unclear. I think extra
credit is anything not covered in the previous ten points that is
outstanding, i.e., it blows you away. That's the best definition I can
come up with. So I will probably change it to reflect that, dropping
the cliches part so that a game can't try to claim extra credit merely
by avoiding cliches.

General Points:

-- One good suggestion, since this is meant to be a minimum standard,
is to treat this as the baseline and subtract thumbs rather than adding
them up. I will probably make that change. Extra credit then would
fill out what is even more outstanding about a game that makes the
baseline cut.

-- Some posters felt that, while interesting, the criteria were never
really going to be accepted or considered by most authors, so why
bother? To which all I can say is, I think the criteria ARE useful as
a sort of conceptual watering hole. Whether the horse will drink or
not, or even feels it's thirsty, is another story.

-- One poster used the criteria to look at Ninja, which scored the
lowest in the IF Comp. He came up with a score that was considerably
higher than I would have, but still not necessarily unreaonable on the
basis of the criteria as written. The thought was, if the criteria are
not equally good at identifying bad games, then they may not be useful
overall. My response to this, and the reason for including this in the
general points, was that Ninja was not meant to be a "literary" or
"story-based" IF game. That's what the criteria are for, so they
should not be used artificially on games that have no story intentions
but are instead adventure-focused. Another poster suggested that I try
this on a story-based game that was not as good as the 3 I reviewed, to
highlight how the game could be improved. I think that is a good idea,
and if anyone has suggestions from the last IF Comp, I would be glad to
consider it.

-- No sooner had I dealt with the above point, than another poster
pointed out that it might not be accurate to have graded ATD on my
scale, since ATD might really be called an adventure game, not a
story-based game. There is something in that notion, though I am not
convinced ATD was storyless. What it says, however, is that maybe I
need some way of identifying candidate games to undergo this grading
(pre-criteria criteria?).

It's all a work in progress. But I will continue to do reviews in a
format like this at least through IF Comp 2005. Maybe with a year's
worth of effort, something useful will come out of this approach.
Thanks for responding.

PJ
January 12, 2005 6:53:13 AM

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

Dan Shiovitz wrote:

> It seems weird to have a checklist item requiring a game to have
> multiple viewpoints without having any analysis of what purpose they
> serve in the game. I mean, the best games have lots of features --
> turn counters, locked doors, light sources -- that are presumably not
> requirements in every game.

I guess what I am looking for is literary devices that demonstrate the
power of IF. Emily S., among others, suggested that maybe this one is
an extra credit idea. I'll have to think about it some more. But I
don't think features such as "turn counters, locked doors, light
sources" really rise to the level of powerful literary devices. Most
of those things are simply game mechanics, or puzzle pieces, not real
literary features.

> I guess this sort of gets at the central issue I have with your
> criteria. It feels like you're really focused on marking off games
> for not doing something the way you think they should, but there's
not
> much effort on identifying positive things about the games. This
isn't
> a complaint that you're being insufficiently warm and fuzzy or
> anything; it's that I think you're missing the forest for the trees.

I think if you look at the reviews, you'll see I said plenty of
positive things about all of the games. But I am trying to take these
criterion as *minimum standards* so, until you get to extra credit,
there is a downward bias anywhere the games are weak. The criteria
overall, however, offer you just as much a chance to say positive as
negative things. There is commentary about why a thumbs up was or
wasn't deserved in the reviews. Since all of them scored well, I think
on balance there is a lot of positive commentary in the reviews.

> Do you feel your analysis actually helped to identify and highlight
> what you liked so much about Blue Chairs and All Things Devours (and
> what you found lacking in Luminous Horizons)? If not, what's the
> point?

Actually, I think it did. Ultimately, I found the story in EAS3:LH
wanting. There were a lot of great aspects to the game, but overall,
solving it wasn't as fascinating as going through ATD and the story
wasn't anywhere as rich as Blue Chairs. There were ways in which this
could have been improved -- perhaps through alternate threads through
the game (what if Em & Mom went to rescue Andrews, with Austin & Dad
fighting Esrrua, etc.), alternate endings (Esrrua gets away, but Earth
is saved. Emily & Austin save Earth, but Mom & Dad don't survive,
etc.), and so forth. Despite its technical wizardry in many respects,
it felt like a sequel, not a story in its own right. I think the
review and the criterion helped convey that, though it did score as
high as ATD overall in my ranking.

Anyway, this is all a work in progress. A number of people continue to
question why this is necessary or whether it will work. I am curious,
however, as to what other people think currently really is a great,
consistent, understandable, and comparable way to review games of this
sort. I haven't seen anything similar -- much less superior -- out
there, thus my attempts to be a little more systematic with this
"critical analysis" approach.

PJ
Anonymous
January 12, 2005 8:18:38 AM

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

In article <1105467037.524892.308140@z14g2000cwz.googlegroups.com>,
PJ <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:
[..]
>
>Here, some posters took issue with the idea that switching views,
>voice, or breaking with other standard IF conventions was really
>necessary. I think the best games do this, and do it consciously.
>Since I am trying to promote the best types of games, I will leave it
>as a criterion, but I will probably reword it a bit to get at what I
>think are the *best* elements that I am seeking.

It seems weird to have a checklist item requiring a game to have
multiple viewpoints without having any analysis of what purpose they
serve in the game. I mean, the best games have lots of features --
turn counters, locked doors, light sources -- that are presumably not
requirements in every game.

I guess this sort of gets at the central issue I have with your
criteria. It feels like you're really focused on marking off games
for not doing something the way you think they should, but there's not
much effort on identifying positive things about the games. This isn't
a complaint that you're being insufficiently warm and fuzzy or
anything; it's that I think you're missing the forest for the trees.

Do you feel your analysis actually helped to identify and highlight
what you liked so much about Blue Chairs and All Things Devours (and
what you found lacking in Luminous Horizons)? If not, what's the
point?

>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


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January 12, 2005 8:31:00 AM

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

Magnus Olsson wrote:

> >To be concrete, I can easily envision IF where there is no plot,
> >no dramatic tension, no story, where the entire experience centers
> >around exploring the map; yet that is still to be considered "art".
> >I'm not sure I could write it, but I think it's possible.
>
> since such a work wouldn't be "story-based", so your criteria
wouldn't
> apply. (I think it could still be considered "literary", though).

Well, it's all in your definition of "literary," I guess.:)  The
history of 20th century literature could be described broadly as an
attempt to deconstruct the novel to the point where plots aren't
required, but I don't think there are too many good books out there
that are entirely plotless. They may be *literate* but generally such
works aren't really *literature." Or not in my view, anyway.

Regarding your other point about there being "no single way," I agree.
You could view IF as a multidimensional medium for portraying adventure
games, puzzles, literature, "art" pieces of the type you are describing
above, maybe even history, biography, or pedagogy of some sort. The
only curve of development I am interested in is the "literature" or
"story-based" one. I think the problem is that line between the
different types of games is exceedingly thin in most case. But not
every book is a novel, obviously. Another poster nailed me on the fact
that I reviewed ATD -- is it really a story-based game? -- proving that
even to me, the line between the different types of IF is not
necessarily clear.

I don't mind the negative commentary, though. I am trying to shape my
own thoughts around this and, if they turn out well enough, maybe it
will be helpful to the community at large. So continue to skewer me
wherever and whenever necessary.

PJ
Anonymous
January 12, 2005 3:16:51 PM

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

My problem with your criteria is not so much the criteria themselves,
but your stated universality and exclusiveness in applying them. For
example, to quote from your first "Luminous Horizon" post:

>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.

Now, this can of course be interpreted in different ways, but to me it
seems (from this quote and others) that you see *one* True Way that IF
*must* move in order to attain "artistic maturity".

I simply don't think art works in that way.

And I think it's simply *wrong* to condemn a work that fails to
satisfy some set of criteria as artistically immature.

To be concrete, I can easily envision IF where there is no plot,
no dramatic tension, no story, where the entire experience centers
around exploring the map; yet that is still to be considered "art".
I'm not sure I could write it, but I think it's possible.

That said, I do think your citeria are worthwhile, primarily as a way
of quantifying what works for *you*, and - if you find that they
correlate with what a larger audience seem to want in IF - as defining
*one* way to achieve better IF.

But I don't think that you - or anybody else - can set up a set of
criteria for what is "artistically mature" or even what is "good".
There is no Single True Way.

--
Magnus Olsson (mol@df.lth.se)
PGP Public Key available at http://www.df.lth.se/~mol
Anonymous
January 12, 2005 3:30:57 PM

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

In article <34kipiF4c2lq5U1@individual.net>,
Magnus Olsson <mol@df.lth.se> wrote:
>My problem with your criteria is not so much the criteria themselves,
>but your stated universality and exclusiveness in applying them.

OK - I noticed now what I somehow missed when replying to your post
that you have narrowed your scope: you are now talking explicitly
of "Literary or Story-Based Games".

This addresses my objection, though I still have the feeling that
you're still being a bit too exclusive (alternatively, there is
a danger that you may have to make your criteria too weak to
avoid that exclusiveness).

But in this context, the following example of course simply doesn't
make sense:

>To be concrete, I can easily envision IF where there is no plot,
>no dramatic tension, no story, where the entire experience centers
>around exploring the map; yet that is still to be considered "art".
>I'm not sure I could write it, but I think it's possible.

since such a work wouldn't be "story-based", so your criteria wouldn't
apply. (I think it could still be considered "literary", though).

Sorry for this; I don't know what I was thinking of. I'll see if
I can come up with a better, more relevant example.

--
Magnus Olsson (mol@df.lth.se)
PGP Public Key available at http://www.df.lth.se/~mol
Anonymous
January 12, 2005 4:52:01 PM

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

In article <1105536660.866026.306860@c13g2000cwb.googlegroups.com>,
PJ <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:
>Magnus Olsson wrote:
>> since such a work wouldn't be "story-based", so your criteria
>wouldn't
>> apply. (I think it could still be considered "literary", though).
>
>Well, it's all in your definition of "literary," I guess.:) 

Of course. There's nothing like playing with word definitions...

>The
>history of 20th century literature could be described broadly as an
>attempt to deconstruct the novel to the point where plots aren't
>required, but I don't think there are too many good books out there
>that are entirely plotless. They may be *literate* but generally such
>works aren't really *literature." Or not in my view, anyway.

I wasn't so much thinking about that, but about poetry. A poem can
certainly tell a story, even have a plot, but it doesn't have to.
Do you exclude that from "literature"?

>Regarding your other point about there being "no single way," I agree.

As long as you make that clear, no problem.

>You could view IF as a multidimensional medium for portraying adventure
>games, puzzles, literature, "art" pieces of the type you are describing
>above, maybe even history, biography, or pedagogy of some sort. The
>only curve of development I am interested in is the "literature" or
>"story-based" one.

I still have the concern that you'll either have to narrow down the
definition of "literature" (as you do above when discussing certain
modernist novels) to fit your criteria, or water-down your criteria
to fit the definition of "literature".

So perhaps we could just - for the time being - skip the semantics
and say that you have a set of criteria that define a subset of IF,
but refrain from naming that subset, at least until the criteria
have been finalized? Because I think it's more fruitful to start with
the criteria and see where they lead you than it is to try to define
a broad concept like "literary IF" in terms of simple criteria.

--
Magnus Olsson (mol@df.lth.se)
PGP Public Key available at http://www.df.lth.se/~mol
Anonymous
January 12, 2005 5:14:39 PM

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

PJ wrote:
> I guess what I am looking for is literary devices that demonstrate
the
> power of IF. Emily S., among others, suggested that maybe this one
is
> an extra credit idea. I'll have to think about it some more. But I
> don't think features such as "turn counters, locked doors, light
> sources" really rise to the level of powerful literary devices. Most
> of those things are simply game mechanics, or puzzle pieces, not real
> literary features.

What's a literary device, and what's it for?

No, I'm not being facetious. You seem to be assuming that development
in the direction of literature-like features is in and of itself a
desirable thing and will promote IF as an art form. But for the most
part literary devices weren't invented by someone sitting around and
saying to himself, "What literature needs, in order to mature as an art
form, is MORE DEVICES." Mostly they were meant to serve the particular
aims of the original authors, who (I imagine) said to themselves things
like "perhaps I could do what I want to do *better* if I presented this
story in the first person" or "if I presented it as a collection of
correspondence" or "if I presented the sequence of events out of strict
linear order".

Sure, there are cases where the point of the exercise *is* pure formal
experimentation, and that's fine -- and, indeed, we have those in IF
also. But *most* of the time, that's not an end in itself. This is a
personal bias, but I tend to prefer work whose primary agenda is
something beyond pure experiment in form: a novel with no use of the
letter e, say, is a technical tour de force, but the price may be a
severe restriction of content.

So it feels to me as though you have noticed there are methods, some of
them unconventional, used by IF authors to create a smooth-running
interactive story; but you've taken these methods themselves to be
criteria of excellence, when in fact they are just there in service of
something else, a final experience that you happen to enjoy and to
prefer to the other types of experience available through IF.

Such an experience is, obviously, hard to describe objectively, but you
also stumble trying to apply your formal criteria objectively, and you
keep having to add riders such as "if this promotes the ends of the
game..."


> Anyway, this is all a work in progress. A number of people continue
to
> question why this is necessary or whether it will work. I am
curious,
> however, as to what other people think currently really is a great,
> consistent, understandable, and comparable way to review games of
this
> sort. I haven't seen anything similar -- much less superior -- out
> there, thus my attempts to be a little more systematic with this
> "critical analysis" approach.

I usually ask myself the following questions:

What is this piece trying to do? What techniques does the author use in
order to achieve his goals? Did they work? Did he try anything unusual
or unconventional? Why? Did it succeed? Bonus question: did I enjoy the
piece?

Which isn't, perhaps, the kind of system you're looking for, but I am
not sure it's useful to start looking at games with a checklist of the
innovations that you want to see in them: you're likely to be
disappointed unreasonably in some, and in others to miss real
innovations that you hadn't had the foresight to predict.
January 12, 2005 8:46:30 PM

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

emshort@mindspring.com wrote:

> Such an experience is, obviously, hard to describe objectively, but
you
> also stumble trying to apply your formal criteria objectively, and
you
> keep having to add riders such as "if this promotes the ends of the
> game..."

Surely that is the one exception which makes sense to keep in? If am
promoting stories, and the author chooses to rely on more traditional
techniques, and thereby nevertheless tells a successful story, should I
penalize them for that? That's really the ONLY exception I want to
make, not the one I "keep having" to make.
>
> I usually ask myself the following questions:
>
> What is this piece trying to do? What techniques does the author use
in
> order to achieve his goals? Did they work? Did he try anything
unusual
> or unconventional? Why? Did it succeed? Bonus question: did I enjoy
the
> piece?

I am of the school of critique that doesn't really look for the
author's motivation in writing, but rather what is actually
accomplished on the page. The piece may be telling different people
different things, and not as successfully for one as the other. My
criteria are trying to say, are the fundamental elements of the game --
story and writing being key, the others assisting in the telling or
adding richness to it -- qualify the game as being good, whether the
writer's motivations or objectives work for you or not.

> Which isn't, perhaps, the kind of system you're looking for, but I am
> not sure it's useful to start looking at games with a checklist of
the
> innovations that you want to see in them: you're likely to be
> disappointed unreasonably in some,

I don't view most of the things in my criterion as innovations. I view
them as the things that enable IF to tell a good story and to make the
best use of the powers of the medium.

> and in others to miss real
> innovations that you hadn't had the foresight to predict.

That's what the extra credit slot is for.

My question for all commenters, at this point, is very simple. Without
worrying about whether the criteria are perfect or perfectly executed,
did you read the 3 reviews I posted? {For those catching this late,
the reviews to which I refer are styled [CRITICAL ANALYSIS] and were
posted on r.g.i.f. as follows: Earth and Sky 3: Luminous Horizon,
January 5th; Blue Chairs, January 6th; and All Things Devours, January
7th.)}

If you have read the reviews, I am interested in whether the comments
made added up to a good, consistent, and (dare I say it) accurate
review? And, if not, was that the fault of the criteria or the fault
of the reviewer?

Let me know. As I said, I will continue doing reviews in this style at
least through IF Comp 2005. So, if you're interested in the content of
the reviews, please keep reading.

PJ
Anonymous
January 12, 2005 10:51:52 PM

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

PJ wrote:
> emshort@mindspring.com wrote:
>
> > Such an experience is, obviously, hard to describe objectively, but
> you
> > also stumble trying to apply your formal criteria objectively, and
> you
> > keep having to add riders such as "if this promotes the ends of the
> > game..."
>
> Surely that is the one exception which makes sense to keep in? If am
> promoting stories, and the author chooses to rely on more traditional
> techniques, and thereby nevertheless tells a successful story, should
I
> penalize them for that? That's really the ONLY exception I want to
> make, not the one I "keep having" to make.

My point is that if you keep having to apply that exception, your
criteria may not be so useful; the question that really interests you
-- as you admit yourself -- is whether the author tells a successful
story. In that case, what does the checklist gain for you?

> I am of the school of critique that doesn't really look for the
> author's motivation in writing, but rather what is actually
> accomplished on the page.

But I think you are looking for it every time you say that your
criteria are intended for literary or story-based IF. That entails some
initial judgment about the aim of the piece, no?

> > Which isn't, perhaps, the kind of system you're looking for, but I
am
> > not sure it's useful to start looking at games with a checklist of
> the
> > innovations that you want to see in them: you're likely to be
> > disappointed unreasonably in some,
>
> I don't view most of the things in my criterion as innovations. I
view
> them as the things that enable IF to tell a good story and to make
the
> best use of the powers of the medium.

All right, if you like; the point is that you are focusing on the means
rather than the ends. Moreover, you are bringing a list of possible
means to each work of IF, rather than inquiring *of* each work of IF
what means it used and whether they were successful.

I did read your reviews. My impression was that they served the
criteria more than the criteria served them: I wasn't so much
enlightened about the games as informed about why you think these
particular techniques are important. (I also had a different and less
enjoyable time with Blue Chairs than you did, got quite frustrated, and
quit mid-game. This made me a little skeptical about any criteria
involving stuckness, since player experience varies quite a lot.)
January 13, 2005 6:55:41 AM

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

emshort@mindspring.com wrote:

> All right, if you like; the point is that you are focusing on the
means
> rather than the ends.

Doesn't all critique of fiction really do that? If I say, "it was a
great story, but..." then I am about to embark on a critique of the
means. If I say, "it was a lousy story, but..." then I am probably
about to praise its means. Since in most fiction, the ends are
dependent upon the means and vice versa, I'm not sure there is anything
profound in your statement. Fiction isn't a black box, "insert plot
elements, turn handle, wait 20 minutes, look at end product." It's a
process to be experienced that takes you to the ends. Certainly that
is true even more so of IF than of any other kind of storytelling.

Moreover, you are bringing a list of possible
> means to each work of IF, rather than inquiring *of* each work of IF
> what means it used and whether they were successful.

I'm bringing what I consider to be the core list of means, without
which you are less likely to produce good IF. I'd be happy if someone
proposed a whole bunch of other things to add to the core. But I don't
see, "was it fun?" as a very objective criteria (witness your
frustration with Blue Chairs, which is caused by the subjective
experience of getting stuck), nor is speculation about the author's
motives (which most authors usually don't spell out in advance, and
can't always be trusted even if they are). I tried discussing both of
those aspects when I reviewed Dreamhold on a separate thread and it
wasn't very well received either. People's opinions will vary more
randomly, I think, around "fun" and "author's motives" than on the
relatively concrete criteria I have suggested.

> I did read your reviews. My impression was that they served the
> criteria more than the criteria served them: I wasn't so much
> enlightened about the games as informed about why you think these
> particular techniques are important.

That's a legitimate criticism. I thought the bulk of my comments were
very specific to how the criteria was or was not supported by the game.
But the problem with any method of this sort is whether or not the
"grader" is able to transcend the categories and really nail why and
how the compendium of things being graded do or do not add up to
something special. I'm not sure that I've done that yet, but the only
way to test the concept is to keep reviewing and see if things improve.
That's my current plan. Whether I can transcend my own limitations as
a player/reviewer of IF games is, of course, an entirely different
topic.

PJ

PS: While reviewing this post, I just had a flash of insight about one
missing key element in my criteria, considering I am interested in
story-based IF: the depth, or lack thereof, of PC/NPC
characterization. Since that's one of your strong points, you should
have tweaked me about it long ago. So if I were to update my reviews
in short hand:

-- Blue Chairs: brilliant exploration of Dante Hicks' personality &
strong use of NPCs. Thumbs up.
-- EAS3:LH : comic bock characters, thinly drawn, but some nice
dialogue. Thumb sideways.
-- ATD: the PC is merely part of the scenery. The plot/puzzle IS the
story. Thumbs down.

If you could suggest several more, or a whole lot more, of similar
criteria, I'll be happy to try and update my approach.
January 13, 2005 9:29:42 AM

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

Graham Holden wrote:

> To some extent, you can swap this around to "Because it didn't have
xxx
> feature in it, I didn't like the story" to mean almost the same
thing, but
> you then risk the danger of saying "Because it didn't have xxx
feature in
> it, I'm NOT GOING TO like the story" (or "...it's a bad story").

Yes, but that's not my approach. One of my *criteria* is whether or
not the story is worth telling, i.e., is it a *good* story. The other
criteria relate more to whether or not the game should be considered,
as I think I call it, a "modern, high quality" piece of IF. While the
one might bias the other, I am separating them out in a somewhat
fine-grained bias in order to minimize that type of bias.

> Instead of deciding whether you like the story and then isolating the
> reasons, you've prejudged the issue based the presence or absence of
> certain factors.

See the commentary above. I like all three of the games I reviewed on
r.g.i.f. using this method. They did not all score equally well,
because they had different strengths and weaknesses. None of them
maxed the basic criteria. Yet I would heartily recommend all three of
the games. Does that constitute pre-judging?

PJ
Anonymous
January 13, 2005 9:34:55 AM

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

PJ wrote:
> emshort@mindspring.com wrote:
>
> > All right, if you like; the point is that you are focusing on the
> means
> > rather than the ends.
>
> Doesn't all critique of fiction really do that? If I say, "it was a
> great story, but..." then I am about to embark on a critique of the
> means.

Maybe you are, but that doesn't necessarily follow. "It was a great
story, but I could have done without the in-your-face political
content."

> Since in most fiction, the ends are
> dependent upon the means and vice versa, I'm not sure there is
anything
> profound in your statement.

But the "ends" are not dependent simply on the *use* of certain means
(or criteria), but on *how* they are used, on whether they are used
in service of the ends. I know you're trying to articulate this in
your reviews, but when you come in with a checklist of criteria, it's
easy to forget this and just tick off the boxes. It's also easy to
slip into the backwards logic of "I liked this aspect of the work,
therefore it must satisfy criterion X."

I'd be happy if someone
> proposed a whole bunch of other things to add to the core. But I
don't
> see, "was it fun?" as a very objective criteria

But ultimately, it's the only criterion, which is one reason why
I see this kind of "structured approach" as doomed to failure.
Most often, the "objective" things one can say about a work of
art are also the least interesting, and the least important in
forming my overall impression. If you asked me if I would like to
see a deliberately old-school puzzlefest in which the PC has amnesia
and the story is mostly backstory, my response would be an emphatic
"No!"; but then I hugely enjoyed _The Dreamhold_. Conversely, _Blue
Chairs_ ticks a lot of the boxes of what I want to see in IF
(character and story-driven, contemporary setting, etc.) but I
thought the game was a dreadful mess. I'd show the former game to
someone coming from a 'literary' background before I'd show them
the latter.

My other problem with these reviews is that I think a pedagogical
approach to criticism is misguided -- you seem to want these reviews
to improve the quality of story IF, or to change the direction of the
medium, but I don't think these are feasible goals. There is a link
between art and art criticism, but it's a much more complex and
symbiotic relationship than simply "good (or worse, 'accurate')
reviews lead to better games". To put it bluntly, I have my own
ideas about how to write games, and nothing in this kind of review
is going to influence them in the slightest.

In appraising criticism, my ultimate question is what I would ask
of any work of art -- is it entertaining? And for a review that
breaks down its analysis into a ten-point checklist, the answer
is most likely to be "no". Don't get me wrong, I like the fact
that you're reviewing games, and I'm glad that you plan to continue,
but I'd rather you gave a more straightforward critical response
(as you did with _The Dreamhold_) than this approach where you tot
up the categories.

Stephen.
January 13, 2005 9:59:49 AM

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

stephenb...@ireland.com wrote:

> My other problem with these reviews is that I think a pedagogical
> approach to criticism is misguided -- you seem to want these reviews
> to improve the quality of story IF, or to change the direction of the
> medium, but I don't think these are feasible goals. There is a link
> between art and art criticism, but it's a much more complex and
> symbiotic relationship than simply "good (or worse, 'accurate')
> reviews lead to better games". To put it bluntly, I have my own
> ideas about how to write games, and nothing in this kind of review
> is going to influence them in the slightest.

Data point taken, and a good one. For people with strongly formed
views, probably the best you can hope for is that, if you influence
enough other authors, then perhaps some of the concepts will ultimately
trickle down even to those in strong opposition. But that, of course,
presupposes that the thoughts have enough value on their own to create
this effect. That remains to be seen.

> In appraising criticism, my ultimate question is what I would ask
> of any work of art -- is it entertaining? And for a review that
> breaks down its analysis into a ten-point checklist, the answer
> is most likely to be "no".

Another good point. Criticism has an audience that needs to be
engaged, if not "entertained," and this type of review may not be the
most engaging form. I would say that many other reviewers I've seen
use similar checklists for assigning value to games -- they just
aren't trying to be as fine-grained as I am about the features which I
think are critical. But your general idea is correct, why post the
reviews if no one likes them, reads them, or finds them engaging? But
I've written too few of them to know that for certain at the moment.
All I know at the moment is they've generated some modest controversy,
which may be a good, bad, or indifferent effect in the long run.

> Don't get me wrong, I like the fact
> that you're reviewing games, and I'm glad that you plan to continue,
> but I'd rather you gave a more straightforward critical response
> (as you did with _The Dreamhold_) than this approach where you tot
> up the categories.

Well, part of the reason I switched styles is that I thought that no
one (well, Emily did a bit) ever engaged the Dreamhold review on the
thing I thought was most clever about the game. I think Andrew was
yanking everyone's chain a bit by showing off a superior way to write a
classic treasure-hunt game. The "tutorial" bit had a double meaning,
as I thought a lot of the content of the alternative endings did.

In fact, I thought he was tweaking your nose a bit re: The Cabal. The
review got a lot of comments, but most people were interested in the
backstory, or hints, or the meaning of various things within the game,
and not the larger meta issues. Much of that was interesting, but not
really what *I* was interested in. So I decided to go a different way
and stick to literary or "story-based" games, and the features that
make them "good," rather than reviewing on a general level. We'll see
if that choice is worthwhile as the year progresses.

Thanks for your thoughts and your bluntness. I find that it's the
outright opponents of an idea that do the best job of defining its
strengths and weaknesses. If I ever convince *you* that this is a good
approach, then maybe I'm on to something.

PJ
Anonymous
January 13, 2005 1:39:57 PM

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

In article <1105536660.866026.306860@c13g2000cwb.googlegroups.com>,
PJ <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:
>
>Well, it's all in your definition of "literary," I guess.:)  The
>history of 20th century literature could be described broadly as an
>attempt to deconstruct the novel to the point where plots aren't
>required, but I don't think there are too many good books out there
>that are entirely plotless.

There aren't too many good books out there whch are called "literature".
Many readers have stuck with the many genres out there which still do have
plots and the other trappings of the traditional novel. (SF, mystery, horror,
political thriller, etc)
Anonymous
January 13, 2005 1:42:13 PM

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

PJ wrote:
> Since in most fiction, the ends are
> dependent upon the means and vice versa, I'm not sure there is
anything
> profound in your statement.

I didn't say you shouldn't address means. I said that you were focusing
on the means to the exclusion of ends; on their own, they're pretty
much meaningless.

> But I don't
> see, "was it fun?" as a very objective criteria (witness your
> frustration with Blue Chairs, which is caused by the subjective
> experience of getting stuck), nor is speculation about the author's
> motives (which most authors usually don't spell out in advance, and
> can't always be trusted even if they are).

Possibly part of the problem here is that I don't believe it's possible
to determine the quality of art objectively or in absolute terms; I've
tended to stay away from such checklist breakdowns in my own reviews.
Sure, sometimes I may complain about the bugginess of a game, or the
number of its grammatical errors, but I can also think of occasions (a
Rybread game, say) where what you'd normally consider the most basic of
implementation flaws are clearly deliberate and in support of the
game's artistic ends. (Whether those are worthwhile ends is another
question.)

For what it's worth, I found your Dreamhold review more useful/engaging
than the checklist type, despite disagreeing with several of your
points.

> PS: While reviewing this post, I just had a flash of insight about
one
> missing key element in my criteria, considering I am interested in
> story-based IF: the depth, or lack thereof, of PC/NPC
> characterization. Since that's one of your strong points, you should
> have tweaked me about it long ago.

Hey, they're your criteria. :) 
Anonymous
January 13, 2005 4:54:29 PM

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

On 13 Jan 2005 03:55:41 -0800, "PJ" <pete_jasper@hotmail.com> wrote:

>emshort@mindspring.com wrote:
>
>> All right, if you like; the point is that you are focusing on the
>means
>> rather than the ends.
>
>Doesn't all critique of fiction really do that? If I say, "it was a
>great story, but..." then I am about to embark on a critique of the
>means. If I say, "it was a lousy story, but..." then I am probably
>about to praise its means.

[jumping into the middle of a thread I've only been skimming]

I would say that's more justifying why you praise/damn the story, quoting
[some of] the means as justification.

To some extent, you can swap this around to "Because it didn't have xxx
feature in it, I didn't like the story" to mean almost the same thing, but
you then risk the danger of saying "Because it didn't have xxx feature in
it, I'm NOT GOING TO like the story" (or "...it's a bad story").

Instead of deciding whether you like the story and then isolating the
reasons, you've prejudged the issue based the presence or absence of
certain factors.



Regards,
Graham Holden (g-holden AT dircon DOT co DOT uk)
--
There are 10 types of people in the world;
those that understand binary and those that don't.
!