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Postby djchallis » Thu Jun 25, 2009 6:00 pm

I kinda drift in and out of these forums. When I pick up work on Project Clocks I come poke around and then leave again when I get bored or life demands I do something less interesting with my time. I'm well aware that I often come here asking complicated questions and then don't stick around for the discussion. I just wanted to say thanks for everyone who replies to these threads of mine, it's extremely helpful, thanks.

Well Uni's over for the summer and Beanless has bullied me into doing some more work on Clocks; so whilst I continue to mess around with the story, I have some more questions about what I should and shouldn't do.

1) First-person PC
I ask this a lot. I want to write Clocks from the first-person, but I had a few complaints about that when I wrote I Am the Law. That was also first-person, and Revgiblet wasn't a fan of this approach. He said one of the key differences between static and interactive fiction is that in IF the player decides who the PC is. The thing is, the way the plot of Clocks goes, I need the PC to form strong, meaningful relationships with other characters and I need the PC to have important conversations with other characters. In I Am the Law, Joshua had many conversations with other characters. Revgiblet singled out the first-person reflections on the conversations as the negative, not the conversations themselves. What do people think?

2) Amount of reading
One of the complaints about I Am the Law was the length amount of reading to be done. I tend to write IF with lots of story and essentially cut-scenes. I'm often told by drifters that on this issue I should make the game I want to make. I write static fiction and I'm at uni studying to make video games, so in one sense IF is the middle-ground of two of my creative areas. If I wanted to I could make Clocks a novel or a video game, but I think it would work best as an IF game with a lot of reading. I'm passionate about the story, but will I put people off?

3) Writing embellishments
In static fiction a lot of the atmosphere comes from the little things in the writing. A little sentence in the right place can make all the difference. However, in IF if you write too much then players with logical minds get confused. They want a black-and-white description of the elements in play (room, items, characters, objectives). Can I fill the game with varied atmosphere boosters, or do players want to read something in a recognisable format every time they do something?

Thank you for your time!
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Postby revgiblet » Thu Jun 25, 2009 10:43 pm

djchallis wrote:1) First-person PC
I ask this a lot. I want to write Clocks from the first-person, but I had a few complaints about that when I wrote I Am the Law. That was also first-person, and Revgiblet wasn't a fan of this approach. He said one of the key differences between static and interactive fiction is that in IF the player decides who the PC is. The thing is, the way the plot of Clocks goes, I need the PC to form strong, meaningful relationships with other characters and I need the PC to have important conversations with other characters. In I Am the Law, Joshua had many conversations with other characters. Revgiblet singled out the first-person reflections on the conversations as the negative, not the conversations themselves.

Just to clarify, I don't have a problem with first person PoV per se. What I don't like is first person PoV and then being told exactly how I am feeling.

For example, consider the difference between...

"I was in the kitchen making dinner," says Brenda.

Something about her story is rings alarm bells in the back of your mind.


and

"I was in the kitchen making dinner," says Brenda.

You don't believe her because it contradicts what Harry said earlier. You believe Harry, and feel angry and disappointed that Brenda is lying to you.


That's not a great example, but in first-person PoV I much prefer the first - unless there's good dramatic reasons for obvious exposition. An example of that might be if you put the player in the shoes of a character that they have absolutely no chance of identifying with on any level and therefore need some help in understanding how the character thinks.
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Postby djchallis » Fri Jun 26, 2009 12:16 am

Classic first-person writing has the author describing exactly what the character is thinking and then the reader observes and decides how accurate that point-of-view is. In many ways it's similar to third-person. You observe a character's actions and when the nice girl goes off with the clearly evil guy because she thinks he's ok then you, the reader, cry out!

Your example shows clearly that first-person exposition as a way of leading the player by the hand to the answer they need to work out is a bad move. In a game about solving a problem, having the PC think the answer doesn't help. But if my PC is to make a relationship with another character (be it love, hate, get annoyed by, grudgingly work with) I'm going to have to describe some of the PC's thoughts. Am I? What do you think? Is there a middle-ground between the PC interacting well with NPCs and the PC telling the player how to do their job?
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Postby Duncan_B » Fri Jun 26, 2009 7:34 am

There really are no hard and fast rules (for every good rule there's an example of good writing that doesn't follow, see also Rybread Celsius) but here's my own two cents for what it's worth... (I would hope it's worth two cents, but realise the dollar isn't worth what it once was)

First-person, esp. regarding I am the Law

The only part I can think of off-hand where the first-person view jarred me was when the protagonist says something along the lines of “I feel tired and confused, but I know once I get going I’ll start enjoying it.” [paraphrase] The same monologue also had something about not needing to stand “lengthy speeches,” and as a player I’d already sat through a whole bunch of screens of text, so I felt like it was more the author speaking through the protagonist trying to apologise for the long intro. I didn’t see how it fit with the character (Important questions: Does a detective "enjoy" investigations? Where does the writing demonstrate the character's tiredness, confusion, or enjoyment of investigation?).

I think first-person works best when there’s a strong sense of who the “I” is. Players might have a hand in deciding who the character is, but if an author has a character in mind for the player that character should be fairly well-defined. In I Am the Law, I didn’t feel like there was much to distinguish Joshua… he was just sort of “a detective.” I didn’t feel like his interactions with NPCs went much beyond that role. His character was mainly defined by the actions I performed in his role, i.e. he is a man who wanders about space stations asking questions (which might make him a detective, but what kind is the essential question here).

Personally, I’d advise not to worry about it until you’ve gotten the writing done and you’re up to beta-testing… then you can always revise. Get the skeleton of your story in place, then you can worry about its skin/heart/spleen/hair colour/finger length.

Amount of reading

Worry more about amount of playing than reading. Beware of giving too much exposition or trying to lead your readers by the hand to particular conclusions (this more often than not will inspire the opposite conclusions in your reader/player).

That being said, please do your best to integrate story & gameplay. These do not need to be separate things. Anyone who tells you that they do is lying. We learn more about characters through what they do than what they say... this is true in static fiction as well as IF, only in IF I would hope the "doing" gets done by the player. Otherwise you risk leaving out that whole "playing" bit.

Embellishments

I would argue that in any form of fiction you shouldn’t write “too much.” I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that when you mention a “black-and-white” description, you’re referring to the way that descriptions should inform the player and that you're positioning your view as "form versus function" (just speculation-- feel free to correct me, but also excuse me while I blather a bit). I think the opposition need not apply-- in fact, if you are thinking about writing in these terms, it's likely that very train of thought is your opposition. It really should be plenty easy to write a description that properly informs the player and adds colour to your writing at the same time. Narrative voice, tone, etc. all ought to be inherent to the core action of the text, rather than needing their own development.

Hope all this helps.
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Postby alsnpk » Fri Jun 26, 2009 8:24 am

1. If you think of your story as in first person, write it in first person!

About reflections: I think the main gist of it is to hint at what the character thinks/feels, but not flat out explain it (say/show how, but only hint at what/why, if that makes sense). The obvious time to break this rule would be if they have reason to explain it in conversation with a different character. But any time the character explains it in a way that seems like I'm told "just so I know", it feels.. a little off. Unless there's a good reason on the character's part that they're specifically telling the player.

2. A lot of text can be fine if it's well-written (also, the line spacing used makes a big difference!). As long as you make the text and interactiveness flow well with and into each other, it shouldn't feel like a chore to read a lot of story-type text in a game. (if it's an interesting story of course!)

3. Atmosphere and embellishments? Um... I don't know. It really depends on how your game can be played. I could tell you what I thought of specific things, but just in general, it could go either way too easily. But, yeah, don't do embellishment for its own sake; do it if it really belongs there and is an essential part of the game and story.
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Postby djchallis » Fri Jun 26, 2009 1:01 pm

Thank you both for your replies! In general your responses seem to be confirming the "do what works best for the story" approach that I assumed would be the popular choice. Here's some more thoughts though.

1) Clearly there's some things I need to think about if I go for first-person, but you guys seem in favour of it when it's done well. I'll take your comments on board as I write Clocks.

2) I'll rephrase this question to be: "What did you think of the amount of reading involved in I Am the Law, both in terms of the intro/other cut-scenes and the conversations that were necessary to proceed".

3) The "form vs function" was part of what I was getting at, but I was thinking bigger than that. I want to do some things to make the game read more like a novel and less like a game. For example I want to regain control over mood & pacing. I want the game to use variables to keep track of what you're doing and what you've already do and then subtly alter the game's text to reflect that. If the main character's in a bad mood, it can show through his descriptions (rather than him telling you that - good answer to question 1?). I'm not really changing what the text says in terms of gameplay function, but I'm changing what it says in terms of story function. Is that a good idea or will it confuse the player when they're trying to solve a gameplay puzzle?
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Postby Duncan_B » Fri Jun 26, 2009 5:18 pm

I want to regain control over mood & pacing

What do you mean by regain? Why wouldn't you already have control over these things?
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Postby djchallis » Fri Jun 26, 2009 5:25 pm

You don't have the same level of control as in static fiction.
Take pacing as an example. You can't pace properly if the player decides what's going to happen next. You can't decide to have a sad scene if the player wants to rush onto the next bit. You can't choose how much screen time anything has because the player decides what they want to read about next.
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Postby Duncan_B » Fri Jun 26, 2009 7:40 pm

You don't have the same level of control as in static fiction.


Sorry, but I’m gonna have to disagree.

You could reasonably make the same argument about static fiction, i.e., “You can’t pace properly because the reader decides what’s going to happen next [I would argue that this comment focuses too much on process & ignores content]. You can’t decide to have a sad scene because if the reader wants to rush onto the next bit [readers skip pages, paragraphs just as well… the solution, I would think, is to hook your reader]. You can’t decide how much screen time (where “screens” are made of, say, sheets of bleached wood pulp [although there’s no reason they couldn’t be digital, as well]) anything has because the reader decides what they want to read about next.”

My suggestion if you have questions about any literary medium at this level of understanding is to try to experience more in that medium and see how it works. A Mind Forever Voyaging is a fairly lengthy, novelesque IF (like what you seem to wanna aim for) that’s a real classic. It had at least one sad scene, as well. Have you played it? On the other hand, David Whyld exercises strong control over the mood & tone of his works, mostly to make his readers laugh. Sprite’s Crazy Old Bag Lady does this, as well. For a more serious & more recent game that's “more story-like” than “game-like” (I personally hate these terms, but think you’ll understand them), try Adam Cadre’s Shrapnel. It’s a short one, exceptionally well-written & successful.
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Postby justahack » Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:02 pm

I'll just chime in and say I find this a very interesting discussion. Just my personal preference, I try very hard not to tell the player what they're suppose to be feeling. First, and again, just personal preference and secondly because I don't want to step into the possibility of the player feeling something completely disjointed from what they are "suppose" to feel.

But with that said, I can certainly see that there would be some kinds of exposition where telling the player how they feel would be necessary.
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Postby djchallis » Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:07 pm

To justahack:
That sounds like a very sensible point-of-view for this. I guess my concern is that I want the PC to have a relationship with another character (whatever it is; love, hate, admiration, frustration) and I want the PC to be able to act on that. Hopefully the player will feel the same way, but I feel I have to overrule the player if they decide they want to kill someone who's (for example) the love interest in a romance story. Is that wrong?

To Duncan_B:
Apologies in advance for the long rant. Feel free to tell me I'm completely wrong, this is just how my thought-train's been going. I might be making big mistakes, I dunno. I'm interested to see what you think though.

I have to disagree with you. A good plot can become a bad book if written badly, and the key to being a fantastic writer is understand the subtleties of writing. Understanding characters and plot structure is one thing, but writing a story where the reader can't put the book down requires a lot more subtle skill. Pacing is just one of an author's weapons, subtly changing the speed and mood of the writing style to fit the scene. When I write static fiction I obsess over every line and every word, because I know it all makes the biggest difference. I work on the piece until I'm happy with every little bit in the place that it is.

In IF, the player isn't restricted to reading what I wrote in the order than I wrote it. Take for example the comment about screen time. What I mean by that is in static fiction I can make a passing comment to something that will become important later in a plot twist. If done correctly, the plot twist will jog your memory of the passing comment and you'll suddenly see that it makes sense (as an example, take the twist at the end of Harry Potter 1, specifically the passing comment of setting someone on fire. I don't know if I'm being too subtle there, I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read it). But in IF the player can see the passing comment and then go and examine it. Suddenly the subtlety's gone because I have to deliver them another line or two that attempts to continue the effect.

It's not a perfect example because a good writer could still pull it off, but you see my point? In static fiction you can craft something that flows, where every single line is carefully constructed to have maximum impact in the order and context that it is. You can carefully control pacing, mood and tension. But in IF the player decides which blocks of text goes in which order and how much time is spent talking about certain subjects. I said you can't have a sad scene, which is clearly not true, but it kinda spoils it if the player's going around examining things. It's no longer every word counts.

You're quite right though that it's a different medium, and you're quite right that the best way to answer my question is through experience of IF. Thank you very much for naming those games, I'll be sure to look into them.

Of course IF has incredible strengths, and I intend to play to them, but as someone who's used to writing static fiction, it distresses me that a lot of my favourite subtle tricks don't work so well in IF, so my initial question was me wondering if I can play some new tricks to try and achieve the same goal. What I intend is the same principle as Left 4 Dead's "Director", if that means anything to anyone. Valve recognised the same thing that I did. That's the same effect I want to make in IF.
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Postby Ren » Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:33 pm

Briefly returning from incessant working, my take would be similar to those thoughts already expressed:

1) Use "I" if you (want to) have a strongly defined character. The problem with "You" in IF is always either they have amnesia or the player knows less than the main character.

2) write less is the best advice I ever received and applies to any medium.

3) variables depicting mood / tension (to reflect time passing if the PC is being too slow) is, I think, a good idea.
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Postby djchallis » Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:43 pm

Thanks Ren!
Those all sound like sensible approaches. Re no.2, I think writing less normally works but I think I'm wondering more about the balance between the player exploring and doing things and blocks of text describing pre-written actions the characters make. In other words: cut-scenes. Am I too old-fashioned & static-y to like lots of cut-scenes? lol
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Postby Ren » Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:59 pm

I like writing cut-scenes but I overuse them, and they make IF seem non-, or at least less, interactive. If you can, I'd break up the text as much as possible and, wherever possible, try and break the cutscenes up with some player action (e.g. by breaking cut-scenes down into brief and direct responses to player action).

Unless I'm playing a game via Gargoyle, I find myself skimming any long cutscenes, and I like reading.




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Postby djchallis » Fri Jun 26, 2009 11:13 pm

Just as I was sending my last post I was thinking to myself "could I break up cut-scenes with bits of interaction to make it feel like the player's making the decisions?" lol. I shall have to explore this idea and how it works in practice. Any example games you can recommend?

Btw, what's different about using Gargoyle?
And do you think we skip cut-scenes because it's on a computer or because we have the impression that we're here to do things instead of to read a story?
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