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Postby Duncan_B » Sat Jun 27, 2009 12:12 am

Oh, gosh, I didn't think this thread would become so active. Looks like this is all a little late... back up a post or two for reference... I might have gotten carried away. Some suggestions for reading are in there, though... will think of more recommendations for playing, if you wish.

Apologies this is all rather lengthy, but I’d just like to ensure that we proceed as a rational, structured discussion and so on. Nothing I’m about to write is intended as inflammatory, and such interpretations are to be discouraged.

I have to disagree with you.

Briefly explain which points of mine you disagree with, please, or this discussion risks becoming too hard to keep track of and devolving into misunderstandings & abject chaos.

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.

At the risk of sounding callous, I already have my BA in English, so I’m pretty sure I understand these “subtleties” you’re talking about. They’re really not so esoteric.

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… But in IF the player can see the passing comment and then go and examine it.

There is nothing about IF as a medium that prevents the use of foreshadowing. I don’t see how this is a valid argument. Your example about hinting at something and then immediately being able to examine it seems like it would have a simple solution, that being not to let the player examine it. Being an IF author is as much about what you allow the player to do as it is about what you allow them not to do and how you prevent it.

But in IF the player decides which blocks of text goes in which order and how much time is spent talking about certain subjects… it kinda spoils it if the player's going around examining things. It's no longer every word counts.

Hm… I would argue every word counts even more in such a context. You shouldn’t have so much a problem if your descriptions, etc. all supports & reinforces the main themes of your writing (using such authorial tools as you have mentioned). Also keep in mind that your words operate as signs to your reader that they will be using to make decisions… a player wandering about examining everything is often looking for a clue as to how to progress. I won’t fill this thread trying to blab about semiotics (on which I am not an expert), but I could try to e-mail or message you the gist of a three-part sign system if you think it would help.

Also, you may want to look up some “static fictions” that subvert linear order… “A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain” and “The Garden of Forking Paths” (both by Jorge Luis Borges) cover some theory on the subject, while Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch provides a good example of how its done practically (these are all available in English, if you’re concerned… I might be able to transcribe the Borges for you if you wish). You might also want to look into some works by the Oulipo, whose stories/plays/poetry is “literature in potential,” a good framework for thinking about ergodic literature (like videogames, IF, CYOAs, etc.).

it's a different medium

Actually, I’d hope to stress the similarities of the two media rather than their differences, just to clarify. I can’t think of too many rules for writing good “static” prose that don’t fit into writing ergodic literature.

Perhaps I should follow this up with three general rules to try re: writing. Again, none of these rules are written in stone, but they can serve as good guidelines for any prose (if not for you, for others who might need them).

1) “Show, don’t tell.”
Reapeated ad nauseum in writing courses. It’s the difference between “He got really angry” and “He stormed out the room, slamming the door and shouting obscenities.”

2) Similar to “show, don’t tell,” you might want to focus on writing in scene rather than in summary— a useful tip for controlling narrative distance. Do you say “He went to the store” or do you start with “He got in his car” and continue through the whole process? In games in particular, scenes offer moments for interaction with the text & player. I believe writing in-scene is generally preferable when the action is significant to the story. If the action not significant, however, scene can become laborious & boring.

2) “To make an audience laugh, first make them cry (and vice versa).”
I heard this one a lot in drama courses, and (though not 100% always) it does seems to hold. It’s hard to make a reader feel sad for something if they have no emotional connection to the text, and one way to give the reader an emotional connection is to have the characters demonstrate emotion (and not just say it). Beware the risk of crossing over into melodrama, though.

3) “To write successfully to any degree, you must be willing to invest just as much time writing unsuccessfully.”
I think this one speaks for itself.

As regards IF, I would also probably add “start small” not as a rule, but as encouragement. You got I Am the Law out easier than Clocks because of its relative size… but it’s only one game, and doesn’t give us a lot to go off of in terms of your writing. If the success/failure of Clocks is really important to you, maybe you should try making a few smaller games first, just to get concrete, hands-on experience with what works/does not work.

Again, apologies for terrible length, but I feel interested in this thread.
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Postby Duncan_B » Sat Jun 27, 2009 12:20 am

If I'm being unnecessarily pedantic, feel free to tell me to shut it.
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Postby djchallis » Sat Jun 27, 2009 12:48 am

I wouldn't dare tell you to shut up. I think we're being equally pedantic, and hopefully we'll both learn a lot from it. This seems to be a discussion on our level.

I'll preface my response with a few notices. A BA in English gains you a lot of respect from me. I didn't carry English any further than my English Language A Level (I got a B, but an A in anything involving story-writing, yay!). I can tell you understand a lot of these things that I attempt to understand, so I'm looking to learn from you here. If we both know these things about about writing, I'm curious as to why we came to different conclusions.

Your example about hinting at something and then immediately being able to examine it seems like it would have a simple solution, that being not to let the player examine it.

As it happens I'd already planned for that to happen in one of these cases in Clocks. Maybe I'm overplaying the differences from static fiction before recognising the IF methods. It just bugs me that I have to edit the object's examination description when what I really want to happen is for the player to not examine it.

You shouldn’t have so much a problem if your descriptions, etc. all supports & reinforces the main themes of your writing (using such authorial tools as you have mentioned).

This is very true, and I need to remind myself of this more often. I still feel that a system to track the current mood of the story and implement that onto the descriptions etc. would be useful (which was my original point, I think. Not sure now, lol)

I won’t fill this thread trying to blab about semiotics (on which I am not an expert), but I could try to e-mail or message you the gist of a three-part sign system if you think it would help.

Yes please, if you wouldn't mind. That sounds very interesting.

Also, you may want to look up some “static fictions” that subvert linear order…

I've heard of most of the names you mentioned in that paragraph. I didn't know those ones were in English though, so I might have to look into them.

Actually, I’d hope to stress the similarities of the two media rather than their differences, just to clarify. I can’t think of too many rules for writing good “static” prose that don’t fit into writing ergodic literature.

Your entire post has been extremely encouraging. I understood your point that they are the same from the rest of your post, and I think the biggest help that you've given is convincing me to think about writing IF in the same way as I think about static fiction.

Perhaps I should follow this up with three general rules to try re: writing.

I've heard most of these before, but it's always a good reminder. Any tips for avoiding melodrama?

As regards IF, I would also probably add “start small” not as a rule, but as encouragement.

I cannot deny the wisdom of that, but nor can I deny the great interesting I have in the story I'm trying to tell with Clocks (regardless of whether the drifting community will share my interest come its release). I can see the advantage of writing more short games (preferably ones without such harsh restrictions as the OddComp). I'm kinda gutted I missed the IntroComp. Is anything else happening soon?

I think you've convinced me on most of your points. Maybe we both needed to start explaining ourselves enough (read: ranting more) until we got onto the same wavelength. I think you're right about most writing rules applying to IF as well, and I look forward to trying this theory out.

I can't remember how we got here, but can I ask you my original question again? My plan was to have the game track the mood of the story and apply that to pretty much any text that appears on the screen. Add that to a bit of puzzle-editing and the plan is to give the game a more natural flow. Good idea or am I still missing the point?




Edited By djchallis on 1246063714
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Postby revgiblet » Sat Jun 27, 2009 2:27 am

On reflection it seems like I had a minor brain malfunction and confused first and second person PoVs. Sorry, and please ignore my post above unless you are interested on my thoughts on second person PoV. Based on my above comments, the criticisms of I Am the Law are also invalid.

I tried first person PoV in Apokolupsis and Marika the Offering because I wanted - as Ren said above - a well-defined character. Not sure it worked in Marika and it seems to have been a major turn-off for at least one person in Apokolupsis.

Duncan's advice is sound. Write it and see what the response from beta testers is.
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Postby ralphmerridew » Sat Jun 27, 2009 10:31 am

I-0 ( http://wurb.com/if/game/114 ) was told in second person and characterized Tracy fairly strongly.
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Postby djchallis » Sat Jun 27, 2009 4:26 pm

So Rev, are you now in favour of first-person? lol

I have another question! Duncan's just reminded me of it. I think I brought this up before sometime, but now I understand what I mean better, I thought I'd ask again.

4) An alternate theory of how to use items.
As Duncan pointed out to me, if a player finds an object, they anticipate there's going to be a puzzle to fit the object. This is generally an accepted principle, and there's nothing wrong with. I learned from the Secret of Monkey Island the enjoyment from finally discovering the use for your proverbial rubber-chicken-with-a-pulley-in-the-middle. However I think Clocks needs a slightly different system, so what do you guys think of this:

Clocks takes place largely in a house that you can wander around in. If you were really in a house there would be a lot of objects all over the place, a lot of which wouldn't be used. My proposed system is that I fill the area with all the objects that would realistically be there. Many will be used for puzzles, many will be red-herrings, and most of them will have plot significance in so much as you can deduce things from their presence. The idea is that instead of meeting a knife, taking it and then finding a rope to cut, you instead find the rope to cut and think "where can I find a knife?" Because it's in a house you know you can go to the kitchen to get one. But equally, anything sharp would do the trick. This puts the focus not on finding objects but finding puzzles and then working out how to solve them. This is both more realistic and possibly gives a different edge to the puzzles.

What are people's thoughts on this? Is it complete heresy or do you think it could work?
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Postby Ren » Sat Jun 27, 2009 5:38 pm

ralphmerridew wrote:I-0 ( http://wurb.com/if/game/114 ) was told in second person and characterized Tracy fairly strongly.

Yes. And this is true in lots of other second person games.

But writing in the first person immediately seperates the main character from the player, and if the main character isn't a well defined character, there probably isn't much point in writing in the first person (unless you have a specific reason for seperating the Player and main character).
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Postby Duncan_B » Sat Jun 27, 2009 6:10 pm

Mood tracking is a neat idea. Multiple puzzle solutions are laudable, but will probably work best if the house is small and number of items not over-much. Otherwise you might never finish.

One thing to think about is how the player will know upon finding the rope that they'll need a knife or other cutting utensil (or maybe they'll figure it out later, okay). It does, though, sound like the same basic "tab A, slot B" puzzle system, only you find the slot first and can use tabs A, C, or D.

Are we going to need a separate thread for talking about first- v. second-person PoV?
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Postby djchallis » Sat Jun 27, 2009 6:35 pm

You can make a separate thread if you like. I think it's pretty much unanimous though that first-person works if you're using a strong PC.

With the objects thing, one of the ideas is to deemphasis the "game" aspect of the puzzles. In a normal game the player meets either the tab or the slot, then the other, then works it out. It's a very distinct "puzzle". Whereas in my game the player would, say, find a hidden chest they want to open that was locked by having rope wrapped around it. The player is given the task of getting past the rope to progress the story. Anything sharp would do, as would anything that would set the rope on fire etc. The tools you use to get past the rope are no longer the focus, but just the rope itself. In a house a lot of objects will be easy for the player to find.
That was a bit ranty, but hopefully you'll get the idea.

The main bulk of the puzzles in Clocks use a different system altogether. I just thought this idea would make the "tab A, slot B" puzzles feel more natural and continue the realistic, story-based focus of the game.

The way I see it, most people's reactions will either be:
a) Awesome!
b) It'll ruin it!
c) Don't mind.

Though obviously more constructive feedback would be useful, those are my concerns.
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Postby ralphmerridew » Sat Jun 27, 2009 7:19 pm

Look at I-0 again. Lots of objects were present because they logically should be there and not as puzzle solutions. Nobody complained.

Also look at Emily Short's blog and this raif thread
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Postby alsnpk » Sat Jun 27, 2009 7:33 pm

So you want to make the puzzles more realistic than to always have to find an exact coin for an exact slot. Sounds good to me!
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Postby djchallis » Sat Jun 27, 2009 8:00 pm

Thanks for the links ralphmerridew!

The only issue I can see with my suggestion (and I'm looking forward to seeing how I-0 did it) is that unless you impose an inventory limit then the player will just pick up every single object they see. When I mentioned this last time people didn't seem that impressed. I hoped the fact that the puzzles can be solved realistically by multiple objects would help (i.e. an inventory limit isn't so bad if you just need to find something sharp, as opposed to learning you have to find a single specific object from ages ago).
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Postby alsnpk » Sat Jun 27, 2009 8:38 pm

I don't think an inventory limit would be a good thing in a story-type game, actually. It'd be too distracting. I'm all for it in more puzzle-oriented games if it makes sense. But if the player continually tries to pick everything up and is told "you don't need it right now/your hands are full/that type of thing" repeatedly, and then has to go back and get it later, I think it would ruin what you're going for with your game.

On the other hand, picking up every little thing would probably cheapen the experience, too.

How about if you make the inventory work as a sort of "tracking list"? Give the impression that instead of picking every little thing up, you just make a note of where it is and can immediately find and use it later if you need it (instead of having to go back to the kitchen, the player says to use the object and you say, "I went back to the kitchen and grabbed the knife then used it to cut the rope", or whatever). It would take some adjusting as far as descriptions and using the ALR sometimes, but it sounds like it'd fit the type of work you want to do to make your game how you want it anyhow.

What do you think?

Edit: Just wanted to clarify that I'm thinking mental notes rather than the character getting out a notepad and writing down all the objects, haha.




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Postby djchallis » Sat Jun 27, 2009 9:18 pm

I don't think an inventory limit would be a good thing in a story-type game, actually.

Yes, I agree with all your points actually. A different solution would be better.

Let me see if I've understood your idea correctly. When you type "pick up knife" the alr tells you that instead of picking it up, you've just made a mental note of it. You're then made aware that anything on your mental list (displayed via the inventory command) you can access at any time?
Is that right or did I get it wrong?

If I've understood that, that means that you're not picking up everything from the story's point-of-view, but you are from the gameplay's point-of-view.
Err.... I'm not entirely sure what I think of that idea, lol. Part of me loves it, but I'm not sure.
What does everone else think?




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Postby ralphmerridew » Sat Jun 27, 2009 9:30 pm

I-0 had a fairly small inventory limit, but it didn't matter because the objects weren't too important.

The tracking list might work fine if the player retains free mobility, but could be tricky if regions of the map may be cut off from time to time.

(I posted this on raif at http://groups.google.com/group....5764eb# )
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