September 7, 2006

Another round of IF pain

Every time I play Interactive Fiction (IF) games I feel like I am an American conversing with a fully-fluent, snobby French teacher. The teacher knows exactly what I mean, but says that they can't understand because if it isn't in proper French, then they discount what has been said. Okay, so a computer game may not know exactly what I mean, but it isn't my fault that they didn't include everyday verbs like "pick" and "walk" into their game's code.

As time ticks by and possible command ideas are extinguished by "I only understand you so far as you" in rapid succession, I am crazed, on the brink of obsessing over how far I should let this madness go. My A-mongering mind tells me to be persistent and my rational mind says "STOP!" I listened to the latter in most cases of playing "Pick Up Phone Booth and Die," "9:05," "Zork I," "Leather Goddesses of the Phobos," "Deadline," and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

I have played IF before in Writing for the Internet, and even created a website dedicated to the pain I endured the first time tapping out responses.

I remembered the solution to "Pick Up the Phone Booth and Die," so that one wasn't that much of a stretch. It took about five minutes to get through it.

Also "9:05" was easy because I'd covered it before. The corpse is under the bed. However, I couldn't take a shower or get dressed, mostly because I didn't know the vocabulary to do those things, that is, if I should have even been doing them.

In "Zork I", however, I took a mountain trail and went through several paths, only to come back to the boarded up house, and try throwing myself against it. No cigar. I forgot the command to check the materials on your person, and often tried "look at self". That caused a plethora of sarcastic remarks in many of the games: "Looking as good as ever" was the response in "The Leather Goddesses of the Phobos" (LGOTP).

LGOTP was especially fun because you start in a bar, and are suddenly transported to this holding area of sorts where the Phobos are going to attack Earth. A lot of odors in this game, which I didn't get. I caught myself wondering if I were carrying a bottle of perfume or Febreze which would help me vanquish the Phobos.

I would say, though, that "Deadline" was my favorite game I played. I enjoyed the normal scene of the house, and the supposed implications of murder in the house. I did not solve this one becaus I got lost in some of the rooms upstairs, but I enjoyed searching for clues to a murder. It was more realistic than LGOTP or the final game I played, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

I didn't like "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" partially because I have seen the movie, and I sort of knew where the plot line was going to go. I died in mass world genocide, restarted and died again. That was enough of that.

I don't really like playing with puzzles where all the pieces are right in front of me and I have to put them together. I like searching when the task is doable. As Koster intimated in the book I recently discussed, the vocabulary of the game created the most problems in all of the games. A foreseeable victory over the opponents of time, direction, space and imagination were insurmountable in many of the games. That is not to say I don't like a good challenge, but I do not like driving myself nuts over a game where I am not tested on my ability to persevere, but rather my ability to speak a certain language is tested that I do not know fluently, I judge the situation as futile, and more learning is needed for me to proceed.

I admired the narrative voice behind all of the stories, particularly the ones where the narrative guide of sorts, did get sarcastic. After a while, however, that grated on my nerves. At certain times, the guide acted like a sixth-grade bully taunting the kindergarten kid. The virtual IF playground can be a mean place. I guess that tactic is to spur on the gamer, but for me, it was a detractor. I didn't care if I won or lost. I just wanted to get a taste of the writing style and world I was immersed in.

These games are difficult and I can understand the small online population that enjoys them. They are a challenge, but I don't have the time or the intense motivation to overcome these situations. Choosing the most realistic situation game: "Dealine" really says something about the kind of problems I like--the ones where something is tangible, that I can see in my head. Phobos, on the other hand, seem like a concept I cannot grasp. The green alien a la X-Men's Mystique in my head belies the vision of the game, perhaps, but I don't know. I didn't get to see one Phobo in the entire game. Aw shucks.

I guess sarcasm is infectious.

The idea of creating one of these games seemed insurmountable to me at the start of this class, but I'm learning that it is basically standing on the shoulders of others with a hefty dash of perseverance.

When I looked at Dr. Jerz's "Ask the Adventure Dwarf about Inform 7" code, I was awestruck at the complexity behind the vocabulary involved in this program. To say what is needed but in the exact specifications of a computer is, let's say, a little mind-numbing. I like the range of the English language and I felt as if I were being caged into Orwellian 1984 hell. Though Stephan Puff did the majority of the coding for our game, "Kicking Back at Recess," I wrote sections of the story in regular English.


One thing Stephan and I tried to keep in mind was a principle outlined by Dr. Jerz in his work, "Exposition in Interactive Fiction" is the attempt to limit huge blocks of text. We began the story with as little information as possible to interest the reader to keep trying to learn more. Though Stephan and I debated over whether or not to tell the player a lot of information, we eventually kept it as minimalistic as possible. I think where I was going wrong was that I loved the book aspect of the IF games I sampled, rather than the gaming aspect. The final product is better than telling the gamer everything and letting them decide on their own which way to go. However, I did like to draw a line between what we had to tell them and what could be ambiguous for the player to figure out on their own. It is, as Dr. Jerz intimates in his work, a tenuous balancing act of voice and narrative.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at September 7, 2006 10:22 AM | TrackBack

I'm sorry to put you through so much Amanda. I was demanding to say the least. Though many people might still disagree with me, putting 'you' in a game just because it fits easily, makes it sound lazy.

It can be funny, but when 99% of the games follow the same format, it has an air of unoriginality for me. In a genre where most people still using IF consider themselves orginal among 3D designers, they seem hypocritical to me. Second person is taking the easy way out of the situation.

Plus you add that you like tangible images in the games. Second person to me reduces the depth of an image. I guess I am just ranting again, like I did on my blog. Sorry.

Yet, overall I'm glad those gaming foreigners like you could enjoy a bit of the writing process. Sorry I took over all the coding, good luck on your next project.

Posted by: Stephan Puff at October 19, 2006 1:47 AM
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