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for my own amusement... - Blather, Rinse, Repeat
September 1st, 2006
06:57 pm

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for my own amusement...


No, there's no such game. But what if text adventures DID live into this decade? And what if Infocom paid the bills in between AAA adventure games by licensing the Jack Bauer character?

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From:rechercher
Date:September 2nd, 2006 01:14 pm (UTC)
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Eh. Why do you say that text adventures are dead?
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From:tsmaster
Date:September 2nd, 2006 02:24 pm (UTC)
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I'm certainly aware that there are folks out there that make and consume Interactive Fiction, buggy whips, and kerosene lanterns.

Look at the pie of money spent on game development in a year - divide it up into genre, and I think you'll see a big pie wedge for action/arcade, a smaller wedge for sports, some strategy, some graphic adventure or role playing (careful not to double count those that aren't already action/arcade). And yes, there is a sliver that goes to text adventures.

Wait, you protest, that's not a fair way to count. "Gran Turismo" costs much more to produce than "Metamorphoses" or "City of Secrets". Fine, draw your pie chart based on titles released in a year. Or hours spent, worldwide, playing the games, or hours spent writing thm, or dollars spent marketing them.

When I enter "text adventure" in to amazon, I get two out of print editions of the Infocom anthology, two "retro" tshirts, and the rest have nothing to do with the genre.

When I enter "text adventure" into wikipedia, I get redirected to "interactive fiction", which already seems like a slight, and throughout the article are phrases like "no longer appears to be commercially viable", "stopped producing", "bankrupt", "ashes", "last text adventure", "demise of the commercial interactive fiction market".

And, I may not have been at the right place, but I don't recall seeing any new text adventures at E3, nor any text adventure post mortems at GDC.

I look at the PSP, with its firmware-provided software keyboard and it is clear that text adventures aren't playble (nevermind viable) on that device. Perhaps, attaching a keyboard to your XBox 360 or PS3 would make a text adventure playable, assuming you had a hi-def display. I have no hope for the Wii.


So, yeah. I concede that "interactive fiction" exists as a niche art form. I just can't see "niche art form" lining up with "viable entertainment medium".
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From:ginsu
Date:September 2nd, 2006 05:37 pm (UTC)
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So, yeah. I concede that "interactive fiction" exists as a niche art form. I just can't see "niche art form" lining up with "viable entertainment medium".

Well, I dunno. It's largely a question of marketing, and it's very hard to predict how mass audiences will respond to what they perceive to be an incredibly effective resurrection of classic entertainment styles.

For instance, I would never have believed, in 1995, that publishers of children's literature would actually buy and put out 800 page novels, let alone make a billionaire out of their author. I would never have believed half her audience would turn out to be adults, that thousands and thousands of them would not only have the attention span to read her books -- which, really, are just magicked-up variations on the English school stories of seventy years ago -- but actually write their own fanfiction in homage. I would have been completely mistaken. The attention span was there in both the kids and the adults, and she is a billionaire today, less than ten years after publishing her first book.
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From:rechercher
Date:September 2nd, 2006 03:36 pm (UTC)
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Cliff's notes version: For you as a developer, I agree. For you as a gamer, I disagree.

You make solid points about *commercial* IF. (Side note: Why does IF bother you? It's the name used by the community.) But why does it have to be commercial? Were you planning on writing an adventure for profit? If that's your objection, then you're right, life sucks. And it would be nice if everyone still liked text adventures so you could get paid for making one.

If you weren't planning on making it *yourself*, I don't get why you're upset. Quality games exist, high enough quality that one (you referenced it!) made GAMES Magazine "Best 100 Electronic Games of 2003". (From the same wikipedia article: "Today, the games created by enthusiasts of the genre regularly surpass the quality of the original Infocom games....") And if you want to make your own in your spare time, there are editors.

Would 24 make a great game? You bet. And you're right, it will never happen in a commercial setting. But you could a) make a parody or b) create a similar game with different characters.

Palm Pilots aren't exactly a game system, but at least you can take your text adventure on the go.

Instead of buggy whips, I'd compare them to old classic cars -- like the Model T. :)
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From:tsmaster
Date:September 2nd, 2006 06:37 pm (UTC)
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Side note: Why does IF bother you? It's the name used by the community.

Exactly. It's the name adopted by the last few survivors, after the game genre passed out of mainstream, and became a community.


of 2003

Right. And not so well since then.

I'm sure that some dedicated practitioners have finished labors of love and presented them for free to the community. Or some folks might be making a few bucks off their hobby.


Now, I believe in small games - I don't think a big budget leads to a good game. Most of my favorite games are outside the mainstream. But I think that for a genre to be healthy, it needs to support a critical mass of developers, best if it supports them full-time. There ought to be people innovating the gameplay styles, people coming up with different directions to take the genre. I don't see that in text adventures.


I think my bitterness about the demise of text adventures is that it was squandered potential for a brainier kind of computer game. We have politicians making cheap shots about how games teach our kids to steal cars, which ignores the diversity of games that are being made every day.

Or does it? How diverse is that marketplace? (Not just the commercial marketplace, add in the hobbyist-driven marketplace as well, and it's the same thign.) There's plenty of volume to support a wider variety of game challenges, a wider variety of presentation, a wider demographic of players.


In the past few years, there's been some movement towards greater player diversity, starting with Bejewelled, and running up through... Bejewelled. The "Casual Game" movement seemed to offer a new, untapped, group of people that want to play games. And some folks are making money these days grinding "match three" into the ground. If there are so many people wanting to play casual games, why aren't they better? Why isn't there more variety of design?

And if text adventures aren't dead, why aren't they reaching out into this nascent audience, and marketing their potential for nuanced description, for character development, for non-violent character interaction?


My crankiness shouldn't be read as an accusation of the hobbyists left in the interactive fiction backwaters, but instead a lack of imagination on the professional game developers to make use of the spectrum available, a disrespect for the capabilities of the audience when creating new games, and to some degree, a laziness on the part of the consumer, accepting retreads of familiar titles, instead of new ideas.
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From:rechercher
Date:September 3rd, 2006 01:20 am (UTC)
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I'm sure that some dedicated practitioners have finished labors of love and presented them for free to the community. Or some folks might be making a few bucks off their hobby.

WHY.
AREN'T.
YOU.
PLAYING.
THEM???

From your wording of both your posts and your comments, it sounds like you won't play them, largely because they aren't popular anymore. I feel like I'm offering green eggs and ham, but you won't eat them in a box or with a fox.

My crankiness...to some degree, a laziness on the part of the consumer, accepting retreads of familiar titles, instead of new ideas.

Interesting comment, that one.
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From:tsmaster
Date:September 4th, 2006 01:59 am (UTC)
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it sounds like you won't play them, largely because they aren't popular anymore

Nah, the cause and effect is more convoluted than that.


I'll back up. I'm not looking for a download, whenever I gripe about text adventures being dead, I don't mean for people to conclude I'm looking for a download. What I'm looking for is a more enlightened computer game industry. You can offer me the best game of 2003, but the industry remains focused on reproducing last year's hit, whether I download it or not.

a laziness on the part of the consumer

In part, I'm guilty of that one, myself. I could spend more time exploring all the links I have at my disposal (including a link to "Metamorphoses" that I followed, downloaded, and played for perhaps 15 minutes - sorry, ginsu). If I had more time.

As it is, my game rental log is backed up 50 deep, with games I want to check out with interfaces that are innovative and more approachable than what I might already be familiar with. That said, I'll commit to this: I'll play Metamorphoses, City of Secrets, and if you'd like to name one other game, that as well - I'll put in an hour minimum into each of them, sometime before, say, the end of October. If you know of a game with engaging text, gameplay that doesn't disrupt the fiction, and some assurance I won't get stuck with nothing to do if I can't figure out some obscure puzzle, that would be the most likely game to last beyond that hour.
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From:rechercher
Date:September 4th, 2006 02:29 pm (UTC)
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Try shrapnel from this page. (You'll need to scroll down a ways.) I guarantee it won't take you an hour and if you still think IF is non-innovative, I'll gladly admit defeat. I should admit something: this game is more fiction than interactive fiction, but...you'll see what I mean.

And let's face it, if a game can't addict you after 15 minutes, it's just not your game. Try something else.
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From:rechercher
Date:September 4th, 2006 07:05 pm (UTC)
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PS. I just played Metamorphoses. I didn't like it. I think you need to be a girl to like it, actually. It's all about woman power. I'm for it, but can't relate to it.
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From:rechercher
Date:September 4th, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)
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er, uh, just realized that Ginsu must have recommended it. So much for my theory. *blushes*
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From:ginsu
Date:September 2nd, 2006 05:32 pm (UTC)
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Well, you know where I stand on this topic, as the author of my own from-scratch English language parser. Quite simply: If you want it, I think you should write it, and if you do, I'll play it. I think a classic CTU-based puzzler would be a blast.

I can tell from experience, though, that coding the people will be a huge PITA and I really doubt the Inform codebase has anything resembling suitable AI. So a lot of the creative effort would revolve around plausibly getting rid of character interaction.

This could be easier than it sounds. For instance, imagine that CTU is in lockdown due to a perceived threat, so Jack, who is outside, can only communicate with them via computer or cell. At a stroke you've eliminated all the infinite details of physical conduct you would normally need to worry about.
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From:tsmaster
Date:September 2nd, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)
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If you want it, I think you should write it

I hear ya.

I'm toying with the idea of taking part in a "game in a week challenge", which is why I'm contemplating game designs more than normal just now.

The screenshot I presented above was created through a little bit of real code. I spent some time, thinking about writing my own parser engine, my own world simulation, my own set of puzzles, and perhaps even some limited AI. Having slept on it, it occurs to me that a game in a DOS box is amusing to geeks like myself, it's not a way to encourage people not already in the interactive fiction community to try the game.

That said, I think there's room for text-heavy gaming that doesn't need to turn off a mainstream player. Have music and graphics - something like the MechWarrior/Zork Zero era of Infocom titles, I imagine. Have it play in a window or fullscreen, but not a console.


coding the people will be a huge PITA

Indeed, we are so familiar with humans, it's hard to live up to the expectations. But I think that by making some early design decisions to control the interaction between the PC and the NPCs can keep it from becoming completely unweildy. Giving the player a text box where they can type any string of letters at an NPC is dooming the brittle AI to exposure as a shallow algorithm.


can only communicate with them via computer or cell

Yeah, something like that - if you implement this user interface as a set of menus, the player gets robbed of the illusion of a full-on person "on the other side of the screen", but the interaction between characters could flow more naturally:

[PHONE] [CHLOE]

You dial Chloe's CTU extension. She picks up, and in her tone, you can tell she's doing all she can to keep it together today.

"Hey, Jack. What is it?"

[ASK] [COMPUTER ANALYSIS] [SATELLITE SCAN] [DOWNTOWN] [ABANDONED THEME PARK]

"Hey, Chloe, I need you to redirect some satellites to get some real-time footage of the abandoned theme park outside of town."

"Jack, that's going to be hard. They're watching me pretty carefully."

[SUGGEST] [N-PASS FILTERING]

"Have you tried doing an n-pass filter on the gaussian matrix of the key array?"

"Of course, Jack. I'm not a child."
[User Picture]
From:ginsu
Date:September 2nd, 2006 08:27 pm (UTC)
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it's not a way to encourage people not already in the interactive fiction community to try the game

True. A project like this really should begin not with the clean engineery stuff -- "how do I get a computer to understand complex sentences?" -- but the messy markety stuff -- "what unsolved problem am I solving for my core target market?"

The HP series I referenced above succeeded, in the critical initial phases, because it solved a perenially unsolved parental problem -- "How can I get my kids to read?" Even then, though, Rowling had a year of abject failure in which no one would publish her book because (I believe this was the main point) American kids aren't interested in stories about boarding school life. Proof-of-concept projects are such a bitch.
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