Other Thoughts on My Games: Especially Interactive Fiction, Interactive Storytelling, and Integration

Interactive fiction is a phrase my husband keeps using to stand for the type of games I’ve been producing so far.  Interactive storytelling on the other hand is where I want to end up.  Now, the former of these irritated me no end because it wasn’t purely what I was trying for when I started this venture.  Still I do see his point by now; the first games – “Siesta non Siesta” and “Four Horsemen”, respectively – I made were literally two stories of mine that the Player would just “Press enter” every so often, and that had very basic fight scenes, but that invariably always ended up at the same place.  “Four Horsemen” was a little more complex; it actually had a couple of branches to the storyline.  Player could pick up one or two things useful to him/her.  (This was a very big thing for me at the time:)).  Still, the main thread of the storyline/plot remained the same, and the game mechanics were almost exactly as before:  “Press enter to continue”.   I’d made a very timid attempt in between those two games to get the storytelling more – I wasn’t sure what.  You might remember those few blog entries in here about a “Demons” game from the world of Medunkna, and that’s the one I mean here.  Oh I floundered with that one.  I had no idea what to do with it, not a clue where the storyline might go, and in the end I gave it up and went back to “Press enter to continue”, and so made “Four Horsemen”.  As you can probably tell by now if you’ve been to the Worldbuilder’s Garden a few times, I’m not satisfied with just that.  I want more interactive games, I want visual games, I want – hell, I’m going for the bronze ring at the carousel, no matter how dizzy it makes me.

So, we now have “Nikria’s Menace”.  VERY different, and much closer to my goal:  interactive storytelling.  It has like the others been based on a story of mine, yes, but there’s more for the Player to do.  There are some areas in this game in and out of which the Player can wander almost to his/her heart’s content.  I’ve been putting in NPC discussion, both among themselves and sometimes with the Player.  My husband has helped me not only create an actual first page for this game, but he’s been working on an engine for it.  There are choices for the Player to make:  do you want to buy a rug, a bunch of grapes?  Do you want to read the pamphlet?  There are consequences, and sometimes I even managed to figure out NPC reactions.

For this game, that’s quite enough to do:  I’m maybe halfway done with integrating the story/plot into a game format, and it’s been several months.  Three by now, I believe.  Audiophilegamer has gotten by his estimate more than that finished on the engine.  It’s a complex game compared to previous ones!

Yesterday after a doctor’s appointment, we took a walk and ended up at the library, where he found a really good book – someday I’ll get a copy for our reference library.  “Chris Crawford Interactive Storytelling”.  He goes through all the different ways a developer can make a game with this format, and how many of those ways go wrong.  I can see that he’s very into the idea of making a game as integrative, as “alive”, as possible.  I’ve gotten a number of ideas – not for this game! We already have a ton of things going on in there and should finish them off first! – from it, for the future.  Maybe the next game, maybe something in the future – I want to eventually graduate on to co-op games, for one thing.  And yeah, I want them to LIVE.  As much as possible… without sacrificing storylines for it.

That’s where things become somewhat more difficult for developers, I know.  My husband and I, for instance, have had numerous disagreements of late about the game LOTRO.  I can understand his points to some degree; I’ve felt them myself in the later levels of the game, to be sure, and wondered there, often, “what in hell were they thinking?” Crawford writes in his own book about “pasting in bits of story” or “sticking in THINGS in the thought that those things will make the game more entertaining.”  Oh I can fully understand and agree with that.  I have a bit of an issue with the Warsteeds in LOTRO – on the one hand, the bigger, more sturdy mounts make sense for the vastness of Rohan, and also they’re very innovative, never seen anything like them in any game I’ve played or tested.  On the other hand, they are very wonky and difficult to manage at the start for most people (including myself).  I can identify them as something he’d call a THING.  Kind of like Legendary Weapons are also a THING, which take a ton of time to get out of your bags, deconstructed, mailed to alts, refined, and repeat.  I can see the point to them, or the idea – but it wasn’t well done.  On the other hand, there are THINGS that got pasted in that do make sense to me:  I love how LOTRO‘s makers have gone into the Appendices of the book itself to see what’s there that they could flesh out and integrate.  Forochel is one of those places; so is Angmar.  But as you can see, even if you’ve never played the game, there’s a difficult balance-beam walk that the devs have to make, and it isn’t always successful or something Players will like.

Now, I’m not working towards an MMO, but the same idea applies throughout game design, no matter what genre/type:  sticking in THINGS for the sake of it is bad.  In general.  I’ve thought it for a bit now, and having that idea affirmed is a nice thing to my mind.  “Nikria’s Menace” has a lot of THINGS within it, but they’re important ones.  Useful ones.  I’m glad about that.

New ideas that have come to my mind recently, though, are going to be implemented someday:

1)Player writes bio for character at start of game, and the game has the character act that way.  For instance, in LOTRO I have a little hobbit burglar named Karlto.  He’s full of himself, considers himself a fashionista and on top of that the “king of Angmar” because the first time he went there, the locals called him “Sovereign.”  Now, this is all in my head – like any Player, I’ve made up a story as to how he is.  But what if the game itself took the info I’ve given it and had him actually act like that from day 1?  We’d actually have Karlto the Pompous Ass Who’s Oblivious to How Annoying He Really Is, or maybe World of Warcraft‘s engine would have Linnlek the Amazing actually yelling “You been Linnlekked, mon!”whenever she beat up on something.  GW2 has made a very good start at this – it runs a little wonky, and there have been complaints about how it goes.  But I see where they wanted to go with it, and I think it’s a good try!  (and I intend to take it to the next level so to speak:)).

2)Language-based storyline:  I got all goosebumpy when I read this in Crawford‘s book.  I mean, wow.  As confusing as it sounded, I’m going to try out the game he wrote with this in mind (if I can actually find it).  I know I want to make one of the things Player can do in “Rubikia” to be learning the language of aliens.

3)Visual:  yes, this should help a fair amount with integration – no, it won’t completely make the game integratable.

4)New options for the Player:  I know I’ve a tentative idea for within the next game where the Player can choose to either kill the giants harassing people, or they can lure the creatures out of the area, transplanting them to a region where they’ll be happy but not bother the local humans.  That’s still in the “what if…” stages though.  I know for “Rubikia” I want one culture to be entirely without weapons.

In the end, it’s still up to me, the writer.  The worldbuilder, the obsessive character creator.

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