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Interactive Fiction and Dark Mod


demagogue

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I'm a long time IF fan and aside from Thief & Darkmod (well and TripleA), the only other game-making scene I was part of making IFs on the TADS3 engine. Anyway, I've always toyed with the idea of bringing IF into FPS -- cf Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable, & radiatoryang's HL2 maps (he used to post here some) -- and Darkmod was always a choice platform for the idea IMO. I'm not saying I'm going to commit to making IF maps, since I have already a backlog of normal FMs I want to build as it is, but I'm making a thread just for fun to have a discussion about ideas, mechanics, and techniques. We've had discussions on it before too, but I just felt like making a thread now. Now I know some of you aren't fans of IF-style TDM maps, like Shadowhide's map, but I'm thinking more in terms of bringing IF to FPS than bringing IF to TDM. That's why I'm putting this in the OffTopic forum and not the Darkmod forum. This isn't really about putting IF in Darkmod missions (although some of the techniques might work for it), but about making IF maps as such.

 

So... anyway the reason this is coming to mind now is, after I was looking at some of the train maps some people have made, it made me recall one of my favorite IFs, The Last Express. And i wondered what are the possibilities of recreating the map in Darkmod, again not as a serious project right now but just for fun to think about. So I went to a few sites and a few minutes later, bam, I find the utilities to open the game archives, pull out the .snd files, and convert them into .wavs, and now sitting on my harddrive are the sound files for every convo in the whole game. With that in hand, suddenly it's a matter of building the train, scripting the AI, and some clever scripting on objects, and you've got the game ... well anyway, the .wav's for the conversations were the only real limiting factor to turning it from a cool idea to something actually do-able.

 

The other IF that would of course be *perfect* for Dark Mod IMO is Magnetic Scroll's Guild of Thieves, which I actually built a base map for in Dark Radiant already (its predecessor, The Pawn, is also a good candidate), but of course it's a big world and would take a lot more work to get it up and running. as opposed to Last Express which is pretty much just the train, and everything else is just scripting in it.

 

But anyway, what I thought would be fun to discuss is actual techniques for bringing IF style maps into FPS generally and Dark Mod in particular. Aside from the issue of assets, it's a better platform than HL2 I think, in particular because of the freer & better movement, the object manipulation, & the inventory system all cater to IF better. (I can't even think of another engine even in the running, maaaaybe Crysis 3, but not really since it doesn't have the features for it, or Unity, but ugghh.)

 

-----------------------------------

 

Ok as for actual mechanics, the first lesson I take from Dear Esther & Stanley Parable is that no-gameplay IF sucks (like a glorified movie going on around you). I don't know if you guys have played much IF, but my golden standards are IF like Anchorhead, Losing Your Grip, Trinity, the aforementioned Pawn & Guild of Thieves, Rematch (for its own reasons), Edifice, Varicella, and some others... What they have in common is that they used gameplay to carry the narrative, especially Anchorhead was the masterpiece at doing this. Also applicable here are the P&C adventure games, BladeRunner, The Dig, The Last Express, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Farenheit... The best ones didn't use gimmicky puzzles or riddles but actually built interaction into the plot flow. (Actually there's a list of "Sins of IF", of which "no riddles" is just one, another one is "don't let the player dig himself into an unwinnable situation", etc). Translating that to FPS mechanics, what you lose in "verbs" you gain in analog interaction with the world ... you can freely walk around & explore, move objects around & frob them, or frob stuff to other stuff, you could jury rig a conversation system, script AI & events... (Also of course we can still have the sneaking gameplay as well; no reason to leave it out as long as it's already there.)

 

One thing I liked about IF is often the narrative flow is very web like, in that usually most of the world is open & freely explorable, and you can go down different narrative strands in any order you want, with them starting to connect over time like you're making way to the center of the web (as opposed to a linear plot flow). Design-wise, this is mostly a matter of strewing plot pieces over the map, so each room adds a little piece to one strand, but the strands don't start emerging as such until you explore more and start seeing the connections, then often that invites some gameplay interaction opportunity or event -- you realize X you saw before connects to Y here, so you bring X & Y together, and that advances the strand, something like that, and then later on entire strands will start connecting into the bigger plot line. Actually there are two ways of spreading strands out, in space (different rooms hold different pieces) and in time (you script actions that occur in time, and the player needs to be there to do X when Y happens to advance the strand, probably good if it's a repeatable opportunity), and then there are more "creative" ways if the map is more surreal, psychological, fantasy, or scifi, so you can bend time & space a little more (into virtual worlds or dream worlds, etc). But the point here is, to me advancing bits of narrative strands in an emerging web towards a sort of plot center is the heart of IF gameplay & good IF design.

 

Well I have more ideas on that I can post later, but I'll post the thread now so people can add their thoughts.

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What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know that it's mine.

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I think storytelling is a field with huge potential in TDM that hasnt been explored yet, so I would be very much interested in hearing what more you have to say about this style of gameplay.

 

TDM has been tailor made for stealth "dungeon crawling" however and there seems to be little support for anything else, understandably. It happens to be in my eyes a great base for other kinds of gameplay (even action-puzzle like HL2, but mostly sotrytelling, as you pointed out) - has great combat system, physics and interaction, AI senses, and a good asset repository. It "lacks" things that would be important for an IF kind of game, though (again, because they were not meant to be supported in the first place): responsive NPCs (right now neutral characters have confusing reactions towards the players actions, when they do react), organic transition between neutral to agressive states in NPCs (things like recognizing agression, theft, certain actions (like player branding sword in front of them), etc), and maybe most of all, a variety of animations that would be needed for most interactive worlds. With all of this I mean to say that the potential as a plataform is definetly there (I even tried to lean towards a slightly different kind of gameplay with my own first map), but NOT for a single map maker; a team would be needed to cover all the new content needed to portray the story. HL2 had great NPC interaction... The way they would speak to you, acknowledge your presence with their body language and positioning. I suspect it is a great plataform too for IF games, and I'm going to take a look at the maps you mentioned. We dont really have that in TDM. I only played a couple of stages in Doom3 (couldnt be bothered), I know they have basic interaction too (things like npcs looking at you when talking), but I guess once understood, all limitations can be included in the design and worked with/around. The depth in story elements would require also good amounts of custom scripting, like you suggested. Again, this sounds like a project that demands a multi talented team - someone to create the world and possibly the artistic assets, and someone to create the mechanics. A fascinating story like the ones from those amazing adventure games you mentioned would need a lot of work itself, but that seems like the fun part to me! Last adventure game I had time to play was a small one called Seven days a skeptic, very cool single-man effort, but its a totally different plataform, obviously. FPSs as you know demand a lot of work on the world building, taking a huge amount of time from focus on the actual storytelling itself.

Edited by RPGista
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As I take it, one of the core tenants of "IF" is a branching story?

 

Eg; The story changes depending on your actions.

 

If so, that is a lot of work compared to a more linear story.

 

I suppose your initial post is look into ways to make the the story points nebulous and interconnected enough

where multi-path traversals result in the same outcomes but "feel" like the progress

is dynamically reacting to player actions. A sort of pseudo branching?

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BTW I said this topic should be on IF in Darkmod, but the more I think about it we're really just talking about story-telling techniques in Dark Mod, for any kind of map, adventure or a normal FM, so we can talk about storytelling in normal FMs too. I shouldn't limit it.

 

Yeah I think literal branching is bad news, because then you quickly get tangled up in an infinite tree-diagram to hell. Even IF has turned away from this form of design. But it still does keep the idea of story "nodes", where progress is when you do something at a plot point to make the plot go forward and later "dependent" narrative nodes open up and are available now (as opposed to just reading a readable or seeing something in a room), which is an idea worth using sometimes.

 

My thinking was to spread the story out in space rather than time, so making progress is a function of exploring the space & encountering plot-nodes, not waiting in ordered time. (I wouldn't say it just "feels" like progress; it's still real progress into the narrative thread to the outcome, just like I said, as a function of exploring space or connecting distant objects or concepts as part of a "fulfilling plot nodes & opening up new ones" as gameplay as such.) But it also has the natural advantage (that time doesn't allow, unless you allow some form of time travel), that you can go to different narrative elements in different orders, promoted by building non-linear spatial designs which we should all be doing *anyway*. None of this is even radical stuff; I think this is how a lot of story in FMs are already made now, especially urban FMs where every building has its own little story bit. It's just good to be explicit about it, and thinking about it in terms of plot-nodes and a gameplay of "advancing the plot" itself like you're in a tangled spider web trying to make your way to the center one way or another, via plot nodes, adds something I think.

 

The pseudo branching part is just a way to say that, because you can go in different orders, you can design it so a player feels the story is going one direction when he sees the pieces in one order, but another direction when he sees the pieces in another order, but when they get all the pieces of course the story all pieces together in the web to the center... But even if they arrive at the "same" destination, it can be a different experience depending on which path the player took, and a good level designer can think about that and set up the pieces in ways that promote that. Another idea in there is sub-plots or even minor main-plot branches that some players see and others don't at all, that can add something to the story for the players that explore that area, and the meaning may be different, but players taking different paths still all feel they got the "whole" experience of the story.

 

@RPG, yeah NPCs are a big issue, even without IF but for normal FMs too. It's funny you mention a dynamic team-management system (so AI can go from friendly to hostile if they see a crime, etc), since that's exactly the system I was working on, exactly because it allows so much more you can do with integrating AI into the story. Another idea we've had is a vocation system, which gives AI "work" to do while they are idling, until something breaks their idle (sort of like you see in Skyrim), and it might even be a platform for NPC behavior, doing "work" towards the player. It's just that making these systems is a lot of work and low on the priority list, so I think in terms of what mappers can do on their own with the tools they have. Of course we have a conversation system now & scripting that can allow a lot.

What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know that it's mine.

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Im no expert, I have a limited experience playing stealth games when compared to some of the players/mappers here, but it seems that most TDM missions follow a tradition coming from Thief 1 which is basicly to have a complex, stationary world with key challenge spots, with the story/text having the role of adding to the atmosphere and/or give you hints as to how to overcome the said obstacles. I think this was a great innovation at the time, to have an open map that you could explore and aproach from any angle, with a fixed story line that would help you populate that world with your imagination (it was certainly different from the older FPS formula of starting in A and having to find the "exit" in B, with all obstacles being a deterrent between you and your objective - though some of those were very creative, like Hexen, which demanded you to be going back and forth in a HUB like world system, revisiting parts of maps and putting the puzzles together).

 

Having plot-nodes in TDM that organically change how the world reacts and how the story unfolds would be extremely interesting - there has been, from the missions Ive played, very few adventure-style physical puzzles so far, Im thinking of the lens puzzle in Heart, or the dispatching of the villain in Score, but even those were in essence a "check objective" thing (though there were future repercutions in Score for having "solved the puzzle"). The majority of the missions will rely on stealth challenges and the thrill of overcoming AI's perception, with very little done in the way of world interaction. Again, this is not a problem per se, just a different design aproach and gameplay choice.

 

Making a map "responsive" does require you to multiply the work, specially if you really want to make people feel they got the full experience even though they actually went through half the map only. It simply is a more "wasteful" aproach, requiring abundance of creativity and solutions for the same problem; when thinking simply of different physical routes the player might choose, each with their own visual identity and challenges, I think the tendence will always be to connect them again later to a central point, from where possibly you could choose again; this will keep a central core to the mission and will also make sure the player experiences key points of the map, because they are shared by the routes.

 

I think if such a system were to be widely (and realistically) used, with key situations having actual consequences in the game world and allowing for the story to progress, support for it would probably be quite necessary - a good number of mappers (the majority?) do not have the coding knowledge to do much outside what Doom/TDM was streamlined for; a set of "scripted sequence" prefabs for example, with the basic functionality needed to get a working IF mission, could go a long way (wether its actually scripting, or objectives entities, etc), something like "readable that opens door", "put object here and npc will come and initiate a conversation", support for an actual player-npc conversation system (with access to inventory, to triggers, etc.). Anyway, things the majority can use. I tried hard to come up with a few simple solutions that I would be more than glad to share as "prefabs" - a door that when unlocked turns neutral npcs into agressive ones (you are invading their home); a npc that flees from you and asks neutral npcs for help, from then becoming agressive to you; "conversation" sequences that make AI do a couple of actions and then send them into a path network.

 

I think having such a repository could go a long way into allowing more mappers to get small storytelling effects into their maps, even if we are still not talking about a totally different gameplay style yet. Having to create each step from scratch, or having to try to reverse engineer complex maps that might have the same effect you are trying to create for your own story, is a hugely time consuming task, rather frustrating, necessary one but simply keeps you from actually focusing on the story itself, and rather on the mechanics of it all.

Edited by RPGista
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It sounds interesting, but I'm slightly confused as to what you think interactive fiction is.

 

Hell if I know either - so I looked it up on Wikipedia, but I'm guessing you're talking about something slightly different.

 

Are you thinking pretty much ditching having a traditional TDM game in the mix (in the sense that TDM is fancy pacman) and having an interactive machinima running on the engine...

 

I've just played through Amnesia...

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTlWBtz62Z0

 

...I'd quite like to to take editor for a whirl (but not until my beginners competition FM is complete of course) because it looks delightfully easy, like lego almost. Amnesia is just begging for that kind of thing. They even call the fan made stuff custom stories - though I've not tried any of them yet. It'll be interesting to see what Pinchbeck does with A Machine for Pigs too.

Edited by jay pettitt
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I dunno about the definition of interactive fiction, but I want to contribute the following idea:

 

Mapper makes a map, puts in RIT guards and other AI. Everyone is patrolling and minding their own business, just like in a normal TDM mission.

 

In addition to the normal elements, there would be mission critical AI (or something else) which dictate the mission outcome.

 

There are mission critical AI that do something and the mission overall would be like a clockwork device working towards a specific goal. The player is dropped into the machine and he has the possibility of kicking the plot towards several different outcomes. There could be random crossroads in the clockwork mechanism, that would lead to different outcomes even when the player would just sit and do nothing.

 

A simple example:

Laddie is sleeping in his home. Laddie must be killed. Player does not want that. Lana is carrying a critical evidence object which is bad news for Laddie. She carries the bundle to either Günther or Wofgang. If the evidence reaches Günther, Günther isses a command to assassins to move into position to kill Laddie. If the evidence reaches Wolfgang, city watch troopers go in arrest Laddie.

 

Player starts somewhere and has freedom to do what he pleases, but Lana is somewhere in the city, walking towards a path_corner crossroads that lead her either to Günther or Wolfgang. The player could intercept Lana, but if she does not return home in time, the local citywatch captain sends guards to comb the city.

 

The player could find Laddie and stand guard there and protect him.

 

Or the player could go take Günther or Wolfgang out, but he does not have the time to do both and he does not know who Lana is gonna visit.

 

Or the player could, unseen, trick Lana to go either Günther or Wolfgang, depending who the player would prefer.

 

Or the player could rush to the critical evidence object drop point before Lana and substitute evidence that would make the Günther or Wolfgang to kill Lana instead, but that would again risk the city watch option.

 

A bad example, yes, but I hope you see my point. The mapper could add a lot of randomness into to mission to make it unique for each play session: sometimes the player has to deal with Wolfgang, sometimes with Günther. Or the player might risk taking Lana out and take his chances with the city watch. Lots of possibilities and the player gets to choose what happens by interacting with the mission. If the player chooses inactivity, the mission clockwork mechanism takes the story to a poor end for the player.

 

I know, this example would set automatically a time limit to the mission, which generally is not fun in a stealth game, but I think the principle could be used without limiting time. It could be simply trigger_once triggers based in the order the player visits locations. Ie, if the player starts heading towards Wolfgang, Lana would go just there to make things interesting.

 

EDIT:

Just to emphasise, I experimented this with the Transaction.

 

 

When de Grenefeld got killed by the hag a female customer was spawned in the city, destined to come to the bookstore. If she finds the body or blood, she runs to the city watch stronghold and gets guards to the bookstore. If the player cleans the mess, she comes in, looks around, shrugs and leaves. Once she fulfilled her job in the map, she walks to a door and is removed from the game. I'm not sure if anyone spotted this, though.

 

 

Clipper

-The mapper's best friend.

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Edit: Wow that was an unexpected ninja post you got in there...

 

It sounds interesting, but I'm slightly confused as to what you think interactive fiction is. Hell if I know either - so I looked it up on Wikipedia, but I'm guessing you're talking about something slightly different.

 

Well everybody is confused about it because what I was *really* talking about (in the OP) doesn't really exist as a defined genre yet and (a few) people are still debating what exactly it even is, taking the story-telling techniques from classic IF and Adventure games and "translating" them to an FPS platform. Dear Esther and The Stanley Parable are the closest representatives I can think of offhand, but both of them are failed examples IMO because they don't have storytelling gameplay, which is what classic IF and Adventure games have that DE & SP lack.

 

Are you thinking pretty much ditching having a traditional TDM game in the mix (in the sense that TDM is fancy pacman) and having an interactive machinima running on the engine...

 

In my OP, yes I was saying let's have a discussion about this new genre of first-person game: what is it, how should it work, what are practical mechanics it would use, that you can get up and running in a real game engine we have now (like TDM). In my next post, I conceded that we can talk about storytelling technicniques in traditional TDM FMs too. I don't want to limit the discussion.

 

Game design is only as good as the real world platforms to make it, so IMO things we talk about should translate into real games people could make, and that should include storytelling in traditional TDM FMs too. But I'm still interested in talking about what this new genre of game should be like too, in people's opinion.

 

All that said, interactive machinima is *NOT* the paradigm I'd like. That sounds like exactly what I said I don't like about DE & SP, which is a glorified movie going on around you, and you just interact at a few places and make the movie go this way or that. I personally don't like that as it feels "closed" and possibly immersion breaking, and there's not much real gameplay involved. My preferred paradigm is more like a simulated world around you, where the story is built in to how the world is working, and it's about you interacting with the world itself and talking to NPCs. Basically I imagine gameplay mechanics like old adventure games, where it's more heavy on interacting with the world & inventory objects, and NPC conversations as part of the gameplay, and events just react, but over time they add up to a kind of story. (Whether someone wanted to keep sneaking gameplay or not, I myself would be happy to see it in adventure game-style maps too.)

 

Amnesia is just begging for that kind of thing.

 

I don't know about Amnesia ... something about it doesn't click with me for this kind of thing, maybe because I understand building in DR better, but I feel like the editing needs to be very open with the scripting possibilities, AI, inventory, GUI, etc... And Amnesia doesn't strike me anywhere near as open as TDM is on counts like that.

What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know that it's mine.

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No, that makes sense Sotha.

 

I guess the concern that I have is that when people have tried to introduce that kind of interact within the narrative and the mission/map/level in a sandboxy sort of way I've never found it very satisfying. It always seems to be that you get 3 not particularly great experiences, rather than 1 detailed and lush experience - even if that lush experience isn't necessarily my own choice. I'm really liking what I've heard about Dishonored so far, but my heart actually sank a little when they said you can take different approaches to solving missions. Also, when you introduce freedom then you've got to allow for the fact that players like me are going to be awkward and have my own ideas about how to do things - like hide Laddie under the bed - and then get tetchy if the game doesn't cater for that, or if it does and the Assassins don't bother to check under the bed.

 

That's not to say that I don't like the idea, but making it awesome is something else.

 

One of the things I remember System Shock 2 doing (and I'm never sure if these are objective rather than subjective memories) is that it did a really good job at giving the illusion of free choice - but it was all sleight of hand - the thing was virtually running on rails. I really don't mind being lied to like that.

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Yeah that's similar to what worried me about the branching-tree design, where events would literally go down different tracks if you did different things. I liked the web metaphor better, where all the threads made their way to the center, but they come in snippets that locally go in seemingly different directions along the way, and you can cross the snippets in any order to get to the center. But for very small bits, like conversations (whether you say A or B ) or maybe even the situation like Sotha mentioned, having two different local outcomes is fun. Deus Ex is a model for handling plot flow and semi-branching based on your actions like that... But anyway, for plots to really follow your actions down big tracks, they need to be very big levels, and I think what we're talking about are just single map FMs, where you just get a good 1-2 hour story telling period with the player, so I'm with jay that you should have some good punch and not make it too diffuse, unless you have a really strong vision of different branches or snippets that would be cool either way.

 

Edit: BTW, my models for the best story-telling FMs are mostly from T2, Rowena's Curse, Seven Sisters, Ominous Bequest, Seventh Crystal, Emilie Victor... There is a way to have story-telling sneaking missions with a good plot flow, where the author knew how to design the narrative flow into the gameplay and mission design itself. I'll get to that in another post I think.

What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know that it's mine.

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I have next to no experience playing IF games. I'm giving Anchorhead a try, and so far I'm really enjoying it. Thanks for the suggestion.

 

What a competent game needs is a grammar (literally, in the case of IF), and I don't think that creating IF in a 3D engine would be much fun without a lot of work on giving the player more agency than solving puzzles and conversation.

 

This video might interest you - http://www.youtube.c...?v=wSBn77_h_6Q. From other posts I get the impression that you want to play something more meaningful than an action game, and I agree with those sentiments. What I think game mechanics need more of are McGuffins. Hitchcock described a McGuffin as a contrived, but excusable, object which drives the plot forwards. The gun in Portal is a great example, and it justified the unique game play. That's where I think development of original 3D games would best be focussed. Rather than beginning with a notion of story and a location, flesh out mechanics which can be used to generate levels of suspense (or whatever, but I love suspense in games) – then construct the world and scenario around that.

 

For some reason my mind was racing while I tried to type this out. There's too much to say, but I can't organise my thoughts right now.

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This video might interest you - http://www.youtube.c...?v=wSBn77_h_6Q.

 

Yeah he frames the whole issue pretty well. At the end he talks about using spatial simulation as a metaphorical device with narrative baggage itself, with The Path and Braid... Now this is exactly the insight I had after playing LSD and realizing that it's mechanic would be an *awesome* way to get way to travel through "narrative" space into a spatial mechanic, and I still think it's a good idea, and to my knowledge no other game has tried it like I imagined it. Since it sort of fits in this thread, I'll repeat the idea here.

 

LSD wasn't really a game with any goal, it was an "aimless" "dream simulator", but it had a game-like mechanic that could be translated into a game. The idea is you're inside your dream walking around this surreal world, but as you walk around and interact with objects, it affects your state of mind, which changes the dream world around you, and also when you interact with specific objects, it transports you to new dream worlds, possibly affecting those worlds too... So the entire "game" becomes an exploration through the larger dream multiverse, "manipulating" the worlds and seeing how they (and your state of mind; one and the same) evolve. You return to dream worlds you visited previously to see they have changed based on your journeys through the other worlds and your changed state of mind. And you get a very loose sense over time that you can actively evolve the worlds/state of mind in certain directions. Periodically a dream "ends" and you go to a special screen that gives you a graph of exactly where you are in your "state of mind" space (on a x-y scale of excited-passive & peaceful-paranoid), before the dreams start up again. And you could see how if you interacted in certain ways you could actually "game the system" to push yourself more towards, e.g., excited-paranoid, to really see some action, or to get events to open up for you, to get you to even new places.

 

So LSD itself was "aimless" in that you were never evolving the worlds "towards" anything, just going through the space randomly... BUT my insight was the author could design it so that that mechanic could actually let you push and pull yourself through narrative space or the plot-multiverse closer or farther from the "story goal", the particular universe you wanted to arrive at (a scene in the right space and time, the big climax or revelation). Now you're gaming the multiverse to open up new strands to get you to a particular location on that scale as the goal... Above I was using the metaphor of plot-design, not as a linear-plot (like the timeline on a video editing program), not as a tree-diagram, but as a spider web and you can take different strands trying to "find your way to the center", some strands taking you closer, others farther away, and some strands open up new strands you can take. The LSD mechanic IMO is the perfect mechanic for the spider web plot design. You could imagine the "worlds" in the multiverse as scenes in space and time, and when you manipulate in one world, it takes you to a new world like an alternative history, and your trying to find your way to the story-end by following the right alternative history track to the "ending" you want (there could be multiple "endings", e.g. you arrive at the final scene, but in different states of mind)... But what's nice about the LSD mechanic is that if you mess it up, you can swing back around back in history and replay back to an alternative present (remember certain interactions predictably take you to other scenes in the multiverse and change your state of mind, so part of the gameplay is knowing how to travel through the multiverse & game your path).

 

One game idea I scripted out with this kind of mechanic is a murdered victim where there were no witnesses, but the technology existed to read the guy's memories through his brain, but because he was shot in the head, a lot of the memories got scrambled, so the "game" is to travel through his "memory space", half memory and half "dreaming" or corrupted (so memories may play out differently on different "takes", LSD-like), but when you do the right thing in a scene, the memory plays out a little farther and you get some more clues of things to try out in other places in the memory space, inching your way closer and closer to solve the murder case. But if you mess up, then it takes you back to places you've already been and you have to find your way back to that scene and try something different next time to get to new scenes and make progress.

 

Actually I scripted out a couple of game ideas with this mechanic in mind. Another one was making a game out of the Benjy section of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. If you've read that book, you know every other paragraph it's jumping forwards and backwards in time (memory space) of Benjy (who is mentally retarded) indiscriminately, like when he sees something in the present it cues a memory and we find ourselves in the past. So that reminded me a lot of the LSD mechanic again. In that part of the book, the center of the spider web you're after is making a connection with Caddy your sister. Some other ideas involved nested-worlds in virtual reality like the movie Existenz, where the goal is to find your way to the "real world" (if you can ever be sure you get there), and other surreal or dreamy ideas. Variations on the Inception and the Matrix models of course. Another one was Robert Johnson, who met the devil at the crossroads, disappeared for a year and suddenly reappeared a blues master, so I had the idea of these parallel worlds, the real world and the spirit world, and he goes back and forth between the two a little LSD like. Once you start playing with the idea, a lot of possibilities come up. Edit: For the record, another variation is IF like Rematch, Varicella, and Lock & Key, or the movie Source Code, where the whole game is to replay a very short story (usually a tragic one) over and over trying to find just the right sequence that plays the story out to the one good end, but the "false paths" give you clues to get farther along the right path your next time around, and are usually entertaining or funny or dramatic in their own right.

 

Anyway, when that guy mentioned at the end of his video using spatial simulation as a mechanic for conceptual and narrative flow, that fit right into this whole vision I had. Haha, but this is far removed from the kinds of mechanics we were talking about for a standard TDM FM or adventure-game variant. I'm still going to get to a post to talk about what made good narrative mechanics in the T2 FMs I mentioned above; just give me some time.

 

Edit: BTW I'm not actually trying to write long posts. It just happens. Sorry about it. :blush:

What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know that it's mine.

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a lot of the memories got scrambled, so the "game" is to travel through his "memory space", half memory and half "dreaming" or corrupted (so memories may play out differently on different "takes", LSD-like), but when you do the right thing in a scene, the memory plays out a little farther and you get some more clues of things to try out in other places in the memory space, inching your way closer and closer to solve the murder case.

 

One thing that might work (if you don't mind me diving in) is having clues as to which new memories you need to trigger. Choosing elements from two different memory zones makes the scenes collide and the new location is activated. For instance: You know that you need something from the memory of the time that the victim nearly drowned in a lake in their childhood. You have access to a memory where he is on a yacht, and also a memory of a gas explosion. Collide the two and the explosion breaches the ship's hull. He starts to drown and *flash*....we're at the lake.

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I'm a practical man and I see difficulties how to translate all this into fun gameplay in practical terms.

 

If the problems are physical, the player has means to solve them with common sense. "Use knife on rope." "Give bread to starving guy." "Turn valve to flood the underground caverns to kill hideous monsters to facilitate safe passage."

 

If the problems are abstract, the player will have great difficulties in figuring out what they should do at what time. "Combine purple memory of gas leak with Yellow memory of yacht." I think problems like this would result in kilometer long mission threads where people get stuck all the time. Or if the things just happen based where the player wanders to, like in Dear Esther, there is no sensible decision making for the player. He just wanders around and stuff happens. Good gameplay comes from the player making a choice that they do this in order to achieve that.

 

Also, while the weblike matrix of plot flow sounds really good on paper, making it work in a mission in practical level sounds really nightmarish. How to bug test all that? It is really easy to leave holes, from which the player might not get out anymore. It might work nicely in a tabletop roleplaying game where the GM improvises and maintains balance that way, but in a computer game... If you have only a few crossroad points, you can still manage that.

 

Sometimes, like in Transaction, the crossroad points mean difference between easy time or a complication for the player and the main plot flow is not altered: these are really easy to implement, but they make the gameplay/plot more dynamic. People who played the mission might have an interesting discussion "how did you escape the guards? What? You could avoid the guards by simply taking precautions?"

Clipper

-The mapper's best friend.

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See, I actually think Mr Errant Signal is wrong. Obviously home PCs and PlayStations aren't great conversationalists, but Mr Signal forgets, I think, that there are two parties involved. And while computers might be rigid, Players' brains are more than squidgy enough to make up for it.

 

If computers can't actually hold down a convincing conversation, lie about it. Tell the player that a convincing conversation happened, player will fill in the gaps.

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If the problems are abstract, the player will have great difficulties in figuring out what they should do at what time. "Combine purple memory of gas leak with Yellow memory of yacht."

 

Well all puzzle mechanics have this issue, and it's something we've dealt with in Thief & Darkmod FMs for a long time. My view is (1) there should be an unambiguous readable or dead-give-away somewhere in the FM itself so the player will never be completely stranded if he explores long enough & thinks to follow readables suggestions. And (2) the puzzle should stay open until the player either figures it out or finds the give-away. Puzzles should never be one-shot, but able to be repeatable. And an optional (3), failed attempts should give information about what the player should try instead that could work better; i.e., they give feedback why the attempt failed, with more failures giving increasingly stronger hints what the right thing to do is (Rematch is a good model of this).

 

The idea you mentioned is pretty cool, Neb. I was thinking more like, in one scene the player hears that a woman at a past party was offended at something he (the victim) said to her when she arrived, so then he knows the next time he's in the party, he needs to say something offensive to her when she arrives, and it triggers new events and info in the scene... Or he sees a photo of a past vacation, and sees that he has to use certain objects or set up that scene to end up looking like the photo. Or another style is like he overhears or reads that his favorite song is X, and in another world he sees a stack of records, so he knows to find X in it and play it. Things like that. I'm with Sotha that they should be pretty obvious or intuitive and not too abstract. But I think abstraction isn't a problem with the mechanic itself, but any puzzle gameplay should be designed to be pretty concrete and it's always obvious (or there's always information) for the player what's something they can try next, and the puzzle lets them try over and over. That's a tip for our FM puzzles too.

 

Anyway, traveling through memories was just one form of this mechanic, there's also VR, dreams, surreal & alien worlds, parallel worlds, time machines... Anything where time is bendable like space, and you can travel forwards, backwards, and "sideways" (to alt presents). Actually I think that's the key to why this is good for turning narrative into a mechanic. Narrative threads are about possibilities, choices, and consequences, that are meaningful, and that add up taking you closer or father from a goal/conclusion. But like that video above was saying, it's not much of a "gameplay" unless you can "game" the system to get you closer to your goal, and something simulated in an analog and full way. So you have to map the possibility space into something like spatial movement. (I mean LSD was very open with it; when you ran into most walls or objects, it would transport you, sometimes to the same other world, like 20 different things could get you to that world so you weren't hunting, and sometimes randomly. The gameplay wasn't getting to the worlds, but triggering new events in them by manipulating your state of mind and looking for differences or trends over multiple trips.) But anyway, the ability to move through time or possibilities like you move through space, and being able to go back and play through a scene again trying something a little different this time, or seeing a trend over trips that points to the "true" story thread, is a way to get narrative-directing more into a gameplay that's not just a dialog tree or arbitrary... Actually to get farther from the dialog tree idea, instead of looking for that >one< thing you have to say to make progress, another idea from LSD is you just have to, e.g., create paranoia in yourself, so you look for things to do that get you closer to that, and -every- thing you do has an effect on the scene or multiverse that follows from the nature of the thing you did. So again it's more about gaming the system, instead of specific object/response hunting.

 

Edit:

Sometimes,like in Transaction, the crossroad points mean difference between easy time or a complication for the player and the main plot flow is not altered:

 

Yeah this is what I was thinking about with simulation & analog... most possibilities just direct your route through the narrative thread, only a few of them are nodes that open up new routes to get farther along, but the story carries itself just as you make your way through the world. I'm on board with that. That's good for the kind of mechanic I'm talking about here and for our FMs.

What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know that it's mine.

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Ok, let's talk about what makes for good storytelling techniques in our favorite Thief & Dark Mod FMs.

 

My favorite storytelling FMs historically are probably Rowena's Curse (by Lady Rowena) and Emilie Victor (by Gaetane). Both were made by women which I think isn't entirely coincidental but it's not critical. (Lord Alan's Fortress and Saturnine's Seventh Crystal are also very good). So I want to think about what makes for good storytelling in a traditional FM, and what these FMs in particular did that worked for me. I think I'll list features or a bullet list of ideas they used as they come to me, and others can add their own ideas...

 

• They spread the story out in space, so new rooms offer new bits of story that add up to a larger narrative thread, and "story progress" gets integrated with "exploration". This takes advantage of certain layouts over others, e.g., mansions (different rooms in proximity) & cities (different buildings in proximity, cf 7 Sisters), so you could pack a lot of variation (different viewpoints) in a smaller space (each nearby room, or nearby building). It also allows you to have a natural plot progression because dealing with past story events literally opens up new areas which add to the story progression, and traveling through the space is traveling through the story.

 

• As mentioned before, though, it doesn't have to be a necessarily linear progression if you can open up new areas in different orders. But it is still good to have some dependence relations -- sometimes it's good to have story-element B come after the player has seen story-element A, so you have to get the "key" from A to open up B (not always a literal key), but then again sometimes it's fun to subvert that and allow them see B first and A later, even if they are confused for a bit (as long as you're sure they see both A & B ). One important dependence-relation though is you usually don't want the "climactic scene" that brings all of the pieces thematically together until the player has seen all or many of the story elements, so you require the player to deal with those areas to open up areas that get them there.

 

• Not only are the story bits spread out, but they also are highly interconnected, so as you explore, you see how events in one room or building connect to events in a distant room or building that you explored in the past, and you see it in a new light, something behind those events. One way they do this is by having all the NPCs in complex relationships with one another, and they are leaving their readables & artifacts lying around that tell of those connections.

 

• I should mention the relationship between plot-progression and the objectives of the FM here too, since usually important nodes in the story, especially the climax, are explicitly connected to fulfilling objectives. Also they are a way to police the dependence-relations and ensure the player sees & participates in the story elements you want. Also objectives can act as a cue to the player, giving a message like: this event is important to the story of this FM. There's more to say, but I'm just going to just mention it for now and leave it as homework for people to think about how the two interrelate.

 

• Good storytelling FMs often have two storylines going on: one of dramatic events that went on in the past leading up to the present, that as you explore the mission you reconstruct what happened event by event, and the second is present events going on as the player is exploring and keep him on his toes with live threats. And often as you explore the two begin to approach each other until you reach some climax scene where all the drama of the past events leads you to the present and they touch, like finding where the bad guy is right now and confronting him or her and uncovering "the awful truth". Rowena's Curse was an FM that did this kind of approach really well.

 

• One cool thing I *really* liked about Emilie Victor was the mirror world idea. There was the real world that you explored in the first half of the mission, but then you find the little girl's world that she built in her mind, which was a mirror of the real world but as she saw it through her imaginative eyes... So people she didn't like were monster AI, her imaginary friends (her dolly and the frogman) were real characters, rooms would look like what she thought about them, happy rooms would have flowers and trees growing in them, scary rooms would have dead trees and skulls... I just like the idea of seeing reality through an NPC's eyes as an insight or inside-look at all the events going on, their deeper meaning. It doesn't necessarily have to be a full-on mirror world, just seeing things through an NPC's perspective is a way to get deeper into their mindset (in a richer & freer way than, e.g., a dialog-tree conversation).

 

• Another technique that these FMs used, and that I liked from IF like Anchorhead and others, is hard to put into words, a little like Neb's McGuffin idea... It's when you reify concepts or the "spiritual" essence of a story or its theme into objects, and then use those objects in the gameplay is a metaphor for the spiritual conflict or progression going on in the story itself. One way I've read it explained is designing mechanical forms to mirror conceptual content, like the old Oulipo mechanics (e.g., the novel A Void has no letter "e" in the entire 300 page novel, but the story itself is about something missing in the world that everyone feels but no one can put into words, so the mechanics and the content are connected, and seeing the connection play out is a revelation or insight for the reader.) It's a good technique for us because gameplay is very mechanical, so it's great when you can create mechanics that mirror concepts in the story, so you can feel connected to those concepts in a concrete way. Symbolic McGuffin's are one way to do this -- e.g., when you destroy the McGuffin or perform some ritual on it, it's like you overcome or accomplish what it symbolizes -- but it's not the only way. I need to go back and find some examples. Like the IF Losing Your Grip had a lot of surreal objects and characters, but all of them could be seen as symbols of the different complex emotions the player-character had towards his father (the theme of the IF) -- some protecting him, some looking down on him and not expecting much, some where he has to take care of it, etc -- so when you interacted with those characters or objects, it was like a metaphor for the PC dealing with those emotions. Anyway, my basic point here is that I think this is a valid and good type of storytelling technique, that can get to the conceptual core of whatever the theme of your story is, and still be mechanical and part of the gameplay. What might you call this as a technique? Maybe form-content or mechanic-concept mirroring, or just symbolism in gameplay form.

 

I'll try to add some more ideas as I think of them.

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What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know that it's mine.

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Sorry for triple posting. I want to separate the ideas.

Good article I read today on people "losing themselves" to a character: http://medicaldaily....er-behavior.htm

 

Two punchlines for our purposes are that you're more successful doing this if (1) you don't remind the player of themselves playing a game but really try to keep it authentic to the perspective of the character (which to me means no gimmicky gameplay), and (2) you should ease the player into a character (unlike themselves) by starting the PC off as a "normal" person and much later adding unique features, like a different race or gender or culture or whatever, *after* the player has already absorbed some of being that character. Don't start off with the different features or it'll alienate the player to the character right off & for the rest of the story.

What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know that it's mine.

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Some pretty fascinating points there Demagogue. Wont have time to expand on anything right now, but I must say I find the points you are making to be most useful and inspiring concepts, that I wish I had thought about in such a clear way when I first started thinking about my own little "story" (FM), would have been a lot bolder, perhaps. We should definetly have this in some kind of storyline theory wiki article, for future reference!

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That ... is a good idea. That would give me an opportunity to clean it up and collect my thoughts and organize it into a useful article that mappers can actually use (and find!). It'll have to wait for a good open weekend, but I'll get there.

What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know that it's mine.

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Thanks for posting this topic.

 

After spending many hours with the original Adventure ("XYZZY"), and Zork, and Infocom games like Deadline, I wrote my own parsing program and text adventure as an exercise in learning how it was done. Years later I revisited the genre with Adv770, which traces its lineage back to the original Adventure game, and is still maintained to this day.

 

One of the aspects of storytelling that is lost in a single mission is the arc of the main character. We can treat our thief as someone who doesn't need to learn anything, doesn't need to grow, and doesn't need to change the way he treats the world. Sort of like James Bond; you gets what you gets and he never needs to have an arc. This is fine for the short amount of time the player is going to spend with the character.

 

With a campaign, you have the opportunity to expand on your main character, and to give him an arc if you want. The story that I've built my WIP campaign around stretches across every mission except the first, which is an introduction before the main storyline begins. It gives me an opportunity to provide more depth to the story; the Inciting Incident occurs in mission 2, and there the Quest begins. The character hits an all-time low around mission 6, begins to work his way back, and resolution and an understanding of why the Inciting Incident occurred happens in the final mission.

 

In light of what's been discussed so far in this thread, I've gone back over the bones of my first mission and found that I've got a few IF characteristics already in place. A story that occurred in the past that affects what happens in the present, a story that occurs in the present that leads to a moral choice the character must make, an extremely non-linear path from beginning to end, smaller sub-stories that establish links between the different characters. Planning a wholly IF mission--where the player makes numerous choices almost continually, and the mission shifts around him as a consequence of his choices--is probably beyond the abilities of a single author, at least in the framework of TDM. It's tough enough for one person to create a non-IF mission, let alone having to provide an order of magnitude more complexity.

 

So it would be great to see more story, more choices, more depth, but I suspect that single-author missions will continue to be based on an incident rather than the greater challenge of tackling a longer story arc. Especially since an incident can take place in a single dark and stormy night. As Carmack is purported to have said to Hall, (and I'm paraphrasing here) "We don't need no stinkin' story", we know that many players are quite happy with incidents. (Just look at how many complaints we've fielded that "readables are too long".)

 

But there are plenty of players who would love a good interactive story, especially those of us who have fond memories of typing "wave wand" on a DOS or UNIX command line so many years ago. (And receiving the dreaded reply, "Nothing happens.")

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Though it's probably overkill for designing mission stories, I recommend the following to anyone interested in delving more deeply into story structure:

 

Story - Robert McKee (principles of screenwriting)

Save the Cat! - Blake Snyder (what makes a good script)

The Writer's Journey - Christopher Vogler (a good presentation of Campbell's mythic structure, aka the "Hero's Journey")

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If there's a problem with readables being too long, it might be because there's no incentive to read them. And that might be because there is too often no story.

 

If you present player with an interesting problem to solve (find something that has been lost / break a curse / defeat a cunning security device / Save the Cat) - other than plod mechanically through the mission and leave again - it's possible that player will warm to the idea of reading through a few paragraphs of text.

 

Which is too say, I think perhaps that a mission with good story elements shouldn't be obviously solvable without paying attention to some pieces of story.

 

Anyhoo - I linked to these a little while ago, which I thought were quite nice and aimed at 12 year olds I think - which is about my intellectual level.

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