Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Interactive Dreaming - The Character & The Conversation

A few weeks ago, I created an introduction sequence prototype to my game that basically allowed you to create your own protagonist. Although I found it simplistic on the surface, the more I played around with it the more I frankly became intimidated of the concept. The prototype of the conversation system has also brought this more to light. This post describes the process of how I am deciding what will be the final conversation system in my interactive dreaming game and what the player itself has now become. 

Originally, when the game initialized you were asked by an “NPC” what your name is, followed by asking your "mood of the day" and what sex you are. I had planned on the latter two questions triggering variations in the story. “Mood” is an easier variable for me, because my first few drafts of the story depend on your mood before you went to bed dictating what sort of dream sequences you may encounter on your journey. Trying to facilitate the same for female perspectives is a whole other can of worms. I knew that I could code it, but I also knew that I would need to relay story plots somehow to my girlfriend or my sister for them to give me some insight of how the story should be told from a female perspective. The more I think about this, it just seems like a bad idea for this story no matter how much I would like to include those additional features..

Having your choice of gender determining some aspects of the story also brings up another issue. What if the player is playing male, but wants to interact with the NPCs in the story in a homosexual or bisexual fashion? I have no idea how to even going about implementing these sorts of choices or situations while still making them realistic, and I'm as clueless about making these elements realistic as I am with the female element.

These are my actual dreams I am creating these stories from for the game. However, in our dreams we sometimes act in ways that we wouldn't even attempt in our waking lives, or perhaps even undergo some sort of transformation. In Hallow Eve, I tried to keep the character as “blank” as possible. This really isn't a good choice for interactive fiction to a lot of people, unless the game's story is completely gender-neutral. I think for this story it would be best to stick to the boring old typical male protagonist. Even more boring is that this protagonist would  be me.

Now, for the conversation system. Originally, I thought of a system that I found simple as a kid such as the one in Ultima V. Initiate a conversation by triggering it with a “talk” command, print the first bit of text with a few words in bold as “topics”, then allow input of any of those bold words to get some text on that topic, and finally accepting the word “bye” as a way to terminate the conversation. For my attempt at this, I figured I could just plug in Keyword Interface by Aaron Reed. Including that gave me a conflict error in Inform7 dealing with color table code that I already had in place for use with Glimmr stuff. It also made me think that although this an excellent extension if I wanted to use the interface for more than conversation would probably be overkill for what I would ultimately need anyway.

For the time being, I've ended up using a numbered menu that I originally created for generating the sex and mood of the player. At this point I'm fairly certain that I'll remove choosing gender and entering your name, but use the numbered menu for conversation. The current system still uses a general trigger for talking to NPCs, “TALK TO X”. The NPC will then say some text, immediately after which a menu of responses will display. This will be more like Fallout 3 or Dragon Age II than The Secret of Monkey Island. That is, the choices will be real forks in the conversation and even the main game plot itself; rather than just seeing a few funny choices, but ultimately knowing which one would advance the plot. These choices should be both varied and dynamic.

Although I've got quite a bit of the general story framework done in text outside of my project, nothing is set in stone yet. I'm still having a bit of fun experimenting right now. I haven't set myself any sort of deadline for completing the game except for wanting to get it done within about a year. Any input on this is greatly appreciated. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

IntroComp 2011

I'm still fairly new to the "IF Scene", so I have only written one review as of now. That was a short review for Cryptozookeeper. I did get some free time to try out most of the Introcomp 2011 entries, so I figured I'd write up a blog post on the games. These really aren't full reviews by definition, rather a collection of first impressions and thoughts.

The following paragraphs are chock full of spoilers, so leave now if you do not wish to see them.

(Scroll down for rest of post)








Oh now I get it, I'm a wall bender! This has nothing to do with a night of heavy drinking. I'll give it a try.

My very first impression was "Where did I get these powers? What in the world is even going on here? I have no idea." I don't feel that this was explained very well for an "introduction" to a game.

There is a green star-shaped marker embedded in the wall to the
south.  You could bend that wall if you wanted.

> bend south wall
You can’t see any such thing.

Hmm. okay..

> bend wall
You need to specify a direction you want to bend it.

> bend wall north
(cliff north)
You raise your hand towards the south and then make a quick motion

Yay, I did it!

Now I'm bending a ramp.. whichever way it will bend. Walking around some more.. OK, the other guy made it to the keep first. Damn. Why is this even the object of the game when I can bend these marked walls? I would expect to be in some sort of cliche testing area such as the one from Portal or Cube. Eh, I guess that wouldn't be very creative. Oh well, trying again...

I think I'm starting to get it, but how am I even moving "walls" in a "gorge"? Even if I took the time to make a map, the general space of things just doesn't feel right. The graphical map is an interesting concept, but I just can't seem to make proper use of it. Giving up. If things were made just a little more clear, perhaps I'd play this again.


This one came with a help file explaining the concepts of "mental inventory" and "chunking".

Stuck in a "blind alley" for quite a while, "pondering" anything I can. Not being able to stand seems frustrating, but as the story says I obviously must be in rough shape and I'm probably trying to fly off the rails of the structure a bit too fast. I do like the writing and some of the words the author uses. "Haberdashery" for example. I chunk together 2 things for the first time. This will be the last time, because I tried this game twice  for at least 20 minutes and couldn't figure out what else to do. I think just a little more hinting would be helpful, at least in this beginning sequence. The author has noted that he hasn't even taken the time to develop complex puzzles as of yet, so I feel a bit humbled in my detective abilities.


Interesting introduction. Seems mysterious. A strange fog and hellhounds? Good, long room descriptions except for a flaw I notice in other games; not including the exits you originally came from and listing the wrong direction for an exit. (there is no hallway east of the Personal Crimes Division Operations room as listed, but there is one to the west)

Wow, that was short. And the ending is just as mysterious as the beginning setting. I think I would like to see more of this if it progressively got more creepy and these mysteries unraveled, but it's still hard for me to tell.


Not sure what to expect here. Something like Dope Wars? Let's find out. This is a "Choose your adventure" sort of thing. I find it kind of dull. The "right" answers seem pretty obvious. I can't really get into the story.

Although I consider myself a "good" writer (not a "great" writer), I don't like this style of writing. While I'm having a hard time materilizing this fairly non-descript environment in my mind, I'm quite sure that "loooolzzzz" stands in stark contrast of it and doesn't seem remotely fitting.

...and then I crashed the game by making a bet on Russian Roulette and not cheating.


So, we are finally taking that honeymoon and we feel like newlyweds? Hrm. As a divorced man in my early thirties, I don't exactly have much interest in this sort of thing right now. I hope there's going be plot twist or something.

Then, there's this issue:

You can see Cameron here.

> look at cameron
Come now, surely you know what your significant other looks
like...don’t you?

Actually, I have no idea. Cameron could be a girls name or the boys name. I don't even know what gender either of us are. No description for me either.

I press on to the north and examine the things the tourguide notes, with exception to the things he's telling me to notice that only return "you can't see any such thing."

Stuff like this can also confuse or frustrate me:

> e
Hand in hand you and Cameron head east.

You can’t go that way.

But, you just said that we did!

I'm also not real crazy about these room names. "Southern Room" and "Another Stable-Like Room" for instance. Are we just wandering around this place or.. Oh! Something happened! An object was dropped (a coin). Now I've found a statue of gorgon. Wandered around some more looking for more to do. Found nothing else. I'm not at all interested in any more of this, but a big part of that could be that it's just not my thing.


In this story, you are off on a trip of solitude to a cabin. You venture out on trails, as dreams "overcome" you (more or less a vivid memory of previous dreams that you are recounting). The conversation system is simple and effective, but a little hinting that I should keep typing the "talk to X" command to get all of the dialogue might be helpful to other players.

As things get weird, I get the feeling that I'm actually in a dream, thinking about previous dreams. I felt this was strongly hinted when picking up a "hurricane lantern" in Orchard's Edge. Then I go to move south from there and I'm met with:

z:496037 (the) z:the Middlelands z has light: 1
z ofclass Room:1
z ofclass Orchard:0
[** Programming error: (object number 41) is not of class <illegal object number 1> to apply
‘ofclass’ for **]

Then I recieve another as I move around...

z:209281 (the) z:<routine 209281>
[** Programming error: tried to test “has” or “hasnt” of <routine 209281> **]
 z has light: 0
z ofclass Room:0
z ofclass Orchard:0
z ofclass Outdoors:0
z not a room.A voice deep and dry, like a chorus of old trees intones, “As you are three, so prepare
yourself for what will come in ways three. Remember what you taste in sleep, learn needful
wisdom from the one like you, and obtain that which is of us and of you. Then shall you be

So, I assume the last part of that was a hint? Also, from the above text I assume again that I am dreaming. I'm met with a few more of these type of errors as I continue to explore. I filled my canteen with water from the lake, drank a few more times, walked around some more with the errors randomly popping up. Never could find the butterfly hair-clip, and quit.

This seems like it could be an interesting story, but I feel as it needs more attention to technical detail to keep that story flowing.


This game seems to be set in medieval times. That's a setting most adventure gaming veterans can easily wrap their heads around. I used the walk-through after examining the contents of the first room. I didn't find any technical errors. The writing is OK, but I didn't find the humor particularly amusing. Though it should probably be noted that probably have a bit of a twisted sense of humor. Would I play more of this? I think I would. While there's nothing in particular that I think of that makes this great, there's also nothing that makes me dislike it.


The setup looks like a lot could happen in this game. Still, starting out outside of the car makes no sense.. but that has been noted by the PC. I'm not sure why I'm on this "mission", but I care enough to find out. 'Jump' sent me to an unexpected but well-deserved death in the ravine.

Ah, the car has an 'ignition' which requires a key, though going a direction while in the car will automatically perform the simple actions of starting the car.Hallow Eve's PC car also had a key and an ignition, but driving off could only be done by manually using the ignition.

For the conversation system, having suggestions of what you can ask/tell, etc in parenthesis was a nice touch. The 'pisser' seems out of place and I would have settled for a bathroom that the PC didn't want to bother going in. This didn't end the way I expected. I would be interested in playing some more of this, if it actually really goes anywhere in the vehicle. I wouldn't want to spend the next hour plus trying to track down car thieves.


First off, nice manual with this one. The fake Infocom box cover is a welcome treat to me, being a nostalgic gamer. I understand this immediately to be a detective game in the same vein as Deadline. Although I own Deadline, I never got into it much; choosing Suspect as an alternative, because I found Suspect to be a much more forgiving game complexity-wise.  I also understand from reading other reviews that there are a lot of "IF community inside jokes" that which I probably won't get due to my roughly 10 year hiatus with these types of games. The inside jokes turned out to be mostly name-dropping. I found some of it mildly amusing, but still felt that perhaps I was missing out on something there that would have made it more amusing.

Starting from the hotel, the author details the environment well. The timing of ambient elements such as toilet-flushing seemed mostly solid. My only complaints here is that I didn't read things correctly such as the lights flickering. I thought it was someone playing with the lights at first due to a lack of reminding me it's thundering and lightning outside. Also, at one point I believe I was in the basement, and heard footsteps of someone coming down the stairs. After waiting a few turns, they never came.

I made my way to the squad car a completely different way than what's drawn out in the walkthrough, and I really like that sort of thing. I always welcome more than one solution to a puzzle. However, things did get a little weird doing things my way (getting Monica drunk) and then standing around in the hotel hallway:

You hear the sound of a door slam shut.

> wait
Time passes.

A woman traipses down the hall a little unsteadily, brushing up against 
you. “Pardon me,” she slurs.

> look at woman
You decide against it, letting Monica sleep.

You can hear a couple arguing loudly about something.

Here's another slight technical detail I found odd:

> up
I didn’t understand that sentence.

> go up

Den Closet
The closet reveals a stairwell.  You wonder where it leads to...

> e
You can’t go that way.

From here, you can go to the southwest, the up and the down.

No big deal, "down" got me down there, and luckily "go up" got me out. I wasn't playing in the actual crime area much before referring to the walk-through, aware that I was running out of time fast doing my usual exploring. I like the general feel of this game. It reminds me of the stories in the early Detective Comics, before Batman was introduced. I would like to see this completed with the bugs worked out. Although these sort of games are a real challenge to me, I'm up to a challenge if the story is both well-written and fun. So far it looks like both of these qualities are met.


First off, I'll have to say that while I loved "Choose Your Own Adventure" books as a kid, I'm really not a big fan of these JavaScript-based games usually. Even those old books had consequences for making the wrong decision. Can I even make a wrong decision in this game? It really doesn't look like I can. Even if this was a linear story (which I think it should be), I'm just not interested in it yet.


This game on the other hand has many choices. There's really a lot going on in this one. I see what looks like fantasy text full of names and references that I may not remember, or care to remember, but after some fascinating results of my actions, I'm motivated to get more into the story. I know after the 20 minutes I spent playing it that there's still a lot I didn't even see in the intro. Looks like it's a good game, despite me having a bias against the actual program that runs it.


You actually play the gargoyle in this game. I found that to be pretty cool, as it reminded me of a favorite Clive Barker novel of mine. I don't have the option of just killing or scaring people at will, but I do have the ability to do some pretty cruel things. Neat.

Argh! I want to learn "Forbidden Death Magic"! Heh-heh. Maybe later. Ooh, I can. Very neat. I can see that there's stats and story options that I could be a "nice" gargoyle, but what's the fun in that?

Now I've ended the game in what was probably the most evil way possible. Yes, it was abrupt as the author said, but the abundance of choices made up for that. I want to play more of this game.


This is silly, which I sort of expected from the title. Even being ridiculous on the surface, this is a pretty fun game. You get to rescue or leave people behind as well; another aspect that went into my own game which contained a zombie. I would play some more of this game as well.

In conclusion, most of these games show good potential to me. The only games I really have no desire to replay are "Of Pots and Mushrooms" and "Parthenon". Good luck to everyone that entered!