domingo, 29 de Julho de 2012

Plea for every IF designer

Right in the heels of a long rant, comes this appeal. It's short and simple.

Designers: IFDB has a "News" option to let people know that your game has been updated to some more recent version.

Please please please please PLEASE use it. Otherwise no-one will know. And people might play an older version and be completely unawares of a newer, better version. I just checked out the version in my collection of Hoosegow - it was v9. I happened to check out the latest version on IFDB - it was up to 15. Zero feedback. "Heist" offers a z5 file in v4, and an EXE file in v5. Darkiss! is up to v4 in ZCode, but only v3 in Glulx. And these are only cases off the top of my head.

If your game has 15 releases - each one is worthy of a news announcement. It's not spam. It's not flooding the site. We, the players, want to know! We do want to play the latest, bug-free, enhanced versions! Please, everyone, let us know!

sábado, 28 de Julho de 2012

On the subject of literature in IF, and why it's impossible (and, indeed, silly to try and achieve) as well as some thoughts about something parallel, similar and quite distinct

Are video games, or can they be, art? I think "not necessarily" on the first, and "definitely" on the second, but this is a widely-debated issue that I won't concern myself with. I'll be narrowing the field quite a bit.

Are text adventures, or can they be, literature?

Note I say "literature", not "art." My response to both questions is a resounding "no".

A certain individual, infamous in the IF community, occasionally pops up and delights in bemoaning how little there is of "literature" in IF. As a matter of fact, I think he's 100% right in his analysis, and 100% unhelpful in the way he goes about it. He speaks an unpopular truth, in an unpleasant manner and without seeing any further than his simple assessment of the situation. What's not to dislike about that? But he has a point.

Readers of my posts and reviews will know I'm a very emotional player. I react emotionally to games as I do to art. I enjoy analysing why some games work and why other games don't; why some games grab you by the seat of your pants, and why others leave you going "meh" after a few turns, even if the writing is good, and the plot is good, and the characters intriguing, and the puzzles teasing. And you can't really say "well, some games have art, others just have craft". A very well crafted game will always outshine an artistic, under-implemented, frustrating affair.

So I've given some thought to "literature in IF". A lot of digital ink has been set to digital paper on the various difficulties of the abusive and wandering player, on linearity, on writing descriptions, on pacing. Those are "craft" arguments. I won't aspire to talk of the "art" in the matter, but I will expound upon my emotional-tinged views.

Simply put: a reader is not a player. A player is not a reader. It behooves us to remember this.

When I read a book, however puzzling and provoking it may be, I'm a passive agent. The author is the active agent, and at best, he's set out a puzzle for me to solve - but mostly, he's just telling me a story. I may have an epiphany about a character; I may try to work out who the guilty party is; I may be juggling multiple viewpoints in my head; I may even re-read the whole thing on a totally different perspective; but ultimately, I *read* what the author *wrote*. I experience passively.

Well, obviously, in IF that goes out the window. I'm the player. However much I'm railroaded, Photopia-style, I'm still the moving engine. If I stop, the story stops. If I do something, or fail to do something, the output differs.

It's a wholly different mindset, and that's my point. Passive VS Active. A reader passively takes in the story, a player interacts with it and shapes it.

There is absolutely no space in IF for what we know as "literature". It's impossible. The author of a literary work needs absolute control in order to achieve whatever he/she wants to achieve. Control the pacing; the tone; the narrative voice; even the language. Be it "Os Maias", where Eça de Queirós uses the description of furniture to comment on the characters' psychological portraits, or "Finnegans Wake", with its use of language, or "Of Mice and Men" with it's fascinating play-novella format (fascinating for me, with my background in theatre), or "Moby Dick" with its wonderfully ecletic writing (sometimes somber, sometimes lively, something written as a play, sometimes stopping the whole action to describe a whale skeleton)... the author controls the whole experience.

Obviously this can't happen in IF. So, the gentleman I referred to at the beginning of this post is right. He is also very wrong in the way he goes flaunting this fact, bemoaning that our Plotkins and Cadres and Shorts don't approach, say, Nabokov. He's looking for static-IF literature where he'll never find it.

And here's a thought - "literature" evolved from just plain writing.

IF isn't static fiction. Why should it seek to emulate static fiction "literature"? Why not evolve for itself?

IF will always have text-adventures, dungeon-crawls. Static books will always have people who want to turn a quick buck, or just write for a certain age-group amidst a certain craze (which currently seems to be vampires). So we will always have pure entertainment - not to be scoffed at. Entertainment can keep us happy and active at monotonous times. Solid entertainment is as important as a good laugh.

And if we go looking for higher quality, well, IF is lucky enough to have some very talented writers. And some visionaries. Photopia was interesting in that it opened the door (arguably it'd been open since A Mind Forever Voyaging, but Photopia is, for various reasons, the example everyone talks about) to puzzleless IF, and it's easy to regard it as IF approaching SF (static-fiction), but it's more than that - it opened the way to Rameses, for instance. And the deal about Rameses is that it uses interactivity to hammer home the lack of interactivity. And all of a sudden, "interactivity" is part of the whole experience - we've gone meta in a huge way, not unlike how Joyce went meta with language.

Yes, I know, I'm comparing Joyce to Photopia and Rameses. I won't apologise for it, I've explained *why* well enough.

There is a great deal of IF that I wouldn't consider "literature" - but perhaps we need a new name for what literature in IF would be, because we certainly have the games (stories? works?). Aisle, Rameses, Photopia. Galatea, for its pioneering work, and Alabaster for a more elaborate result of that same work. Blue Lacuna, Make it Good. And oh, there are so many, so many, some even going beneath the radar like "Bliss".

IF is evolving still, and I'm very happy to watch it grow. It's a thing of itself, and will probably never be appreciated by the truly literary crowd, as it requires a very different mindset to experience. It's also growing away from the gaming crowd (arguably has been ever since the late eighties). It's not a book you can participate in, not really; it's a brain teaser, a story, an experience, an experiment, a huge sprawling world where every decision counts, a one room dilly, pure escapism, cerebral stimulation. And for some of us - sadly, not me - it's a trip down memory lane, especially those who still have that Wishbringer stone or those Deadline pills.

It's a thing of itself, and to hell with all facsimiles.

And to hell with trying to find "literature" in IF. It's best suited to SF. IF will have its own, high-quality, well-written, well-programmed, well-designed masterpieces.

Bah, what am I saying? It already has.

quinta-feira, 12 de Julho de 2012

Interactive Fiction, alias Text Adventures, How I Prefer Thee Above Point And Click Graphical Adventures. Let Me Count The Ways.

1 - Your animators, artists, voice actors and musicians are the best in the world (yes, yes, a clichè, we all know that "our imagination makes the best graphics", so it goes first to get it out of the way).

2 - Moving around is simple and efficient. "n.e.s" and I'm instantly where I want without having to traverse a numbers of different screens.

3 - No pixel hunting! Huzzah!

4 - If I want something done in a room, it will be done (or it will fail) instantly; there will be no fiddly character movement, which can sometimes fail spectacularly even on commercial games.

5 - There are no such things as "hotspots". Oh yes, there is "scenery" and there are "objects", but the difference is never as glaring as in a graphic adventure, that tells you what to ignore.

5a - Therefore, I ignore nothing, and the game-world is that much more vivid.

6 - Typing is automatic, and involves very little effort. It's like thinking with my fingertips. The mouse, however, which must select a verb then an item, or just click on an item, becomes a barrier over time. It even makes my wrist ache the way typing doesn't.

7 - I'm never surprised at an interaction, the way I am if I click "Hand" on a "Bookshelf" and, instead of taking out a book, the PC pushes the whole thing.

8 - Puzzles make more sense! They do, because they have to! A player who is stuck in a point and click adventure will resort to using everything on everything, and like it or not, that makes designers a bit more lax. In IF, if you're stuck, you're going to have to experiment wildly or to stop and really think about it, and "wear puppy" is never ever ever ever EVER going to work.

9 - An IF room can be devoid of interactable objects and still be a lot more exciting than a P&C room devoid of hotspots.

10 - No stupid minigames.

...hang on, there *are* stupid minigames in some IF. Ok, scratch that.

New 10 - Less Fewer stupid minigames.

11 - I control the pace of the gameplay, instead of the voice-actor/character-movement-time/animations-time.

12 - Portability! Yay! Play zcode games on my mobile phone anywhere! I actually played Leather Goddesses of Phobos and Hollywood Hijinx to completion on the go, and with much less hints than I usually require. Fresh mind and all that.

13 - No silly walking-path puzzles (if you don't know what I mean, try one of the early King's Quest games - heck, early? Try any up to King's Quest V! - and reach a fiddly path).

Ok, that's enough. And before you start, yes, P&C Graphical Adventures have their own advantages and their own strong points. But this is a list I've been mentally compiling after playing a lot of graphic adventures, good AND bad.