Generating Narrative Variation in Interactive Fiction (part 1)   1 comment

So, I promised last month to Nick Montfort I would be posting on his dissertation. Then I got stalled for various reasons, due in part to the large chunks of prose causing writer’s block. But then — this is a blog! I can break things down into micro-chunks. So while this was meant to be more of a 3 part post, now it’s going to be more like 15. Since I figure everyone is distracted by the competition, I reserve the right to revise posts later.

(I’m skipping section 1, which defines terms and I’ll get back to when necessary, and starting at section 2.)

(p. 7) Despite all of this, IF has had hardly any support or recognition from institutions that have traditionally promoted literature.

Now, while Jeremy Douglass is currently working on his own IF dissertation, from what I gather this is the first one on the subject since Mary Buckles in the 80s. So quite naturally, the introduction spends a good amount of time defending the topic as one for study. This sort of thing happens in musicology — for a while Mahler papers were all about defending Mahler as a worthy composer, before finally scholars could get down to the business at hand without fuss. It’ll be a good day when an IF paper can be written without an extended preface for new initiates.

(p. 8) Among its other virtues, interactive fiction can serve as a useful context for computational linguistics research . . . These researchers go on to suggest the uses of interactive fiction systems in the lab as testbeds.

The Implementers at Infocom supposedly did linguistic research to make their parser for the late era games (Zork Zero, Arthur, etc.) I have no idea if there was anything to it that is not in modern parsers.

I’m was previously unaware of the research from computational linguistics circles, and I do wonder: has anything original come out of them that can be applied to IF? (As opposed to them noting what has already been implemented in modern parsers.)

(p. 10) The content plane can be seen to have . . . events, which are things that happen, and existents, which are entities in the story . . . An event may be caused by some actor within the story, or it may be a happening with no agent, such as “there was an earthquake.”

The careful definition of terms ends up paying off later. What’s interesting here is the large practical difference between an existent being implemented in code as an object, and being simply referenced in the narrative flow. (For instance, having a “cutscene” where an intruder comes in, shoots somebody, and leaves without existing as a character vs. allowing several turns for the player to attempt to disarm the intruder.) Nick’s IF system essentially prohibits such conditions. In fact, much of his design seems based on this principle: having no prose generated without a world model behind it. (The example above could be considered an agentless event, even though there was a character involved [who might show up later as a genuine object!] but it was my understanding that agentless [how Nick uses it] refers to actions without potential objects behind them. Although I suppose “earthquake faults” could theoretically be a character.)


Posted October 2, 2007 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Narrative Variation

One response to “Generating Narrative Variation in Interactive Fiction (part 1)

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  1. Pingback: Looking forward to 2008 « Renga in Blue

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