Narrative Variation (part 4)   Leave a comment

Continuing with the dissertation, there’s an interesting section in 3.3 on the Oz Project, but I’m skimming ahead to “Steps toward a Potential Narratology”.

(p. 26) Well-known text-based interactive fiction includes Adventure (1977), Zork (1977-78), A Mind Forever Voyaging (1985), Knight Orc (1987), and Curses (1993).

I am curious how many readers have actually played Knight Orc. I hadn’t heard of it until the late 90s. Even though Level 9 games went over well in Europe, they (from my vantage point, at least) missed the US entirely.

This raises questions of canon — specifically, it seems like the only works before 1990 that get referred to (when making theory arguments or otherwise) are Infocom games. (The dissertation does make the Knight Orc reference and a few others.) This is in a way understandable — the availability of commercial games other than Infocom is very low. On the other hand, it seems tragic to skip them entirely, for innovation came from other quarters. At the very least lessons can be learned from their failures. (For instance, the rampant randomization of puzzles in Angelsoft games.)

(p. 27) Roger Carbol’s “Locational Puzzle Theory” is interesting in that it attempts a strict definition of certain elements of interactive fiction. Unfortunately there are numerous difficulties with the approach. To begin with, Carbol defines a game only as “a collection of objects, in the object-oriented programming sense,” which does not distinguish games from non-games, as any definition should. Furthermore, “object” is not defined by Carbol as it is in any thorough discussion of object-oriented programming, but as simply “a collection of properties.”

(The original essay is here.)

I’d call this criticism partly unfair — from context it is clear to me Roger was using “the object-oriented programming sense” to mean he was referring to objects as discrete, exact entities (as opposed to real-life philosophically nebulous blobs).

Where I believe Roger’s argument has more difficulty is that his definitions narrow down to “in a puzzle, something changes that moves the game to a desired state”. For the definition to work it really needs to distinguish puzzles from non-puzzles. As the excerpt above points out, Roger’s paper also doesn’t distinguish games from non-games.

Roger separates “corporeal” (in-game objects) and “memetic” (pieces of information) elements, but treats them equivalently. However, they don’t work the same, because real-world information can be manipulated in ways where a property-based model doesn’t make sense (making deductions in a mystery, for example). Still, I see some promise in an approach to puzzle theory that separates these elements and distinguishes what is possible in each. (Dan Shiovitz has a review of Act of Murder which considers this; note while the link jumps to the review in question the rest of the page is a complete review list of 2007 IF Competition games with spoilers. Link)

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Posted October 18, 2007 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Narrative Variation

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