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Showing posts from July, 2008

Violence in my Games

A moment of insight: I think one of my obsessions in game design is to de-familiarise violence.

Most computer games involve violence, but it's almost never presented as something problematic. You kill, because killing is what you do in a computer game. Who cares about all those bandits you slay in Baldur's Gate? If reasons for violence are given at all, they just serve to hide te problem of violence even further. You fight the NOD, because they are evil, and surely you must fight those who are evil. You fight the GDI because you are evil, and when you're evil, you fight. No problem. Even in a more sensitive game like The Witcher, most of the killing is not made into a moral problem: you're just killing monsters, right? ("Monster" now has the moral value that was erstwhile carried by the word "brute".)

So what I have been trying to do is to take violence, put it in my games, and yet make it a problem. Nothing is more standard in a roleplaying game than…

Useful Psychology

Can something like character attributes or psychological states be useful in interactive fiction? Last time, I argued that a certain implementation of this will not be useful, namely, an implementation whereby after some time you are only allowed to take actions that are like the actions you took earlier, and thus forbidden to do actions that are unlike those actions. But keeping track of what a player has done, and basing the responses of the game on that, can also be implemented in ways that are at least prima facie more interesting.

Affect actions, not commands

We don't want situations like this:
> attack john
No, you are not violent enough.where whether we are allowed to attack John or not depends on whether we have behaved violently earlier. Even if I'm not a violent person (by nature, by inclination, by habit) I can still decide to attack John, and this kind of response rings false. But we should not forget that the interactive fiction author has to interpret the commands…

A Comment on Psychology

Several times recently, I saw discussions of a certain way in which dynamic characterisation of IF protagonists can take place. The idea is this: the game keeps track of several variables that describe the psychology of the protagonist. Actions early in the game have an effect on those variables, such that, say, stealing a purse will decrease your trustworthiness but increase your ruthlessness, while solving a puzzle through violence will increase your "violent" variable. Then, later in the game, certain actions will be made available or unavailable to you based on the value of these variables. If you have been very violent throughout the game, then you are allowed to be (or are required to be) violent at the end. Thus, a personality is established and reinforced through play, which would purportedly bring us to new heights of characterisation.

I very much doubt that it would.

Let me quickly note the explanatory barrenness of the psychology that is presented here to us. Could …

City of Secrets - Hints

PLEASE NOTE that this post is about Emily Short's 2003 interactive fiction game City of Secrets, NOT about Aidem Media's recent graphical adventure with the same title. I cannot help you with the latter. (But if you're stuck in that game and want to check out some interactive fiction instead, why not try the also animal-starring and family-friendly Lost Pig? Once the application loads, type 'help' and read "How to play Interactive Fiction". It's a lot of fun.)

I just finished Emily Short's City of Secrets, which is an impressive work. In fact, I am tempted to call it her best yet.

Strangely enough, nobody has made a walkthrough for the game, even though there are a couple of points where you can get stuck.There are some hints on various places on the web (newsgroup postings, fora), but there's no central resource. So as a help to future players, I've decided to write down some solutions to potential problems here. If you get stuck in some …