Bletchley Park, 1942. A component from the Bombe machine, used to decode intercepted German messages, has gone missing. One of the cryptographers is waiting to be interviewed, under direst suspicion. Is he stupid enough to have attempted treason? Or is he clever enough to get away?
The last light has gone. The stars are coming out in the black sea above. Many are hidden by ice-fingered winds. My father is still not returned and the fire is almost gone.
But this is how life is: always an edge. A thin sheet on a diving-deep pool.
I hope he will return soon. I cannot summon him.
Merry Christmas, and if you’ve just unwrapped a new game, here’s a sobering puppy-for-life type statistic which is urban legend in the games industry, and might even be true: the majority of console games are played once.
So what? you might think. Most books are read once, most DVDs are watched once, most Christmas cakes eaten once… But I don’t mean finished, I mean played. The majority of console games are opened, installed, booted up, played for a single session (possibly of several hours), then never booted up again. Even though games can afford tens of hours of entertainment; and even though games cost four times as much as books or films.
And that isn’t true of books, or DVDs, or Christmas cake. So why the difference? Is it just because people can get stuck on games?
I don’t think so. I think it’s deeper than that. In fact, I’m not sure there is a difference between the consumption pattern for a DVD, book or a game. I think instead that the difference is in what we mean by the word finished. (And, what is inkle going to do about it?)
Time to announce my new project:
Our first project, Frankenstein, is being published in association with award-winning London-based publiser Profile Books; and is being written by Dave Morris (author of Mirabilis) and Jamie Thomson, super-talented writers with a long history of gamebook work.
It’s a really good piece of work and shows real potential for making text games accessible: teaching the syntax while letting people get on with the game. But it also highlights one of the text games major problems – there’s way too much choice.
A few weeks ago I posted up a nasty little perl script called the Kindliser, which turns a plain-text markup into ebook-ready HTML. Not such a big deal – it’s just a web-page with links – except that it also included support for tracking true/false values, which is impossible.
It does it by playing through every possible game the player might have, and writing them all out separately… which turned my first example game Flaws from a 40Kb sourcefile with 40 paragraphs of so and 4 true/false flags into a 600Kb HTML.
The other day I thought; I wonder how far I can push this thing?
Over on the int.fiction forum, Victor Gijsbers has started a thread asking for people’s list of the best IF games ever. It’s quite a fun trip down memory lane and makes me long for the days when text-games were an unexplored terrain rich with possibilities…
For those who are interested, here’s my list, also posted on the forum.
I was discussing challenge in games with a friend at work today – specifically, what to do with the player that can’t overcome it.
Interactive Fiction has long battled with the problem of stuckness, and these days it’s rare to see a polished game released without hints, walkthroughs, or such an incredibly linear storyline that pretty much anything you do will work. But could we be doing better? Consoles games increasingly are trying to resolve this problem: is there anything to learn from the experiments being done in the console world?
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work with choice-based stories. I haven’t played a new IF work in a long time – but this weekend I picked up Emily Short’s brief-but-beautiful Speed IF Indigo and it got me thinking about what I mean when I say “interactive fiction”.
(This isn’t really an article about that game, incidentally, which you should try out; rather, Indigo was such a very clean example of what text IF does well that it got me thinking.)