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Thanks for all the information and hints from so many people expert in gaming lore, history and possibility.  It seems that if I really want to explore the best on offer I'll have to spring for an XBOX and the games too.  Ah well.  The last game I played that required use of the keyboard or other tools to manipulate things and people was Pong.  I never played text games either.  As readers of this may remember, I tried out Second Life for a while and found it impossible to manipulate my avatar, who kept falling into an endless ocean.

No I don't have an inclination to write a game of my own; I may be too old a dog to learn the trade conceptually, that is to actually conceive what's possible.  I am amazed that the best games now are constructed by hundreds of programmers and designers and artists and cost years and millions of dollars to perfect. 

I did try to work with ("read" would be the wrong verb) a couple of the early interactive fictions, in fact I still have one somewhere that Kathryn Cramer sent me to try out -- I can't bring up the name.  I found that it combined the worst features of novels and video games -- no pictures or illusionistic action to observe, and no unfolding aesthetic design to grasp.  Not even a way to win, though of course that was part of the point...  What was the name of that novel...?


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 14th, 2008 05:31 pm (UTC)
One note of warning about the XBOX -- if you're accustomed to using a keyboard and mouse, the console controller can be very frustrating to operate.
Apr. 14th, 2008 06:43 pm (UTC)
interactive fictions! as a child of the internet more or less, i've always been fascinated by its possibilities for literature, and yet all the 'interactive fictions' ive come across have been so dull and uninspired.. as if the novelty were enough. but for a while there, in the early 00s i suppose, people everywhere were delving into what you could do with hypertext and i thought that was much more interesting -- my personal favorite has always been the Flightless Hummingbird (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rmutt/). a little too into the dada/surrealist ethos (wasnt everyone) but the 'synthetic journal' was such a wonderful read, a dystopian story told through random, interconnected journal entries. you could read it chronologically but that isn't any more illuminating. less, even, than just following the links. and the only end to the story is, i guess, the point which is hardest to reach. which is different for everyone. but that point is an epiphany.
Ted Chiang [myopenid.com]
Apr. 14th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
I'm just a novice game player, but I tend to agree with the common observation that narrative is incompatible with real player choice. Some games have good stories, but following that storyline comes at the expense of choice; aside from dying in a fight or failing to solve a puzzle, there is very little that the player can do to materially affect the direction of the story. A game may appear to offer a decision, but ultimately every option takes you to the same place, the next plot point that the game developers have arranged.
Apr. 15th, 2008 12:02 am (UTC)
If you're at a con sometime soon where Sarah Smith is also, you should ask her about good games, rumors of games to come, and the like.
Apr. 15th, 2008 01:00 am (UTC)
I'd suggest getting some good text adventures, I thoroughly recommend the work of Emily Short, Floatpoint and Savoir Faire are particular favourites.
Apr. 15th, 2008 01:29 am (UTC)
Thanks! Though, for what it's worth, it's an earlier game of mine (Metamorphoses) that actually has a Little, Big quote in it. So I was pretty startled to find this in my referrer logs...

To answer the original question: there are some interactive fiction pieces that are pretty low in puzzles and focus more on plot; there are even some that branch significantly. Floatpoint is a lot easier and more fiction-like than Savoir-Faire.
Apr. 15th, 2008 09:22 am (UTC)
I don't think I've played Metamorphoses, I'll have to give it a go tonight.
May. 3rd, 2008 06:35 pm (UTC)
IF and Crowley
Hi Emily--is there a "Little, Big" quotation in Metamorphoses? My work in progress Interactive Fiction contains an "Aegypt" quotation (and might in fact be described as a mixture of "Aegypt", "Violence and the Sacred" and "Planescape: Torment"), so it seems that John Crowley is big in modern IF. :)

Victor Gijsbers
Apr. 15th, 2008 01:32 pm (UTC)
another resource
Some of these issues are being discussed at http://www.geekstudies.org/
It might be work a look.

Apr. 15th, 2008 02:52 pm (UTC)
Sean Stewart is another novelist who's done game design.
Apr. 15th, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)
One more -- novelist Paul Witcover hasn't done game design but is knowledgable on the subject.
Apr. 17th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
not sure where to post this, but i recall that earlier you said if anyone noticed anymore typos in love and sleep to let you know

the problem of repetition between pages seems to have occurred again pp 328-329 last line of p 328 is repeated. (sorry for the bad news!)
Apr. 18th, 2008 02:04 am (UTC)
more, unfortunately, though of a different kind

p 330 line 16 "mought" should be "might"

p 332 line 16 "findiing" should be "finding"
Apr. 18th, 2008 02:21 pm (UTC)
My edition of L&S isn't paginated the same, but if "mought" is either Renaissance or Appalachian English, both of which are of course common in the novel, it could be intended. RC
Apr. 18th, 2008 11:22 pm (UTC)
could be...but this passage involves pierce in the "present"
Apr. 18th, 2008 06:29 pm (UTC)
First Time Commenter
A friend asked me to consider your dilemma and on the way I read a lot of the comments on this and the previous post.

I think that the way video games are moving, choice will very shortly not be incompatible with narrative - yes, choice may be illusory and lead only to the next predetermined plot point, but in the manner of the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' novels of old, creating a navigable tree of choice with one starting points and many end points is something that developers are now beginning to explore, but because games may take many hours to 'complete', reactions to many-pathed games are mixed, as they could be looked at as a gamble of invested time, and who is to say that a better or more enjoyable result could have occurred with a different choice?

Moving on to your request, John, a non-puzzle game that also doesn't involve shooting or killing (ostensibly for the hand-eye coordination issue, although I know of many who have their reservations about such games for self-evident reasons).

As developers are investing resources into developing player choice, it comes onto the scene experimentally in conjunction with tried and tested formulae - namely, puzzles and shooting. So you might have a innovative, narrative- and exploration-heavy space opera, but with frequent shooting battles (Mass Effect), or a game with a stunningly atmospheric score that offers real moral choices affecting the outcome of the game that combines both puzzles and shooting (Bioshock).

I can think of a few games that offer puzzle- and shooting-free gameplay, but most lack the emergent narrative with embedded choice. See Okami, Assassin's Creed(killing, but with a sword and minor coordination required), Rez (basic shooting but only to destroy rogue geometry, and the score and game itself is a marvellous experiment with synesthesia) and the Katamari Damacy games.



May. 5th, 2008 06:27 am (UTC)
(Sorry, this is going to be long.)

Mr. Crowley,

If you must get a new system, I would like to suggest that you purchase a PS3 instead of an Xbox, because the Playstation systems have traditionally had more cinematic games . . . and also because the Xbox 360 has a horrible health record, and ol' Billy Gates is doing nothing to improve it (360's have been out for over two years now and they're still breaking left and right; yeah, leave it to Microsoft to work out the bugs!). As for the Wii, it's mostly geared toward super-simple "party" games for groups of people to play together (not that there's anything particularly wrong with that), but it is perfectly backwards-compatible with the Gamecube (you can even use Gamecube memory cards and peripherals with it), thus allowing you to play a few wonderful classics that were on that earlier system.

Actually, what I would really like to do is recommend some older games; heck, if you just bought a Playstation 2 alone, you would be able to play a plethora of truly wonderful ones -- perhaps some of the best ever. You see, despite the fact that technology is evolving at an increasingly rapid rate, games themselves are becoming ever less interesting. I chock it up to the rising cost of making games that take advantage of the technology: why would an enormous company risk lots of dough on something strange and avante garde that a relatively small number of people would enjoy and love, rather than ensure a mint's-worth of earnings with a flaming piece of noisy crap that would sell like sweet, sweet hotcakes to Johnny Beer-me-dude and Rodney Fourwheeler?

Here follow my recommendations (I want to emphasize that these games TRANSCEND mere gaming; they are ART!)

For the Playstation 2 (most PS2 games will run on the PS3, according to Sony, but you better make sure [I think you can check which games have backwards-compatibility issues on their website]; or you could just save your bucks and buy a PS2!):

-- An incredibly moving art game set in a fantasy world. You play Ico, a boy left as a sacrifice in a cavernous, demon-infested castle because he was born with horns (apparently an unfortunate tradition among his people). Soon after arriving at the castle, Ico frees Yorda, a beautiful, strangely luminous girl several years his senior, from a dangling birdcage and together they must brave the perils presented not only by the semi-amorphous shadow creatures who wish to reclaim her, but by the crumbling structure itself. Ico and Yorda speak different languages and so are unable to understand each other (without the subtitles, the player wouldn't be able to either, since both languages are fictional [but they sound so real, somehow!]). As Ico, you'll have to gesture to Yorda to communicate with her, take her by the hand to lead her, and fight back the undying shadow creatures when they come for her (they can't kill you, but if they take Yorda away, the game ends). While the storytelling in this game is simple (*elemental* would probably be a better word), it is nonetheless very powerful. If you end up liking it, you'll definitely have to play Shadow of the Colossus, its spiritual sequel.

Silent Hill 2
-- So real in some parts, you'll nearly be able to smell the eldritch decay! James Sunderland receives a letter from his dead wife, asking him to come meet her in the interdimensional, spectre-choked town of Silent Hill. It has equal parts visceral and psychological horror (the sickness and punishment-themed monsters are an especially nice touch). Silent Hill has a very interesting mythos; if you are really interested in why the town appears the way it does to some folks, play the first one (it's PS1, but will run on PS2/PS3). And please, please forget the awful, ham-fisted movie; it's nothing like this.

May. 5th, 2008 06:29 am (UTC)
(Still sorry . . .)

PS2 recommendations, continued:

Metal Gear Solid 2 & Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
-- In MGS2, you'll start off as Solid Snake, an ex-government agent/cloning experiment who is one of the three members of the fringe NGO Philanthropy, which opposes the proliferation of metal gear: a type of heavily-armored bipedal tank that can launch, via electromagnetic railgun, an untraceable nuclear warhead from and to any place on the planet. Snake and company will also come to heavy blows with the PATRIOTS, a super-secret organization that controls the U.S. Government behind the scenes (rigging elections and conducting wild experiments and so forth) and which now wishes to completely control and edit the flow of digital information (or create "context," as they like to call it; shades of the Rendon Group, anyone?). In MGS3, you'll play as Solid Snake's clone father on a mission in the 1960's Soviet Union (mostly in an unidentified wilderness area). Make sure to get the "Subsistence" version of MGS3; the "camera" placement is far better, making the game much, much more fun to play. The actual gameplay in these games, by the way, is all about stealth; you'll have to sneak behind the enemy's back and kill him (or, if you prefer, knock him out) only when it's necessary. If you screw up, alert an enemy soldier and fail to silence him before he calls for backup, you'll have a lot of trouble on your hands. If you become more interested in the background of Solid Snake (probably the most compelling video game character in the history of the medium), either play MGS1 for the PS1, MGS: The Twin Snakes for the Gamecube (a completely overhauled version of MGS1 and a truly great game, although a bit harder than MGS2 and 3) or read "In the Darkness of Shadow Moses," an account of Snake's MGS1 adventure "authored" by Natasha Romanenko, Snake's nuclear weapons advisor for that mission (it comes on the MGS2 disc; you can either read it that way, on the TV screen, or you can find it on the Internet). These games are a mixture of over-the-top comic book action, spy-fi (both James Bond-ish and John le Carré-ish), sci-fi (yes, I still use the Acker-man's term), noir, and a bit of good ol' supernatural fantasy.

For the Gamecube:

Eternal Darkness
-- Play about a dozen characters strewn throughout the world AND time as they fight against one of three demon gods (your choice) and its conditionally immortal servant, one-time centurion Pius Augustus. A truly awesome, H.P. Lovecraft-inspired game with some highly original gameplay! Each character that you play behaves very differently; for example, pudgy Roberto Bianchi, a 15th century Venetian architect in Persian captivity, moves much slower and gets out of breath much quicker than Anthony, a 9th century French messenger who is desperately trying to reach Charlemagne, but his ability to use magic (imbued in everyone but Pius' case by the Tome of Eternal Darkness) is much greater than Anthony's. Here's one of the extra-cool bits of garnish in the game: if you allow your sanity meter to drop below a certain point, you will start to hallucinate!

The Wind Waker:
If you can only play one of the 3D Zeldas, in the name of the Gods of Hyrule, make it this one! A beautiful, joyous, life-affirming (yes, I said that), living cartoon is this game!! Heck, I can't really think of anything to say about it at the moment, other than that it's utterly fantastic (it's getting late and I'm getting tired)! But please, avoid Twilight Princess, the following installment; it's savagely mediocre, and a HUGE disappointment after playing this masterpiece.

May. 5th, 2008 06:31 am (UTC)
(Extremely sorry! This is it!)

Gamecube, continued:

-- By far the most outre game I've mentioned. You play as Garcian Smith, a super-assassin who can physically summon his various split personalities to fight for him (there's a special place in my heart for the Mexican wrestler persona, Masque de Smith). Garcian, as it turns out, has received a government contract to take out Heaven's Smiles: insane, invisible, manfactured(?) beings who latch on to the first person they can find and blow themselves up. The game-world is bloody, surreal, funny, frightening, sad, and above all, utterly bewildering. There's a pedophilic super-killer who runs an organ-trade business, a vigilante band of comic book heroes come to life, and a postal worker-cum-new age religious leader/junk catalogue tycoon . . . and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Prepare yourself to be delightfully confused! Oh, and this game's sort of hard if your hand-eye coordination is a little out of joint, so practice a little before you play it.

By the way; Engine Summer is probably one of the most beautiful, meaningful novels I've read in my entire life. Thank you so much for allowing me to live in Rush, and him in me.

Abram Taylor
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )