Incredibly Cool Site for Writers…

Here we have fictional characters from various famous novels rendered pictorally by police artists.

Published in: on February 17, 2012 at 9:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Let’s Raid Wikipedia!

Who else needs a break from IFComp 2010 awesomeness?

The sad fact is that the Wikipedia article on Plot is abysmally skeletal.  Like an underfed chicken.  And, let’s face it, plot is a super-interesting topic!

A couple times, over the years, I’ve tried to add things to this entry, only to have some “editor” come along, compare the differences and say to himself (apparently):

What is this?  Someone has altered the meaning of this paragraph.  Revert!

–Generally without doing any basic research to see if the new meaning is more factually correct.

BUT, this time I think I’m starting to make some headway.  I’ve got the Latest Reverter saying, “Ok, ok, fine, just go away–”  (Didn’t you love to hear that from your parents?  It was basically carte blanche:   go ahead and paint the cat a better color, just do it quietly!)

You know what I think we need?

A history of plot.  Currently they just have Freytag’s pyramid, which is all anyone says about Freytag and isn’t even why he’s cool.  We can put in some Aristotle to give Freytag some context, work in some Agusto Boal, maybe, for an alternative point of view, and then get modern–

I dunno, you guys tell me:  Who talks about the function of plot in modern video games?  In CYOAs? 

I mean, this is Wikipedia.  We really should have something more than Freytag’s Pyramid.

C’mon, guys.  Pitch in.

Published in: on October 16, 2010 at 3:48 pm  Comments (3)  
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More Scandalous than “Academics Discover D&D”–!

The story WAS going to be that sociologists have created a society rpg sim for participatory study of sociology, modeled on D&D.  It has a player’s handbook and a coordinator’s handbook.  But it turns out that SIMSOC predates D&D.  I, for one, am scandalized.

It’s interesting.  You can form police, or a gang; or riot; join together with other players and persecute minorities; or be persecuted, if you are a minority; join a group, like the mass media, the judicial system, or so on.

I don’t know that it would make for good IF, although I’m reading it with an eye to that — but it would make for a great MUD.  Probably infringe all over if you followed the SIMSOC system slavishly, but there’s plenty of room for tweakage.

You can peek at some pages of the book online here, or visit the official website here.

Published in: on September 27, 2010 at 2:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Jumping Conclusions Scientifically: Reading IF Reviews

As a boy, when I learned the difference between induction and deduction, I was deeply impressed, and went looking for instruction on how to do induction.  Everybody knows how to do deduction:  Socrates is a man; all men are mortal; therefore, Socrates is mortal.  — But where do you get the rules?

You get them, of course, from induction.  But all the material I found on induction was really stupid.  One explained that, you look at Mercury and determine it’s sphereoidal; and at Venus, and determine it’s sphereoidal; and so on to Pluto; and from this you determine “inductively” that all planets are sphereoidal.

Which is useless, of course.

John Stuart Mill, of intro philosophy course fame for his ethical theory, identified and formalized the rules we intuitively use to work from specific cases to general ones.  Get good at them and you can work with fuzzy, non-quantifiable data scientifically. 

These are the basic rules that Jared Diamond used to organize his historical observations in Guns, Germs, and Steel.  I’m writing them up to encourage you to use them for cross-comparison of IF Comp reviews this year.

Key.  We’ll have A, B, C, D, E, F, G refer to properties of the game being reviewed, and t, u, v, w, x, y, z refer to opinions of the reviewer.  The question is, what game properties reliably elicit what reviewer opinions. (more…)

IF: Call for Pet Theories

[posted to the Boston IF group; crossposting here]

I’m moving back to the Boston area soon. This group got organized just a few months after I left, which I felt was very unfair — anyway, I’m looking forward to meeting up with you guys.

(Do you have a weekly schedule?)

I’d like to talk with you folks, in or out of the Official Group Meetings, and collectively or one-on-one, about all our pet theories regarding IF — what software solution the community needs today /or/ that the ideal IF of the future will not be parser-driven, but based on brain scanners /or/ whatever you’ve got.

I’d just like to meet for some chats on this basis.

My own pet theory, of course, has to do with hypnosis, and it runs something like this:

A TOTE is a behavioral feedback loop. TOTE stands for “Test-Operate-Test-Exit.” Here one usually draws a flowchart that goes something like: Is the temperature in this room comfy? No -> tweak the thermostat and wait. Now is it comfy? No -> repeat. Yes -> exit.

It’s a basic unit; you can look at complicated behaviors as a lot of these guys nested inside one another.

One application, of course, might be to use these to create smarter NPCs. I’m working on that, although it isn’t easy by virtue of my virtual incompetence in programming.

Another application is via hypnotism —

Because you can look at hypnotism as the project of mapping behavior onto language, and tinkering with the language in order to tinker with the behavior (for a therapeutic result). And one way of doing this is by telling stories, which are great vehicles for communicating with the unconscious mind. These teaching stories are called *hypnotic metaphor*, and there’s a lot of ways to do it.

But, when we look at behavior through the TOTE lense, we translate each TOTE into a micro-narrative and nest those narratives inside one another. These are called *loops* — after the computer programming strategy of nesting loops.

The upshot of this is, if the hypnotic technique is sound — and it seems to be — you *ought* to be able to write games that foster emotional growth, healing, and skill acquisition.

Besides that dimension of benefit — finding a theoretical model for designing games that players will respond to more deeply — the other dimension is that, designing a game in TOTEs means designing your scenes as interlocking mini-games. And a benefit of that could be (as I recently posted in a comment on Emily’s blog) that your player has more freedom to spend time in the parts of the narrative that interest him.

So — a different way of considering choice structure, a different way of considering narrative structure, potential for creating hypnotically benefitial text games; that’s my pet theory. And I assure you, if anyone wants to talk in person about it, I can expand on any of these points, TOTE-like.

What are your pet theories?


Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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Free MIT Course in Interactive Fiction

MIT OpenCourseWare offers a freely downloadable open course on interactive fiction here. The premium version was taught in 2004: “Interactive and Non-Linear Narrative: Theory and Practice,” with Dr. Kurt Fendt.

The course blurb:

This course explores the properties of non-linear, multi-linear, and interactive forms of narratives as they have evolved from print to digital media. Works covered in this course range from the Talmud, classics of non-linear novels, experimental literature, early sound and film experiments to recent multi-linear and interactive films and games. The study of the structural properties of narratives that experiment with digression, multiple points of view, disruptions of time, space, and of storyline is complemented by theoretical texts about authorship/readership, plot/story, properties of digital media and hypertext. Questions that will be addressed in this course include: How can we define ‘non-linearity/multi-linearity’, ‘interactivity’, ‘narrative’. To what extend are these aspects determined by the text, the reader, the digital format? What kinds of narratives are especially suited for a nonlinear/ interactive format? Are there stories that can only be told in a digital format? What can we learn from early non-digital examples of non-linear and interactive story telling?


There’s another one, here. “Interactive and Non-Linear Narrative: Theory and Practice,” with Prof. Beth Coleman.

This course covers techniques of creating narratives that take advantage of the flexibility of form offered by the computer. The course studies the structural properties of book-based narratives that experiment with digression, multiple points of view, disruptions of time and of storyline. The class analyzes the structure and evaluates the literary qualities of computer-based narratives including hypertexts, adventure games, and classic artificial intelligence programs like Eliza. With this base, students use authoring systems to model a variety of narrative techniques and to create their own fictions. Knowledge of programming is helpful but not necessary.

Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 10:43 am  Comments (1)  
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Facts of IF: Design Points

A while ago, I was going over the data I pulled from the Comp 09 scores and survey results.  I was interrupted in that — I moved, and then a lot of stuff happened — and I’m not sure when I’ll get back to it.

However, I will be creating a Comp 10 survey, which ought to close the holes in this one, and which I’ll have open from the beginning of the Comp.  It will be broken down by game, so judges can give targeted feedback on games as they play the Comp, if they want to.

Meantime, here are the overall conclusions I have so far drawn from the data: (more…)

Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 6:34 pm  Comments (3)  
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Facts of IF: Why did Astounding Castle Do So Well?

If you’ve been following the theorizing here on OneWetSneaker, you’ve heard me hammering away at the fact that Comp scores tend overwhelmingly to follow immersiveness ratings.  But that’s not always true:  sometimes a game completely pigs out when it comes to immersiveness, but scores much better.

Yon Astounding Castle of some sort, for example, was rated at 3.75 for immersiveness; but it scored an astounding 5.34 — which *is* astounding for a game with such a low immersiveness rating.  How did YAC do it? (more…)

Published in: on November 18, 2009 at 8:36 pm  Comments Off on Facts of IF: Why did Astounding Castle Do So Well?  
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Facts of IF: Why Did Byzantine Perspective Do So Poorly?

In general, I don’t much like puzzle IF.  Nevertheless, I am a big fan of this game.  This puzzle is so nifty, so creative, and so cool that I was really looking forward to it placing well in the Comp.  Also I appreciated the author for implementing ‘nab.’  Instead, it got a 5.76, putting it in ninth place out of 24:  not even in the top third.

Partly that’s because we had a very good Comp this year.  Even so:  as an end product, it was a better work of IF than the higher-scoring _Earl Grey_, and as an inspired work it was much better than _Snow Quest_ — all due respect to those authors.

Really, it should have done better.  Why didn’t it? (more…)

Published in: on November 18, 2009 at 6:34 am  Comments (11)  
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Freytag’s Technique of the Drama (and AutoBlurb, live)

This is such a great book I’ll squeeze it in here, sideways.

Gustav Freytag’s Technique of the Drama is a long, older book that’s available online. A very useful, insightful, and overlooked book.

Freytag says that the dramatic is not emotion and not action, but it is emotion conjoined with action; it is action that is undertaken for emotional reasons. (Shades of Foster-Harris, but with a different palette.) He says drama is composed of play and counter-play: the play is what the hero does and the counter-play is what is done that has an effect on his psyche. He argues that the tragic should be an essentially ethical force which the hero must fulfill (again the resonance with F-H).

He breaks drama into five parts, with three crises joining them. The five parts are the introduction, the rise, the climax, the fall, and the catastrophe. (He only deals in the tragic; no happy endings here.) The three crises are the exciting moment (or exciting force), the tragic moment (or force), and the moment (or force) of last suspense.

He goes through Romeo and Juliette to show how to use minor characters like chess pieces to push around the major characters and make things happen. Indeed, he steps through the process of making a germ of an idea into an entire work — not formulaically, but nevertheless with an eye to the practical and useful.

There’s a slightly typoed pdf of his book here. You can get image-only scans online quite easily.

(That link broke somehow.  It’s fixed now.  I guess I can’t link directly to the pdf.  But the pdf is available for free download on the newly-linked page.)

Meanwhile, AutoBlurb is live and online! You can get completely fresh, random plots generated by clicking these links: Here for classic Polti plots, or here for Polti plots souped up with sci-fi contexts taken from S. John Ross’s Big List of RPG Plots.

Note:  AutoBlurb online does all kinds of weird things with punctuation.  I don’t know why; I don’t have ready access to the online version to streamline the generator file.  These formatting troubles don’t show up if you use the desktop program.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 8:34 am  Comments (1)  
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