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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Interactivity ... to a fault?

This quote, via Gamasutra, of CliffyB's ... which in turn is via Corvus (who apparently has way more time to write these days than myself and is therefore my nominee to win NaNoWriMo), which was actually prompted by Patrick's comment ... which .... *takes breath* ... is this:

The fundamental problem with making an interactive narrative is like – how would you make Lethal Weapon 2, the buddy cop movie - if in the first scene Danny Glover turns to Mel Gibson and shoots him in the head? Never underestimate the ability of the user to undermine the narrative you're trying to tell. You have to allow for every single scenario. You're empowering the user's ability to make the game look stupid, essentially.


To which my highly elucidated response would be: sort of.

Let me explain. Right now in the interactive fiction I'm writing, the playable character is with his mother (she, in fact, rides on your back for most of this chapter). Now the mother will be a fairly central character through the whole story. So if you decide to strangle her at the first scene, you wouldn't be able to finish the story.

However, it's not really a problem. See, this is all Valve's fault. The concept of a tabula rasa character is interesting, but in reality just doesn't work. Gordon Freeman is not you. You are playing a character named Gordon Freeman, and are therefore bound to the kind of character boundaries of Freeman. You can't shoot an innocent person trying to help you in Half-Life 2 because Gordon would never do that.

The allure of tabula rasa exists primarily in first person shooters because of, well, the first person. That's the narrative I. You are right in the driver's seat. Interactive fiction generally uses second person, so there is the chance for the narrative to contradict your actions. It will tell you that strangling your mother might sound like a good idea, but you'd never actually do it.

The basic way to do that with a first person perspective would be to have the character initiate an inner monologue. Point a gun at a helpful character and pull the trigger, you hear the main character say. "I wouldn't do that." (or something better written). However, thanks to Valve, everyone's convinced that main character dialogue is somehow intrusive. Which is, imho, bunk.

3 comments:

Corvus said...

Don't count on that nomination paying off unless something about my schedule dramatically changes! In fact, my blog word count for the month is higher than my NaNoWriMo word count. That may change next week, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

More on topic: Character dialogue can be intrusive if not handled adeptly, but it can also be done quite well and really frame the narrative nicely.

The other thing to keep in mind that not allowing a player to shoot/strangle a key character is not the same thing as restricting them from trying to do so.

Corvus said...

In fact, the early IF games did this a lot. You tried something inane and the parser would reply something along the lines of, "Putting the X up the Y of Z doesn't do anything."

True, it's not much different than not letting you attempt it, but they didn't negate the attempt, only reported a lack of result.

> strangle mother

Your mother slaps your hands away, annoyed by your futile attempts at matricide, "Cut it out, she snaps. It's time to be serious."

Josh said...

Character dialogue can be intrusive if not handled adeptly, but it can also be done quite well and really frame the narrative nicely.

Right-o. Any dialogue can be intrusive if not done well. Inane or out of character lines will jar, but if you have lines along the manner of Duke Nukem which were funny and in-character ...

True, it's not much different than not letting you attempt it, but they didn't negate the attempt, only reported a lack of result.

Right, negating the attempt completely feels wrong (which was the intrusion in HL2 and other titles - forcibly moving the gun away) ... it's the narration which needs to accurately portray what the character can and can't do.

Course, I am oversimplifing things some. For instance, where does one draw the line of honest friendly fire - a perfectly viable game mechanic at times, and letting the player gun down their sidekick?

In cases like that, I'm always surprised developers shy away from the "ultimate consequence" solution. Sure, you can gun down you sidekick ... but then the screen goes red a little bit later and you fail.