It occurs to me that Inform 7 was so successful because it redefined interactive fiction authoring as writing prose, while Twine’s impact was due to redefining CYOA authoring as constructing a graph. Both were revolutionary — paradigm shifts in the truest sense of the word — because they allowed authors to practice their craft in the language of the craft itself. Where by language I don’t mean the specific symbols you work with, but more generally the system of communication you employ to describe whatever is on your mind at any one time.
The world of programming at large would do well to learn from these success stories. Because while Inform 7 radically changed the way people can describe games to a computer and each other, Haskell for example merely shifted the blame.
Hello, everyone. After my rant about game complexity last week, it occurred to me that someone who’s been reading this blog from the start might deem me hypocritical, seeing how I once praised the manual for Master of Orion. Then again, I learned to play the game by having a friend show me the basics for a few minutes; the manual only helped clarified a few things. Same with Civilization, or the early SimCities. So you see, it’s not about games being hard. (I never came close to winning MoO, before or after reading the manual.) It’s about games being too complicated to friggin’ play, let alone have fun with, unless you’re willing to put in countless hours.
And now, on to game development news.
I was going to work on a game these days, both because change is good (I just finished writing a story) and in order to get an old promise out of the way. But sometimes things just don’t go the way we want them to. After a quote from my latest newsletter made the rounds on Twitter, I made the mistake of sharing a link to the whole thing. Given the controversial nature of what I wrote, guess it was a lucky thing that only Emily Short answered me, and her entire reaction to it was, I quote,
Fair enough. I owe you an explanation, Emily. Pun not intended at all.
Over at the Rampant Coyote blog, Jay Barnson is at it again, writing an article I wish had occurred to me. Namely, about the way games trying to be art at any cost is a trap. I would add that trying to make Art on purpose doesn’t work. Indiana Jones never tried to be more than good old pulpy action fun; it only ended up having such a tremendous influence on subsequent cinema because they did what they set out to do as well as they could. Which just happened to be very, very well. Same with the Barsoom series, Conan or any other classic franchise you care to name, regardless of medium.
This is especially relevant to me, because for the past two years or so I’ve been writing a bunch of science-fiction (which is why I haven’t been so active in the game-making department), and one of the most common accusations leveled at my writing has been that it’s pulp.
So, I spent much of last week preparing and then running an RPG session. Normally, I suck at making up stories (believe me, I tried for years). But as a game master, I’m actually adequate, or so my players tell me. Which used to puzzle me: if static, linear storytelling is hard, interactive storytelling should be much harder, right?
It took me a long time to understand that it’s the other way around. With the imagination of other people helping you, it should be much easier (for reasons I will explain in a moment). But this conclusion raises another question: if that’s the case, why do videogames, as a rule, have such sucky stories that some people question whether they should try for stories at all?