GOT LAMP

10/24/2010

 
I just finished Jason Scott's IF documentary GET LAMP.
  • After the intro, I thought, "Wow, an old computer turning on, then a bunch of old guys talking about caves. That'll keep 'em on the edge of their seats!" I suppose this isn't meant to be marketing or evangelism, but it still could have opened with a hook.
  • IF people are very articulate (and the interviews were well edited). Often these documentaries include a lot of gushing and undirected verbiage, but not with this crowd. As Brian Moriarty said of early IF, it had a "friendly, smart-people feel about it."
  • Were blind players the only minority in the documentary? Not a criticism, just interesting that it falls out that way.
  • GET LAMP made the point that early IF provided an immersive experience under tight technological constraints. In fact, that is part of why it was financially successful and even drove computer sales: interactive text was much deeper than the simple games and graphics of the times. And as Richard Bartle argued, text coupled to our imaginations will always be superior to any hardware. Early IF authors innovated around their constraints to accomplish as much as possible. Some of it worked, some didn't, but they kept trying. It's been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and that constraints can fuel creativity. I sort of feel that since hardware limitations have been removed, IF has been content to stagnate, ignoring the restrictions of market forces, reader demographics, streamlined interfaces, etc.
  • The interviewees seemed pretty convinced that puzzle is the enemy of story, at least for modern readers. On the other hand, solving good puzzles in IF is an experience unparalleled in almost any other medium, and IF junkies will keep chasing that 'aha!' high. But it seems new players need a gateway drug.
GET LAMP was very well done, and I enjoyed it, even the reminiscing about about early computers (I goofed around on my folks' TRS-80 when I was seven). I had hoped it would be a catchy introduction to the medium, but liked it for what it was, and it should hold up well for future audiences.
 

CYOA Goodness

10/21/2010

 
Choose-your-own-adventure books are often slighted by the IF community for their simple branching structures and lack of true interaction/world modeling. Fair enough, but I think interesting stories can still be told in this semi-static medium, and each of the following games is notable for its presentation or story.

Thousand Dollar Soul
A sci-fi story that is deeper (and creepier) than it first appears. You'll have to play through several of the 35 endings to piece the whole picture together. The interface allows you to back up as much as you want.

Air Pressure
A visual novel about a relationship with a needy friend. Or is it?

The Outbreak
An interactive zombie survival movie. It has the usual limitations of interactive movies, plus horror movie clichés, but does some clever things with a few branches, and dying is as fun as winning.

Dead Frontier: Outbreak
Dead Frontier: Outbreak 2
Two zombie apocalypse choose-your-own-adventures, with music, voice-over, and background graphics. Click to skip through text.

Choice of Dragon
Choice of Broadsides
Choice of Romance
Choice of the Vampire
These are the best written on this list, and mechanically interesting as well. Each game tracks attributes for your character's choices, and the story changes based on your attributes, sometimes in substantial ways. While I'm not usually a fan of the genres they chose, all but Vampire got me hooked. It is in itself notable for the broad scope it attempts, though it ultimately fell short of a good story, in my opinion.
 
 
At AdventureDevelopers.com, Beiddie Rafól has written a feature called The Cold Hotspot. The Adventure Developers site is geared toward graphical adventures, and the feature's four articles (1, 2, 3, and 4) discuss the fallen state of once-popular adventure games, and possibilities for the future. According to Rafól, there are almost no commercial adventure releases and he describes a vicious cycle of unwillingness to change format or content, poor market research, ineffective advertising, and lack of financial success or backing. He mentions a cluster of recent or in-development titles as bright spots in a dimmed corner of the gaming market, and hopes they and yet-future adventure games will attract the growing segment of gamers who want to think and discover instead of twitch and destroy.

The feature was written in 2005.

As you can tell (or already knew), graphical adventures and IF have a lot in common as mediums: an early form of computer game, once popular and commercially successful, now virtually unknown in the PC and console market, even if you define them more broadly than purists insist upon. And IF is even farther behind adventure games in brand recognition, commercial success, and inflexibility in the face of today's market forces.

I'm sure articles similar to Rafól's were also being written about IF five years ago. Since then, the gaming industry has continued to boom. The number of casual gamers has increased dramatically. The fiction market is still huge. This generation reads and links copious amounts of digital text in e-books, websites, blogs, forums, comments, social networking, IM, and texting.

Yet adventure games and IF continue with virtually zero market share. What gives?