Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Interactive Fiction Blog

Like electronic poetry, interactive fiction is something I have never encountered before experiencing this Electronic Literature class.  Interactive fiction is a story that can be played like a game.  The user has control over what happens by making different choices which control how the storyline develops.  This story is usually an adventure or a mystery story.  The authors of these interactive fiction stories need to be able to predict what a reader will say, ask, or command.  This way they can create many responses to make their story more diverse and have many different outcomes based on what the reader types.  Since the programmer cannot possibly predict and create meaningful responses to everything that a player might possibly type, it is fairly easy to stump the parser. Likewise, when interacting with a computer-controlled supporting character in the game world, the game will expect the player to type commands that follow patterns like ‘kiss headmaster,’ ‘attack headmaster,’ ‘ask headmaster about Malcolm’, or ‘give book to headmaster.’"  (Jerz, What is Interactive Fiction?) These expected commands will move the story along and create different things to happen.  The personality of the user along with the interests of the user have a great affect on what will happen in the story, because what happens in the story is controlled mainly by the reader.  This is what makes interactive fiction so interesting and so different than how we usually read.  “The pleasure involved in interaction is not simply that of reading.  Nor is it entirely alien from that of reading; if the component reading and writing processes are arranged using puzzles in such a way that the challenges of an interactive fiction world are hard enough and easy enough, and other elements can enhance, and be integral to, the reading pleasure that is involved.”  (Montfort, pg. 1)  The beauty of interactive fiction is that you are not only reading, but you are interacting.  It is much different than a normal story, but is like it in the way that it is still a story, still has a plot, still has characters, and still has literary elements.  It is just a different and more interesting way of reading a story.  This relates to electronic poetry because it is still poetry, but it is just poetry in a more interesting and appealing way.  It is more fun to experience literature electronically and interactively.  It is more appealing to a younger generation as well, particularly my own generation who are heavily dependent on technology.  Many of my peers do not find reading from pages very exciting or something that they would classify as “fun”, but electronic poems and interactive fiction seems to be something that would interest them and be something they would enjoy because of the fact that it is different and very appealing.  I have very much enjoyed interacting with these interactive fiction stories.  It is something I have never encountered before but in this class I’ve had chances to read and write my own.  In a world where having control is a necessity to many, being able to control the outcome of the story you are reading can be very satisfying.  The world is changing, technology is changing, so why shouldn’t the way we read stories change as well?  This is not a replacement of books and written words, but just a new way of enjoying them.

When beginning an IF, the user is first given a prologue, which is a beginning description of the story before the user does anything.  After this, a symbol will be shown, usually a “>” meaning the user can now type in commands that consist of different actions the protagonist should do. The protagonist is the main character of the story.  These imperative commands can include directional commands like “Go east,” or “exit room,” or other commands like “take bag,” along with many other commands.  These commands may sometimes be rejected by the story.  The parser, which is a voice that asks you questions like, “Which do you mean?” or makes statements like, “I do not recognize that verb,” will let you know if your command was not accepted.  Though, if you give an accepted command, the story will unfold.  Different things will happen depending on the different things you say, and this will affect the ending you get.  When you give a command, you will get an answer, and this is called an exchange.  Within the story there will be other players that you are able to interact with.  You can say, “Talk to Emma,” or, “tell Emma…” or “ask Emma…” and you will get another response from the story.  You can also tell the game to quit, save or to give you clues if you are stuck.  Sometimes while playing the game you may become stuck.  This can happen if you are not choosing the right verb to say.  For example, in the IF “All Roads”, which is a pretty difficult IF, one of the most difficult I have played, I got stuck.  This story began with a man that was lying down in bed.  You had to get him to get out of the bed for the story to begin.  Then the real story began in Venice, Italy.  A man with a noose around his neck on a scaffold is about to be put to death.  I tell him to escape, go and fall.  I kept trying different verbs and it was difficult, but eventually this part of the story ends.  I’m not sure what the ending means, but it seems that he falls beneath the ground because it says that he exits the scaffold a different way than the stairs.  The character ends up in a dark room with his hands still tied.  He hears two people outside and sees birds.  In this room you must do many things.  You must make your character look around the room.  He will see a few things, a ring, a note, and something covered in dust.  You must use problem-solving skills and know that you must blow off the dust, because there is nothing else in the room that you can really interact with.  It is basically empty besides this object, and you are bound and cannot move.  You must say, “blow dust,” or something of the equivalent.  Then the story will respond with, You close your eyes and blow; the dust billowing back at you in a cloud. You try to wave it away, cannot, and are forced to retreat for a few moments, eyes watering. When they clear, you see an old wine bottle has been uncovered.”  (Ingold, "All Roads")  After this, you must know to break the bottle and use the glass to cut the ropes that bind your hands. It takes a lot of thinking and many commands to finally figure out what you must do.  I tried to get the character to stand up, to untie the rope, to speak, and to do other things.  Most of these did not work, but I finally figured out what to do after many tries.  Then you must direct the character to stand up and move to the door and exit the room using directions like east, west, north, south, because these are what you must use in IF to move your characters.  Though, you must remember to take items with you that you saw in the room.  I took the rope and the broken glass.  You would do this by saying, “Take rope and glass.”  After this was where I had a lot of trouble.  Once you open the door and go through it, there is a room with a staircase and a guard at the top of it.  I said many actions like, “Kill guard,” or “stab guard,” or “attack guard.”  I said these multiple times and kept saying things of the equivalent, but it would not work for me.  After many times of saying the action, my character finally attacked the guard and I got past this part of the game.  It was very difficult to get by this part of the story, for it kept rejecting my commands.  You just have to keep trying and keep typing in different commands and you will eventually get a response.  After this part of the story the character was on the ground level with very bloody clothes.  You have to get rid of the bloody clothes, or clean them in some way, but this part I did not get past.  Once you get by parts of the IF, the story continues and eventually it will end.  “All Roads” is an IF with many challenges and puzzles.  Every part of the story was a puzzle that you had to get by to get to the next part of the story.  You had to figure out specific actions to command to get through the story, and if you did not, you did not reach the end of the story.  One example among many, (that are also stated above), is when you are in the dark room, you have to figure out to blow the dust, break the bottle, and cut the rope binding your hands.  That is a challenge that you must figure out, and without figuring this out, you do not solve this particular puzzle and move on in the story.  The puzzles and challenges make this story much like a problem-solving game.  This IF also has many elements of literary fiction.  It has a plot, which is the story of a man who is a fugitive on the run, the characters, which are the protagonist and the people he interacts with, and a setting, which is Venice.  This interactive fiction story is an actual story, you just have to work through it to unfold all of the pieces.  This particular IF is more of a problem-solving game, because there are not different outcomes or endings, you just have to figure out how to make the game respond.  You can get different responses from another person playing the same game when you give different commands, but the outcome of the story will end up being the same.  That’s what makes this IF more like a story that you have to unfold.

Interactive fiction stories have many different scenarios created by the author.  How it ends and how it unfolds depends completely on the user.  The different commands you use will affect everything that happens.  When the author creates the story, he or she creates it so that many different scenarios can happen depending on the different commands.  This is what makes interactive fiction so great.  You control what happens, and every time you play you can get a different outcome.  Some have more scenarios than others.  “All Roads” did not have many, but an IF that I particularly liked which had numerous scenarios and endings, was “Galatea”.  In this IF, a man walked into an art exhibit where there was a life-size woman statue named Galatea who was alive.  This story had many things available to type and do.  You could say many things to Galatea and she would answer you and say things back to you.  People in the class got many different answers and endings from Galatea.  Depending on what people said and how they acted toward Galatea, they would get many different endings.  Some endings were bad ones, where Galatea got mad at you, or you ended up leaving, or Galatea left, or there were good endings where Galatea sat next to you, or hugged you, or opened up to you and revealed deep information about her.  In this IF you could tell Galatea things, ask her things, ask her about certain things, or just talk to her.  I myself confided in Galatea and told her much about my life and the saddness I held inside.  She sat and listened, and at the end my character felt much better and relieved, and the story was just over without Galatea saying a word.  The last sentence said, "By the end of the evening you feel as though you’ve been through a wringer, and at the same time strangely healed. (Someone should write a psychologist program for animates. It would make millions.)" (Short, "Galatea")  The story elements of this IF work with the game elements because you play it like a game, but the way you play it determines how the story turns out.  You could have completely different stories each time, just by playing the game differently.  This If was interesting because it had literary elements, like characters and a storyline, but it was completely in the hands of the user what happened in the story.  I thought this was the most interesting one because of that fact, and also the fact that you could play this game multiple times and get different endings each time. 

In this Electronic Literature class, I myself had the chance to use the program Inform 7 (the program used by authors writing interactive fiction) start writing my own interactive fiction story.  This story I was writing was a story of a baseball player who was late for a huge game, and the point of this game was to get the player out of his apartment with his necessities, and find his way to his game.  I was not able to get very far, for writing interactive fiction is much harder than it looks, but I was able to begin my story.  Inform 7 opens with a window where you can type your story.  First you had to type, Use American dialect and full-length room descriptions.  This would enable the game to know what you needed from the program so the story would go the way you wanted.  Then, we were required to write a prologue.  You would type, When play begins say “…” and whatever you put in the quotations would be the prologue.  Everything we wanted the story to say we would have to put in quotations.  Then I had to create my first “room”.  Every different place in interactive fiction is a “room”.  This could be indoors, outdoors, in a hallway, in a car, in an actual room, etc.  For example, my first room was the man’s apartment.  My second room was the hallway, my third was the elevator, and my fourth was the lobby.  You had to state that these were rooms by typing The apartment is a room., and then adding quotations and a description.  I then had to describe the room and add some scenery.  My scenery was the man’s cell phone.  I typed The phone is scenery in the apartment.  Following this I added a description of this scenery for when the player would type something like “examine phone”, or “look at phone”.  They would then get a response from the story describing the phone.  You have to make sure that you give synonyms like this that the interactor could use when typing in responses.  You also have to put something in the “room” that the user could take.  In mine the user could take the equipment that was on the floor, and the phone.  I also labeled this equipment as scenery.  You also have to describe the objects that you take, so when the user says “Examine..” the game will answer back with an explanation.  Other “rooms” must be added when you move to a different place in the game, and you need to add in directional words like east, west, north, south, to get to these “rooms”.  In my game the man starts in his apartment.  He moves to a different “room” when he moves into the hallway, and into a different “room” when he moves into the elevator, and into the last “room” of my story so far when he moves into the lobby.  These rooms also can have people that you are able to speak to, called non-player characters.  I had to type Jack is in the elevator. Then I had to add a description of Jack and dialogue of both the man and Jack, so if the interactor decided to talk to Jack by saying “Talk to Jack”, or something of the equivalent, they could speak to him and he would answer.  I added another person, Emma, the receptionist, as well in my last room, which was the lobby.  When I introduced Emma, that was where my story ended.  I did not have time to move on in my story, and I had hit a roadblock.  Throughout writing this story on inform 7 we had to test our game.  There is a “Go” button at the top of the window that would allow you to play your game and make sure that everything worked out smoothly if someone else were to play your game.  I had had some trouble throughout my game getting it to run smoothly and work.  Sometimes it does not work if you do not type the right things around your quotations.  You have to type these things to let the game know what you want so that it will work when someone plays it and it will respond correctly.  Many times I would attempt to play my game and it would need me to correct something before it could be played.  I became very frustrated because with this technology you have to be very specific and type everything just right.  The things within quotations were important, but the words outside of the quotations were what made the story work correctly.  If they were not right according to Inform 7, they did not work, and I had a lot of trouble with this because it is new and confusing to me, and me but with help I was able to figure things out.  Inform 7 is an overwhelming software, because it is very particular and I am very unfamiliar with it.  It is unlike anything I have ever used, so I was not used to this, and it is very time consuming to work through it and get your story to where you want it to be.  I also had trouble with the ending of my IF.  When I played the game and got to the end, my IF would work, but I did not know what to type to figure out how to speak to Emma.  I was not sure what to add in my IF to make this part easier to get past, and I could not get past it myself, so someone playing it would not be able to either.  Writing an If is very frustrating to me, but rewarding as well because you are using your brain much more.  It is so frustrating because you not only have to come up with one story, you have to come up with multiple stories and scenarios that a person reading your IF might think of.  You have to think as the author, and as the reader.  I was inspired by this experience, because it is a much harder task being an IF author than it seems.  It helps me to know how what I am reading is created, and to appreciate it better.  It is also inspiring because it is so different than just writing on paper.  You have to be more creative and think more when you are in the process of writing an IF.  Writing this IF opened up creative possibilities for me because I have never encountered writing like this before.  I have written on paper for many years of my life, where it is easier to express thoughts because you are not caught up in the complexity of Inform 7, but interactive fiction is a whole new way of writing, that I am glad I had the chance of experiencing.

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