Thursday, January 21, 2010

Spin

I'm working on a technically simple but conceptually far-reaching Inform 7 extension to fundamentally alter the power dynamic between author and player.

The idea is to stop punishing players for not thinking the exact way a given author does. Since IF's open-ended interface gives the illusion of open-ended solutions to problems that almost always have one and exactly one implemented solution, players are invariably let down when their well-reasoned out solutions are not options implemented by the author. (Even assuming the game has no guess-the-verb, hinting, or bug-related problems.)

"Spin" is an experimental extension to address this by introducing a meta-device (on the level of SAVE and UNDO) that lets player and author take turns having ultimate authority over the story. When the author has spin, he can introduce puzzles and prevent the player's forward progress through the narrative. But solving a puzzle, or earnestly interacting with it without hitting on the author's arbitrarily correct solution, transfers the spin to the player. The player can then spend it (returning it to the author) to bypass a puzzle, effectively saying "I'm still interested in your story, just not this part."

The goal is to assist more players in reaching the middles and ends of interactive stories they are genuinely interested in, but frustrated by, without them having to feel they are "cheating" by consulting out-of-game hints or walkthroughs.

Sample transcript follows. I'm very interested in responses or suggestions.

>DOWN

Hall of the Mountain King
You are in the hall of the mountain king, with passages off in all directions.

A huge green fierce snake bars the way!

>WEST
The huge green snake bars the way!

>KILL SNAKE
Attacking the snake both doesn't work and is very dangerous.

>GIVE FOOD TO SNAKE
There's nothing here it wants to eat (except perhaps you).

(You reclaim spin.)

>SPIN
Visible things that can be spun: the snake.

>SPIN SNAKE
You notice the snake reclines under a vicious stalactite. Finding a loose rock from the ground, you heft it, then hurl it with all your strength at the stalactite. It shatters, raining stones down on the snake. The stones and snake disappear into a crevasse, and after a few moments, everything is silent again.

Hall of the Mountain King
You are in the hall of the mountain king, with passages off in all directions.

(Spin goes back to me.)

>

...(later)...

A huge green fierce dragon bars the way!

>SPIN DRAGON
You don't have spin.

>EXAMINE DRAGON
I wouldn't mess with it if I were you.

>KILL DRAGON
With what? Your bare hands?

>YES
Congratulations! You have just vanquished a dragon with your bare hands! (Unbelievable, isn't it?)

(You reclaim spin.)

>EAST

Secret E/w Canyon Above Tight Canyon

A threatening little dwarf comes out of the shadows!

>THROW AXE
You can't see any such thing.

>SPIN DWARF
With a sudden burst of fury, you slam the dwarf against the cave wall and strip away his supply of nasty little knives. As you release him, he slinks away into the shadows, casting a hateful glance back. This one, at least, won't be troubling you again.

Secret E/w Canyon Above Tight Canyon

(Spin goes back to me.)

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