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Thread: Let's talk about stories & mechanics in games (in IF but not only IF)

  1. #1
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo

    Let's talk about stories & mechanics in games (in IF but not only IF)

    This is coming from a thread in Comm Chat that should be its own discussion.

    I'm going to quote from what was said there down below for context, and we don't need the spoil tags anymore.

    I want to reply a little to a few things things at least that were brought up in the comments that followed mine, and maybe change some of my first comment.

    I actually really like some of the simpler Twine-style form of IFs. I also loved Photopia for example, and I liked the "future of football" mixed-media thing in the thread that started this discussion. The part I don' t like isn't the mechanics per se, it's a kind of tone or voice. The best way I could put it in my first post was when the story of a game starts looking more like "virtue signal tennis" than a plot that has an emotional arc from A to B, and especially, that brings a person to consider other ways of life very different from theirs, alienating, not sharing our values at all, in fact possibly quite hostile to our values but that demand our respect anyway, but an experience, once you've gone through it, you come out with your mind expanded and stretched into new territory.

    I think there's a loose correlation between game mechanics and that kind of punchline, but not necessarily as Twine-style game-stories can also be mind-expanding (the good way the way I'm framing it here) and definitely very sophisticated games can still be too-mind-comforting (the disappointing way in this framing).

    As for Twine-style storytelling (or you could say walking sim style storytelling FTM) "taking over the genre", I read that from other people talking about it. But what I think this is more about isn't so much how many games are coming out on this or that platform, but the exasperation you see from people advocating the Twine / Ren'Py route and warning against the TADS / Inform route, which I don't think you see as much in the opposite direction. ... In the sense that when Ren'Py and Twine both came out, I liked the systems and thought of great possibilities for them. But I feel like they've been used in very troped ways that don't push the boundaries much at all. And it's the exclusionary tone of people making games of that type that I was thinking about, I think, more than the fact people are using it at all. (I'm having to boil this whole line of thought down too. There's more I want to say about it, but maybe this is a start.)

    This is actually part of a much bigger story about an arguable trend or development in the tone of videogame storytelling generally, or the culture of what people are hoping to get out of game storytelling, since we're in this era of playing up narratives and games "saying things" to players (e.g., walking sims and the walking sim influence on all kinds of games), which is why I thought it was worthwhile bringing it up in Gen Gaming.

    For example, this is part of the same story about the varied fate of Immersive Sims, since my idea of Immersive Sims is an open world with rich systems you can interact with that's very different from ours but immerses us in it to challenge and alienate us, but still draw us into it anyway. As opposed to a game world that minimizes the interaction points to almost nothing and coddles us into a comfortable lull every turn along the way. And in my thinking, the fate of immersive sims rises and falls on ones allegiance to what games should be doing for or saying to players.

    Uh, there's so much more I could say, but maybe I'll just leave it to other people to comment with their thoughts and let the thread meander where it will. I think most of you get the idea of what I'm talking about though, this kind of trend in gaming culture. Or maybe I'm making too much of it.

    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue View Post
    The one thing I didn't like (this isn't a spoiler, but it could give one expectations they'd be better off not having going in)... okay, I also hang around the interactive fiction (IF) community, so this debate has already been a thing there since the 2000s. And this isn't even that debate exactly, but it reminds me of it. And there's a larger debate across all of social media too. Okay, there are different ways you could frame it. Maybe the simplest way is it has a Tumblr voice (a lot of platforms also have that voice, but it's most purified in Tumblr maybe). And it has some of the thinking that's transformed IF over the last 10~20 years into something still maybe clever in a way, but not really enlightening. (You could boil that debate down to the influence of Twine and how its tropes have practically taken over the genre, IF where you're basically just clicking links down narrative trees, as opposed to the IF made on TADS and Inform, where you're coding an actual parser.)

    This had so many cool ideas in it, but at the end of the day it struck me as teenagers playing Tumblr validation tennis with each other. When I see IF that does that, it kind of makes me pine for the golden age-style of IF that's captured by Emily Short's blog, where these kind of clever mechanics also make you really re-think reality, that are alienating or bewildering and push your mind way outside its comfort zone, but are ultimately enlightening or mind-expanding in some way. This was so creative and had the potential to do that, but then it didn't really at all... That's not really a criticism of this thing by itself. I thought it was cute and liked it a lot. It's this larger criticism I have with creative projects recently and this just pinched that nerve more than usual, probably because I did think it was more creative and surreal than usual.
    Quote Originally Posted by Starker View Post
    Sure, if by taking over you mean it's also a thing that exists. Like, who went down the Twine trope road who was making games in TADS and Inform before? Mostly I still see the same kind of people making the same kinds of games as before, and one of the most prominent and successful IF games of recent years has been Hadean Lands, a technical marvel based on some of the oldest of the old school design.

    Maybe I'm a tad biased, because I got into the genre with the extremely Twine'ish Photopia, but it seems more to me the more old school minded side of the IF community is always seeking someone or something to blame on the genre not being more popular or, to put it even less charitably, are resenting that something gets more attention that they think it deserves.

    And, you know, this isn't aimed at anyone particular and definitely not at Emily Short whose opinions I respect even if I don't agree with them, but after more than a decade and a half now, I'm starting to really get fed up with the constant doom and gloom.
    Quote Originally Posted by Sulphur View Post
    I'm pretty sure the IF community has been grousing about non-puzzle based IF since the resurgence of IF when Graham Nelson put Curses out in 1993. The argument even tracks back all the way to A Mind Forever Voyaging, which is still a wonderful work of IF regardless of whether it has traditional parser-based puzzle challenges or not. I think there's more than enough space for both, but creators usually create things that appeal to them first, so that's what you'll see as a sort of zeitgeist for X periods of time. As someone who dabbled in Inform, TADS, and one or two other IF parser engines a long time ago, I realised that puzzle-based IF wasn't something I really wanted to make: I was playing all these bits of IF like Jigsaw and Anchorhead and the like to see what happened next; to me, the puzzles were secondary. When Twine came around, it had the most direct story->reader route and as a bonus, making a story was ridiculously easy because of how it's designed to let you iterate and manage story branches. It's a godsend for making branching hypertext narrative quickly.
    Edit: Oh yeah, puzzles. No by sophisticated mechanics, I don't mean puzzles. Puzzles are one of the, possibly the #1 classic crime against mimesis. The idea of having a parser or immersive sim mechanics wasn't for puzzles to read a devs mind, but to have a living world that draws the player into the weird logic of the world and tries to make them part of it, and they overcome real problems, not solve artificial puzzles. That's what you need a parser for, to simulate the weird mechanics and logic of this world and drag the player out of their shell and into this strange world. What Twine and some walking sims are doing is coddling or shoving the player deeper into their shell, so to speak. But they don't have to do that. Even Twine and walking sim games could challenge a players worldview and try to expand their horizons, however you want to describe it. It's just that the two things (the mechanics and what the author wants the game to say to the player) tend to align together in the way I was saying. I think.
    Last edited by demagogue; 25th Sep 2020 at 03:19.

  2. #2
    Registered: Aug 2002
    Location: Maupertuis
    I find the conflict between Twine and Inform (and their representative genres) to be based on a false dichotomy. Both engines produce textual games, but that's where their similarity ends. Twine is great for branching narrative, allowing one to treat bodies of text as modular components that can be organized in many ways. Inform allows one to implement a location, setting or scenario in text form, and is at its strongest when used to create a sense of place.

    Comparisons of quality are only helpful when made between things that are sufficiently similar. Hypertext games and traditional IF are far enough apart that calling one better or worse is as wasted as, say, calling fantasy better than horror.

  3. #3
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue
    ... IF that's captured by Emily Short's blog ...
    I saw today that Emily Short is making a game out of Animal Farm. Looks like a CYOA glorified visual novel, which runs against what I was saying above, but I'm not actually that inflexible. It looks interesting. I like the style and it's definitely the right time for it.

  4. #4
    Registered: May 2004
    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue View Post
    Looks like a CYOA glorified visual novel...
    You still say it like it's a bad thing, but I played Steve Jackson's Sorcery! this weekend and had a grand old time.

    Even if Twine games are not particularly deep in their mechanics, they still manage to pull some neat tricks to have the choices enhance the narrative like Even Cowgirls Bleed. Hell, even simple "notgames" like Loneliness can convey something unique that can only be expressed through interactivity.

    Don't underestimate the value simplicity can have in the grand scheme of things. Medium is the message.

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