How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Rhapsodies on games, gaming, and why we play.

Month: October, 2016

Unoriginal

by anbrewk

I took some time to digest another criticism of my IFComp entry, one I was aware of well before I actually entered the IFComp and one I am hesitant to give too much credit to. That is, the criticism of unoriginality. As a fantasy game (story?), my project does include giants, doppelgangers, sirens (mermaids?), magic (sorcerers? warlocks?), witches, faeries, demons, elves, imps, dwarves, many of these not by name (imps, magic users, and witches are not named, neither are siren/mermaids). So, my project is squarely in the realm of “high fantasy.” So I admit I do not have the strange, absolutely original content of, say, China Mieville, who I think is a fantastic writer/creator and who has unbelievably imaginative worlds (City in the City is the most amazing example for me), yet I find the criticism of unoriginality in fantasy to be kind of a cop out. Is”unoriginality” really the issue?

Maybe a player/reader doesn’t like the world, the characters, the plot, the pacing, the prose? As a text-driven game with limited mechanical underpinnings, Labyrinth of Loci is essentially a vehicle for lore, much of which is inspired by folklore and popular culture (including D&D), but, really… not unoriginal. It borrows from and depends on other traditions, it is not totally original, but it’s not stolen. To say it is unoriginal is just to point out that it isn’t completely original, which seems like such an unnecessary condition. It’s really just a cheap shot against a piece of work one doesn’t already like for more substantive reasons. Unoriginality just isn’t that substantive unless it is completely iterative of someone else’s work.

I know many of the players in the IFComp community are writers/editors and they approach IF as stories, not games, which means my project absolutely fails because it isn’t a very good story (it’s a series of weird vignettes with story elements) and they are not designed to be complete, nor completely dependent on the quality of their prose (which is not very strong). They’re weird little capsules of experiences which, perhaps to my detriment as a creator, I expect the player to fill in. What I want, and I absolutely admit that I may have failed in this, is for the player to fill in the experience with doubt and apprehension and wonder and amusement. I don’t include those, I just… I hoped, that the player would find meaning and substance in their interaction with the work. But, of course, many won’t. Which is what brings me to my next project.

I want to improve on the player experience with work I create. I want people to feel attached and engaged with the world and the (potentially unoriginal-seeming) lore. I think, perhaps, the solution is in the human story. The human drama, the human connection, between story elements and game elements.

I think, perhaps, creating a stronger story (not in the sense of a singular narrative, but in the sense of stronger characters > individual people that a player may grow to care about through the power of prose) will make what is a whatever game experience into something the player cares about. If I have multiple endings, I want the player to care how those endings pan out for the characters involved. For those characters whom I want the player to care about. That, then, creates the problem of making the player care about any single character. How does one do that, I wonder? I hope, by continuing to work on projects, I’ll be able to figure that out.

 

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I fixed it, but it’s still broken!

by anbrewk

I fixed my game, I thought, but it’s still proving buggy to some. A disappointment that it is being judged for gross technical failure and not all its other many failings. Labyrinth of Loci is not a winner! Yet, I am finding some solace in playing other games entered into the IFComp — not, as one might assume, because they are so much worse, but because I am honestly enjoying so many others. And some of those which I am so enjoying are also being panned for things that I rather liked.

Of course there are also some games which I found to be simple nothing experiences that are gaining praise.Which, I guess, is just part of the judging experience — shitting and loving, the biogenesis of a critic! (I was justly criticized for using overly formal words incorrectly. But, I like the idea that shit and love are living excretions from the activity of “being a critic.” (at least right now as I am emotionally recovering from the stings and bruises of having my creation critiqued)).

It is still most disappointing that my game is proving to be technically flawed in some way that I do not understand. Ah, well. To be shit on.

 

This might not be the place

by anbrewk

This year, I participated in the IFComp, a place for interactive fiction to convene and be judged. Though the competition is very real and the judging taken very seriously, I take it that at least in some way the competition is simply an excuse for IF writers and enthusiasts to create and share things.

What I’m discovering in my first foray into this community as one to be judged (or, whose work is to be judged) is that the kind of work that is expected and highlighted and adored is maybe not what I’m into… My work, Labyrinth of Loci, is not off to a great reception and not for no good reason. The one review I’ve read is quite damning and the other feedback I’ve received give me the stark impression that I did not judge my audience very well. While the review I read (which can be found here) brought up critical bugs I was unaware of (a damning indictment of any game (and a real bummer that I didn’t find them despite my efforts…)), some of the other criticisms were about the effectiveness of binary choices and the game’s failure to evoke a sense of ownership of the character. Criticisms which I took to be well thought out and not untrue. Given these were my two main goals, I’m distressed to have failed.

Even if I decide I might not really like the kind of IF that is praised by the community, I still respect the IF judges devotion to substantive criticism, regardless of whether I subscribe to their conclusions or even premises.

Given that choice was the main goal of my game, what I am most interested in, rather than my placing in the IFComp (especially since that is looking to be very poor), is the efficacy of my use of choice in the design and implementation of my project. The review quoted above thought the binary choices at the beginning of the game epitomized the problem of player ownership as the player must, at the outset, choose between two things they have no reason to care about. Yet, in those uninformed choices the player is given who their character is and what their character can and cant accomplish (in terms of paths and unlocks or what have you). Not unfair criticisms and not untrue.

My intention (not in my defense) was to provide the player with some context for the character they would then create by playing the game. I can see how that might just be a misunderstanding of a well known genre-conceit (it’s called character creation for a reason) and not at all a realistic expectation on the player.  Yet, I wonder now how I might have changed my approach to actually accomplish what I set out to do. My vision was for a ADOM-light character creation through narrative, where in-lieu of assigning points, you make narrative decisions which then assign points (of a sort).

Or NEO Scavenger where the character is a blank slate minus some simple characteristics (up until you discover who you truly are, though, that is optional and not all that definitive either).

Yet, I just said I didn’t really want it to be character creation at all, at least not in the sense that you are taking a fully formed individual and putting them in the world. I wanted it to be the creation of character context for the player to then make more substantive choices in a world they themselves were discovering. I can see how my implementation of that idea may have been misguided.

I wanted to avoid a linear narrative, to avoid given the character any sense of self whatsoever. Even the character choices at the beginning are, for better or worse, intentionally lacking in character. They’re just blank slates.

I wanted to create a little place where a player could experience a narrative arc of their own experience (yet of my design). I expected the player to make choices because they wanted to avoid, or experience, certain things. I thought that the more absent the character was, the more the player would fill that in. Yet, it may just be a (not so well-made) standard high-fantasy dungeon crawl. Oh well, not for trying.

Humiliating

by anbrewk

I forgot how humiliating it is to create things with inexpertise. I’ve started on another project after finishing my last one for the IFComp and just as I’m getting to tough and frustrating problems with coding and scripting, I go back to my just-finished project and find that the last touches and the final edits are all missing. I literally, just yesterday, emptied my trash, two weeks after finishing the project, and now find that maybe there would have been an archive in there that saved my final work. The version I currently have, the latest archive, the current file on my computer, and the file I submitted, are all old.

The final touches and edits are relatively minor. The few typos and whatever simple changes are lost in all the other imperfections so it isn’t damning, just disappointing.  Having made changes, having improved the work, having spent  hours of time on it and then for it to not be there, it’s sad. It feels wasted. Yet, I think of old DnD campaigns and books I’ve read and stories I’ve written, and it doesn’t matter to me if I can’t remember them or if I’ll never interact with them again. They still existed, they still counted.

Though may just be it Perhaps it doesn’t feel like it counted because it wasn’t part of the final form. Maybe that’s a fair thing to mourn. Although, like everything, as time passes, it will be forgotten. I can relive them or move on and avoid the future mistake of unsaved progress and unshared effort.

New work begins (I didn’t tell you I had finished)

by anbrewk

I finished my game, awhile ago. I had people play it and I made changes and added music and worked it till I felt I was done and now I am and it is. Now the IFComp has started and there it is, my game, only a few days in, awaiting judgment.

I’ve been nervous about it in the way that the things you do are representations of your choices. Your accomplishments (whether good or bad) are blameworthy. You are responsible for what you’ve done and that responsibility has weight and significance to it.

Though I am also excited. I am appreciative of what I’ve seen in criticism of other works. I appreciate that ratings from 1-10 are expected to be given and that those who judge have high expectations for content and completion and design and that they are willing to criticize and blame and judge. In that context, praise is more honest and criticisms, I think, more fair.