Action Plan

Introduction

In order to achieve the goals of this thesis, I plan on completing a research paper, a small set of small-form game demos, and high-fidelity user interface design comps. These artifacts will be reviewed and tested by a group of game industry professionals, including some experts who are revered in the Interactive Design genre. A final analysis will be crafted in which findings are presented and described in detail.

Interactive Design & Game Development Studio 1

As part of this course of study, the initial thesis idea and statement will be conceived, researched, and prototyped.

Thesis Idea & Statement

These two aspects of the process are, of course, most important. By the end of Studio 1, a solid thesis document will be in place.

Research

A large part of arriving at findings that both lead this thesis forward as well as provide direction towards a culmination of the results is in the research segment of the process. A thorough study of how real-time mechanics affect typical Interactive Fiction gameplay will be conducted.

RESEARCH PAPER

All of the findings from the research phase of this project will be documented in a research paper. The paper will also include screenshots of gameplay as well as a detailed analysis of the real-time mechanics and how they affected gameplay.

RESEARCH PAPER goals
  • Present the inherent problems in the current state of Interactive Fiction mechanics
  • Present the basic “gameplay” design and implementation
Iteration

I would like to be able to iterate these ideas based on test-case feedback in order to inform the final design.

Interactive Design & Game Development Studio 2

During this phase of the process I will concentrate on developing the final presentation pieces of the thesis.

GAME DEMO Development

As stated, this thesis is intended to be proven via a research paper and a select set of playable game demos. In the event that certain game mechanics cannot be formed as playable games, high-fidelity user interface design comps will be created as substitutes.

GAME DEMO GOALS
  • Allow players to experience a sufficient set of gameplay experiences
  • Act as a test bed for playable real-time Interactive Fiction games
  • Become a map to creating a future playable real-time Interactive Fiction games

Interactive Design & Game Development MFA Thesis

When complete I would like to be able to use the findings of this thesis to inform Interactive Fiction game design in general. The inclusion of real-time mechanics in Interactive Fiction has the potential to completely change the face of Interactive Fiction design and development.

Thesis Paper Outline, v1

This is the first draft of the “Hacked Mechanics” Thesis Paper Outline. I have attempted to present everything as concisely as possible, yet still leaving room for expansion. The one organizational decision that I am still unsure about is where I placed the Design Process. Of course, there may be other areas that need more thought or reorganization as well.

  I. Introduction
     A. Introduction
     B. Artist statement
     C. Thesis statement
 II. Project Overview
     A. Problem Statement
     B. Brief history of Interactive Fiction
     C. Brief look at common Interactive Fiction mechanics
     D. Brief description of “Hacked Mechanics”
III. Why Real-Time Mechanics are important
     A. More detail about real-time mechanics
        1. Pros
        2. Cons
        3. New mechanics and innovation of a genre
 IV. Detailed description of new mechanics
     A. Similar systems (if any)
     B. How new mechanics differ from current mechanics
     D. Design process
        1. Artistic Influences
        2. Prototyping
        3. Testing
     E. How new mechanics work
        1. Real-time gameplay
        2. Real-time game progression
        3. Real-time game notifications
        4. Etc.
  V. Contexts & Ethnography
     A. User testing and game-based research
     B. How test subjects have responded to new mechanics
 VI. New mechanics in action
     A. Playable demos of new mechanics
VII. Conclusion

Thesis Abstract

The purpose of this thesis is to consider possible advancements to the Interactive Fiction genre, to consider the evolution of the genre, and to propose new design patterns and mechanics.

Through an in-depth study of both historical and current Interactive Fiction design and development techniques, as well as a foray into practical examples of mechanics that have never been used in the genre, this thesis aims to prove that there is still room to grow within the genre.

By investigating which mechanics helped to make Interactive Fiction an immersive and engaging game genre and experimenting with a select set real-time and time-limited mechanics, the hope is that game designers and developers may see new ways to use Interactive Fiction both as a standalone method for game development and something that could be used within other game genres as well.

More Information

For more information about this project, please view the full Thesis Proposal.

Thesis Statement

INTERACTIVE Fiction, also called text adventure games, has remained stilted by its own classic game mechanics, offering a turn-based experience, limited and contrived decision-trees, and very little sense of immediacy. By including more contemporary mechanics such as real-time and time-limited gameplay, Interactive Fiction may invoke a heightened sense of emotional engagement and connection from players as compared with traditional models.

Thesis Proposal

Hacked Mechanics: The Inclusion of Real-Time Mechanics in Interactive Fiction

 

INTERACTIVE Fiction (also called text-based games) is an important and revered genre in the history of computer games, both as artifacts of study, as well as a venue for creative, artful, and nuanced game development. This is true even in today’s media-saturated landscape, where several recent Interactive Fiction games have gained notoriety and/or popularity.

But Interactive Fiction, for the most part, has remained lodged in a state of turn-based mechanics (i.e., they are typically games in which a pre-programmed set of instructions awaits the player’s response) since the genre was conceived. But what if, just like other video game genres, Interactive Fiction continued to function outside of a player’s responses, making moves while the player is considering their next action? What if everything a player did within a text-based game had to happen before or while the game was making its own decisions?

This thesis investigates the possibilities of including a set of real-time mechanics in Interactive Fiction, demonstrates and studies the effects of a select group of real-time mechanics and how they change a player’s experience while playing an Interactive Fiction piece, and ultimately, attempts to forecast how Interactive Fiction may evolve in response to an inclusion of real-time mechanics.

A SHORT HISTORY OF INTERACTIVE FICTION

While ELIZA (1964 – 1966) and SHRDLU (1966 – 1970) are reported as the earliest examples of Interactive Fiction, the first game to achieve recognition was Adventure (later named, Colossal Cave Adventure), a game set in an underground cave environment. In Adventure, players were required to type short, one- to two-word commands in which the game would respond in turn. The game ended up spreading across the ARPAnet, inspiring many aspiring computer programmers to develop similar games.

Adventure Screenshot
Figure 1. Screenshot from the original Adventure (Wikimedia Commons)

Interactive Fiction then gained popularity in the 1980s with companies such as Adventure International, CE Software, Infocom, and others releasing games like AdventurelandSwordThrustZork, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, et cetera. In fact, these games were instrumental in a commercial boom of both computer games and personal computers. In the late 1980s, though, Interactive Fiction (and many of its corresponding subgenres) failed to succeed due to an influx of higher end computers and more graphics-based games.

Zork I (Infocom) Box Art
Figure 2. Zork I (Infocom) Box Art (Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1990s, Interactive Fiction continued to be developed — often with the inclusion of graphics and sound — but it never regained the popularity that it once achieved. During this time, Infocom re-released several volumes of their early work.

Now, with the advent of the indie game development scene in the 2000s, Interactive Fiction has been gaining traction among fans of the genre, gamers, and game designers alike. In fact, several computer programs have been created in order to aid in the creation of Interactive Fiction. Among them are TADS (The Text Adventure Development System), Twine, Inform, and inklewriter, as well Fungus, a plugin for the popular game engine, Unity 3D. During the 2013 IndieCade Festival, an annual independent games festival in Southern California, the featured seminars made it clear that Interactive Fiction was on the rise.

Twine's Node-Based "Story Editor"
Figure 3. Twine’s Node-Based “Story Editor”

In 2014, the acclaimed company Inkle (creators of the Interactive Fiction tool, inklewriter) released the game 80 Days, based on the Jules Verne novel, Around the World in Eighty Days. It was since named TIME’s 2014 Game of the Year, among many other accolades.

80 Days (Inkle) Screenshot
Figure 4. Screenshot of 80 Days (Inkle)

In the game, players experience lush graphics and sound, while still playing through a classic set of Interactive Fiction mechanics. But unlike some of 80 Days’ predecessors, a few innovative constructs were introduced. For instance, a typical play-through of the game will typically only reveal 2% of the game’s 750,000 words. In fact, there are Easter Eggs and hidden endings in the game that only a reported eight players have ever found. Also, the game experience will vary from player to player depending on the items that are gained and the choices that are made.

The Lifeline series, by Three Minute Games, is another introduction into contemporary Interactive Fiction. The original Lifeline game, released in 2015, used the mobile platform to its benefit by introducing an interesting notification mechanic in which the in-game counterpart would notify players even when the game was closed in order to get them to come back and play.

Lifeline Screenshot
Figure 5. Screenshot of Lifeline (Three Minute Games)

Lifeline was determined one of the highest-grossing iOS games in 2015.

Other games have come close to a more real-time approach (e.g., Davey Wreden’s The Stanley Parable and The Beginner’s Guide), but these games also rely on a certain amount of non-text-based approaches, like first-person controls, graphics, animation, etc. In this way, these games may be thought of more like other computer game genres and not necessarily true Interactive Fiction.

While Interactive Fiction continues to be developed, it also gains more and more fans. But the core mechanics of the game are still set in a read-and-respond pattern, relating little to other game genres in which playing in real-time is an integral part of the gaming experience.

High-Level Overview

Despite recent innovations in the genre, Interactive Fiction has remained fairly consistent across mechanics, implementation, and gameplay. In order to evolve the form, I am positing that a set of more contemporary mechanics may be implemented.

In looking at two of the more successful recent Interactive Fiction titles, 80 Days and Lifeline, there are several takeaways that may support this issue.

For example, while the core gameplay in 80 Days requires that a player complete a game within eighty days, the time is contained solely within the game itself. For instance, someone might play for five days and then shelf the game for a month, only to come back to Day 5 within the game. What if, the time required for gameplay within the game was also manifested in the real-life time of the player. That is, not playing the game for thirty days in real life would be directly reflected by coming back to an in-game time that is also thirty days later. The result would be a complete fusion of the Magic Circle created by the game with the player’s real life.

Similarly, while Lifeline breaches the Magic Circle by sending player’s notifications outside of the game itself, those notification are merely meant to trigger a response to come back to in-game play. But what if ignoring the notifications resulted in continuing gameplay regardless of whether or not the player actually returned to the game?

These are some of the questions that this thesis aims to answer. Concepts such as real-time gameplay, breaching the Magic Circle with real-life time constraints, and games that live on regardless of player interaction are mechanics that will bring the Interactive Fiction genre back into relevance as well as instigate new design patterns within the genre itself.

FIRST EXPERIMENTS

As a first experiment, I created an Interactive Fiction game called, Three Dragons and submitted it to the 2015 IndieCade festival. While the game did not make it to the final competition, the feedback was favorable and most of the people who played it through the that idea was novel and engaging.

Three Dragons Screenshot
Figure 6. Screenshot of “Three Dragons”

In the game, the player must face a dragon and choose the proper method of either defeating or succumbing to the foe. The twist, in this particular moment, though is that the battle — despite being a text-based sequence — is in real-tie, using a timer to trigger moves by the dragon regardless of what the player is doing. And if the player moves too slowly (or does nothing at all) the dragon will inevitably win the fight.

Three Dragons may be played at the following URL:

http://samoff.com/twine/threeDragons/

Of course, this is just one example that will accompany this thesis.

Basis for Study

There is a wealth of information and study into the history and legacy or Interaction Fiction. But, as far as I can tell, there is no study whatsoever into the idea of real-time mechanics and Interactive Fiction. Following are a list of references that were tapped in order to form the concept of this thesis.

  • Inform. (n.d.). A short history of interactive fiction. Retrieved May 12, 2016, from inform-fiction.org/manual/html/s46.html

  • Interactive fiction – Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactive_fiction

  • Jackson-Mead, K. (2011). If theory reader. Place of publication not identified: Transcript On Press.

  • Montfort, N. (2003). Twisty little passages: An approach to interactive fiction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Reed, A. (2016). New Frontiers for Interactive Story: A Practice-Based Survey of Emerging Narrative Mechanics (unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of California, Santa Cruz, CA.

  • Scott, J. (Director). (2010). GET LAMP [DVD]. USA: Bovine Ignition Systems.

  • Text-based game – Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Text-based_game

  • Wheeler, J. R. (n.d.). IF Theory Reader: Zork, Adventure, and beyond (IF Theory 1) (1st ed.). Place of publication not identified: JRW Digital Media.

While this thesis develops to maturity, this list of references will most likely grow and relevant cites will be interjected into the text.

Prototype Thinking

Note: The following information is from my first Thesis idea and is no longer valid.

I’ve been thinking about how deep the eventual prototype needs to go. I’m not sure yeat, but in that vein, I figured it would be smart to start listing areas that I could present.

  • Splash Screen
  • Main Menu
  • Options
  • Character Customization (not Creation)
  • Leaderboard
  • Hall of Records
  • Library
  • Cafeteria
  • Counseling
  • Campus Quad
  • Classroom
  • Student Store
  • Multimedia Lab

I will continue to add to this list as I think of relevant areas in which a student might interact.