Electron Dance
1Jul/183

Discussion: The Sword Is Mightier Than The Pen

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There’s something of 80 Days to Voyageur, but only something.

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  1. I find the game-words conundrum very interesting to think about, both from a player/reader perspective and from an eternally-aspiring-creator perspective. The trade-off between an interesting (and coherent) narrative and player choice/freedom is the obvious one, but i’d argue it’s not just a problem of “infecting” words with numbers: it seems to me there’s a problem of priorities in the design. Let’s take a look at 80 days. You could easily “gamify” it, taking the 80 days limit seriously and trying to get to the end as soon as possible, but there’s things in the game itself that ask you to slow down and explore. Money, or example: the fact that you can sell objects for greater amounts of money in certain cities encourages you to take a longer route to gather more resources; and if you have to get money from the bank, you have to wait in the city you’re in, so you might as well explore. Even the relatively slow text crawl, sometimes requiring multiple interactions just to get to the “choice moment”, encourages you to take your time (ok, maybe I’m reaching with this one).
    Obviously, this means sacrificing the apparently all-important procgen, but even with that I’d say if you’re economical with your words you can get at least a compelling, if not exactly coherent, story. I know not everyone can be Dwarf Fortress, or even Ultima Ratio Regum, and explode the possible interactions to the point that you *have* to pay attention, but still, the solution (of balance) might lie in “game feel” as much as the actual “content” of the words and the numbers. Maybe that’s obvious to everyone but me. I don’t know.

    Also, about the article on Monument Valley 2. The mobile market is absolutely atrocious. I often read TouchArcade, since I own both an iPad and iPhone and I often play games on both, and there’s really no alternative for interesting iOS games. And even among “serious gamers”, people who would want to elevate mobile to the same standards (and, mainly, the same reputation) of console and PC, the effects of the race to the bottom are palpable. Read the forums, and you’ll find the same people complaining about the dominance of freemium and about a 10 euros Super Mario Run. Asking for “premium games” and at the same time crying that 4.99 is too much for a mobile game. Honestly, i found a similar (albeit toned down) dynamic in the entire mobile app space, with frequent conversions to subscription-based models for many apps (since single-purchase revenue is going down, and especially iOS encourages developers to constantly update their software, to keep the pace of iOS itself), always accompanied by general uproar even for the smallest subscriptions.

    But then again, we have always been fascinated by self-made-man stories, it’s not really anything new. I do agree it rings particularly hollow in the current economic climate, and in the app/startup/mobile cultural space. And I’m not sure what can be done about it. I’m reminded of the developers of the PC game Brigador, who were quite vocal about pricing their game “higher” (20 dollars), and received no shortage of press and compliments, while still flopping on Steam. On the one hand, i’m trying to change my own buying habits to reflect my different perspective on this market; on the other hand, I’m well aware of the inherent flaws of the “be the change you want to see in the world” mantra. Maybe we do need more stories from the other side of the coin, from the Brigadors and the Sunsets of this world, and less mythologising of the Monument Valleys. But then?

  2. Hello Lorenzo!

    I see what you’re saying and I’m not arguing for any absolute solution. Many modern games often run their narrative track and mechanics track in parallel – they don’t worry too much about interference between them – and you can enjoy each separately. With Voyageur, I think the issue is it’s trying to be a sort of exploring game, a la walking simulator in text, but (a) the game-bit is too strong which focuses you on numbers/progress and (b) the proc-gen runs out and you can see madlibs at work. I don’t want to get too much into hypotheticals, but I feel like a shorter version might do better – then it feels like a unique adventure instead of spidering through a random text generator.

    I think you’re right in the sense 80 Days allows you to embrace and explore the narrative side (and indeed can be part of making progress) whereas Voyageur too often locks you down into a single paragraph and that’s it, world described. Sometimes you get a chance to explore, like go on an expedition, but it doesn’t offer enough colour in most cases: it feels like a game that’s incomplete. It expects you to fill in the gaps but for me the gaps are too big. 80 Days is brilliantly deft with its strokes.

    Re: Monument Valley 2. The “paradox” of demanding “cheap expensive” content through the belief that markets just magic a wand and you make money is something I will probably touch much later in my book (that is taking an infinite amount of time to write). The early chapters are about the understanding the mechanisms of the market and how everything that happens is pretty much inevitable and not surprising; the later chapters are about an inability or unwillingness to believe this reality. The Brigador story is really interesting because it’s the perfect demonstration of belief in a better way being struck down by the ugliness of the current system.

    On a personal note, I used to avoid discounts because I believed we should pay the people what seemed reasonable for their efforts; the only reason I opt for discounts right now is because running this site could get quite expensive otherwise, especially as some games I only dabble with a little and don’t see them through to completion. I try to buy from itch.io whenever I can.

  3. I have so many thoughts on this, so many. And lots of them have links to they’ll be left bit by bit. Also that makes them shorter.

    Of the things with procgen text I’ve read I think the most successful as something to read–as opposed to something that is about creating weird procgen text like I Waded In Clear Water which is great–is My Secret Hideout. Which, it’s not only that it’s readable, but it’s not a game and you don’t have to interact with the prose. The only thing to do with it is read it. And the way it works makes it natural to ring small changes on the generated text. Whereas going to a new planet and seeing a small change rung on the text for the last one just seems weird.

    (There’s also Emily Short’s Parrigues work but it hasn’t been released in an interactive form yet. I should try The Mary Jane of Tomorrow.)

    One of the reasons I’m interested in procedurally generated text is coming from games like Strange Adventures in Infinite Space and seeing it described as having interesting hints of backstory in the flavor text for the items, but when you see the same fifty flavor texts in a game you play lots of times they just vanish. But then, if the infinite flavor texts you get have no bearing on the gameplay which is just about having a few numbers go up and down it’s going to vanish anyway. So maybe the mistake is having too much gameplay, because either it should just be something to get you to read the flavor text or the flavor text is going to disappear and it doesn’t sound like the game can stand on its own.

    I also have this thing where it seems Important that people do work on procedural text, because it’s not like you’re going to get nice-looking procedural text on the first try, and if you think about how much collective effort went into the awesome graphics we now have not nearly one percent of that has been put into nice text, so maybe we should try and things would get better. And then I hear about things like content spinning where procgen text of a sort gets used to make lots of articles in order to spam search engines without getting caught, and also something similar being used to make lots of fake public comments about proposed US government regulations, and I think maybe first we have to smash society and rebuild from the ground up so we don’t turn everything we can do into a tool for crap.


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