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MagmaDragoon

Queen's Wish - Romance

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Hello everyone!

 

Feel free to use this thread for salutations as well, I am somewhat also passing by just to say hi to some of the oldies community member here - you know who you are. Feel free to message me privately if you wanna catch up!

 

Moving to the actual content: I have tried to catch Jeff's attention on Kickstarter by proposing a romancing option for the upcoming game, Queen's Wish. I always liked how "personal" you can get with NPCs in RPG game nowadays, if done well it really a nice touch to the game's flavour in my opinion. This is what I wrote:

 

Quote

Hello Jeff! Reading this update got me thinking about dialogue and NPC interactions - one thing that I always liked in RPGs are the "romantic options" where you can pursue intimate relationship with certain character. Are you by any chance thinking about implementing something similar in this game?

 

What are your views on this? Would you like to have the option to seduce the local innkeeper? :)

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Well, since you asked...

I've no more interest in seducing the local innkeeper in a video game than in real life. Moreover, it seems completely unnecessary - it's never been why I play Spiderweb Software's games. Now, if Jeff wants to include that sort of thing, that's his business. But after seeing how the romance in Avadon 2 turned out, I'm can't say I'm champing at the bit for him to write more PC-NPC romances.

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Oh... wow.  MagmaDragoon?  Seriously?  It's been... um, what, 12 years?  Hope you're doing well! -- Slarty

 

On topic: There were parts of the Avadon 2 romance option that were done well, and certainly other parts that weren't.  I don't personally think that first-person pick-your-line-of-dialogue systems are ideally suited to romance.  Love is too dynamic, too interactive, too all-encompassing to reach with choose-your-own-adventure dialogue.

 

No! in the fairy-tale

when she has breathed ‘I love,’ the prince,

all pale,

feels his own ugliness pour up in flame—

but I, beloved, you see am still the same

-- Cyrano de Bergerac, perhaps while playing Avadon 2

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Cultivating political alliances by marrying could be kind of neat, but I assume that as a member of the royal household, you would require the queen's approval. Unless there is the option to rebel, in which case forging a strong alliance with a local dynasty through marriage would be a good way to consolidate your overseas power base.

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I do not think that it would be necessary or wise to include that feature unless it advances a lot point (which tends to eliminate a lot of the spontaneity, much is already lost by the pick your dialog system).  The romance in Avadon 2 met that goal and was kept within reasonable bounds, but was not all that interesting other than "hey, Jeff did something different, lets see how it works out, plus I want to get the medal".  I am not sure that pursuing a romance with an NPC to earn a medal is a great thing.  

 

Adding a romance option to multiple characters would really turn this option from a side line to a main part of the game which I think is not keeping with the reason that most of us play Jeff's games.

 

While I agree with Minion's statement, the system that he describes seems far removed from the type of RPG that Jeff normally writes.

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Hi, MagmaDragoon! It's been a long time. Over a decade!

 

Romance in video games was interesting when they first appeared because they were something new to games. Then they became an expected Bioware game element, just another design box to tick off. I would rather not have perfunctory romance put into a game unless it serves a storytelling purpose. A well-told romance can be its own purposes, to be sure, but I don't think that's where Jeff Vogel's inclinations or writing talents lie.

 

—Alorael, who also thinks doing this well requires a lot of words and a lot of contextual changes. That's the kind of thing that's much easier to pull off when you have a stable of full-time writers for your game rather than a one or two person operation putting everything together. Just like Spiderweb can't compete in the pretty graphics space, it probably for surprisingly similar reasons can't compete in the romance space without substantially giving up on the parts of the games that have been the main draw to its games for twice as long as MagmaDragoon has been gone.

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NOT to denigrate Jeff, really, but do you really want a romance written by a self described nerd/geek, one who has spent the past couple of decades + shut away in solitary confinement while producing the games that delight us so?  True he did manage to woo his wife & continue that long enough to produce his daughters so he's not completely incompetent in that area.  But a master Don Juan I'd hazard a guess he isn't....

 

Seriously though, Avadon 2 was mentioned earlier. I just found that whole romance side story really awkward.  Stuck together out in the woods for a few weeks in isolation (start of the game description), relatively young healthy people (assumption, but given all the fighting/walking around they must do, not outrageous), chances of hooking up - fairly high.  But hardly the basis for eventual risking your life over/being a traitor to all you've known over the years, that's a pretty big jump (& Jeff did it about as well as it could be done).  And as mentioned it wasn't really part of the main story line.

 

Could it be done, sure.  Should it be done, probably not.  Especially in a brand new style of game.  Jeff needs to churn out a game that's new (the universe, objectives, interaction, etc), but familiar enough that his well developed niche market doesn't rebel & say "what's this shiat?  No more for me going forward...".  I'm sure that there are games out there with romance as a part of the main story (Sid Meier's Pirates springs to mind), but games don't & there's a reason for that.

(I suppose we could also add the Leisure Suit Larry series to the list as well...)

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Larry was great...and so was Leather Goddesses of Phobos...that said:

 

I'm one of the only people I've seen in the forum who liked the Silke romance, because I thought it did fit in with a theme of the Avadon games.  Your companions often had side goals that put their own wishes -- revenge, wealth, local interests, or whatever -- ahead of the mission and loyalty to Avadon or the Pact.  The Silke romance gave you a rather extreme chance to put aside the mission for a personal wish, rather than a grander goal.   (I didn't pursue it, beyond letting her escape once, because I wasn't playing as someone that selfish; and because I wasn't doing any "betraying" until Av-3 when I felt justified in killing Redbeard.)   I did wish he'd given me a chance to spare her after routing out the rebels, and set her up in that little house I paid so much for...I like a chance to do a little deed of kindness aside form the main plot.

 

Since I don't know anything about the new game, I don't know whether a romantic subplot would fit it, but I do like that kind of thing.   And if it's not a huge part of the game, well, the problems of two little people don't amount to a hill of beans in the crazy world of a Spiderweb game...

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On 9/13/2018 at 10:50 PM, And my heart too. said:

Oh... wow.  MagmaDragoon?  Seriously?  It's been... um, what, 12 years?  Hope you're doing well! -- Slarty

 

Oh hey! I still remember your infamous quote, "we should make MagmaDragoon's mother an honorary member of the forums". Good times!

 

On 9/14/2018 at 5:18 AM, Leçons Dangereuses said:

Hi, MagmaDragoon! It's been a long time. Over a decade!

 

—Alorael, [...] for twice as long as MagmaDragoon has been gone.

 

🤣 Twelve years actually - Slarty's right. Can't believe you are still here, either - I hope you have achieved at some point the coveted Postaroni, Pizzabella! status quo.

 

Back on topic: Some points here make such interesting arguments for discussion, such as "you can't make interesting romance where dialogue lines are scripted" - my experience with romance and RPGs is literally this! Someone mentioned BioWare, which is a good example in fact. Is there an alternative dialogue mechanic out there I am not aware of?

 

I also do not see having this option as "mandatory" or to fulfill an expectation, but more like a nice touch to our character personality. Surely in all our travels there has to be some people we can at least charm with our good looks, money, or suave voice? Even without going so far out as love, a more persuasive version of charisma would be nice to have, at least for me.

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Comeliness covered good looks, Charisma covers suave voice, and in most of the games money is no problem.  Either Charisma or Comeliness or both could fairly easily become a stat like nature lore where it enables certain things, most of which are non-essential and then we could have multiple posts on how valuable it is or it isn't with completionists (like me) getting the necessary levels to have every option of persuading merchants, officials and members of the desired gender to do what we want while the min/maxers have just enough levels to do what is absolutely necessary and put the rest in hardiness or something else useful.

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20 hours ago, MagmaDragoon said:

a more persuasive version of charisma would be nice to have,

 

Eloquence?

Rhetorical Proficiency?

Dizzying Intellect?

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On ‎9‎/‎14‎/‎2018 at 12:25 AM, Minion said:

Cultivating political alliances by marrying could be kind of neat

Well, I didn't know that Jeff was going to do Crusader Kings 3 :D 

 

I really wonder how many gamers like romances, and even more crucially how many RPG players like them. I've never been truly convinced by the BG / KOTOR / Mass Effect ones, for instance.

I haven't yet played Witcher 3, so maybe my views will change, but I think one of the key issues is that RPG romance is just that, romance, not really love story with its depth, complexity and passion, but at best (and rarely if ever, actually) the very beginning of something that might become vageuly more solid and serious in the future, long after the game's over. Not that it's impossible to do it well in video games, it happens a few times, but so far I've seen it in 2 games - where actually it was mixed with sadness if not a sense of tragic -, namely in To the Moon and Max Payne 2.

Besides, I'm not sure Jeff likes to implement that kind of things, if it's his cup of tea, not sure either if he can do it really well (haven't played Avadon yet, though).

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I am not sure there are any video game writers or designers I know of who have the delicacy to write a really great, convincing love story, and I am not sure it is possible to systematize romance in a way that is remotely satisfying in anything but the most simplistic, escapist way.


Also, it's worth noting that in big-budget RPGs like Bioware's, it's standard for each companion character/romance interest to be written by a separate writer, so each one can get enough attention to be developed satisfactorily, and so that each one feels different from the others. A major problem with the Avadon games, I think, was that since the games are written by one person, it wasn't possible for each companion, or the love interest in 2, to get enough attention and care put into them, so they tend to be a little flat and harp on one note in their characterization. I think it's better to simply not have a romance subplot than to have a half-baked one.

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On ‎10‎/‎31‎/‎2018 at 7:18 PM, Caligula said:

I really wonder how many gamers like romances, and even more crucially how many RPG players like them.

 

In my long-ago experience with tabletop roleplaying (and also some more recent play-by-post), I can tell you lots of RPG players liked them (as I did).  Most, in fact, of the ones I knew.  You didn't need the DM/GM to create something of enormous literary quality either, as the players' imaginations filled in the gaps quite nicely.  

 

I haven't played as many CRPGs as a lot of people here, so I can't really speak to what their audiences like.

Edited by Alberich

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3 hours ago, And my heart too. said:

In fairness, most romances in novels are also pretty bad.

 

This is especially true in the fantasy and speculative genres that most frequently find their way to RPGs.

 

If I had a quarter for every horrible speculative fiction sex scene I've read...

 

The thing about video games (even more so than art in general) is that in my experience, very very few are actually what I would describe as good art, and almost none, if any, are great art. So, at the end of the day, what I want from a video game tends to be just enjoyable escapism rather than insight on the human experience. A romantic subplot can be fun and endearing if done well. But, there are few things more excruciating to read (or play through) than an overlong, poorly-written love scene.

 

The romances in Bioware RPGs tend to be competently written and fun. They are not brilliant or meaningful, but that's fine because they're in games that are not, on the whole, brilliant or meaningful. The best they can hope to be is satisfying and memorable. But, as I mentioned above, it takes dedicated work from a professional writer to get each potential romance into shape and ensure that each major character is consistently characterized and has a consistent voice.

 

The companion writing in the Avadon games, and the romance subplot in 2, in my opinion mostly fails to meet the bar of being fun or memorable, and so has to be considered a failure. Unless Jeff plans to hire another writer to work on things like this, or to take twice as long to write the games himself, I would prefer that in future Spiderweb games he sticks to his strong suits (imaginative worldbuilding, memorable eccentric minor characters).

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19 hours ago, googoogjoob said:

The thing about video games (even more so than art in general) is that in my experience, very very few are actually what I would describe as good art, and almost none, if any, are great art. So, at the end of the day, what I want from a video game tends to be just enjoyable escapism rather than insight on the human experience.

I know you acknowledged art in general above, but I do think the difference is not that great.  There's a lot of really bad writing out there.

 

Obviously, video games as a medium aren't well suited to do some things that novels, for example, can do.  But they can absolutely speak to the human conditions the same way fairy tales and folktales can, and that's sort of the same category as some of the better fantasy & SF lit.  To take one example, if you break down and analyze the story in Final Fantasy IV, it's remarkable how closely it tracks with both Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.  There's just enough subtlety that no one really notices it, but once you look, the parallels are remarkable.

 

Are most CRPGs closer to Eragon than Lord of the Rings?  Absolutely!  But so are most fantasy novels.

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A lot of writing is formalistic where plots follow a certain format. Good writing makes you enjoy it even if you know what is coming or adds new elements that makes it different in memorable ways. You can trace elements back to earlier source material if you want to take the time and are knowledgable about them.

 

Lord of the Rings took elements from Norse and Christian mythology and sagas. But the elements were put together in interesting ways. Star Wars was even more derivative of the hero hidden away so he could come of age and gain power to eventually defeat the evil that could have easily killed him as a child.

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Well, when I say great art, I mean, uh. Art which creates in the consumer an awareness of the Sublime, in the Romantic sense, which is sort of undefinable, and is totally subjective to the consumer. There are books I think are great art, there are pieces of music, there are paintings, etc, but my experience with video games is that maybe none of them ever actually reach that point, and thus might be entertaining or interesting, but I would not describe any of them as "great art". But again, this is a totally personal perspective, and I am sure there are video games that fit the same role in some peoples' experience as a particular work of art does in my experience, and apart from that, what each person would describe as "great" art is unique as well. My former comment should be understood in light of this.

 

Anyway this is all tangential to the topic, I think.

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I'm not sure what you mean by the "sort of undefinable" "Sublime" (but, then, you aren't sure either, so we're even 😂), but I certainly find that some video games are capable of drawing my mind to ponder truth, beauty, and goodness (the so-called "transcendentals").

FWIW, playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild earlier this year is what convinced me that video games can be art. Never before have I thought after finishing game that it was such a genuinely beautiful experience to play. (Note: the game is not perfect, but what human art is ever perfect? Also, not saying there are no other video-games-which-are-art in existence, just that I haven't had a chance to play them.) In the past, I've played games that I thought came close to being art but that I wasn't quite sure about, or games that had certain elements I thought qualified as art but not the game as a whole.
 

If we don't have many video games that qualify as art, I suspect it's more because of time than because the genre is inherently incapable of being art. Geniuses like Michelangelo or Bach don't come along every day, and the greatness of brilliant works of art can take time to achieve widespread appreciation. People have been painting, making music, and writing books for millennia, which means that even though most of those works are bad, the sheer amount time means a great many brilliant paintings, pieces of music, and books have appeared. It's harder to point to video games as art perhaps in part because it is such a young art form. I imagine that if mankind is still playing video games in 500 years, we'll have more examples that are widely recognized as great art.

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I think Cliff Johnson's games, and also System's Twilight, have a sort of austere beauty to them as a result of their total dedication to being what they are, and how well-crafted they are. (But also: I played them like 15 years ago and have no real interest in playing them ever again.)

 

A problem with video games being great art doesn't have anything to do with how old the artform is, I think, but is a result of several intersecting and complicating economic factors, which I was gonna explicate in detail but then I realized this post is already much too long so I excised it. It's more possible for small independent developers to make good art than big-budget established developers, but indie devs don't have the same resources (money, time, staff) to devote to something the way a big dev can.

 

Another problem with video games as art is that most video game developers seem to be stuck conceptualizing video games as being, basically, movies shackled to crosswords. I think for a video game to be great art, form and function have to coincide perfectly, with the mechanical and thematic elements reinforcing each other to result in something greater than the sum of its parts. I think Cliff Johnson's games do a good (but relatively primitive) job of this insofar as they sort of slave the thematic elements to the mechanical elements in a way which I think is effective. I think Papers, Please is another good example of a game which has its mechanics and thematic elements perfectly tailored for each other, although it ultimately does not do anything particularly interesting with them. However, most games think of these elements as being essentially segregated, and use the thematic elements either as another little incentive to make the player keep playing (play more unrelated gameplay to see what happens next in the story!), or as an unrelated domain which has to exist to justify the game itself, or as an opportunity to communicate some story or message the developers cannot or do not know how to communicate via gameplay, or more often some combination of these. I hold out hope that eventually someone will manage to synthesize the two elements in a successful, satisfying way, though I have not yet played a game that does so.

 

A last major problem, related to the prior problem, is that the games which do get praised for being good or great art tend to be crude melodramas stapled onto middling gameplay. The people who review video games professionally tend to be uh. Undiscerning would be the polite way to put it, I guess. Video game reviewers tend to be essentially hobbyists who are just glad to be getting paid to write their reviews. They might like or dislike a video game, but they tend to be very poor at explaining why they do or do not like it. Most of them have a sort of lingering defensiveness about whether or not games are a worthwhile thing to write about or dedicate your life to, and many are extremely eager to seize on any opportunity to argue games are "actually art" as a result. Both reviewers and popular audiences tend to favor works that manage to make them feel strong emotions, regardless of what those emotions are or how manipulatively or incoherently the game makes them feel these emotions (although this is also the case to an extent with popular cinema and literature).

 

Video games has not yet developed the robust critical industry that literature or film or music have, which I think is necessary to a healthy artform. (Not that plenty of terrible films or books don't get released even with their artforms' established critical industries, but on the one hand good art criticism allows consumers to work out their own tastes more clearly, and allows artists to learn more effectively from the strengths and weaknesses of other artists; and on the other hand it would be very difficult to find a professional literary critic willing to defend something like The Da Vinci Code as great art, while it is distressingly easy to find professional video game critics willing to go to the mat to defend something as simultaneously dull and reprehensible as Bioshock Infinite as one of the best video games ever, and a crowning achievement of art.) As long as it's possible for a video game (The Last of Us) to get extremely positive "buzz" (however many dozens of Game of the Year awards!) and extreme critical acclaim (95% great on Metacritic!) by being essentially a mediocre third-person shooter awkwardly coupled with a sub-mediocre melodrama plot that rehashes and recycles decades of existing fiction, there is no real economic or social incentive for game developers, already in a risky hit-based business (a large majority of the profits are made by a small minority of the releases, and most games lose money for the publisher), to try to make truly original or brilliant work. (Not that there aren't those who try anyway.)

 

(Sidebar: some games which I think are good art: the Blackwell series of adventure games; The Real Texas; Night in the Woods; Immortal Cities: Children of the Nile; The Deadly Tower of Monsters; the first third of Knee Deep; Windosill.) (Excited for someone to violently disagree with my theses.)

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Oh, hey, "are video games art". Haven't done one of these in a while.

 

Are they art? Depends on how you define art -- I have nothing invested in my definition of the term, and most everyone else is unwilling to change theirs. If you think "experiences" count as art, then certainly video games qualify. On the other hand, once you start using terms like "sublime", then you've probably already decided for yourself. Then there's everyone who would say Rembrandt created art and Pollock did not, at which point you don't even bother bringing another medium into the discussion.

 

One pitfall I see both sides of the debate fall into is comparing video games to film/television or novels. The usual examples cited as "artistic video games" tend to be highly cinematic or highly narrative or both, and the usual rebuttal is reductionist. Oh, the music might be artistic, the writing literary, the cutscenes as good as any film, but the game as a whole? Personally, I find the games that ape what makes film or novels successful to be the least indicative of what makes video games "artistic". The medium has a lot more in common with immersive theatre, or installation art. Or cuisine! And just as you can't judge a meal by looking at a picture without tasting it, you can't judge a video game without playing it (though many, most infamously Roger Ebert, have tried).

 

Speaking of Ebert, one of his key criticisms of the medium, one that's overlooked by most rebuttals, is that art by definition requires authorial and directorial control:

 

"... I did indeed consider video games inherently inferior to film and literature. There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control."

"I believe art is created by an artist. If you change it, you become the artist."
"Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices."

 

It's an odd place to draw the line, but there you go. In my mind, surrendering directorial control and even authorial control is what makes video games so powerful. With even the simplest "walking simulators", the player can pan the camera (and thus control the framing of a scene) and walk at their own speed (and thus control the pacing of a scene). The result is something far more immersive than most other mediums can aspire to. It's harder to truly surrender authorial control -- an RTS or FPS might have differing results based on mission performance, or a CRPG or visual novel might present the player with multiple choice questions periodically. But until we figure a way to put a miniature Game Master in every computer, it will have to do.

 

Aaaand new post just as I'm about to submit this:

As you might guess, I agree with the "movies shackled to crosswords" assessment.

Papers, Please is a great example of video games doing something other mediums cannot. Other mediums might describe harsh circumstances forcing someone to be part of a totalitarian apparatus, but video games let you be that someone.

And as for the rest: Sturgeon's Law. No lack of films being nothing more than crude melodramas with middling cinematography, and no lack of low effort, undiscerning reviewers.

Edited by Dintiradan
Linebreaks for clarity.

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On 11/4/2018 at 7:11 PM, googoogjoob said:

(But also: I played them like 15 years ago and have no real interest in playing them ever again.)

 

This is a mistake, but do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

 

Also, CURSES.  And a whole of bunch of other IF, that's just the lynchpin for me.  But I suppose then we're treading the line between video games and writing, anyway...

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Jigsaw is so, so much better than Curses. There's a lot of IF I've enjoyed, but not a lot I would call good art... Jigsaw, Make It Good, All Roads. (Ingold is great. 80 Days was great but only sort of IF; Heaven's Vault looks great.) The Dreamhold, Spider and Web. All of Plotkin's games are sort of mechanically beautiful, but he's so much better at implying than at fleshing out interesting details that they only occasionally really connect satisfyingly. Maybe Aisle. I like or at least do not hate basically everything Emily Short's ever done but I think only Savoir-Faire is really great of her stuff.

Edited by googoogjoob
this is an inexcusable tangent. really.

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I think you hit on a good distinction: I may be happier with implication than you are.  If anything, I think I prefer things not going too far in the direction of being completely spelled out.  Piecing together the running threads in the history of the Meldrews through deduction and inference and incomplete entries in the reference book, which mostly wasn't mechanically necessary and never provided a complete picture, was maybe my favourite part of Curses.  I certainly don't claim it has better elements than the rest of that list (much of which I've played and loved), but I give it credit for a certain freshness, a lack of technical artifice -- "mechanical" actually would be the last word I'd use to describe its beauty.  Sometimes that's more important to me, and that's really why I still play so many old, old games.

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Implication/explication can cut both ways for me, I think. Curses is, to me, an almost-interesting mixture of an initial setting and premise I do not care about at all (a crusty manor belonging to a house of eccentrics; finding a map in the attic), the eclectic fantasy (and intermittently sci-fi) elements, a bunch of lightly-implemented scenarios strung together with very light plot elements, and then the joke ending (spoilers for this 25+ year old game) which never worked for me. Jigsaw means more to me because I'm more invested in 20th century history than in slightly twee British fantasy (and I think Jigsaw has generally better puzzles and a more consistent tone). Even though no given scene or setting in Jigsaw is particularly deep or fleshed-out (except maybe the Titanic), I know and can recognize each historical scene, and the knowledge and feelings I already have about these scenes, I guess, lets me bring what I already have and sort of meet the game halfway, so the game means more to me. (Putting part of this another way, you could say Curses's metatextuality is oriented towards TS Eliot and Greek and Egyptian myth, which don't mean a lot to me, while Jigsaw's is oriented towards real history- and Lenin's sealed train or the ULTRA codebreaking operation mean more to me than the story of Andromeda ever did or could.)

 

So Far has some beautifully-written settings, but you only ever see them briefly and in no real depth. All Roads takes the unifying mechanic/image of So Far (traveling via shadows) but puts it to more focused, deeper use. Neither game actually explicitly spells out its story, but So Far is sort of a series of memorable but disconnected dream-like images and settings, while All Roads uses its little hints and implications to limn the silhouette of a bigger story. At the end of each game the player is left with a lot of questions, but in So Far you get the impression that the questions may not have answers, and if they do, they are irrelevant; while in All Roads you get the impression that the questions do have answers, which you might be able to deduce, and which might make the narrative more interesting or meaningful. Both of these have a sort of beauty, but I find the latter more compelling. (Although I'd distinguish the latter sort of thing- a story which might benefit from close reading or multiple readings- from the increasingly-popular "puzzlebox" mode of storytelling, which I hate, where the narrative is deliberately obtuse but gives you a bunch of hints or clues, and the "fun" comes from simply attempting to work out what actually happened, preferably on Twitter or a popular forum for maximum exposure and buzz and free marketing. It's sort of a fine line between the types though.)

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This sort of reminds me of movies or books that I've enjoyed in part because I never knew what would happen next, but that one of my brothers found a lot more meh because the plot twists I found suspenseful were instead totally obvious and predictable to him. We all have some ability to connect the dots and figure out what's going in a story, but for any particular story (regardless of its medium), some of us are going to do better at filling in the blanks than others will. I've been annoyed by stories that I felt never explained such-and-such important matter, but I've also been taken aback when the aforementioned brother said a story that I thought made complete sense failed to explain things and left him in the dark. So I wonder if the implication / explication distinction is less about enjoying one versus the other in an absolute sense, and more about how successfully / easily one makes inferences for a specific story. Humans generally enjoy solving puzzles (otherwise we wouldn't keep making them for thousands of years), and I think that includes the act of inferring. It's quite satisfying to realize you've worked through the hints to figure out a story. Maybe our final interpretation isn't exactly what the author intended, but we have still used logic and imagination to build a coherent understanding out what the author gave us, and this makes us feel smart. Contrariwise, if we are unsuccessful at inferring some kind of meaning in a work of fiction, we wind up confused and frustrated and dissatisfied. Thus how much one enjoys implication in a work of fiction, versus desiring more explicit details and connections, comes down to how successful one is at drawing inferences from said implications.


Tangent: oh wow weird flashback to discussing Eliot's "The Waste Land" in English Lit as a freshman and boggling over how many literary allusions he loaded into that thing.

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On 11/12/2018 at 8:49 AM, googoogjoob said:

Curses... and then the joke ending (spoilers for this 25+ year old game) which never worked for me.

What do you mean the joke ending?  The ending isn't a joke; there's bits of humor, maybe, but it's quite serious, IMO, a real capstone for the themes brought out in the course of the game.  Which speak to the human condition, particularly in the modern era, as much as anything.  I know you said "to me" at the beginning; I still think your assessment is unfair.

 

On 11/12/2018 at 8:49 AM, googoogjoob said:

(Putting part of this another way, you could say Curses's metatextuality is oriented towards TS Eliot and Greek and Egyptian myth, which don't mean a lot to me, while Jigsaw's is oriented towards real history- and Lenin's sealed train or the ULTRA codebreaking operation mean more to me than the story of Andromeda ever did or could.)

Yes, maybe this is the big difference between us.  Vice versa on those, though Medusa's a lot more interesting.

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On 11/12/2018 at 8:49 AM, googoogjoob said:

the increasingly-popular "puzzlebox" mode of storytelling, which I hate, where the narrative is deliberately obtuse but gives you a bunch of hints or clues, and the "fun" comes from simply attempting to work out what actually happened

 

At the extreme, there's also the (not so popular) "Sylak's Puzzle Box" mode of storytelling, where the author drops in massive numbers of clues but deliberately avoids having a single narrative to find in the first place.  See: the 2017 season of Twin Peaks.  (In that case, it pretty clearly wasn't an exposure or marketing gimmick as you suggest, but rather an authorial statement about mystery.  As one of the Log Lady intros to the first series put it:

 

"So now the sadness comes - the revelation. There is a depression after an answer is given. It was almost fun not knowing. Yes, now we know. At least we know what we sought in the beginning.

 

But there is still the question: why? And this question will go on and on until the final answer comes. Then the knowing is so full, there is no room for questions."

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As a single guy, I strongly ship pc/npc romance, and I am sure a lot of others like me do as well. 

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5 hours ago, And my heart too. said:

What do you mean the joke ending?  The ending isn't a joke; there's bits of humor, maybe, but it's quite serious, IMO, a real capstone for the themes brought out in the course of the game.

I mean a) you end up not actually finding the map the search for which set off the entire game, and then b) there's the meta-joke of the omitted traditional "last lousy point" so you end the game with one point less than the claimed maximum (unless you kiss your aunt immediately before ending the game, and end the game before the temporary points this gives you wear off, in which case you can end the game with a few points above the maximum). The former comes across to me as a little bit precious, and the latter is sort of dated by the near-death of scoring systems in IF which happened within a few years of Curses's release.

 

I would define puzzlebox storytelling to mean stories could easily be told in a straightforward, coherent way, but which are deliberately told in an obfuscated and difficult way either in the usually-misguided belief that this will make the story itself more interesting, or in a cynical ploy to drive consumer engagement. Part of the definition has to hinge on there being one "correct" reading of the story which must be deduced by the consumer(s) from the hints and clues to it in the work. I do not think a work which deliberately disavows the existence of any authoritative interpretation can be a puzzlebox. (Where definition gets tricky is with something like Lost, where the writers clearly intended at some point for the story to be tied together and for each of the pieces to mean something, but then kept adding to or changing the intended story, and eventually failed utterly for a variety of reasons and had to throw out a lot of the hints. The "correct" reading as ever-receding chimera: a bunch of puzzle pieces that ultimately do not fit together.)

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I also tend to prefer Curses somewhat over Jigsaw (and Graham Nelson's other games), but I think that's just personal preference. There's much to like in both games, and they both made quite an impression on me when I was younger.

 

17 hours ago, googoogjoob said:

I mean a) you end up not actually finding the map the search for which set off the entire game, and then b) there's the meta-joke of the omitted traditional "last lousy point" [...]

 

I fear I'll have to agree with Slarty on this one. When I first played through Curses, the ending didn't come across as a joke to me. It felt quite satisfying, as if it nicely wound up the themes explored in the work as a whole. In fact, I find the ending to be quite sad. The inherent magic surrounding the player character and their surroundings is broken, and the magical devices used throughout the entire game are no longer functional (with a couple of exceptions, granted). The surroundings return to banality, and you return to normal life – exactly what the force of the curse was trying to prevent. It feels like the wonder experienced during the game has evaporated, and I'm sure that's deliberate.

 

I think I disagree with you about the map, though. This gets into some specifics, so I'll put this in a spoiler block:

 

Spoiler

As I interpret it, the map you find *is* the map the started the search. If you examine it, you'll see that it looks identical to the map lost in the attic. The player's quest isn't to find *a* map, but *their* map, so it's only achieved once that specific item is found. The curse is defeated by the end of the game, so the quest must be completed, and thus the map found. The druids' magic simply transferred the map to some obtuse location, and constructed an awkward paper trail that leads the player to it. The paper trail teaches the player about their druidic heritage, which is the purpose of the curse in the first place.

I think it's necessary from a narrative point of view, too. If the player simply finds the map in a teachest right at the end of the game, I would feel it to be somewhat of an anticlimax. If it's there at that point, what's to stop the player from finding it earlier? Might they not have found it just be looking really carefully? Why then go through the entire game beforehand? That's just my opinion, of course!

 

I also feel it's a little unfair to judge Curses on that 'last lousy point' mechanic, although I fully concede that it's a frustrating feature. That mechanic was hugely popular at the time of the release of Curses, and Curses was Graham Nelson's first game. I suspect he included it to make the game as complete and 'current' as possible. Nelson, incidentally, disliked the mechanic, and wrote about it negatively a few years later. I'm sure the point's in there somewhere, though. Perhaps someone will find it one day. I have a suspicion there might actually be three mutually exclusive points depending on the player's choices, but that's only speculation. I really hope it isn't that old don't-save-the-game trick.

 

Incidentally, did either of you find out how to be turned into a constellation? I always wondered about that.

 

It is possible to bring this topic full-circle again. Jigsaw was praised at the time it was released because of the novel way it handles the romance between Black at White (although I have one minor quibble about how it's done). As someone who is a fan of Jigsaw, googoogjoob, I'm curious as to your reactions to the inclusion of that romance. In your option, do you think Nelson does a decent job in writing it?

 

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1 hour ago, Ess-Eschas said:

I'm sure the point's in there somewhere, though. Perhaps someone will find it one day. I have a suspicion there might actually be three mutually exclusive points depending on the player's choices, but that's only speculation. I really hope it isn't that old don't-save-the-game trick.

There is no way for an Inform game to know whether or how many times you've saved, as far as I know. I don't think the source for Curses has ever been released, but it's possible to disassemble z-code games in a way that pulls out all the potential text you can see in the game (and any unused text), and if there was an actual last lousy point, it would almost certainly have been discovered in the time since the game came out. I'm almost certain the "missing" point is a deliberate poetic echo of the end of the story.

 

1 hour ago, Ess-Eschas said:

I also feel it's a little unfair to judge Curses on that 'last lousy point' mechanic, although I fully concede that it's a frustrating feature.

I wouldn't say I judge the whole game on the last point thing. I still think it's a generally very good, well-implemented puzzlefest adventure game, and it's historically important for the IF renaissance it led to. It just doesn't really connect with me as a work of art in the way I find most satisfying. (Also, as interesting as the themes of the game potentially are, you are still going to spend most of the game fiddling with, like, the frustrating sliding-block puzzle, or typing out PUT STAFF IN SARCOPHAGUS. CLOSE SARCOPHAGUS. OPEN SARCOPHAGUS. TAKE STAFF a dozen times.)

 

1 hour ago, Ess-Eschas said:

As someone who is a fan of Jigsaw, googoogjoob, I'm curious as to your reactions to the inclusion of that romance. In your option, do you think Nelson does a decent job in writing it?

I think the romance with Black is good. It's underwritten rather than tastelessly overwritten in the way a lot of genre fiction romance is, and you can read as much or as little into it as you want. This might be considered a problem in that it leaves the romance sort of half-integrated with the main story of the game, but this doesn't really bother me a lot. Having the characters' genders remain resolutely undefined is a nice touch, and surprisingly progressive and tasteful for an adventure game from 1995. It's also the sort of thing you can only really do in a purely text-based medium.

 

PS it's probably too late to save this topic, and all the stuff about art and IF should probably get shaved off into a separate topic.

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What Ess-Eschas said about the ending, 100%.  You don't fail -- that's the whole point!  You succeed in your quest to find the map, literally by definition, because the curse breaking depends on that definition being fulfilled.  I will just add that given how much the game allows distant times and places to flow into each other (thanks, essentially, also to the curse that transcends time and place) there is no reasonable way you can conclude that a map found outside the attic is not the map from the attic.  Those Tarot cards are all pretty clearly from the same deck, and they are found across every boundary the game has; that goes for all the rods, too.

 

The game is essentially the modernist moment of IF, as fits its literary ties; puzzle boxes are a postmodern thing, and can we talk about an artistic era that was once vigorous and fascinating and has now lived too long, become a grotesque imitation of itself, and needs to die, yes, please.

 

(And IIRC, it's more like

 

PUT STAFF IN BOX.  CLOSE IT.  OPEN IT.  TAKE STAFF

 

Typing that 9 times or whatever is really not much text when you think about everything you have to type when playing any IF game.  There are some annoyances (like figuring out the right command to give directions to the mouse; oy) and not as many efficiencies as later games, obv, but this is such a small thing.)

 

Also, it's definitely not the no-saves thing and I'm also pretty sure there is no way to get the last point.

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I don't really have anything else to say about Curses. I like it well enough, it just doesn't engage me very much beyond the puzzlefest structure. 3.5 stars out of 5.

 

I think it's sort of interesting that a few years ago there was sort of an uproar in the popular discourse on video games about "walking simulators" (Dear Esther, Gone Home, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter), when games which are essentially "walking sims" (A Mind Forever Voyaging, Photopia) had already existed in IF for decades.


I spent a while a few years ago trying to think of what a "modernism" (or realism, or romanticism, etc) might look like in the medium of video games. It is difficult given that the medium has existed entirely after the advent of postmodernism, given that essentially all commercial video games (with some notable exceptions) either deliberately eschew artistic aspirations or have their artistic aspirations mangled by the demands of what will sell, and given that there is little critical literature or coherent theory for video games. There are a lot of little independent art-for-art's-sake games, but they tend to be extremely idiosyncratic and to have limited or incoherent artistic aims. (That is, they are often just "here's a little game mechanic I came up with which I think is sort of cool, but which I have no intent of developing into a full game.") There are games and game developers which might be described as having a modernist perspective on art by analogy with modernism in literature or film etc, but it is very difficult to try to articulate what an artistic movement or set of shared ideals might look like in a video game context- because it can't just pertain to the thematic elements (the story, the art direction, the theatrical direction of cutscenes, the music), but also how these elements all come together, and how they interact with the game mechanics and the player's input.

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Pretty sure everyone who dismisses walking simulators would also dismiss most if not all interactive fiction.

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Well, I mean, modernism and postmodernism are ambiguous enough terms to begin with.  But I think there are some games that can squarely fit into one of those boxes.  Games that visibly deconstruct what it means to be a game, that's as postmodern as it gets: Fluxx goes in this category, and while it's a card game, there is a computer version -- implemented by Andrew Plotkin (!).  (See, this all comes full circle.)  A lot of briefly viral "clever" games go here: Braid, Pony Island, that sort of thing.

 

One common thread that, for me, links together a lot of modernist art is an emphasis on being evocative.  New forms in modernism are typically used in at least partial service of this goal.  The forms are unusual, atonal, misshapen, abstract, so there's necessarily a lot of implication involved.  Video games in general moved away from this the better the 3D, hi-res graphics got, though there are exceptions.

 

Just for giggles, let's throw together a haphazard (and maybe inaccurate in a few places) correspondence of some broad aesthetic movements and RPGs, because this is what we do at Spiderweb, ain't it?

 

Postmodernist: Evoland

Modernist: Angband

Expressionist: Planescape: Torment

Impressionist: Quest for Glory

Realist: Skyrim

Victorian: Avadon

Romantic: Ultima IV

Neoclassical: Dragon Quest

Baroque: Final Fantasy

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i feel like the game-mechanical implementation of morality in Ultima IV is a little too black-and-white to be called properly Romantic: there's a clear set of prescribed and proscribed actions, and in practice the player is called upon not to balance potentially conflicting values but simply to do all of the right things and none of the wrong things. Blake wouldn't have approved

 

you could maaaybe make more of a case for the Age of Enlightenment trilogy taken as a whole but there'd still be some issues with that too. the originally planned plot of Ultima VIII might have come close although what we actually got was kind of a mess

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Maybe.  My thinking there was that it emphasizes the intuitive, subjective, emotional side of things (the virtues, sure, but also the fortune-teller sequence, the codex sequence, etc.) over objective mechanics (in which it's on the lighter side).  The mathematical layout of the virtues is so Schiller, and it does have the pastoral idealization of forests and tiny villages -- and even shepherds!  If you compare it to other games of the time, it's hard to find another with more shades of gray; I think Blake would have approved, in context.  And like Romanticism it was a deliberate revolt against, well, playing by the rolls.

 

And actually, now that I think about it, the choices of the virtues fit the movement pretty well, too.  You have Spirituality, but it's grounded in wilderness (the rangers) and represented by ankhs, rather than churches, which do not seem to be formally present (despite the previous games having clerics and churches playing a rather significant role in later games of the series).  Valor, not a classical virtue, but strong here (see Byron); Humility, whose lack was a recurring theme (see Shelley); and the principle of Truth (see Keats).

 

All of that said: pretty much none of these are perfect fits, and this list is a ridiculous enterprise to begin with, so shrug

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Well, like I said, you can sort of allot games based on their general outlook and thematic content to various artistic movements, but it is hard to say what an actual artistic movement would look like in the context of video games. The player's interaction with the game complicates everything, and most games design their mechanics based on what players like or know, rather than using them to make an artistic point. Mechanically, the gap between Ultima IV and Avadon is relatively quite small, while the gap between Angband and Evoland is pretty big, despite thematic similarities or differences.

 

There are a lot of consciously deconstructionist games, but they're too disparate in outlook and the use to which they put the tools of deconstruction to really be considered a cohesive "movement": Braid has serious if confused things to say about video games in general, while Evoland has no real ambition to make a statement about the games it parodies, and is mostly oriented around what mechanics (cut down bush with sword to find coin) and iconographic elements (slime monsters) players will recognize and enjoy. Pony Island is mostly designed around what will be the most fun or surprising, and the Karoshi games use the central deconstructive premise as an excuse to devise a bunch of fun puzzles.

 

I think the simulationist impulse in video games, in eg System Shock or Deus Ex (that is, games which model in the gameworld, physically and functionally, objects or characters which have nothing to do with the main mechanics or story of the game: a soda can you can drink or throw, a basketball you can throw through a hoop, characters who go about their business, eating and drinking and going to work without the player's intervention, etc), might be considered an artistic movement or proto-movement.

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6 hours ago, behind the mouldering wainscot said:

Maybe.  My thinking there was that it emphasizes the intuitive, subjective, emotional side of things (the virtues, sure, but also the fortune-teller sequence, the codex sequence, etc.) over objective mechanics (in which it's on the lighter side).  The mathematical layout of the virtues is so Schiller, and it does have the pastoral idealization of forests and tiny villages -- and even shepherds!  If you compare it to other games of the time, it's hard to find another with more shades of gray; I think Blake would have approved, in context.  And like Romanticism it was a deliberate revolt against, well, playing by the rolls.

 

And actually, now that I think about it, the choices of the virtues fit the movement pretty well, too.  You have Spirituality, but it's grounded in wilderness (the rangers) and represented by ankhs, rather than churches, which do not seem to be formally present (despite the previous games having clerics and churches playing a rather significant role in later games of the series).  Valor, not a classical virtue, but strong here (see Byron); Humility, whose lack was a recurring theme (see Shelley); and the principle of Truth (see Keats).

 

All of that said: pretty much none of these are perfect fits, and this list is a ridiculous enterprise to begin with, so shrug

 

i guess my perspective would be that it attempts to emphasize those things but i don't think it fully succeeds, at least for me; winning the game requires engaging with the mechanical incentive structure even when that runs counter to the spirit of the values espoused in the game's dialogue, and i think that's an inherent pitfall of the specific approach it took to translating its virtues into game mechanics, and that there are alternate approaches that could be more successful (although, well, probably not ones that had been developed in 1985)

 

like, that even goes for stuff like the fortune teller sequence: i was surprised to find there were people who didn't try to figure out how it worked and then game it to pick the class they wanted

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19 minutes ago, behind the mouldering wainscot said:

Whether the right phrasing is "attempts to" or "does," I think it's a closer fit than most RPGs, at the least.  Is there an RPG would you want to put there instead?

 

it's maybe a closer fit than most if you're only talking about western RPGs but there are a lot of slightly offbeat JRPGs that would fit better; off the top of my head, most of the Megami Tensei franchise fits the bill, drawing as it does from basically the same creative wellspring as Prometheus Unbound

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I thought about SMT, but ultimately I feel like this has to be a question of mechanics as much as theme -- just as style and form are also relevant parts of an aesthetic movement.  And the virtue mechanics fit Romanticism a lot better IMO than either the traditional or unique components of SMT mechanics.

 

This is also why I thought a roguelike was a good fit for modernism, a game with shifting mechanics for postmodernism, etc.

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On 11/15/2018 at 7:41 AM, behind the mouldering wainscot said:

this list is a ridiculous awesome enterprise to begin with

 

Fixed that for you.

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