Here’s the first of a couple of articles I have in mind stemming from GDC last week. While at GDC I had the pleasure of attending many talks, one in particular stands out for myself and for Dirolab. This is the talk by Emily, Andrew and Richard showcasing their new game, Little Text People. No hyperbole, this was the most interesting game of the show for me. I’m splitting this post up into three parts to make it less epic, so without further ado, part one begins…
Little Text People is being made by three notable people who haven’t, to my knowledge, worked together before.
Emily Short of Galatea fame, creator of many other progressive interactive fiction works, key contributor to Inform 7 itself, and ever present on our little sidebar – please cast your eyes to the right. Emily is interested in narrative, and everything that might mean in games. Her longstanding work in writing, programming and designing interactive fiction is no doubt paying dividends with Little Text People even though it definitely can not be categorized as a text adventure.
Andrew Stern was one of the two creators of Façade. Made together with Michael Mateas (now Associate Professor at University of California, Santa Cruz) and released in 2005, Façade is surely the subject of a future Dirolab post but is still worth a digression here. It is extremely ambitious, highly innovative and correspondingly achieves many firsts. From the point of view of an experimenter in games or a student of digital romance, Façade lights a path with its many important successes and its many educational mistakes or cautions. In the game you play a house guest at dinner trying to repair the marriage of two friends. The married couple are both simulated characters and you interact through a free-form text interface. Rendering is 3d and non-photorealistic, with skinned animated characters and the camera is first-person. Façade’s story might not be romantic, admittedly, perhaps it is even antiromantic, but the game is concerned with the simulation of feelings, relationships, interpersonal dynamics and it is a game where you nurture loving feelings – all areas of interest to us at Dirolab.
Those familiar with both games will sense that there is a connection between Emily’s Galatea and Andrew and Michael’s Façade, which has born fruit in this collaboration.
Richard Evans comes from EA/Maxis, formerly Lead AI Programmer on The Sims 3. Here the connection to Neil Young, Alan Yu and ngmoco presumably began. Reading between the lines ngmoco is financing Little Text People and will publish, and all credit to them for their farsightedness in funding a decidedly more researchy project. Richard’s background is AI, possibly NLP and he has an academic strand to his approach.
The Talk, Part I
My recollection of the talk is imperfect. Drinking 7 nights in a row can do that, not to mention the jetlag. The life of an international playboy game designer is indeed a difficult one. And GDC Vault isn’t up yet. But enough of my problems, here goes anyway.
Entitled “People in Your Pocket: High-Quality AI on Mobile Devices” the talk was part of the AI Track, but happily was heavy on high level game design, or game architecture as I call it.
Richard began by talking about design elements of interactive fiction: pre-written dialogue with a free-form text interface and parser. One major problem with IF is that the parser often confuses the player with its limitations, and the vocabulary set always leads to the guess-what-the-designer-wanted game. The affordances are too many and too obscure, being implicit. But text-only games have a major advantage: they are highly makeable, can include many verbs, nouns, adverbs, etc, and thereby include a great many features, settings and characters, as well as a great deal of artistic expression. This is especially true when combined with parameterization, commonly of nouns, but also verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and so on. More on combinatorial parameterization – getting big bang for your buck – later. So, Richard asked, What If… someone made a game which included limited explicit affordances in a text-only game? Or a nearly text-only game? His point was this is a new area of design space. The pastures look very green in my opinion, and I am no great fan of IF or pure text.
To be continued…
Don’t miss next week’s exciting installment of Little Text People, with more on the game design, philosophy, design goals, wherein we meet The Shy Man…