The Final Chapter – Finding the Ending

With my latest user test with Steve as the player subject, he made various comments of the existential nature of my game.

From the big picture, it indeed feels as though the concept of individual free will as the player in the game, identity, and ambiguous goals are the core themes in the game.

While in it’s individual chapters the play through is consistent, the overall arc of the game is not. The user is led to discover who they are as the player, however nothing is explicit; the player is never described physically and no background or backstory is given.

While the game begins with a clear goal that needs to be achieved, this “tutorial room” merely serves as a test for the player to pass in order to prove that they are familiar with the grammatical syntax required to play the game.

The artistic process – less answers, more questions

This one is a bit long, but it’s a pretty easy read and my favourite post so far – worth the entire read in my opinion.

This year I’ve been taking a class called directive screen performance , which is basically a class where we learn how to direct the proper way to portraying honesty on screen.

Essentially the aim of the class is to create scenes that 1) are able to hold the suspension of disbelief 2) the actors believe their characters and the situations they are placed in 3) have the actors discover the characters themselves and have the directors lead them rather than the director telling them what to do.

Although the class is designed for film students, I took the class hoping it would be useful in the process in which it would relate to experience design, and I’m glad I did because I am seeing very strong parallels between the directing process of actor and director to that of artist to audience/user.

Similar to what Max Dean has us doing in his class, Nicola Correia Damude has us having to build a relational exchange between all of us in the class – we are required to direct one scene and act in two scenes a semester: when we are directing, we need to write a directors notebook and when we are acting we are required to write an actors response. By the end of a round of scenes we do a group reflection.

Since the beginning of the semester, Max has had us creating simple pieces that have little to no guidelines in terms of requirements. This seemed odd at first and somewhat daunting, where at one point I was reluctant to show off the photographs I had taken because I had felt the lighting/angle/tone/everything else of the pictures were no good (I had no choice because I had taken photos of moments, and I just happened to only have my phone with me during those moments). Max on the other hand didn’t care because he insisted that I was judging myself too much and that it wasn’t up to me to judge my work – that was everyone else’s job.

This was quite the contrast to what I’ve been taught and been used to this point, especially to that of what was taught to us by David Green (he at one point got so fed up with the inapt ability of the class to have proper lighting and sound in our videos that he completely banned us from filming anything for future projects in the class). However similarly, this is the same process that Nicola has us do for her class: the director’s notebook which we are required to write when we are directing is basically a mini novel of details for the two characters that the actors will be playing: it has literally everything you could ask about a person : their background including where they were born, where they live, hobbies, political views, interests, profession, gender, sexual preference, who their parents were/are and going through the same checklist – and this is all just for the background , really only 1/5 of the entire biography for only one character. My last notebook took me about 14 hours to complete, however there was a problem. Two actually.

The point of the notebook is so that there is a direction which you initially take during rehearsals. The emphasis is on the word direction, because that is all the director should have to do, hence the root word direct. In other words, the director should only lead the actors toward a certain direction, and/or help guide the actors to their intentions. Thus the directors notebook should only be used when the actors are unable to build their own bridge to their characters. You create the characters in your notebook, but it is ultimately the actors who bring these characters to life – the actors bring in their version of your character, and that’s the one you have to go with. In order for this to happen, there are two rules which you can not break: 1) Do not judge your characters as you write them. Every character is as human as they are intended to be but we do not live our lives hating on ourselves for our weaknesses 2) Do not tell your actors to do certain things for the sake of trying to lead them to what you think is right.

I somehow managed to break these two golden rules as I was writing my last notebook and I was lucky Nicola only decided to take off 10% of my mark but the point is both Nicola and Max are trying to get at the same point:

The artistic process to creating a honest work of art is to create a medium that expresses your intention, but as an execution, it is up to you as the artist to create a structure that can guide the audience to their own interpretation of your piece, however not in a way that would solely impose your own ideas or interpretation of your piece as a restriction. When we choose to share our artwork, we longer have complete ownership of our piece – it voluntarily or involuntarily becomes a part of anyone else who happens upon it.

A good piece of art is about creating a sturdy, long bridge from artist to participant. As the participant walking on the bridge, they should feel safe and have time to make up their mind before arriving to their destination, not being rushed to take the artist’s statement or feeling punished for failing to arrive at the other end.

Process of the Play Tests – A Reflection

I can’t remember if I mentioned, but throughout this entire development process, I’ve been doing user tests every step of the way through.

The purpose of these wasn’t only so that I could see where potential bugs were (which there was a lot of) that I wasn’t bumping into when I played through the game my way, but also what people were thinking as they played through.

At first I felt kind of strange and very conscious to the process almost to the point of starting to consider the amount of people I actually wanted to show my incomplete work to because
1) there is something uncomforting when it comes to showing off your incomplete work and
2) if I was to let everyone in every step of the way, what was left to show off when everything is actually done?

But as how Max Dean has said in a number of his classes already –

If you don’t let anyone into your work, they can’t help you. And if you don’t let anyone help you, your work is only as good as you think you can get it. Not as good as you can actually get it.

Um okay he might not of said that last part but I think he might of said something that meant the same thing. But anyway that’s what was very true to me as I was creating my piece. It was really about getting a large spectrum of the type of audience that I was play testing with, and with that – deciding who my intended audience were.

(continued in next post…)

Guided discovery learning and Play

In my last post I posted a power-point presentation that goes through the 9 types of interactive narrative texts and the 3 identified narrative texts that are appropriate environments to facilitate guided discovery learning in adventure games. Basically to summarize – discovery learning is this concept that allows the process of learning by doing within an environment of finding out how something is done by doing it yourself as the individual, usually with the incentive being a chain of realizations that surge motivation.

For example when you discovered how to ride a bike for the first time , the thrill did not come from the fact that you found out that you were the first person to ever ride a bicycle; that you had achieved a feat that few others have had the ability to – but that you, as the individual self, discovered that you not only have the capability to do so, but also that you had just accomplished it.

Self discovery learning is the idea that such an experience can be simulated and induced in a controlled environment, such as a classroom or game.

In the case of my text based game, part of what makes the narrative build up so rewarding is that the rigorous process which the user has to go through just to solve the first puzzle within the starting room. I designed the game so that the player is only allowed to leave the room once they have typed in the string of commands that use the correct syntax which the game follows. The reason for doing this is so that the incentive for progressing further down the story is consistent – rather than have a “I can ride a bike, woohoo!” Moment when they find the key in the first room and escape but then have a “okay great, but now what?” Moment after they leave the first room, I use the same syntax for the rest of the game to maintain consistency while at the same time adding a outlier obstacle here and there so that it’s a constant “if I just keep up this peddling speed, I won’t fall off the bike – I see a steep hill ahead, let’s figure a way to get around or over it based on what we know now.”

Premise of the game (continued)


OK, So I had to delete the original content of this post because I had accidentally given away too much of the actual plot of the game away.

But I prepared a PowerPoint presentation explaining the thought process of what I explored in coming to where I ended up with in my game (thus far), addressing the question of:

“If the concept of choice within video games is only an illusion, what sort of narrative space would the player need to be in for their choices to be feel unconstrained yet still lead towards the intended narrative outcomes?”

Overall, I looked at the concept of guided discovery learning and how that can be used within adventure games as a vehicle to guide players.

Narrative structure and space within a text based game

I recently got to finishing the tutorial room of my text based adventure. Following that, I coded a hallway followed by an elevator immediately at the exit of the tutorial room – where the elevator would lead to I wasn’t sure, so I went back to the drawing board.

After rationalizing possible circumstances as to why the player starts in a room with no context as to what’s going on and how the player got there, I realized that the answer was not to look for a narrative structure on it’s own, or a contextual space – but rather a :

While sitting on the GO Bus, I watched as the people got onto the bus and took their seats. The GO Bus is a little different than the regular city transit (ttc) – the layout of the seats has it so that everyone is facing forwards, towards the back of the seat in front of them. This makes it so that we don’t really pay attention to others when we get onto a bus, and proceed to inhabit our own sense of space. However – it is the GO Bus, it’s a shared space which we’re all experiencing at a certain place at a certain time.  Despite it all, everyone perceives their own space on the bus different: Some are fidgety, nervous, uncomfortable taking the bus for the first time. Some feel safe enough within their space to fall asleep and take a nap. And some feel safe, comfortable, and even a bit of entitlement as they take out their laptops to watch the latest Criminal Minds episode. In all, everyone exhibits their own sense of their personal space, yet as Scott Snibe demonstrated in his piece Boundary Functions, personal space is defined by others and changes without our control.

Similarly, with my text based game – the medium of text is like the vehicle which is driving the users through the narrative. And like the bus, you’ll know where it’s going and how its getting there once you’ve gotten on it for the first time. However unlike the bus analogy , only 1 passenger can go on the ride at a time, however I have control of how and what they’re able to see as they’re going for the ride.
And so within my text based game, I should perceive the narrative and space within the game as 1 thing.

With this mindset, I’ve come to realize that my text based game does not need to follow a standard start-to-finish narrative, neither does it need to follow the escape-the-room or explore-the-landscape narratives that traditional text based games followed.