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Doors, Doors, Everywhere!

An interesting note about dealing with doors in Inform 7. I’m having to come up with unique names to identify the individual rooms/locations in the game. While it’s possible for me to use designations like “location001,” “location002,” etc. and then assign display names with the “printed name” command, that’s not as useful to me from an ease-of-review programming methodology. So I’m having to come up with some fairly lengthy yet nicely descriptive names.

All this makes me realize how many doors I have in the game. The Governor’s Palace alone is four stories (including a basement), and it has a whole lot of bedchambers that need unique names, for example.

But at least the players will be able to open and close doors in the game–at least those that aren’t locked. Or hidden.

The Game Begins: First Screens

Progress on the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative continues. Three plot-level releases are planned: a walk-through version focused on the Williamsburg physical layout, an exploratory version including interaction and discovery with historical characters, and narrative version that is constructed around the removal of the gunpowder supply from the magazine.

The following two screenshots represent what the player will first encounter regardless of the version of the game being played. First is the pre-game opening screen that appears before the player provides any input. As you can see, it sets up a little bit of the story framework by providing some background on the player character and context on how he comes to be in Williamsburg.

OpeningScreen

The second screenshot depicts the description the player gets the second time this location is visited. (The first version of the description has some additional information and is displayed as soon as the player presses the Space bar at the intro screen.) As you can see, the command “see” was entered after the text description. The way the HWLN game is being implemented, graphic images will be provided at many locations; however, in order to display the images, the player must enter the “see” command at the prompt. The images themselves are based on my actual photography of Williamsburg.

GovernorsPalace

A Starting Screen

While I’m doing Glulxe testing, I thought I’d take one more screen shot of the game, this one all text. This is right after the game intro screen comes up, and the player presses the space bar to get into the game proper.

You’ll notice the first command issued by the player is followed by more descriptive text. “More” is a custom command I’ve added to the system that displays more detailed information about the location surroundings. Ultimately, it’s all to help the player make sense of the game.

firstscreen

The George Wythe House and Map

April 18, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, George Wythe is considered to be the first American law professor having taught Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay, and James Monroe (among others) at the College of William and Mary. In fact, the College is in easy walking distance of his home, shown in this photograph (the steeple of the Bruton Parrish Church can be seen in the background):

Wythe House

Wythe’s home (located just a few hundred yards away from the Governor’s Palace) was pivotal in the years leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Key historical figures would often stay at the house as Wythe’s guest, and George Washington even used the house as a field headquarters for a few weeks in September of 1781.

The house itself is two stories with a relatively simple interior architecture. The architectural documents I have been able to research make reference to a basement, but the information is not clear enough, nor are there any diagrams, so I’m leaving the basement out of the navigational map for purposes of the game. The floor plan to be used in the game is below.

The first floor of the home, depicting three points of entrance/exit:

Wythe First Floor

And below is the second floor of the house:

Wythe Second Floor

Conversion of the actual physical layout into the game map format was not difficult, largely due to the lack of architectural complexities. There are ample materials in the research literature to indicate what the interiror of the house was like, and that material will make its way into game descriptions that come up as the player moves from location to location.

Existing Structure Location Maps

April 17, 2013 Leave a comment

In the last entry, I discussed the challenges of producing logical text adventure maps based on real geography; in this case, the physical geography of the city of Williamsburg in the late 1700s. The good news is that the streets and main building locations have been preserved, which helps in map development. But the challenges of using a real place that needs to be reproduced in the context of an adventure game map are even more challenging when using exisitng building architecture. The constraints of walls, doors, hallways, rooms, and stairs along with their comparative physical location relationships don’t leave much room for “adventure navigation license.” The biggest challenge is in using the compass rose as a foundation for navigation, where you have 8 directions of movement from any particular point (north, northeast, east, southeast, etc.). Add “up” and “down” for a total of 10 basic commands that can be typed to specify movement. Consider the following diagram:

room-2

The player location can represent anywhere in physical space: a forest clearing, a small cave chamber, a grand ballroom. Adding the “up” and “down” directions provides a good deal of movement options including 3-dimensional flexibility, for a total of 10 choices for player movement from any given location in the game. However, particular real locations can be difficult to reproducing using the compass rose navigational framework without making overly compromising game navigation decisions. For example, suppose we’re dealing with a long hallway with many doors on both sides, like a hotel hallway:

room-3We can see here that a single “location” representing the hallway is not a practical solution to get to the individual hotel rooms; there four north directional choices and four choices for going south. While creative programming can help (“enter room 101,” “enter room 103,” “enter room 105,” etc.), that approach tends to add to the command complexity for what should be one of the easier tasks in Interactive Fiction play: moving from one spot to another. A different approach might be to segment the hallway:

room-4Using this approach, we see that using the compass rose commands are sufficient for us to navigate to any location on the map without any amiguity. But there’s a tradeoff in that getting from Hall Location 1 to the room in the far northeastern corner would take five steps in the game. The can be tediuos for the player, especially if there is not a particularly great amount of game content to be discovered in each of those Hallway locations.

It is this navigation design issue that is driving the development of the building interior set of game maps. Some creativity allows us to “bend” the compass rose directions to suit our needs, for example:

room-5

Here we have a location that could be a hallway, with accesssibility to three doors on the northern face of the hall and three doors on the southern face. We would need to address this layout in the text description of the location, something like, “You are in an east-west running corridor with six doors total on the northern and southern walls. North of you is a single door, and you likewise see doors on the northwest corner as well as the northeast corner of the corridor. The southern wall has the same arrangement of doors.”

As work progresses on developing the Williamsburg buildings’ intererior maps, it is this interpretation of the compass rose that allows us to achieve an acceptable level of architectural fidelity. The Governor’s Palace is easily one of the most complex structures being reproduced within the game, and it is also one of the key narrative locations. There are four floors to the Palace, and the maps are displayed below:

First Floor (source map here):

Governors Palace First Floor

Second Floor (source maps here, here, here, and here):

Governors Palace Second FloorThird Floor (source here):

Governors Palace Third FloorBasement (source here):

Governors Palace Basement

This mapping structure gives a total of 44 separate player locations for the game, but remember that these 44 locations are at the single Governor’s Palace location on the overall physical map. There are still quite a few buildings to map (which means researching all the architectural plans from the Colonial Williamsburg Library.  Lots of fun in the days ahead!

Game Environment Cartography

February 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Developing a map for an Interactive Fiction environment can be challenging especially if the game is based on real-world geography, as is the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative. A large part of the value of this game is the historical accuracy–which not only includes the events of the time but the geography and architecture as well. In designing the game map, I am considering external landscape and building floor plans separately, and here I describe the process by which the external landscape portion of the game map was developed.

I started working from the map provided by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for guests visiting the city. Below is a scanned version of that map, already partially “cleaned up” (that is, much of the extraneous information–modern buildings, bus route lines, restroom symbols, etc.–have already been removed). After working with this map for a brief period of time, I found a few characteristics I didn’t like. Most significantly, there wasn’t a sufficient level of detail regarding building shapes and grounds, and the relative sizes, locations, and distances between buildings wasn’t accurate enough for me to use in creating descriptions.

Colonial Williamsburg Map(1)

At this point I changed my approach. In order to ensure fidelity to the actual physical layout of Williamsburg, I decided to use satellite imagery for the initial layout work. Google Maps provided excellent resolution from the Governor’s Palace in the north to the Public Hospital in the south, and the College of William and Mary in the west to Christiana Campbell’s Tavern in the east. The city’s overall layout was depicted quite clearly.

a-skymap

Once I had an accurate map from which to work, I was able to select the significant buildings, associated grounds, and pathways between that the player would be using. I superimposed this image on top of the map, and this gave me the level of detail I wanted for development.

a-mergemap

Peeling away the city map, this is what the initial pass at the game map looks like. While this map contains all the information needed to create accurate location descriptions (for example, it will be important to note the distance of the College of William and Mary from the city proper), this version of the map is a bit difficult to work from in building the Interactive Fiction navigation scheme. For that task, a logical map is more appropriate.

a-linemap(2)

This logical map was built from the physical line map (above), connecting locations using only the eight compass directions, and not taking into consideration the sizes of buildings or their actual distance from each other. Also, no assumptions can be made between “nodes” in the map below if they are not connected by a direction line. In other words, if a node is to the west of another node, but they are not connected by an east-west line, they may not be precisely east and west of each other. This map simplifies and compresses the physical map information for ease of navigation programming. The yellow nodes represent place locations where the player may go, while the blue nodes represent buildings or structures that have additional rooms or internal locations not depicted here. Those additional locations will be represented in further mapping exercises.

a-logicalmap

By using this logical map along with the visual information obtained from the line map superimposed from the Google satellite image, I will be able to create rich in-game descriptions of the physical Williamsburg environment. For example, an east-west running path on the logical map may actually be a long, curved road on a hilly slope, and that level of detail will be captured in the game for a rich and hopefully satisfying experience.

Location, Location, Location!

September 5, 2012 Leave a comment

The map is the thing.

While the colonial Williamsburg environment will be accurately portrayed, some locations will get a more thorough treatment than others. As construction of the game environment moves forward, these are the historic sites that will receive focused attention:

  • The Governor’s Palace
  • The Randolph House
  • The Wythe House and Gardens
  • The Courthouse
  • The Magazine and Guardhouse
  • The Capitol
  • King’s Tavern

Additionally, there will be game activity on the Duke of Gloucester Street, and one other (very large) location that, for now, will remain unnamed–and quite essential to the core storyline.

The Rockefeller Library: A Treasure Trove of Information

July 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Today the family and I began our foot-tour of the Colonial Williamsburg area, starting with the Governor’s Palace and grounds. The guided tour (which we’ve been on during several visits over the years) provided a good amount of information regarding the use of the rooms, the tone set by the foyer (a “display of British power” was an important characteristic), and the reasons why the various rooms were decorated as they were. After the tour I had the opportunity to chat with our guide, and I asked him for the best sources of floor plans to the historic buildings. He clued me into the Rockefeller Library.

Later in the day, about mid-afternoon, we were rained out of our Williamsburg walkabout (being stuck in the Courthouse during a storm–but after we participated in an several trial role-play scenarios). That turned out to be a blessing, as I was able to spend some time researching the archives of the Rockefeller Library, and I came upon the Architectural Reports. These reports, apparently dating from the 1930s to the present (I haven’t seen them all, but the earliest one I’ve come across was published in 1931), divide Colonial Williamsburg into geographical blocks and provide amazing amounts of detail on the buildings, grounds, and landscaping as they were in the 18th century. This includes the color schemes, furniture, fabrics, dishware, and so on thought to have been in use by the residents.

This material is just what I wanted to find, and it will provide the foundation for the game navigation. My choice now is to decide how much to include in the first revision of the game!

Time for On-Site Research!

One of the exciting things about the Historical Williamsburg project is that Williamsburg is not only a real place, the historical part is to a large extent restored to the condition it was in back in the late 1700s. Research there can be very entertaining as well as informative. Indeed, the city is a living museum, but ever since my father started taking our family there 40 years ago on summer vacations, I’ve seen it as a fun rather than “educational” place to go. But I picked up a lot about American history despite that fact.

From July 13th-16th, I will be there (along with my family) taking photographs and measurements in order to build the map representation of the historical portions of the city within the game. I will be getting the layouts for the major structures such as the House of Burgesses and the Governor’s Palace, along with the interior information for several other buildings (the Courhouse, the Magazine, some of the taverns, homes of prominent residents, etc.). Hopefully the weather will be favorable! There is a lot of work to do on the game itself, but one of my goals of getting the photography work accomplished (in addition to proving me with reference materials for the in-game descriptions) is so that I’ll be able to put together the project’s coffee table photo book that will be one of the rewards for some of the folks that were Kickstarter backers for the project.

During the fundraising phase, I was asked whether or not I would be publishing the photo book for individual purchase, and honestly, I had not considered that. But it does seem like a good idea, so I think that’s a project element worth adding. I’d like to get the materials together, the layout of the book completed, and all the publishing details worked out by the end of the summer. With all the quality self-publishing options out there, I should be able to have the book available for sale, and we’ll see where that goes!

Being a Part of the Story. Interactively

April 4, 2012 2 comments

The above is a photograph of part of the wall graphics that greet people entering the Colonial Williamsburg* Visitor Center, very near the admissions ticket counter. I especially love this part of the image because of the “be a part of the story” quote. Quite honestly, it is easy to be a part of the story when you visit Colonial Williamsburg. The entire colonial section is like a bubble out of time (with a lot of modern visitors wandering through). When you go, you have the opportunity to see much of life as it was lived through the artisans and craftspeople there. You get to interact with historical figures: on our last visit, my family and I had the opportunity to discuss issues of the day with George Washington in the Governor’s Palace gardens, have tea with Richard Carlton, the merchant-owner of the coffeehouse just across the way from the House of Burgesses, and chat with Lady Susannah Beverly Randolph, mother** of John “The Tory” Randolph, loyalist to the British Crown.

But while my family and I are able to visit Williamsburg fairly regularly, there are many who would but cannot, and many more who are not even aware that such a slice of American history exists. The Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative is an Interactive Fiction project intended for anyone, anywhere in the world to learn about this core piece of the story of the 13 American colonies. Interactive Fiction is a type of computer game that has all the depth and subtleties that only thorough books might offer, but at the same time, it engages the reader in ways that allows them to use the full range of their imaginations and truly be a part of the story. I invite you to be a part of the story of Williamsburg’s history. Please be sure to spread the word to everyone you know that feels excitement at history and at the thought of using their imaginations playing computer games!

*Colonial Williamsburg is a registered trademark of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. There is no affiliation between the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative project.

** An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Susannah Randolph as the wife of John “the Tory” Randolph rather than his mother and wife of Sir John Randolph.