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Streamlined Williamsburg Map

In my last blog post (Fun with Maps) I discussed the complexities around map development for Interactive Fiction, especially given the design tension between maintaining historical accuracy and fostering engaging gameplay. During my most recent trip to Williamsburg last September, I found that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation helped address the map dilemma by issuing a simplified version of their visitor map. This is the visitor map that is currently being published (along with the daily events in the colonial city area).

New Map 001

I took this map and eliminated the extraneous information based on the actual game and story requirements. That gave me a very clean map from which to work. You can see that this map provides a layout of the relative positions of buildings, the streets they are on, and distance information.

New Map 002

Using this clean map, I marked the positions of the buildings and other navigation junctures that would be needed in (this version of) the game. Then I connect the locations where I wanted pathways, so that I could visualize the compass headings to use in terms of game commands. (You can see the blue lines connecting the red and green squares.)

Williamsburg Game Map

Finally, I pulled the background out in order to have the unadorned map to use in building navigation functionality within Inform 7.

Williamsburg Game Map

The red boxes represent buildings or structures that have further navigation within, while the green boxes are simply outside locations. Using this map, I was quickly able to create basic navigation in Inform 7, and I am using the map as a location checklist for the location descriptions. (Additionally, I am creating the logic in Inform 7 to handle multiple stops at the same location, and requests for more information regarding locations.

In addition, this map allowed me to visualize some navigational shortcuts to help with the flow of the game. For example, I’ve created a custom command “street” that functions at many of the building locations on the Duke of Gloucester Street (that’s the main street running from the College of William & Mary in the west to the Capitol Building in the east). When a player is at the entrance of one of those buildings, using the “street” command will take the player to one of a number of unmarked positions on the Duke of Gloucester Street, between the two cross streets that apply to the building where the player is. From the unmarked position, the player can see the buildings up and down between the cross streets and choose to navigate directly to any of them. These unmarked positions on the Duke of Gloucester Street are not accessible through standard compass-direction navigation.

Within the next week or two, I’ll have a robust version of the game navigation completed in Inform 7 and available for download to the original Kickstarter backers.

Fun with Maps

December 29, 2015 3 comments

williamsburgmap

Maps are essential to many Interactive Fiction games, especially those that involve activity in various locations. Interactive Fiction game maps that deal with real locations, however, are challenging to implement, as there is a trade-off to be had between realism and playability. If the design is meant to represent the physical layout with utmost fidelity, the details of the map can potentially slow down and frustrate game play as the player is forced to move from one seemingly meaningless location to another in order to get to the desired destination. It’s similar to the counterpoint between a flight simulator and a flight game–the realism of a true simulator can be very boring, unless it’s the simulation itself that interests you.

Likewise, the conflicting visions of the HWLN: is it a simulation of the physical layout of Williamsburg as it was in the months leading up the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or is it a game about the events taking place during that time? That conflict plays itself out everytime I return to the map and struggle with the appropriate level of detail to include. I’ve been wanting the game to be both, but that may not be the wisest choice for the HWLN as a game.

Part of the challenge was addressed in part by the new daily maps published by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for visitors. The new map (show in the picture above) is actually a streamlined version of an earlier visitor map which you can view here. The older map is much more detailed, and perhaps in the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s thinking, it was not as user friendly. Whatever the case, the new map gives me a good template for a more streamlined game map, on which I am currently working and will implement at least initially in Inform 7.

So for the sake of playability, I’ll work with a less detailed map. But at some point, as an exercise in modeling an accurate picture of history, I’ll return to the “high resolution” version in order to satisfy my inner purist.

Mac Format Navigation Executable

I you’re interested in testing out the HWLN navigation on a Mac, feel free to download the executable file here. You’ll want to check the navigation against this map. Enjoy!

Parser-based or CYOA? What is IF?

I have an article published over on Storycade. Topic is parer-based versus CYOA; what should be considered “real” Interactive Fiction? Check it out!

Informal Interactive Fiction Survey

If you have  a moment, please take a look at this informal survey on IF perceptions I’m conducting. This is mainly about how IF players see parser-based versus CYOA Interactive Fiction. I’ll use the results to give some added color to an article I’m currently writing on the topic.

Take the Survey!

New Navigation QA Version

August 23, 2014 1 comment

Version 2 of the Navigation Test is now available here. Updated with the following:

  • Gives verbose or brief descriptions of each location. Type “verbose” or “brief.”
  • Clear screen by typing “clear.”
  • Goes back to starting position by typing “reset.”

In this version, check for navigation accuracy (compared to the map), and make sure that Location X is consistent with location as identified in status bar.

Navigation QA: Checking the Map

August 22, 2014 3 comments

It’s been a while since the last update, as I’ve had several projects eat into my time both for work and for my dissertation. As it turns out, the dissertation is giving me the excu–uh, reason to reapply some focus on the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative. I’ll need to have a simple version of the game up and running to provide to instructors willing to use the game in the classroom. That means I need to work on it.

I’ve gone back and forth and back again on the development tool to use for the project, from Inform 7 to Adrift to LiveCode, and right now I’m settled on LiveCode for the amount of control I have in building the interface and interaction framework for the game. Currently I’ve developed a simple version of the program that does nothing but navigate through the map, currently 199 separate locations, using abbreviated compass directions: n, ne, e, se, s, sw, w, and nw. The map is below, and you can access a PDF version: Logical Map – Nav Test.

Logical Map - Nav Test

 

Of course, you will need to actual program to run as well, if you’re interested in checking out the navigation. You may obtain that by accessing it by clicking this link. The file is a Windows version program Zip compressed for faster download. If you’re interested in a Mac version, leave a comment and I’ll compile a version for download.

If you intent to perform quality assurance testing and provide feedback, simply leave comments in response to this post. Be sure to list the error you found, how you encountered the error, and what the error does or doesn’t do. Most likely, errors at this stage will be discrepancies between the visual map and the navigational structure within the program. The visual map (above) is correct; the program will need to be corrected if any discrepancies are found.

One final note: anyone finding errors in the program will be listed as QA testers, being listed in the release version credits. So have at it!

Research on Using Interactive Fiction in Education

August 10, 2014 1 comment

Attention educators and gamers! I’m currently working on my dissertation, and my research involves examining student and instructor experiences in using Interactive Fiction games in either secondary or post-secondary education environments. Specifically, I’m looking for instructors that use or may be interested in using Interactive Fiction to support assignments in history or literature courses. Additionally, I’m looking for available IF games that may be suitable for use in this way. If you or someone you know might be interested in participating in a study or be able to list some text-only Interactive Fiction games for education, please let me know.

Although the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative is not yet completed, eventually I hope to have it used as a piece of historical Interactive Fiction that can be used in the teaching and learning environment.

Rapid Map Development in Adrift 5.0

One of the challenges of developing Interactive Fiction based on historical locations is in creating maps that are both geographically and architecturally accurate as well as not too complex or redundant from a navigational perspective. In previous entries I have outlined the process of building maps for the layout of the Williamsburg community as well as the buildings and structures within the community. To date, I have been using a combination of both Inform 7 as well as custom coding within the LiveCode environment for the maps (as well as for work on the game structure).

In September this year (about a month ago as of this writing), a new version of Adrift (another Interactive Fiction IDE) was released, and I started exploring it. The feature that immediately caught my attention was the ability to build navigational maps on a visual grid, so that I could lay out the relative positions of locations very closely to the logical map I had constructed earlier this year. Below are two images; the first is of the logical map, and the second is of the functional map in I built within a few hours using Adrift 5.0 (click image to view full size).

LOGICAL MAP

Logical Map 10

ADRIFT 5.0 FUNCTIONAL MAP

mapadrift

You can see how both map views are very similar. The pleasure of the Adrift system is that I could position my location points on the grid visually, referring back to my logical map, and then make the direction linkages using simple drop down menus. While I’m certainly not opposed to hard-coding the game (and I eventually will because of the opportunities for customization and fine control), Adrift has allowed me to get a working navigation system up and running very quickly, and based on the IDE functionality, I’ll be able to add elements including character interaction relatively quickly. Which, in fact, is one of the next tasks after I add some detailed location descriptions.

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!