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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.

142…

February 12, 2013 Leave a comment

… is the number of external location “nodes” in the Historical Williamsburg game map. Locations are defined simply as anyplace the player character is able to stop and examine the surroundings during the game. These locations include spots such as doorways, gardens, and street intersections.

This number does not include any building interior room locations. Expect that the total number of game locations will be significantly higher.

The Horizon Report > 2013

February 7, 2013 1 comment

Since 2002, the NMC (New Media Corporation) has been publishing a series of Horizon Reports meant to provide insight into the up-and-coming technologies that would have impact in education. In the Horizon Report > 2013 for Higher Education, one of the impact categories identified is “Games and Gamification.” The Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative project was cited as an example in the report.

As game play continues to be a major focal point of discussions among educators, some believe that gamified learning is merely a trend, and carries the danger of immediately disenchanting students if executed poorly. To negate this challenge, more universities are partnering with organizations and companies skilled in game design to develop and integrate games that are relevant to the curriculum and to students’ lives. Games and gamification in education include a broad set of approaches to teaching and learning, and when implemented effectively, can help with new skill acquisition while boosting motivation to learn.

Download a copy of the Horizon Report > 2013 for Higher Ed and check out the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative entry on page 22, under the category of History.

Interactive Fiction in Education

January 5, 2013 Leave a comment

There is much conversation around the use of computer games in education, but the development of custom game content is often trivial “drill and practice” applications, or the implementation of off-the-shelf games don’t align well–if at all–with curriculum learning objectives. Interactive Fiction (the genre of the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative) may be ideal for the teaching and learning environment. This article in the Learning Through Play & Technology blog addresses the potential of using custom-developed IF as a purposeful component of curriculum.

The High Road and the Low Road

It’s been a while since the last update, but we’ve been making progress on the the interface and parser coding for the “custom” front end. Additionally, we’ve come to the conclusion that a two-pronged approach is what we will be taking for the two main version releases.

Version 1: This is the first piece that will come out, which is purely a navigation-exploration framework for colonial Williamsburg during the setting we’ve selected. This version will be developed in Inform 7, and it will be available to anyone free of charge. All that will be needed is the proper interpreter to run the program file.

Version 2: This is the full game experience with the story placed on top of the location and time setting. Here is where we go off the beaten path with our custom IF interface, and we’ll be using a development environment called LiveCode by RunRev for the development. LiveCode was chosen specifically for its ability to handle text.

Currently we are developing the map within the Inform 7 environment, and we are also working on the custom LiveCode parser. While progress has been fairly slow, it has been significant, and the level of detail of the colonial Williamsburg environment should be quite satisfying when played.

As always, we appreciate the support and encouragement we’ve been receiving. Stay tuned!

A Bit of Storyline

August 15, 2012 Leave a comment

On April 21st, 1775, the royal governor of the colony of Williamsburg seized the stored gun powder from the community magazine, which quite angered the colonists and gave rise to a rather angry mob. Some might consider this a tactical error, as the colonists still were split over this issue of British rule versus independence; a heavy-handed action such as this only served to strengthen the hand of independence-minded colonists such as Patrick Henry.

As angry as they were, the colonists were very committed to maintaining a dialog with the governor, convinced that men of reason could come to understanding, and ultimately to agreement on the wisest course of action. And on both sides of the issue, violence was an action that was hoped to be avoided.

But what if, as a result of the gun powder incident, actual violence did occur? Suppose the governor had been assassinated in response by the colonists in favor of independence? That might, in fact, shift the balance of public opinion strongly in favor of the British, in an expression of sympathy as well as an expression of disgust at the “savagery” displayed. History might have turned out much differently.

This is an alternate timeline that will be explored in the game. And it will be the player’s role to prevent the murder from taking place, thereby allowing history to unfold as originally did.

Interface versus Intimidation: IF for Non-Readers

August 6, 2012 5 comments

For those (relatively few) of us familiar with Interactive Fiction, the simple presentation of text on screen with a single prompt awaiting text input is a welcoming and comfortable thing. Unfortunately, many of today’s game players are “intimidated” by a text-heavy computer screen, and the idea that they must issue a text-based command (rather than move a joystick, press a button, or shake a controller) is almost an insurmountable obstacle to stepping into game play. This situation is problematic when considering how to engage more (and younger) players in the IF genre.

While it is possible to add graphic elements to the IF structure (indeed, this has been done before), too much change in the IF interface results in a transformation away from IF and toward graphic adventure gaming. However, with the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative, I am very interested in broadening the potential audience. I think that a few additions to the basic IF interface can increase appeal while remaining true to the IF experience. Consider the following possible interface for the project.

The reasoning behind this interface is to keep everything text-based, provide a few buttons so that IF neophytes can “jump in” by clicking rather than thinking about what to type, and to organize the screen into a few areas: description/command and navigation/inventory. This is something that I’m able to develop using a tool other than Inform 7, and that actually turns out to be a positive thing for me: rolling my own code allows me build specific functionality into the game, and I will have especially good “control” over the NPC interactions throughout the game–a fairly significant consideration.
At this point I’m looking for thoughts and feedback, both on the idea of going a bit non traditional with the interface as well as critiques of the interface itself. This design in only a prototype, but I’d like to know if anyone thinks it is worth developing further. Drop me a note!

IFComp 2012: The 18th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition is Now Open

June 10, 2012 2 comments

While the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative won’t be ready by the September 29, 2012, deadline, this competition is very exciting nonetheless! The readers of the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.int-fiction have put on this IF competition for the last 17 years, and some truly excellent games have gotten well-deserved attention as a result.

We definitely recommend following the competition and checking out the past winners. And you may even want to try your hand at the genre with your own entry. (If you do, be sure to let us know!)

Check out the contest website by clicking here. By the way, you can even help out by donating prizes. Obviously, we judge that to be for a very good cause.

Kickstarter Funding Success!

Thanks to all 85 backers of the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative, we reached 129% of our $1500 goal, putting us at a final total of $1937. We are quite appreciative of everyone’s most sincere support in the form of hard-earned cash.

Now comes the job of building the game! The first phase of development will be focused on the Williamsburg physical environment, building the map that the game navigation will be based on. That will involve quite a bit of research (already underway), and in a few weeks time, we will be traveling to Williamsburg to obtain photographs, make geographic measurements, and gather materials from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. we will keep you posted every step of the way.

In the meantime, we will take a little time to bask in the warmth of this initial success in the project’s lifecycle. We are certainly off to a very good start.

Funding Countdown for the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative

As of this posting, the funding window for the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative has less than 55 hours left before closing. While the current pledged amount is greater than the funding goal. additional backers would go a long way toward helping the project secure more resources, leading to a more detailed final product.

If anyone reading this post is on the fence regarding backing the project, we encourage you to go to the Kickstarter project page and make a contribution, even as little as $1. If you’re already a backer, please help us continue to raise awareness by sharing the Kickstarter project link across your social media connections.

We greatly appreciate all your generous support!