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Timed Events that Vary According to Location

In the traditional sandbox-environment Interactive Ficton game, there are often puzzles to be solved through the discovery and manipulation of objects found in different locations in the game space. Keys to open locks. Code-breaking devices. Hidden treasures to placate or weapons to defeat enemies. In the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative, the game play is somewhat different, primarily because the narrative is based on factual and well-documented events involving known historical figures. Entering locked rooms or discovering hidden passages, for example, isn’t as effective a way to advance the story, since the point of the game is to retell a story where the outcome is predetermined. To some degree, the player is more an observer rather than actual agent of change. That’s quite all right though, with interactivity being served by giving the player the ability to experience the story from different perspectives of time and place.

The narrative, then, is the main driver of game play, and in order to experience the game, the player needs to be in certain places at certain times. Unfortunately, it is the sandbox environment that challenges narrative integrity. For example, imagine that the player needs to overhear a conversation between two characters at a particular time and in a particular place. What happens if the player is in an entirely different location far removed when the conversation takes place? Here we see the need to provide latitude for the time and place for the occurence of events. Fortunately, creating a flexible framework to ensure exposure to relevant events is fairly straightforward.

The method is to determine a zone rather than particular location in which narrative drivers may occur, and then the actual event may occur after a particular time rather than exactly at that time. Finally, once the event has taken place, there needs to be a way for the game to track that so the event does not continue to trigger. The following code shows a way to handle this in Inform 7.

informcode

Here we see that the event is triggered if the time is after 5:08 PM (and not exactly at), as long as the variable placeevent has not been incremented from its initial value of 0. Once these criteria are met, the actual event occurs differently across six different locations. Finally, when the event takes place in one of two locations with the player there to witness it, the placeevent variable is changed.

This framework allows us to set up event conditions throughout the game (both in time and space), with enough latitude to ensure that the player experiences everything necessary to understand the game. The Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative is built on this foundation.

Latest Williamsburg Game Map

I’ve been working on updates to the building interior locations. This map reflects the latest navigation scheme. I’ll have the next playable release available to Kickstarter backers up shortly.

williamsburg-game-map-15

Latest Playable Release – HWLN12

This report recently went out to all of the game Backers on Kickstarter. The actual download location is available only to the Backers.

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Greetings, Backers!

I new version is available for download at [URL HIDDEN]. Included in the .zip archive is a map of the locations.

A quick word about the map: where you see the location names highlighted in blue, the blue portions indicate a shortcut in the game navigation system (meant for speedier play testing only). For example, on the map is the “Military Encampment” location with the word “Military” in blue. When you are playing the game, type “xmilitary” at the cursor and you will be immediately taken to the Military Encampment. This will work for any of the locations in blue.

A big “thank you” goes to backer Vivianne D. for her work on the navigation code in Inform 7. Now when you type “dir” at the cursor, the game will display all possible directions (unless specifically hidden) based on room relative location definitions. Previously, I had been hand coding all those directions.

Otherwise, changes in this version are not major. Cleaned up more descriptions, added some detail, etc. Feel free to play it and let me know what you find.

In an upcoming release I will be publishing a guide that provides a listing of the possible commands.

Hap

Other Historical Communities and Locations

While historical Williamsburg (as managed by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation) has been my focus, there are other historical communities, sites, and museums that are definitely worth visiting. A few that I want to mention here are

  • Deerfield, Massachussetts – an authentic 18th-century New England village in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts
  • Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – site of one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War
  • Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s home and plantation in Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Mount Vernon – The Virginia home to the first President of the United States, George Washington
  • Winterthur, Delaware – a rich museum of American decorative arts that reflects both early America and the life of the du Pont family

Navigation Test

For the Backers of the Kickstarter project, I’ve posted a Blorb Glulx Game file that will allow the player to go through the physical location map, seeing descriptions, and testing a few other commands as well. If you’re a Backer, check your email for the Update that has the location of the file download.

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

Running on Glulxe

It’s quite easy to release Inform 7 games for the Glulxe interpreter, which in turn makes it easy to test. So that’s what I did to get this screen shot with the Capitol, and there’s a portion of descriptive text on the screen as well.

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.

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!