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.
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.
The Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative depends on having an internal calendar so that days and dates may be tracked, thereby driving the narrative forward with some measure of historical accuracy. The story begins on April 20th, 1775, and what happens in the early hours of April 21st are key to the story. While Inform 7 has some built-in functionality to deal with the time of day, I haven’t found any functionality around tracking the days that pass. Specifically, I want to be assured that the day and date change when the time crosses midnight.
To deal with this, I developed a little bit of code logic to handle the passage of time from one day to the next. One of the key things I discovered about Inform 7 is that its day marker is at 4:00 AM rather than at 12:00 AM. Once that is understood, writing the code depends on a three-way conditional rather than a two-way version. The following code can be modified for your specific needs:
The code is generic, so you can alter to adjust for your needs. I’m using a version that’s only very slightly modified to meet my game needs.
If anyone has a more elegant solution (or knows of an existing Inform 7 command that might help), please drop me a line!
EDIT: I’m using time spans rather than a specific time (11:59 PM) to check the state because the player character may be asleep from before 11:59 PM to well after.
The latest version is up for Backers to download. The new map includes the layout of the Governor’s Palace from the cellar to the third floor.
This report recently went out to all of the game Backers on Kickstarter. The actual download location is available only to the 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.
If so, this primer by Andrew Plotkin will give you an introduction. The handy-dandy reference card is especially helpful.
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