Monday, December 11, 2006

The Interactive Universe

I just discovered the most amazing game - Samorost. The control of this game is such that you play a character (in the loose sense) navigating about a world in a puzzle-solving mode. But, the cool part of this game is that you get to make choices about your environment which should be beyond your control.

In typical puzzle games, the player would only be able to make choices that the player's character could make, physically.

For example
You walk into a casino. You are presented with a choice to play either the slots or craps. Whether you win or lose is based on your skill and luck (if you actually play the game-wthin-a-game) or is pre-determined by the designer.

In the new style of the game (I'm not sure if it has a name yet) you get to make the choice about the outcome, like if you lose or win big at the slots. This sounds a little ridiculous at first. Doesn't it ruin the point of the game, which is to test your skill?


Not when the game is about storytelling, and when the goal of the game being played is to produce the most interesting story, or a particular story the designer had in mind.

In Samorost, you can control parts of your environment which are beyond the normal control of your character, for example:

A bird's flight.
When a fish bites on a rod.
Which branch a monkey swings on.

The gameplay element is still there, as there is a set of correct choices to advance the story, but the choices that can be made are not confined to what is physically possible from the embodiment of the character's point of view.


I had said that in Samorost you are playing a character in "the loose sense". The irregularities I pointed out about the character being able to do things beyond their control do not matter if you treat the game player as a "god" of the universe, with his/her own agenda. Then, what I had called the player's characters before is now just a character in the broader universe. I don't think this is necessary though.

I see a parallel between choices in this game sense and choices that I make as an improviser. When I play a story-based improv game, I play a role, and if I'm playing improvisation properly, I make good choices that drive the story forward and make it interesting. This is done by feeding, endowing, offers etc.

For example

Someone passes me a (mimed) envelope. I say something like
"I see, its the inheritance from my grandmother."
"Oh no! A death threat!"
"Strange...just an address and a time."

All of which would advance the story. I wouldn't make a choice like:
"Its the utilities bill."
"Another Christmas card from the Jefferson's."
"Its the wrong address."

NOTE: The wrong choices here could potentially lead to stories, but they aren't as immediately interesting as the first three.

The choices that I as an improvisor should make are any that advance the story. Not a choice that my character made, but one that I as an improvisor made about the universe. So, I don't think its necessary to view the gameplayer as a "god" of this particular game, Samorost. It takes some emotional attachment away from the player's character, which I might add is really cute. The objectives of the character (stop an object from hitting his home in Samorost I, rescue his dog in Samorost II) are less personal if the gameplayer is treated as a god, and not an extension of the character. This lowers stakes (BAD IMPROV!)

Coming up, I'm trying to introduce these sort of choices in my choose your own adventure, "A night on the town". I'm writing it in flash now, and once the story structure is down I'm going to go through again and make the language prettier. Keep watching!

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