Better Choices Through Technical Experience

Probably the biggest stumbling block to storytellers making sensible use of the computer medium is their lack of experience with it. This includes a lack of understanding the technical elements involved with both the hardware and software. This problem may be rectified by forming a solid relationship with an experienced programmer. Someone with programming experience can frequently look over the plans for a computer based story and see right away where it may be unworkable, limited and over-done. I would say this is an important first step along with spending time actually playing computer games, reading hypertext fiction and exploring various CD-ROM titles.

The Interactive Writer's Handbook contains a proposal for a game called Magic Drum. This document is merely meant to demonstrate the form of a proposal, but it also demonstrates where non-technical game writers can go wrong:


As a powerful shaman, you must explore the surrealistic Realms of the Spirits, to deliver your apprentice to the World Tree. Using your control over the elements and animals, as well as the power of your Magic Drum, you must protect your pupil from Baltar, the fearsome shaman who will attempt to keep you from reaching the World Tree.

[WS95, p. 51]

A number of problems with this game become obvious from this proposal. First of all, the audience is required to play a shaman, but they have a choice over which of five possible apprentices will assist them. As simply a player I find the thought of choosing my own character more intriguing. As a woman I am frustrated that I am required to play a male character when with the apprentices, I can choose either gender. So why not make them the focus of the game?

Next a complex interface is needed so that a bewildering variety of variables can be applied to the situations faced. These variables include: the four forces of water, fire, earth and wind; the Magic Drum containing the celestial map, entry to the Realm of Spirits and the World Tree; a bag of tricks containing a medicine pouch, weapons, tools, and gifts; animal spirits that endow the main character with transformational powers; and the powers of prayer. First of all imagine all the programming necessary to create the characters of the shaman, Baltar and the five apprentices; then imagine all the programming necessary to make all those different variables effective in a variety of episodes; now imagine writing a sensible storyline that brings together all of these elements providing a unique experience every time the audience plays given their choice of characters and actions. To make each of those choices meaningful turns this game into an enormous endeavour.