Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Dark Eye and Involving a Player Through Interactive Fiction

Blogger went down for maintenance or something and didn't save my draft >:(

Many developers wish to recreate an experience from a book or movie or graphic novel while being completely faithful to the source material. Many developers also wish to involve the player in a more involved emotional experience than the typical game. Interactive fiction is one format which has had some success in this area.

For the uninitiated, interactive fiction is similar to the adventure game genre. The games focus on exploration, interaction with other characters, and are heavily narrative based rather than reflex based. However, unlike adventure games, interactive fiction is typical much more linear and resctrictive. While adventure games often allow the player to roam around until they figure out what they need to do next and often revolve around puzzle solving, interactive fiction is generally limited to moving from one character interaction to the next on a heavily design-guided path.

The Dark Eye serves as an excellent example of a game that succeeds at getting the player involved in the story while being a faithful translation of its source material in content, tone, and style. The Dark Eye is a piece of interactive fiction that places the player in the role of an unnamed character who is visiting his uncle Edwin. The game uses this overarching plot as a framing device. During his visit, the main character becomes ill dues to the paint thinner Edwin uses to paint. This paint thinner, along with the main character’s decline in mental health due to his nightmares and events in the main story, causes him to have hallucinogenic nightmares. These nightmares are retellings of Edgar Allen Poe stories and the player plays through them from the point of view of both victim and victimizer.

The Dark Eye faithfully recreates three of Poe’s stories, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amantillado,” and “Berenice.” By using the interactive fiction format the developer, Inscape, can do a more accurate job of placing the player into the shoes of characters in the stories. By limiting the choices that the player has at any one time it is easier to manipulate the player into going a certain direction, interacting with a certain object or experiencing a certain event. This makes it easier to control the pacing and the exact events and the order they take place in for each player. This in turn makes it easier to manipulate the player’s emotional reactions to the story, just like a movie or a book. The framing story is an original story but maintains a faithful atmosphere by creating a very Poe-esque narrative using many of the common themes in his short fiction.

The Dark Eye limits what the player can do much more than most games. Although the ‘nightmare’ sections can be played in any order, within the scenes themselves the player is often very limited. There are key moments when the control cursor is ‘grayed out’ to all action choices except one so that the player can in fact only turn left or pick up the box or whatever might be happening at that point. Yet the fact that the player is given free choice to choose the order in which the stories occur (even going so far as to allow the player to select to play the victim in a story and then at key parts ‘soul jump’ into the victimizer if they so choose) allows for different experiences among each player while still keeping the same story.

In the end, the deciding factor is whether or not this kind of interactive fiction can be categorized with other video games. The limitation of player choice makes it easier and more effective (compared to most games released so far) to maintain a faithful translation that actually places the player into the role of a character in the story and to create a narrative that more easily drives the player. However, the interactivity and choice afforded to the player are major factors of what makes a video game a video game and are the major draw for the medium. Interactive fiction, if handled properly, can be an effective tool but in the end it really must be categorized as a separate entity from games due to its too restrictive nature.

1 comment:

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