Skyrim rendered in text – Filip Hracek – Medium


32 bookmarks. First posted by mhd 10 weeks ago.


Fractal stories, or how to build an open-world text adventure
game-design  article 
13 days ago by rafri
Interesting piece on designing text based games at different levels of design abstraction.
from twitter_favs
19 days ago by danhon
I decided some time ago to create a text-based Skyrim. That sounds overly ambitious at first, but as I developed the story and the game’s mechanics, I discovered its basic elements: a sword & sorcery…
interactivefiction  gamedev 
6 weeks ago by axodys
Skyrim rendered in text – Filip Hracek – Medium via Instapaper http://ift.tt/2hSQMpb
6 weeks ago by cgbrooke
I decided some time ago to create a text-based Skyrim. That sounds overly ambitious at first, but as I developed the story and the game’s mechanics, I discovered its basic elements: a sword & sorcery game in a living, simulated world that is presented as a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) book.

The idea has already brought a short game into the world, Insignificant Little Vermin, which I submitted to this year’s IFCOMP. In this article, I’ll walk you through the process of building that game and talk about what I learned from watching people play it (on Twitch).

Why Skyrim?

Don’t get too hung up on the fact that I’m referring to Skyrim here. Skyrim, for me, is just a sufficiently well-known fantasy open-world videogame that we can use as an example.

Sufficiently well-known because I want people to immediately have an image in mind.
Fantasy because the combat style in fantasy games is especially well-suited for our needs (more on that later).
Open-world because these types of games are a great form of escapism, and therefore a good fit for our needs (more on that later).
Videogame because I put emphasis on the play/flow aspect more than on the interactive story (again, more on that later).

The important thing is that we simulate a world that the player can explore. This world is inhabited by actors (monsters, NPCs) and entities (swords, doors, chests, etc.) that the player can interact with. In Skyrim, the world is rendered in 3D, and the player gives low-level commands such as “move forward” or “use weapon in left hand”.

The goal of the simulation is to entertain the player. That is to say, I’m not using the word “simulation” to suggest that Skyrim tries to “imitate real-world processes” as closely as possible. To me, every videogame that has a steady update loop is a simulation of some sort — even if it’s a 2D simulation of an Italian plumber’s journey to save a princess.

First try, a deliberately naive start

The most naive way of porting Skyrim to a text adventure would be to take the world simulation as it exists in the 3D game and play it one frame at a time, describing what’s going on and asking the player for low level input. It would look something like this:

Outside of Whiterun

[…]

You stand on coordinates {351.0, 211.9}, facing NNE. Your sword is 12% midswing.

You see a bandit on coordinates {351.1, 210.8}, facing SSW. His axe is 78% midswing and it missed.

push up arrow
> push down arrow
push left arrow
push right arrow

You take a step back to coordinates {354.9, 212.5}. […]

As you can imagine, the gameplay and story experience here would absolutely suck. And no matter how you tweak the output, the input, or the length of each frame represented in text, it would still suck.

Second try

One way to solve this is by increasing the level of abstraction. We still use Skyrim’s world simulation, but only on the highest level — the map, distances between objects and places, the location of actors, NPCs, where to spawn monsters, etc. That gives us something like this:

Outside of Whiterun

You arrive at Whiterun from the south. There’s a solitary bandit waiting for you, axe in hand and ready to fight.

> kill bandit
run

You raise your sword and charge the bandit. <Insert interesting description of a fight.>

That last swing connects with the bandit’s throat and he falls to the ground. As you kneel next to him and try taking his gold, an arrow slams into the ground less than an inch from your knee. You jump up and catch sight of an archer on a knoll nearby.

> kill archer
search bandit
run

<Insert another interesting fight description.>

Now, the gameplay here is a bit better, and this kind of experience could even be fun. The player could go to the different places in the simulated world, talk to people, quest for them, and experience the Skyrim storyline.

But let’s face it, combat is a big part of what makes Skyrim fun. So “kill bandit, kill archer” doesn’t quite cut it. At best, with really interesting descriptions of the fights, you’ll have a longer version of something like Conan Kill Everything. More likely, though, the player will get bored after the first few fights and will quit.

That brings us to an important question: What makes combat in Skyrim fun, anyway? We do the same things over and over again and each battle is largely similar. How do we not get bored with them after the first dungeon?

The answer is twofold:

You have a high level of agency during the fights. At any time, you can advance, retreat, attack, defend, change weapons, jump, crouch, flank, climb a rock, use magic, etc. This means you can get better at fighting as a player. You have to fight. Therefore, you can experience, well, fun (as it’s defined in books like Theory of Fun for Game Design).
Fights are highly unpredictable. You never know how each combat will turn out. You can do battle with the same group of enemies three times in a row and the course of the fight will be different each time. This means you get variable rewards — an important ingredient for getting you “hooked” on the game.

Skyrim can throw similar combat at you over and over again, and not only does it not become boring, it’s great entertainment! This is not despite the fact that it’s repetitive, it is because of the cocktail of repetition, agency, and unpredictability.

Therein lies the fundamental challenge of trying to marry videogames and text.

Good videogames always have some repetition. All gaming from Pong through Tetris to Portal to Skyrim is based on repeatedly throwing a similar problem at you, the player, so that you can get better at solving it.
Good text cannot have too much repetition. Repetitive text is boring. Try writing up everything that happens in the first five minutes of some Super Mario gameplay with prose that is fun to read. It’s impossible.

Text games normally solve this in two ways: they either stay away from repetition as much as possible (which makes the game more intellectual — all situations and solutions are unique) or they break up repetitive gameplay into a bunch of minigames. For great examples of the former approach, see almost any of the top traditional interactive fiction. For an example of the latter, see the brilliant Sorcery! series.

Third try

Since we already understand that Skyrim’s gameplay is largely centered around combat, let’s try the minigame approach (and not the more intellectual, non-repetitive one).

Outside of Whiterun

You arrive at Whiterun from the south. There’s a solitary bandit waiting for you, axe in hand and ready to fight.

> kill bandit
run

<A graphical combat minigame.>

The bandit keels over and dies.

The minigame can have some text in it, but the mechanics are not tied to the text. In Sorcery!, the combat minigame consists of a series of decisions about how hard to hit (on a scale of total defense to all-out attack). But there are no limits to the design of the minigames we can use. It can be a simple card game, a match 3 puzzle, etc.

This works. I, for one, would buy a mobile version of Skyrim done in the same fashion as Sorcery!.

But I also think we can do better. Much of my enjoyment of Skyrim stems from the fact that it’s an open world where anything can happen almost anywhere. There’s no switching between “exploration mode” and “combat mode”. An inn where you’re talking to an NPC can become a point of tactical cover moments later. You can maneuver around a patrol and hit them with something nasty at long range from the relative safety of a cliff. And so on.

None of this translates well into the text-with-minigame solution. So let’s go further.

Fourth try

We’re going to tweak the level of abstraction yet again. Going frame-by-frame in our naive start was obviously the wrong move. And going with “kill bandit” obviously made the level of abstraction too high, no matter whether the fight was described in text or represented through a minigame.

Let’s descend just a little bit from “kill bandit” into a tactics-based approach. Something like this:

Outside of Whiterun

You arrive at Whiterun from the south. There’s a solitary bandit waiting for you, axe in hand and ready to fight.

> kill bandit
run

How exactly do you want to go about killing the bandit?

… with sword
> … with bow and arrow

You quickly string the bow and let it fly. The arrow whirls just past the bandit’s ear. <Rest of fight description.>

This approach creates more options than just “kill”, but after a while it’s not much fun. Each player gravitates toward a certain style of play (stealth, long range, melee, magic, etc.) and therefore there’s really not much choice involved. For an archer, the best tactic will almost always be “bow and arrow” or “sneak around”. Another player will see very different combat sequences, but that doesn’t necessarily make the experience fun.

So we’ll need to offer players meaningful choices on a lower level.

Fifth try

Alright, fine. Let’s go with action-by-action level combat, D&D-style.

Outside of Whiterun

You arrive at Whiterun from the south. There’s a solitary bandit waiting for you, axe in hand and ready to fight. You unsheathe your sword and approach.

> thrust sword
swing sword

Your blade moves fast but misses, just left of the bandit’s chest. The bandit swings the axe and lightly cleaves your leather jerkin.

thrust sword
> swing sword

The sword cuts the bandit’s thigh and he yells in pain. He tries to strike at you from above, but the axe goes wide.

<Rest of fight.>

This starts to look like the player has actual agency. There are many possible moves… [more]
programming  games 
7 weeks ago by tomshen
I decided some time ago to create a text-based Skyrim. That sounds overly ambitious at first, but as I developed the story and the game’s mechanics, I discovered its basic elements: a sword & sorcery game in a living, simulated world that is presented as a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) book. The idea has already brought a short game into the world, Insignificant Little Vermin, which I submitted to this year’s IFCOMP.
article  blog  game  programming 
9 weeks ago by mvuijlst
Matt might be interested in this
programming  games  game_design  rpg 
9 weeks ago by ngm01
Game as narrative. How to make combat work in text form, and the various levels of abstraction needed to describe combat satisfyingly.
game  programming  gamedev  article  development  procedural  skyrim  worldbuilding  technology  narrative  text  fantasy 
9 weeks ago by kybernetikos
Not what I originally thought at all, but a pleasant surprise. Instead of some image-to-human-language translation, he's talking about a game that's as deep and interesting as Skyrim, but describable instead of renderable (necessarily a superset). The level-of-detail discussion is not bad.
worldbuilding  procedural  writing  game 
10 weeks ago by dogrover
I decided some time ago to create a text-based Skyrim. That sounds overly ambitious at first, but as I developed the story and the game’s mechanics, I discovered its basic elements: a sword & sorcery…
10 weeks ago by cwilkes
Skyrim rendered in text
from twitter_favs
10 weeks ago by ljegou