3D interactive fiction?

Hey everyone…

I posted this over on RAIF, but I completely forgot about this forum and thought it would be good to hear some opinions here as well.

There have been discussions in the past on RAIF and at other sites about the future of interactive fiction, and in some cases the topic of 3D graphics has been raised. With the fairly rapid evolution of 3D game engines over the past decade, some people have expressed interest in seeing a union of interactive fiction and 3D graphics. The dialogue, however, usually ends before any real discussion of how a marriage like this would look and play. So I’d like to try and take this discussion a step further.

Is 3D interactive fiction really something that this community could envision playing? And, if so, what expectations would you have concerning its look and gameplay?

Given that the goal here is for the incorporation of interactive fiction into a 3D world, one would assume that text input and output would need to be a central component. I’m interested in hearing how people think that would work in a 3D environment.

And what about the 3D gameplay? Would people envision a first-person perspective? Or a third-person perspective with a player avatar? How would people feel about using the typical keyboard-mouse combination to control movement and camera view? And if not that, then what?

And finally, would there be any particular expectations for the visual representation of actions directed through text command entry?

I’m also interested to know if people here would be less interested in this style of game, given the fact that game development would likely be much less accessible to the individual developer than pure interactive fiction.


I’ve been following the thread in RAIF too, but I had mixed feelings about this idea so I didn’t post there. So, why not here then :wink:.

Mainly I think IF and 3D adventure games are two separate species; I play IF to read, and an adventure game for the visual experience. I like the idea of IF with pictures, but once you get into a 3D environment with an avatar, I don’t think you want to deal with text except for dialogue – and then ideally that would be spoken by NPCs, and only the PC would select dialogue from a menu.

The future of IF for me is still a text future. 3D IF is more like interactive cinema than a text game with a 3D environment.

Now all this said, I’m totally for developing richer, highly narrative 3D games. To address some of your specific questions;

  • Allow FP and avatar views – unless you suddenly want to restrict POV for a specific gameplay reason mid-game.
  • Keyboard/mouse is fine, because I suspect many games in this category will go to the PC rather than consoles (though maybe not for long)

It’s axiomatic that a single developer is not going to put out a AAA title, but as engines and tools get more sophisticated they could still put out a good effort – much as many graphical game developers do now.

I agree with George. Personally, I don’t think interactive fiction would mix well with 3D graphics. In fact, I think some of the charm would even be lost by this. IF games are so interesting and fun because imagination plays such an important role (similar to roguelike games). There are no graphics and sound to distract you, it’s just you and the world that is building inside your mind.

Also, assuming that commands would still be typed in form of imperative sentences, how would the replies work? A standard work of IF can be so detailed because there are usually hundreds of things a player can do, and each of them returns a kind of reply. But if you’re dealing with graphics, you (as a designer) would have to put much, much more work into this. If it’d work at all…

However, note that I have nothing against 3D games as such! For example, I still believe “Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned” is one of the best conventional adventures out there (and one of my all-time favorites, too). :smiley: 3D environment is crucial there, and it works perfectly! The experience is just beautiful, and I wouldn’t mind playing more games like this one. However, this is no interactive fiction (text adventure).

Bottom line: personally, I’m against mixing IF with 3D. IMO, Legend’s games have pretty much reached the borders of “what would work with IF”, and anything beyond that would turn the genre into something else. It would perhaps still be interesting, fun, but it wouldn’t be interactive fiction anymore.

Thanks for responding here, I appreciate it. It’s a fascinating discussion to me, so I’m glad to have the opportunity.

One way that I look at the union of 3D and IF is that the union certainly cannot be (and is not, by definition) entirely one or the other. So if you consider a spectrum where, at one end, you have pure IF, and at the other end you have a pure 3D game, is it possible to find some point along that spectrum where features of the two combined produces something worthwhile, interesting, and fun to play? And, perhaps most importantly, is something notably different than either end of that spectrum?

The reason I say that is because I think that’s what you’re getting at, in a way. Can the incorporation of IF elements be the thing that produces that richer, more narrative 3D game?

I definitely appreciate that stance, and thanks for the response. I guess, as I stated in my other reponse, the point is not that 3D-IF has to be IF per se. If there is some spectrum between pure 3D and pure IF along which there is a point representing a combination of the two, might that be something enjoyable, and how might that look and play? Certainly I would agree that it would no longer necessarily be interactive fiction in the pure sense. But it would also not necessarily be pure 3D either.

So I don’t know if anyone has ever quoted RAIF here at intfiction, but if not, now someone has :wink:.

I just wanted to take that list as a starting point. See, my gut reaction to this question had been: IF and 3D games are simply different. You don’t talk about combining them because you can’t combine them. A game is either one or the other. But that argument falls apart fairly quickly. The things that make IF typically IF, such as what Mike wrote in his list above, are of course not solely the domain of IF. They apply to numerous types of games, and elements in 3D games (other than the graphics, naturally) apply to other types of games as well.

When you write ‘pure IF’ and ‘pure 3D’ however, I’m not sure what you’re describing. You can call ‘pure IF’ a text game such as Zork, or maybe an interactive story such as Photopia, or naturally both, but what is pure 3D? Quake? Prince of Persia? Halo? All of these? The more things you throw in there it seems that the less pure it becomes.

So on one hand it seems to me that your question is how do you add ‘IF’ elements to 3D, but on the other hand…what are IF elements really? The only thing I think you really can ask in this context deals with the first item on Mike’s list: text entry of commands. As I mentioned before, I don’t think 3D and text would work together, but of course I wouldn’t mind being proved wrong.

Hehe…you caught me on that one. As I was writing it, I was asking myself the same question: What is pure 3D? I think what I had in mind was a game like Halo, where the focus is all on action and graphics, and there is essentially no text. But I think if you explore that concept a little further, it’s perhaps not so much that there is an absence of text, but an absence of those things that text can be used to accomplish. And that’s what I think you’re getting at when you refer to “IF elements”.

I was actually about to respond to his post in exactly the same way, and I probably will: once you start looking at the items on his list one by one, most of them fail to meet his original argument that these are truly defining features of IF. Certainly many of those items are shared by other game types, so I’m not sure if they are truly defining features. I’m actually surprised that nobody has yet countered that post.

I think it is difficult to envision which elements of IF could be incorporated into a 3D game without just thinking of specific examples or imagining a hypothetical 3D-IF game.

Take, for example, object descriptions. My first impression is that there wouldn’t be a place for these in a 3D game – why bother describing the items when they are already rendered on screen? But really, object descriptions can contain much more information than that, which can very much enhance the gaming experience. Would providing this kind of information in textual format be helpful in a 3D game?

A nice quick example is from Emily’s Savoir-Faire:

x andouillettes
Veal cased in tripe. Tasty food. The servants used to eat them with fried onions – a good, hearty smell that leaked out of the kitchen while you played outside, until you went inside, and sometimes they would let you eat at the kitchen table rather than with the Family.

That’s a lot of great information that goes well beyond just describing what the object looks like, and certainly far beyond what you could get just from looking at the object rendered in 3D.

Would that work in 3D? Would players enjoy walking up to an object in a 3D room, clicking on it, and typing “X” (or EXAMINE) and seeing a response like that? Or would the reaction be more likely: why bother with the graphics, then?

While I can see the benefit of reading a description like that, I think with the 3D game you don’t need to read it – because you listen to it instead. Maybe at the beginning of the game you can choose your ‘object description’ voice, either Uma Thurman or George Clooney :wink:.

edit: Thinking about this more, I don’t know how well a sound clip would work as a reference – once you’ve heard it, do you want to listen to it over and over if you want to look at it again? But then you have the question of how to display the text seamlessly with the 3D view.

Of course. That’s called poetic license and is what makes literature so endearing and witty as compared to a camera depicting the same scene: the author makes flourishes and personal remarks and carries away the reader imagination like a camera depicting the same everyday boredom can’t…

Of course not. Factual objective matters as seen from a camera are forever doomed for sterile boredom. That’s why you need big explosions, huge CGI crowds and large landscapes to keep the thing exciting…

Tell me you’re joking.

Or rather, define “exciting”, or even “factual objective matters”.

I’m not joking.

From the given example, from the previous IF description:

x andouillettes
Veal cased in tripe. Tasty food. The servants used to eat them with fried onions – a good, hearty smell that leaked out of the kitchen while you played outside, until you went inside, and sometimes they would let you eat at the kitchen table rather than with the Family.

This is “exciting”. A vivid description of an andouillettes that goes well beyond physical depiction and goes great lenghts into further providing the player with contextual information about the fictional world. Moody.

Same scene from a camera:
A veal cased in tripe is seen here.

That’s “boring factual objective matters” as it would be SEEN by a camera, though in fact most 3D videogames out there actually employ some sort of inventory menu and actually use written descriptions for those items to convey information important to the plot or to further realize the setting or character development.

So, as you see, a camera alone can’t do that by means of objective factual depictions of in game objects and events. The lens makes lousy poetry, specially when not depicting actors…

But that was precisely the main point of the original question: yes, a visual representation of the andouillettes would be considerably more boring than a nicely worded text description, but – would it be interesting/fun/worthwhile to have a game that accomplished both: visually displaying the andouillettes in their environment, allowing graphical interaction, and providing an eloquent description of the object when requested?

From games doing just that today, like Resident Evil or Silent Hill, and their 3D inventory and textual description, I’d say no: there’s no such a thing there as a “eloquent description” or, better yet, the above example which is able to convey more of the story through the player remembering things about the past regarding the object. Resident Evil is notable in conveying its story through lots of reports conveniently placed by dying researches where the player can easily spot them. It fits well in the plot, but do feel kinda lame…

In IF, you don’t read through bits of a scattered story, you experience it by uncovering details about the fictional world and even the main character. Such details about the character persona and the fictional world can come subtly hiding between lines of an object or room description. There’s no way to convincingly doing that other than relying on text and perhaps voice narration, besides the graphics.

So, in the end, what’s the point of graphics when it by itself can’t really convey nothing? Oh, yes, I know: graphics are far easier an interface to most people rather than reading room and objects descriptions. So, let’s continue to rely on conveniently scattered papers all around to describe the story…

Besides, those games are far less immersive and moody to me than, say, Anchorhead. :slight_smile:

And it’s not just descriptions of things, in raif I’ve already provided this example:
groups.google.com/group/rec.arts … 0c7cc35e9c
You may want to browse the thread there, since Andrew Plotkin gave some thought to it as well.

This is what I posted there:

Here’s a short snippet from Curses describing an early event:

“As you disturb the still air, the attic key, which was balanced on
top of the demijohn, slips onto the floor and disappears into a crack
in the floorboards. Your spirits sink as it does, rattling down some
distance. How on earth are you going to get it back?”

Now, how does such a narration gets translated to a 3D game, or merely graphical at that, and is able to evoke such vivid imagery and sense of urgency?

Here’s two tentatives, the first by cinematography alone (no literary
narration at all) and the second by camera coupled with voice
narration of the same account.

  1. camera-only:
    The camera follows as the player approaches the demijohn, floorbloards cracking and the demijohn shaking gently. The camera then, zooms in to the top of the demijohn and follows the key as it falls to the ground and through a crack. If the game is not first-person, the player avatar is seen desperating as he watches haplessly…

  2. camera and voice narration:
    The camera follows as the player approaches the demijohn, floorbloards cracking and the demijohn shaking gently. The voice remarks: “As you disturb the still air, the attic key, which was balanced on top of the demijohn, slips onto the floor and disappears into a crack in the floorboards.” The camera then, zooms in to the top of the demijohn and follows the key as it falls to the ground and through a crack. The voice concludes: “Your spirits sink as it does, rattling down some distance. How on earth are you going to get it back?” If the game is not first-person, the player avatar is seen desperating as he watches haplessly…

IMHO both fail. The first lacks story polishness, from taking some
banal setting and having no subjective means of describing it
creatively in an exciting manner, which is what literary narration is
all about: the author transforming boring events into enticing
happenings through the power of his own words. The camera only shows plain boring facts: a key is lost through a hole in the ground.

The second sounds redundant, artificial, stiff and assynchronous. I
would get the first over it any day, which employs the “Silent Hill”
approach. Still, I’d get textual-only literary narratives over both

Notwithstanding that the examples as given in this thread seem to work against ‘graphical IF without text accompaniment’, is it fair basically to throw out almost a century of cinematic accomplishment with:

Perhaps ‘3D IF’ needs to rely not on the power of text, but the power of cinema. That is, the power of images.

wonderful! This way you can quickly move on to the Quake/Unreal engine and drop your Inform and TADS…

Unfortunately, I have a gut feeling you’ll soon find out that the “power of cinema” is quite powerless in INTERACTIVE-fiction. It’s one thing to think of the powerful dramatic impact of cinematic, linear and pre-recorded, game cut-scenes, but that doesn’t translate just as well to interactive multibranching storytelling. Think of my scattered-reports-for-storytelling advice from above…

I realise I’m late to the party here, but I have a few comments.


I’ve seen two ways that graphical adventure games achieve this - one for first person games and one for third person. In a first person game (and I’m thinking of ZGI here), the disembodied voice could be an NPC that you either carry around with you (e.g. a talking pet) or that follows you around everywhere, but I don’t think it needs to be. And it would probably say something like “No! How on earth are you going to get that back?” but it certainly wouldn’t say the first bit - the objective description is substituted by the visual portrayal.

In third person games, the player character speaks their thoughts. The best 3D example that I’ve played is Dreamfall. I imagine this example would have the PC saying something like “No! I need that key! How on earth am I going to get it back?” But obviously it would depend on the personality of the PC as to precisely how they’d react.

Second, the Myst games are probably where you’ll see the biggest use of text - they have entire books/journals scattered about the game. Mysts IV and V even had simultaneous voice narration of the books you found. And Uru and Myst V were both 3D games. So clearly text can play a major role in 3D games - but text input seems redundant to me.

Third, I do have an idea of something that might work. Split the screen in two. Have a traditional IF game on one side. The player then clicks on certain highlighted words - the objects of the story - and a 3D, possibly artistic/stylistic model of the object appears for scrutiny on the other side. It might even be a labelled model. In other words, this would be an interactive story with interactive illustrations.