There has been considerable talk, since at least the first PAX IF event, about the desirability of establishing shared worlds for IF.
Of course, IF already has shared worlds – the Zork franchise is only barely a different world from Adventure, and plenty of subterranean cod-fantasy works have been effectively Zork fanfic. Stiffy Makane is a smaller (though more perfectly formed) case. But neither of these, it seems, will quite do; they are perhaps a bit too malleable, a bit too much of a motley patchwork of off-the-cuff jokes and fourth-wall-smashing references. I think when people say shared world, they mean a setting with a fairly consistent tone, a core set of concerns and attitudes, an established coherence. Zork and Stiffy are clearly palimpsests; nothing’s written in stone, but nothing’s ever fully erased. This is by no means a bad thing, but it’s a thing distinct from shared-world. (I suspect that Zork, at least, works better as a subgenre than a mythos or shared world; [url=http://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=cpwktis6qwh9ydn8]Augmented Fourth[/a] makes little sense as Zork fanfic or Zork shared-world, but it’s perfectly intelligible as Zorkian fiction.
I suppose that when people say ‘shared world’ they are thinking in particular of the Lovecraft mythos, or the worlds of SF/F TV series – almost always the work of numerous different writers, not always perfectly consistent, but sharing a substantial core and making a credible effort to avoid rewriting history. (The major superhero comics are examples of failed shared worlds; the worlds of Marvel and DC can’t really be taken seriously any more – at least, not in the way that they want to be taken). All of this is an extremely roundabout way of getting to some points which I’m sure are pretty obvious to most of you already: 1) authenticity / canonicity is not a neat true-false quality, 2) people have legitimate preferences for different points of that spectrum.
So, when this conversation happens, a number of things tend to come up about what an IF shared world would need in order to succeed:
A SF/F world. Because IF is fond of those things, and if it’s not SF/F then we already have a shared world, eejit. We live there.
An initial work or works of high enough quality to establish interest, but…
Not a work so outstanding, or an author so well-known, as to create a fanfic-like imbalance between initial and subsequent works.
Probably unified around worldbuilding or a general set of game mechanics, rather than specific characters. (Character-reliance is a big reason why superhero canon is such a mess.) Possibly some core code could be shared between versions, and players wouldn’t have to relearn the gameplay style.
At least initially, curated in some manner to ensure a base standard of quality.
and 5) hit on the big reasons why sf/f publishing tends to run so hard towards interminable series. First, establishing a living, breathing F/SF setting can take a lot of time. Rather than dump a huge pile of worldbuilding on you at the outset, your sense of what matters about the world is layered over many episodes. Andromeda has, I think, a bit of a tough furrow to plough on this count; while lots of people found things about the setting compelling, not many derived a very clear sense of what was going on. (Largely because lots of people never finished it. I still haven’t done so.) The original Andromeda doesn’t really have a strong interaction hook, but it’s definitely about setting and background rather than dominant characters.
As for 5): readers are not very adventurous (or, more charitably, are generally unwilling to read dozens of things they don’t like in search of something they do): a series gives some assurance that Book 3 will be much the same sort of thing as Book 1. I’m not sure that this is quite what Andromeda is aiming for, precisely; but let’s see what happens.
Tree & Star, Paul Lee
This starts out in a promising manner: culture-myths in which are embedded a historical narrative. However, this turns out to be more of an opening flourish than a consistent theme. Tree is a tightly linear story of the PRESS X TO CONTINUE variety; in many respects it feels like a first draft, the minimal-winnable version of a game intended to be fleshed out later. It doesn’t credit testers, and it shows. The text has rather more typos than can be excused, and there are a number of non-lethal bugs.
The general plot is presented straightforwardly: your civilisation is confined to a single spaceship, which generations ago was lost due to alien artefact shenanigans. As the first generation faded, it was overthrown by a repressive regime that rewrote history in an it-has-always-been-this-way mode. Now evidence of the past has surfaced, and our heroes must reveal the truth before the conspiracy silences them. I found it a little difficult to work out how this connected to the Andromeda world, which is probably because Tree & Star is very up-front about its backstory, whereas Andromeda Awakening is relatively cryptic.
The game’s major issue is that it has a conspiracy-thriller plot: this means that the major modes of activity should be investigation and action. In classic IF mode, the setup shifts the interaction away from action and towards investigation by making the PC the Tech Guy of the group, while his cop wife handles the Action. But the computer-hacky portions of the game just aren’t implemented in any sort of mechanical depth; most of it is just about finding the command to continue the action, and diverging from the script often leads to oddly-juxtaposed responses. Now, to be fair, a crunchy simulation of the PC’s hacking activities could have been pretty boring, and that’s not what the story’s really interested in; so this isn’t in itself a problem. The ABOUT text declares that “this game is designed with a fairly high granularity; that is, the state of the game often changes drastically based on single commands”. And that’s fine!
The problem is that IF lacks (and, in my opinion, sorely needs) good standard mechanics for meaningful interaction at large granularity. Or, the larger the scale of your decision-making, the less those decisions ultimately mean. This seems to be entirely the wrong way around, but it’s the state of affairs we’ve got. Tree & Star runs headlong into this problem: most of the time there is really nothing significant to do except wait, talk to the plot-advancing person, walk in the plot-advancing direction, perform the next Hacking Action.
This approach, while pretty disappointing, can be salvaged by excellent writing. The prose here is by no means bad; granted, there are some bits here and there that are sub-par, and much of the rest needs a little more editing, but there are some better moments too, and in general it’s serviceable. But its net effect is close to neutral; it doesn’t compensate for the on-rails interaction.
This bit was one of the clunkiest parts of writing. Worse, it kicks in during a dramatic denouement scene: the focus should be on the twists of the action, not distracted by prose quirks.
Yeah, calling someone ‘blond-haired female Militia Investigator’ once is awfully clunky, but this is just ridiculous. It also leads to problems like this:
(Also, blond is one of the only adjectives in English that takes a gender. Women are blonde; men are blond.)
Generally speaking, the characterisation was sort of enh. I felt that Veritas (the naming is less than subtle, here) was the biggest failing. My general feeling is that if two characters have a special relationship of some kind – and marriage should really be one such – then that relationship needs to be treated as a major character. I’m not saying that the story needs to be recast as a relationship story; I’m saying that, if there’s only space for a few hints about the nature of a relationship, those hints should not be generic. If you have limited sapce, don’t tell me things that are true of most moderately good relationships: tell me what’s special about this one.
So what are we shown about Rood and Veritas? They have been friends since childhood; they work long hours; they like one another, they are affectionate, he finds her attractive; they don’t communicate as well as they might, but they trust one another; she doesn’t entirely take his conspiracy-theorisin’ seriously, but is cheerily supportive anyway. This doesn’t feel like a real relationship; it feels like a template.
There are places at which there’s an attempt to depict chemistry between the characters, but it doesn’t work too well because, well:
So there’s the idea that some mild flirting is going on here, which is well and good, except that because Rood partakes fairly heavily of the Affectless PC nature, it feels as if the flirting’s totally one-sided. When a woman’s shown cheerily flirting with a man who doesn’t ever respond, it implies that something’s not quite right. Here, it summons up the nasty old meme that it’s the woman’s job to make herself attractive to the man, and the man’s job to take care of Serious Business. I’m sure that that wasn’t the intention here (Veritas gets a more active role later in the plot), but it does throw off the feel of the relationship.
So in that context, consider this:
That’s a default response for talking to her, including at various points of the plot where this comes across as, uh, somewhat darkly ironic. But, even under the best of circumstances, this is conspicuously generic. What’s worse, it’s an emotionally charged discussion but described in totally affectless terms. I find myself thinking of this conversation from Nemesis Macana:
(I should stress that it isn’t anywhere near that bad, but it definitely summons up some of the same vibes.) And then again, there’s a moment where, if I’d had a bit more invested in the Rood-Veritas relationship, my stomach would have lurched; as it was, my reaction was more ‘well, obviously’.
Very well, then, you might say: but there are plenty of stories where the relationship is just a placeholder, and while that’s not great it’s not always a problem. Granted; but everything in Tree & Star falls under that general category. It runs the gamut from perfectly adequate to grudgingly acceptable. If there was something awesome that this was all in service to, this would be less of a concern; but none of the potential awesomeness ever quite comes through. My feeling was that there was too much focus on delivering the core story, and not enough on identifying and enriching the things that make the story compelling.
What is the spectrum? Are you talking about works themselves – a spectrum of how canonical an individual work is, in comparison with the whole body of literature in the world/sub-genre/franchise? Or are you talking about the shared worlds, some of them requiring a degree of canonicity? Little canonicity is required for a setting or sub-genre like “Zorkian,” where the requirement for legitimacy is the ability to capture the authentic mood or experience, perhaps using materials similar to those in the original. There are certainly more serious shared worlds where little or no canonicity exists; the Arthurian legend, for instance. But Andromeda is based around a timeline more than a setting or a theme (at least, that’s how it looks like to me), and that would seem to encourage a standard canon.
Thank you for the feedback. I’m quite thrilled for my game to be considered even acceptable. [emote]:)[/emote]
(By the way, am I allowed to comment on my own game? Just thought I should ask. [emote];)[/emote])
A little of both. The expectation of canon for an oeuvre is set by a number of things, including how conspicuously the oeuvre has been messed about with, how the oeuvre presents itself, and so on. The same is also true of works, although what I’m talking about there is mostly about how oeuvres create their own local standards for authenticity.
…if by ‘a standard canon’ you mean two neat categories of The Author’s Original vs. Fanfic… maybe. It’s slightly muddied because the derivative works, here, were sought by the author and published under his aegis. If Marco says ‘at this point, I consider Tree & Star to be canonical’… then things get a shade more complicated.
Objection! If a bunch of writers write “Tales from Winesburg, Ohio,” then they’re taking part in a shared world in a way that people who write non-SF/F that isn’t set in Winesburg, Ohio aren’t. (Winesburg, Ohio is chosen randomly; I haven’t read it.)
Last things first: Yes, you are. There is no popular judgement you can confuse with your commenting.
Then on the main subject: I don’t know what you both mean by “canonicity” or “standard canon”.
What is a standard canon in storytelling, may it be SF or whatever? Is there a canonical way to tell a tale in SF? Or are you talking about something completely different?
I will soon write something about the “canonicity” of both Tree and Star and Andromeda Dreaming, so I’d like to know what you mean by it.
Nope, this is because you didn’t finish the game and don’t know about its ending except from what others said about it. [emote]:)[/emote]
And I guess very few, much observing players do know it.
A bit of a spoiler, but I don’t want to keep the secret too long hidden:
In the second to last room of Andromeda Awakening is hidden a scrap of paper, on top of some ancient war machinery. I strongly suggest you search for it and read it, 'cause a detailed explanation of a lot of things is hidden there.
It is definitely not an experience-turning gimmick but it sure is hidden well enough for people to miss on some serious background.
Your hopes will be disillusioned, as long as you don’t write that fourth game by yourself.
I’m, trying to write a sequel of Awakening, but it definitely won’t indulge into giving off any explanation about what the three of us have written so far. I guess it will entangle the mess a lil bit more, if you want to know. [emote]:)[/emote]
And, yes: both games are true to the original setting. You both did a very accurate and mind-blowing job.
Standard canon is: there is the Canon (Andromeda Awakening, plus any sequels you might write) and then there is Fan Fiction (anything that anybody else writes that’s set in the same universe.)
But it’s often more complicated. What is the author knocks off something in that universe for beer money, then spends the rest of his life disavowing it? What if a second author is hired to write spin-offs, or if the author corresponds and collaborates with fanfic authors? What if the author, later in life, substantially re-edits Book Four to make the metaphysics conform better to his born-again Muggletonianism? What if the author’s daughter, claiming posthumous approval… and so on.
All of these things have some claims to canon, but the claims are also muddied. And the way that those claims are assessed is going to vary depending on the nature of the body of work – you don’t judge the canon of the Bible according to the same rules as the canon of Harry Potter, which in turn has a differently-judged canon from Magic: the Gathering. So I guess by ‘canonicity’ I mean
a) how canonical something is,
b) of a particular fiction world, what sort of rules or assumptions there are about what makes something canonical.
How do you figure that, considering Lucas was behind all 6 films? I don’t like Hannibal and The Red Dragon doesn’t do much for me, but all three books in what we could call a “Hannibal Lecter” trilogy are cannonical.
To me, a storytelling canon is the way things “really” happened, even though we know that the story is really just fiction. I’ll try to explain by examples.
I used to play a role-play intensive MUD called Shadows of Isildur, based on the world of The Lord of the Rings and set centuries earlier in Tolkien’s timeline. The players of Shadows of Isildur acted out the roles of people living in Middle Earth, people that we invented ourselves. Our characters didn’t “really” exist in Middle Earth, much less the plotlines that the roleplay administrators initiated. To the extent that our characters represented average people who could have lived in the timeline, the MUD may not have contradicted the Tolkien canon, but to be called “canonical” in my mind implies that the stories definitely happened, having all the authority in the made-up situation as historical fact does in our world.
Although Shadows of Isildur tried to be as authentically Tolkienian as possible, the administrators did deliberately contradict canon from time to time out of practical necessity. For instance, the Appendix at the end of The Return of the King (or the all-in-one edition) says that the city of Osgiliath was destroyed in the year 2475 of the Third Age. However, at Shadows of Isildur we had the week-long Fall of Osgiliath RP event in 2474, because that date in the game’s internal calendar corresponded to our real-life summer, when more people were free to play. Waiting until 2475 would have meant holding the RP event in October. Despite the fact that all of Tolkien’s timeline is fiction, the final destruction of Osgiliath could not have taken place in both 2474 and 2475. Shadows of Isildur is not canonical.
I don’t consider the 2009 Star Trek movie fully canonical. To me, the canonical Star Trek timeline is the one in the several television series. Granted, the messiness of time travel make it “possible” for both timelines to have “really happened,” but I still have to think of one or the other timeline as the authentic story, and for me, the TV shows are the story.
The Star Trek example is difficult, because the movie is as “official” as the shows. To me, being “official” isn’t the only standard of canon, I guess. However, in most cases, the first or original form of the story is the canon. I love Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, but there’s no question that in every detail that they depart from the original books, they are non-canonical. Either the elves showed up to fight at Helm’s Deep, or they didn’t, and the authentic canon – the books that Tolkien wrote in his timeline – indicate definitively that they didn’t.
I played the first-person shooter game Halo as a teen (the original one); it’s about the only FPS I’ve spent a significant amount of time with. In Halo, and I think in most FPSs, when you die, you start again at the nearest Check Point. The death isn’t part of the “real” story given by the FPS. If Master Chief got blown apart by a plasma grenade while on board the Pillar of Autumn, then he didn’t live to meet the Sentinel. Every death in a story-driven FPS is a varient, non-canonical story.
I hope that helps clarify my views on the subject.