Has anyone seen this article, or heard about the Siboot project? … -crawford/

I’m not familiar with Chris Crawford, but what he’s trying to do here reminds me of some things that Emily Short has done with character and conversation. What do you think of it?

I have actually played the original Trust & Betrayal: Legacy of Siboot. It was, at best, okay, and I’m not really excited for this. I’m not a fan of the fetichisation of algorithms that goes on, where the holy grail is storytelling-by-algorithm; I don’t think that’s actually just on the horizon, at least not for a game about interpersonal interactions (Something like Dwarf Fortress, which is storytelling from a very different vantage point, is another beast altogether).

I hadn’t seen that specific article, but I’d heard of Siboot. I didn’t have high expectations.

General opinion on Chris Crawford:

He has good points about opportunities to transcend violence as the core interaction in games. He wants to lead a revolution in game design to move away from that core interaction.

His actual execution is severely damaged by

a) not noticing that other people are also making those points,
b) not noticing that other people are acting on those points, and
c) attempting to convince people that only he can lead this revolution, when
d) the revolution has been happening around him for literally decades.

In particular, his opinion on the IF community raised my hackles pretty badly. It was written in 2005, but Emily Short’s review of Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling suggests that his opinion hasn’t changed since then.

Perhaps also of interest: Kotaku’s profile on Chris Crawford.

I think Chris Crawford has acquired a pretty significant animus targeted at him from the IF community at this point, based on his public persona, things he’s said, &c. The Kickstarter trailer for Siboot was, frankly, pretty cringeworthy.

I mean, I don’t exactly want to be the guy calling out a sixty-five year old for being a bit behind the times, but… Chris Crawford is a bit behind the times.

I agree that it was cringeworthy.

I read a comment about the original “legacy of Siboot” saying that it was all about finding the right moment to betray people. That may not be physical violence, but it’s emotional violence, which is in my opinion, even less desirable as a game mechanic.

It caught my interest because I’d just watched a playthrough of The Last of Us, which does an amazing job of telling the story implicit in every ultra-violent shooter. Matching the story to the game mechanic is a great idea, but it reminded me that we need different game mechanics if we want to tell different stories…

If the game ends when the PC dies, then it makes sense for lots of NPCs to try to kill the PC - that provides challenge. And it follows that the PC would try to kill all of these NPCs in self-defense. So to have a different mechanic, the game should end on something other than the PC’s death. What if you had a game where the “losing” ending was when you succeeded in killing someone else? I noticed that one of Chris Crawford’s games had the goal of preventing war from breaking out. How did that go? What other games am I missing out on that do interesting things in this direction?

Yeah, there’s a lot of baggage associated with Crawford’s name at this point. I have some sympathy for him there. (I hope to be a 65-year-old game designer someday, right? More appealing to me than the other options, which are (a) giving up on game design (b) dying.)

I bought a second-hand copy of the original Siboot game – the Mac floppies are on the shelf behind me – but I don’t think I ever played it.

I did play Balance of Power a few times. (On the Apple IIgs?) It was a great didactic presentation of the thesis that the Cold War was a terrible fucking idea. It wasn’t all that playable a game per se game.

That link was… just painful to read. It’s really ugly. I’m sorry I read it.

He’s clearly dedicated to an ideal, but after a certain level of abstraction, you really need to hook that ideal to something else. Choices per se, and the algorithms behind choices, are a great novelty - The Last Express is often cited when talking about emergent gameplay. But it’s not that alone that made The Last Express the classic it is today; the graphical quality and style, the quality of the story (that a person wrote down and set out to tell, even if the details vary), all of that is a factor.

I mean, Hadean Lands isn’t what it is just because of its main resetting gimmick; Counterfeit Monkey is about more than word manipulation. Both are excellently written, the puzzles are brilliantly crafted, both tell a powerful story and both manage to evoke the grandeur of exploration that had us all hooked to IF since Adventure.

Strip HL or CM down to the abstract ideal that Crawford keeps championing, and… well, at 65 he’s unlikely to step back and take a look at the forest, instead of the single tree he’s been staring at for decades, but it would do him some good.

The feeling I get from his kickstarter video and pretty much everything he says is always the same. A feeling that he’s touting a holy grail that has been in the making for quite a while and is being actively explored by others, with great degrees of success. His hyperbole wears thin. There’s nothing that he said in the Siboot trailer that can’t be achieved with the tools we have, given the dedication - and, of course, given the existence of a story that requires such a framework.


I’m frankly surprised at Crawford’s dismissal of the IF community. Especially since all of the solutions he seems to be pursuing, like choice-based branching narratives and systems based on RPG-like statistics, have long histories of prior art in IF, let alone game design in general.