I am pleased to announce the public release of my first IF game, “spondre”.

It can be found here:

textadventures.co.uk/games/view/ … iq/spondre

Note that you don’t need to login to play. (The game isn’t terribly long, so you probably won’t need to save anyway).

If nothing else, I’m curious what people think about the user interface choices. :slight_smile:

I had time to look this over. I usually have trouble with Quest games because I’m on a mac and have to play online. Quest games can lag horribly.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the high production values of the opening, and these kept me hooked there longer than I do with a lot of choice based games.

The interface - actually borders on brilliant the way it works. One thing I hate about choice games is I get very OCD about lawnmowering all of the options, and that usually keeps me out of the story. The fact that you don’t have visible highlights, and the reader can essentially click on every word removes this artificiality and is a huge improvement over many choice interfaces. It’s also quite good that you give subtle callouts at the bottom to the important words, and dim some of them out so I’m not distracted about what to do next, but it’s there if I need it. It was very freeing and concentrated my attention on the text and the actual story rather than my brain going “I’ve got three links I need to click…I’ve got to hurry and read this so I can click…” I liked that in this you still could present the player with a list menu, such as for conversation, but this can also be ignored as desired. I actually scrolled way back one time thinking this couldn’t maintain itself in an entire text and the word I clicked from the beginning of the story actually worked, and the game scrolled me back to the bottom to see the new text appear.

Brilliant. I would use this if it were its own development system.

I think the promise of “click every word” might also be overwhelming. There were places where I clicked what would seemingly be an important thing and it had no response. I don’t fault you for this at all since this is a new type of thing, but in a longer work it could be mindboggling how deeply the text could unspool.

The story and writing itself are also very good. This is a very fine example of your story/world building. I loved the font and the imagery and the images and the way text faded up just a bit slowly as if by magic. This is a good prototype for this kind of story…I would really like to see more un-cued choice based narrative that you can click anywhere on to explore. It feels very organic and natural. And I would definitely read more of your work based on this as an example.

Great job! I hope to see more of your work, and yearn for a development system based on this freeform style.

Very interesting! I’ve put some comments in a blog post here – along with a couple of other unusual-interface projects I wanted to cover.

The story itself didn’t work quite as well for me as it did for Hanon, possibly because I once saw a Twilight Zone episode with a very similar twist, so I was feeling kind of suspicious from the outset about where it was going. That said, I think an interface that challenges the player to decide what matters combines very effectively with this type of story.

This is a really interesting experiment. But… I had some issues with the implementation. Though the game suggested that I should find interesting stuff to click on in the words that wasn’t highlighted, in practice most of the words I clicked on weren’t implemented. This felt a bit like pixel-hunting in a graphic adventure; there are only a few hotspots and it’s hard to tell where they are exactly. The plot-critical words are highlighted at the bottom–and in the end I mostly just used the links at the bottom.

Maybe one solution (though it’d probably be hard to implement in Quest) would be what many point-and-click games do, which is to have the cursor change when you move it over an active link. (This would be very hard to implement on mobile platforms.)

I also have to say the story made me angry.

[spoiler]It presents torture as an effective way to get information about a ticking time bomb; yes, morally ambiguous, but still effective. But, at least here in the US, we are at a time when we have learned just how much torture we have been committing, how horrible it was, and how completely ineffective it was at getting useful information. People who were tortured made stuff up so we would stop torturing them. Sometimes they fingered innocent people, who were then brought in and tortured and of course knew nothing. In some cases we tortured people who were already our informants because we hadn’t bothered to translate the reports they’d given us yet.

One thing that never, never happened was that torture was used to prevent the explosion of a ticking bomb. The ticking bomb scenario has always been nonsense, used as a theoretical wild hypothetical to get someone to admit that torture might be permissible in some circumstances, which is then used to justify torture in circumstances that are nothing like it–when identical scenarios to the ticking time bomb could be used to justify literally any horrible practice. (Trigger warning for rape on that last one.) But actual Supreme Court justices, the people who might have the last word on whether American forces can legally torture people, have used the ticking bomb as a legal justification for torture, citing cheap fictional depictions of uber-effective torture to do it.

Fantasies about super-effective torture that stops ticking time bombs are dangerous. They reinforce dangerous ideas that have had horrible real-world consequences.[/spoiler]

To nopologize in advance for that rant: I realize that you probably weren’t trying to make a policy statement with your game, and that it’s kind of heavy to dump that much stuff on you. But this is an issue I care a lot about, and I think part of the problem is the subtle normalization of it by people who don’t intend to make a statement. And it’s not you alone, it’s the all-pervasiveness of this sort of thing. So I just want to try to raise some consciousness about it when I see it.

I thought about this too.

[spoiler]Like mattw, I find any “this torture is justified!!” scenario pretty upsetting, and I really really REALLY dislike how much scenarios like this have crept into and been normalized in a lot of US TV – The Blacklist, for instance, which I was enjoying for James Spader’s snarkiness, did so much use of torture by supposed good guys that I quit watching. Scandal also sort of treads the line on this a few times. This creeps me out because I feel like it’s included in order to be “edgy”, but in practice has the effect of making people think that torturing someone is a normal and standard way of acquiring information.

Now as to spondre: because of the VR aspect and the emphasis on deception rather than physical pain, I think you could make the argument that what’s happening to the protagonist is not torture in the conventional sense, though it’s somewhat debatable, I guess, whether causing someone to believe they’re being forced to eat bugs is in fact any better than actually forcing them to eat bugs. I think you can also argue that the piece doesn’t really approve of Dr Spon: while I am strongly against planting bombs in cities (obviously), it’s pretty clear that Spon is working for a horrific regime that kills indiscriminately and disappears people on a regular basis. I played twice, and the second time I resisted Spon’s deception, and felt that this was in some fashion actually a happier ending.

So I think there’s some ambiguity to the story as presented, but yeah, the ticking time bomb scenario is a trope that I would prefer to avoid for exactly the reasons mattw listed.[/spoiler]

I thought of it more like the scenario in the movie The Cell where a shared brainscape is used to analyze and extract information from an potentially unconscious or unwilling antagonist. Now that I consider, it’s still essentially “mind rape” but the fantasy scenario and the fact that this felt like a piece of a bigger world made me curious to learn more. I agree the timing is poor for this type of story.


I think you can also argue that the piece doesn’t really approve of Dr Spon: while I am strongly against planting bombs in cities (obviously), it’s pretty clear that Spon is working for a horrific regime that kills indiscriminately and disappears people on a regular basis.

I agree with this:

[spoiler]I did think that the piece was presenting Spon as a bad guy; it might have been more apparent if I’d allowed some more backstory to come out (I resisted talking to Spon since he seemed like an obvious plant, so I didn’t find out what happened to my wife and child). But even so, it seems like he’s a bad guy because of the regime, and because he’s too enthusiastic to use his power–but I think we also see it as a dilemma, because he uses the torture effectively to prevent something bad happening. Which also makes it seem as though he would be less of a bad guy if the bomb-planter were just some fanatic and he were just some cop working for a generally benevolent regime. But once we’ve granted that torture can be effectively used to stop a ticking bomb, we leave open the door for a case to be made for the benefits of torture–and I don’t think there are such benefits.

But yes, I didn’t want to leave the impression that I thought the game approved of Spon.[/spoiler]

Wow… so much to respond to. :slight_smile: I’ve been sitting at work reading these without having the ability to reply and going nuts. So let me catch up a bit.

@HanonO: All that you said resonated with me. I, too, can get overwhelmed by too many links and underwhelmed by too few. And when you click on a link and lose all the others… it becomes a bit stressful. I know as the game author, I liked being able to put links on anything, even concepts or emotions. I was hoping from the player’s point of view, it afforded a sort of freedom, even that was only an illusion.

I also agree that as a game author in such a situation, it places more of a burden to make that illusion stick. I knew that I wasn’t living up to that implied contract even before others mentioned it, by the latter parts of the game being more sparse. I regretted that, but I also ran out of steam, in that it worked end to end and I’ve been putzing around with it for over two years(!), and I’m looking to what the next step can be in my mind already. I’m just glad people were able to squint a bit and see what might be possible. I’m going to have to be darn sure I live up to the promise next time. (Actually, the game didn’t start out with that particular aspect of the UI. Originally, it was a parser + link game, inspired by “Blue Lacuna”. But the keyword engine I have didn’t work so well for parser input (I discovered), and I found myself wanting to deliver things on mobile devices. So the shift. I’m not sure where the idea of turning of the link display came from, but it freed me up to do some things I thought were cool - but at the cost of needing to do more work that I didn’t do.)

And I have been pondering creating a tool for this. The core engine could work as well fronted by a parser (I’ve a proof of concept in some Quest test games), but it needs a way to edit all the responses, which Quest isn’t good for.

Overall, I couldn’t have hoped for a better review, and I thank you. :slight_smile:

@Emily: Thanks so much for the write up. I could only have hoped it was good enough (or different enough) to attract your interest, and I’m glad I succeeded. I think I covered most of what you discussed in the part above. (I wanted to go back and address anything I missed, but I can’t seem to get to your site right now. I’ll try again later.)

@matt: I’m actually a bit shocked. That word hadn’t even occurred to me in the context of this, but now that you mention it, I can see where it might come in. Let me address this in a more open way:

[spoiler]The basic idea behind this was that torture had failed. So a more subtle approach was needed. The game has evolved over time. Originally, Spon was meant to be the protagonist, someone trying to get into the mind of someone who was threatening innocent lives. The idea was more of gaining the PC’s trust, with you as an accomplice, directing the PC via answers to questions. So you have the offer of a cigarette (relaxation), Spon’s rant against the Empire (camaraderie), the visuals of Spon’s wife and daughter that he has been taken from… all of these were meant to make the PC feel that Spon was on his side. The fantastical, horrific nature of the prison was as well meant to pit both you and Spon against this evil place where you will be punished forever.

As it went along, especially as I got closer to the end, I began to feel a bit dissatisfied. What if people didn’t view Spon as the protagonist? What if they wanted to resist? And so I began to play up a darker side to Spon, and those variants and endings went in. Ultimately, the player has the choice to resist, and nothing bad actually happens, other than that it’s a reboot and start over (from Spon’s point of view). You can actually get to an ending where Spon doesn’t succeed, where the bomb goes off, and there is retribution against the people and possibly even Spon.

For me, that is the theme of this: that violence begets violence. It’s a no win situation. The Empire destroys the PC’s family, and he retaliates with violence himself. His violence sparks more violence in further retaliation, and the cycle never ends. Unless someone stops it. The ending where the PC confesses was not meant to be driven so much by fear of spider or torture as much as by regret (I failed to put in the part where Spon talked about the effects of violence on those he knew, but it was a plan for a while) and realization that others are just like him and he was becoming what he hated. (I hope you don’t mind me using “he” in this. The gender of the PC is not specified, but I’ll go mad trying to generalize my pronouns.)

Now… if you get the PC to confess, then the disaster is averted, but he is executed. Not quite so satisfying an ending. So you play again, and this time you don’t give in - and people die. Also not so satisfying an ending. That’s intentional. Violence is a no-win situation. (There actually is another ending, probably a bit corny and not so easy to find, where you remain principled and resistant but also let Spon know how the death of your family affected you, where he actually ends up regretting his part in things himself and decides to help you. The bomb is averted, and Spon spirits you away under the guise of determining more about the group you belong to (which you don’t). I’m not sure how unrealistic that is, but it is there.)

I don’t know if this addresses anything you were feeling. Obviously, since you had a reaction I didn’t even anticipate, I didn’t do my job thoroughly enough. I don’t know if any of the above will change how you feel or felt, but… I took a shot.

And though it’s not really relevant - but you did bring it up - I’m an American transplant in the UK, taking roots slowly for the past 5-6 years, and I have no love or tolerance for torture. My thought is it’s always a failure and not justified. What worries me is that another story I wanted to pursue actually did involve direct torture, but it was to be a failure there , as it should be. Now that you bring it up for this game, though, I wonder if I have subconscious issues to work out. :laughing:[/spoiler]

Thanks for all the feedback everyone. It’s more than I could have wished for, and more than I even expected!

Emily’s site is back now, so one part I forgot to address: I’m very interested in the possibilities of having IF like this generate an actual narrative as the player plays. The player “creates the story” to a great extent. I would like to have some refinements in my current game even where responses that have already been seen or seen recently repeat but don’t stick, the way the “Nothing more to be said” one disappears. That would help avoid that sort of clutter, I also want to explore this interface in a more traditional sort of game with room navigation and object manipulation. I’ve had fantasies of a text system where, as you make subsequent actions, existing text morphs to condense things to a more readable format. (For example, heading north and then east and then up stairs and then into someone’s office may, in the end, transform into “You make your way to Dr. Forrest’s office.”) I have no idea of the scope of coding required for that, but, well you never know until you try!

Thank you for the very thoughtful and considered response Jay! I should say that I was only able to play through to one ending; on my second playthrough my browser stopped recognizing links as clickable (this is a thing that happens sometime with Javascript stuff).

[spoiler]I see where you’re coming from there, that there’s a more humane approach to interrogation involving gaining the prisoner’s trust. The worry I have here is that there’s a tendency to define torture down, as in things like Donald Rumsfeld’s notorious quote about why should detainees have to stand only four hours at a time when he stood eight hours a day. The virtual reality experiment seemed to me to be an example of psychological torture even if it didn’t leave a mark. (And when I decided to confess it was definitely out of fear rather than regret… partly because I didn’t know what I’d done. I think choosing the “be vague” options throughout had that effect.

Anyway, thank you again for your considered response! It’s good to know that you’ve thought about this–it’s a very tricky area to write about.[/spoiler]

I recently had an experience kind of like this with a narrative chatbot on Personality Forge, though I’m not sure that I could say the end result was really a satisfying tale:

[rant]Midnight Blue: Welcome to Muir Woods. Ever been here before?
you: I haven’t, no
Midnight Blue: Let’s walk along this scrub bird path that runs alongside the marsh.
you: okay
Midnight Blue: I’ll okay if you okay with me.
you: what sorts of birds live here?
Midnight Blue: hens.
you: like chicken hens?
Midnight Blue: Let’s both like chicken hens together!
you: tell me where we’re going
Midnight Blue: If you want it so bad, why dont you tell me!
you: where are we?
Midnight Blue: We’re just east of that giant field of opium poppies.
you: whoa
Midnight Blue: How have you been lately?
you: Just now I was surprised to find out that opium grows in Muir Woods.
Midnight Blue: But you arent surprised to ascertain that opium grows in Muir Woods any longer, I see.
you: Do you, uh, harvest this opium?
Midnight Blue: One second while I harvest this opium… okay. Now what?
you: Do you collect that for your own use, or do you sell drugs?
Midnight Blue: I dont sell drugs. Do you?
you: I really don’t.
Midnight Blue: You’re not scared of the Sherrif, are you? There’s been sightings around here.
you: I’m more scared of the opium, frankly
Midnight Blue: Ooh, look over there, it’s a bunch of wild dinosaurs!
you: I think that might be the result of your recent intake.[/rant]

It’s clearly pulling phrases that I’m feeding it and then also elaborating with some random wacky ideas of its own; I was trying to play along and make as much sense out of it as possible, but I’m not sure I could say it really worked. Maybe it could go somewhere better with a different interface, though.

I definitely like the player being able to dig down to explore things that aren’t nouns or aren’t physically present.

Hm, interesting. This might be disconcerting for people who really rely on their scrollback, but in theory I don’t think this should be all that hard, at least for the travel case you’re describing; obviously there’d be some work setting up the filter to condense output, but a number of games that feature “GO TO [DISTANT ROOM]” have some method to describe travel in a streamlined way (both Bronze and Counterfeit Monkey do this). It might be possible to yank some ideas from there. It would immediately get more challenging once you’re trying to summarize other actions that are less uniform, but maybe you’d just leave those as initially described.

And thank you for yours as well! :slight_smile:

I regret your experience on the second play. My big fear when I got to the point of deploying this was that the game that worked flawlessly in my desktop Quest environment would not work so well online - and more people will be playing online than through the Quest desktop app. I was pleased that HanonO was able to use a Mac, but even on Windows, I was running into the sorts of hangs you experienced. I’ve already been experimenting with pure Javascript for what comes next. I want the experience to be flawless. (At least beyond whatever things I’ve done myself to botch it up… I can tolerate the mistakes I make. It’s the ones I can’t control that frustrate!)

Well, it’s pretty likely that it’s a flaw with my computer/browser; I put the browser through a lot of stress (I have an incurable tab addiction) and I get similar things on other sites as well.

I’m going to meditate on that for a while, I think.

That actually made me laugh. I hope that’s what it was going for.

I’ve had some wild fantasies about other situations, but I think that would be a good starting point. To me, even something like “You head north and then east and then up and…” Is better than “You head north. You head east…” That would be fairly straightforward while still having a “dynamic text” feel to it, where the text morphs as new information comes in. I hadn’t considered it being disconcerting - but then I’ve eliminated the player’s commands from the output, so I’ve probably already done that. :smiley:

If you’ve not done so, take a look at Undum. It is currently the only system I know that is good at folding away player choices and selected paragraphs to tidy the story. It’s also gorgeous. I wish I was smart enough to use it !

Oddly, my main wish was for some way to “wait” or “do nothing”. I ended up just examining the room over and over, especially after

I realized what was going on with the spider.

I actually agree with that. There are things you can do, but if you don’t wish to (or had done them before), then… yes. :slight_smile: I’ll have a good think about that.