After taking a break from it for a few months, I’m taking a fresh look at The White Bull, my most recent interactive fiction. The sad truth is, it’s not as good as I hoped it would be.
I’d like to roll up my sleeves and revise it, but I’m not at all sure how to make the necessary changes. The story would probably be easier to rewrite as a novel, but I don’t much care for that idea. For one thing, I don’t feel like writing a novel this year. For another, I’m not sure “The White Bull” would make a good novel either.
The limitations of the text adventure game as a medium make handling the story elements rather difficult. Complex characters are difficult — one reviewer complained that the the conversation system was “basic and not extensive,” which just meant that he failed to discover any of the dozens of conversations I implemented. Characterization issues aside, moving the story forward is even harder. If the reader/player has real choices that can affect the outcome, then many players will never find the path to the happy ending. Plus, if there are four significant paths, that’s four times as much work (or possibly 16 times as much). But if the player has no meaningful choices, then the story isn’t interactive — it’s a linear narrative.
My initial idea for the story was that the Labyrinth — you know, the one Daedalus built to imprison the Minotaur — was not only real but still present in some magical dimension. Theseus, in this reading, didn’t kill the Minotaur; he lied about it.
This idea seemed at first blush to lend itself well to interactive fiction, because the most hallowed trope of text games is the maze. The difficulty that immediately leaps up, however, is that players hate mazes. So the Labyrinth can’t be a real maze. I wrote several regions that look like mazes, but aren’t. I’m not sure that did much good. Maybe I should have just made it a giant maze and forced players to by golly work their way through it. Maybe.
A second difficulty is that in the first part of the story, the protagonist (that would be you, or “you”) has no clear motivation to do anything. As a practical matter, you need to Read the rest of this entry »