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Storytelling in Computer Games 131

Posted by michael
from the kill-troll-with-rusty-knife dept.
Cosmicbandito writes: "The latest issue of XYZZY News features transcripts and audio downloads of a 2 hour panel discussion titled "Storytelling in Computer Games Past, Present and Future". Scott Adams, the celebrated designer of classics like "Adventureland" and "Pirate's Island", described his experiences in the early days of the home game market, offered his opinions on the current crop of games, and made predictions about games of the future. Scott is credited with writing and marketing the first commercial computer game. Of special interest to Slashdotters, he is also an avid Everquest player. And no, he doesn't draw "Dilbert"." Think "pre-Infocom".
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Storytelling in Computer Games

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  • by PopeAlien (164869) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:50PM (#2257540) Homepage Journal
    The social element of gaming, vs. the story-and-puzzle elements. Scott predicts that, within 5 years, game-creation utilities will simplify designing.

    Doesn't that just mean more cookie-cutter games with slightly different graphics? The games that really make a difference I think will always be built from the ground up and based (hopefully) on a somewhat unique concept..

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I dunno.. The best games, actually, are usually those that take someone else's engine and pile a whole lot of talent and design on top of it.

      Engine design is the slowest part of game development, which is why so many engines get licensed for games.

      Half Life is a decent example of this, tho it was very much rewritten. Raven is a company that does this with id's engines..
      • "which is why so many engines get licensed for games"

        RIGHT, and and video card performance keeps scaling up, it's easier to take a mature game engine, like id's, and tweak it to take advantage of improved frame rates, pixel shading, etc and to take advantage of whatever improvements might be made in OS shim software like DirectX.....

        having to "ground up" create a game engine when the underlying tech paradigm (ChipSetX over pci/agp, yadayada) is a be-atch, and you'll be hard pressed to beat the work of the current OG's, like Abrash, Carmack, Romero, et al

        now when a ***BRAND NEW*** chipset approach comes out...all bets are off and then it's who can get their "fastest with the bestest"...

        but its really hard to really innovate on mature technology to the point where your newer tech has the kind of advantage it would need to displace its "big market share" competition...

        which neatly explains the demise of one vid adapter mfgr after another, insufficent value differentiation in products, that's when two leaders ***ALWAYS*** emerge....the Best Marketed Product and the Best Value Product...everyone in the middle tends to get stomped...(UMM, HP and Compaq???)
    • by Geckoman (44653)
      Better, easier-to-use tools won't necessarily yield more cookie-cutter games. In fact, I think exactly the opposite will be true. Tools that make game design more accessible to non-techs should (hopefully) allow more people the ability to tell stories in this medium.

      Another consideration is that these tools will likely allow developers to make games more quickly and cheaply than is currently possible. If games require a smaller investment in time and money, then developers and publishers will hopefully be more willing to go out on a limb and try something new.

    • This would be the case right now, but probably not within 5 years
      I imagine for then, modeling won't be a problem, and available engines will be powerful enough (relying on available hardware) to let you use the (graphics) style you want with little effort.
      So you could have a cartoonish game, a movie-like game (even different atmospheres) etc..
      It's almost like this right now. But in 5 years, you'll also have powerful physics engine (I expect them to sooner or later rely on a ppu-card (physics processing unit, that could be integrated with sound and video into one gaming-board)), deformations, particles, etc... that will let you create pretty much anything you want, be it a cartoon, a trip in a zero-gravity space station, underwater, etc...
      Modeling should also be much easier than it is now, so really, what will be left to the game writter (to get out of the crowd I mean, not that he won't care about the rest too) will be the story-telling, and the incresingly imaginative/challenging concepts.
    • by elmegil (12001)
      Sounds to me like Scott is reflecting his own career onto the industry, rather than vice versa. If you analyze his games (which I don't mean to imply are cookie cutter), he basically wrote an adventure game engine, and then cranked out games using that engine. That was the basis of his success. Up to that point, Zork and the original adventure game were all custom done jobs, which would have been prohibitive to do commercially (when Zork was adapted for the wider audience it was "ported" to Infocom or whoever's engine).
    • Doesn't that just mean more cookie-cutter games with slightly different graphics?

      This is exactly what happened in the cbm64 (i'm getting old.... :-) ) era when game-engines started to appear. A zillion look-a-like shoot-'m-up type games, play one, play 'm all... Maybe two or three games based on same engine stood out because the offered something unique, like exceptional graphics.

  • Remember those great apple II games on those big 5 1/2....those were the days!
  • why?? (Score:5, Funny)

    by geekoid (135745) <(dadinportland) (at) (yahoo.com)> on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:54PM (#2257557) Homepage Journal
    special interest to Slashdotters, he is also an avid Everquest player.

    why is this of special interest?
    personally it tells me his mind has turned to mush as far as story telling in games go. But hey, thats me.
    • Re:why?? (Score:2, Funny)

      by nion (19898)
      You travel down the windy road towards the Lair of the Giant Bugblatter. As you approach, you see that another group of adventurers is camping the Bublatter spawn point. You can:
      • Shrug and go find the Lesser Bugblatter
      • Invoke PnP and *make* the other group share
      • KS the Bugblatter when he spawns

      ...Sounds familiar for some reason.
    • by Misao (23446)
      Well, it's a bit of an insight; although it leads me to the same conclusion as you.

      If Everquest represents storytelling in games these days, I worry. I suppose it could be argued that human interaction in the MMORPGs replaces storytelling to some degree, and I suppose in some ways that's true.

      But I live my life in the real world and have to deal with human interaction there. We read books to escape; we watch films to escape. You can see where this is going, I'm sure - why do I want to play a game that basically involves hanging around with a bunch of people I'll never really know?

      Maybe I'm weird. I definitely feel in the minority these days.

      -mis
    • yeah, and we all know how bad the storylines in those MUSHes are..
  • Games aren't built from the ground up for christ's sake.
    Serious companies have their own in-house libraries which they extend and adapt to make their next game.
    Think SCUMM and Lucas Arts for instance. There were *oodles* of adventure games made with it, and they all ruled!
    Think of the Final Fantasy games. I love all of them, even though they are all very similar. The first five or six in the series must have shared a LOT of code, being almost photocopies of each other with updated graphics and slightly different gameplay. They were all basically a tile graphics engine plus some sort of scripting thing for the gameplay events etc.
    Then they went 3D with FF7 and I can bet whatever you want that FF 8 and 9 reused one hell of a lot of code from 7.
    People don't do anything from scratch these days.It would take *years* to develop the sort of libs companies have accumulated over time.
    If someone tried to make a game from scratch, it would most certainly end up being bug-ridden, delayed, and much less than the cutting-edge stuff large companies put out with the latest in 3D and EAX-enhanced sound.
    Start-ups just buy an old engine and try to make something interesting with it. And often fail.
  • by Snowfox (34467) <snowfox@snowfox. n e t> on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @06:09PM (#2257614) Homepage
    Hi. I'm Brian. I make video games at Midway.

    I get frustrated when people talk about authoring tools replacing game development, or holding up storytelling as the holy grail of game design.

    If you're looking for the high level "flow of the game," you're better off looking at Jean Piaget's writings than you are any of the authors explaining storytelling-as-game. Take hits like Robotron, Quake or Tetris and try to tell me which of the 36 dramatic situations fit those games. Ask the hard core gamers whether they even know the storyline which was painted on after-the-fact.

    Piaget talks about sensorimotor (learning about the self/environment through motor reflex), preoperational (anticipatory cognition), concrete (action based on perceived and anticipated outcomes) and formal operation (master of a system).

    Good games drive a player from a stage where they basically learn to move (sensorimotor operations) to one of grossly influencing the environment (concrete or formal operations). The high level flow which I believe should be the real focus of study, is one of making the game teach or reward the player in the first stage, then rise to meet the player thereafter. A good game extends itself to match the player's capabilities as they unfold, guiding and challenging the player in the game's own terms. The degree to which the player has to focus to stay one step ahead of the unfolding system is the degree to which good "flow" is present.

    That hasn't got a thing to do with the story.

    If the player cannot establish a synergistic state with the game early on, the game has failed. A good game rewards the player to draw them in, making them think they've overcome the system, from the state where they're fumbling with the controls to the stage where the control has become transparent through practice - transparent enough that the player feels a more direct interface with the adopted environment and is struggling to participate in the environment itself.

    Adventure games are story/game hybrids. Take that as a starting point - there is an element of a game attached to some of these, but only those particular games are more story than game - they are in the minority. When academics grasp the story portion of a select few games and declare that in furthering the story element, they know how games need to work, you see in action the very thing that makes us keep the academics at arm's length: We're not interested in turning our games into books, and we have little patience for ivory tower authors who loudly proclaim that we're failing when we don't do just that.

    My opinions are not always those of my employer - they keep us on a long leash and give us amazing amounts of freedom to express ourselves at Midway, etc., etc., etc., and you should feel sorry for yourself if you don't work here.

    • why the hell did you guys stop making pinball games/parts then :P and go on to casino games :P
      • why the hell did you guys stop making pinball games/parts then :P and go on to casino games :P

        I anticipate that Spy Hunter Craps, 5 Card Blitz, Baseball poker and Mortal Roulette are going to knock your fucking socks off. That, or one of us is confusing Midway and Williams.

        The very same guys that were doing arcade games are now creating a whole new suite of console titles. Real Midway developers doing next gen console instead of relying on 3rd party arcade-to-console ports equals serious gameplay.

        • heh .. i semi-intentionally juxtaposed :P
          bally/midway . bally/williams ..

          i know its a different company, but my subconcious refuses to believe.

          its all cause of the mortal kombat jokes in the Revenge from mars game .. i haven't been the same since.
    • by kabir (35200)
      Can you perhaps recommend a good place to start in his writings? He seems to have been rather prolific ;)
      • Can you perhaps recommend a good place to start in his writings? He seems to have been rather prolific ;)

        Fetch A Piaget Primer: How a Child Thinks from your favorite patent-friendly online bookseller [bamm.com]. It's simple and fun to read.

        Every book I've read about/by Piaget covers the same material with different examples and similar interpretations. You can even find enough to work with online if you'd like to save a buck - every educator has probably written at least one paper about Piaget in his or her time.

    • Yeah, but...

      I could probably end my post there, and you'd know what I'd have to say, wouldn't you?

      The "yeah" is that games are play, and play doesn't have any story to it. It's like building whole civilizations with Fischertechnik/Lego/Erector (see Warcraft), or playing house with dolls (see The Sims), or shooting your buddies and the family cat with water pistols (see Quake), or putting the pieces of a puzzle together (see Tetris).

      The "but" part is that I don't think adventure and role-playing games are play in the same sense. They're more like leisure. You're reading a book, but instead of becoming a character and vicariously living his/her adventure in your mind, you actually get to be the character on the screen, one step closer.

      So what's happening here is not the mutation of the game into something better but the mutation of the story into something better. Great RPGs, like Binary Systems' Starflight (there's a throwback to the past for ya), give you a universe, and you get to go out and find the story.

      I think that's what excites the ivory tower elite the most.
      • Unfortunately, I think it's actually the mutation of the story into something worse.


        I've never encountered a game that was even remotely as captivating on a storytelling level as a good book or movie. Face it: True interactivity kills stories because you can't ensure that the player will follow the script, and without a planned script (which cannot realistically have more than a few branches), the story goes to shambles. On the other hand, if you force the player to stick to the planned script, they feel constrained and the interactivity becomes a travesty. The only way to avoid this is with other gaming elements, like the combat in RPGs, but that tends to become tedious in itself.


        When I look at console RPGs, I see interesting characters and promises of an interesting story, but I really don't have time to spend 100 hours to uncover a story that really isn't any better than what I get in a 500 page book or 2 hour movie.

    • Good games drive a player from a stage where they basically learn to move (sensorimotor operations) to one of grossly influencing the environment

      I see a parallel between this and successful interaction between a teacher and student(s). Replace "games" with "teachers" and "players" with "students" in your comments to see what I mean:

      If the student cannot establish a synergistic state with the teacher early on, the teacher has failed. A good teacher rewards the student to draw them in, making them think they've overcome the system...

      Recall the teachings of Plato?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      In ten years, gamers will look back with fond recollections of Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Legend of Zelda, and the like...

      Very, VERY few of them will consider "Mortal Kombat 4" or "NFL Blitz 2000" as anything more than muscle-twitch brain distractions.

      The difference between a technically sound game and an instant classic is in the storytelling. Unfortunately these days most game companies would rather crap out seventeen sequels to Virtual Duck Fucker than to sit down and make something with a compelling plot line and interesting characters.
      • Tetris was an instant classic, a game that just about anyone on the street can identify, and it had no story at all.

        Microsoft Flight Simulator is the best selling game of all time, and it has no story.

        Story is simply one of many ways to make a game.
        • Just to point Out, Microsoft Flight Simulator, even if you take ALL of it's versions together, was not the most popular game ever. And besides, there's a difference between playing a game and flying planes around in a pure simulator, in my opinion. A game goes somewhere, regardless of whether it uses a story... it has levels or something...
        • by Anonymous Coward
          No argument, Tetris is a great game. Addictive, maddening, and eternally replayable. For that matter, so are Galaga, Pac-Man and a host of other arcade twitch games... And yes, they have immediately forgettable storylines if any at all. In that way they are just games of skill; like pinball, target shooting, and any carnival games that predate electricity.

          But I have seen people brought to tears by the scripted death of a character in an RPG. I've talked to people who take the release week of Final Fantasy games off work so they can play uninterrupted. Why do people commit so wholeheartedly to these games? As human beings, we love stories. Interacting with one in this way can provoke emotion just like reading a good book or attending a Shakespearian play.

          I'm not a purist; I like games with no story just as much as ones with detailed plots. I got just as absorbed into Tony Hawk as I did Metal Gear Solid. There are also plenty of games with excellent stories but deplorable gameplay; Castlevania 64 had a pedigree of quality and it sucked like gravity.

          Story isn't vital to every game, but a good story can make a solid game engine into an unforgettable classic.
      • The difference between a technically sound game and an instant classic is in the storytelling.

        I have to disagree somewhat. What makes a game a classic is the whole package. Think of a game as a girl (I know its hard for some of you). First, you look for intelligence/good personality (story-telling). Ok, she's smart. But is she pretty (good graphics)? Yep. Ok. Is she good in bed (game play)? Damn straight. Ok. Any of these three traits are desirable, but wouldn't you rather have all three when picking a wife/girlfriend? Of course you would. Same with games. It's the games that have the best combination of storytelling, graphics, and gameplay that are the classics.
    • by the way (22503) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @07:07PM (#2257792)
      A good game rewards the player to draw them in, making them think they've overcome the system, from the state where they're fumbling with the controls to the stage where the control has become transparent through practice

      So true. But there's so much more that goes to make a 'good game'. In Trigger Happy: The Secret Life of Videogames Steven Poole (composer, Time Literary supplement author, and videogames enthusiast) sets out to answer the question 'What makes a videogame good?'. His attempt at understanding the videogame aesthetic does a great job of building a taxonomy of videogames and describing what makes a game enjoyable.

      I couldn't hope to capture his findings in this brief post, but suffice to see that neither story nor game mechanics are of themselves enough to make a good game. Other elements discussed by Poole includes the importance of balancing the right amount of reality vs fantasy, the importance of frame-rate, appropriate graphics and sound, the use of rewards, the development of an immersive experience, and a whole lot more.

      If anyone thinks that building a great game is easy and can be done by following a simple formula, I think you'll change you mind after reading this book.
    • While you have interesting points, and I agree with pretty much all of what you say, I think you are missing something.

      Yes, Quake is a great, ground-breaking game without a single shred of story, but that isn't the whole spectrum of games that are out there. It isn't even the whole spectrum of games that are good.

      There is another world besides twitch style games (user reaction time based). There is another realm of games that are good, the story telling games. I think that too many people ignore this distinction and just bitch about the lack of story in Quake (or whatever game), or bitch that Homeworld (or whatever game) is too boring (or whatever).

      The fact is, maybe that just isn't the type of game that you find interesting.

      I think the tag line for "XYZZY news" should sum it up: "the magazine for interactive fiction enthusiasts". What they talk about isn't games, but "interative fiction".

      I think a good hybrid game example would be Deus Ex, it has both the condition-response type of game play, in addition to the role-playing. There are countless others, I'm sure. It seems that most games are a mixture in one way or another, but that most of the current games represent an inverted bell curve. Most games are either on one side or another, with some in between.

    • Piaget (Score:2, Funny)

      by Nightpaw (18207)
      Yeah, computer games are no fun because as soon as a bad guy goes around the corner, I forget that he's there and I always end up getting clobbered.
    • "holding up storytelling as the holy grail of game design"

      Half Life = good interactive storytelling
      Half Life = considered holy grail of game design by many

      :) Everything's funny with the right perspective.
    • Midway, was it?

      Are you sure you work for Midway, or maybe its one of their competitors?
    • Well, it is a preference issue... some can be happy just running around randomly shooting people, but I don't see any enjoyment in that. You get a lot more out of something developing... a good game is technically well designed, and has progression. That progression can be by way of story, gaining levels, higher score, or a higher frag count. It's a matter of opinion which is the funnest. I personally think story is the best method, and I don't think it may even be a slight minority that agrees... but it's out of proportion, still. Compare the story quality of a good (not FF quality, but good) RPG to the story quality of a "good book," and try to tell me they're equal...
  • Maze (Score:3, Funny)

    by jmoriarty (179788) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @06:10PM (#2257616)
    You're in a maze of twisty little Slashdot comments, all alike.

    I miss the storytelling of those games, and the hours upon hours spent trying to figure out what the exact word the CENSORED parser was looking for. I guess that frustration has just been replaced with lag time in the new games.
  • The Ultima Saga (3 to 8) I feel are probably some of the best thought out games I've ever played. Ultima IV, in particular, given a single goal... and Ultima V where you had to choose between your your friend (Iola) (i think i remember that far back) And a village. Death for one or the other.

    Course, Unreal Tournament is pretty popular right now with me... and I LOVE Civilization and Alpha Centuri ... but they get old (and boring) quickly.

    Sounds like cookie cutter games are the wave of the future, and I don't know if I like it. Original thoughts limited by tools.... time to design new tools :)
  • Anybody else notice the lack of Y2K compliance? I've seen the same thing happen at sites with an old implementation of wwwboard...look at the bottom of the issue and you'll see:

    This page was last updated on Monday, September 3, 101.

    heh heh heh
  • by Illserve (56215) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @06:24PM (#2257673)
    Because I hate to see legends of old corrupted by those too lazy to do their fact checking (shame on you Adams), here's what happened with Rainz, the guy who killed Lord British, as told to me by the thief and filtered through 3 years of memory.

    The crowd had assembled, or part of it at least. British had just started addressing the crowd when someone in the crowd was peeking around in backpacks of those around him using his thieving skills. He found a firewall scroll, handed it off to Rainz, who threw it at Lord British for the hell of it, he didn't think it would hurt him.

    I'm not certain, but I think at this point, British may have mentioned something to the effect that this firewall couldn't hurt him, thinking that his invulnerability flag was on (not a ring, a GM power). Unbeknownst to him, someone had forgotten to turn it on and his life bar was dropping quickly and he fell over dead even as he gloated about his invulnerability. End of story. Rainz was banned, but the thief was never fingered.

    Thus was a gaming legend born.

    Interestingly, it was probably as a result of this incident and the screenshots circulated of it, that people were able to easily create UO comics depicting a dead Lord British.

    • I used to hang out with a couple of the UO developers, and this (parent article) is more or less what happened.

      The reason the flag needed to be reset was that shortly before the "town meeting", they rebooted the server to get ready for the big influx of traffic to that one spot.

      One of my friends was responsible for setting the flag back (why wouldn't this be saved? geesh), and simply forgot.

      As I recall, he got chewed out a bit for it, but eventually it just became a joke around the office.

      -l
    • You left out the best part.

      After British died, his 2nd-in-command, Lord Blackthorne panicked. He summoned 4 daemons to the scene, who promptly slaughtered many of the innocent bystanders who had gathered simply to be addressed by their virtual monarch.

      "Now we see the violence inherent in the system!", as it were.

      Read the Village Voice [villagevoice.com] account of the event, and keep the memory alive. Truly, for fans of videogame folklore, the assassination of Lord British is Grade A stuff. Golden.
    • Rainz was a notorious exploiter, both in the pre-alpha test and the beta. At the time he killed Lord British, he had millions of hit points (whereas the max for your average player is 100).

      I dislike that history is being skewed in his favor, making him out to be a good guy. My friends and I used to go out and hunt him with (literally) a dozen people, surround him, and beat on him for 15-20 minutes until he died.
      • How many other people were banned for exploiting in the same time? I remember very few, and I am fairly certain that were it not for his actions regarding Lord British, he would have not been "prosecuted".

        Were it not for him, we'd not have this great story.
    • Check out the screen shots [earthlink.net] [earthlink.net] of LB's death here. A picture is worth a thousand words!!
    • You right I got my facts messed up. Keep in mind this was a seminar without prepared notes and I was simply conversing with the panelists and audience. The story I recevied was second hand and it stuck in my memory. I am happy to receive the straight scoop now as it were.
  • Any Final Fantasy game on the SNES console, and even FF7 have got some of the best stories in games that I have ever seen.
  • When I think about what makes a a particular game fun to play, I think very little of the storyline. For most of the FPS games that people play nowadays, the storyline is just something we notice taking up space on the screen while waiting to connect to a multiplayer server. We'll take halflife for example. The reason the original halflife game didn't flourish was because of the story line getting in the way of the gameplay. It seemed every 5 minutes you would have to stop and wait for a character to talk to you for information on how do complete the mission. But if you look at all of the sucessful halflife mods out there (counterstrike [counter-strike.net], firearms [firearmsmod.com], paintball [paintball-mod.net]), It shows that the creation of the halflife engine was a great success, and that is why halflife was game of the year for the past few years. So depending on the target audience, games with really strong storylines dont fly well with the FPS game movement.
    • I would like to point out here that the storyline was the critical part of Half-Life's success as a singleplayer FPS, and if all it did was drop you into the second episode with a crowbar and tell you to bash up some headcrabs, it wouldn't be the same at all.
    • I have to disagree. I was totally immersed in Half-Life. While everyone else around the house was still tweaking their Quake 2 configs, I was absorbed with the mysteries of the Black Mesa facility.
  • by t_hunger (449259) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @06:27PM (#2257688)
    Hi!

    I don't know, maybe I'm just nostalgic. But computer games used to be great when I started out with my Amstrad CPC: Graphics were amazing, Sound not so much (the CPC had cheesy sound) and the Games were fascinating.I used to play such simple things like Boulderdash, Gryzor (a shoot em up) and all time classics like Bard's Tale and Elite.

    What made those games great? Considering nowadays games those were ridiculously simple: Few colors, 320x200 pixels and horrible sound. The stories? In Elite you fly around with a ship you could equip with a lot of gimmicks, you bought and sold goods to get money or you became a pirate and attacks innocent traders, you were able to smuggle forbidden goods. Sometimes you even got to do special missions (those really happened rarely). I'm not too deep into games anymore, but I don't know of a single game nowadays that comes anywhere near!

    Bard's Tale was so much fun too: You ran around with a party of adventurers and killed anything 'moving' (of course nothing did really move, this computer had 64K of RAM:-). Storyline? Well, you went to diffrent places to kill and eventually fought the ultimate evil wizard... Nothing compared to todays multiple CD epics. Yet, I did kill that evil wizard multiple times... today I hardly ever finish a game anymore.
    Why did that happen? Did I change? Or did the games get boring? Is it some kind of 'been there, done that'? I don't know.

    Playing todays games I am fascinated by the graphics and sounds for a while, I play for a few hours and then I'm getting bored. Somehow I keep getting the impression that the money goes to the artists, not to the script writers. Producing a computer game is getting more and more like making a movie: You need a script, but you get most of the audience with the special effects. Some gems (like Myst) emerge sometimes, but those are rare and far between...

    What really catches my imagination for a while is the multiplayer feature of todays games: Real humans are so much more challenging then those dump computer controlled opponents. But even there I eventually feel bored: Most games just don't let me do what I want to do. They restrict me too much to be fun for long.
    Am I the only one who feels like that?

    Regards,
    Tobias
    • You said you don't know a single game that matches up to Elite. I know one that far exceeds it. Escape Velocity [ambrosiasw.com] is the most versitile game I have seen. You can play it as a sort of RPG, space shooter, or simple trading game. Not only is there the story line of the Rebels vs. Confeds, you can download plugins that others have made. While the orignial game story isn't the ultimate of computer game story telling, many plugins are very detailed and have interesting plots. These plugins can be made to expand EV [ambrosiasw.com] as it is, or completly change all the missions, ships, outfits, and planets. It is made for the Mac by Ambrosia Software [ambrosiasw.com], but can be used in many Mac emulators I have seen.
      • Tickle us do we not laugh? Prick us do we not bleed? Wrong us, shall we not revenge? -General Chang


        I'm not sure if that is supposed to be funny. You must know that you have that quote attributed wrong. Even if Chang did say it he was quoting the original author: Shakespeare. It is from the Merchant of Venice and if you like that quote you would likely enjoy Merchant of Venice as well.
        • Ok, this now has nothing to do with the art of storytelling. I know Shakespeare said it, but it was the way Chang said it that I like. I know he said it because I have the .wav from ST:IV. It's there for your own interpretation. You can take it however you wish. So I'm quoting Chang, who quoted Shakespeare.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      There's a Palm OS game Space Trader that's based (largely) off of elite - some version of everything you mentioned is in it. The author mentions the influence of Elite in the About dropdown for the game, even.

      As for more modern games; Machievelli (sp?) the Prince - similar trading kind of game, though definite differences (commanding fleets of basic ships & larger armies). I've always liked Civ-Like games a lot (RTS as well, though).

      Part of it is "been there-done that"; after all, the field of game systems that work is fairly small. I think there is some less freedom, though not uniformly - it's partly story, so you have a reason to go from A to B, while with no story you can do C or D as well, and there are fewer consistency problems.

      You might like Daggerfall, though it's aging (and probably still buggy) - a game I always intended to pick up for free movement in the world; I think they may be making a sequel.

      Multiplayer brings in another whole host of problems with freedom, of course, with keeping things 'equal' between the players if it's confrontational.
      If it's cooperative, then there's being able to keep track of everyone.
    • Here's what happened: you grew up. Your tastes are more demanding, refined, jaded, whatever. Games that throw a pretty skin onto the same concept aren't that exciting -- but neither is some "back to basics" that simply rehashes the original concept. I would be bored stiff if I went back and replayed the Bards Tale games now, and not just because I finished them once already.

      It's production qualities like graphical polish, music, sound, writing, and voice acting that really makes a game an experience. If the game has any kind of story, it has to have mood. Otherwise you better have something addictive as tetris or solitaire. Alpha Centauri for example had graphics that were mediocre in the game engine (but quite consistent), but the cutscenes were sumptuous. The music was eerie and alien, the sound was harsh and industrial. And of course the excellent color text quotes for every single advance and building, not to mention diplomacy screens with complete sentences. All this created a mood that had me playing over and over. I find myself wanting to play Grim Fandango again (and can't, alas it doesn't work under win2k) for the same reasons: great story, beautiful art and music, and fabulous voice acting. These are all qualities that are *HARD* for any open-source project to get talent for, and unsurprisingly comprise a very large part of the budget of game development houses.
  • If you'll read the article, he hasn't hit level 20 yet. That's where the primrose path becomes choked with thorns. Storytelling and roleplaying takes a backseat to camping and competition. There's still alot to be said for EQ and what it provides, but I don't think it's got what Adams is looking for. The world is sterile by design, players cannot affect it at all. He'll figure that out soon enough.

    I would have preferred if he had focussed on Ultima Online instead. Because users are able to change so much, and thus create their own cities and quests within the game.

    It's all about user created content, and UO was fantastic in that aspect, whatever you may think of the rest of it. In my mind, none of the other MMORPG's have come close to UO in quality because of this (although Asheron's Call's new housing system may bridge that gap).
    • I have to agree with you! I played EQ up to about level 24 and then let my account sit there. I have since tried Asheron's Call and Anarchy Online. Enjoying both but really waiting for the storyline to startup in AO as promised by funcom. Scott www.msadams.com
      • You might be interested in all of the work that's been done with UO emulators. These are programs that emulate a UO server on your machine and other players can log into. This lets you really create your own world and some people have remolded UO to their heart's content. I toyed with the idea of creating one myself and with the aid of some friends and started the design, but didn't have the time to finish it. But even the small unfinished bit I worked on was extremely rewarding. I could define my own rules, change the terrain, add buildings, create my own monsters and design their AI, it was fantastic. My imagination and time were the only limitations.

        All the emulators need is some slightly more helpful design tools and NWN will be obsolete before it comes out. The best part is that for the most part, the emulators are written via open source techniques (and run on Linux of course :))

        Check out
        www.uoxdev.com

        and

        http://vulpin.burdell.org/pol/links.html

        But you don't need to design a world to get a taste of what can be done, pick up a cheap copy of the UO client at a store and log into someone's world.

        • I am spoiled by wanting good graphics too. I have not tried UO yet but others tell me not to bother. Right now I am deep into playing Arcanum and AO and beta testing games for Microsoft so my plate is fairly full. I am awating NeverWinter nights. I think there are great possibilites there for a good DM to make a really great game.
  • Zork [mrbillsadventureland.com] was a wonderful game. I would love to see a movie based on the storyline. I found this site [corona.bc.ca] which says that a movie has been conceived, but is in development Hell.


    Of course, I loved Dungeons and Dragons (even the cartoon), but couldn't stand the movie that just came out.

  • Before rpg/adventure games reach "the next level" in storytelling, we'll need to make some really major advances in in-game language and social interaction.

    Dialog trees and the simpler (a la Diablo) mechanisms of social interaction that we have in today's games are fine for today's stories, but if you want anything more, they get really limited really quickly.

    Since the days of text adventures and the old-style Sierra games, we abandoned user-input speech for simpler forms because computers were too limited, and actually dialoging with player-driven characters was unweildy and unrealistic. But in the year 2001 our computers, which can render 3 physical dimensions and intensely realistic video and audio ought to be able to handle more convincing linguistic social interaction.

    In today's games, stories are vehicles for killing things or for solving puzzles. I don't think that you're going to see these things disappear any time soon (most of us like killing things and solving puzzles) -- but there's a lot of room for story to become gameplay, and not garnish-for-gameplay, that has not been tapped yet.

    For example: really multiple storylines / outcomes. (You could do these with dialog trees but the amount of work/writing would be too much). Situations with moral consequences, situations where interpersonal problems change the game and how the story unfolds, that the player actuates. We have hints of this in Planescape, The Longest Journey, etc., but only hints, really.

    Kudos to the Piaget-poster. I'm a big fan of Piaget, and it's a good point that storytelling in video games is about cognitive mechanisms. In terms of solutions to these problems though, looking to Chomsky & other linguists, and to book-writers might be most productive.

    Ben Schneider
    Scenario Designer
    Stainless Steel Studios, Inc.
  • by cr0sh (43134) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @06:57PM (#2257766) Homepage
    ...is that Scott Adams finds text adventures boring [uwec.edu]...

    Why does this upset me so much?

    I will tell you why:

    Go to the bottom of that page, and notice that he gave away copies of Return to Pirate's Island 2 [msadams.com]...

    Guess what - that game, as it exists today - would not look like it does now had it not been for my direct input.

    You see, during the development of RTPI2, I was a beta tester for Scott, for this game. I, among other people, signed up on a mailing list, got copies of the game engine and data modules (an Windows EXE and various DAT files) to play around with - to note what was right, what was wrong, what should be improved.

    I noticed right off things to be improved - the descriptions of rooms and objects were very primitive - I asked him to change it, so that it would be more story-like. I gave him the suggestion of adding sound effects to help liven the game up a bit. It was strange, once I started making the various requests, there was a small hiatus in postings to the group from Scott, then he announced that he was going to completely revamp the engine based on my suggestions! I was floored!

    I had gotten onto the list, and became a beta tester, because I see him as an influence on my early computer life - I got into computers and programming because of the early games, especially text adventures. As a kid, I looked up to him in those early days as a notion of someone who had "made it" - there were others (you don't hear much from them - like Bill Budge, etc) - but to actually get this kind of chance, well - couldn't pass it up.

    But never did I expect to cause him to totally alter the game play of that new adventure. But I did, somehow.

    Anyhow, he finished up the game, thanked all of the volunteers, mailed each of us an autographed piece of the game script code, and gave each of us a copy of the finished game. The list went on for a while, then was shut down (not too many months ago, actually).

    But one thing he gave me (though I can't give it to anyone - at least not yet), is something that very few beta testers get - actual game code. You see, I knew what he was using for RTPI2 - Visual Basic. I offered to convert the system back to standard console mode, by first doing whatever cleanup to the VB code, then downconverting that to C, and making it portable (with a Linux port in mind for the future). Well, I got the code (and no, I will NOT give it to anyone, so don't even THINK about emailing me), and (sorry to say) - it was crap. Basically it was a VB wrapper around the old hacked up IBM BASICA source from the original game of RTPI (or was it GWBASIC?) - anyhow, it was ugly - damn ugly. I started a conversion, trying to straighten out the GOTOs and whatnot into more standard VB (and let's not turn this into a VB flame fest, alright?), but I stopped after a few days - it was horrible.

    But, I still have the code, and I might still convert it, someday...

    So - I can't understand why Scott says he hates text adventures - I think he might be bitter about the way things have gone with RTPI2 - as far as sales, etc - he just isn't making money there. Maybe he is also bitter about the fact that it is nearly impossible for a person to "go it alone" as far as making a game is concerned, and marketing it, and selling it.

    No, I don't think RTPI2 is the be all and end all of text adventures. Infocom has already proven what really can be done. I just can't understand why it is possible for fantasy fiction authors to make a bundle, but as soon as you try to make a text adventure game, no one seems will to buy the thing for "reading pleasure" - I tend to wonder if an ebook-type system, where you could actually read and adventure, would be more of the style (think of it as "choose-your-own-adventure" or "twist-a-plot", but on steroids). Would anybody buy such an interactive book (I am also thinking of Diamond Age here, as well)?
    • Hi Andrew! Neat running acroos your post here. WHat you have is all true. Though I really don't hate adventure games. I just don't find them as much fun as other games right now. I am enjoying games suchas Baldur's gate and Acranum and Anarachy Online. I do like the eye candy and the building of characters. Personally the last Adventure game that I did play was Myst series. Yup the code indeed was really sphagethi code for RTPI2. At one point I started a complete converison myself to C++ but basically quit. the entire package really needs a totally redesign and I had to ask myself "why bother?". I really did expect to do another game as this one was simply written because so many peole had asked me to do one more. Anyway many thanks for all your input during beta Andrew, you really are the one who made the biggest difference in the final state of the game. Scott
      • I had another poster email me about this - I want you, Scott (and everyone else reading this), to understand that I don't hold any kind of grudge or anything toward you about your feelings toward adventure games.

        I also want to let you know that I still have that code, and I have abided by the agreement we made regarding it. Someday I really do want to convert it, and it pains me that I stopped, but it was paining me to continue (though I still consider it amazing that you managed to shoehorn that kind of code into VB and get it to work). I would like to make it as portable as possible - but it would be a massive effort.

        Eye candy is good, but I enjoy a good story more than anything else, and being able to interact with that story would make it even better. One thing I was thinking about is what if you took a grid based approach to adventure games, where each cell in the game is a portion of a room, and is described via some form of XML in the cell. Done carefully, and elaborately, you would have the world of the game described in nice detail, and could move through it like a text adventure (imagine being able to say "Look North" - and getting "You see off in the distance a row of trees, possibly the beginnings of a forest. In front of the trees a deer is standing, drinking from stream. A glint can be seen in the grass nearby, a few paces away. At your feet is a small rock." - you could then respond with "Walk North to Deer" or similar). If you wanted, the same XML would describe tiles or whatnot to render the world in more detail, like Ultima style (and could also serve for an automapping feature, perhaps). The XML could further be used in some kind of portal or world style 3D engine, to describe the area. Make the cells "cubes" (ie, a 3D structure), and very nice 3D engines could be used to render the world, or a Diablo-esque iso engine could be used, or the world could be described based on your "gaze" in the text world.

        Conversing with characters, as well as having "moving" characters, could rely on state machine engines, as well as possibly Eliza-like parsing engines, to carry on a conversation, within the "knowledge" of the NPC being talked to. If the logic was advanced enough, the characters could each be assigned various attributes to determine how good they are at remembering things, etc - and as they wandered about by the state machine code, they could remember what they saw (have them "gaze" around), then when questioned by the player, the character could say, like "Just north of the main road is a stream, I think I saw a deer drinking there - now, where did I put my glasses" - leading an astute player to investigate, getting the description I described before, seeing the glint in the grass (the glasses?) - maybe finding the NPC again, who would then be able to read a book detailing further info for the intrepid adventurer.

        Man - I am wanting to write this myself! The idea that this could be done - and I honestly believe it can - real interactive fiction, with a real 3D world described in words - is exhilerating.

        Text-based virtual reality, anyone?
        • Andrew (and others following the thread),

          If you're not already there (perhaps under a different identity), you might want to try checking out the archves of rec.arts.int-fiction [google.com] (the interactive fiction newsgroup), where threads like this pop up frequently. Some good discussions in the last week or so have involved AI for simulation vs. "good enough" NPCs for storytelling. Parser issues, how to do exposition, and the form of the prologue have also been covered.

          I'd also recommend recent interactive fiction by Emily Short and Adam Cadre. They've both coded complex stories involving NPCs that "remember" and have emotional states. This is different from the Oz Project or similar character-based efforts where there's no story (just bits of scripted behavior) and no PC per se (just a bunch of NPCs). If you'd like to try out an Emily Short character study, try Galatea [uwec.edu], which is light-years ahead of Eliza (though not quite up to the standards of HAL). For sheer gameplay, with a heavier emphasis on puzzles, try Graham Nelson's works.

          As for recent commercial computer games with story elements... already people are saying that hundreds of hours worth of computer-based stories are boring. Perhaps authors simply haven't found the right combination of skills and subject matter that unlocks the power of the media.

          When the average person finally gets access to tools that can create lifelike graphics of people, the stories that people will build with those tools will be richer and more engaging, thanks to the experimental work of amateur interactive fiction authors, beta-testers, reviewers, archivists, etc. We'll know what to do with the Holodeck once it goes mainstream (which is something commercial computer games haven't done).

          Of course, like most people, I don't always want a story when I play a game.

          We invited Scott to join a panel that was part of an English Department festival, for cryin' out loud. And any panel has to have a focus; so we focused on one aspect of games: the storytelling.

          Nobody's trying to smack the control pads out of anybody's hands.

          • I will have to check out the newsgroup later, but I tried out Galatea, and I must say it was pretty nice - more like interacting with a real individual. I will have to check out some of the IF you mentioned later by Short and Cadre.

            I don't believe that all games need stories, nor should all stories be games - but I do believe there is a middle ground, and some games and IF's have come close to perfect. I don't believe that graphics are absolutely necessary for a game to be good, or necessary for the person playing to imagine or believe they are interacting with another sentience - note, I have never met Scott Adams. I know he exists as a real person, but all conversations I have had with him have been text only - I don't even know what he sounds like (his voice).

            In a similar vein, back when I messed around with BBS systems (1987-1991), I had a female friend who I chatted with a _lot_ - she was sysop of a particular board in the town I lived in. This individual I supposedly met, but didn't know it was her (I never heard her say her name, which I knew), and only several days later did she tell me in a chat that she had seen me - but to this day I don't know what she looks like. We conversed via chat for several years - but all I know her from (in my mind) is via text. In a way, a totally virtual existance. If I didn't know better, she could have been a script executing on the BBS.

            Anyhow, it should be possible to come close to making a game that engaging, with a very detailed world to wander about in, acting in, changing, while a story and game unfolds. It would be difficult to code and design, but in my mind, that is half the fun. It would also be possible to display engines show the same story as text, low graphics, high graphics, VR - whatever - given a proper format for the scene description system.

            Even so, I think that text-only can be one of the best mediums for expression of these style games. Unfortunately, I think we are hindered by the display mechanism - that of a monitor and a computer - and perhaps a different device (maybe a rocketbook, or a future device using e-ink type pages) will be more palatable to the reading public...
            • Regarding Scott's voice:

              Check out the audio files on the XYZZY News article. You'll hear him. He was very engaging and entertaining.

              Regarding the display mechanism:

              In the last year, digital phone companies have licensed back cagalogues of IF games, hoping to sell a gaming service. Somebody computed how much it would cost to finish a game of Zork, and the result was astronomical, so I doubt much will come of this. Still, it's another way to get over the display mechanism problem.

              I can play all the Infocom games, all of Scott Adams' games and hundreds of other more recent ones (not all at the same time, of course), using a free interpreter on my PalmIII. In fact, that's typically how I play IF games now -- while watiting in line, or while my preschooler is momentarily occupied. I slogged through "Trinity" that way. I felt kind of sad when I removed "Galatea" to make room for something else -- like I had lost a friend that I'd been carrying around in my pocket.

              A little more about the content:

              When I finished Cadre's "Photopia," I stared at the final screen for about a minute, then immediately restarted it, looking for a way that I could drive the story to another conclusion. Didn't want to put it down. Felt the same way about the endgame of Grahm Nelson's "Jigsaw" -- I didn't want to leave it just yet.

              Scenes and moments and characters from many other IF games have stayed with me, too. My point is to encourage people to sample this particular style of storytelling.
        • Go ahead and start writing it! That is a much better idea than trying to convert my old sphagetti code. Publicly let me state that Andrew was the most important Beta tester I had and was the one who made me work the hardest to improve RTPI2. Personally I am far from satisfied with my final version but decided to put it out and stop putzing with it anymore. I have nothing but good feelings for Andrew! Good Luck on your endeavors!
  • Adams' statement that he doesn't like text adventures, "he finds
    them boring", is I think, a result of him not playing modern text
    adventures - or Interactive Fiction as the afficianados refer to
    them :-)

    As the host of the event says, "recent text adventures are of the
    quality of the short story". I couldn't agree more. Photopia by
    Adam Cadre is I think, the pinnacle, so far, of story telling in
    the computer game medium. It's not puzzle based, as you might
    expect, but a surprising story delicately told.

    Interested readers can find it at the interactive fiction
    depository, (I can't connect at the moment for some reason so I
    can't offer the complete URI)

    ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive

    On a related note: my Scott Adams interpreter is based on a
    program written by Alan Cox (Scott-Free). Does anyone know if
    this is THE Alan Cox?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    One of the most interesting things about creating a story-based game -- and for the sake of this discussion we'll say adventure games are the truest type of "game that tells a story" -- is the parallel development of puzzles and story.

    For a long time people have analyzed the telling of stories, and in particular the work of Joseph Campbell has been very prominent. Christopher Vogler, with his book The Writer's Journey : Mythic Structure for Writers [amazon.com], took it a step further and effectively wrote a formula for creating a story.

    Well, I wrote my own adventure game engine [twilightsoftware.com] and released it to the public, and then I started making my own shoestring-budget adventure games.

    I found Vogler's book invaluable for two reasons:

    Firstly, it helps to create a story that has all the elements that the audience expects in a well-told story.

    Secondly, the same formula helps in designing puzzles that progress forward.


    While I can talk about how I did this in my own games, it's cool to take a look at some of the classics and see how they used the same ideas. Ron Gilbert's phenomenal Monkey Island 2 is one such example. Act one has a story that introduces the characters and a small setting, with three or four items that are required to build the voodoo doll. A string of three or four independent puzzles are chained together with one conclusion. Act Two sees the world expanded to a number of islands, with a similar set of separate strings of puzzles. Act Three is a kind of grand showdown. But the hero's journey is not yet complete, and Guybrush faces what I always called Act Four, on the final island, in which the hero is redeemed, in a fashion. Reading Vogler's book helped clarify many of the choices made.

    Hmm, where is this post going? I guess there are a few points:

    - Building puzzles that integrate with story can be a beautiful and elegant process.

    - Having a plan as to how the story will be laid out makes it easier to design how puzzles are laid out to integrate with the journey.


    Making shoestring-budget adventure games with your friends as FMV actors is cool fun :)

    - Brendan

  • To me these books are the equivalent of the story telling that happens in games at the moment. Read straight through(a kid in the back of a car can't really throw dice) they are rather simplistic and not exactly fun, the only joy came out of the actual participation. Not through the story. Take Ultima Underworld, the story was put to the back, the joy was in the travelling through the world, the joy was making the story for yourself, using your imagination. This is what makes a great game. A set of toys, a set of devices which enables the player to interact with the given world which though has an ultimate goal, the path to that goal is not dictated.

    The amount of times I've played a game to a point and then had to fervently click a button to get through the cut-scenes simply so that I can get back to the proper business of playing the game, gets me quite depressed. I don't play a game so that I can listen to the developers story, I play a game so that I can devise my own. Sure give me pointers to the characters but don't tell me a story, let me devise my own.
  • The assumption that all games today are not as entertaining as yesteryear's is really starting to get on my nerves.

    Guess what, you can't compare games like Asteroids and Super Mario Bros to a game like Quake or Everquest. Why? Simple. Games back in the day were appealing for one of two reasons. One, because we're all a bunch of geeks and crap like computers and game consoles interests us, or two, because it was an entertaining means of telling a story.

    Nowadays, the great games are the ones that are innovative or play well. I play these games because it's fun trying to kill a baddy that's ducking behind something, or because I can explore, horde and try things, not because it has neat graphics or a great story (athough those are bonuses). If I was in search of a great story, I wouldn't buy a game, I'd go buy a book.
  • As the subject says, storylines are for the weak - they try and make up for shoddy "gameplay." Notice I put "gameplay" in quotes, because I can't really define it and because that one word is a congolmeration of things: graphics, sound, interface, and the like - but not plot. Take some of the most classic and loved games: Tetris, Quake, Windows Solitaire. They don't have plots or really fancy graphics (well, Quake did, but that was not the attractant). what made them good was their missions.

    In Tetris you have to get a bunch of odd shapes into lines. No reason, you just do, and have a huge amount of fun in the process (and get really addicted). Quake? Sure, there's a story, but no one cares about it. The game is fundamenatlly Bowing Shit Up in new and creative ways. Solitaire? You try and win - that's it.


    Being a Windows user, I've recently fallen in love with Minesweeper. It has no graphics, sound, FMV, or plot - you simply try and win. I can play Starcarft for maybe an hour and get sick of it; I can play Minesweeper until my eyes hurt from the small squares.

    As I see it, that's the key to making a good game. You don't need a plot or a reason for doing somthing, you just make the goal winning. In all three of the games I mentioned above (and racing games like GT3) the M.O. is essentially the same. You turn the game on, and then you figure out how to win (keeping whatever parameteres the game designer has set for you in mind).

    When you put a plot in a game you cover over the primary reason to play: to win. These are the true classic games - ones where the only thing that starts you into the game is the desire to conquor, and to do so you must perform a creative series of acrobatics are proscribed by the game designer. As I said earlier, storylines are for the weak...

  • I don't think that 'pre-Infocom' applies as a description of Scott Adams works. As a matter of fact, the first Zork was implemented as a direct result of the enthusiasm that some bright guys at MIT got when they saw 'Colossal Caves', the Fortran program that is really the first example of 'adventure'.

    The first Infocom games date from the early 70's, and were later ported to popular platforms such as the Apple II. I've played some games by Scott Adams in the early 80's, and while they were fun, nothing could compare to Zork.

  • I loved those games when I played them in 1979 on my TRS-80 Model I (with a cassette player). My uncle ran a computer store and gave me copies of Pyramid Of Doom, Voodoo Castle, and Ghost Town.

    We played them for hours, and there were no websites to visit for hints, cheats, or walkthrus. There was nothing more satisfying then dropping a treasure into the treasure area and looking at your score jump.

    I still have all of those adventures in a box somewhere.
  • I've always thought that Bungie was successful in finding a good mix between a compelling story and an innovative gaming engine. Look at engines like those in Marathon, Myth, Oni, and the upcoming Halo. They always made some significant contribution to their respective genres, whether it be in graphics, physics, or gameplay. Additionally, the story in most of these is reason enough to play them; for Myth and Marathon I was especially compelled to keep playing just so I could find out what would happen next. To get a sense of the importance of a good universe and plot background, check out the Marathon's Story [bungie.org] page. For a game released in 1995/1994, it's pretty amazing that the site is still being updated almost every day (except, of course, when the maintainer is on vacation ^.^).
  • When Dilbert first came out, I thought to myself, "Gee, the Adventureland/Voodoo Castle/Pirate's Cove/The Count guy has got a comic strip now. Pretty neat!"

    Boy was I bummed when it turned out to be a different Scott Adams...

    • In the early days of the Internet Dilbert's Scott Adams would get email meant for me. In one of his ealiest internet newsletters Scott ask if anyone knew of this adventurer writing Scott Adams so he could give him his fan mail. Eventually Scott and I connected up and he was then able to pass my email address to those who wrote him. I always wondered if Scott wasn't really me in some alternate timeline twist. LOL

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