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Feature: 'Inside Interactive Fiction: An Interview with Emily Short'

For today's exclusive Gamasutra interview, interactive fiction writer and game designer Emily Short (Savoir-Faire) opens up about the nature of interactive fiction, and comments o
For today's exclusive Gamasutra interview, interactive fiction writer and game designer Emily Short (Savoir-Faire) opens up about the nature of interactive fiction, and comments on the importance of pacing and design to the medium. In this excerpt, Short offers her thoughts specifically on narrative pacing in interactive fiction, a facet of game design that she notes “should stay fun for as long as it takes to play” as well as be weighed against how long a player is likely to stay interested: “...no aspect should take more of the player's attention than it deserves. What that means in practical terms will vary a lot from one work to the next. In Savoir-Faire I mostly thought in terms of puzzles and their rewards. The first issue was providing enough fun. Every puzzle should have some reward, and a complicated or multi-stage puzzle should provide some minor rewards for partial solutions. So once I had the puzzle structure in mind (more about that later), I could see which puzzles were going to open a lot of new game-play and which were only going to bring the player up against another puzzle -- the structural equivalent of getting through one locked door to find that there's another beyond it. Everywhere there was a puzzle without much game-play reward, I added plot material for the player to discover instead -- ideally, a hint that raised more questions than it answered, something that would both reward him for getting part-way through the puzzle sequence and keep him interested in what would turn up next.” Short later adds: “This is standard game design stuff, but not all IF works the same way. A narrative piece might be structured around scenes rather than puzzles, and it might be easy enough that the player never really gets stuck. In that case, you have more conventional-fiction concerns instead: making it clear what the important conflicts are, foreshadowing major scenes, letting the player spend enough time around characters to care about them, and so on. Then you spend more time asking questions like "What is the minimum number of turns the player could spend on this scene? What's the maximum? If the shortest play-through is too short to be emotionally effective, what other interaction can we add to the scene to keep it lively? If it's possible to play a scene so slowly that it loses its punch, how do we hurry the player up? And what about the overall structure? If the total buildup to a crisis scene is too short, where do we add material (or whole scenes) to prepare the player better for what's coming?" And so on.” You can now read the full Gamasutra feature with more from Short concerning her thoughts on interactive fiction design, as well as what comes next for game writing (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).

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