Robert Clark

Match wits with city hall in this nail-biting text-adventure game, where the words of a condemned, amnesia-stricken prisoner are in your very hands.


Classes Collective Storytelling,Interactive Storytelling and Alternative Reality Games

Usually, computer and video-games leave the interactivity of their worlds out of dialogue, and instead prefer to leave those potentially rich moments of character building and plot development to passive cut-scenes. This game, however, is built on the opposite paradigm, placing a protagonist's dialogue directly into the control of the player, allowing them to think from the point of view of their character, instead of just sitting back and watching events unfold.

In this game, players assume the role a prisoner who is under arrest and interrogation for a terrible crime. The prisoner is stricken with amnesia, and cannot remember whether or not he is guilty or innocent, but must find out the truth behind his case if he wishes to escape from captivity alive. Using the simple, yet complex, options of asking Questions, stating Answers and saying Yes or No, players must navigate through the arguments of guards, lawyers and their own minds in order to beat the system unlock the mystery of this strange legal process.

Inspired by authors, filmmakers and game creators like Franz Kafka, Fritz Lang and Hideo Kojima, "Wiseguy" is designed to give players the experience of a dictatorial, dystopian society which may bear more similarities to their own lives than they know. As a meditation on the themes of liberty, justice-gone-wrong and free speech, it intends to impart its message of questioning authority through gameplay and writing alone. As a new method of streamlining the interactivity of dialogue in digital narratives, it hopes to raise new possibilities for storytelling in games. As a game itself, however-- well, that's for the players to decide.

Note-- the file linked in the URL provides the first completed scene of the game, and not the completed work, which should be finished by the time of the show.

Largely, games with an interactive dialogue component in the past have relied either upon simple dialogue-trees (such as the old LucasArts adventure games) in which players choose one of several prepared lines of speech, or text-input (such as "Facade") in which they type out the words manually. In the former, the gaming experience is made two-dimensional and superficial thanks to the way in which players can always see exactly what their options are, while in the latter, the experience is confounded by the wide breadth of options and the limited reach of the game's ability to recognize those options-- in other words, one doesn't give you enough freedom, while the other gives you far too much.

Ideally, the players best suited to this project would be dedicated gamers who have grown frustrated and bored with the way games have relied upon non-interactive cut-scenes or rudimentary, uninvolving dialogue-trees to progress a title's plot-points through speaking scenes. While those already savvy to the conventions of gaming would obviously be the best prepared for such a project, however, it is hoped that the game itself would be user-friendly enough to new players, as well.

User Scenario
The player inputs commands during the game by pressing the control key while holding any of the four arrow keys, which stand for four dialogue options-- Question, Answer, Yes and No. Any two of these options can be combined by holding two keys at a time and pressing control, and holding those keys in different orders can result in different dialogue. Depending upon how the player answers and asks questions, they may add and subtract from two life bars-- their own, and their opponent's. The object of the game is to survive a conversation by depleting the opponent's life bar while keeping the player's full, and the player may learn which choices are advantageous and which are dangerous by trial-and-error, as well as plain rhetorical logic. Finally, the player may win or lose, which brings it to the very heart of the definition of a game-- unlike other games where dialogue is interactive, this is one you can actually lose.

Written in a series of elaborate XML's and called into Flash, "Wiseguy" uses the most basic of independent game-making tools to create a simple text-based experience, with a minimum of visual accompaniment. In time, of course, this gameplay may very well be injected into established game genres, allowing more aspects of their narratives to be expressed through player agency rather than passive viewership.

Basically, I learned that even though my programming skills are weak and indebted to talents far more capable than my own (see below), that I was able to handle much more coding than I ever thought possible, and with that realization gained a great feeling of independence. More importantly, however, I learned that a massive amount of writing is necessary to make even the briefest of exchanges an interactive experience, and hopefully those efforts will be well-recieved.