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Apr 13

2016

First Year Demons: Educational Game vs. Story Game

Posted by: Becky Slitt | Comments (0)

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series of posts about the Hosted Game First Year Demons. In the first part, I talked about games in education, and why ChoiceScript games can be a good method for teaching about culture. In the second part, I talked about our process for developing the setting and story for First Year Demons. In this part, I’ll talk about the differences in design and story between the two versions of the game.

Educational Game vs. Story Game

An educational game – at least, this particular variety of educational game – is written with the intent of teaching specific information. That means that there must be explicitly right and wrong ways for the player to act, with the right way being to make choices that demonstrate mastery of the target information. This is which is completely different from the guiding philosophy of Choice of Games. In Choice of Games stories, there are no right or wrong answers, just different paths through the story, different approaches to solving problems, and different potential personalities for the PC. While some answers in a Choice of Games story can lead to more successful outcomes than others, these results are not designed to reinforce a way of thinking or endorse any particular set of choices. However, in an educational game, it would be confusing and discouraging to the learner if making choices consistent with the curriculum led to unsuccessful outcomes.

So for First Year Demons, I had to think entirely differently about choices. There had to be right and wrong answers: the right answer was the one that reflected the principles that we were trying to teach; the wrong answers were the ones that didn’t. Every time the player made a choice, the game had to show whether that choice was right or wrong, and why.

Two of the techniques I used for this were: 1) Feedback from other characters, and 2) Restricting choices.

Here’s an example of the first technique: feedback from other characters. To illustrate the cultural importance of showing respect for elder relatives, I set up the following scenario in the opening scene:

 

demonattack

 

To attack the demon again would clearly be disobeying the PC’s uncle, which goes against the traditional value of filial piety that we were trying to teach. If the PC chooses that option, they get the following response:

shameresponse

 

Eldest Uncle’s words show the player that they have made the wrong choice; his anger and Mei’s shock reinforce the PC’s transgression of cultural norms.

The second technique was to convey cultural information by restricting the options available to the PC. Here’s an example from later on in the game: the PC has just discovered that their professor made a mistake, and is talking to their friends about what to do.

profmistake

 

Here, the options are limited in two ways, both of which communicate the cultural values that we wanted the player to learn.

First, asking the professor directly is ruled out by an NPC before the options are given: it would be a terrible breach of cultural norms to embarrass a teacher (or elder relative, or anyone in a position of power) by calling attention to their mistake.

Second, if the PC suggests that they and their friends should let the other students fend for themselves, the NPCs rule that out, too:

 

profresponse

This scene comes relatively late in the game, so by this point the player should have learned the importance of the cultural value of interdependence. A Chinese student in this situation would not only want to help their professor save face, but would also want to help their fellow students with the additional information that they’d learned. Therefore, the “wrong” option was available, but presented penalties for the player if they chose it. Suggesting that they keep that information to themselves is a breach of that cultural norm – which the NPCs show by their reaction, and which the game shows by its insistence that the player select another option.

 

The Final Version

First Year Demons now exists in two versions: the one originally developed for the educational project, and the one that’s more typical of the ChoiceScript style. A large part of the process of turning the first into the second consisted of relaxing the choice restrictions and narrative techniques that made First Year Demons an educational tool and part of a controlled experiment.

I’ll try not to give too many spoilers, because I hope you’ll play the game! But here is a general discussion of what I did.

I reduced the number of cultural factors that were tracked as stats, and added in stats that tracked weapons and magic skills. I also added stats that tracked the PC’s relationships with various NPCs. Those changes allowed me to make the story much more dynamic: the NPCs’ conversations with the PC could differ based on the strength of their relationship, and the PC could succeed or fail at different tasks based on their skills.

I cut some of the most obviously instructional choices, and included an opportunity for the player to choose the “wrong” option – ie, the one that doesn’t conform to Chinese cultural norms. For instance, in the scene I discussed above, the new version actually lets the PC be selfish enough to keep the correct information to themselves.

I added many more potential endings: total victories, total failures, and partial victories. Plus, there were multiple shadings within those endings to take into account the PC’s relationships with different NPCs as well as the different skills and personality traits that they’d built up over the game.

You can play both versions: go ahead and see what’s different!

 

What’s Next?

I hope that more educators at all levels will take advantage of ChoiceScript as a teaching tool. Given their strengths in conveying cultural information, ChoiceScript games would be a natural fit for teaching history: students could learn about history by navigating a story set in the past, or explore elements of historical causality by imagining what would happen if they make different choices from those made by real historical figures.

It’s encouraging and exciting to see that immersive games are already being used in some classrooms to teach language and culture. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, students have to speak Chinese in an Alternate Reality Game as part of their class and exam. And at Brooklyn International High School, students new to the US learn about their new country’s history through immersive digital games.

More educational projects using ChoiceScript are in the works, too. Are you using ChoiceScript in your classroom? Have you written an educational game? Let us know!

Supported by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) via Department of Interior, Interior Business Center, contract number D13PC00246.  The U.S. government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for Governmental purposes notwithstanding any copyright annotation thereon.  Disclaimer:  The views and conclusions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsements, either expressed or implied, of IARPA, DOI/IBC, or the U.S. Government.

 

Apr 11

2016

First Year Demons: The Limits of Setting and Story

Posted by: Becky Slitt | Comments (0)

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series of posts about First Year Demons. In the first part, I talked about games in education, and why ChoiceScript games can be a good method for teaching about culture. In this part, I’ll talk about how we decided on the setting and story for First Year Demons.

Choosing a Culture and Story

The people who would be playing these games to learn the information contained in them would primarily be university students in the US and Canada. Therefore, we took North American culture as our “home” culture. We decided that the contrast culture – the one being taught through the game – would be Chinese culture, because there are several easily identifiable and easily measurable differences between culture in China and North America, and because there’s a large amount of existing research on those differences.

Obviously, there are many internal variations within the cultures of North America and China alike, so even to make those choices was to engage in a certain degree of generalization. But for a preliminary project, generalization is almost inevitable.

Next, we decided that the story should be about a university student, so that the North American university students who would be playing the game would be able to identify more closely with the main character. That would facilitate the insider perspective that we were trying to achieve. Having a familiar setting would also highlight the points of difference more clearly.

To foreground our cultural factors even more, we added a supernatural element to the story: the main character’s family was part of a secret order of demon hunters who upheld the balance of the universe through their actions. That would make the cultural values of interdependence and filial piety inherent to the story: it’s much more important to respect and cooperate with your relatives if your life depends on it.

The team who originally developed the story included people who grew up in China, who have family ties to China, and whose academic research focuses on Chinese culture. But I was the lead writer – and, and as a writer, I admit to having felt a bit of apprehension. I’m not Chinese, and I’ve never even visited China. How was I supposed to help the reader feel like an insider in Chinese culture when I’m an outsider myself?

This is an issue that many authors have grappled with, and that has particularly come to the forefront in recent conversations about inclusion and diversity in science fiction and fantasy writing. Alyc Helms’s recent article on intersectionality sums it up very well, and Carolyn VanEseltine outlines her process in a similar situation here.

In this respect, my teammates were invaluable. People who did have the insider knowledge that I lacked took the lead in creating the initial story, directed me towards books and movies that would give me the information that I needed, and helped me recognize how my own culturally-ingrained perspective shaped my thoughts. I learned a great deal throughout the writing process, both about China and about the limitations of writing about any culture that I’m not a part of myself. I would never presume to think that I’m an expert, but I’ve done my absolute best to be diligent in my research. If any errors remain, I will do my best to correct them as soon as I find out.

 

Setting the Boundaries

The nature of the project meant that we had to impose certain boundaries on the story to get it to fit the requirements of good experimental design.

First, we had to make sure that every player had the same amount of time to learn the necessary information. For logistical reasons, that amount had to be a relatively short: 45 minutes or less.

Second, we needed to give every player as close to the same experience as possible. The goal of the experiment was to test the differences in learning from a first-person vs. third-person perspective, so we had to minimize all other differences besides the difference in perspective.

That meant that even though the story was interactive, the game had to have as few branches as possible, and hardly any opportunities for choices to result in a dramatically different story. This is a completely different approach from the usual method of writing a Choice of Games story. In Choice of Games stories, the choices must matter, which means that some choices must send the player onto a different path because that’s the only logical result of those choices. In the original version of First Year Demons, that couldn’t happen.

So, for instance, in the original version of First Year Demons, there was only one possible ending. There was also very little variation within the story: when the PC fought demons, the outcome of the fight was determined ahead of time, because the story couldn’t branch based on whether the PC won or lost. Similarly, each roommate’s relationship with the PC was pre-determined rather than dynamically affected by the PC’s choices.

Third, the game had to assess how well the player had learned the material that we were trying to teach them. ChoiceScript stats offered the perfect method: each of the specific cultural factors that we were teaching became a stat. When the player made a choice that conformed with that cultural principle, the stat went up. From the player’s perspective, this feedback allowed them to view their progress, see whether their character was acting in accordance with cultural expectations, and (if necessary) change their responses to future choices. From the testers’ perspective, it allowed us to see how effective the game had been at teaching the cultural factors in question.

In the next blog post, I’ll talk more specifically about how First Year Demons’s educational purpose informed its structure and choices, and how the game changed as I transformed it from an educational tool into its current form.

Supported by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) via Department of Interior, Interior Business Center, contract number D13PC00246.  The U.S. government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for Governmental purposes notwithstanding any copyright annotation thereon.  Disclaimer:  The views and conclusions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsements, either expressed or implied, of IARPA, DOI/IBC, or the U.S. Government.

 

Apr 08

2016

The Hero Project: Redemption Season — America’s #1 reality show for heroes is back!

Posted by: Dan Fabulich | Comments (0)

The Hero Project: Redemption Season

We’re proud to announce that “The Hero Project: Redemption Season,” the latest in our popular “Choice of Games” line of multiple-choice interactive-fiction games, is now available for Steam, iOS, and Android. It’s 25% off until April 15th!

America’s #1 reality show for heroes is back for another season! Harness your superpowers to steal the spotlight, win votes, and save your sister!

“The Hero Project: Redemption Season” is the first installment in a new series of interactive novels by Zachary Sergi set in the “Heroes Rise” universe. Your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based–129,000 words, without graphics or sound effects–and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

In a contest where everyone has superpowers, your opponents can cause earthquakes and explosions, but you’re an average Ani-Powered who wakes up with different animal attributes every day. Will your hawk eyes or canine claws take you far enough in the competition to satisfy the only person who can help your sister? And what happens if winning isn’t enough?

As you advance, the decisions you make will transform viewers’ ideas of what it means to be a hero. Will you fight for your own goals, or make sacrifices for the good of society? Strive for what you believe is right by following the rules, or take down the whole system with more radical methods? Would you take wealth and fame over changing the world?

Choose wisely. It’s Redemption Season.

We hope you enjoy playing “The Hero Project: Redemption Season.” We encourage you to tell your friends about it, and recommend the game on StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. Don’t forget: our initial download rate determines our ranking on the App Store. The more times you download in the first week, the better our games will rank.

Apr 08

2016

Try a free Heroes Rise short story — “The YouPower Project”

Posted by: Dan Fabulich | Comments (0)

Serial Box

The YouPower Project” is a new free short story developed by Zachary Sergi and written by Michael Alan Nelson, set in the world of Heroes Rise, Zachary Sergi’s bestselling series of interactive novels.

It’s set in the months following “The Hero Project: Redemption Season,” but contains no spoilers for The Hero Project.

“The YouPower Project” has been brought to you in partnership with Serial Box. Serial Box brings everything that’s awesome about TV (easily digestible episodes, team written, new content every week) to what was already cool about books (well-crafted stories, talented authors, enjoyable anywhere).

If lots of people read it and vote for it, Serial Box will help us produce a whole season of Heroes Rise stories!

Try it today!

Apr 08

2016

New Hosted Game! “First Year Demons” by Rebecca Slitt

Posted by: Dan Fabulich | Comments (0)

There’s a new game in our Hosted Games program ready for you to play!

First Year Demons

For generations, your family has kept China safe from chaos demons. Now you must uphold that duty while you’re at university–just don’t tell your roommates!

First Year Demons” is an interactive fantasy novel by Rebecca Slitt, author of “Psy High.” Your choices control the story. It’s two games in one: a 30,000-word educational game, and a 43,000-word version of the same story that’s just for fun. Both games are entirely text-based–without graphics or sound effects–and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

As the youngest member of a family with a secret and ancient duty to keep China safe from demons, you must balance your relatives’ traditional values and expectations with the challenges of your first year at college and your secret study of potions, sword, and spells.

Between dorm­room parties and chemistry study sessions, you’ll experience battle and betrayal. You’ll learn just how important it is to stay close to your family–your life may depend on it! You’ll see how China is changing: maybe it’s better to offer your ancestors a smartphone than to slay a demon in their memory. And above all, you must not let your friends know why you really sneak out of your dorm so late at night! Demons are all around you, and you never know what might be hiding behind a friendly face.

  • Battle chaos demons
  • Play as male or female, gay, straight or bi
  • ­Hit the books, or go out and party!
  • ­Stay close to your family ­ or turn against them and be cast out
  • Specialize in swords, magic, or potions

Also, be sure to check out the series of blog posts we’re running, explaining the development process for “First Year Demons.”

Rebecca developed this game using ChoiceScript, a simple programming language for writing multiple-choice interactive novels like these. Writing games with ChoiceScript is easy and fun, even for authors with no programming experience. Write your own game and we’ll publish it for you, giving you a share of the revenue your game produces.

Apr 07

2016

First Year Demons: Teaching Through IF and Games

Posted by: Becky Slitt | Comments (1)

This is the first in a series of blog posts about the Hosted Game First Year Demons, which was released on April 8, 2016. In this first post, I’ll talk about why and how IF can be used as a teaching tool, especially its combination of immersive first-person perspective and concrete dynamic feedback. In the second post, I’ll talk about the process of developing the story, particularly why we chose to set it in China, and how I approached the process of writing a game whose characters inhabit a culture that isn’t my own. In the third post, I’ll talk about the way the game changed as I turned it from an educational exercise into a more story-centered game.

Where Did This Game Come From?

First Year Demons had its origins in a pilot project to assess the effectiveness of interactive fiction as a way of teaching cultural literacy.

Recent studies show that reading fiction can improve empathy and understanding. Interactive fiction and RPGs take this principle one step further by allowing the player to inhabit a first-person perspective. The player isn’t just learning about another culture; they’re imagining that they live in that culture.

So the pilot project’s team hypothesized that people would learn more effectively about other cultures through the first-person perspective of IF and roleplay than through third-person texts. Imagining themselves as insiders – navigating social situations, making the choices that a person in that culture would make, enacting cultural values – would allow a much deeper understanding than simply learning about that culture as an outsider.

The team planned to teach three groups of people the same information, each in a different way – third-person nonfiction, first-person IF, and live-action roleplay – and then assess how well each group learned that information. First Year Demons was going to be the IF text used in the experiment.

Unfortunately, the project was discontinued before we got to actually teach anyone or discover how well they learned. But in the course of developing the stories, we learned a lot about how to teach through IF.

 

Teaching Through Games

Obviously, the word “game” covers an enormous variety of activities, and there will always be exceptions to the rules that I’m setting out here. But games in general have some qualities that make them inherently good teaching tools, and especially for teaching cultural principles.

First, they offer concrete goals. Hit the ball far enough that you can run around the bases. Reach the other side of the board. Capture all of your opponent’s pieces. These goals can easily be made to serve an educational purpose. Get the rocket to land in the right place – for which you have to figure out the equation for its trajectory. Build roads that will deliver goods to the Inca emperor in the shortest amount of time – for which you have to learn about the technology and history of the empire.

Second, games provide instant feedback that tells the player whether they succeeded in moving towards their goal, and lets them try again if they didn’t. This cycle helps the player learn, and – more importantly for our purposes – allows them to demonstrate that they have learned.

In a ChoiceScript game, that feedback registers in multiple ways. First, there’s the stats screen: you can see the bars moving and numbers changing depending on the choices you make. Second, there’s the text itself, which can be made to comment on the results of your choices. This commentary can be both explicit (direct responses in the authorial voice) or implicit (narrative cues, character reactions, context, etc).

Those strengths – instant feedback, concrete goals, explicit and implicit social commentary – were what we wanted to draw on when we taught cultural norms through interactive fiction.

In the next blog post, I’ll talk about the process of developing the original concept, and how I adapted the ChoiceScript game design model to fit our experimental and educational needs.

Supported by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) via Department of Interior, Interior Business Center, contract number D13PC00246.  The U.S. government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for Governmental purposes notwithstanding any copyright annotation thereon.  Disclaimer:  The views and conclusions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsements, either expressed or implied, of IARPA, DOI/IBC, or the U.S. Government.

Mar 29

2016

New Hosted Game! “Guns of Infinity” by Paul Wang

Posted by: Dan Fabulich | Comments (3)

There’s a new game in our Hosted Games program ready for you to play!

Guns of Infinity

As commander of a squadron of cavalry, what will you sacrifice to win the war of gunpowder and magic? Return to the battlefield as a gentleman-officer of the Royal Tierran Army in this long-awaited sequel to “Sabres of Infinity.”

Guns of Infinity” is a 440,000 word interactive novel by Paul Wang, author of “Sabres of Infinity,” “Mecha Ace,” and “The Hero of Kendrickstone.” Your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based—without graphics or sound effects—and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination. It’s 40% off until April 1!

Will you befriend, betray, or romance the nobles, rogues, and spies of this epic world? Will you keep your men alive, or sacrifice them to your own greed in a bid for power and riches? Will you fight for power, riches, love, or glory?

  • Play the role of a gallant hero, or a self-serving scoundrel.
  • Use cunning, force, or sheer bravado to fight the Antari forces.
  • Train and drill your men for success on the battlefield.
  • Support your family financially, or leave them to fight off penury alone.

Combat, intrigue, and romance await in “Guns of Infinity!”

Paul developed this game using ChoiceScript, a simple programming language for writing multiple-choice interactive novels like these. Writing games with ChoiceScript is easy and fun, even for authors with no programming experience. Write your own game and we’ll publish it for you, giving you a share of the revenue your game produces.

Mar 29

2016

“Sabres of Infinity” available on Steam

Posted by: Dan Fabulich | Comments (0)

To celebrate the launch of Guns of Infinity, we’re also announcing that Paul’s earlier game in our Hosted Games program, Sabres of Infinity is out now on Steam!

Sabres of Infinity

Fight for glory as an officer of the Royal Tierran Army in a rich, low-fantasy world where gunpowder and magic rule the battlefield. Choose a horse, pick a sergeant and lead a unit of Royal Dragoons through five years of brutal war.

Sabres of Infinity is an epic interactive novel where you control the main character; your choices control the story.

Battle your enemies with your mind, your wits or with pistol and sword. Earn the loyalty of your subordinates and the friendship of your fellow officers, or betray them for your own gain. As armies, heroes and philosophies clash in the forests of the north, your choices could mean the difference between everlasting glory and an ignominious death.

Mar 11

2016

Two New Hosted Games: “Scarlet Sails” and “Magikiras”

Posted by: Dan Fabulich | Comments (3)

There are two more games in our Hosted Games program ready for you to play!

Scarlet Sails: A fantastical pirate romp on the high seas!

Scarlet Sails

Hoist the Jolly Roger and set sail to find the legendary Titan’s Treasure! Do you fight with a cutlass, or with magic? Are you biding your time until you can shoot your captain in the back, or are you the reason the rum is gone?

Scarlet Sails is an 80,000-word interactive novel by Felicity Banks, author of Attack of the Clockwork Army. Your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based–without graphics or sound effects–and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

  • Enjoy an 80,000 word adventure on the high seas.
  • One of the top ten games in the 2015 Interactive Fiction Competition.
  • Choose your personality, fighting style, and magical skill.
  • Choose who to love, including options for singlehood or polyamory.
  • Face the horrors of your past, and of the deep.
  • Find treasure, treachery, and maybe even true love.
  • Play as male or female, gay or straight.

Magikiras: Don powered armor to fight against terrorists and eldritch beings!

Magikiras

Magikiras is a 1,100,000-word story by Gabriel Chia that takes place in a near future where magic and technology exists side by side. Don powered armor as you take on terrorists and eldritch aliens in the not too distant future! Modify your armor to suit your needs and stand tall against your foes.

  • Choose your team and your enemy for different sides of the same story.
  • Play as a normal soldier or one with magic at their command.
  • Modify your powered armor to better suit your needs and preference.

These authors developed their games using ChoiceScript, a simple programming language for writing multiple-choice interactive novels like these. Writing games with ChoiceScript is easy and fun, even for authors with no programming experience. Write your own game and we’ll publish it for you, giving you a share of the revenue your game produces.

Mar 04

2016

Bundles in the iTunes App Store!

Posted by: Becky Slitt | Comments (2)

We’re excited to announce that we’re selling some of our games in a new way: as bundles on the Apple iTunes App Store.

We hope that this will introduce new players to classic games and give everyone the chance to find more games in their favorite genres.

You’ll still be able to buy each game individually. But if you’ve been looking for an easy way to stock up on a lot of games at once, or an easy way to find more games like the ones you love, this is your chance!

Here are some of the bundles we’ve got for you:

  • Sci Fi: games featuring spaceships, robots, and other elements of the future. Includes Choice of Robots, Mecha Ace, and more.
  • Urban Fantasy: games in a modern setting with a supernatural twist. Includes Choice of the Deathless, Psy High, and more.
  • Swords, Sandals, and Sorcery: classic fantasy in an ancient or medieval setting. Includes Pendragon Rising, Champion of the Gods, Hero of Kendrickstone, and more.
  • Our Hidden Gems: some of our highest-rated games. Includes Reckless Space Pirates, Thieves’ Gambit: Curse of the Black Cat, and more.
  • Literary: games with intricate plots and exceptional prose. Includes Hollywood Visionary, Slammed! and more.

If you already own one or more of the games in a given bundle, you can choose the Complete My Bundle option to get the others at a discount.

Check it out!

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