Steamships, vampires, pirates, space colonists and emergent narrative

This is a bit of a portmanteau post. Which I guess is what one gets when one’s mind has been concentrating on the mid-term exam for a Coursera statistics course. In the end I got 84%. I might have worked harder (you are allowed pretty much as many retakes as you want) to get a perfect 100, but, you know, life’s too short. And all the time I was discovering things I wanted to share and play with.

First of all, the Full Steam Ahead game from SS Great Britain in Bristol. Created by Aardman for the historic ship, this is a deceptively simple game that explains the principles of Naval Architecture, setting ship design challenges fro the player, and equipping them with the skills and expertise to build a ship of their own for the free-play challenges. I’ve not had much time to explore it, but its looks like its could absorb many pleasant hours as you refine and test your designs.

Next up, Bram Stoker’s Vampires, a game designed for Dublin’s Science Gallery by Haunted Planet. Designed to be played in the vicinity of Trinity College, Dublin (where Bram Stoker, among many famous writers etc., studied), it can in fact be played anywhere else too. It’s a dedicated app for Android, and downloadable content of the Haunted Planet app on iOS. I haven’t actually played this all yet, but it has won awards.

What I have been playing is my 14th Anniversary present from my wife: Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag. I love pirates, me. Not the actual ones you understand, but the romantic ideal of the pirate, and this iteration of Assassin’s Creed, has sea battles, quests to collect sea shanties for your crew to sing, and Caribbean weather to boot! The game starts well, with your avatar taking the wheel of a ship in the midst of a battle. Inevitably, you find yourself shipwrecked on an island, with an “assassin” of the order that gives its name to the franchise. Best him in combat, steal his clothes and get rescued, and you are on your way to a life of piracy.

But not directly. After this first scene you awake in a first-person modern day setting, and it turns our you are researching history for a video game company. Its a pretty clever company apparently, that has the technology for you to conduct your research by “synchronizing” with the life of an actual seventeenth century ancestor (or something like that, I’ve only just started playing).

To be honest, these cinematic cut-scenes are quite intrusive to someone like me that seeks only a ship “and a star to sail her by.” There were no cut-scenes as such in Skyrim, and I think it was better for it, even if the conversations your character had were thus stilted and repetitive. The cut scenes in Red Dead Redemption were somehow more in-keeping that the ones I’ve encounter this far in Black Flag, less offensively jarring. I came across an interesting article about game narrative, that could be seen simply as a diatribe against cut-scenes, but make some very valid points about emergent narrative, citing Dwarf Fortress as an example. The same game was mentioned frequently in Tynan Sylvester’s book.Talking of whom, I notice a spike in visits directed to this blog from Tynan Sylvester’s site last month. That site, it seemed, was getting a lot of hits, interest generated by his Kickstarter for Rimworld. I enjoyed his book so much felt compelled to pledge a contribution myself, and so I’ve had the opportunity to play an alpha release of that game.

Rimworld is aiming for exactly the sort of emergent narrative described in Terence Lee’s article. Of particular interest is that Sylvester is experimenting with different automatic narrators which will become (I hope) a more nuanced version of difficulty level for the game.

Of course its a challenge to think of emergent narrative in a heritage interpretation context, though an experimental archaeology sim would be an obvious place to start.