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Outside Satyricon

by Ben Sharvy


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About the Story

Not sure what happened to the description, for this game I made long ago. Here it is again, below. This IF game requires a Mac; if you're running OS X, it requires Classic. It has a parser and text descriptions, so I consider it IF; there is a GUI as well.

Welcome to my fun project (and to my parlor). The project has been to play around with forms and ideas native to the interactive medium, with an eye toward artistic use. "Artistic" is, of course, a fuzzy word, and we should always get in trouble for using it; I trust you to interpret the general drift of what I mean. Never mind, no I don't: The general drift of what I mean by "artistic" is "individual and interesting". Outside Satyricon aims to explore forms that use elements unique to the computer--not visual art that is merely generated with a computer, and not interactive games which, while unique to the medium, lack intellectual & spiritual color. I want to expermiment with interactive "fiction," of a sort. This is my first such experiment.

The particular format here is that of the adventure game, but this is not an adventure game. The goal isn't to get all the gold or save the prince. Your "score" simply measures the number of places and things you've discovered so far, like page-numbers in a book. There is an end, but it isn't conquest of the usual sort, except perhaps in a metaphorical sense (you know, conquest of death, that sort of thing, or perhaps (more modestly) literary appreciation)).

A technique with potential is to use an Eliza-like interface to create narrative voice and personality. Literature has a narrative voice; interactive media could too, with its own particular twist. Experimentation with narrative is particularly natural in forms which are story-like, such as the adventure. I've written an Eliza script into Outside Satyricon, but as of yet it isn't nearly as developed as it could be. (Eliza is a simple artificial-intelligence simultaor created by Joseph Weizenbaum.)

The computer medium naturally lends itself to simulation, and the representation of things. This naturally suggests symbolism as a technique, since symbols are objects (compare to, say, music, which represents no objects and uses no symbols). The possibility of symbolic meaning, or resonance, for an object can define its use, and create meaning within the program as a whole. For example, if progress within an adventure game depends on the user finding the key to some locked door, that is very boring and meaningless. But imagine that "doors" open when the user breaks open a plastic red heart that he has found--say, the 20 clocks in the room all begin to melt, the floor turns to sea, and he finds himself continuing his adventure in an ocean-dream world (perhaps as a shark, perhaps as a blowfish, depending on choices he has made earlier in the program). Now the user is solving puzzles which, because of the symbolic resonance of the things in the adventure (e.g., red hearts), may suggest certain interpretations and meanings to him. This is a much more interesting way for a world to unfold than the way of unlocking a door with a key, which you got by killing the thief, outwitting the Sphinx, etcetera.

Naturally, symbolism can be overt as well. In Outside Satyricon, most of the rooms are the ordinary kind--representations of physcial places such as bathrooms, roof tops, etc--but you will also find yourself in "Therapy", "Solitude" and a few other abstract places.

Its object-based character makes the interactive medium especially at home with "deconstructive" or "meta-fiction" techniques, since its modelling of symbolic objects is programmable and changeable during the course of the adventure's "narrative." Thus, the player can be forced to examine his own uses of symbols as sources of meaning.

My own opinion is that Outside Satyricon pulls off such feats with mixed success; theory is one thing, application another. (However, my own opinion derives from an inherently unsound perspective.) My goal in making this stack was to explore the medium: the theory is a child, not a parent, of this project.

There's a lot of fun to be had experimenting with this stuff!

Satyricon is a sleazy underground rock club in Portland, OR which the Satyricon depicted here roughly models. A few elements of the geography of Outside Satyricon are taken from the city of Portland (not parts the city planners are proud of, however).

Outside Satyricon contains a large number of borrowed/stolen literary resources, particularly modern poetry. They are:

"Fear of Death" by John Ashberry
"The Gentleman of Shallot" by Elizabeth Bishop
Various fragments from other poems by Bishop
"For a New Citizen of These United States" by li-young lee (fragment)
"Coming Together" words from a piece of modern music by Frederic Rzesvky.
"Shadowland" words from song by kd lang (fragment).

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This is version 2 of this page, edited by luvnpeas on 12 September 2008 at 2:37am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page