Cloak of Darkness: Using IF for systems thinking

Having first written about using Text-Based Adventures in education back in 2009, my interest in them as a tool for teaching programming concepts, game design, literacy and systems thinking has been renewed. Exploring Interactive Fiction (IF) design systems such as Inform7 and Adrift, I have found Quest to be probably the best for small projects ideally suited to K12 education. The desktop client is currently for PC only, but a beta Chrome Store Quest app is now available for use on any platform.

Following the tutorials available to familiarise with the tool, I decided to attempt to write my own small game based on Roger Firths “Cloak of Darkness” specification. This is the programming equivalent of ‘hello world’ in the IF space. Firths specification for this game are as follows:

There are just three rooms and three objects.

The Foyer of the Opera House is where the game begins. This empty room has doors to the south and west, also an unusable exit to the north. There is nobody else around.

The Bar lies south of the Foyer, and is initially unlit. Trying to do anything other than return northwards results in a warning message about disturbing things in the dark.

On the wall of the Cloakroom, to the west of the Foyer, is fixed a small brass hook.

Taking an inventory of possessions reveals that the player is wearing a black velvet cloak which, upon examination, is found to be light-absorbent. The player can drop the cloak on the floor of the Cloakroom or, better, put it on the hook.

Returning to the Bar without the cloak reveals that the room is now lit. A message is scratched in the sawdust on the floor.

The message reads either “You have won” or “You have lost”, depending on how much it was disturbed by the player while the room was dark.

The act of reading the message ends the game.

You can play my attempt at Cloak of Darkness online at http://www.textadventures.co.uk/review/468/ 

In the classroom, I would have students first play one of the Infocom Text Adventures and perhaps unpack verbs, nouns, game mechanics, space and narrative and maybe even get them to do a mapping exercise of the world in question. (A discussion could also be included about Choose Your Own Adventures and Fighting Fantasy.) This would be followed by an introduction to the Quest editor and a discussion about verbs, nouns, objects, rooms, dialogue, first, second and third person narrative perspectives, If->Then statements, attributes etc. and their first project would be to create their own version of the “Cloak of Darkness.”

This would be approached by having them map out the required rooms on A3 paper and then use brainstorming cards to map out their proposed game. Students would be routinely asked to go through the process of rapid prototyping and iterative design by having their peers playtest and provide feedback. By engaging in something like this, students are building their skills and confidence leading up to their final project, which would be a game of their own design. Assessment of their final project/game would include:

Competence – the game should handle the user interactions expected for a piece of interactive fiction.

Immersiveness – the degree to which a player loses him or herself in the game world.

Completeness – the world should have a reasonable number of room and objects.

World Design – non-linear story with several puzzles to solve.

Prose Quality – the room descriptions should draw the player into the game.

Interactivity – the player should have interesting objects and environments to manipulate.

Fun – the game should entertain the player and motivate him or her to play often.

A question that educators at all levels should ask themselves is “What would you do with a computer if their was no internet access?” Using Interactive Fiction enables students to engage with game design whilst not having to worry about skill in designing digital art – and it is a great literacy workout too.

IF resources:

Welcome to Interactive Fiction

IF Delicious Stack

Interactive Fiction Wiki

Zork Library

Brainstorming Cards

Interactive Fiction Authorship

Play IF Cheat Sheet

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