Respecting the Authors of Elit

I chose Inform 7 for my creative project because the idea of a text adventure fascinates me.  Playing Colossal Cave Adventure for class was my first experience with a text adventure game, and I absolutely loved it.  It surprised me.  It is such a seemingly simple game, with only words to convey the story and world that you are interacting with, and yet I enjoyed playing it almost as much as I enjoy playing Assassin’s Creed or Skyrim.  I was hooked.  I wanted to be able to do the same thing – create an enriching, interactive world with nothing but words.  As a writer, I figured it would be easy.  Just a little bit of Inform programming language to learn.  No biggie.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

My creative project, “Murder So Sweet,” did not turn out to be what I’d hoped for.  I had so many issues battling Inform for correct wording that I almost flung my computer out the window and then spit on it a few times.  I had one idea where the player would have to retrieve a flashlight to light up a dark room, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to see what was in the room and thus miss out on part of the story.  Two days later, and I finally managed to beat Inform 7 into complacency.  While the included guidebook was relatively useful for the simpler mechanics, I was left mostly on my own to figure out specifics.  I finally found the section on lit/unlit objects, and was finally able to make the flashlight work as it supposed to, and had a mini dance party after I’d figured it out, but the fact that I spent two days trying to work a flashlight resonated.  It was so simple.  Only a few lines of text in programming for a measly two seconds of interaction in the game, and yet I had spent two complete, full, frustrating days on it.

I grew immediate respect for the creators of complex text adventures like Colossal Cave Adventure, or Shade, or Everything Dies.  I had enough problems making the fairly simplistic storyline of my own text adventure; how had these authors fared with theirs, which were so much more complicated than mine?  Inform 7 is not as intuitive as I’d hoped it would be – you have to actually know what you’re doing if you want to get anything done.  I have major respect (not that I didn’t have any before, but now it’s been multiplied by about nine thousand) for anyone who tries to program anything.

Electronic literature – and I mean good, complex, deep electronic literature – is hard to make, possibly moreso than any other form of literature.  It takes a certain amount of talent, skill, and hours of practice to make anything that can be considered good art or literature.  But a creator of Elit has to also deal with the complexities of computers, which are difficult enough depending on one’s level of interaction with them, and has to make it interactive enough so the reader doesn’t just get bored and click away to another screen.  And computers are ornery little things.  They get viruses, work slow if you put too much on them, work slow if they’re really old, run out of power when you are five million miles from an outlet, kill batteries so that you either have to plug it in an outlet if you want to go anywhere or spend the money to buy a new battery, blue screen for the tiniest of reasons, freeze if you accidentally run iTunes and Pandora at the same time, and the list goes on and on.  Yes, they are awesome machines and can create amazing works of art and literature and technology, but they’re more likely to explode in your face than cooperate with what you’re trying to do.  Electronic literature deserves some major respect, not only for taking normal literature above and beyond by adding an interactive feature, but also for being created on one of the most difficult machines the modern era has ever created.

So even if my attempt at a text adventure didn’t turn out as successfully as I’d hoped, I at least learned a lot about the effort it takes to create a piece of electronic literature and how difficult it actually is.  So bravo, Elit authors.  You deserve an applause.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *