]Eamon Adventurer's Guild Online


Eamon and Interactive Fiction

By Matthew Clark

Is Eamon interactive fiction? That's a question I've been asking myself lately, and I believe that each has something it can offer the other. The usenet group rec.arts.int-fiction defines interactive fiction as being "many forms of story-telling. Most forms are text-based and feature some degree of reader, or player, participation beyond the act of, say, turning the page of a book to read the next one." This includes computer-based text adventures, of which Eamon is definitely a part.

However, Eamon is widely ignored in the world of interactive fiction. A search for Eamon on usenet yielded only 57 messages on rec.arts.int-fiction and 105 messages on rec.games.int-fiction between 1994-2004. On the other hand, TADS, an IF platform, yielded 5030 messages on rec.games.int-fiction and 18,800 on rec.arts.int-fiction. INFORM, another IF platform yielded 5750 messages on rec.games.int-fiction, and an astounding 33,400 messages on rec.arts.int-fiction. Needless to say, Eamon is not exactly known out the the world of interactive fiction.

Differences between Eamon and the rest of interactive fiction

Why not? I think one of the reasons is the combat. Most other interactive fiction does not have combat at all. Further, Eamon as an interconnected RPG concentrates, perhaps too much, on the attributes of the player character. Because the only thing that can be carried between the adventures are weapons and gold, players have an incentive to get bigger and better weapons. But, lets face it. A real adventurer would have a torch/lantern available if he were planning on entering the local cave, or maybe some rope. But that would create problems for an Eamon programmer. Some players would have resources that others did not. Thus, transferring only weapons, albeit somewhat boring, is necessary for Eamon to work correctly.

I think another reason also relates to the RPG nature of the game. Eamon, at least in theory, involves a character who is born in the main hall, goes to the beginner's cave, and progresses up to the harder adventures over time. For that player to be killed in an adventure for a non-combat reason, really annoys the player. After all, the player has spent all of this effort building up his player, only to be killed by walking off the side of the cliff. Well, a little realism is in order here; in "real life" nobody would walk off a cliff if he knew it were there. The player's hard work in building up a character is ruined because of a designer's sloppy programming design. (For more on implementing death traps and alternatives in Eamon, see Tom Zuchowski's excellent article here.) I don't think it's a big surprise that some of the earlier utilities written were "resurrect character" and "fresh sam", the later allowing you to just play with a standard character in any adventure. It's bad enough restarting when you're using Fresh Sam. It's worse when you lost your favorite character. I imagine that many people through the years have been turned off from Eamon the first time they hit a death trap after carefully building up their character. I think that a feature in Eamon Deluxe helps this problem in that if you die, you have the option of restarting the adventure completely. Unfortunately, this feature didn't appear early enough in Eamon to make a significant difference.

Finally, a significant difference is in the actual syntax of the Eamon programs. Eamon has a limited set of verbs in the adventure. You don't have the "guess the verb" problem that the rest of interactive fiction has because the program will display a list of understood commands. I'm not certain if ANY other form of interactive fiction displays its list of understood verbs. Eamon is a verb based program. You add a new verb in and then determine which objects will interactive with that verb. For instance, if you implement an open command, you would then implement a door object, a chest object, a bottle object, etc. The object relates directly to the verb. This makes it easier to program and probably easier to play the adventure. However, in the end, it can be frustrating because if there is no verb, the artifact doesn't make sense. For example, "Assault on the Clone Master" has an Apple computer in it. What can you do with it? You can't turn it on. You can't smash it, open it, program it, touch it, smell it, throw it, taste it or even watch it lose market share. It just sits there because it the game was never programmed to accept all of the other verb forms. It only counts as a treasure at the end of the game, with which the player is rewarded gold. Other than that, it's useless.

Much of the rest of the interactive fiction world is object based. That is, there is an object in the game with multiple uses. You may have to twist, open, sit on, touch, shake, throw, and cover the same object throughout the course of the game. The object is programmed with multiple verbs fort hat object, some of them synonyms and some not. There is a default response to a verb if there is no specific object response. For example, if you throw a baseball, there may be a special response given, especially if you are standing on the pitcher's mound. However, throwing a book is likely to yield the same result as dropping it. Thus, each object needs to have multiple verbs supplied for it, creating a game of "guess the verb" if the programmer is sloppy.

However, the object based system is quite useful. If the programmer is good with a thesaurus, a player should be able to do whatever they want. For instance, compare simple wear and remove versus don and doff. In Eamon, there's no special need to program don or doff as wear and remove are already in the game. However, for some people, don and doff may be the first verbs they think of when it comes to clothing. Further, many of the more advanced IF authoring systems support syntax of multiple objects such as DROP X AND Y, something that Eamon lacks.

What can Eamon learn from interactive fiction?

Well, a lot actually. Now don't get me wrong. I love Eamon. But a lot of Eamon games leave a lot to be desired. Your early "hack n' slash" games were rather simple with not much to them. The combat was a big part of the game, but combat was new and unique at the time. The games ran slower on the original Apple II and, as such, would take a while to complete. Now, many people, including myself, play Eamon solely on Apple emulators. No worry about disk access times or even complicated programming; just set the emulator to run at 100 Mhz or so and Eamon runs at blazing speeds. However, this does mean that the original combat turns boring. You attack, you heal, you flee. It gets old pretty quickly. That's why several authors shifted towards a more interactive world in later games. Authors included things that DO stuff, companions which talk, and games which emphasize thinking by the player instead of luck through the player's attributes. In essence, the outcome of the game was much more player dependent then character dependent, and I feel that this was a good change.

So what can Eamon learn from interactive fiction? Puzzles. Environments. Syntax. Plot development. Purpose. A narrative story! Instead of wondering around a dungeon attacking rats or mapping out a complex maze, Eamon designers need to consider the story line. What's trying to be conveyed here? What environment are you trying to create? For instance, the first part of Pat Hurst's Buccaneer! only has two monsters in the entire game. But there is a purpose for being there and the environment is outstanding. It's one of the most verbose Eamons out there, but the descriptions are rich and fulfilling. No combat? That's fine. I remember when first exploring Buccaneer!, I was amazed at the detail. I really had a sense of being there. I think that this sense is what most of Eamon lacks.

 How can an Eamon author benefit from interactive fiction?

Study. Learn the game from the "other side". Play some of the old Infocom games. Play some of the new TADS and INFORM games. Read material on other websites. Read reviews of games. What do people like? What do they not like? Are they referring to the game as "another boring high school romp" or "so filled with inside jokes and gags that no one but the author stands a chance of winning"? If that is the case, take note! Don't make another boring high school romp. Do something new and interesting! Play what's out there and improve on it. Don't be worried that it's taking you a long while to complete your game; quality takes time.

On the next page is a list of different resources I've found to help. This list is not all inclusive, but provides a good start!

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This page last updated on 01/01/2017.