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Andrew Plotkin and Emily Short: The CGM Interviews

by Lara Crigger

The following interviews originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #185 in shorter form. The interviews are reprinted with permission.

Emily Short Interview, Part 1

Lara Crigger: Would you give a little introduction to who you are and what you are famous for?

Emily Short: I've been releasing freeware interactive fiction since 2000, much of it exploring what can be done with interactive characters. My first released game, Galatea, is all about a conversation with one other person, and it received a fair amount of attention both in the IF community and beyond: it's now on the curriculum of several college courses in New Media, for instance. I've also written some longer work—Savoir-Faire is a tip of the hat to the Infocom games I played as a child, and so very puzzle-oriented; City of Secrets, by contrast, is less game and more story, with dozens of characters and a full-length plot in which the player can choose sides.

How did you get started writing IF?

I played a number of Infocom and Scott Adams games as a child, and always wanted to write my own. I made a few abortive attempts back then, but my programming skills weren't up to doing the job from scratch with a general-purpose programming language. It wasn't until I was in college and discovered the existence of IF programming languages that I was able to write anything worth playing.

In the games you've written, what's your favorite moment or puzzle?

It's difficult to say, but I think I'd pick a moment in City of Secrets: the player has had a kind of espionage device implanted under his skin, and there are various ways to remove it if he chooses. The most gruesome way is for him to cut it out himself. Now, this sounds kind of nasty, and it is; the reason I like it is that if the player gets to that point, I have succeeded in engaging him enough that he's willing to try something fairly unpleasant in order to achieve his goals.

What do you like most and least about writing IF?

I think every programming project starts out fun and then reaches a point where it's just a slog to fix bugs. IF is no different, really. Starting is play and finishing is work.

Where did the inspiration for Galatea come from?

I'd been working for a while on code for IF conversations, and I decided I wanted to write something that would be the simplest possible test case for that code—one person in one room, no major plot developments.

When you first started writing Galatea, did you intend to include so many endings? Or did the various endings emerge only as you programmed the game?

I intended there to be a number of endings, but I didn't plan out what they would be in advance; that more or less grew into the game as I went.

Considering all the different endings and the vast array of conversation topics in Galatea, how was your approach to programming the game different than other games you've written?

This assumes that my approach to programming it was different from my approach to other games; in fact, I approached it in more or less the same way I have done conversation in most of my work. I play with the NPC for a while until I hit points where (as a player) I want to pursue a conversational thread that isn't implemented. then write the new thread, and replay. Where it felt as though the story had come to an end, I would add an ending. It's a bit like training a chatterbot—very unplanned, and of course there is always more one could add.

Like many of your other games, Galatea features an interesting and intricately designed NPC. What general guidelines do you use to create NPCs? What makes a good NPC versus a bland one?

What I do with an NPC in an individual piece of IF depends on what it's supposed to accomplish in the game/story.

As for the second question: the writing is what makes a real difference to the feel of life in an NPC. A few pieces of strong dialogue and a handful of memorable actions are more important than intricate coding.

What were some of the reactions Galatea received from the online community? Which was your favorite?

Oh, I've gotten the full range from effusive praise to anger. Some players wrote that they found the story very moving; some saw it as a cool technical experiment but nothing more; some really hated it because the game didn't let them do what they wanted to. I received some complaints that you can't seduce her—which is actually not true: it's just very difficult. I have also gotten reports from people who "talk to" her on a daily basis, which I find a little bewildering: surely she'd get boring after a while? My favorite is the fan art, though—several people have sent me music that they wrote about her or pictures they drew of her. It's humbling to have created something that inspires other art.

Where do you typically find inspiration for games? What about the puzzles?

No one source. I think anyone who writes seriously (or does any other artistic work seriously) is always processing what they see around them and sifting it for later use.

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These interviews copyright © 2006, Lara Crigger. Originally published in Computer Games Magazine, Issue 185. Reprinted with permission.

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