January 4th 2018

I began reviewing the Sappho design today and suddenly realized a gigantic flaw in my design. The original Siboot Encounter Editor was designed to augment the Siboot game with encounters that would allow the player to get a better idea of the world of Siboot and to influence the player’s relationships with other characters. However, the encounter system was never designed as a stand-alone system; the intent was that it would work only inside the Siboot game. That is still how Sappho works.

Therefore, Sappho shows no results of the player’s actions. The player’s actions don’t change anything other than relationship values that are never actually presented to the player. The story proceeds in exactly the same way no matter what the player does. This is atrocious!

So, how can I make it possible for the player to actually get some results? I’ll spin out a few ideas as they pop into my head:

Popularity contest
The encounter system exists only for the player to positively enhance their relationship with the characters. However, this would suggest a Goodie Two-Shoes strategy for the player. How dull! 

No-Foldback Tree
I first described a foldback tree in an essay about 30 years ago. In it, whatever choices the player makes end up folding back to the main storyline. It’s a cheat, a scheme to reduce the workload on the designer, but it robs the player of the ability to make meaningful choices. “You can choose any of these three doors, but they all lead to the same room.” 

The alternative is the fully bushy tree. This suffers from the problem of the geometric explosion of nodes, also described in the essay cited above. If I use this strategy, then the only difference between Sappho and the many text adventure systems that have been around for nearly 40 years would be a shift to numeric rather than boolean decisions, and a personality model. However, perhaps this is the best way to proceed: a baby step at a time. I’m so impatient!

Actually, Sappho would be closer to the geometric explosion tree than text adventures are, because in text adventures you are permitted to return to the same location multiple times. Text adventures offer a directed graph of rooms, while Sappho would not permit re-use of existing encounters, making it a pure tree. 

Multiple Endpoints
This would have the tree boil down to a small set of endpoint encounters at the end. We lay out several possible endings and then your actions end up taking you to one of those endpoints. Presumably some of these are “victorious” end points and some are “defeat” endpoints. That’s precisely why I dislike this approach. It makes the storyworld (such as it is) into a game-puzzle. The player’s goal is to figure out the author’s plan for victory. That’s way, way wrong. Good interactivity requires the player to create their own solution. 

Le Morte D’Arthur Battle Scene
Here’s an odd thought: why not simply recast the material in the Le Morte D’Arthur battle scene into a series of encounters? This would get past the problem of repetitive text. Moreover, the battle scene has some artificial elements meant to obviate repeated use of one presentation — a feature built into the core of the Sappho system. 

Could such a system work? I think so. I need to think this over carefully. Tune in tomorrow.