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ForumsInteractive Story Board → The NeS through 99 Lenses
The NeS through 99 Lenses
2010-04-10, 6:08 PM #1
This thread is my attempt to examine the online, collaborative story known as The Never-ending Story Thread, its related works, and community in totality through a series of methods in an attempt to better understand its strengths and weaknesses. These methods, called lenses, are taken from the book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell. While these are meant to be used for tackling issues in game design, I feel using them to examine the NeS will prove to be useful all the same, even if I will be approaching with some lenses through hypotheticals.

Starting Tuesday, April 13th, I will be making one post a day, using one lens each post. Attached to this post is a list of the lenses I will be using. Some assume that the reader has some knowledge only detailed in the book, in which case I may opt to explain briefly that material as I come to it. Please post any questions you may have prior or after any post I make, and feel free to post your own approaches to these lenses (please keep your posts serious). If you have not already done so, especially if you are unfamiliar with the NeS, I would suggest you read my thesis, Threads of the Never-ending Story before continuing with this thread, as I may be referencing thoughts from said thesis. At the very least, it should be clarified that the NeS, in this case, does NOT refer to either The Neverending Story or the Nintendo Entertainment System, but a (mostly) original, online, collaborative story.

Please pardon any poor spelling, grammar, word choice, awkward sentences, or the like that may crop up, as I rarely have the opportunities to go back and edit my content into something more polished.
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The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-13, 8:44 AM #2
Lens #1: The Lens of Essential Experience

To use this lens, you stop thinking about your game and start thinking about the experience of the player. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What experience do I want the player to have?
  • What is essential to the experience?
  • How can my game capture that essence?

If there is a big difference between the experience you want to create and the one you are actually creating, your game needs to change: You need to clearly state the essential experience you desire, and find as many ways as possible to instill this experience into your game.

For future reference, I will be treating the NeS, both as a product of story and as a process of writing for it, as the game in question. The 'player' I will be attempting to answer then as a reader, and then as a writer.

This lens is basically using the assumption that games (and entertainment in general) are means/medium of expressing an experience (though not the experience itself). One of the examples The Art of Game Design provides is that of a snowball fight: if one of the experiences was the sensation of it being cold (even if it was not very cold in reality), your game would have your characters showing their breath being visible and shivering when idle.

It might help if we were to use some other stories as examples first. For The Lord of the Rings, the experience might be that of an English myth -- a fantastical history that we might imagine could take place before the times of King Arthur. For Star Wars, it might be a combination of the grit of the World Wars and a classical opera that takes place "a long time ago in a galaxy far far away." For The Matrix, the experience might be the feeling of slavery within our culture and technology and 'seeing past the veil' of said artificial 'reality.'

For the NeS, two things come to mind for the reader. The first experience in general I see is that of living, usually with some awareness, within a fictional story-world. Most story-worlds that have this meta-fictional element have it as a discovery for the reader and character (such as with Benjamin Majir), but I think it's just as important (arguably moreso, I'm not sure on this myself) that the readers and characters accept such a meta-fictional element as the equivalent of a religion, the laws of physics, or merely an everyday trivial part of their lives with no mysterious or grand ramifications. I think the Death and Taxes story-arc might be a good overall example of this. The second experience, somewhat tied to this, is a fusion (or paradox or juxtaposition) of the epic with the mundane. The Fight of the Century of the Week (the first storyarc) I think is a good representation of this experience.

For the writers, the major experience that comes to mind is the illusion that the story is alive, and yet the writers have some 'real' influence over it. We can write virtually whatever we want, but at the same time, the stuff that other writers reply with make it feel as if the characters and world have a will of their own. Even without the other writers, we're usually encouraged to write "on the fly" where we're sometimes surprised what follows suit.

As to what is essential to these experiences and how to capture them, for the first two, I would say 1) striking the right balance between "world-building" the meta-fictional/metaphysics of NeS and yet not turning "George Lucas" and over-explaining things that should be left unexplained, especially at the cost of traditional character conflicts (with some exception, I would say the battle between Thand and the NeScholars does this well) and 2) infusing as much of a good balance between epic and mundane elements as we can (fighting a god of war on PPV). For the experience for the writers, simply making sure that we post often, and we post in response to the other writers as one does in improvised theater, should be enough. That can be a challenge in itself it seems these days.

Admittedly, I'm not sure how truly an "experience" the things I listed are. At the very least, they could stand to be more concrete, as with the Matrix example. "Straight" fiction (i.e. not genre fiction and things that could theoretically happen in real life) tend to potentially have the easiest time tackling experiences well. Fortunately, we still have more specific moments in the story where good experiences can be seen, such as when Erronem made Gebohq confront his (lack of) relationship with Maybechild back in Death of the Potentials. The short of tackling with this lens is that we should continue to write what we know best from our own lives and attempt to express those experiences as concretely as possible.

As always, please question, comment, and criticize what I've said, and tackle the NeS through this lens.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-14, 8:36 AM #3
Lens #2: The Lens of Surprise

Surprise is so basic that we can easily forget about it. Use this lens to remind yourself to fill your game with interesting surprises. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What will surprise players when they play my game?
  • Does the story in my game have surprises? Do the game rules? Does the artwork? The technology?
  • Do your rules give players ways to surprise each other?
  • Do your rules give players ways to surprise themselves?

Surprise is a crucial part of all entertainment – it is at the root of humor, strategy, and problem solving.

This lens is meant to help aid in Lens #3: The Lens of Fun, as the author of The Art of Game Design steps through what defines a game, and early on defines fun as "pleasure with surprises." I'm not sure I wholly agree with that, as there can be fun by having anticipation realized as well as doing certain things for the very reason that there are no surprises (this mostly applies when the risk of a "bad surprise" outweighs a good one). It is difficult to imagine fun without some level of pleasure, though. Still, this concept is still very important in entertainment, so I'll tackle with this lens all the same.

What surprises readers of NeS, from what I can gather, is the mix of embracing and subverting story conventions, and how random tidbits of absurdity can often end up naturally rolling together into a dramatic/comedic story point later on in the thread. This is only a guess, though, as I'm not really aware of any readers that aren't also writers. The best I can think we could do is ask from those who read the whole of NeS prior to writing, like Ben. The same surprises might also be applicable to writers, though, as well as the illusion of free will that the characters and story in general appears to have when writing and reading other writer's posts to follow.

Seeing if there are any surprises in the story is a bit redundant. As for rules, there really aren't any, but if we were to presume things like "writing in present tense" and "write in script format" and "work with material written by other writers" then yes, I think all those help to encourage that illusion of free will mentioned before. Unless we're counting the NeS comic, there is no artwork present (and does the comic have visual surprises? I'm not sure, actually.) As for the technology, I'd be hard-pressed to think of something surprising about a message board... is that a bad thing? Again, I'm not sure.

As for the 'rules' surprising each other and themselves, like I said, I think what there is does help encourage a sense of surprise. Could there be other ways to encourage more surprises? I'm not sure, but it couldn't hurt to have more, probably. Just not sure how.

Any suggestions, comments, criticisms and such are more than welcomed!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-14, 11:57 PM #4
Lens #3: The Lens of Fun

Fun is desirable in nearly every game, although sometimes fun defies analysis. To maximize your game’s fun, ask yourself these questions:
  • What parts of my game are fun? Why?
  • What parts need to be more fun?

This lens is useful in conjunction with Lens #2: The Lens of Surprise, so reading the above post may help.

What parts of the NeS are fun? For the readers, I would hope finding out how characters such as Gebohq handle the difficulties thrown at them as well as finding the comedic parts funny (though I've said in the past that the NeS is more fun than funny). For the writers, I'd imagine it's pretty similar, though with more emphasis on the fun in producing the story than 'receiving' as the reader. The process of writing though, as mentioned above, can also be fun when you're discovering how the characters will act and react right on the spot. I know I personally find it fun, for example, to try and craft Master Thand as a memorable antagonist. I mean, how often do you read about antagonists who are actually philosophically wise and in the (at least significantly) moral right in any story, much less a fantasy one which are so often dominated with two-dimensional chessmasters and power-hungry monsters of men?

What parts need to be more fun? Unfortunately, the answers are about the same. For the readers, it can be very easy to be let down by anti-climaxes, plot-holes too big even for the NeS, and the general vibe of the story being one big "inside joke" or the like, whether intentional or not. However, the balance to ensure a good read for the audience can also upset the fun for the writers. I've learned (and forgotten) again and again that planning for even the vaguest of structured plots and endings seems to often throw out the window any illusion of the story having a will of its own, denying the "surprises" that make writing for the NeS uniquely enjoyable. Going back to writing for the character of Thand, attempting to give any justice to his potential as a character is a pretty difficult task, even when not trying to weigh in all the considerations of the nature of the NeS. This list wouldn't be complete if I didn't also include the division of ideals concerning whether the NeS should be pure escapism (either for a reader, a writer, or both) or include more dramatic elements, which characters like Thand practically require. The difficulty reminds me of this post, where TLTE the Writer is torn between writing pure absurdity and pure epic drama.

Of course, what is and isn't fun for me may not be the same for others, and what I may find fun at one time might not be fun later. I don't believe fun should be the ultimate decider in how the NeS runs (or at the very least, fun needs to be considered for both a variety of readers and writers equally), but it's still important if we're to enjoy reading and writing for it.

Got any suggestions on how to make the NeS more fun? Want to question or criticize what I've said about fun in NeS? By all means, reply without restraint!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-15, 4:49 PM #5
think part of the surprise fun factor is what kind of response you will receive from what you write. Surprise or unknown if what is written will metamorphosis in to something else and how that will happen. And just as things develop there is the unknown in what things fade away how things fade away.

Think one the expectations (conventions) (anticipations) we might have in the experience of writing or reading(watching, listening...) a story is to see a situation get resolved. That there will be some sort of ending to it. Or have the expectation to have an explanation for everything in the story (no plot holes). Having an ending to something or tying up loose ends does not always happen in the NeS. Some explanations of unexplained can be summed up as a plot hole. Writers have allowed (embraced?) holes in the story to be there even if they become a let down.

experiences of having control and not having control.

Kind of reward in participation in the experience of NeS is keeping the story alive and not allowing something named to last forever to die. thinking about the dammed or forgotten characters, their stories lost. To keep a story alive you have to continue to tell it.
2010-04-15, 10:10 PM #6
Lens #4: The Lens of Curiosity

To use this lens, think about the player’s true motivations – not just the goals your game has set forth, but the reason the player wants to achieve those goals. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What questions does my game put into the player’s mind?
  • What am I doing to make them care about these questions?
  • What can I do to make them invent even more questions?

It helps to understand that curiosity is examined in relation to play, which the author of The Art of Game Design defines as "manipulation that indulges curiosity." The idea is that play requires action (manipulation) to willingly approach a problem (curiosity), such as when an toy assembly line worker decides to willingly beat a speed record set assembling so many toys. This idea becomes more clear when he defines a game (to be mentioned in a future lens), though it may also help to look at another definition of play, defined by Rules of Play as "free movement within a more rigid structure."

For the readers, I would hope they ask similar questions to what they also find fun, such as the following: how will characters like Gebohq deal with situations like his love complications with Rachel, and what motivates Thand to protect his treasury from the heroes, will (or more accurately how will) The Last True Evil act his part as the Ultimate Villain of NeS as Thand has fortold? For the writers, again, I imagine similar questions could pass their minds, such as what might happen if The Last True Evil were to harm his love, Losien a.k.a. Gebohq's sister? The writers might also ask simply "how will the other writers involve the material in my last post?"

As for what I'm doing to make them care about such questions, for the readers, hopefully writing the characters and their conflicts so the readers will invest in their problems. Admittedly, though, I don't think this is an active question I usually ask myself when writing -- I simply write what I think would make sense for the characters to do. For the writers, I do my best to both encourage and set an example as far as 1) improvising cooperatively to scenarios set by the posts of previous writers and 2) setting up new scenarios for them to play with in future posts. How successful I'm at with any of these parts is uncertain.

What can I do to make them invent even more questions? For the readers, I don't really know. Continue to weave characters and conflicts together? Encourage more talk from the readers on the workshop thread? Push to adapt the story into other mediums more, such as the NeS comic and NeS radio? As for the writers, again, I'm afraid I don't know what more I can do. Perhaps I'm not thinking at the right angle, but I'm not sure how else to apply this lens apart from character investment and meaningful collaborative back-and-forth writing, assuming I'm not missing some aspect even within those.

Thanks again for responding, Voodoo! Don't leave her out in this thread alone, everybody -- post your own thoughts too!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-16, 11:13 PM #7
Lens #5: The Lens of Endogenous Value

To use this lens, think about your player’s feelings about items, objects, and scoring in your game. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What is valuable to the players in my game?
  • How can I make it more valuable to them?
  • What is the relationship between value in the game and the player’s motivation?

For those of you like me who have a horrible vocabulary, endogenous value is internally-derived value. Things in fiction and games and such really only have value within their magic circle of make-believe.

For the readers, what is valuable I would hope is (once again) their investment in characters they care about. If that investment isn't valuable to them, no epic masterpiece of dramatic tension or gut-busting joke will matter. For the writers, what they write is valuable, as well as how it is received by readers and other writers alike. That seems painfully obvious, but I've been reminded again and again that without constructively positive judgment (within my story responses and outside the story), writers feel their time is likely wasted. Since one of the few things the NeS does require is significant time investment, even with the most carefree of posting, their time needs to be well-rewarded.

How can I instill more value? I'm afraid my creativity is broken once again here. I feel any sort of formal reward system (such as new 'items' or scoring) would be a bad idea, in any case. Remembering that good characters are critical and maximizing collaboration might be sufficient in this case (which is of course easier said than done).

I think I already touched on the relationship between the value and motivation. Readers and writers both are motivated to see where the story and its characters do next, and if it comes across as arbitrary, self-serving or too slow, then it won't be worth their time to continue reading and writing for it. I know some are motivated by an audience they know is there, but I think that just goes back to the deeper points I already mentioned.

Speaking of feedback, you all want to give some... ;)
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-18, 12:52 PM #8
Lens #6: The Lens of Problem Solving

To use this lens, think about the problems your players must solve to succeed at your game, for every game has problems to solve. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What problems does my game ask the player to solve?
  • Are there hidden problems to solve that arise as a part of gameplay?
  • How can my game generate new problems so that players keep coming back?

This lens is important because a game, as defined in The Art of Game Design, is "a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude." I think I prefer a more formal definition provided in Rules of Play which states that a game is "a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome." I've already approached the NeS through that definition in my thesis, and approaching the NeS as a playful, problem-solving activity has its own very significant merits.

For the readers, the problems asked to solve are either fairly basic or theoretical/thematic. As mentioned many times already (and likely mentioned again and again as I go on), on a basic level, the readers are encouraged to solve the same problems the characters face. Granted, unless the reader becomes at least more vocal in their thoughts on how the story should progress, their attempts to problem-solve with the character are reflective at best, since the characters will solve the problems they face independently of the reader. On a theoretical or thematic level, though, there are times where, even given the high awareness/meta-fictional the characters have, they are not solving the bigger questions presented throughout the story. For example, Gebohq might confront his enemies with love as he did when the demon Helebon had him imprisoned, but he did not think to solve whether loving your enemy is always the best solution. Good writers usually try not to be heavy-handed with their themes, but rather show the problems the theme presents for the reader to solve themselves. A common theme so far in the NeS seems to be the benefits and drawbacks of fight versus flight, confronting real problems versus escapism, and their application to love.

For the writers, the problems they are asked to solve almost always distill down to "how do I approach the story presented in the previous posts in an engaging manner?" This has already been mentioned in previous posts as well as my thesis, and is quite possibly the core of what defines the NeS as a whole. As with the importance of character conflicts with the readers, collaborative, playful crafting of the story between the writers is a point that will likely be hammered again and again.

As for hidden problems that arise from gameplay, I think the thematic ones mentioned for the reader fall under this category. This is especially true because, in the NeS, the writers usually avoid writing with themes in mind (as it can be easy to slip into it not being fun and/or heavy-handed), and yet the themes often can organically arise quite well on their own, making them a surprise for everybody. As for hidden problems for the writers, there are about a million that can apply to certain situations: does this make for a good story, does it make sense for the characters, does my post make it too boring or too frustrating for other writers to follow up with, weighing the importance of any one question against the others, and so on. But are there any hidden problems that don't relate to the distilled one mentioned earlier? I don't know. It'd be neat if there was, though.

How can new problems be generated [elegantly]? For the readers, just continuing to compound and reinforce character conflicts and themes should be fine, since we have enough material to not need anything new for quite some time yet. For the writers, more active writers is about the best way to generate new problems I can think of at this point. I know, big surprise coming from me, right? But it's honestly the only thing I can think.

Got any better ideas? Speak up, please!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-18, 10:47 PM #9
I think, from the past, the best methods of implementing new problems and conflicts was the abandonment of the staple NeS plot of the standard heroes going about defeating the next issue of the Big Bad. In the end they do get boiled down into the standard NeS plot, but it always brings in new and interesting material.
2010-04-18, 11:40 PM #10
Lens #7: The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad

To use this lens, take stock of what your game is truly made of. Consider each element separately, and then all of them together as a whole. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Is my game design using elements of all four types?
  • Could my design be improved by enhancing elements in one or more of the categories?
  • Are the four elements in harmony, reinforcing each other, and working together toward a common theme?

The four types that make up the "elemental tetrad" in this case are aesthetics, story, mechanics and technology. I hope they're self-explanatory enough. Since I'm lazy, these are getting more bullet-pointed.

Does the NeS use:
Aesthetics: Not really, unless you count the webcomic. I suppose the text itself could be described as an aesthetic, in which case, I'm pretty sure it works.
Story: Uh, yes, at least for the readers.
Mechanics: I'd consider the collaborative writing and working with past material and story conventions to fall under this category, so yes, at least for the writers. No, I suppose, for the readers.
Technology: A message board is pretty good in my opinion.

Could the NeS be improved by enhancing:
Aesthetics: The webcomic could be pushed more, I suppose. Awareness of readability and poetics with writing itself might help too. Maybe in an ideal world, working with an ideal technology could improve this too.
Story: Story can always be improved, but on a fundamental level, I think we got this pretty set.
Mechanics: Doubtful.
Technology: I think it'd be really cool if we could make eBooks tied to this story. I'm not talking about Kindles or that junk, though, I mean something that feels and looks like an actual book, but use that technology that essentially makes it possible to have monitors on actual pages. Otherwise, though, what we got ain't bad.

Are the elements working together?
Yeah, I think they work pretty well. I want to be critical here, but I'm really not envisioning much better here, only additions that would make it more complicated than it needs to be.

Keep posting your comments, questions, criticisms and so on!

CoolMatty: Yeah, tangents can be a good way to solve problems new writers face as well as when the "main story" seems to be slowing down.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-19, 10:38 PM #11
Lens #8: The Lens of Holographic Design

The use this lens, you must see everything in your game at once: the four elements and the player experience, as well as how they interrelate. It is acceptable to shift your focus from skin to skeleton and back again, but it is far better to view your game and experience holographically. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What elements of the game make the experience enjoyable?
  • What elements of the game detract from the experience?
  • How can I change game elements to improve the experience?

This is essentially trying to strike the balance of using Lens #1 (the Experience) with Lens #7 (the Elemental Tetrad), as this lens implies, to see both the "skin" (experience) and "skeleton" (elements) as a working whole. I will again be answering this a bit shorthand.

Also, a shorthand for the experiences I hypothesized earlier: the sense and context of of a literal story world, juxtapositions of opposites like epic and mundane, and the sense that the story and its characters are alive.

What elements make the experience enjoyable?
Aesthetics: The text-only format encourages the imagination, where ultimately all stories exist, engaging with the story world and with the illusion of sentience(s) on both an immersive and analytical level.
Story: Ditto on aesthetics, as the story is pretty much built on those ideas.
Mechanics: Yes, so long as the activity remains more frequent than not.
Technology: Eh, having to read fiction in front of a computer can be problematic at times. From my experience, people definitely still prefer books for that.

What elements distract from the experience?
Aesthetics: I've been told that the "script" format the NeS usually adheres to is unpleasant to read. It's a trade-off I'm willing to accept for now to ease the fun and such for the writers, but it's still a valid point.
Story: While the "first draft" nature of the story does actually add to the experience at times, it can also easily come off as just an indulgence for poor writers. Even though many of the meta-fictional elements are designed to work WITH such 'limitations' in the story, they are generally elements that require a mastery of storytelling to pull off. The story is either adequate on a very basic level or possibly the greatest story ever told; there is no middle ground, and writers like myself are arrogant enough to think they can aim for such lofty goals.
Mechanics: There's no real penalty for not writing. On one hand, there really shouldn't be, but on the other hand, it's a critical component for the mechanics not to distract from the experience.
Technology: Without the ideal technology mentioned in Lens #7, the whole 'message board' interface probably jars from the experience.

How can I change elements to improve the experience?
Unfortunately, nothing feasible at this point. Once we have a larger "player base" to work with, things can probably be encouraged through published works and a type of wiki resource. However, I think those two things will likely have to come first before the "player base" will expand. So... write a NeS-related book and build a NeS wiki of sorts, and I may or may not be working on both! :ninja:

Want to comment, question, or criticize? Please do!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-20, 7:13 AM #12
Think you can say the text is is an aesthetic thing.

We tend to keep with the script format. or if writing a huge chunk to put some negative space in between little chunks.

The layout is a way to manipulate how the viewers eyes will move when viewing the text. but rules in how we read (start at top left, go left to right, going down.) dictate for the most part how our eyes go across the page.

Think the negative space serves as a way to have the eyes stop for a bit.

With the script layout..putting a gap between lines. doing things like using bold for Char name. other things like italics.
guess the layout gives the text texture or a rhythm.

Play done using color for a certain character. -> Fred
2010-04-20, 9:48 PM #13
Lens #9: The Lens of Unification

To use this lens, consider the reason behind it all. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What is my theme?
  • Am I using every means possible to reinforce that theme?

The Lens of Unification works well with the Lens of the Elemental Triad. Use the tetrad to separate out the elements of your game, so you can more easily study theme from the perspective of a unified theme.

To clarify, this is actually dealing with the traditional ideas of a theme. Take your pick.

What is the theme for the NeS? For the readers, this is a bit tricky, since the whole of NeS is generally episodic, consisting of various "story-arcs" that are loosely tied together. As mentioned earlier in this thread, "a common theme so far in the NeS seems to be the benefits and drawbacks of fight versus flight, confronting real problems versus escapism, and their application to love." When confronted by Helebon, the NeS escaped into its dreams. When Evil Geb seemingly harnessed the Ever-ending Plot, the heroes left him trapped in the Dreamstate and escaped. When the Forgotten and the Avatar of Loss threatened to upset the balance of the NeS, the heroes abandoned some of their own to leave the problem be. When Gebohq and Rachel's love for each other threatened to ruin the NeS, Gebohq had to decide between her and doing the right thing. Elements can also be seen of the theme of the mundane and epic as well as the story world in general. As also mentioned earlier in this thread, for the writers, I imagine the theme is similar to its experience - the illusion that the story is alive.

Am I using every possible means to reinforce these themes?


And that's honestly how it should be. Every time I've tried to enforce a theme, it just stifles the story. The story has a knack for developing pretty good themes on its own, at any rate, so sticking with basic character conflicts and keeping the general experiences in mind I feel would be better.

Comments, questions, and criticism should make themselves at home on this thread.

As for Voodoo's last post: thank you for pointing out how aesthetics can appear even in a text format. :) I apologize for my brief responses to what people have posted here so far, and I will do my best after I finish these lenses to respond better to any replies people may wish me to do so.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-22, 5:00 PM #14
Lens #10: The Lens of Resonance

To use this lens, you must look for hidden power [It requires a careful listening of oneself and others to find what moves us at our core]. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What is it about my game that feels powerful and special?
  • When I describe my game to people, what ideas get them really excited?
  • If I had no constraints of any kind, what would this game be like?
  • I have certain instincts about how this game should be. What is driving those instincts?

Powerful and special? When it works its best, I would say the sense of immediacy and co-ownership. The story is in the present, its future is uncertain, and as a writer, you own it all and yet none of it. Sounds pretty full of it, but I'm going to guess a lot of the other writers would think something similar.

Maybe I talk to the wrong people, or maybe I'm just not very good at "selling" the NeS, but it's pretty rare that anyone gets excited over any of the ideas and such I describe to them. I'm guessing they mostly think along the lines of "Over 10 years? That's one big inside joke! It's too much for me." But the stuff that I do find gets some sort of attention is the encouragement to abandon plot (even if they're very hesitant about the idea) and engaging with the story with other people.

No constraints? People would post all the time. I'd have reason to start encouraging a "filter" of what makes a better NeS writer (not randomly leaving the story with your characters in the middle of something story-critical, for example). It'd have "guest spots" by more famous storytellers to weave their own skill into the story (my interest is their skill, not their fame). It'd have various adaptations into comics and video games to further tell the story in ways that only their mediums could tell it. That ideal technology I talked about in Lens #7 would be pretty beneficial in general if done right. There's be a strong reader base who gave feedback as pure readers. And the writers would want to (and actually would!) talk to each other (in person would be the best, but even via something like Skype) more often than not. I'm sure I'm forgetting a thousand things here, but I think you probably get the idea.

What drive the instincts I have about the NeS? My experience writing frequently for the NeS and all the successes and failures I continually come across with it, my knowledge in game design, writing, and theater, and for those of you who don't think I'm confident, much less arrogant, the absolute certainty that there are some few truths I perceive purely, some few impossible problems that I can and will solve, and the will to see past those who would say I am wrong or incapable in those times. More than one of those rare moments find themselves with me and the NeS.

Are these things that I've mentioned which I feel resonate also "deep-truth themes" as the author of The Art of Game Design intended for this lens? I'm not sure. Perhaps the themes I provided before better fit that approach, or perhaps those combined with these are the whole of what resonates in the NeS.

Want to knock me down a peg? You know you do. Go on, do it. It'll be fun! Shoot your criticisms at me, or if you're not feeling so antagonistic, shoot the questions and comments instead!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-22, 9:50 PM #15
Lens #11: The Lens of Infinite Inspiration

To use this lens, stop looking at your game, and stop looking at games like it. Instead, look everywhere else. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What is an experience I have had in my life that I would want to share with others?
  • In what small way can I capture the essence of that experience and put it into my game?

Pretty self-explanatory -- you get good ideas by thinking outside the box. But then if you went saying that, it wouldn't sound nearly as out of the box, now would it?

As far as experiences I've had that I have and would like to share, there's only two in NeS that I've done so far surprisingly. One is this scene, which I think helped really drive into a climactic moment for that story-arc (one of them anyway). The other would probably be The Campaign: Without Credit and Story Arcade storyarcs in general, though there's a lot that could have probably been done to make them better focused on my experiences. In general, I tend to pull from video games and a little bit of theater. Love, games, and theater are certainly not that far into "everything else" when it comes to storytelling with an audience like the writers and I though, huh? It's amazing though what other writers could draw from though that they likely never will. Semievil the writer, for instance, has a bachelors in philosophy, and he knows his stuff, but I would sooner be likely to stop writing for NeS than for him to use his experiences and knowledge in philosophy with a character like Thand.

What experiences and knowledge have I not written that I would like to share though? I'm not sure I have any. That is, I'd like to write about something, but I don't know if I actually have something in this context that I'd draw inspiration from. Most of my inspiration comes from simply imagining myself as the characters in a story world like the NeS, and it's rare that there are moments where I feel I can pull inspiration from somewhere "outside." I'm well aware of the "what's boring to me could be brilliantly exciting for someone else" but I'm not aware of any niches of my own life that would make for 'outside' inspiration. The best I usually manage is to step inside the shoes of friends and family and then pillage their experiences for the NeS. It's certainly something I could stand to think of more.

As for how I could capture some of my experiences and use them for the NeS, I actually do have one in mind I've been fermenting for some time. I tend to think of myself as someone fascinated with the world of fiction, of fantasy, of games, of motion between moments, of animation, but I don't escape in them so much as think of them in relation to "real life." Much like how Plot itself nearly ended the NeS literally, I think "Real Life" could be an antagonizing role in the future of NeS, where that is often the cause of posts not being written, and how it could add to the world of NeS as a whole. With the nature of "Real Life" being founded in reality, though, there would be no definitive will of its own to prove its presence, but rather, only certain characters -- I'll call them Posters -- who wish to propagate reality into the world of NeS. They would have no power of their own, though -- everything they did could be explained as "straight fiction" story conventions being manipulated. There would even be con artists who could claim to know what is "truly real" and trick people for unrelated power. The character I had in mind in particular would not necessarily be such, but perhaps more like Apathis from Saga of the 3rd War and The Shadows of Darkness of the Vision Cycle series, or like myself, in that this character might love "reality" and wish to apply it to the fantasy story world of the NeS. This is a concept I wish to hold off though until at least the end of the current NeS thread for multiple reasons, though, so for now, the idea will continue to ferment.

Where do you all draw your inspiration from? Please comment, question, and criticize what I've written as well, please!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-23, 9:30 PM #16
Lens #12: The Lens of the Problem Statement

To use this lens, think of your game as the solution to a problem. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What problem, or problems, am I really trying to solve?
  • Have I been making assumptions about this game that really have nothing to do with its true purpose?
  • Is a game really the best solution? Why?
  • How will I be able to tell if the problem is solved?

This is somewhat related to Lens #6, and aims to help define a clear goal and constraints.

With that in mind, I imagine the problems being solved in relation to the readers are:
  • When is it best to run, evade and take flight versus standing your ground, confront, and fight, and how can the two co-exist and conflict with each other?
  • Another way to ask the above problem is when is it best to embrace escapism and the epic fantasy story-world of comedic, absurd meta-fiction versus engaging reality and the mundane 'normal' world of dramatic, sensible meta-narrative, and how can the two co-exist and conflict with each other?
  • How does love shape our lives with friends and loved ones, especially in relation to the questions above and below?

For the writers, I think the problems being solved would be:
  • How do I approach the story presented in the previous posts in an engaging manner?
  • How can I help present the problems mentioned above for the readers to solve for themselves in an engaging manner?

Have I been making assumptions about the NeS that have nothing to do with its true purpose? I wouldn't be surprised if I have, but I think I do my best to remain close to at least what I think the problem statements should be. Having them spelled out like this I think will help though.

Is an [interactive story thread] really the best solution? At least for the moment, yes, I think it is. Some aesthetics, mechanics, story and technologies might benefit from tweaks, but in their foundation, I think it captures the liquid compound nature of the NeS I talked about in my thesis.

How will I tell if these problems are ever solved? Is popularity and frequent and consistent activity a good indicator? Probably not entirely. I'm not sure when I'd know if these problems are solved except by instincts and feelings.

Got a problem with what I said, my bad puns included? Comment, question, and critic what I've said then!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-25, 11:28 AM #17
Lens #13: The Lens of the Eight Filters

To use this lens, you must consider the many constraints your design must satisfy. You can only call your design finished when it can pass through all eight filters without requiring a change [though if your design requires more filters, don’t neglect them]. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Does my game feel right? [artistic impulse]
  • Will the intended audience like this game enough? [demographics]
  • Is this a well-designed game? [Experience Design]
  • Is this game novel enough? [innovation]
  • Will this game sell? [business and marketing]
  • Is it technically possible to build this game? [engineering]
  • Does this game meet our social and community goals? [cultural]
  • Do the playtesters enjoy the game enough? [play]

While there are other filters that would be better added here, and while a number of these are moot, I will be answering just these as I can all the same.

Does the NeS feel right?
Yeah, I think so, on the whole at least. The more something or someone does well, though, the more critical I become, so I find it difficult to be certain of my assessment here.

Will the intended audience like the NeS enough?
That's assuming I knew who the [ideal] audience is for the NeS. As of now, I try to interest just about anybody, but I realize that there will be a lot of people whom the NeS doesn't interest them, and I don't intend to force the NeS to try and be all-inclusive or "lowest common denominator" on anything but the most well-intentioned of the idea. I'm sure some marketing types and I would yell constantly at each other if I actually tried to use this filter.

Is the NeS well-designed?
In relation to designing an experience mentioned in earlier parts like Lens #1, I think it ain't bad. We could probably do more as the writers to communicate with each other on the sort of thing I'm doing in this thread (so we attempt to be all on the same page, pun a little intended) and reward both readers and writers more to continue reading and writing somewhow.

Is the NeS novel enough?
I've not heard of too many interactive stories like this that have continued as long as it has or of this type of wacky modern, meta-fictional, comedic, etc. story. Published stories like the Discworld series and other interactive stories like the Toaster Saga (now long gone from the internet to my knowledge) came close, but even they seem few and far between. So yeah, I don't think lack of novelty is a concern for the NeS. It being too novel/unfamiliar might be, though.

Will the NeS sell?
Doesn't matter at this point, and as I implied in my thesis, might be a poor idea to try and sell the NeS (though I will eventually have to ask myself this if I have success in getting a novel written). With that in mind, I don't know, in large part because of the concerns mentioned in the above filters. I'm not very merchant-minded, nor do I like to be, but I at least have an unshakable confidence to believe it has at least the potential to sell well.

Is it technically possible to build the NeS?
The NeS has been "built" for nearly 11 years as of writing this. Yes, it's technically possible. Even my lofty ideals in the technology department mentioned before I believe are technically possible (though very expensive).

Does the NeS meet our social and community goals?
This is a core component in the analysis of my thesis. Among the writers themselves, I think it does work fairly well, though I still feel it could do more to foster communication and community among them (as I still feel I'm more critical a role in the community than I'd prefer). Among the readers [who are not also writers], however, I feel the NeS does not meet any social or community goals, leaving them to feel "outside the loop" or out of an "inside joke." While there are no significant barriers for anyone to become a writer, I feel a reader should not have to become a writer to feel like they are part of a NeS community. At this point, however, I don't know how best to encourage such a reader-only community.

Do the playtesters enjoy the NeS enough?
Assuming the "playtesters" are both readers and writers, the short is that I don't know. I am unaware of any people who read but don't write for the story, and as for the writers, while I imagine they enjoy it a lot on the whole, I don't know if they enjoy it "enough" to pass this filter. I can't answer this myself, as there hasn't been a day I can remember where I didn't enjoy this, and I know I am not the usual case here. It'd be enlightening for me to try and get together some "playtesting" sessions down, though, and ask both readers and writers what they did and didn't like about certain things. Unfortunately, this is not really in my ability to carry out though.

Hmm... looks like something needs to change, if we're going by these filters. If only I knew what...

Want to try filtering the NeS out yourself, or you just have some comments, questions, and criticisms? Go for it!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-25, 9:07 PM #18
Lens #14: The Lens of Risk Mitigation

To use this lens, stop thinking positively, and start seriously considering the things that could go horribly wrong with your game. Ask yourselves these questions:
  • What could keep this game from being great?
  • How can we stop that from happening?

This lens is meant to be used early in a project's development, using prototyping and playtesting techniques to find problems early before it's too late, something that the NeS thread is far past. However, examining the NeS with this lens could still be useful, so here's my attempt:

Reading and writing on a message board like Massassi is not ideal. Most people prefer to read stories still in a print medium, or at the very least, in easy-to-digest chunks on a page structure more like a book. For writers, I know many turn to writing in a word processor so they can save (almost all of us have had our posts "eaten" by the forum at one time or another), and the tags and requirement to add paragraph breaks can be annoying.

On a reasonable level, the story could be moved to another message-board like system, one that is designed for maximum ease of reading and writing. Have it readable on a iPhone, for instance, could help, or options to reorganize posts in various ways, with a WYSIWYG interface and save feature. On an idealistic level, the technology to have computer screens on paper in something resembling a book, with perhaps a keyboard and stylus built in the inside hardcover, could work wonders.

If it fails here, that's sort of a big problem, right? Well, from what I know, the NeS has improved in its storytelling over the years, and I think we do a pretty good job of working its 'faults' (plotholes, dramatic structure, general inconsistencies, script format, etc.) into the story itself. However, even with that in mind, those faults will still drag the story down without cooperation and respect among the writers, so again, communication between the writers is critical. Remembering that writers are aiming to entertain and engage readers at least equally to themselves is important in keeping the story strong. The rest comes down to those pesky details that often make or break art, which would have to be tackled on a case-by-case basis.

Writers not writing, and not writing with each other, pretty much ruins the NeS. This goes for not playing any game, not reading any story, and living life in general, but unlike those examples, I feel the NeS would have a much more difficult time being "picked back up" from times of inactivity (though I could be wrong). Again, rewarding readers and writers better would help with this, but unfortunately, I don't know the best ways to do that. Apart from that, though, I think the mechanics work well enough.

The NeS may find itself in danger of placing a Lucas-style world-building over characters and their conflicts, but I feel that risk can be easily mitigated by the attempt to retain a fusion between meta-fiction and meta-narrative, escapism and realism, etc. etc. The NeS may also find itself in danger of writers writing too independently of each other. This risk is harder to mitigate, since we're not about to shun even the spam-bots and one-post thread killers at this point. We can create storyarcs intended to challenge people to "screw up the story" to show how it can create some of the best experiences and story, as we did here, but we can only throw that premise out explicitly every so often, even if the implicit premise is always there.

There are likely many more risks that can present themselves, especially if a published work is made, but these are the basic sections this lens is suggested for, and other risks and issues have been, and will continue to be, brought up throughout this thread, as well as any means to mitigate the issues.

Feel I've missed some critical risks and issues, or tackled the ones I mentioned poorly? Please speak up! Question, comment, and criticize to your heart's content!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-26, 7:30 PM #19
As a disclaimer, I know much less than Geb about games and game design, plus I'm not as clever as he is, so don't expect my answers to these lenses to be near as insightful or long as his. Furthermore, there is a great possibility that I will understand some of what a particular lens is getting at, so if an answer is way off the mark, that's why. In addition, a lot of my answers to different lenses may overlap. As well, I'm focusing more on NeS as an experience for writers, rather than just readers.

To me, the essential experience for NeS is FUN, for the reader, yes, but especially for the writer. (I write assuming that any readers are also writers, but this is probably true anyway.) Note also the distinction, as Geb has pointed out before, between "fun" and "funny". (Not that NeS isn't often funny as well.) I guess the primary question here is what about the experience makes it fun.
To me the fun elements is the impression of a large sandbox to play around in. Are you building a Wagnerian sand palace or a simple sand tower? Moats? What are all the other kids in the sandbox building? How can we fuse our castles together? Literally build them into one another? Have them be neighbors? Set them up as rival sand castles? It's an exercise in imagination and cooperation.

Okay, so that's not very technical, but it's that same quality of experience that I get out of NeS and that I think would be wonderful for others to have.

To get this experience, one needs writers who are writing relatively frequently - more than two would be ideal, but too many gets messy, but then what about NeS isn't messy? - as well as writers who are willing to reach out to other writers, even if it's only instory, by building off their ideas instead of simply railroading one's own idea of a subplotline (something I used to do a LOT). The first element is probably the easier of the two, but even that can be difficult, especially since Geb is our primary recruiters. Having other writers try to recruit their friends would be a good idea, and something I'm trying to do with a few people I know (I'm introducing one guy I know who likes to write by first introducing him to NeSi).

The second element, that of interdependence on other's ideas and story building blocks, can be even harder, as it's something that depends a great deal on the personality of the writer. It seems extremely hard for most writers to let go of the idea that they are in control - because it's very hard to be in control of anything in NeS, other than the post you are writing right now. Yes, we can make plans and share them with other writers, but as Benjamin Mahir said once in the workshop, "Not only do you need a Plan B, but Plans C, D, and E, and be prepared to write up a Plan F on the seat of your pants when the next plot twist hits."

Haha! Surprise is the very definition of NeS - one never knows what's happening next. When we try to plan something, it usually ends up being anticlimactic because the writers get bogged down by it. (Either that, or it takes months to write: witness NeS1999.) If anything, we need more surprise sometimes. It is the natural tendency of writers - even those as venerable as the Gebster himself - to make some kind of an outline for the next story arc. Of course, the flipside of that is that without some kind of plan or outline, writers sometimes don't know what to write.

Perhaps our main problem with planning story arcs is that we tend to decide on how it's going to end instead of just pointing the characters in a direction. For example, with the Without Credit arc, we knew we were heading for a showdown with Vice in which Guy Book needs to be rescued so that lovable Geb can recover. On the other hand, the sub-arc on page 26 when some heroes go to Disneyworld merely had a direction: "Let's go to Disneyworld so Sem can reunite with his family!" This, perhaps, can be key to making more surprises and less bogged-down anticlimaxes: directions instead of destinations.

To answer some of the more specific questions about this lens: The direction the story is going in will surprise the readers/writers. (Geb's commment about how embracing or subverting story conventions and how random tidbits of absurdity take on greater importance is a GREAT one.) About the rules, art, and technology offering surprises, Geb pretty much covers that.
Writers can definitely surprise others with their posts, obviously - but often, the greatest surprise is surprising oneself. I often don't know exactly how my post will turn out - in some cases I have NO idea. I simply start with the end of the last post and go. If there's no particularly destination one must reach, you just roll with the punches, even the self-inflicted ones.

Much of the fun in NeS comes from the surprise (#2) that comes from the interplay of imagination and cooperation (see #1).
On the other hand, matters of style can also make the NeS more or less fun to read. A simple script-like style - with double spacing - makes the reading easier on the eyes, whereas reading posts like Shade's old ones (sorry, Shade, if you're reading this) or JM's short novel post Dec 1st '09 or even mine lately (because my comp's not cooperating with me; kudos to Geb for editing double spaces into them) take away from the fun factor. Also, the style of the writing can help.

With many apologies to West Wind and Majiir - who are incredibly talented and brilliant writers who I wish would come back - sometimes people can write in a very heavy narrative style, with long paragraphs of dense text - appropriate for a novel, but difficult on a computer screen, particularly for a story which is generally much lighter in tone than a novel.

As far as the balance between what Geb calls escapism and epic drama... To me, epic drama can also be an escape; by giving meaning to a story, we get some sort of catharsis when the real world often confuses us with its lack of sense or meaning at times. But I digress. I used to lean more towards epic drama; now I lean more to zaniness. Of course, I still like epic drama and use it in my posts, but even then I try to have a hefty dose of zaniness in it. I think both approaches are good, but they just need to be balanced. The biggest problem with epic drama is that it often involves a destination rather than merely a direction (see my notes on Lens #2 above) and as such can bog down the writers. If a writer or writers wants to use some kind of epic drama in his posts or (gasp) plans, (s)he needs to be prepared to see it through himself or else to see it fall by the wayside. On the other hand, other writers should be prepared to cooperate to some degree with the dramatic writers' inclinations. This may be easier for some writers than others. Tracer, for example, prefers unlimited codfish to ultimate power. (Of course, where would we be without Tracer? The story would be much duller and less interesting, for certain.)

I suppose that boils down to Geb's juxtaposition between the epic and the mundane.

On a side note, I anxiously await TLTE's return to NeS, so we can build off each other's epic ideas. :-)

Something else I find very fun about NeS is that it's basically created a setting, a world, of its very own. With hallmarks like a second star or the Sahara having become a giant lake swimming with mutant scorpions, or events like Helebon's brief but hellish dominion, NeS has its own flavor and history apart from "generic Earth setting". One thing I love to play with is how the rest of the world perceives the NeSheroes and their actions, whether it's writing a newscast by Tod Ayitsgon Narain or a reaction from Hero Force One to their lesser-known counterparts.

Often, writers for the NeS come in with their own goals for what they want to create. Back in the day, for example, I wanted to create an epic story about Highemp seeking to conquer the NeS before eventually being redeemed in a grandiose drama. More recently, JM wanted to write the story of JM the Character's split consciousness. I have to admit, ultimately I think these singular goals are often defeating to the spirit of NeS itself. Not that having personal writing goals is bad, but when that's your only driving force, it damages what the story could be. In my case, I was too focused on writing Highemp's story and having go where I wanted it to go, that I couldn't adequately respond to other scenarios set up within the story. I got steamed at Tracer when he zombified my character and put him on Jeopardy, instead of rolling with the punches. (That was back in the 20s of the original thread.)

On a less obsessive level, nearly all writers are more interested in their own characters - Cool Matty, for example, had his subset of characters that he wrote for a lot. And he was by no means alone in that. Often, if a writer didn't know what to do with his/her own character, (s)he wound up writing nothing at all. Kudos to Tracer - not only does he write with any and all characters, he doesn't even have a character of his own (though there was briefly an Agent Tracer who got killed off page 50). Not even Geb has that singleminded devotion to zaniness wherever it can be found.

If more of us could be more like Tracer - or at least more like Geb - and write for all sorts of different characters and scenarios, NeS could get along a lot better. (Of course, many writers have done just that, most recently, brilliant people like Benjamin Mahir and TheBritt.) The question here is, how can NeS put this type of curiosity into writers' minds and make them care about it more?
I'm at a loss to answer that, as much of it depends on the personality of the writer him- or herself. Perhaps the best way is to set up interesting scenarios in one's own posts and seeing how other writers jump on it.

Geb pretty much hits all the points here. A formal reward system would be bad, I agree, and the best rewards for the writers are responses and feedback to their posts, both instory and out of story. If someone writes his posts but his story developments are ignored or rendered moot by a plothole, then he feels left out. And even better are out-of-story compliments (or even constructive criticism). I know when I read Britt's review of NeS1888, I was grinning from ear to ear. It was more than just a line saying, "Hey I loved it," it mentioned specific things he liked or found interesting, plus it was absolutely glowing. I bet all writers could use more of that!

For the writers, as Geb said, most of the problems boil down to that one question about writing a post that's interesting and builds off previous posts. However, there can also be problems of interaction between the writers themselves. Perhaps the biggest conflict (that I know of) was with my constant powerplaying in years past. More than a few writers were upset with me, but TLTE especially got upset (justifiably so, I might add), and thus a major conflict occurred between himself and me. Most disagreements between writers won't be nearly so dramatic, but I think it raises the excellent point that writers must solve interpersonal problems. TLTE and I solved much of ours in the story itself (NeShattered page 1), although poor Geb was a go-between for us, as I didn't have MSN and TLTE didn't have AIM, and only Geb had both. Thus we see that interpersonal problems can be solved in at least two ways: either by direct communication, and/or by settling it instory.

I pretty much agree with Geb here (surprise surprise), but I do have a couple things to add. I think the white text on black background qualifies as an aesthetic. I think it makes NeS easier to read, as it's different from the usual boring black-on-white text, but is still easy to read because of the color contrast (as opposed to blue writing on a green background).
Also, I think some of the mechanics (unless I'm misunderstanding the term) also include unwritten "rules" such as writing NeS in a script-like format or writing narration in italics. That's all I have to add, sorry.
Geb: Here's a $20 for agreeing with me.

2010-04-26, 9:03 PM #20
Lens #15: The Lens of the Toy

To use this lens, stop thinking about whether your game is fun to play, and start thinking about whether it is fun to play with. [Use this lens on either an existing game or to invent new toys and find whether they lend themselves to new games.] Ask yourself these questions:
  • If the NeS had no goal, would it be fun at all? If not, how can I change that?
  • When people see the NeS, do they want to start interacting with it, even before they know what to do? If not, how can I change that?

In answer to the first question, yes. In fact, if not crafted carefully, goals can actually hinder its fun factor. While a round robin-style story isn't usually considered a "toy" in the traditional sense, I think the concept of adding to a story moment-by-moment by different writers qualifies enough in this case. There's inherent fun in the round-robin structure, and the NeS has made it possible to play with it beyond a few short writing exercises. Combining this with the ideal technologies mentioned before could make this more of a "traditional" toy.

However, when people see the NeS, they are usually very hesitant to start interacting with it, ESPECIALLY before they "know what to do" in context. They see it as either a story or sometimes a game, and their expectations with either of them set up ideas in their heads that make it far too daunting to just "play" with the story, get their feet wet, or dive right in as they should.

As for how to change that, that's a bit more difficult. I'm hoping to build a sort of wiki in the near future to help, as wikis have a special ability to suck people into just browsing for hours, the effect of which I would hope be a familiarizing with the craft and community (though there would be parts dedicated to new people). Other than that, though, the task is difficult. Like I said talking about the risks with the experience in the previous lens analysis, we can only post so many "try to ruin the NeS" storyarcs to explicitly help new writers best understand the NeS, and it's difficult to think of any other methods to help bring out the spirit of the toy, as it were. Perhaps someday, I'll find some other good tactics to use.

Also, many thanks to Al Ciao for responding as much as he did! I will do my best to respond in full after I've finished writing through these lenses myself. I would suggest you all not wait to post your own replies, though, as even the shortest of commentaries would be made much longer if one decided to wait until the end, and the thoughts won't be fresh in your mind!

So reply now with your comments, questions, and criticisms, please!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-26, 9:16 PM #21
Having other writers try to recruit their friends would be a good idea, and something I'm trying to do with a few people I know

I for one am ashamed of my internet alter-ego and do my best to keep it a secret.
2010-04-26, 9:27 PM #22
Originally posted by Tracer:
I for one am ashamed of my internet alter-ego and do my best to keep it a secret.

Disappointing, but certainly understandable.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-27, 9:07 PM #23
Lens #16: The Lens of the Player

To use this lens, stop thinking about your game, and start thinking about your player. Ask yourself these questions about the people who will play your game:
  • In general, what do they like?
  • What don’t they like? Why?
  • What do they expect to see in a game?
  • If I were in their place, what would I want to see in a game?
  • What would they like or dislike about my game in particular?

A good game designer should always be thinking of the player, and should be an advocate of the player. Skilled designers hold the Lens of the Player and the Lens of the Holographic Design in the same hand, thinking about the player, the experience of the game, and the mechanics [and art/story/technology] of the game all at the same time. Thinking about the player is useful, but even more useful is watching them play your game. The more you observe them playing, the more easily you’ll be able to predict what they are going to enjoy.

This will be a difficult one for me to answer on part of the writers and especially on part of the readers.

In general, what do they like?
I'm going to take a not-so-wild stab here and say that both the readers and writers like things generally deemed geeky, nerdy, dorky, what-have-you. Reading books, playing video games (beyond the big sellers), entertainment of the fantasy and science fiction genre, violent action, fanservice (for guys, as they still make up a large portion of the 'players'), role-playing games, and things of that general nature. Both probably also lean towards comedy that is dirty and/or absurd (in the stylings of Monty Python, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, etc.). There is a streak of liking romance, in one fashion or another, as well.

Due to the forum on which this story is written, Star Wars is also a franchise that they tend to like significantly.

What don’t they like? Why?
Not being able to get on the internet...? I'm afraid I can't imagine something for this one. I don't know if it's because what they don't like is too diverse or if I'm just unable to put the pieces together.

What do they expect to see in something like the NeS?
Expect? Probably only the tired old "expect the unexpected." Maybe story elements similar to what are found in superhero comic books, maybe a level of comedic absurdity, and if they've read anything more than a post, for the 'plot' not to make much sense.

What would they want to see is something I'll try to answer in the next one.

If I were in their place, what would I want to see in something like the NeS?
As a reader, I would want to see more comedy and admittedly less drama. It's not to say there hasn't been good drama, and I'm a strong advocate of pushing for it when it'll service the story, but more often than not, our attempts at drama in NeS tend to fall short, either being too melodramatic (see parts of the last post on page 50) or boring. At the very least, I'd want the comedy and drama to play off each other, sort of like they do in TV shows like Scrubs. The root desire is just that the NeS be interesting to read, though, whether it be from inherent interest, interest in its style, ability to empathize with the story (and to others), and all other methods touched on previously and in future lenses. From that, it'll matter much less if, for instance, there are gaping plot-holes that would normally ruin most other stories.

As a writer, I want to simply know that what I write matters (which has been touched on earlier and will likely be said again ad naseum). Admittedly, however, even I want there to be times when I can just spout off ideas and have someone else write about them, because I am a lazy bum (something I tried to tackle with partly in the Campaign: Without Credit story-arc and probably didn't entirely succeed in my goal. A "cliff notes" wiki resource would probably also appease my traditional writer side who would like to know more about the NeS and its characters (something I'm working on hopefully having up in the foreseeable future).

What would they like or dislike about the NeS in particular?
For readers, they probably like its humor and dislike its 'unapproachable' immensity (of which often flushes plot down the toilet). Beyond that, I'm really not too sure.

For writers, I imagine they like the core experience of feeling like they can produce the story and consume it at the same time with mostly equal ability to writing or reading a traditional story. They usually like the ability to not have to worry about creating plot-holes and the like as well once they are more familiar with the NeS. New writers, just like new readers, don't like its intimidating size, and plot-holes and such. Even veteran writers though I imagine don't like the time commitment needed on even the most minimum of levels, nor of course do they like when they feel their contributions are not significant or judged well.

Please add your own thoughts, questions, and criticisms you have, either as a "player" yourself or as how you imagine other "players" would respond!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-27, 11:13 PM #24
What would they like or dislike about the NeS in particular?

As I writer, I don't like the way that many of the characters have poorly defined roles and personalities. The best characters for me are Krig, Janitor Bob, TLTE, Geb and Captain Sran. I find that all of the above have very well-crafted (for us ;p) personalities and as a result get written in a consistent manner. I think this is important because it allows the story to have actual character development.

Also for me these are the characters that really stand out. Many of the other "main" characters are hard to write for and somewhat boring to read about because they have no defining attributes and no real opinions on anything. For example, I know that in any given situation Krig the Viking would probably try to 1)eat a thing, 2)drink a thing, or 3) smash a thing. This makes him fun and easy to write for. J-Bob (though he isn't really in the story much anymore) is the same way: he approaches problems (and life) from the perspective of a guy who likes to clean things. For other characters it's no so easy - you may notice that the last time I was going strong writing Semievil, Antestarr and Ford were basically interchangeable in all my posts.

By the same token I usually try to superimpose a personality on characters. This is why I like to write for seldom-used characters. Again, the last time I was writing I pushed to make Cris B into a tries-too-hard doofus guy who really wants attention. I also tried to make MZZT into less of a generic guy and more of an unappreciated tech dude whose good work always seems to go unnoticed. I'm not on a mission to "fix" NeS, I just enjoy it more when the characters stand apart from one-another.

For the record, I'm not all "it has to be off the wall zany lolcodfishlol", I just think that for the most part the story works better when the characters actually do stuff, as opposed to planning to do stuff (some of the best writing in NeS is TLTE the writer's plotting posts regarding Thand) so I tend to write this way. Also, one of the problems I have with my writing is that I'll think of an ending to my current episode or whatever but not how I'm going to get there so I'll just kind of gloss over the parts I haven't really thought of yet. It's partly because of the sometimes rapid-fire nature of NeS that I want to make sure I get the good part that I've already come up with in but that's not much of an excuse.
2010-04-28, 11:47 AM #25
Originally posted by Tracer:
For the record, I'm not all "it has to be off the wall zany lolcodfishlol"...

But...but... unlimited codfish! :(

As for what you said about the characters you prefer to write for, I think that has a lot to do with wanting to write for flat(ter) characters, something I touched on in my thesis. I think Gebohq might actually have a strangely good balance of flat and rounded character depth for the NeS... but that might just be wishful thinking too.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-28, 7:07 PM #26
I don't understand what you mean, writing for flatter characters?
2010-04-28, 7:48 PM #27
It's possible I may have misunderstood you, but in either case, it's a point to be made:

Flat characters are usually characterized by one (or very few) simple traits. Krig, as you said, can often be shown to either just eat something, smash something, or something along those lines. You're not going to have Krig start questioning his own motives, or given some insight as to why he does little else but eat and smash, or given a situation where he would even think to do anything else. For the most part, the strength of the character of Krig relies on that simplicity. Flat(ter) characters are critical in oral storytelling, where complex development would not be remembered as easily (or not heard at all from a previous storytelling session), and they are still very useful in a story like the NeS, where similar situations can arise.

A rounded character, on the other hand, has more complexity that can't be outlined like Krig's. The Last True Evil, for instance, started out as a more flat character (Soviet spy) and then developed into a more rounded character: his conflict between his desire to be a good guy or a bad guy, his love interest with Losien (and how that influences his friendships with Gebohq, for example), his affection for Amal, his hatred of magic-users, his inability to grow a good garden... It is this complexity that makes The Last True Evil an interesting character, especially if he is to serve the role of the Ultimate Villain.

There are plenty of characters in NeS who could stand to be written better, whether they be flat or rounded. If they're flatter, their engaging characteristic needs to carry the whole weight of its appeal. If they're rounder, their complexities need to work off each other so that the sum appeal is at least equal to that of its parts, if not more. Either way, all characters don't hurt from having at least a catchy tag or two as mentioned here (I really need to finish that at some point), as well as have a good introduction and the like.

From what I gathered, you prefer to write for characters with more singular characteristics or "tags" (in the NeS) than ones that need to have their characteristics juggled with other characters and events in the story. Flatter characters also tend to lend themselves to comedies more, which is something the writers usually aim for in the NeS.

Does that clarify what I meant?
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-28, 7:52 PM #28
Oh I see. And now on with the lenses!
2010-04-28, 9:33 PM #29
Lens #17: The Lens of Pleasure

To use this lens, think about the kinds of pleasure your game does and does not provide. [Use this with the Lens of Infinite Inspiration for pleasures not commonly found in most games.] Ask yourself these questions:
  • What pleasures does the NeS give to players? Can these be improved?
  • What pleasures are missing from your experience? Why? Can they be added?

Some examples of types of pleasure, given in The Art of Game Design, include pleasure from sensation, fantasy (the imaginary world/imagination), narrative (drama), challenge, fellowship, discovery, expression, submission (the act of entering the "magic circle" of a game), anticipation, delight in another's misfortune, gift giving, humor, possibility (potential), pride in an accomplishment, purification (think clearing lines in the game of Tetris), surprise, thrill (fear within safety), triumph over adversity (which can be a variant on challenge), and wonder (awe and amazement). The Bartle Test is a method of identifying four general player types by their primary pleasure in multiplayer games, and can be useful to examine the balance of a game's community. What I have just provided will be a root in analyzing the NeS with this particular lens.

Some pleasures mentioned above that the NeS provides are fantasy (a story world ruled by story conventions), narrative (at least I hope so for the readers!), challenge (for the writers to write with the previous posts), fellowship (the collaborative nature of writing), discovery (for the writers in writing posts spontaneously), expression (for the writers, by writing), anticipation (for that next post!), humor, possibility (where the story can go), and surprise (tied into discovery). Out of Bartle's Test, the NeS probably encourages the explorer type the most. In general, crafting engaging situations for both readers and writers will improve any of these: more specific ways to improve can be found in the previous lenses (as well as likely future ones).

Sensation is missing from the NeS because the written word only provides so much there (and is arguably the antithesis of fantasy/imagination). Delight in another's misfortune is missing (I hope, unless we're talking about misfortune writers inflict on their characters) as that would ruin the core experience for the writers. As for the others... I don't really have any significant thoughts on them one way or another, and I don't think it's necessary to add any of them into the NeS.

Admittedly, I'm not feeling as critical with this lens as I probably should. Care to do better? The pleasure is all yours (pun painfully intended). :)
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-29, 9:10 PM #30
Lens #18: The Lens of Flow

To use this lens, consider what is holding your player’s focus. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Does my game have clear goals? If not, how can I fix that?
  • Are the goals of the player the same goals I intended?
  • Are there parts of the game that distract players to the point they forget their goal? If so, can these distractions be reduced, or tied into the game goals?
  • Does my game provide a steady stream of not-too-easy, not-too-hard challenges, taking into account the fact that the player’s skills may be gradually improving?
  • Are the player’s skills improving at the rate I had hoped? If not, how can I change that?

If you're not familiar with the psychological theory of flow, the wikipedia article summarizes it pretty well, and this graph displays ideal flow in an experience. Some major components of flow include: clear goals, concentration, direct and immediate feedback, continuous challenge, and a paradoxical feeling of personal control and loss of self-consciousness.

For this lens, I will be focusing on the 'players' as writers, as I do not believe readers can truly "achieve" goals in a work of fiction, only empathize with the goals of the characters. Applying this lens to the characters I don't believe is useful enough on its own and could actually mislead a writer from taking a better dramatic approach (even if flow bears resemblance to most dramatic arcs).

Does the NeS have clear goals? If not, how can I fix that?
The short: No. It could probably be fixed with communication and setting stronger, clearer examples.

The long: In general, the goals of the writers are to solve the problems, which in analyzing with Lens #12 I suggested were:
  • How do I approach the story presented in the previous posts in an engaging manner?
  • How can I help present problems for the characters that the readers can solve for themselves in an engaging manner?

I have not made this clear in the past to most writers joining in the past, instead having told them that they can pretty much just "write whatever" so long as it was "in the spirit of the NeS" which I suggested they would gather from reading the last page or so of the story. Even with veteran writers, I have only really ever implied through example and anecdotes, partly because I probably didn't think of an overall clear goal myself.

Goals become easier to define when attempting to write for specific story-arcs, or scenes within them. Perhaps the preference for "direction" over a "plan" for a story actually stems from wanting clear goals (but not predetermined outcomes). For instance, ruin the NeS is a very clear goal with a seemingly easy (yet actually very hard) challenge with no pre-determined outcome. On the other hand, the Story Arcade story-arc did not have a very clear goal for the writers (my aim in part was for satirizing role-playing games) and had a pre-determined outcome as well (the protagonists would succeed). As a side tangent, I do not regret pushing forward with the Story Arcade story arc, but there was a lot to be learned from it.

As for fixing the need for clearer goals, simply communicating with the writers on our goals so that we're on (mostly) the same page, and then actually following through with our goals through the posts we write, should fix this problem.

Are the goals of the player the same goals I intended?
I'm not sure. In general, I would say yes, though there have been times when the collaborative foundation of the NeS seems to be forgotten by a writer to pursue a more traditional writer's or game-player's goals, and as Al has mentioned, some of us also fall for self-indulgence that relate to neither good founded methods of writing or playing. As for specific goals, I think they often differ, again, mostly when the writer ignores (or is ignorant of) the goals of another.

Are there parts of the NeS that distract players to the point they forget their goal? If so, can these distractions be reduced, or tied into the goals in the NeS?
Unfortunately, the one thing that makes the NeS possible is also probably the largest culprit of distraction: the Internet and its ability to offer anonymity. Collaboration is more difficult when the writers live often hundreds of thousands of miles apart, and it takes more energy and time to collaborate online than it would in person. I have a feeling there are other components, possibly within the story itself, that could distract the writers from their goals, but I'm having a difficult time thinking of them right now. I'm not sure there is much that can be done to reduce or tie such things into the goals of the NeS either.

Does the NeS provide a steady stream of not-too-easy, not-too-hard challenges, taking into account the fact that the player’s skills may be gradually improving?
No. Since the NeS does not have an end (even the most massive of multiplayer online RPGs have a maximum character level and a finite number of quests), and since we depend on new writers all the time, crafting such a stream would be incredibly challenging at best, if not impossible. The NeS is heavily reliant on writers creating their own "flow stream" -- at least as of now -- and that makes it very easy for them to also not design a proper "flow stream" as well.

Are the player’s skills improving at the rate I had hoped? If not, how can I change that?
If we're to judge by the narrative contents within the NeS as a whole, I would say yes. This is difficult to determine, though, as many writers have joined and dropped throughout the course of its history. I would still say that most writers improve a great deal from when they start writing to whenever last they wrote, which I find to be encouraging.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-04-30, 9:08 PM #31
Lens #19: The Lens of Needs

To use this lens, stop thinking about your game, and start thinking about what basic human needs it fulfills. Ask yourself these questions:
  • On which levels of Maslow’s hierarchy is my game operating?
  • How can I make my game fulfill more basic needs than it already is?
  • On the levels my game is currently operating, how can it fulfill those needs even better?

It sounds strange to talk about a game fulfilling basic human needs, but everything that people do is an attempt to fulfill these needs in some way. And keep in mind, some games fulfill needs better than others – your game can’t just promise the need, but must deliver on the fulfillment of the need. If a player imagines that playing your game is going to make them feel better about themselves, or get to know their friends better, and your game doesn’t deliver on these needs, your player will move on to a game that does.

For those of you unfamiliar with Maslow's hierarchy of need, Wikipedia once again saves the day. It's certainly got its own flaws as a theory, but it's useful enough to analyze the NeS with it. The basic premise is that more base needs (such as food and shelter) need to be fulfilled before one can properly try to fulfill higher needs (such as the need for creative self-expression).

On which levels of Maslow’s hierarchy is the NeS operating?
The lowest level the NeS can operate for the writers is on the level of love and belonging (since the community is a fairly important aspect of the NeS), though it operates more on the level of esteem and especially in self-actualization (creativity and achievement in crafting story posts). For the readers, it can only hope to operate on the level of self-actualization, if any at all.

How can I make the NeS fulfill more basic needs than it already is?
Um... make it a job? Add some addictive substances to it? Yeah... probably not a good idea. Fiction and games should not operate on a level below love and belonging as far as I'm concerned.

On the levels the NeS is currently operating, how can it fulfill those needs even better?
Focusing more on the community (though I'm not sure how would be best). Reward people with praise for writing any posts, and especially what good stuff they write (unlike me -- bad me!). Reward attempts at creativity. I could provide more concrete ideas... but that would make too much sense.

Feel the need to interject? You know you do (if only to stop me from making bad puns). Comment, question, and criticize away!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-02, 4:50 PM #32
Lens #20: The Lens of Judgment

To decide if your game is a good judge of the players, ask yourself these questions:
  • What does your game judge about the players?
  • How does it communicate this judgment?
  • Do players feel the judgment is fair?
  • Do they care about the judgment?
  • Does the judgment make them want to improve?

This is tied in part to the level of esteem in the previous lens, and is based on the assumption that people want to be judged (so long as it's judged fairly). I think this is true to a certain extent, though I think most people would still hope to hear positive judgment over even the smallest negative-yet-largely-constructively-critical judgment. After all, all of us get a little down when we hear it could have been judged more favorably. Still, this is again a useful lens to examine the NeS with, so examine I will.

What does your game judge about the players?
For the readers, not much more than their reading comprehension, imagination, and sometimes ability to think deeper. For the writers, it judges readability in their writing, ability to engage readers and writers (a catch-all for story-telling that includes humor and drama where applicable), improvisational skills in regards to writing, and a level of sociability with the other writers -- some of these which may be judged more from the writers themselves than the inherent structure of the story.

How does it communicate this judgment?
Within the story, any of the judgments applicable would be communicated through how the judged person's post is integrated into further posts. Material integrated significantly into the story appears to be judged more favorably, while material ignored or altered significantly appears to be judged less so. Most judgment (or lack thereof) is made outside the story, though, either through the workshop thread or through personal IMs, e-mails, or the like.

Do players feel the judgment is fair?
I don't know, and I'd be hard-pressed to venture a guess. I know I tend not to give enough feedback/judgment on people's posts (mostly because I don't wish to flood the workshop or their personal communication systems), and when I do, I tend to be be cold and overly-critical, which is also why I don't communicate my judgment often, saving them for only the people I have high regards and/or feel they can take it with a grain of salt. My judgment for pretty much any post (if not all posts) should always be assumed to at least say "a story post -- hooray!" regardless of quality.

Do they care about the judgment?
Often, at least when the judgment comes from me. Again, I'm hesitant to communicate my judgment because I feel it shouldn't[/url] be dependent on me, but I'd find it difficult to think of a good alternative too.

Does the judgment make them want to improve?
I have a feeling it might. I'd like to think the NeS is a place where people can feel good about improving themselves, and not a place for either complacent or stressful writing.

Want to judge better yourself, or judge The Judge and the other NeS women in a beauty contest? Then comment, question, and criticize with this lens!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-02, 10:30 PM #33
Lens #21: The Lens of Functional Space

To use this lens, think about the space in which your game really takes place when all surface elements are stripped away. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Is the space of this game discrete or continuous?
  • How many dimensions does it have?
  • What are the boundaries of the space?
  • Are there sub-spaces? How are they connected?
  • Is there more than one useful way to abstractly model the space of this game?

Now we're starting to approach more lenses that will be intended more for games, especially with video games in mind. However, I'm going to press forth and do my best anyway, since I think they can provide some useful insight!

Is the space of the NeS discrete or continuous?
To give a simple example of what is meant by discrete and continuous, the space of tic-tac-toe is discrete, and the space on a pool table (in play) is continuous. Games can be analyzed as both types of spaces though.

As far as the NeS is concerned, I'm not sure. If we consider its space discrete, it is mostly linear (in that it's on a thread and written mostly in chronological order) and story segments are broken up by posts, with the 'space' in a post being largely like a square on a Monopoly board. If we consider its space continuous, we can note that there are few 'boundaries' in writing within the space of the NeS - at least in comparison to traditional stories and role-playing games, and especially if we view it from within the story world itself.

How many dimensions does it have?
It has zero dimensions, much like a game of 20 questions. It can be thought of as a one-dimensional space though (in its linear nature). Within the story...however many dimensions we want? I mean, there's an eighth dimension after all... :P

What are the boundaries of the space?
Typically, the boundaries are the thread which the story is written on, though it has sometimes expanded to the Interactive Story Board at large. Within the thread, boundaries further define who writes which posts. Within the context of the story, the boundaries are pretty loose, but I tend to encourage people to keep the characters on Earth, leaving the solar system a mostly-abandoned frontier and other dimensions a side venture.

Are there sub-spaces? How are they connected?
An example of sub-spaces can be found in most videogame RPGs, where you have an overworld map and then 'nested' spaces of towns and dungeons and such. I don't believe the NeS has any such spaces, in-story or out.

Is there more than one useful way to abstractly model the space of the NeS?
Possibly, but my imagination is not creative enough to think of other ways to abstractly model such ideas.

Please feel free to comment, question, criticize and have your own take at it.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-03, 9:12 PM #34
Lens #22: The Lens of Dynamic State

To use this lens, think about what information changes during your game, and who is aware of it. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What are the objects in my game?
  • What are the attributes of the objects?
  • What are the possible states for each attribute? What triggers the state changes for each attribute?
  • What state is known by the game only?
  • What state is known by all the players?
  • What state is known by some, or only one player?
  • Would changing who knows what state improve my game in some way?

The objects and their attributes are described in The Art of Game Design as the nouns and their adjectives of a game. Objects in Super Mario Bros., for instance, would include Mario, enemies, power-ups, coins, etc. and their attributes would be things such as alive, dead, walking, obtained, and the like, with state changes being made by coming into contact with an object, waiting for the game timer to run out, and so on. It would take far too long to answer these questions in full for the NeS, so I will only be providing either very general answers or a couple, very specific examples.

What are the objects in the NeS?
Objects withinin the story itself include its large cast of characters (such as Gebohq, The Last True Evil, Al Ciao, Rachel, and Master Thand), personal items they carry (such as the NeSword and an engagement ring), plotholes (which manifest literally as unstable sources of power and transportation), story conventions, and any number of random things. Outside the story-world, objects include the array of words in the English language for the writers (as well as their attributes, with their state changes being governed by its grammar).

What are the attributes of the objects?
Attributes can include behaviors and emotions for the characters as well as their roles in the story (protagonist, antagonist, good guy, bad guy, love interest, comic relief, serious relief). The attributes of story conventions vary immensely, thus making it an art form and challenge in itself to wield properly (resources such as TV Tropes show the immensity of the objects, attributes, and state changes that story conventions cover).

What are the possible states for each attribute? What triggers the state changes for each attribute?
State changes in the characters are determined by events in the story, who they interact with, what they interact with, how they interact with them, where and when they interact with them, why they interact with them... The Elements of Story I wrote up some time ago might be a good insight into the story's objects, attributes, and its state changes.

Rachel, for instance, serves to protect the story from turning too dull by creating conflict. If the side of Good seems to be too strong, she will act as an antagonist, and if the side of Evil seems to be too strong, she will act as a protagonist. She also has a love/hate relationship of sorts with Gebohq, so if harm comes his way, she will likely aim to defend him, but if he's doing well, she will likely aim to make his life difficult, and these things can work in concert or conflict with her other roles.

What state is known by the NeS only?
None. While the illusion may be present that the NeS has an autonomous nature to it, it can not act to move the story on its own.

What state is known by all the players?
Anything that has already been posted. Realistically, the further back into the story one goes, though, the less the average reader or writer will know of it. While the story is not hidden, its immense size makes it increasingly difficult to "know" all of its objects and the like.

What state is known by some, or only one player?
Pretty much anything that is not written yet. While we have the workshop thread to communicate our knowledge, writers are given the freedom to retain story ideas they wish to use for themselves (or only share with a few other writers through private messages). This is especially true when a writer creates story material on the spot, so that they themselves do not know what "state" in the story they're in until they write it (which adds to the illusion that the NeS itself has knowledge only it knows, as it feels like the writer is "drawing" from it like some sculptors claim to feel when carving a scultpure).

Would changing who knows what state improve the NeS in some way?
Not really. While I am a strong advocate that the writers should make as much of their story ideas public among other writers as they can. Even I though realize the merit of keeping some ideas to themselves, so as to add to the illusion of the automatism of the NeS as well as to have one's cake (to be a reader unaware of what the future of the story holds) and eat it too (to be a writer for it and have some idea where it will go). Still, I believe that a story should be able to stand strong even when its "mystery" from a first reading is gone, so I err on the side of public knowledge of the "states" in the story for the writers. The current knowledge of the story's state for the readers should remain the same, if not hidden even more (which I'm hoping a wiki resource will make possible).
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-05, 4:16 AM #35
Lens #23: The Lens of Emergence

To make sure your game has interesting qualities of emergence, ask yourself these questions:
  • How many verbs do my players have?
  • How many objects can each verb act on?
  • How many ways can players achieve their goals?
  • How many subjects do the players control?
  • How do side effects change constraints?

This lens, and the next lens, are tied together, as they both involve actions, which the author of The Art of Game Design sometimes calls "verbs" (partly in relation to the previous lens which involves objects). Actions in a game are critical (as I will talk about more in the next lens), and they are a means of encouraging emergence.

Some methods of encouraging emergent behavior are as follows: having a large number of meaningful resultant (effect-oriented) actions in proportion to operation-oriented actions, adding more "verbs" (operative actions), adding "verbs" that can act on many objects, goals that can be achieved in more than one way, having a number of subjects/objects, and having actions with side-effects that change the constraints of the game. These are not solutions in themselves, but only tools to grow emergence like a garden.

How many verbs do my players have?
For the readers, only the perceived actions of the characters. For the writers, there would seem to be as nearly infinite as there are literally verbs in the English language. However, a simplified method could also be considered in relation to the problem statements mentioned in Lens #12. In no particular order, a writer may at any time when writing their post take the following general actions:
  • add more conflict
  • resolve a conflict
  • add more comedy or drama
  • make a character rounder or flatter

How many objects can each verb act on?
Any of the above can act on the vast variety of objects that are in the NeS. One small addition of conflict can provide the story with a great deal of perceived life of its own.

How many ways can players achieve their goals?
Again, a virtually infinite number of ways are possible for writers to achieve their goal. Even the reader has a similar potential for following the perceived actions of the characters.

How many subjects do the players control?
Once more, they have a large pool of subjects that they can control, though they usually prefer to focus on one (or a few) that are "theirs" -- a notion I do my best to discourage. Control is made possible through collaboration, which is a concept I think is not only critical to the NeS, but a rarely-tapped possibility in games themselves, especially the role-playing kind.

How do side effects change constraints?
This is assuming that the NeS has constraints... Let's first try to figure out which constraints the writers may have:
  • They must obey the forum rules (ex. no foul language)
  • They should be cooperative and respectful to the other readers (where applicable) and writers
  • They should write material that is enjoyable/engaging for other readers and writers
  • They are encouraged to write in a script format
  • They are encouraged to write in the present tense

With that in mind, adding conflict may push the boundaries of rules such as no foul language, resolving conflicts may cause (intentional or accidental) disrespect or disinterest with regarding another person, and adding comedy may play with the structure of the present-tense, script format.

All in all, though, what this lens tells me is that there is too much, which the author of The Art of Game Design points out risks being "bloated, confusing, and inelegant" -- especially when these elements are not meaningful. A possible solution to this is to encourage the writers to work more with different angles on what has already been established (characters and their established behaviors, objects, goals, etc.) instead of crafting with new actions and objects, and to keep the "verbs" as tight and simple as possible.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-06, 11:37 PM #36
Lens #24: The Lens of Action

To use this lens, think about what your players can do and what they can’t, and why. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What are the operational actions in my game?
  • What are the resultant actions?
  • What resultant actions would I like to see? How can I change my game in order to make those possible?
  • Am I happy with the ratio of resultant to operational actions?
  • What actions do players wish they could do in my game that they cannot? Can I somehow enable these, either as operational or resultant actions?

Action, as presented by Alexander Galloway in Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, is what defines games as a medium. It is the crux of meaningful play, and I would argue, a pivotal element of communication and life. While the NeS is not a game, it is hard to overstate the value of examining it through this lens.

What are the operational actions in the NeS?
Operational actions are the "verbs" discussed about in the previous lens, and can be thought of as the active, direct actions taken. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate operational from resultant, as good operational and resultant actions are often symbiotic with each other. Let's try to answer this with a more concrete example -- I'll use TLTE's last story post as it's one of the later, shorter posts to work with easily enough. (Hope you don't mind me picking this post apart like this, TLTE -- Al's posts are too long for my needs here.)

Operational actions that appear to have been taken by TLTE as a writer include: continuing conflict between TLTE [the character] and Krig, resolving the [temporary] conflict of Master Thand standing in the ways of the protagonists, adding a potential conflict for the protagonists involving future traps.

What are the resultant actions?
Resultant actions can be thought of as the more passive, indirect actions that arise from the operational actions. Again, let's use the story post used in the previous question as an example:

Resultant actions that appear to arise from what TLTE the writer wrote: a potential increase in future animosity between TLTE and Krig, Thand [within the post] steps away as an active antagonist, adding a potential conflict for the protagonists involving future traps, and giving the writers an option for direction [boats to Thand's island treasury].

What resultant actions would I like to see? How can I change the NeS in order to make those possible?
Again, let's use the example story post.

Resultant actions I would like to see are any that encourage further potential conflict and engagement with the readers and writers. In TLTE's post, having Thand shift back to a less-active antagonist is a lot like using the passive voice: it makes resultant actions fewer and weaker. Admittedly, in this case, the previous elements set up made doing otherwise very difficult ( (1)Thand had previously seemed to manipulate the situation into an no-win situation in his favor (he "actively" withdrew from being an antagonist altogether, literally killing the conflict and the NeS as a result, and the hint that Thand's manipulation 'failed' with Krig creating conflict with TLTE was lost on most of us and (2) Thand by his character is generally aloof and prefers not to play such active roles). The post also ended with providing boats for the protagonist, requiring the other writers to add conflict of their own instead of working off a continued string of operational-resultant conflict.

I don't think there's anything in the NeS that should be changed for a couple reasons. One, what resultant actions I think should be in NeS might not necessarily be what other writers feel should be in the NeS, or even what's best for it (if not synonymous). Two, trying to place any sort of "rules" to stimulate certain resultant actions could be tricky at the least, and I'm not just talking about written "laws" but even encouraging 'unwritten' kind or the like, as I believe they could easily be taken in a bad direction.

Am I happy with the ratio of resultant to operational actions?
It depends from post to post. On the whole, though, I would say that the NeS encourages the opportunities for a good ratio (that is, many resultant actions for each operational action), and I think there have been a lot of story posts that manage to capture this. Still, happy is not the same as content; I am happy that the ratio is good, but I am not content enough to think it can't still be significantly improved. I'm hoping this exercise in each analysis I perform can help with that, with myself as well as others.

What actions do players wish they could do in the NeS that they cannot? Can I somehow enable these, either as operational or resultant actions?
Good question -- I'm not sure. I think, as with the previous lens, that our problem may be too much freedom (and thus less from being overwhelmed) in our actions, or perhaps just focus on which actions work better for the NeS in general than others -- strategies, if you will.

Think I'm going off the deep end with my confusing rambling? I wouldn't blame you if you did! So please question, comment, and criticize anything I've said, as well as make your own attempt at analyzing with this lens!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-08, 12:07 PM #37
Lens #25: The Lens of Goals

To ensure the goals of your game are appropriate and well-balanced, ask yourself these questions:
  • What is the ultimate goal in my game?
  • Is that goal clear to players?
  • If there is a series of goals, do the players understand that?
  • Are the different goals related to each other in a meaningful way?
  • Are my goals concrete, achievable, and rewarding?
  • Do I have a good balance of short-term and long-term goals?
  • Do players have a chance to decide their own goals?

This lens is likely to overlap heavily with the previous lens and the the lens of the problem statement, and I'm sure I could do more to better analyze with each lens more distinctively. With that disclaimer out of the way...

What is the ultimate goal in the NeS?
For the readers, their goal is simply to discover how the NeS unfolds, how the characters solve conflicts they find themselves in, and to think about the implications that can be found.

For the writers, their goal is also to help design the experience (second-hand, mind you -- we don't design the experiences themselves) for the readers (and, like a tour guide, can either guide them through the familiar, like in genre work, or through things more unfamiliar, like in 'straight' fiction). Unlike most traditional writers, the ultimate goal must also be accomplished in collaboration with other writers as well, and in a manner familiar mostly only to improvisational actors.

Is that goal clear to players?
For the readers, I would hope so. For the writers, I'm not so sure. In the past, I've told them the goal was "to have fun" which, while still very important, I'm not sure I would say is the ultimate goal. Having fun should be caused by well-designed goals, actions, and the like, not ultimately be the goals, actions, and the like themselves. Hopefully, these lenses will make the goal clearer to others -- which isn't to say that it's even clear enough now. These sort of things are really the parts I'm hoping other writers will chime in on and work collaboratively with me on defining.

If there is a series of goals, do the players understand that?
For the writers, I think they understand that there is a series of goals, if only because of the structure of "posts on a thread." There is the following:

Ultimate Goal: craft the story as a whole in a collaborative, engaging manner for both readers and writers.
Goal Per Thread: Perhaps least thought of, but crafting on a scale per thread (ex. just NeSquared as a story of its own instead of in a larger continuation with the original NeS thread).
Goal Per Story-Arc: Similar, but on a smaller scale.
Goal Per Post: Similar again, but on a post-by-previous-post basis.
Goal Per Moment: Similar once again, but on a moment-by-moment basis, where each line a character says or action they take has an immediate goal in mind.

There are also actions that serves as goals: make the story more comedic, make the story more dramatic, create more conflicts, and resolve existing conflicts.

Are the different goals related to each other in a meaningful way?
Yes, I would hope so. I think the nature of the NeS being a story helps with that, no matter how much absurdity there is, how many plotholes crop up, or how often actions are not taken to their best potential.

Are my goals concrete, achievable, and rewarding?
Concrete: Probably could stand to be moreso, even after using this lens. The best (or at least simplest) way would be to use the workshop thread (or perhaps a wiki-type site) as a place to post our analysis of each post as well as define concrete goals on the two smallest scales and possibilities on how to solve them. This runs the problem of 1) the NeS being 'too much work' though, 2) slowing down the NeS too much (though honestly, I don't think it could get much slower right now) and 3) facing the stigma of 'too many posts in the workshop thread'.

Achievable: They are very much achievable on the smaller scales, and also provide more challenge on the higher scales (through sheer amount of material) as well as the whole 'easy to learn, hard to master' nature of the NeS.

Rewarding: Yes, so long as feedback is given (through future story posts and out-of-story conversation), which admittedly I've not done as much as I should. Again, the workshop could be a place for out-of-story feedback more, and trying to advertise the story more in general (though such success would depend a great deal on writers focusing more on the readers and not just to themselves or even each other).

Do I have a good balance of short-term and long-term goals?
I think so. I think short-term could always be encouraged more, as well as being able to step back and 'look at the big picture' on a foundational level from time to time. Analyzing with these lenses is helping me in part to do the latter, as has re-reading the whole of the NeS from time to time (which I am overdue for doing).

Do players have a chance to decide their own goals?
Most certainly on the smaller scales, which in turn, shape the goals on the larger scales. Admittedly, though I've hampered these chances in the past with story-arcs such as Story Arcade, which, while I don't regret having done, reminds me of the importance of the democratic collaboration needed to successfully craft for the NeS and not to have a "game master" or "lead writer" or "tyrant with an iron fist"...

Help me out, people! Post your comments, questions, criticisms, and your own analysis with this lens, please!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-08, 11:41 PM #38
Lens #26: The Lens of Rules

To use this lens, look deep into your game, until you can make out its most basic structure. [While rules are a critical component of a game, a designer should avoid starting with a creation of rules to make a game, but instead make a game and build the rules to support it.] Ask yourself these questions:
  • What are the foundational rules of my game? How do these differ from the operational rules?
  • Are there “laws” or “house rules” that are forming as the game develops? Should these be incorporated into my game directly?
  • Are there different modes in my game? Do these modes make things simpler, or more complex? Would the game be better with fewer modes? More modes?
  • Who enforces these rules?
  • Are the rules easy to understand, or is there confusion about them? If there is confusion, should I fix it by changing the rules or by explaining them more clearly?

As some of you might imagine, analyzing with this lens will be a bit tricky.

The foundational rules are the "implicit, theoretical basis of the game" or the "underlying formal structure of the game" -- something like a mathematical model. If such a model for the NeS could be made, I'm pretty sure the person who made it should be trying to cure cancer instead. Still, one foundational rule for the NeS might be something like "the current writer's engagement with another writer raises the more material the current writer includes from the other writer's material." Operational rules -- which are simply "what do the players do to play the game?" -- differ in the NeS from its foundational rules in that the NeS is shaped far more by its behavioral rules (which develop into "laws" and "house rules") than its foundational ones, if any at all.

Behavioral rules are the equivalent of "good sportsmanship." In the NeS, things like writing in a similar style to previous posts, not ignoring other people's material, and the like are the closest the NeS has had to 'rules' as I see it. While there are no "laws" (sportsmanship explicitly made into written rules), there are certainly 'house rules' (or rather, rules not as unanimous among all the writers). Such 'house rules' might include not posting multiple times in a row, not writing with copyrighted material, ignoring plot points that might make it less fun to write, and so on. While some behavioral rules may benefit from being more incorporated into the NeS, I'd be hesitant to implement even too much of those as "rules of NeS" much less ones not embraced by a majority.

Modes are essentially different rule sets and sub-sets within a game, such as a free-shot throw in basketball or taking up target practice in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In the NeS, there can be different "modes" on a smaller scale of post-by-post basis depending on what the story calls for at the time -- the "meanwhile" moments may capture in part the idea of different modes in the NeS (though I would urge everyone not to think of modes in NeS as solely parallel storyarcs). On the whole, I feel any modes the NeS uses probably make it simpler (to write for at least), though I would probably err for it to have less modes over more, since I feel the usual problem with the NeS is having too much and not too little.

Any rules that are in the NeS are, unfortunately, probably enforced mostly by me. I say unfortunately because, if any rules are to be enforced, I feel it should be as democratic as possible, and I'm not even a fan of "democratically deciding I should be supreme judge" -- at least in the current state of the NeS.

I think if there's confusion about the "rules" of the NeS, it's that there are "no rules" (or more accurately, few rules, and not the ones people usually expect, and certainly not ones to keep people from "messing up the story"). Still, such "rules" could be better explained, especially for potential new writers, to give them as much guidance as possible.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-09, 1:02 AM #39
For me the only rules are to go with the flow of what's been written and try to keep my posts consistent with the spirit of the story. For example one time I killed off the character blujay which Geb promptly undid in the next post, but he did it in a way that was kind of funny so it wasn't a problem at all - it was great. edit - This is actually one of the things that I enjoy about NeS, because although good ideas can come from me better ideas can come from other people. The other posts often give me new ideas for the story which is why I love it when the other writers get directly involved with the same characters I'm writing for.

I think the key to both of those rules is just keeping up with the research, making sure that I know what other writers have written so I don't directly contradict and invalidate what they wrote. Although sometimes these plotholes can actually help the story along - I remember Krig had a hilarious continuity post when the TACC side-story got pasted in to the main thread.

One of my worst moments for following my own rules was during the dreamstate arc. I had been taking a break from posting then decided one day to drop back in and make a game-changing post. It was a dumb move.
2010-05-09, 9:26 PM #40
Lens #27: The Lens of Skill

To use this lens, stop looking at your game, and start looking at the skills you are asking of your players. [This works well with the Lens of Essential Experience.] Ask yourself these questions:
  • What skills does my game require from the player?
  • Are there categories of skill that this game is missing?
  • Which skills are dominant?
  • Are these skills creating the experience I want?
  • Are some players much better at these skills than others? Does this make the game feel unfair?
  • Can players improve their skills with practice?
  • Does this game demand the right level of skill?

Skills that the NeS requires include: basic competency in English reading and writing, enough computer skills to type and posting on a message board, ability to work with others, ability to improvise -- all of which are either mental or social skills, requiring few physical skills of any sort. Of these skills, the dominant ones (or at least the ones that define a "good NeS writer" tend to be the ability to collaborate and improvise. I don't feel any of these skills are directly helping to evoke the experiences I listed from Lens #1, but I do think they are crucial to make the experience of a "living story" possible.

There are certainly some writers who are more skilled in these regards than others, but I don't feel their skill make participation for the less skilled feel "unfair." At most, less skilled writers (or almost always rathered perceived less skilled writers) feel that they will somehow ruin things if they participate. They most certainly can improve their skills with practice, and the NeS I feel demands the right level of skill for the few skills it does demand.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories

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