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ForumsInteractive Story Board → The NeS through 99 Lenses
The NeS through 99 Lenses
2010-05-10, 7:52 PM #41
Still working on catching up on your posts Geb.

Influence: I know now that the posts that I did make had tons of influence from personal real life stuff. I did intend to base some things off of stuff in my life into what I wrote but more of me came out in the writing than I thought I was putting out there. An example of something from the real life me that I didn't realize I put in was how I just really really don't like to be abandoned.

other influences of course from Movies and such. and from the interactivity, influence came from other writers
2010-05-10, 9:08 PM #42
Lens #28: The Lens of Expected Value

To use this lens, think about the chance of different events occurring in your game, and what those mean to your player. [Attempting to assign value to even the unquantifiable.] Ask yourself these questions:
  • What is the actual chance of a certain event occurring?
  • What is the perceived chance?
  • What value does the outcome of that event have? Can the value be quantified? Are there intangible aspects of value that I am not considering?
  • Each action a player can take has a different expected value when I add up all the possible outcomes. Am I happy with these values? Do they give the player interesting choices? Are they too rewarding, or too punishing?

I'm afraid attempting to analyze the NeS with this lens might not be very useful, but I'll tinker with it all the same.

Within the story, the actual chance of any event happening is pretty high, for better and for worse, though it may not be quite as high as the perceived chance. Despite the possibilities present -- certainly ones more likely than in many other forms of entertainment -- the probability that the story will have a post next involving a copy-and-paste job from is lower than having the characters press forth on their current quest. Of course, now that I said that, the probability of the former now skyrocketed like some cruel observation effect. As for outside the story, I'm sure there could be some very interesting patterns to discover if I were to break down the rate of posts over time by each writer and compare them to the content in the posts, but that's a text-study I'm not going to indulge in anytime soon. Besides, I'm fairly certain it would point to things like "people write less over time," "people write less towards the end of a story-arc," and "people write less when their material isn't being collaborated on."

As for assigning values to the actions that can be taken in the NeS, I don't think I could even begin to take a stab at that with even small example slices. I would say though that, on a whole, actions taken only have value when they are engaging, whether that be between characters and their behaviors, with the reader and their attention, or with other writers and collaboration. I think that there are too many actions to take, and not enough incentive to engage on any of these levels (not to underestimate the joy of simply writing, but participating in the NeS on even the smallest amount takes significant time and effort, which should also not be underestimated). I still don't know how best to solve these issues yet, but perhaps simply presenting the issues will have others help to solve the problem.

Thanks Tracer and Voodoo for continuing to post your thoughts, and as I said before, I'll try to respond more in full after I'm done all these. Don't let that from stopping the rest of you from posting your own comments, questions, criticisms and stabs at these lenses yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-10, 10:07 PM #43
I find myself reading the Lens entries and wishing more video game companies applied them to their games.
2010-05-10, 10:49 PM #44
Well, giving companies the benefit of the doubt, I do have a lot of advantages going for me: no timetable imposed by someone else, no dependency on money and resources, and not yet trying (nevermind with success) to apply each analysis in improving the NeS (though I hope to do so!), just to name a few. But yes, I do believe strongly that game design -- the design of game play and the experiences it evokes -- might be overlooked by some as they emulate movies, or previous game genres, or questionable commercial campaigns, all of which I wish I was better able to explore more in the story-arcs The Campaign: Without Credit and Story Arcade. These trends are certainly nothing new, but as games are rising from ancient traditions and into a more recognized medium, how the future of the medium's impact unfolds will be dependent on the games being made of our generation.

I'm also so insane as to think that the NeS as a whole could be the Holy Grail of storytelling and gaming traditions compounded. Pardon me now as I run off to attack a windmill...
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-11, 9:12 PM #45
Lens #29: The Lens of Chance

To use this lens, focus on the parts of your game that involve randomness and risk, keeping in mind that those two things are not the same. [Be sure to use randomness and risk enough to keep the game from being bland but not so much as to overwhelm everything else.] Ask yourself these questions:
  • What in my game is truly random? What parts just feel random?
  • Does the randomness give the players positive feelings of excitement and challenge, or does it give them negative feelings of hopelessness and lack of control?
  • Would changing my probability distribution curves improve my game?
  • Do players have the opportunity to take interesting risks in the game?
  • What is the relationship between chance and skill in my game? Are there ways I can make random elements feel more like the exercise of a skill? Are there ways I can make exercising skills feel more like risk-taking?

There is nothing truly random in the NeS, because everything in the NeS is created by purpose from at least one writer at any given time. Even if said writer creates something spontaneously, they're aware of what's in the text field before they click the "submit reply" button and have the choice to alter it if they wish. On the other hand, lots of the NeS feels random, especially when a writer other than yourself comes out of left field in their content. It's part of that perception that helps with Lens #2: The Lens of Surprise.

I would say the [perceived] randomness gives others both the sense of excitement (though not necessarily challenge, even though it could) and lack of control (but not necessarily hopelessness, though again, it could), so it dances the line in this case, leaning towards the positive for those familiar with the NeS and probably negative for those not familiar with the NeS. I don't have the slightest idea how the probability distribution curves could be graphed for the NeS or if any changes to it would improve the NeS.

I'm not sure about the readers, but I'm fairly certain the writers are given plenty of opportunities to take interesting risks with the NeS -- I sometimes tell potential writers that there is a (good) challenge and risk-factor to be had in the collaborative nature of writing for the NeS.

As for chance in NeS as it relates to the skills needed, I would say that the skills are all about adapting to the [perceived] chance in the NeS (collaboration and improvisation). The skills needed inherently require a level of risk-taking, though there's probably not much that can be done to make random elements feel more like the exercise of a skill.

Take a chance and post your own comments, questions, criticisms, and attempts at analyzing the NeS yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-12, 9:04 PM #46
Lens #30: The Lens of Fairness

To use the Lens of Fairness, think carefully about the game from each player’s point of view. Taking into account each player’s skill level, find a way to give each player a chance of winning that each will consider to be fair. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Should my game be symmetrical? Should it be asymmetrical? Why?
  • Which is more important: that my game is a reliable measure of who has the most skill, or that it provide an interesting challenge to all players?
  • If I want players of different skill levels to play together, what means will I use to make the game interesting and challenging for everyone?

Among the writers, the NeS is symmetrical in what "advantage" it gives for them -- a less-skilled or less-knowledgeable writer has it no worse off than anyone else, at least in comparison to most traditional storytelling and gaming contexts. It should remain this way so as to foster collaboration as much as possible. If we're to compare writers versus the readers, then it's asymmetrical, and again, it should remain this way, as readers expect to "surrender" into the world crafted by the writers. With the line between reader and writer blurred, it's somewhat of a moot point.

It is definitely far more important that the NeS provides a challenge to all players rather than act as a measure of who has the most skill because, once again, collaboration depends on it. Besides the inherent nature of collaboration (hopefully) being a means in itself to bring people of varying skills together, I also hope to have a wiki-type resource up to diminish the bridge in knowledge that often separates "good" NeS writers from the "bad" ones (the quotes are to emphasis the perception, as I believe that such lack of knowledge is only a hindrance in their confidence, not their actual ability to write good posts).

Think I'm being unfair? Comment, question, criticize, and post your own thoughts on fairness in the NeS!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-13, 7:15 PM #47
Lens #31: The Lens of Challenge

Challenge is at the core of almost all gameplay. You could even say that a game is defined by its goals and its challenges. When examining the challenges in your game, ask yourself these questions:
  • What are the challenges in my game?
  • Are they too easy, too hard, or just right?
  • Can my challenges accommodate a wide variety of skill levels?
  • How does the level of a challenge increase as the player succeeds?
  • Is there enough variety in the challenges?
  • What is the maximum level of challenge in my game?

Since I believe challenges are a core component of the NeS, we'll keep an eye out with this lens.

Challenges in the NeS include: engaging the readers and writers, as well as attempting to incorporate "challenges" set by the other writers (whether intentionally or not). I'd like to think they're "just right" but, honestly, they're far more likely on the too hard side. Despite this, I think challenges mostly accommodate for a wide variety of skill levels, though that also mostly depends on the writer setting their own drives. The challenge rises in the same way that most any art form does; the more skilled and knowledgeable you become, the more you find you can still master. I think variety in challenges are present well enough in the changing story as well as the numerous writers to present said challenges.

As for what the ultimate challenge in the NeS is... I'm not sure even I know that. Persistence, perhaps?

Are you asking for a challenge?! Then comment, question, criticize, and find challenges in the NeS yourself...unless you're too chicken!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-14, 9:22 PM #48
Lens #32: The Lens of Meaningful Choices

When we make meaningful choices, it lets us feel like the things we do matter. To use this lens, ask yourself these questions:
  • What choices am I asking the player to make?
  • Are there meaningful? How?
  • Am I giving the player the right number of choices? Would more make them feel more powerful? Would less make the game clearer?
  • Are there any dominant strategies in my game?

Meaningful choices are similar enough to meaningful play, which I talked about back on Lens #24, and some of the problems I'll mention here I've already brought up in previous parts, such as back on Lens #23. Once again, choices as they apply to the reader are more about empathizing with choices made by the characters than anything else. They're important too, but I'll be focusing more on the writers in this case.

Out of story, the choices I'm asking the writers to make can pretty much boil down to "can I write something [engaging/at all], perhaps in response to a/the previous post?" If they feel they can't, they hold off, and if they feel they can, they'll post something. All the other choices are pretty much sub-sets of that one: can I work with the last post, can I work with something that came before that, can I think of something entirely new, do I want to make it more comedic, do I want to make it more dramatic, do I want to resolve the current conflict, do I want to complicate the current conflict, and so on. The choices of the characters are far and wide and are tailored on a case-by-case basis. I would hope that any choices made, by writers or characters, are meaningful, but as "designers" as well as "players" in the NeS, those choices are highly dependent on themselves to create and confront. With little restrictions, choices are admittedly difficult to be made meaningful.

The balance between choices and desires is a similar one to that between challenge and skill mentioned in Lens #18 -- if there's more choices than desires, it becomes overwhelming, and if there's more desires than choices, it becomes frustrating. Whether the writers (and characters) have the right number of choices depends a lot on the number of their desires, and I'm honestly not sure what the desires of the writers are. For me, discovering a story (as sculptors sometimes claim to discover their sculpture), achieving a higher skill of writing, and socializing with other readers and writers (hopefully capturing their interest as well) are all primary desires. Going by this, perhaps there are not enough 'choices' for socializing, but I think there is otherwise a fairly good balance. As for the characters, I always feels that the choices presented to them can stand to be trimmed heavily, so as to be made clearer, though the NeS is a fairly unruly beast, and previous attempts to do so have only been met with mild success at best.

For the writers, the closest I can think of to possible "dominant strategies" are when a story-arc begins (where they have the most freedom to set up a conflict) and when a story-arc draws to a close (where their story content can have the most impact in the climax). Both assume that they have something in mind, though, and posts in the "middle" tend not to seem to have the same weight. This could possibly be reduced by focusing the meaningful choices, challenges, and the like, in a more fractal structure, so that even the smallest, most immediate moment can stand on its own as well as reflect and strengthen the bigger picture. Motifs may help, though I'm sure there are other methods to help as well.

As always, please comment, question, criticize, and analyze yourself with this lens!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-16, 11:17 AM #49
Lens #33: The Lens of Triangularity

Giving a player the choice to play it safe for a low reward, or take a risk for a big reward is a great way to make your game interesting and exciting. To use the Lens of Triangularity, ask yourself these questions:
  • Do I have triangularity now? If not, how can I get it?
  • Is my attempt at triangularity balanced? That is, are the rewards commensurate with the risks?

I'm not sure if there's anything like this present for the writers, unless the "risks" of more unusual/dramatic/etc. story content, which might be proportional to the "rewards" of seeing how said story content unfolds, counts. If that's the case, I'm not sure how well it's structured or if it could really be improved.

However, as for the readers, triangularity can certainly be replicated through the conflicts confronted by the characters. Unfortunately, I can't recall any moments in the story that have presented a situation with this structure, but it would be simple enough to do, and it'd probably be rather effective to boot. For instance, in the current storyarc In Search of Opportunity, Gebohq and the others could come across a fork, with one leading towards a treasure chest full of gold guarded by a rabid squirrel and the other leading towards the Holy Grail guarded by a dragon. Granted, the risks and rewards would also be tailored to the NeS style, so the rabid squirrel may in fact be far riskier to confront, for example. Whether future attempts at this choice structure will be balanced will be dependent on a case-by-case basis.

As always, please comment, question, criticize, and analyze yourself with this lens.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-16, 4:53 PM #50
Lens #34: The Lens of Skill vs. Chance

To help determine how to balance skill and chance in your game, ask yourself these questions:
  • Are my players here to be judged (skill), or to take risks (chance)?
  • Skill tends to be more serious than chance: Is my game serious or casual?
  • Are parts of my game tedious? If so, will adding elements of chance enliven them?
  • Do parts of my game feel too random? If so, will replacing elements of chance with elements of skill or strategy make the players feel more in control?

This is probably best used with Lens #29: The Lens of Chance and Lens #27: The Lens of Skill. Go figure, huh?

I would certainly hope that the NeS is more about taking risks (though risk-taking is a skill too) than to be judged, though it would be foolish to say that being judged by one's skill isn't a factor at all. This is certainly the case because the NeS is more casual than serious.

Even at its height of participation, the NeS is generally slower-paced, and can feel a bit tedious when stuck in the mire of the middle of a story-arc, but trying to add even more elements of chance to the NeS would not make it less so as there is already a lot of chance emphasized in the NeS and more would likely just add more confusion and lack of control. If anything, there are likely times where it feels too random, and emphasizing the skills of collaboration and improvisation would likely be a very strong step in the right direction to make it feel less random. Mentioning the skills of traditional writing could help too, but I'd be very careful to emphasis the importance of improvement and using them in conjunction with collaboration and improvisation over just being a good traditional writer above all else.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-17, 9:01 PM #51
Lens #35: The Lens of Head and Hands

To make sure your game has a good balance of mental and physical elements, use this lens [especially in conjunction with Lens #16: Lens of the Player] and ask yourself these questions:
  • Are my players looking for mindless action, or an intellectual challenge?
  • Would adding more places that involve puzzle-solving in my game make it more interesting?
  • Are there places where the player can relax their brain, and just play the game without thinking?
  • Can I give the player a choice – either succeed by exercising a high level of dexterity, or by finding a clever strategy that works with a minimum of physical skill?
  • If “1” means all physical, and “10” means all mental, what number would my game get?

Note that this lens assumes more of an application towards action rather than content, but I will be analyzing with this lens aimed more towards the latter.

Whether the readers and writers are looking for mindless action or intellectual challenge is up in the air as I see it. For the readers, I couldn't tell you with much certainty, though I doubt it is at either extreme, and it likely leans more towards the former than the latter. For the writers, I've found it varies, as people like Semievil would go into the negative on the mindless extreme (a trend I'm sure appears often in those burdened with a lot of work and stress on the mind) and people like The Last True Evil (correct me if I'm wrong) find it more difficult to craft anything other than something intellectually challenging. It's funny, because the two of them certainly have a strong potential to craft on the opposite ends, and I just think it goes to show that the NeS is the place to do the impossible and be on both ends at the same time. All things considered, though, intellectual challenge in the NeS should not come at the cost of mindless action, and I think both readers and writers would at least agree to that much.

Adding puzzle-solving elements would almost certainly be detrimental to the NeS, as (which will be mentioned in a future lens) puzzles are about finding the dominant strategy to use -- there is almost always only one or few methods to solving a problem, which would stifle the NeS. Adding intellectual challenge in NeS would have to go the route of subtext, food for thought, and more passive, layered approaches (all of which would be geared more towards the reader than the writer, as the writer has enough mental challenges to deal with in writing).

There are certainly places for both readers and writers to relax their brain and participate in the NeS without thinking. Some might even criticize the NeS for having any places where they CAN'T do that, though I would argue that, at the very least, contrast is needed to keep the NeS engaging. Still, writers must be mindful to not discourage its more mindless side, least it turn for the worse into poor melodrama and unbearable weight. I know I can be guilty of this at times.

I'd like to think the choice is always there, for readers and writers, between opting for mindless or mindful--er--mind-more? Historically, this has usually been the case with parallel story-lines in a story-arc: one will be more mindless while the other more of an intellectual challenge. While parallel stories have been favored in the past, I think the NeS could probably do better to try and merge the two together, so that a story-arc could be read as BOTH mindless and intellectually challenging. Managing to pull that off, admittedly, is more difficult, but would be better for the readers.

Even on its most mindless of times, I wouldn't mark the NeS as anything lower than a 3, if for no other reason than because there's a lot that goes on (despite our best efforts to trim the story) and it still demands even the most non-committal of writers to exercise their skills of cooperation and improvisation. On the other hand, even on its most intellectually-challenging of times (when done successfully), I would not mark it any higher than a 9, since there is such a strong emphasis placed on the NeS being "fun" (implying, among other things, that it is not too mentally taxing) and provide a number of core characteristics to encourage this, such as downplaying traditional writing skills in plot-crafting (though I would argue that it is very easy to make participating in the NeS a highly intellectually challenging task even when attempting to be 'mindless'). On average, though, I would say that the NeS as a whole is about a 6, and that most readers and writers would probably prefer it be a 5 or 4.

Want to get your head into this and your hands dirty? Then please question, comment, criticize, and analyze with this lens yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-19, 4:07 AM #52
Lens #36: The Lens of Competition

Determining who is most skilled at something is a basic human urge. Games of competition can satisfy that urge. Use this lens to be sure your competitive game makes people want to win it. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Does my game give a fair measurement of player skill?
  • Do people want to win my game? Why?
  • Is winning this game something people can be proud of? Why?
  • Can novices meaningfully compete at my game? Can experts?
  • Can experts generally be sure they will defeat novices?

I'm not really sure the NeS has much in the way of competition, which is probably for the best, but we'll take a stab at this anyway.

I don't think the NeS gives any "assessment" of the skills of the reader or writer, but if we're to consider the feedback from others and integration into future story posts, I'd say it does a fairly good job of assessment considering how dependent such assessments are by a sort of unspoken honor code. I don't think the NeS has any sort of "win" condition either (this is a condition that even role-playing games are said to be missing, and those games are the closest NeS comes to a game), but if we're to assume "winning" means reading and writing a post that is engaging, I would think they'd want to "win" then for any number of reasons (though judgment is the first that springs to mind) and gives them a sense of pride in the way crafting anything (especially entertainment) does.

I think novices and experts can certainly "compete" meaningfully in the NeS in that there is far less advantage to being a "veteran" yet having the experience can certainly add to the experiences that readers and writers tend to appreciate. I hope the gulf in knowledge can be bridged with a wiki resource, though. Experts can usually be assured that they can "beat" novices when it comes to weaving previous material and being engaging in general, though there is always a very good chance a novice can bring sparks of originality or the like.

Want to compete with me on being the biggest NeS nerd? Then take a stab at commenting, questioning, criticizing and analyzing the NeS!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-19, 10:43 PM #53
Lens #37: The Lens of Cooperation

Collaborating and succeeding as a team is a special pleasure that can create lasting social bonds. Use this lens to study the cooperative aspects of your game. Ask these questions:
  • Cooperation requires communication. Do my players have enough opportunity to communicate? How could communication be enhanced?
  • Are my players friends already, or are they strangers? If they are strangers, can I help them break the ice?
  • Is there synergy (2 + 2 = 5) or anti-synergy (2 + 2 = 3) when players work together? Why?
  • Do all the players have the same role, or do they have special jobs?
  • Cooperation is greatly enhanced when there is no way an individual can do a task alone. Does my game have tasks like that?
  • Tasks that force communication inspire cooperation. Do any of my tasks force communication?

Aha, now here's something more applicable!

Despite my efforts, I'm not sure the NeS does offer enough opportunity for communication. There's the workshop thread, and there's the private messaging system built into the forums, but otherwise, it requires outside connections like IM or Facebook or e-mail or what-have-you. I wouldn't say the NeS is sorely lacking in this regards, but it does seem to be a bit minimum. Encouraging more use of the (un)official IRC channel might be a good start, but beyond that, I'm not sure what else could be done.

A lot of the people who read and write for the NeS got involved because of me, so they're almost always friends with me. However, we have had strangers in the past join, and even if they're friends with me, they may not be friends with each other. I would hope the workshop thread could be used to get to talking with each other, but it's far from a good icebreaking device, and such methods could only be integrated into the story itself infrequently. I don't know of too many socializing techniques myself -- at least those that could easily transfer to an online environment -- so this is likely something I'll need to look into and get help on working something out. A casual game based on the NeS might be a good start...?

In regards to whether there is synergy or anti-synergy among the writers, I say it varies, and is likely proportional to how well the writers attempt to collaborate with each other. Not really rocket science there, I realize, but I can't think of other significant factors in the matter either. Since all the writers have the same role (which I think is desirable), synergy shouldn't find itself dropping as if one person can't pull their weight or collaborate as well or whatnot.

The nature of the NeS itself as a round-robin style story strongly encourages to collaborate on the 'task' of writing, but it's not necessarily sufficient for what level of cooperation the NeS should have. Again, though, I run into similar problems that I have with providing venues (or forcing) communication and making strangers into friends: what can be naturally implemented into the NeS as a whole to encourage cooperation in the form of tasks that need more than one person? Perhaps a character or other element (such as Tsolo?) could be added into the story that remains a constant and which somehow requires collaboration between multiple writers... if so, it'll take some thought to implement such a thing well. I'd rather have multiple methods to approach these problems too, instead of just one.

Be cooperative, and please help me by posting comments, questions, criticisms, and your own analysis with this lens!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-20, 9:02 PM #54
Lens #38: The Lens of Competition vs. Cooperation

Balancing competition and cooperation can be done in many interesting ways. Use this lens to decide whether they are balanced properly in your game. Ask these questions:
  • If “1” is competition and “10” is cooperation, what number should my game get?
  • Can I give players a choice whether to play cooperatively or competitively?
  • Does my audience prefer competition, cooperation, or a mix?
  • Is team competition something that makes sense for my game? Is my game more fun with team competition or with solo competition?

Looking at the past two lenses (here and here) should give you some idea how this one will look.

On the whole, the NeS should (and is) pretty much on the cooperation/10 end of things. I'd be hesitant to encourage writers with an option of competition, as it could easily counter the crucial elements of collaboration. An option for competition isn't out of the question, but it would have to be crafted carefully to work well and not ruin what makes the NeS good. Fortunately, I'm fairly certain that most all the writers prefer cooperation in this context and agree with me sentiments. Competition, against each other or in teams, doesn't really make sense in the context of the NeS, though it'd probably be possible to incorporate part of a story-arc, if not all of one, with goals of competition in mind. Again, though, great care would have to be taken to make sure the competition element works well.

Going off some tangents, when I designed Story Arcade: Without Credit (yes, it was used loosely as a focus for The Campaign: Without Credit and Story Arcade story-arcs), I was thinking of these issues. I wanted to emulate writing for the NeS (which is cooperative), but I also felt it needed a level of competition as well, so I made it so that the two worked off each other. One day, I hope to work on another version of that game with these lenses to help. I also happen to think a good source of games that play with cooperation and competition (moreso the former) is The New Games Book, which could be a source of inspiration for consideration here.

As always, please comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-21, 9:01 PM #55
Lens #39: The Lens of Time

It is said that “timing is everything.” Our goal as designers is to create experiences, and experiences are easily spoiled when they are too short or too long [opting to err on leaving them ‘wanting more’ is usually ideal]. Ask these questions to make yours just the right length:
  • What is it that determines the length of my gameplay activities?
  • Are my players frustrated because the game ends too early? How can I change that?
  • Are my players bored because the game goes on for too long? How can I change that?
  • Setting a time limit can make gameplay more exciting. Is it a good idea for my game?
  • Would a hierarchy of time structures help my game? That is, several short rounds that together compromise a larger round?

While there is no "time limit" in regards to reading or writing for the NeS, there are a number of time-related issues to still consider, such as the length of posts and story-arcs, how long they take to write, and general pacing within the story.

For the readers, posts and pages are the equivalent of chapters in a book and often serve to divide the time spent reading. On average, I've personally found it takes about a full day to read a page comfortably (of course, some pages are shorter or longer, and depending on other outside factors, can vary). For the writers, writing a post determines the time invested at any one point, which can vary from a few minutes to a few days depending on how much is put into the post (for me, the average is about a couple hours, but I'm a bit slow too). A story-arc has taken anywhere from about a month to a year to complete, ranging from 1 page of material to 6 pages of material (information was estimated using the table of contents). The general trend has been that posts have become longer in content and in time uploaded (many factors come into play, such as the workshop thread keeping non-story posts off the story thread at the start of NeSquared, prolific writers such as Highemperor/Al Ciao having leave of absences, and general material written. See the notes below for more.

I don't recall there ever being complaints of a story-arc or the like in NeS running too short (and it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing to leave them "wanting more" in at least some small amount). More often, there has been a general feeling that story-arcs that go on for longer than 3-6 months (length of posts and pages never seem to be an issue) run too long, growing bored when past the setup and sometimes not even hooked back in towards the climax. I don't think setting any sort of hard "time limit" would be a good idea, though seeing these trends may help us focus on when a story-arc should wrap up. Besides changes and the like already mentioned in this thread (and perhaps in future lenses), I'm not sure what else I can do to change that on a permanent level. It may be possible to have a scene or even a story-arc with such a time-limit in mind, but great care would have to be taken not to penalize too harshly in regards to that. I think the general structure of scenes, posts, pages, and story-arcs already helps to structure the NeS experience into a hierarchy of sorts, or at least as much of one as I feel it should have.

Do you know what time it is? That's right! Time to get posting with those questions, comments, criticisms, and analyses with this lens yourself! Writing for the current story-arc wouldn't hurt either!

NOTES (approximate estimations)
Original NeS
The Fight of the Century of the Week
6 pages, 10 months

3 pages, 1 month

The Fight of the Century of the Week, Take 2
4 pages, 1 month

NeS: As seen on TV!
3 pages, 5 months

Videogames, Anime and Capture the Flag -- Oh My!
3 pages, 4 months

The Forbidden Fortress of Forbiddeness
4 pages, 2 months

The Last True Evil: Of Soviet Spies and Jobs
6 pages, 6 months

TACC, TMTGB, and Other Troubles (parallel arc here)
6 pages (the TACC story-arc may have originally been about 2 or 3), 6 months

NeS: The Point-and-Click Adventure!
5-6 pages, 7 months

The College Years
2 pages, 3 months

Kirby Brawl
4 pages, 3 months

If You Can't Beat 'em, Join'em
4 pages, 3 months

Endgame - The End of NeS
1 page (1-2 really long posts), 8 months

'AGE ONE - THE SUNDERING (paralleled with NeSquared's Family Feud)
1 page (originally probably 2-3 pages), 4 months

'AGE 2 - THE SUBPLOT (paralleled with NeSquared's The Plot)
1-2 pages (originally probably 5), 11 months (or 13 if counting the last post)

Family Feud (paralleled with NeShattered's The Sundering)
2 pages, 4 months

The 8th Dimension
3 pages, 5 months

The Dreams and Nightmares of the NeS
3 pages, 4 months

The Forgotten, The Damned and the Dust
4 pages, 9 months

Death of the Potentials
4 pages, 8 months

The Plot (paralleled with NeShattered's Subplot)
2 pages, 10 months

Death and Taxes
2 pages, 10-11 months

Love Conquers All
3 pages, 8 months

The Campaign: Without Credit and Story Arcade
4 pages, 9 months/6-7 months respectively

The Most Awesome Threat to Existence Yet!
3 pages, 5-6 months

In Search of Opportunity
currently 1-2 pages and 6 months. Minimum time if it doesn't wrap up before I return, 12 months.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-22, 10:15 PM #56
Lens #40: The Lens of Reward

Everyone likes to be told they are doing a good job. Ask these questions to determine if your game Is giving out the right rewards in the right amounts at the right times:
  • What rewards is my game giving out now? Can it give out others as well?
  • Are players excited when they get rewards in my game, or are they bored by them? Why?
  • Getting a reward you don’t understand is like getting no reward at all. Do my players understand the rewards they are getting?
  • Are the rewards my game gives out too regular? Can they be given out in a more variable way?
  • How are my rewards related to one another? Is there a way that they could be better connected?
  • How are my rewards building? Too fast, too slow, or just right?

I know I'm guilty of not providing enough praise and reward to other writers (which makes this lens similar in scope to Lens #5 and Lens #20), so what follows should hopefully be enlightening.

As far as rewards given out now, the NeS doesn't provide many (if any) concrete ones. Rewards tend to involve praise outside of the story thread, significantly including their story material in a good way (the more it does this, the more of a "reward" it is), accomplishment of writing in general (which isn't easily displayed), discovering something new in the story and its characters (for both readers and writers), and building friendships. It could very well give out any number of other rewards, though the most applicable I can see working for the NeS would be a visibly adoring/critical audience (from readers and writers) and a more visible "stats" of their writing achievements (how much they wrote, a rating system of their posts maybe, etc.)

Since the current rewards are not plentiful and yet mostly valuable, I think most writers are excited when they receive them. I'm not entirely sure most writers recognize them as rewards at all (as they are admittedly intangible and not something necessarily made clear as the result of "successful" writing), but I wouldn't say the rewards are nonsensical or too regular (if anything, what rewards are given are done too slowly). The current rewards in the NeS aren't particularly connected to each other either, as far as I can tell, and I don't know how they could be better connected.

It should be said that writing, especially in a collaborative and improvisational way, is an art form, and thus subjective, so it's difficult to present rewards for successes as one can in a game or even in solving scientific and mathematical problems. It's also made more difficult (or easier?) that the reward can't (and likely shouldn't) be in the form of money and fortune. Still, rewards could be improved by simply encouraging more feedback on posts on the workshop thread that includes praise and constructive criticism, instituting some form of relevant data tracking on a wiki resource, and getting more active/vocal readers and writers alike to join.

If you comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens now, I'll give you the biggest reward of all -- my undying gratitude! :ninja:
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-23, 9:29 PM #57
Lens #41: The Lens of Punishment

Punishment must be used delicately, since after all, players are in a game of their own free will. Balanced appropriately, it will give everything in your game more meaning, and players will have a real sense of pride when they succeed at your game. To examine the punishment in your game, ask yourself these questions:
  • What are the punishments in my game?
  • Why am I punishing the players? What do I hope to achieve by it?
  • Do my punishments seem fair to the players? Why or why not?
  • Is there a way to turn these punishments into rewards and get the same or better results?
  • Are my strong punishments balanced against commensurately strong rewards?

I should start by saying that I don't think punishments will help add value to the challenges taken in NeS as they do for many games, and rewards should always be the preferred option over punishment. Still, I think a means of discouraging anti-collaborative efforts and flaking out should be in place, so let's press on with this lens.

The punishments that can be found writing for the NeS include shame (when someone doesn't like your post), but more often a strong sense of lack of rewards or feedback in general: no praise, little "spectacle" for future posts, lack of collaboration and completion from others. It's sort of like when you are interested in someone, but instead of just saying 'I like you" or "I hate your guts" (allowing progression or closure), they avoid you and never respond (allowing neither progression or closure). Feeling like what you write doesn't matter, or dealing with story elements set up by a writer who then drops off from all communication, is probably the worst punishments found in the NeS, especially since they're not consistently understandable and preventable.

When I purposely "punish" other writers, it is almost always for not writing, because of the importance of collaboration in NeS and attempting to prevent punishments that shouldn't arise from rearing their ugly heads. The only other times I purposely "shame" is when I feel they are not writing collaboratively or when I feel they could improve their traditional storytelling skills, though I try to emphasis the latter more as a means of improvement in hopes of not discouraging their confidence (as it really is secondary to the other two points).

For something like the NeS, which takes considerable effort and time to write even the smallest and simplest of posts, writing can unfortunately feel like a punishment ("work") in itself, so it probably feels quite unfair to be dealt further punishment when they feel their efforts have been for virtually nothing. Again, though, I imagine the biggest punishments are the unintentional ones that come up from poor writing frequency and collaboration.

As for turning the punishments into rewards, gaining a stronger reader and writer base who give kind and constructive feedback would probably do wonders, though I'm not sure how to better reward collaborative writing (other than the byproduct of a well-collaborated story that emerges). The punishments of shame and lack of feedback probably outweigh the rewards given at this point, but I'm at somewhat of a loss as how best to strengthen the rewards and downplay all the punishments (minus ones for anti-collaborative efforts and flaking).

Don't make me punish you for not posting comments, questions, criticisms, and analyses of your own!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-24, 9:01 PM #58
Lens #42: The Lens of Simplicity/Complexity

Striking the right balance between simplicity and complexity is difficult and must be done for the right reasons. Use this lens to help your game become one in which meaningful complexity arises out of a simple system. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What elements of innate complexity do I have in my game?
  • Is there a way this innate complexity could be turned into emergent complexity?
  • Do elements of emergent complexity arise from my game? If not, why not?
  • Are there elements of my game that are too simple?

Mostly, the innate complexity arises from there being multiple authors. From there, there arises a great complexity in the story itself through its number of characters and events. The elements of emergent complexity certainly rise out of the rather simple factor of having even two writers collaborating. I'm fairly certain that the NeS is not too simple, but if nothing else, there's the danger of it being perceived as not simple enough. If anything, we need engaging ways to keep the NeS trimmer, at least in appearance.

As always, please comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-25, 9:08 PM #59
Lens #43: The Lens of Elegance

Most “classic games” are considered to be masterpieces of elegance. Use this lens to make your game as elegant as possible. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What are the elements of my game?
  • What are the purposes of each element? Count these up to give the element an “elegance rating.”
  • For elements with only one or two purposes, can some of these be combined into each other, or removed altogether?
  • For elements with several purposes, is it possible for them to take on even more?

As presented in The Art of Game Design, "elegance" is characterized significantly by simple elements that serve multiple, complex purposes. This lens is better understood when used in conjunction with lenses like emergence and simplicity/complexity.

All the specific elements that make up the NeS are far too numerous for me to list down, but groups of elements would include the following: posts, pages and threads; grammar, vocabulary, and typography; writers; readers; characters; settings; essential experiences; the elemental tetrad (and seeing it holographically); themes; actions (taken by both writers and characters); chance events unrelated to character actions; and conflicts and challenges that arise from things such as conflicting goals. There's certainly more I'm forgetting, but the gist is elements within the story (who/what/where/when/why/how) and elements 'outside' of it (every word a writer writes and how they write it to engage readers and other writers).

Since even the groups of elements are too many, I'm going to take one very specific and simple example -- the character Gebohq. In the current story-arc, his (simple) purposes are as follows: to act as the hero (both literally as a freelance professional and metaphorically); to allow an "average" reader to identify with his failings in romance (contrasted with love -- such as with Rachel), fearlessness (contrasted with bravery), intelligence (contrasted with wisdom -- such his relation with Thand and searching for his crown of mental protection), relative ability (contrasted with relative chance), and self-confidence (contrasted with faith and hope); to provide comic relief; to provide drama; to be juxtaposed against The Last True Evil; and to magnetize the other characters together. Presumably, that gives him at least an "elegance rating" of 10, though again, there are certainly a lot of things I'm forgetting to count.

The point is that every element should serve as many purposes as possible, and as arguably the "main protagonist" of the NeS, it's good that Gebohq be as apparently elegant as he is for being a relatively "simple" element with "simple" purposes. However, as I've stated before, the NeS suffers from being too complex, and this is in part because there are a lot of elements (characters and conflicts) that only serve one or two purposes, or sometimes no apparent purpose at all (or at least one that provide meaningful choices to the characters themselves and writers). Take the crown that is in Thand's treasury, said to protect its user from mental manipulation. It's primary purpose right now is to act as motivation for Gebohq to find the treasury (to protect himself from Thand to be a stronger hero). What purpose does it serve Thand now? What purpose does someone like Howard have in enlightening Gebohq about it -- is it the same as Gebohq's? Could it serve as a source of conflict when Krig sees it as an especially pretty shiny? Or for The Last True Evil, who thinks it might be put to better use for someone like Amal? Perhaps it also acts as a key to an especially important vault, or provides comedy when it looks like a Burger King paper crown with pink wings on the side, or foreshadows Gebohq ascension to king of Switzerland. The point is that each and every character, conflict, action, object, etc. in each and every word, sentence, scene, post, story-arc and thread should ideally have as many clear, simple, and engaging purposes for the readers and writers as possible.

This, of course, is far easier said than done. The short and simple method to using this lens is simply to ask "does this serve a purpose?" and "can it serve more purposes?" when writing, to provide layers for the readers and other writers alike. This lens is partly why I feel it's important for the NeS to be as trim as possible, so that what's left can take on more significant complexity.

Want to point out just how likely inelegant I was in this post? Then please comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-27, 4:17 AM #60
Lens #44: The Lens of Character

Elegance and character are opposites. They are like miniature versions of simplicity and complexity, and must be kept in balance. To make sure your game has lovable, defining quirks, ask yourself these questions:
  • Is there anything strange in my game that players talk about excitedly?
  • Does my game have funny qualities that make it unique?
  • Does my game have flaws that players like?

Yes, the NeS has no shortage of character. There's plenty strange, funny, and flawed about the NeS, and it's usually how people talk about it: acceptance of plot-holes as literal objects as well as with story conventions in general, heroes who are cowards and janitors who fight gods on Pay-Per-View, even just writing for a collaborative story that last for more than 10 minutes/hours/days, much less 10 YEARS.

For this lens, I would like to encourage everybody to post at least one strange, funny, or 'flawed' characteristic of the NeS that you think is good for the NeS, as I think it'll help focus on getting more readers and writers interested with this focus in mind. As usual, please comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-27, 9:12 PM #61
Lens #45: The Lens of Imagination

All games have some element of imagination and some element of connection to reality. Use this lens to help find the balance between detail and imagination. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What must the player understand to play my game?
  • Can some element of imagination help them understand it better?
  • What high-quality, realistic details can we provide in this game?
  • What details would be low quality if we provided them? Can imagination fill the gap instead?
  • Can I give details that the imagination will be able to reuse again and again?
  • What details do I provide that inspire imagination?
  • What details do I provide that stifle imagination?

This lens, obviously, will be applied mostly to the story content itself. The Art of Game Design suggests the following ways to capitalize on having the player (reader in this case) use their imagination versus being provided detail: only detail what you (as the writer) can provide well, give details the imagination can use (this applies mostly to helping the reader understand the story's world and its characters as well as serve the plot - similar to elegance), not providing detail to what is already familiar to the reader, providing detail mostly just at the beginning (the author calls it the "binocular effect" in comparison to the use of binoculars at sporting events) and giving details that inspire the imagination (similar to character). In short, use details wisely to encourage the imagination to do most of the work.

What must the reader understand to engage with the NeS?
The reader must understand that the world of NeS, while highly familiar (perhaps arguably even more so than the real world), is a world of fiction -- a world run by laws of story convention over physics that many of its inhabitants are aware of to varying degrees (sometimes as certain sciences or faiths). This means that conflicts often arise on a more meta-fictional level than anything else. Since many of our modern "myths" rise from comic books, movies, video games, and the like, the NeS in turn is also filled with heroes and villains of that nature (it may not be a coincidence that romances and speculative fictions remain strong in print media as well).

The reader must also understand that the story's character (full of "flaws" in plot-holes and moments of comic absurdity) is what largely matters. The story's strength doesn't lie in presenting mysteries to be solved, scenes of action to marvel, romances to unfold, horrors to fear, information to educate, philosophies to ponder, fantasies and futures to speculate, or even perhaps primarily scenes of comedy or drama to laugh or cry -- the story's strength lies in simply "living" out any of those possible scenes as true to its character as it can be. It is not the letter of its plot that should grab the reader, but the spirit of its character... and its spirit tends to be a bit funny in more ways than one.

Can some element of imagination help them understand it better?
To understand the meta-fictional story-world of NeS, having the story in print form helps immensely with this. Specifically, though, besides the traditional methods used for any story, showing the 'physical laws' of NeS as story convention that depend on being perceived (or not) to increase their probable strength may help as well; if perception (not 'facts') are made critical to understanding how the world of the NeS operates, it will encourage them to depend on imagination as well.

To understand the 'character' of the NeS, I think the best venues of imagination would be to villainize "plot" and facts. This is NOT to say that plot would be unimportant -- on the contrary, villains are often the driving force of any story, and the NeS should be no different (the "big bad" of the original NeS thread was wisely made into the Ever-ending Plot). It's simply to tell the reader "stop trying to make sense of the details, because that's bad, and instead free your imagination to perceive its spirit, which is good."

What high-quality, realistic details can we provide in the NeS?
In theory, anything that any of the writers feel knowledgeable enough in writing can be provided with high-quality, realistic details. However, high-definition details should probably be best left to agents of conflict and antagonism (see the point above to villainize plot) as well as left to traditional moments that call for details (such as the suggestions made at the beginning of this post).

What details would be low quality if we provided them? Can imagination fill the gap instead?
In practice, most of us writers are amateurs, not terribly learned in many varied practices, worldly affairs, or other experiences to draw from. This is fine, though, as we should probably be opting to be as frugal with details as possible anyway, since imagination is good. Since the NeS is heavily dialogue-driven in any case, and subtext is the rule of dialogue, imagination is fundamental in writing for the NeS. This can require a high mastery of when to use detail, though -- as I've said before, writing for the NeS is easy to learn but hard to master.

Can I give details that the imagination will be able to reuse again and again?
I hope so! In some cases, a single word is enough (Krig the Viking, Janitor Bob, The Ever-ending Plot, the NeSword, wielding the story). Details that would be the most helpful for reuse include details for character appearance, behavior and speech.

What details do I provide that inspire imagination?
Admittedly, even with the goal of being economical with detail, probably not much (with the possible exception of dialogue to provide subtext). I think the first post of the In Search of Opportunity story-arc does a competent job of knowing when to use detail in some cases (though it admittedly "cheats" in part by using the strength of its Internet medium via hyperlinks).

What details do I provide that stifle imagination?
I don't think details have ever stifled the imagination of a reader for the NeS. If anything, what details have been provided probably just don't have as much impact as they should. The possible exception, again, may be dialogue, in that there may often be times where it does not foster subtext or even the character of the NeS.

Please get imaginative with your comments, questions, criticisms, and analyses of your own!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-28, 10:38 PM #62
Lens #46: The Lens of Economy

Giving a game an economy can give it surprising depth and a life all its own. But like all living things, it can be difficult to control. Use this lens to keep your economy in balance and ask yourself these questions:
  • How can my players earn resources? Should there be other ways?
  • What can my players buy? Why?
  • Are resources too easy to get? Too hard? How can I change this?
  • Are choices about earning and spending meaningful ones?
  • Is a universal currency a good idea in my game, or should there be specialized currencies?

I'm fairly certain that not only does the NeS not have an economy (even in-story, it's not touched upon much at all), it probably shouldn't. Still, let's take a stab with this lens as a hypothetical. If it were to have an economy, I imagine it would probably be similar to the one I implemented for Story Arcade: Without Credit, where the player-authors earned "credit" from the entertained player-audience, and which could maybe be used in the NeS as a means of reward (be able to introduce a character, for instance). I'd be very careful though if attempting to create an economy for the NeS, but perhaps this lens could apply more to the in-story economy for the characters.

As I suggested already, writers could potentially earn resources from other readers and writers for writing 'consistent' and 'engaging' story posts, but I can't think of any other good economies that could be placed for the writers. The readers could only have an economy, as I see it, if there were some form of trivia game or the like to reward them for reading and being fans. As for the characters, ones like Gebohq presumably get money from performing acts of heroism, though how and when the "clients" pay is uncertain (though it is implied that he's pretty bored, even though he and the others manage to obtain some comfortable level of living), while it's even less clear for non-professional heroes, and villains presumably steal or the like. As for the fictional writers within the story, they possibly get paid by their administrator superiors at the Massassi Temple (though it's been suggested that they don't get paid and may or may not live in their offices).

If the actual writers of the NeS earned resources of some sort, as already suggested, they might be able to buy the 'right' to create a new character (which may help limit the overflow of characters in NeS), though I'm not sure what else could be useful to buy (an economy of this sort would probably only be useful if the NeS actually saw an overflow of willing readers and writers, and the economy would be a way to encourage writing that is best for the NeS). As for the readers, perhaps some sort of 'commission' from the writers or perhaps the ability to become a writer themselves (again, going on the "NeS becomes too popular" theory here, and even then, having any sort of barrier to become a writer may be a bad idea). As for the characters, it's more difficult as they don't seem terribly limited to what they could buy (especially if their character is independently wealthy or powerful). As for the fictional writers, it's something of a moot point as it should only be a reflection of the actual writers.

Right now, any resources that anyone can get (mostly characters) are probably too easy to get. This isn't to say that hard numbers should be tracked for them like in a game, but it may help from a world-building standpoint to have a general idea how they're making a livelihood, and it's not like this concept is foreign to the stories in NeS as a few have focused on "needing to get a job to live." In any of the hypotheticals mentioned, I would wish to err on them being too easy to get (unless we're using the economy as a means of discouragement, such as not putting thought and energy into additional characters).

If there were to be an economy for the writers, making sure it's meaningful would be critical, as I feel an economy should only be added if it's deemed necessary. As for an economy for the characters, again, being certain that its use is meaningful is critical to keeping conflict well-crafted and not just clutter. A universal "credit" system in either case is probably best (and technically, while the NeS is full of real-world currencies, it's already been hinted that "credit" can also be earned on a more universal basis).

In any case, any inclusion of such hypothetical economies would need to be analyzed with the lenses of fairness, challenge, meaningful choices, chance, cooperation and competition, time, rewards, and punishments, just to name a few.

As always, please comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-29, 9:02 PM #63
Lens #47: The Lens of Balance

There are many types of game balance, and each is important. However, it is easy to get lost in the details and forget the big picture. Use this simple lens to get your out of the mire, and ask yourself this important question:
  • Does my game feel right[ly balanced as a whole]? Why or why not?

There is definitely an unbalance in favor of the writer and not necessarily in favor of the reader. That is, the writer is motivated to entertain themselves and each other, but not necessarily to someone solely reading. Granted, we may not have any who solely read, but that's seriously beside the point. More should be done to encourage readership while compromising as little (if at all) with what makes writing for the NeS fun.

There is some unbalance between consistent active protagonists and consistent active antagonists. This tends to result in having what conflicts arise to more easily be quelled quicker, and since conflict is what drives both stories and games, a balance between the two should be struck better.

The only other balance that comes to mind, and one which probably raises the most debate, is that of story content and its tone. While I don't think anybody would argue that the NeS shouldn't be significantly comedic, light, escapist, and the like, there's question as to how much there should be (if any) that is dramatic, heavy, confrontational with thought, and the like. Mostly, I'm aware of these options:

1) There should be absolutely nothing dramatic, heavy, confrontational, etc. in the NeS. Reasons include that these things makes writing too difficult, that the writers write such poorly (which is more easily dismissed in theory with comedic/etc. material), and that these things make the NeS 'not fun' in general.

2) There should be an "equal" amount of material that is comedic/etc. as well as dramatic/etc. in the NeS. "Equal" in this case means either a general feel for both kinds of material (since objectively there may in fact be a lot of one type) and equal opportunity to write either kinds of material as the writer feels the story calls for at any given time. Reasons include giving potentially more freedom and strength to what the writer writes, to contrast each other (comedic material tends to be more comedic when juxtaposed by dramatic material and visa-versa), and allows for more meaningful actions for both what the writer writes and what the reader reads.

3) There should be be some dramatic, heavy, confrontational, etc. material in the NeS, but should be minimal relative to comedic, light, escapist stuff. Reasons include a mix of both #1 and #2, that it can be difficult to strictly stick to either #1 or #2 well for any consistent time, and possibly because they are subject to the Golden Mean Fallacy.

I'm personally an advocate of #2, though I realize that #3 may be a more realistic balance if I judge with the Lens of the Player. I'll especially advocate #2 so long as #1 is pushed, though, since I feel that the reasons for #1 are either false or not solved by advocating the wholly asymmetrical balance in #1.

Think I should give up the balancing act between trying to achieve two mutually exclusive impossibilities at the same time? Then please comment, question, criticize, and balance your own analysis out!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-31, 7:45 PM #64
Lens #48: The Lens of Accessibility

When you present a puzzle (or a game of any kind) to players, they should be able to clearly visualize what their first few steps would be. Ask yourself these questions:
  • How will players know how to begin solving my puzzle, or playing my game? Do I need to explain it, or is it self-evident?
  • Does my puzzle or game act like something they have seen before? If it does, how can I draw attention to that similarity? If it does not, how can I make them understand how it does behave?
  • Does my puzzle or game draw people in and make them want to touch it and manipulate it? If not, how can I change it so that it does?

Here's definitely one I think is important for the NeS, so I hope to get some good insights with this lens.

It is not self-evident for even those familiar with those who are familiar with free-form role-playing on forums and the like to feel they know how to begin getting involved in the NeS, and has to be explained as clearly and concisely as possible to alleviate their fears of "not doing it right." Currently, they know "how" from such explanations and from reading previous story posts and possibly the workshop thread. I'm not really sure there's much that can be done to avoid this, though, only to capture as much curiosity as possible and then explain well.

Fortunately, the NeS acts very similar to a round-robin style story and improvisational theater in general, so comparing the NeS to those things should be a solid start. As discovered when analyzing the NeS through the Lens of the Toy, however, the NeS does not generally draw people in to "mess around" with it like one would with a toy, and I'm not sure what the best way to change it so that it does. Perhaps encourage a parallel "story-arc" at all times that is nothing but a playground? Though I've tried this in the past with a pseudo-story that didn't seem to catch on. Perhaps it was just a boring playground though.../shrug/.

As always, please comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-05-31, 9:08 PM #65
Lens #49: The Lens of Visible Progress

Players need to see that they are making progress when solving a difficult problem. To make sure they are getting this feedback, ask yourself these questions:
  • What does it mean to make progress in my game or puzzle?
  • Is there enough progress in my game? Is there a way I can add more interim steps of progressive success?
  • What progress is visible, and what progress is hidden? Can I find a way to reveal what is hidden?

Making progress in the NeS generally means completing a conflict in a scene or a story-arc, usually with the impression that at least one character has confronted a problem and (in the strict sense of progress) changes the problem (such as change towards a solution) and/or is changed themselves (physically, spiritually, etc.) Progress can be difficult with the NeS as planning is discouraged (to relate to its improvisational nature), and adding more short-term goals (with minimal progress needed) would likely be the best way to both add a sense of progression in general as well as provide potential interim steps of progression for larger problems encountered. Short term (presently made) progress tends to be fairly visible, though longer term progress tends to be hidden (as either only God knows or a writer is keeping it to themselves). I prefer to lay out all the story ideas I have in the workshop thread partly for this reason, but otherwise, I'm not sure what else can (or should) be done.

As always, please comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-01, 9:48 PM #66
Lens #50: The Lens of Parallelism

Parallelism in your puzzle brings parallel benefits to the player’s experience. To use this lens, ask yourself these questions:
  • Are there bottlenecks in my design where players are unable to proceed if they cannot solve a particular challenge? If so, can I add parallel challenges for a player to work on when this challenge stumps them?
  • If parallel challenges are too similar, the parallelism offers little benefit. Are my parallel challenges different enough from each other to give players the benefit of variety?
  • Can my parallel challenges be connected somehow? Is there a way that making progress on one can make it easier to solve the others?

Technically, there are no "bottlenecks" in the NeS -- a post is a post and anything goes. However, just because anything can go doesn't mean that writers are discouraged from trying to post something of quality (in one form or another), and remaining collaborative makes "anything goes" harder to do at times (this is a statement rather than a judgment). It's not uncommon for a story-arc to get "stuck" with a particular conflict, especially towards the end at the climax. Fortunately, it's common for there to be multiple "groups" within the story-arc and even parallel story-arcs, so even in this case, the writer usually has options. Usually, there has been a main, sometimes more "plot-centric" story-arc and a secondary, more aimless story-arc. In this case, the parallel "challenge" is often different enough, though that isn't to say that there isn't possibly a more fundamentally different parallel "challenge" that could be implemented, though what that might be I'm not sure.

While it's certainly possible for any parallel story-arcs to tie into each other, I don't think they've usually been made with that in mind. Having something like that may be very helpful for those "stuck" moments, but it'd be very difficult to implement without 'railroading' the writers. Goals would have to be the focus of trying to integrate parallel challenges together for any possible success in this matter.

As always, please comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-02, 10:11 PM #67
Lens #51: The Lens of the Pyramid

Pyramids fascinate us because they have a singular highest point. To give your puzzle the allure of the ancient pyramids, ask yourself these questions:
  • Is there a way all the pieces of my puzzle can feed into a singular challenge at the end?
  • Big pyramids are often made of little pyramids – can I have a hierarchy of ever more challenging puzzle elements, gradually leading to a final challenge?
  • Is the challenge at the top of my pyramid interesting, compelling, and clear? Does it make people want to work in order to get to it?

If you haven't noticed already, there's some similarities with this lens to the previous two lenses, so the analysis with this lens is likely to be similar as well.

With the story itself, the narrative pieces could certainly feed into a singular "challenge" or conflict in a scene, story-arc or thread in theory, with "little pyramids" becoming more challenging as they do so. In practice, this has happened on its own, though purposely designing such would be difficult without railroading the experience. As far as the challenges of writing collaboratively and improvising, I have a feeling it could... designing such in this context is something I'll have to try and give some thought to for the future of the NeS.

Whether there is an apparent "overall challenge" within the context of the story is a bit trickier, much less if it's interesting, compelling and clear for readers and writers to want to reach it. The NeS is generally episodic in structure and tends to break down in a fractal manner even within story-arcs and scenes (which is likely part of the reason that plot is figuratively and literally the bad guy), and I'm not even sure if an "pyramid" hierarchy structure should be enforced. Parallelism seems more natural for the NeS, though as I said before, it's fractal nature has produced 'pyramid' structured narrative in the past. I think this does bring up the point though that, should an "overall conflict" be found in the NeS (such as the Ever-ending Plot, or with Master Thand), that the writers should do their best to keep this lens handy.

As always, please comment, question, criticize, and build your own pyramid schemes -- I mean -- analyze with this lens!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-03, 9:33 PM #68
Lens #52: The Lens of the Puzzle

Puzzles make the player stop and think. To ensure your puzzles are doing everything you want to shape the player experience, ask yourself these questions:
  • What are the puzzles in my game?
  • Should I have more puzzles, or less? Why?
  • Which of the ten puzzle principles apply to each of my puzzles?
  • Do I have any incongruous puzzles? How can I better integrate them into the game? (Use Lens #43: The Lens of Elegance to help do this.)

Some explanations before I proceed regarding the ten puzzle principles as laid out in The Art of Game Design, which are as follows:
  1. Make the goal easily understood.
  2. Make it easy to get started.
  3. Give a sense of progress.
  4. Give a sense of solvability.
  5. Increase difficulty gradually.
  6. Parallelism lets the player rest.
  7. Pyramid structure extends interest.
  8. Hints extend interest.
  9. Give the answer!
  10. Perceptual shifts are a double-edged sword.

#1 and #2 are examined with Lens #48, #3 is examined with Lens #49, #6 is examined with Lens #50, and #7 is examined with Lens #51. #4 and #5 are fairly self-explanatory, relating to Lens #6, Lens #18, and Lens #31. #8 has similarities with #4 in what they attempt to solve, though Lens #4 can help here as well. #9 is like #4 and #8, though I won't be giving much credit to this one, even with the argument made in the book. #10 simply points out the problems that #3 and #5 try to solve.

As for puzzles -- or more accurately "stop and think" moments -- in the NeS, there aren't really much of any. This is most likely because the act of collaboration, improvisation, and general story-crafting are hefty "puzzles" in themselves, though there are more specific ones on occasion. In the current story-arc, it's something of a puzzle to try and write Master Thand as an active antagonist while doing his character justice. The NeS shouldn't have any MORE puzzles than that, and might benefit from less every now and then so as to keep the NeS moving and paced well.

As for the 10 principles, even though I went through the trouble of explaining them, they're either already been touched on or don't really apply. However, I will say that the "giving hints" and "giving the answer" might actually apply well for collaboration in the workshop thread, and that "perceptual shift" as the NeS is concerned isn't as big of an obstacle since it's more narrative-based and allows (at least for the reader) more of the "aha!" pleasure without necessarily the stopping frustration.

Concerning incongruous puzzles, I'm not sure I can actually think of any at this point. Some might say traditional story-crafting is incongruous with collaboration, improvisation and the like, and sometimes it's put to the wayside, but I think that's a whole other (possible) puzzle that can (and has) been solved, in part by crafting the world of the NeS as a comedic rough-copy meta-fictional story-world where plot-holes are essential to its character.

Puzzling over my analysis? Please comment, question, criticize, and puzzle with this lens yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-04, 9:01 PM #69
Lens #53: The Lens of Control

This lens has uses beyond just examining your interface, since meaningful control is essential for immersive interactivity. To use this lens, ask yourself these questions:
  • When players use the interface, does it do what is expected? If not, why not?
  • Intuitive interfaces give a feeling of control. Is your interface easy to master, or hard to master?
  • Do your players feel they have a strong influence over the outcome of the game? If not, how can you change that?
  • Feeling powerful [often] equals feeling in control. Do your players feel powerful? Can you make them feel more powerful somehow?

I'm opting to use this lens in a broader sense of control, as applying it to the interface wouldn't reveal much (a message board is pretty basic after all and isn't likely to change).

I'm actually not sure if most of the readers or writers think the NeS does what they expect it to. On one hand, the NeS can be fairly unpredictable, but on the other hand, I think most people come to not only expect that, but desire it. As I've said before, I think the NeS makes it fairly easy to learn how to read and write for it, but I also think it's definitely hard to master, at least when it comes to writing. And as for having the writers feel powerful and have a strong influence in the NeS, I hope so! Any lack of influence and power though can be amended with a stronger focus on collaboration; if a writer feels that the others will collaborate with their material well, they'll feel their actions have a greater influence and power. In short, I think if there any issues with control regarding the NeS, it relates mostly to skill.

Want to take control with these lenses? Then stop thinking and actually comment, question, criticize and take control!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-05, 9:42 AM #70
Originally posted by Gebohq:

Whether the readers and writers are looking for mindless action or intellectual challenge is up in the air as I see it. For the readers, I couldn't tell you with much certainty, though I doubt it is at either extreme, and it likely leans more towards the former than the latter. For the writers, I've found it varies, as people like Semievil would go into the negative on the mindless extreme (a trend I'm sure appears often in those burdened with a lot of work and stress on the mind) and people like The Last True Evil (correct me if I'm wrong) find it more difficult to craft anything other than something intellectually challenging. It's funny, because the two of them certainly have a strong potential to craft on the opposite ends, and I just think it goes to show that the NeS is the place to do the impossible and be on both ends at the same time. All things considered, though, intellectual challenge in the NeS should not come at the cost of mindless action, and I think both readers and writers would at least agree to that much.

Want to get your head into this and your hands dirty? Then please question, comment, criticize, and analyze with this lens yourself!

Gebohq, you're doing a great job with these. Please continue; I'm watching with interest.

I wanted to talk about this for a moment, because it's my main source of difficulty with the NeS. I know in my heart of hearts the foundation of the NeS is/was distraction. It was a web serial, something people could quickly add their funny pop culture spin/fantasy idea to and then return to the business of posting on the main Discussion forums. I believe it has also moved on quite a bit since then. Why? Because the inevitable literary progression has happened - our characters have evolved.

I introduced little more than a riff on a stock Eastern European Big Bad to the NeS cast. Now, as has been mentioned before, he's more or less the most three-dimensional character in the mix. Others have undergone less profound transitions as well, always making them more interesting, more suitable for more sophisticated narratives and discussions.

And then I remember it's the NeS, and quickly throw a joke in.

See, that's my problem - the founding intent of the NeS is, to me, a sideline, window dressing to the more interesting stuff. I really want to see what happens to TLTE, Gebohq, Amal, Losien, Thand, Tracer, MacFarlane, Al Ciao, Krig et al. It is not a riff anymore; even by the broadest stretch of the term, it's not a riff.

That's why I think I envy Tracer's writing style most of all - he comes back to the NeS, seemingly out of nowhere, and effortlessly transitions back into the comedy. With me, I always feel like I'm juggling - plot strands, character motivations, etc - and the zany comedy distraction motif is just another ball to catch.
The Last True Evil - consistent nobody in the Discussion Forum since 1998
2010-06-05, 9:03 PM #71
Lens #54: The Lens of Physical Interface

Somehow, the player has a physical interaction with your game. Copying existing physical interfaces is an easy trap to fall into. Use this lens to be sure that your physical interface is well-suited to your game by asking these questions:
  • What does the player pick up and touch? Can this be made more pleasing?
  • How does this map to the actions of the game world? Can the mapping be more direct?
  • If you can’t create a custom physical interface, what metaphor are you using when you map the inputs to the game world?
  • How does the physical interface look under the Lens of the Toy?
  • How does the player see, hear, and touch the world of the game? Is there a way to include a physical output device that will make the world become more real in the player’s imagination?

Again, I delve into the realm of the hypothetical here, and if you've been reading, this should all sound familiar.

Currently, the reader and writer both pick up a computer of some sort (desktop, laptop, other portable devices) with internet connection and some sort of keyboard device or simulation of a keyboard. Realistically, there's not much at this point that can be done to make it more pleasing, though ideally, since print is still preferable to read (either because of portability and/or super-simple "interface"), a (likely hardcover) book made with e-paper of some sort with a built-in keyboard and/or stylus or the like specifically designed for use for the NeS would certainly be more pleasing for the reader while allowing writers the same freedoms they do now.

A keyboard and screen is about the most direct physical interface I can think of for the NeS, though our hypothetical e-book would allow the potential for more intuitive reading (though a virtual interface would still be needed as it can't possibly allow someone to "flip" from the start to its current end, much less material written later, since it's, you know, never-ending). The 'metaphor' currently used for the NeS is a general office tool, which strangely matches up with the depiction of the writers in the NeS but probably not so much for the 'story' itself. It's certainly not very "fun" like a toy; office tools are the opposite of that, and it's only through a campaign of computer games and a growing attempt to expand computer technologies into our overall lives do we seem to be able to ignore that. Consoles like the Nintendo Wii have taken steps forward to combat that.

While there's some attempt to expand the NeS into other mediums such as the NeS webcomic, the NeS is mostly dependent on the imagination to empower the senses. It's not to say that the NeS couldn't be adapted into mediums to do otherwise, but in this case, our current physical interface doesn't actually fall too short in our needs for this, and the hypothetical ideal would be more an aesthetic than anything (a cool aesthetic, to be sure, but not one that cripples the NeS without it). Unlike a lot of other fictional worlds, this one benefits from its dependence on the imagination, and adaptations that engaged with the sense more would have to be handled with care to be executed well.

As always, please comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens yourself!

P.S. Thanks, TLTE, for chiming in on the thread, and I hear you loud and clear! I certainly empathize, and while the points I made are true, I still try to work in the complexities with what subtlety I can (though I'm certainly not always successful).
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-06, 9:00 PM #72
Lens #55: The Lens of Virtual Interface

Designing virtual interfaces can be very tricky. Done poorly, they become a wall between the player and the game world. Done well, they amplify the power and control a player has in the game world. Ask these questions to make sure that your virtual interface is enhancing player experience as much as possible:
  • What information does a player need to receive that isn’t obvious just by looking at the game world?
  • When does the player need this information? All the time? Only occasionally? Only at the end of a level?
  • How can this information be delivered to the player in a way that won’t interfere with the player’s interactions with the game world?
  • Are there elements of the game world that are easier to interact with using a virtual interface (like a pop-up menu, for instance) than they are to interact with directly?
  • What kin d of virtual interface is best suited to my physical interface?

I should be delving into the hypothetical here, but I'm afraid my imagination is lacking in this case.

In actuality, neither readers or writers should need anything beyond what's been recently written. For writers, though, I realize that having the "update screen" with the currently active characters, with links to their profiles and blurbs on where they are, are very helpful for them. I'm not sure if they feel they could really use something else or not. The writers usually want that information as they're starting to write a post, so they know what to work with in their material. While this information used to be on page 29 of the original NeS thread, I think it's best that it was moved to the first post of the workshop thread so as to not clutter up the story with non-story stuff.

Considering the nature of the NeS, I don't think there's really much to be said about "menus" versus "direct relation"... it's a bit hard to think of how that would apply here, except perhaps said "menu" type pop-ups or whatnot could be used for out-of-story material (hyperlinks to profiles when mentioning a character, for instance). Any virtual interface would probably need to best emulate the print medium, though, since the character of the NeS is very book-oriented, or theatrical script-oriented to be more accurate, so much of anything else would likely distract from its character.

Help me out, please! Post your questions, comments, criticisms, and analyses of your own!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-07, 9:01 PM #73
Lens #56: The Lens of Transparency

The ideal interface becomes invisible to the player, letting the player’s imagination be completely immersed in the game world. To ensure invisibility, ask yourself these questions:
  • What are the player’s desires? Does the interface let the players do what they want?
  • Is the interface simple enough that with practice, players will be able to use it without thinking?
  • Do new players find the interface intuitive? If not, can it be made more intuitive somehow? Would allowing players to customize the controls help or hurt?
  • Does the interface work well in all situations, or are there cares (near a corner, going very fast, etc.) when it behaves in ways that will confuse the player?
  • Can players continue to use the interface well in stressful situations, or do they start fumbling with the controls or miss crucial information? If so, how can this be improved?
  • Does something confuse players about the interface? On which of the six interface arrows is it happening?

First, a couple notes. While the questions presented are still valid for use in analysis, there is a danger here to fall into what Rules of Play calls the "immersive fallacy" -- essentially that suspension of disbelief is paramount to everything else in the experience of the game, story, what-have-you. This is particularly common in the realm of visual digital mediums, and you can read an excerpt about it all from Rules of Play here. As for the six interface arrows listed in The Art of Game Design, they are as follows:
  • Physical input -> Fictional world (ex. pressing a button to make a character jump)
  • Fictional world -> Physical output (ex. seeing and feeling the fictional environment)
  • Physical input -> Virtual interface (ex. clicking for pop-up information)
  • Virtual interface -> Fictional world (ex. using pop-up information to help have a character jump)
  • Fictional world -> Virtual interface (ex. pop-up information updating when a character dies)
  • Virtual interface -> Physical output (ex. seeing and feeling non-diegetic material)

In mediums other than video games, these arrows can overlap with each other more. With that said, I'll take a stab at analyzing with this lens now!

The desires of the readers and writers (which can be examined with Lens of the Player) are to read and write an engaging story, and to (hopefully) do so in a collaborative spirit. The computer, internet connection, and message board, are all designed for written communication between people, so yes, the interface lets them do what they want. Even for the less computer-literate people (a number which grows smaller as the years pass), the interface is fairly straight-forward, requiring a level of nit-picking to find issues (the registration process, navigation in general, where to start if you're new, etc.) and certainly simple enough to use after practice without thinking. I'm fairly certain that the message board system is fairly intuitive for readers and writers, and if not, I'm unaware of how to make it more intuitive without an overhaul of the physical and virtual interface into the ideal hypothetical. Since "reading" and "typing" are essentially the only controls, there's nothing much that can be done for customization that isn't already present in the forum software or hardware of the user.

The only interface issues I've noticed that confuse the writers are 1) when they try to use indents and discover they have to use hard breaks with spaces and 2) sometimes when using the font color tags, there will be issues that seem to require the writer to change every line to "white" color to make it readable on standard forum theme. I'm sure there are some other glaring issues I'm forgetting as well. The NeS isn't really a time-sensitive project, even when aiming to post often, so it's unlikely place stress on the writer that would have them fumble with the interface (and again, something not that could be fixed even if there was an issue).

As for parts of the interface that might cause confusion, a poorly-written post could always confuse a reader (and writer) on the fictional world to physical output level, and if the update screen on the workshop or a character profile or the like isn't updated, or as with the interface issues mentioned before, any of the virtual interface elements could cause confusion.

The short of this lens, as it applies best to the NeS, is the traditional "help the reader [and writer] sense and believe they can interact with the fictional world." As I talked about at the start of this post, though, this does NOT mean the ultimate objective is to trick them into thinking the fictional world is real. They can usually do a good enough job of suspending their own disbelief when called for, provided the appropriate props and cues. "Realism" is not always the answer.

Was I not transparent enough in my analysis? Then please comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-08, 9:00 PM #74
Lens #57: The Lens of Feedback

The feedback a player gets from the game is many things: judgment, reward, instruction, encouragement, and challenge. Use this lens to be sure your feedback loop is creating the experience you want by asking these questions at every moment in your game:
  • What do players need and want to know at this moment?
  • What do you want players to feel at this moment? How can you give feedback that creates that feeling?
  • What do the players want to feel at this moment? Is there an opportunity for them to create a situation where they will feel that?
  • What is the player’s goal at the moment? What feedback will help them toward that goal?

This is a lens that's supposed to be used moment-by-moment, and while doing so can be a lot of work, the effort can pay off. Since some of these require the "designer" (in this case, the writer) to answer, I'll use one of my own posts -- this one -- as an example for this lens. The short of the story post is a conversation between The Last True Evil and Al Ciao over temptations of powerplaying (i.e. to develop into a Mary Sue) versus the need to not be incompetently useless.

The readers and writers in this case need to know two major things in context of the narrative situation:
  1. What happens next? Specifically here, how will stopping Rachel in the previous conflict affect the present characters?
  2. What conflicts will grow for future posts to ripen and harvest? Specifically here, how might issues of powerplaying and idiocy affect characters like The Last True Evil, Al Ciao, and Gebohq?

When I wrote this post, I wanted the readers to feel that the apparent success of the heroes could prove to trigger problems later on (a common theme in NeSquared as a whole). For the writers, I wanted to both have them feel their contributions mattered by referencing previous material (namely the Death of the Potentials climax) and discourage them from what I felt was previous uncooperative posting (by associating it with powerplaying) while pointing out poor writing of my own (having Gebohq, the main character, be too ineffectual on multiple levels).

As for the readers, I'm not exactly sure what they would have wanted to feel at that moment, but as the medium is not active (not without becoming a writer or heavy discussion with another reader), they're limited to how they can create situations to feel what they want. As for the writers, they can always alter the story to how they feel it should go, since the NeS is fairly free-form in that manner. However, since the writers of NeS aren't strictly traditional writers or traditional game players, they might not feel rewarded enough as writers or feel too punished as players for 'playing' (and in fact, has happened).

The goal of the reader is, as always, to find out what happens next and to think of why things have happened. The goal of the writers is, as always, to engage readers and writers alike in an interesting, collaborative manner, and specifically at this point in the story, to develop the conflict of the heroes taking Thand's treasury. In short, I tried to do that by adding more conflict. In hindsight, I failed to do two very important things in context: to add levity (jokes, successes, etc.), and to point out that Rachel's lacking presence meant that the heroes would be (far more) at the mercy of Thand (a huge potential conflict, but also an issue of potentially discrediting Thand as a conflict-driving antagonist neither too ineffectual or too effectual).

As for the purpose of this lens as a whole, there's some things we can take away. For the reader and writer, it's important that details of character actions and the like remain meaningful. The reader (in theory) says what they like and don't like (or what engages and doesn't engage them) to judge and reward the efforts of the writer, and writers provide back with material the reader (hopefully) enjoys while retaining integrity to the character of the story to reward the reader for reading (and other writers for working collaboratively). Without feedback, the collaborative effort required for the NeS becomes an exercise in blind wandering at best and neglectfully abused otherwise. I'm doing my best now to, at the very least, give one piece of specific praise to each story post that is made on the workshop.

Speaking of feedback... *ahem*


You know the drill, people. Comments, questions, criticisms, an analysis of your own... show me that you're alive! (And of course, thank you all who have made the replies you have!)
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-09, 9:03 PM #75
Lens #58: The Lens of Juiciness

To call an interface “juicy” might seem kind of silly – although it is very common to hear an interface with very little feedback described as “dry.” Juicy interfaces are fun the moment you pick them up. To maximize juiciness, ask yourself these questions:
  • Is my interface giving the player continuous feedback for their actions? If not, why not?
  • Is second-order motion created by the actions of the player? Is this motion powerful and interesting?
  • Juicy systems reward the player many ways at once. When I give the player a reward, how many ways am I simultaneously rewarding them? Can I find more ways?

Juiciness... honestly, the author of The Art of Game Design can get a little wacky with some of these names sometimes. Still, I'm sure I've been accused of worse (Anatomic Scrabble as the name of one of Geb's Meta-Story qualities comes to mind).

The interface gives readers and writers plenty of potential for continuous feedback, but it does not. In part, this is because of the very medium the NeS exists in -- print, even in a message board system on the Internet, can only provide so many opportunities for feedback. Mostly, though, feedback is dependent on the readers and writers themselves, whether it be comments and the like outside the story or responding to previous story material in the current material being written. I imagine this is the case for several reasons: we don't always have anything we feel we can respond back significantly with, we're afraid of "cluttering" with comments and the like (even on the workshop) instead of writing more posts, we're afraid of giving criticism, we're lazy bums, and so on.

Second-order motion (the example used in The Art of Game Design being the movement of the head of a Swiffer mop made by twisting, etc. primarily with one's wrist) can certainly be created by a writer anytime they manage to include layers of subtext, double meanings, and otherwise conjuring elements of resonance and elegance, though this is largely dependent on the skills of the writer. Writers are dependent on each other to create opportunities of second order motion as well.

As examined before with The Lens of Reward, the NeS (and its writers) could stand to be better at providing rewards, much less multiple ones per 'successful' action of the writer. The only real good way I can see this being improved is to have a solid, vocal reader base giving feedback often on posts. Lacking that, other writers can serve the same role (and really should do so anyway for more "knowledgeable" feedback). Having readily-available statistics for writers and their posts could help here again too.

Despite its apparent need for improvement, I'm fairly sure the interface (or NeS) would be considered "dry" in this context. This might be because even the best of print stories would probably be considered "dry" under this lens, and the ability for readers and writers to have any interactivity with the story and its writers makes it "juicy" in comparison.

As always, please comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-10, 9:10 PM #76
Lens #59: The Lens of Channels and Dimensions

Choosing how to map game information to channels and dimensions is the heart of designing your game interface. Use this lens to make sure you do it thoughtfully and well. As yourself these questions:
  • What data needs to travel to and from the player?
  • Which data is most important?
  • What channels do I have available to transmit this data?
  • Which channels are most appropriate for which data? Why?
  • Which dimensions are available on the different channels?
  • How should I use those dimensions?

I'm sure some wise professor would tell me how seemingly non-applicable lenses like this one could actually show some great insight, but I'm afraid I'm not that wise. Still, I'll go through with it for kicks. For those of you uncertain, "channels" of information in this case is simply the means to convey the various parts ("data") of the interface, particularly the "fictional world -> virtual interface" and "virtual interface -> physical output" flows mentioned in this lens: showing the number of a type of item you might have, the current environment, current physical status, currently equipped items, stuff like that. Dimensions, in this case, simply means how a channel of information is shown: font size, font color, font type, things that tend to reinforce information presented in the channels -- the Narrator in the NeS is typically designated in all italics, for example.

The data for the NeS tends to be the who, what, where, when, why and how of the story.

The data that needs to travel from the reader is only comments and the like outside the story on the workshop thread, if anything at all. The data that needs to travel to the reader is as follows per post:
  • CONTEXT: Where (and when, if applicable) is the scene taking place? Concrete details can help here.
  • CHARACTERS: Who is present in the scene, and who is saying and doing what? What choices are they making?
  • CONFLICT: What is at stake? What's left to chance and challenges in point-of-views? If applicable, how is it resolved?

From that, the reader should be able to know why they care to read the story, the conventions and styles to expect, etc. The writer needs to know the above as well as possibly the following:
  • CONTEXT: What else could be important for future scenes?
  • CHARACTERS: What explicitly is the motivation of the current (or upcoming) character? In short, what we have the character profiles for in large part.
  • CONFLICT: What ideas do the writers currently have for how present conflicts could be resolved?

In short, this is what we have the workshop thread for in part. As for information that needs to travel FROM the writer, basically anything the writer uses to tell a story, which in this case, is usually the ability to type words.

Data that's most important for the reader is likely relating to CONFLICT, as characters and context and the like are mostly means to highlight that. More accurately, though, so long as it's engaging, conflict would come secondary to CHARACTERS... something of a plot vs. story thing as known in the NeS. For the writers, again, information about CHARACTERS not explicit but critical to the story need to be shown.

Channels available for the NeS is typically text on posts in threads (the story thread and the out-of-story thread), with data pertinent to the reader on the story thread and data pertinent to the writer on the out-of-story thread. Dimensions available include bold, italics, underline, text alignment, lists, links, images, quotes, strike-through, "spoiler" tags, font types, font sizes, font colors, emoticons, and while discouraged here, attachments. They're used mostly to highlight and stylize various story elements or information (bold something emphasized by a character, link to a character profile, make text smaller for someone talking quieter, etc.).

Don't flip the channel! Stay in this dimension and post your comments, questions, criticisms, and analyses of your own, please!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-11, 9:01 PM #77
Lens #60: The Lens of Modes

An interface for any complexity is going to require modes. To make sure your modes make the player feel powerful and in control and do not confuse or overwhelm, ask yourself these questions:
  • What modes do I need in my game? Why?
  • Can any modes be collapsed or combined?
  • Are any of the modes overlapping? If so, can I put them on different input channels?
  • When the game changes modes, how does the player know that? Can the game communicate the mode change in more than one way?

Modes, in the context of game design, simply means different rule sets and sub-sets within your game. Anytime in a video game where your controls change because you're driving instead of walking, for example, is a type of mode change.

For the NeS, only 2 "modes" are really needed (reading and writing a post), though it could be further divided into 4 (in the story and out of the story). The in-story and out-of-story used to be combined before, but a separate thread seemed better (though perhaps being mindful of the out-of-story material via "the realm of the writers" might still be useful), so no, they can't really be collapsed or combined. Fortunately, there isn't an overlap in these "modes" either, and it's pretty self-evident when the modes change ("hey, there's a text field! I can write!"). It really doesn't need to do anything different here.

As always, please comment, question, criticize, and analyze with this lens yourself!
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-12, 11:17 PM #78
Lens #61: The Lens of the Interest Curve

Exactly what captivates the human mind often seems different for every person, but the most pleasurable patterns of that captivation are remarkably similar for everyone [using this in conjunction with Lens #16: The Lens of the Player can help]. To see how a player’s interest in your experience changes over time, ask yourself these questions:
  • If I draw an interest curve of my experience, how is it generally shaped?
  • Does it have a hook?
  • Does it have gradually rising interest, punctuated by periods of rest?
  • Is there a grand finale, more interesting than everything else?
  • What changes would give me a better interest curve?
  • Is there a fractal structure to my interest curve? Should there be?
  • Do my intuitions about the interest curve match the observed interest of the players? If I ask playtesters to draw an interest curve, what does it look like?

Now we're getting back more to lenses that apply more obviously here! I know which curves interest me...erm, narrative ones, of course!

For the reader, I imagine the interest curve for a story-arc (the most natural experience to pick) would probably be something like the attached picture below. Perhaps more accurately, though, if they're reading a current story-arc, it's more likely to be "WHEE!" followed by disinterest in waiting for even a day for an update, much less weeks, and that's assuming the particular post interests them. I think the interest curve for NeS as a whole generally fits a good interest curve though. For the writer, I'm not sure an interest curve could be as easily drawn, but I imagine it's similar to that of a reader.

The NeS is not really short on character, so the usual "interesting hook" angle isn't too hard (assuming the type of story is their thing at all) -- familiarity and making it feel less of an inside joke are bigger concerns in this case.

For any given story-arc, I'm not sure it really follows a gradual rising interest with periods of rest. It seems more often that there's an interest spike at the beginning, and definitely one towards the end, but more often squiggles of random "eh" in the middle. Fortunately, most story-arcs DO end in a rather good "grand finale" as far as I'm aware. Changes that would probably help make a better interest curve pretty much involve a more "structured" goal for the narrative, so that progression and the like is visible in the narrative, as opposed to just flopping around from the initial conflict to the climax.

A fractal interest curve is DEFINITELY good for the whole of NeS (to see the pattern of interest curves in the whole thread, in a story arc, per post, etc.) and should definitely be something to keep in mind. As for whether there IS one, I'd say it can definitely be seen, if not perfect. I don't think it's a mistake that the NeS has been referred to as a "plotfractal" (which is odd, since references to 'plot' are almost always meant to be bad).

As for whether my intuitions on the interest curves match the observations of the "players" (readers and writers), that is something I don't know. So you know what that means...

That's right! Flaunt your interest curves! Comment, question, criticize, and analyze until the cows come home. And then wonder why there are cows at your home, because you probably don't live on a farm. Probably.
Attachment: 24001/interestcurve.JPG (20,373 bytes)
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-14, 3:16 AM #79
Lens #62: The Lens of Inherent Interest

Some things are just interesting. Use this lens to be sure your game has inherently interesting qualities by asking these questions:
  • What aspects of my game will capture the interest of a player immediately?
  • Does my game let the player see or do something they have never seen or done before?
  • What base instincts does my game appeal to? Can it appeal to more of them?
  • What higher instincts does my game appeal to? Can it appeal to more of those?
  • Does dramatic change and anticipation of dramatic change happen in my game? How can it be more dramatic?

So is the NeS inherently interesting? Hmm...

Well, what does immediately capture interest? For the readers, I'm really not sure, but I'd hope it's the story's absurd-comedic style, its mix of epic and mundane, and its general embrace of character. For the writers, it's the ability to co-write a story without the fear of "not being good enough" or "messing it up" (once they accept that premise, that is). Perhaps the sheer persistence of the story interests both new readers and writers as well, if likely also intimidating. The idea of a continuous online, collaborative story that's continued for more than 10 days, much less 10 years, is certainly something most have never seen before, and what characterizes the NeS and its story I don't believe is common either.

As hinted at in the analysis with the Lens of Needs, the baser instincts the NeS appeals to are mostly those of belonging in a community, and the higher instincts that of self-esteem, creativity and self-actualization. Other baser and higher instincts the NeS in general might appeal to include the illusion of control and power (for the writers in writing a world) and knowing (ranging from something like gossip to truth when reading). More specifically, baser instincts within the story are the usual staples (sex, violence, juvenile humor) and higher instincts the usual as well (love, problems with evil, irony). As for dramatic change and anticipation, the NeS is primarily a story, so I'm rather sure it does this on some level, though I have noticed that it's more common for anticipation to be lacking at times (resolving conflicts too quickly). I'm sure there can always be something more done to appeal to both, but I can't really think of any particulars that wouldn't violate the character of the NeS.

As always, please comment, question, criticize and analyze with this lens yourself.
The Plothole: a home for amateur, inclusive, collaborative stories
2010-06-14, 7:39 AM #80
Speaking on Lens #61: You can draw a lot of parallels to Left 4 Dead 1/2 and how the Director works in the game. Valve did a lot of research and learned a lot of things about how people want pacing in their games. The Director actually strives to achieve a player experience similar to the graph you drew, with highs and lows to allow players to breathe after a hard fight, but build anticipation for the next. All with the promise of a big ending. The large fights in the game are aptly named "Crescendo Events" for that reason.

What's really interesting with what Valve did in the games, is they actually created an AI to make its own "story" so to speak, every playthrough. Every time it will be slightly different, and even better, it will be tweaked toward each team's individual play style and skill level.

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