The Versu Galatea


In addition to Blood & Laurels, in the late days of Versu we built — and came very close to releasing — a Versu remake of Galatea. The idea was that it was a piece that some people were familiar with, but which could be more accessible in this form; and releasing it this way would tell an interesting story.

Doing the conversion was a strange project. For one thing, I myself have a kind of weird love-hate relationship with Galatea at this point — a lot of people love the piece, but it’s pretty much the first thing I wrote that ever got any widespread scrutiny. I would write it differently now, in many ways and for many reasons. Parts of it strike me as flippant, parts clueless, parts overblown. I’ve gotten some great fan mail, art, and even music about that game, and also more creepy and bizarre email than about anything else I’ve written. And I’m also grateful, as that single piece is probably responsible for my career, a lot of my friendships, even my marriage. I remember it fondly but I almost never replay these days. So revisiting it long enough to reimplement all the text in a new context was strange. I disciplined myself not to change too much of the original dialogue, even when it wasn’t what I would now write.

From an implementation perspective, it wasn’t difficult to move the text of the original game into a Versu format. Versu’s conversation implementation is strictly more powerful than the one in Galatea while at the same time being much easier to author; often all I had to do was strip the strings out of the original code and do some minor formatting in order to feed the results into Prompter, Versu’s dialogue-authoring tool.

g_endings_5There were a lot of other considerations, though. This wasn’t, it couldn’t be, the kind of port that preserves the gameplay experience of the original. The original is a parser-based game with a lot of noun-hunting, and people get stuck on it sometimes, not sure what to do next or how to drive things forward. Versu is designed to surface those affordances, not to hide them; to produce forward movement, not a halting sense of difficult discovery. Versu characters talk, a lot, even if the player doesn’t say much.

There were some tweaks I made in order to emulate a little of the original Galatea’s reticence, to provide some pauses. But this Galatea was forthcoming in a way that felt very different. In the early prototyping, Richard Evans remarked that the game felt somewhat less magical because of its increased fluidity, and I did know what he meant.

galatea_profile_reversed_neutralAt the same time — this Galatea felt more active than the old one ever did. And there was also the point-of-view shift. The way Versu works, a protagonist and all the NPCs have to be instantiated as characters in more or less the same way. There was therefore a parity in Versu between the player and Galatea that never existed in the original code base. The original code models topics and things to say about topics; the character Galatea’s emotions and reactions are hung off of those, triggered by the player’s questions and gestures, and only ever very rarely by additional daemons that add one- or two-turn-later follow-ups. In Versu, Galatea and the protagonist were both modeled as agents with a range of social possibilities open to them, and it was a matter of run-time choice which of those agents were driven by the player. What that meant (among other things) was that I could make Galatea a playable character and go through the same scenes and the same dialogue as her, for the first time.

It was an astonishing experience, playing as Galatea. The protagonist came off as this tone-deaf jerk, since so much of his dialogue consisted of endless nosy personal questions.

Continue reading “The Versu Galatea”

More IF publicity

At 1UP, thanks to Lara Crigger. There appears to be a main article (following the usual scheme of such articles, it starts by referring to the good old days of Infocom, but it does branch out to some history of modern IF) and a feature recommending some IF for beginners — Lost Pig, Ecdysis, Tales of the Traveling Swordsman, Galatea, and Photopia, this time around.

On Stephen Bond on Player Freedom

Stephen Bond recently (very recently, I think) posted an essay on player freedom, essentially arguing that IF shouldn’t be about offering the player moral choice, and that not forcing the player to make a specific choice is a kind of artistic abdication, giving up the opportunity (or the responsibility) to Say Something.

Now I’m about to disagree with him, at some length.

Continue reading “On Stephen Bond on Player Freedom”