Assignment1 – Erica Lazrus (a little late)

Here is a link to my project for assignment 1:

It is not complete yet; I think I made the scope a little bit bit that what the assignment entails but it has the backbones of what the final project will have.  The story is about a “typical” unit family (2 parents, 2 kids, and a dog) and follows a day of their life.  It starts at the end of the day, where the whole family realizes what a wreck their living room is.  The branching narrative then allows you to follow a character through their day and anytime they intersect with another character, you can switch.  At the beginning of the story, the story itself also informs you that the vowels have gone missing and asks you to find them while you follow the story.  The vowels have actually been misplaced by the family members as objects in their everyday lives and you can click on their links to bring them back to the story.  What you realize as you go through the story is that the family members are completely obvious to each other and their surroundings and that throughout the day each of them contributes to the mess in the living room and takes a vowel.

Most of the text that is in the project right now is sort of “place-holder” text to remind me what I want to happened where but the passages where you can find vowels are more indicative of what the language will actually be like.

As of right now I have the vowel-stuff working but the code to actually remove the vowels from the text is commented out because I realized I need to be more selective about word choice to make sure the text is still comprehensible and I haven’t had time to add this in yet.  I currently have it so that when a vowel is removed it is replaced by an underscore but even that makes the text a little hard to read if a word is very vowel-heavy.

I also added in the feature that once you’ve chosen to follow a certain character at a particular interaction between two or three characters, you can’t ever use that one again, so you’re forced to follow a different character if you get to that intersection again.  There are some choices that affect one character but not the others and I plan to add in the feature that if you make one of these choices and you come to that passage again you are forced to make that same choice.  These choices shape the characters personalities in a way and I don’t want the reader to be able to change those mid-story.

I had a couple of suggestions from Paolo about integrating the vowels better into the story by either relating the vowel to the first letter of the object is it replacing or having the letters themselves appear in the scene instead of being mistaken for objects.  I am definitely open to these ideas and would like to know what you all think.  As it is, I had tried to come up with objects that can be drawn like the letter they are replaced with and I had planned to include drawing of the vowel on the page they can be found.  Also, I related each vowel to the character in the story that interacts with the object they replace by making the names contain only that vowel.  Again, open to suggestions about what would work best.


1) Face

I found this idea really interesting:

“As with expression, patterns of gaze can vary depending upon culture or subculture. For example, lack of sustained mutual gaze might be interpreted as indifference or rudeness by an American person and as politeness by a Japanese person.”

This suggests that interpretations of facial expressions are not necessary universal and will to a certain extent be influenced by the culture that you grow up in.  This is similar to the theory in linguistics of Universal Grammar which explains that all humans are born with the ability to pronounce the sounds of every world language, but those not used in one’s native language will quickly be forgotten as they will not be needed.  However, I was always under the impression that body movements, including facial expressions, were a way to transcend a language barrier because it is a “language” that is universally understood.  Given that this may not be the case, target audience should have influence over the design of character mannerisms.  This then begs the question, what is unique to those characters that are part of games that transcend cultural boundaries (if there are any that really do so)?

2) Eliza Effect

This article discusses the precursor to the now very dominant component of computer science: artificial intelligence.  Reading about the Eliza Effect and the “yes-no therapy” experiment, I immediately thought to myself, “why are we so ready to except AI as human interaction?”  Yes it is true, as the author mentioned, that eventually the facade breaks down and reveals its limitations but up until that point, most humans are willing to temporarily accept these simulations as reality.  This is especially apparent in video games across the board, and in particular, “The Sims” series comes to mind.  I will admit I have played they games to death and have found all of their limitations but I still play on.  And it seems that the more and more realistic they get, the more popular they become.  Why are we so desperate to make the virtual world a mirror of our own?

3) Hills Like White Elephants

It is amazing how much Hemingway is able to convey about the characters (and their relationship) through very simple descriptions and lots of dialogue.  I was especially intrigued with the dichotomy of describing the two characters as “man” and “girl”, and the adult situation they are in.  That brief description in the context of the dialogue was enough to discern that the relationship they share is an inappropriate one – he may be a good deal older than she is, they are constantly moving from place to place to be together, he clearly has a power over her that makes her feel like she would do anything to make him happy.  However, it is also clear that the man feels remorse about having this dominance in their relationship and clearly doesn’t want to lose her by forcing her to do something she would regret.  Hemingway does a really good job of revealing information discretely without explaining the circumstance explicitly but describing enough for the reader to understand what is going on.

Story Ideas

1) Th Vwls r _W_L

This game will start out as any generic choose-your-own adventure story but after the player makes their first choice the vowels will start disappearing.  At this point the player has the choice to continue with the story or to look for the vowels.  If the player chooses to continue with the story, gradually the other letters start to leave the story to look for their friends.  Eventually the story will get so unreadable that it forces the player to finally look for the vowels, if the haven’t chosen to already.  At this point, the choose-you-own-adventure becomes about figuring out where to find each of the vowels by learning the characteristics of each vowel.

I’m unsure currently of how this will end but I am more interesting in the puzzle aspect of the game than the ending itself so it may be somewhat anticlimactic.  Also, I like the idea of the narrative being self-aware, i.e. knowing that it is missing the ability to provide the reader with the necessary information to continue the generic CYOA (i.e. legible words to describe what’s going on) and is forced to make it known that it is self-aware.

2) Lightbulb

For this idea, I am interesting in generating narrative from very simple actions.  The player controls a lightbulb in a busy room in a house (living room, den, etc.) and has only two options at each choice point: turn on or turn off.  The interesting part of this story will be observing as the lightbulb how such a simple action pushes the storyline forward (or backward0 in different ways. I think that I may want to add a third option that the lightbulb can choose like ‘dim’ to make the storyline more dynamic but am unsure at this point.

I know I want to do graphics for this idea but am still deciding what specifically.  I like a few ideas which could be used independently or in combination: 1) using basic icons instead of words to indicate the choices (i.e. a lit up bulb), 2) drawing newly introduced characters from the vantage point of the lightbulb, and therefore warped in the way things would look as if looking through a fishbowl, 3) drawing some entire scenes through the vantage point of the lightbulb.  Right now I think I’m leaning towards a combination of 1 and 2.

I also imagine that this one will have a lot of hypertext embedded in the narrative itself: since the entire story takes place in one room and the player is controlling a static object in the room, the player should have plenty of time to observe and explore as the narrative goes on.


1) CYOA – One Book, Many Readings

In this article, the author goes into great detail on how CYOA books create a great sense of spatial understanding necessary to read through them, through movement rules.  He explains how, in this way, CYOA differs from other literary forms by swaying the reader to focus more on finding different ways through the story’s space and less on the story’s actual conclusion.  From this standpoint, reading this article made me reflect on how to approach CYOA as an author, in particular when it comes to conveying one’s intent for creating such a story.  From my understanding, this intent can be conveyed through the movement rules themselves.  A good example of this I think is one of the homeplay games, “Everybody Dies”.  Playing this game, I found that I learned about the character development mostly through the narrative, but I discovered more about the author’s perspective through the limitations and later “freedoms” (such as the ability to control multiple characters at once) of moving through the story’s space.  This is also evident in the article’s example describing UFO 54-40. Here, as with every other classic CYOA layout, the reader can move around by following the rules of CYOA but eventually these typical rules must be broken to “finish” the adventure; in other words, the author creates a hidden rule that says break the typical rules of CYOA to “play” my story, and you won’t really get anywhere until you accept the author’s intent of creating a rule-breaking CYOA.

2) Computer Lib/Dream Machines

One of ideas that stood out to me the most in this reading is the following:

“The designer of responding computer systems is creating unified setups for viewing and manipulating things—and the feelings, impressions and sense of things that go with them. Our goal should be nothing less than REPRESENTING THE TRUE CONTENT AND STRUCTURE OF HUMAN THOUGHT. ”

This thought too addresses the question of motivation behind designing these branching systems for data and where that motivation is most evident.  Nelson is also presenting the argument that the answer is the structure of the design itself (just as in the CYOA article, the rules themselves express the purpose of the author).  This idea is interesting in this larger context of presenting information about our entire world, in particular because this structure is, according to Nelson, supposed to mirror the way human thought works; how it makes connections across information, subjects, and disciplines.  This is intriguing when the same line of thought is applied back to the CYOA branches that occurs in the discipline of literature.  What can then be suggested is that presenting a story in such a way is a better mirror of how the “narrative of life” plays out; nothing is actually pre-determined, but rather every so often there are choices to be made that lead to different consequences.  Even with non-CYOA narrative there is a larger branching structure that may be unapparent to the reader but is intrinsically buried beneath the surface that connects all the thoughts, influences, and decisions that lead to the creation of the narrative in the first place.


Erica Lazrus

Hi all,

I am a senior (woo hoo!) BCSA student fro Silver Spring, MD (though originally I was an architecture student).  Whoever wrote they’re from Potomac remind me to ask you where you went to high school so we can place who-knows-who.


Game Design Technical Skills:

  • Programming in a few different languages (Python, Java/Processing, C)
  • Some modeling experience (Maya, some 3dsMax, Rhino? – if at all relevant)
  • General knowledge of the Adobe Suite (specifically Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator)


PS in case you’re wondering, the cow and cake behind me are both made of butter