Language and designed space

Friday, July 2nd, 2004

I perceive a larger space because of the aural mix, the growl of engines, the screech of tires, the aggressiveness of the opponents machines rushing up, coming beside, or going past. This design gives an impression of behind, sideways, and ahead just as a silent window in a room gives a greater sense of perspective to an otherwise abrupt space.

In T.I.M.E. – Early American Anomalies a work of interactive fiction by Christopher Coonce-Ewing, the player is a history corrector whose mission is to prevent disturbances to the American time-line. As with most IF, the space of the world is designed in text and code, in this case TADS, rather than with graphics. The IF world is programmed into existence for functionality and usability on the computer and the player/reader must engage the world with simple commands, such as go north, and interact with objects in the environment to ascertain an objective. Interaction with the space of IF can lead to multiple readings of a narrative and multiple re-readings depending on the choices a reader/player makes.

Here is an example of such a designed area from Coonce-Ewings work, the initial Chamber area

The Chamber
This is the T.I.M.E transport room, called ‘The Chamber’ by those who work here. The room is stark with harsh light falling from the ceiling. The far wall is a curtain of shimmering quicksilver.
Sitting on the metal table is a mission briefing, a temporal timepiece, and a silver coin.

.Here the stark Chamber avoids topographic vividness in its description for practical, we might call them kairic reasons. The description or placement of objects in the room is more kin to an architectural blueprint or a 2 (I could even argue 3 dimensional) map than a typical description in fiction. The room has orienting depth and stretch. The quicksilver wall is at a distance from the position of the first person player yet the position of the table is indefinite. Thus the rooms topology is amorphous. The room may or may not be square. The player thus orients to the objects in an amorphous Chamber but can gather some spatial orientation via the description of place and position.

In another area inside the primary world of the game where most things happen, we confront a different textual design of (digital) space.

Outside the Inn
You are currently outside an Inn, in what looks like the early evening. A light snow covers the ground. The wooden sign creaks in the gentle evening breeze. A lone hitchpost (currently unused) stands in front of the Inn. The road goes north and south, the Inn is to the east and a field of corn to the west. The sounds of people come from inside the inn.

Interestingly, in this space we have aura and object. The aura comes from early evening. The objects are the hitching post, Inn, the road and the wooden sign just to name a few, and not to mention the object that the reader has to probe for. Aura and object form a part of the space here, but a sense of distance forms an added shape to the written world. North is distance. Distance allows for the ability to move, which is what the reader will perhaps do. In fiction, north may simply provide a sense of direction (an orienting point) or placement, but in IF north is orientation, placement, and penetrative or a path through or into. North says you can go there.

One response to “Language and designed space”

  1. Christopher says:

    I’m working now to provide more “aura” to the spaces given that the basic functionality of the world is now established.

    The Chamber is now to me more “real”. The issue I think for the author is finding ways to make each space have it’s own identity without burying the reader/player in excessive dialog. Steve compared it to poetry where it’s all about compression.

    For those who are interested in experiencing it firsthand: