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Echo Bazaar Narrative Structures, part three

By Alexis Kennedy, March 12, 2010 · Failbetter Tagged with , ,

Hurrah, it’s the final chapter of our esoteric trilogy of brain splurges. This one is frankly unlikely to make any sense unless you’ve already checked out parts one and two. Onwards! Next up, we have Faust’s Tea Party, a social narrative concept which I have illustrated by cackhandedly photoshopping a teapot into a picture of Faust and Mephistopheles.

Voila. And now over to AK, who understands this one much better than I do:

AK: Faust’s Tea Party is a particular flavour of social action. A simple Faust is something where you take a hit to get a benefit: like the Laudanum storylet, where you reduce your Nightmares but your health suffers. Faust’s Tea Party is a social action where both parties gain something or lose something (unless the person invited refuses, in which case nothing happens). A ‘Let’s Get Drunk And Get Tattoos’ storylet would be a Faust’s Tea Party: goodbye Connected: Society, hello Connected: Docks, perhaps. A Faust’s Ham And Eggs Party, by the way, is one where if the person invited refuses, the inviter still loses something, but gains nothing. Props to anyone who can explain why ‘Ham and Eggs’.

And so we move on to the Midnight Staircase. This is a relatively recent one, which messes around with the idea of grind. It’s a bit like a Questicle that you can complete any time you want. Say for instance that you are planning a daring burglary. You complete a series of preparation storylets – casing the joint, assembling your equipment and so on. Every one of these increases your ‘Planning a Daring Burglary’ quality. However, at this stage, you haven’t decided where the burglary will take place. As your ‘Planning a Daring Burglary’ quality increases, more potential locations will appear. Maybe the Brass Embassy, maybe the Watchmaker’s Hill Observatory, maybe even the Bazaar itself. The player can cash in their preparing quality at any time to actually perform one of these burglaries, or they can continue preparing, waiting for juicier targets…

We’re nearly done. Two more cool sounding names, that mean roughly the same thing:

This is a little harder to explain. I alluded way back in part one to the problems of building a multi-branching narrative tree: it causes your content to expand exponentially and you get the Encyclopedia Britannica. EB’s solution to this is simply to disconnect our various bits of story from each other. All the funky structures above give the player a sense of a complex and fairly coherent narrative, but when it comes right down to it, the way they actually approach that story is up to them.

Metaphor time: imagine a desert, seen from above. There are many branching paths leading to many villages. When travellers cross the desert, you can clearly see the route they take, where they stop off, and so on. But what if night has fallen? Then, all you can see are the little fires in the villages. Occasionally, travellers emerge from the darkness and sit by the fires for a while, and then move on. But the routes they take between those fires belong to them alone.

All of which is a fancy way of saying that, while we control the actual chunks of the story, the paths between them belong to the player alone, and that’s a big deal. Just as in a film the story is told through the edit, in Echo Bazaar, the story is told through the darkened paths between the fires. In cinematic terms, it’s a montage: we provide the shots, the player does the arrangement.

AK: Paul suggested referencing Lynch and Eisenstein in the talk. I chickened out because I thought I’d get laughed off stage. I’m mentioning them now though.

Several players have told us that they have dreams about Echo Bazaar. This is very flattering, obviously, but we suspect it has as much to do with the structure as the content. Dreams are disconnected things that flip through time and place, heavy with symbolism. So what we’re saying is that EB, with its quasi-Tarotic cards, unnamed characters and disconnected storylets, loosely strung with controlling Qualities, is structured a bit like a dream.

And that’s the end of a talk. You can throw things now.

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Silverfish Apr 8, 7:26am

I still don't get the ham and eggs thing.

matejcik Nov 7, 9:15pm

so... does this mean that "grinding" more Planning burglary can open up more conclusion options that are not visible at first?

crawlkill Oct 7, 7:30am

fuggin fantastic. I love it. I've been quietly obsessing over the whole what-makes-a-game-interesting thing since it became apparent that Warcraft was an entirely different animal from anything the MMO genre had seen before, and it's quite plain that EB is a whole new species of browserplay. you dudes have got yourself a nail well head-hammered. keep poundin it, yo.

pinstripeowl Aug 10, 2:22am

Really very interesting! Thanks for this: it's great seeing under the hood at the ideas and structure behind Echo Bazaar

iskandra (Alexandra Velten) Mar 13, 6:15am

I loved this look "under the bonnet" - and being obsessed with "cool names" myself, it all now makes sense! *cackles maniacally* And I might mention that yes, I have dreamt about Echo Bazaar. I'm blessed with very lively dreams as it is, and this game has been a great source for weird dreams. Maybe I should write some of them down. At the same time, I'm getting the urge to actually *write* for EB. Guys, if you ever need more people for some fires in the desert, I'm all yours!

John Evans Mar 13, 3:41am

So, while a lot of people have said that story exists in the mind of the reader, you guys put your narrative where your mouth is. So to speak.

SaturNine Mar 13, 2:48am

Just as well Mr Xalieri beat me to the punch then, as the first connection my overtired brain made was I do not like them, Sam I Am. This exploration has been the farthest thing from a dry lecture. Thank you for sharing it.

Alexis Mar 12, 9:49pm

Mr Xalieri has it. (though I like Dan's mantra :-) )

Hatif (aka Laszlo Xalieri) Mar 12, 8:30pm

The Ham and Eggs metaphor is one of commitment. The chicken loses a resource that is self-renewing to the ham and egg breakfast. The pig, on the other hand, is a little more committed...

Dan Someone Mar 12, 8:18pm

If we had some ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had some eggs.