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Games Industry Days


Chris Crawford cut his programming teeth on the Atari 8-bit system, creating many detailed and influential games that helped stretch the capabilities of the machine.  He also wrote several essays on game design (including this one on human-computer interaction), both for the Atari 8-bit and for general game design philosophy, which was only in the early to mid-eighties becoming practical for end users to be able to do.  He is also the founder of the Game Developer's Conference.  Many of his designs were innovative, but some more conservative critics criticized Crawford's games for not being more arcade-like, which was the prevalent style of game at the time.  Crawford eventually became disillusioned with the current gaming market, and in a speech called The Dragon Speech at the 1992 Game Developer's Conference, he made the analogy that he was, like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills with his desires to revolutionize computer entertainment, and symbolically charged off the stage to prove his point, symbolizing his actual breaking of ties with the games industry. 

(Text of the essay that was the basis for the speech is here)

Post "Dragon Speech"


Crawford continues to write essays and do interviews about game design, and is currently working on a web-friendly computer game engine called Storytron, which allows for an intuitive, dynamic interface for interactive fiction which eliminates the need for the problematic, antiquated parser interface.  Crawford, however, prefers that Storytron not be lumped in with Interactive Fiction because of the design differences.

The Storytron system allowed for a bottom-up approach to parsers, where the parser system is laid out in a series of menus, starting with choosing the verb, followed by the object of that verb and other details.  No option that the computer would reject is allowed to be chosen, cutting down on guesswork.  When players enter their action, the results of that action play out on one half of the screen, while a new set of options which are a reaction to the results are then displayed, creating a narrative that the player can follow to its conclusion.  Another difference is that there is very little plotting, as there is in much of modern Interactive Fiction.  In Storytron, events are, in a sense, created by the player, because all the "actors," or non-player characters, are given attitudes which express how they react to a given action being done in their purview.  These actors, then, push the interaction forward, creating potentially very dynamic situations.

Currently there is one scenario, a political simulation with the player acting as president of the United States, but there are others planned by Crawford, as well as by science fiction author Laura J. Mixon, co-founder of Storytron.

Crawford has also released a pdf version of one of his books, and the Macintosh versions of some of his titles for free on his website.  He is also very accommodating for people asking permission to freely distribute his old games.

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