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Town Crier About Roberta Gameography


The Woman Behind the Mask: A Q&A with pioneer game designer Roberta Williams Conducted by Eric Twelker We recently sat down with Roberta Williams in her Seattle home and chatted with her about the evolution of her games through the years and the ever-changing face of adventure games as evidenced by her next revolution, Mask of Eternity. You are well recognized as one of the inventors of interactive storytelling. How did it all begin? Now that I look back, I realize that I was compelled to design an adventure game of my own. As a child, I loved fairy tales. I would go to the library, pick up every fairy tale book I could get my hands on and read them cover to cover. At night, I would go to bed and stay awake creating adventure stories in my head, all along thinking, "Wow, this is a great story!" So, I've always had these stories inside of me that I wanted to somehow convey to others. In the late '70s, I played Colossus Caves [one of the first text-based adventure games] and was immediately addicted to it, playing it for hours on end. I was compelled to get through it and see every path and solution. It was much like what I'd always done, controlling my own stories in a way very different from the linearity of, say, a book. When I finished the game, I immediately wrote the story for Mystery House and Ken, a great programmer, created it on our Apple computer. Mask of Eternity departs from the traditional two-dimensional adventure game by using a three-dimensional game engine most commonly employed in first-person action games. How is Mask's story conveyed using this technique? In interactive storytelling, it's important to blend the right amount of interactivity and story telling. Phantasmagoria, for instance, was heavy on storytelling, but didn't have too much interactivity. Mask of Eternity is an adventure game on the other side of the spectrum with an emphasis on interactivity in it's virtual world. It's not story-like in the traditional sense: I've experimented with adding as much freedom of the player's control while, at the same time, maintaining a strong narrative. In Mask of Eternity, the entire world is designed with story in mind. The world is in chaos - order and humanity have been banished and you, as Connor, must restore it. The player learns about the world and furthers the plot by exploring locations, finding and using inventory items and interacting with other characters. And unlike a first-person combat game, even fighting creatures is part of the story. By doing so, the player will discover who these creatures are and why they've emerged into the world. Tell us a bit about Mask of Eternity's story. In the opening scene, we see a fantastic world off in the celestial realm. A white-robed, priest-like character approaches a gold mask set atop an altar, and summons to the sky. He transforms into a dark being as lightning crashes down on the altar, exploding the mask into pieces that hail down to the world below. In Daventry, King Graham's magic mirror begins swirling and displays the bad omen of the mask breaking apart. We then meet Connor. While walking down a road the wind kicks up and clouds begin to roil. A piece of the mask sails down from the sky and lands at his feet. Just as he picks up the piece, a storm swirls overhead, the sky turns dark and everyone turns into stone... except for Connor, who is somehow protected by the piece of the Mask. The player will soon discover that it's up to him restore order to the world. Eventually, Connor must face the dark being himself and attempt to banish him from the celestial world. What were your goals when setting out to create Mask of Eternity? My goals are always the same: to make the player feel like they are in the game, so much that they forget the real world around them. Playing 2D adventure games, I always wanted to have the ability to see what's behind the backgrounds, peek under a table or on top of a roof and explore every corner. In Mask of Eternity's 3D world, the player has a much better sense of really being there. Mask of Eternity is a beautiful and open environment that is very exploratory. You're no longer limited to the flat picture on the screen. Tell us about the puzzle elements in the game. The puzzles are based around connor's experiences and actions. Some puzzles involve finding and using inventory items to get around a problem. For instance, in one part of the game, Connor must find a way to cross the River of Death. To succeed, Connor must find a way to activate a lever on a drawbridge on the other side of the river [nope, we won't give away the solution!]. In another part of the game, Connor must find a way to enter the sanctum of the Lord of the Dead. To do so, Connor must cross tiles, each bearing a symbol, in the right order. But first, Connor must search for clues that will decipher the correct order of jumping across the tiles for getting across.  What is the theme of Mask of Eternity and what does the mask itself represent? Mask of Eternity is about spirituality: what is means now and through the ages and where people have searched for it. As you go through the game, you sense that Connor is looking for his own meaning and discover the game's main themes: truth, light and order. Puzzles in the game revolve around these themes. For instance, the City of the Dead's theme is truth. When he reaches this section of the world, Connor is tested and, if successful, will be affirmed that he is the deliverer who will bring truth back to Daventry. The mask stands for the all-powerful being, the creator. The mask is sun-like and, in many religions, the sun represents God. In most religions, like the sun itself, you never can look directly at the creator unless you become immortal. There are certain places in the game's quest - obstacles, puzzles, interactions with guardians that you meet - where the player is trying to accomplish that feat. It's all integrated into the story in such a way that people who know what to look for will understand the overall quest. An edited version of this interview can be found in the Summer 1998 issue of Interaction Magazine, Sierra's in-house quarterly publication  


Town Crier About Roberta Gameography

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