Earthquake San Francisco 1906: Diegetic vs. Non-diegetic Plot   9 comments

From Mobygames.

I’ve mentioned, offhand, the idea of “diegetic plot” before without much expansion, but it’s useful here.

In movies, “diegetic music” refers to music that is part of the world itself, as opposed to background soundtrack. In a game, often there are actions that are not really part of the story, either by restoring saved games (as I wrote about with Pyramid of Doom) or more subtly, being nonsensical. If a fire is raging through a city, and I decide to test every verb possible to just to see what might work (WASH APPLE, SLIDE APPLE, CLEAN APPLE, …) even if no death occurs to “reset the world”, the story is essentially “paused”.

More subtly, if the player does LOOK FLOOR and LOOK CEILING and LOOK WALL and all sorts of other actions which may or may not even be referring to real objects in the game, even amidst a riot, is that really part of the plot?

Following from last time, as I was stuck, I did indeed try to examine every location carefully to see if I missed something, and found if I use DIG at the opera house I could find a locked iron box, but I had no key. I eventually resorted to restarting and checking the instructions carefully, which mention to use your “eyes and ears” to avoid missing anything. Oho. Perhaps (as the verb list above shows) I should be trying LISTEN everywhere?

The above was in the portion of the map leading to a dead end which was previously just scenery. After LISTEN I was able to CLIMB to find the missing child.

After the rescue, and returning the child to the father, the child left behind a gold key. The gold key — cosmically — unlocks the iron box back at the opera house, which itself holds a silver key. The silver key then works on the iron gate I was being stymied by last time.

Fair, it’s just adventure game logic, try not to think too hard about why the child has a key for a box in an opera house (that out of all the things inside, is the one thing we find in the debris) and the box contains the essential key we need for more progress — the focus is on we rescued a child from a burning fire in the 1906 Earthquake rather than sneak by a dragon or something.

To get to this moment, there was a lot of flailing. I could just try to focus on what worked — listening — but even if I consider some of my wilder stabs at progress to be “out of canon”, so to speak, it’s hard to zero in on the true progress.

Enough distraction —

Past the iron gate is a street with “extreme heat” and a manhole cover leading down. After LIFT COVER (which again, took lots of non-diegetic noodling around to find)…

I got stuck in a very tiny sewer maze with only two rooms. After a great deal of back and forth I reached into my bag of difficult-game tricks and came up with LOOK UP, getting the image above (just like in Nuclear Sub and Forbidden Planet except this time I learned my lesson and tried it on my own without checking hints).

I was able to then CLIMB up to an area with a street leading to a dead end, where again I’ve spun my gears with various LOOK attempts with no luck. The only thing I’ve managed to do is get killed, because in the spot where you first poke out of the manhole, if you LOOK (rather than just leaving) a soldier finds you, and then in the turn after shoots you.

It’s possible I’m supposed to confront the soldier somehow, but throwing various objects doesn’t help, and I don’t have a weapon. Maybe I missed one in the territory I’ve been through so far? Time to check everything over again, I guess.

I have the feeling the “final plot” is going to be smoothly scripted, it’s just figuring out how to get there which is bumpy.

Posted June 15, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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9 responses to “Earthquake San Francisco 1906: Diegetic vs. Non-diegetic Plot

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  1. “Maybe I missed one in the territory I’ve been through so far?”

    You did!
    V guvax lbh fubhyq qvt fbzr zber.

    • I found it yesterday. Up to the area with the Chinese restaurant, still somehow hanging on without hints.

    • Finished. Ooof.

      Mostly verb struggles, had to look up sitting on a cushion of all things. And I’m still irritated at the hotel room before the boat where it’s like the author just gave up on coding responses.

      Writeup today, probably?

  2. I think that look up puzzle is neat. I like those.

    I try to remember a puzzle I designed (I don’t remember my own game) where examine the wall was necessary to advance the plot. So, the description was designed to motivate the player to examine the wall.

    Si, yeah, this kind of puzzles requires a little set up for them to work. I think this game did this fine, because is as small place susceptible for drop examining.

    • The slower more contemplative searching would make more sense in a different plot (which may be part of the reason we didn’t get as much of this kind of plot in 1981).

      The big problem is that I feel like I’m trying to outthink a parser more than search. Why is LOOK UP different than any other kind of look? I certainly visualize my action of LOOK as checking in all directions. Similarly, at the opera house, why do we have to DIG the debris and not MOVE it? Lots of these examine actions should be mashed together as synonyms.

      • I understand but, I’ve always have looked up or below things, so looking up is quite ok for me.

        I think they are different because Look feels more like a meta-command: repeat the description, than a proper action, but this is me now overthinking. Of course, a lot of these old games make fair use of the look command to see what has changed. Something common in Adventure International games.

      • I dimly remember Carl Muckenhoupt talking about the ceiling being a good place to hide things because people don’t look up, so maybe that’s some justification of some sort? But this still contravenes conventions in a pretty annoying way!

        Anyway this reminds me of Cragne Manor where there’s a two-room segment of the sewers where a lot of people got stuck by not realizing that going up from the second room took you somewhere new. A big part of it was that the room called “Tunnel entrance” wasn’t actually the room you went into first.

      • The exact same sewer issue (with identical-looking rooms) happens in the TRS-80 version! (Found out about it after reading Will’s writeup.) The Apple II one makes it very clear from the graphics you are in a different room.

  3. Pingback: June 20th – Critical Distance

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