A couple of weeks back, I read about “the rise of emotional agents” in the Guardian. One of the games mentioned was Blood and Laurels, a work of interactive fiction (or if you like) a text-based adventure set in ancient Rome. Which seems appropriate as the Portus Project MOOC is running again. That’s said, I’m not convinced its a Rome historians will recognise, the Emperor is “Princeps” which is a pretty generic term, and his predecessor is a fellow called Corretius. Princeps is I think meant to be Nero, which would make Corretius, Claudius. I think I understand reason for the changes – this way, you won’t be tempted to think the the outcome of the interactive fiction is pre-determined by actual history.
I’ve played it through a couple of times now. The first time, as I would any adventure, putting myself into the role and turning out to be a slightly cowardly poet, who just wants everyone to be his friend and not to kill him. Turns out I’m not the only one. I’ve just finished a second playthrough, wherein I tried to be more brash, braver, and a bit of flirt. I should stick to what I know, because this time the story ended prematurely with my character scared in bed. Not quite the satisfying ending of the previous attempt, in which I became Emperor. I’ll try again, and this time, try to make enemies and see how long I survive.
It’s something more than a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA). For a start it isn’t as location based as many such stories. The interaction is less based on where you choose to go than on how you choose to interact with other characters. It’s based on the Versu engine, which is an engine to model social interactions, in interactive fiction. It defines not just what characters (agents) can do, but what they should do, in particular social situations. (Versu’s designer Richard Evans, who worked on The Sims, describes being inspired partly by a situation in The Sims when a Sim invited his boss to dinner, but after letting the boss in, went off to have a bath.)
There’s a lot to read on the Versu site, including this paper, which is the clearest description of how the whole thing works. I’m wondering whether this or possibly Inform 7, from another member of the Versu team, might have an application in cultural heritage sites.