Dream Game: Sleep Is Death

By Alec Meer on March 1st, 2010 at 12:32 pm.

It'll be about RPS arguing with each other too

Jason Rohrer, the indie auteur behind the moving Passage, is back. If you’re one of those delightful people who reach immediately for the P word whenever a game requires you to have a bit of a think, you’ll be glad to hear that Sleep Is Death is, despite the arch name, something very different from his usual mediations on existence. Hell, any and everyone should be over the ruddy moon about the concept behind it. After seeing how it works, I’m about as excited as I’ve ever been about an upcoming videogame.

Sleep Is Death is very much game rather than message, and a theoretically endless one too. It’s a free-form point and click adventure. It’s a co-op roleplaying game. It’s 8-bit D&D. It’s an ad-hoc modding tool. It’s the world’s smallest MMO. It’s… well, it’s far better he explains it to you himself, via what’s probably the best not-actually-a-demo demo I’ve ever seen. Go, look at it right away. It’s released in April, and it’ll cost $14, or $9 if you preorder. Oh, and that price buys two copies – you cannot play this without a second player. Which is why it’s incredible, basically. If this doesn’t go absolutely huge upon release, the Earth deserves to perish in fire and pain.

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73 Comments »

  1. Ian says:

    I… er…. No. Wait, what?

  2. Bhazor says:

    Very very cool.

    Who wants to guess how long before the first cyber sex story appears for it?

  3. HidesHisEyes says:

    >WAKE UP PENIS

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    Lambchops says:

    I can’t help but have initial scepticism about this I’m afraid. First off I’m not sure I’m into roleplaying type stuff of this style. Secondly I think it really relies on being played with people you know and who are willing to play along. Maybe I’m just a bit cynical about people in general but I’d imagine that being paired with a random person will most likely end in a rather dull story being formed or at worst descend into something genuinely creepy. Sure maybe one time in 10 it would go somehwere decent but is it really worth trawling through mediocrity to get that experience?

    So yeah, might work well with a friend but doesn’t seem like the type of thing that I’d be into. that’s not to say it’s going to turn out awful. The concept seems nice enough and I’m sure there’s plenty of people out there who will enjoy this sort of thing. Plus I’m judging on very little information here so I could turn out to be pleasantly suprised by it. Still I think it would be nothing more than a curiosity to me.

  5. Kakksakkamaddafakka says:

    Wow.

  6. CMaster says:

    It’s a nice idea. I’m not sure that I am a good enough Storyteller to be a player 2 however, which is where I think this will be limited – how many people really can “DM” a good game.

  7. groovychainsaw says:

    Humans as AI!

    Genius, or obvious?

    Solution, or whole new problem?

    Plus, flicking through the book, i was well impressed unti l I saw the interface and thought… you’re going to have some very slow interactions with me… lights xmas tree…..(20 mins later)… tree is on fire!

    Still, I almost reflexively pre-ordered. So it did something to my brain. Tickled, probably.

    • disperse says:

      According to what little information I could gather each player only has 30 seconds to submit their move. If the GM wants to allow for the possibility that the tree will catch on fire he needs to be prepared with the tree on fire graphics.

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      Hodge says:

      I see a chess-like scenario evolving, where the storyteller and protagonist each try to guess where the other is going and stop them from getting there.

  8. brkl says:

    I have brother, so I ordered it.

  9. Ergates says:

    Reminds me somewhat of Scribblenauts – except even more of a blank canvas, and it has a vast dictionary of actions as well as objects.

  10. Daniel Klein says:

    Preordered.

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    AndrewC says:

    I have no friends.

  12. Harlander says:

    Fascinating. I have a feeling I’ll be pre-ordering this when I get home…

  13. Bobsy says:

    Hm.

    Er.

    Hmm.

    I’m not entirely convinced by the concept, to be honest. My main sticking point is that it’s limited to two people at a time, a “DM” and an actual player. The initial thought is that the actual content the DM creates is entirely transitory – you “make” it once and once only. To present that to only one person seems a bit, well, wasteful. It’s like writing a play for an audience of one. The amount of effort on the creator is massively dispirate to the effort the player puts in.

    Then I realised that the ideal way for it to work is to create a “game”, a scenario, and run it multiple times with different people. They’ll approach things differently, affect the outcomes and so forth, but essentially the “game” you’re presenting to them will be the same each time. Which seems a lot more fulfilling, since you’re expanding on your audience of one…

    …but still, I can’t help but feel this would be a lot better if it was a team co-op game rather than just one single player + DM. Presumably the DM would have a far tougher time with three or four players doing things at once and it’d slow down proceedings as they need to manage several interactions each turn. Even so, without more players on hand to enjoy your creation, the transitory nature of the games you create doesn’t fill me with confidence.

    • disperse says:

      I agree, the concept would be even better with 3-4 players. He’s releasing the source code with each purchase so I would imagine multiplayer support will be added fairly quickly.

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    Hodge says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing how my self-regulating instincts react, knowing that there’s someone at the other end parsing the stuff (even more so if that person is someone I know). I used to type some twisted stuff into those old Sierra games.

    I’m also looking forward to seeing all the videos that end up on YouTube, because I know that for everyone like me who reels in their excesses, there will be hundreds who do the exact opposite.

    Yeah, preordered.

  15. Crescend says:

    This could be really awesome, if there was a proper story to be told. A game of monkey island could be interesting like this :P Shame I lack the kind of friends who’d want to play this sort of games..

  16. Sarlix says:

    Wow this is going to be like Maniac Mansion for perverts lol

    No no I’m sure it will be fine…

  17. Mike says:

    This is where development needs to go, and needs to go very soon, but it’s not being taken far enough. You can’t rely on a human to generate content freely without any personal motivation to do so other than creation. You have to make the creation of the content as much of a game as the use of the content.

    It needs more work. This’ll be entertaining, but it’s not a revolution.

  18. TheApologist says:

    I think this could be amazing, and I think it will be for many people.

    The thing about idiots on the internet is that they’re boring and not very creative and therefore they won’t be able to take up much of your time. You’ll spend your time with the interesting people creating interesting places. So if they’re getting ignored they’ll quickly go back to being homophobic on xbox live. (Plus, this is hardly next-gen man-shooter grafix to they might well not notice it in the first place.)

    I think there will be enough interesting creative people out there to find and have fun with. So, I get where the skepticism is coming from, but am optimistic.

    • Wulf says:

      I can agree with that.

      But just as dickish DMs didn’t destroy Dungeons & Dragons (accidental alliteration!), dickish storytellers won’t end the joys of this game. People will form groups around decent storytellers and life will go on.

    • Pod says:

      It’s a lot harder to destroy a D&D game than it is to anonymously grief over the internet.

      For a start: people’s fists.

      Then there’s guilt.

      etc

    • Wulf says:

      Fair ’nuff, Pod.

      Okay then, Neverwinter Nights thrived and is still thriving as we speak, Neverwinter Connections lead to many fun encounters and surprisingly few dicks.

      People who’re dicks won’t have time enough for this, just as they didn’t for NWN, it’s not cool/mainstream enough. Griefing matters on Super Mainstream Overmarketed Game X, but not in Happy Little Indie Bit of Frivolity. I believe this is why NWN saw next to no griefing, and a lot of creative players. I suspect that with something like this, the creative players will outnumber the griefers at a ratio of about 100 to 1, so if it ends up with 500~ players, we’re looking at 5 griefers.

      I can live with that.

  19. disperse says:

    If Mr. Rohrer was Very Clever about this he would capture GM responses to player input and create the BEST AI EVER.

    Something similar is being done by the MIT Media Lab:

    http://web.media.mit.edu/~jorkin/restaurant/

    • Mike says:

      But that’s sort of the point, here – there’s direction. Capturing responses won’t understand creation, only reaction. If I sit down to tell a story, the AI won’t understand how I wrote it, only how to tell that story.

    • disperse says:

      Yes, but you’re thinking of a GM-driven story. A composite of GM reactions to player->object verbs may work for a player-driven story.

    • Mike says:

      At the end of the day, all you’d end up with was an AI that could respond to verbs and suchlike. There’d be no overarching narrative. The Restaurant Project works because it’s about accomplishing a task – there’s a narrative, but it’s the same every single time (you go into the restaurant and order something/don’t order something). So storing action/reaction works.

      Here, synthesising two stories together would only generate a meaningless chaos. Certain actions may have completely opposite meanings in two different stories, there’d be no way to synthesise that.

    • disperse says:

      You can look at chains of events as well as immediate cause/effect relationships. (The little girl bursting into tears when the stranger who almost killed her fish sets her Christmas tree on fire.)

      I don’t have any problem with games that thrust the story-telling duties onto my shoulders. I love games like Dwarf Fortress, Mount & Blade, and the Sims because they aren’t shackled by a linear (or branching tree) storyline. Given a limited pallet of verbs and nouns I am free to create any story I want.

    • Mike says:

      Sure. But, for instance, I might want the girl to throw a fireball at me instead of crying when I set fire to the tree. What happens then?

      The answer is, I guess, that you can override any of the behaviour but you have a ‘base’ of default behaviour. Which is alright, but I think most people would opt not to have it rather than to have the occasionally immersion-breaking moments where the system drops a clanger by giving the player an out-of-context response to an action rather than letting the DM write it himself.

  20. A.C. says:

    @Bobsy: I have to know.

    Are you that ‘Half Life, too’ guy?

  21. DMcCool says:

    Bloody Jason Rohrer, he’s done it again. This really has more in common with his non-gaming projects than the games he’s famous for though. Its an application of technology to a concept older than video games. Everyone using the DnD analogy is spot on. Its a tool for storytelling, anyone that is skeptical should approach the idea like a traditional boardgame, not a computer game. Its a step into a genre of computer games that -as far as I know, doesn’t exist.
    In short, Rohrer is trying to expand the idea of what a computer game can be (again). Whats make-or-break is if the interface is easy enough for player 2. I guess there is one other problem I have with it – the lack of symmetry. Persuading someone to go “and play my story with me” is way more difficult than “lets play a game together”. If the interface is intuiative enough for player 1 and 2 to take turns, then Rohrer is on to a winner.

    Though it’d be totally missing the point to see this as some attempted step-foward for games. Its nothing like that at all -its a step sideways.

    • Wulf says:

      I agree with that, and usually in gaming the sideways steps are often the best. If you try to continue on one path forevermore, you’re going to stagnate. Sometimes a bit of innovation is needed, and sometimes one has to look back before they can look forward. This is a clever idea, a bit NWN, a bit LittleBigPlanet, and I’ll be fascinated to see how it actually plays. Though a turn-based system is a bit what I was hoping for, too.

      Basically, what I had in mind is that the dreamwalking player can move in any one room or any adjacent pre-set up rooms freely, but when they say something, or when they perform an action, the game pauses to let the storyteller weave the outcome.

  22. Tei says:

    Is somewhat like that awnfull hollywood movie, GAMER, where you play games that have real personas on the other end, PC’s playing the role of NPC’s (to use rol terms), Biorgs playing the role of Bots (to use sci-fi terms)…

    Mark my words here:
    The ultimate gamming is LARP, and LARP influenced games. Convergence!, FPS games gets RPG features, RTS games gets RPG features, and all games will converge in a big LARP session with laser blades, cthulu and furry porn.

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      AndrewC says:

      It’s true. Rohrer needs to get in contact with those chatroulette boys.

    • Sarlix says:

      lol and LARP stands for what exactly?

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      AndrewC says:

      Oh God Sarlix has fallen into the trap! he is too low level to survive learning the terrible Truth Of Larping. Quick Sarlix, roll a five or higher to escape with your innocence intact!

    • Sarlix says:

      Oh nos what did I do wrong!! ROLL DAMN YOU ROLL!! C’MON 5!!!!!!1

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      AndrewC says:

      You rolled: a FOUR!

      Sarlix has failed to escape and is hit with LIGHTNING BOLT!

  23. jalf says:

    Cute, but I’m not sure I see why it’s that revolutionary or exciting. People telling each others stories is hardly new. Automatically sharing assets when you play through someone else’s game is neat, but apart from that, well, it’s the same obvious idea that anyone who’s ever played a RPG or DnD game has thought of: “Wouldn’t it be neat to have a tool on the computer that let me DM and you play through my story entirely free-form” (to which the answer obviously is “yes it would, except that most people aren’t very good storytellers, most players are going to try to wreck the story, and you’re bound to run into limitations of the toolset no matter how flexible it is”)

    Which isn’t to bash his game at all. I’m glad someone seriously tries to pull it off. I just don’t get the “most exciting game ever thing”

  24. nobody says:

    I’m skeptical about how big this will actually be — and I think it’s unlikely to be for me — but for those of the proper mindset I expect this to be great.

    Something to keep in mind while worrying about the experience being overrun by people who just want to ruin their partner’s fun: the $14 barrier to entry. And the low-fi graphics. Those two elements should go a long way in keeping out the general griefer/troll type. (I also can’t tell for sure from what he’s written, but I suspect there may be no random-stranger matchmaking whatsoever, with the site even recommending play over your local network — though that may be just to avoid having to deal with port-forwarding on your router?)

    That said, if something like this were built into something like The Sims (which I’ve never played, but have read enough about), I bet it would indeed be “absolutely huge” — though the griefer/troll element would then be a problem again.

  25. Wulf says:

    Love Rohrer. You can’t not, especially after reading some of the things he has to say.

    I’ve been following this on IndieGames for a while now, and it intrigues me. It intrigues me because of Neverwinter Nights. Neverwinter Nights was fascinating as a DM, interacting with players and trying to mitigate their urge to keeell theengs. I always was the Dragon who’d try and talk and enchant rather than fight, but I digress. This is Neverwinter Nights, but it differs in a few very important ways.

    1. It’s not 3D.

    This means that it’s accessible for both players and resource creators. Whereas Neverwinter Nights required a decent 3D card and some large downloads for modules and module resources, this will not, and Neverwinter Nights required modelling talent for art assets, this will not.

    2. It’s more accessible.

    Due to the retro nature of this game, and that it’s not Dungeons & Dragons, that it doesn’t focus around nerdly number-crunching and dweebdom, will allow for greater accessibility, and one will be able to more easily encourage people who don’t play mainstream games to try it. These are the sorts of people one wishes to encourage, because their choices will be less uniform, and that way the managerial player can dream up far more imaginative consequences.

    2. It’s not combat focused.

    One thing I didn’t like about Neverwinter Nights was that the player could take the plot into their own hands by swinging their sword, and if their numbers were right versus some other numbers matched against underlying algorithms and whatnot, then they would succeed. In this case, the numbers of the game throttled the creativity, and the player used dominance of numbers over the imagination of the DM. There were ways to get around this as a DM, yes, but they were dickish.

    4. It’s two-player.

    There won’t be a massive party, here. It’ll be just one person’s choices, and another person’s subjective take on those choices. Every storyteller one encounters is going to have a different take on the same choice. The only thing that’s even mildly objective is the graphical representation. Stuff like this has been going on in IRC chatrooms and forums since time immemorial, and there have been some startup projects like this before. There have been visual chatrooms. But this is a bit different due to the two-player restriction. It almost gives the impression of a dreamwalker, where the person playing is the dreamwalker, walking through the dreams of the storyteller.

    Overall, I’m intrigued, and this sort of thing is right up my alley. I love the developer involved, I love the concept, and I’d be very surprised if I don’t love the game. I can’t wait to see what that video will reveal.

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    Sagan says:

    I think I would be a very bad DM. Well maybe one day I will come up with a really great story, but until then I will probably be just a very bad DM.

    I also don’t know anybody who could be a good DM for me. I have had two experiences with Pen and Paper RPGs, and both were bad.

    Other than that, I think I would love this game, if someone who is a great DM would DM for me. Maybe if this can connect you to random people and if you could rate people according to how good of a DM they are, and I could just find good DMs online, then I would buy it.

    • Wulf says:

      Rating? Hm. Wouldn’t that basically just reduce people to cattle, though, with people seeking out the most prime-cut DMs? And furthermore, that might invoke rate-wars and trolling. I think an external site might be set up for that, but perhaps that kind of thing shouldn’t be necessary for the main game itself.

      As for your pen & paper experiences, did the DM involved issue a lot of combat scenarios and dickish outcomes? I admit, it is hard to find a good DM, because most DMs want to be total dicks and cause suffering to imaginary characters rather than actually telling a story. As a legendary thing — a half-decent DM (as others have told me) — I actually have a bit of a beef with that.

      There are a lot of irresponsible DMs out there, who could care less about weaving a tale, only really giving a damn about the little bit of power they feel rumbling in their belly, sending them on some kind of thirsting, maniacal power-trip.

      The problem with a DM is that it turns the person responsible into a pseudo-God, and not many people know how to create a fun gaming experience, since they don’t understand that their gestalt existence is fuelled by the players who’re reacting to their choices, and things tend to fall apart. A decent DM is well grounded in reality, has a high level of awareness, and at least a basic understanding of ethics related to the cultures involved.

  27. geldonyetich says:

    Well, if you want people to shell out money, there’s not much more potent hype you can deliver than, “I can encapsulate the whole of human existence in my game!” I expect it to fall somewhat shorter than that.

    Still, it is a fairly good idea to have a game where one player is in charge of the character and the other player is in charge of the environment. Only trouble is that there’s going to be a certain uneven distribution of who prefers t play what.

    Also already mentioned is the likelihood the whole thing will descend into adolescent porn if you allow players to develop their own content for it.

    • Pod says:

      I don’t think he cares about the money — it’s open source after all.

  28. impatient says:

    10 second flash version please.

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      AndrewC says:

      DM: You are standing in an open field west of a white house. Look at my penis.

      You: Wakes up.

      The End

  29. Ergates says:

    Aside from a couple of limitations, this would be an excellent tool for telling stories to children. It’d have the direct interactivity of a game combined with the personalisation and intimacy of a parent making up a story for thier child. It’d be especially good for people who have to be away from home for whatever reason.

    The first limitation is that it requires the ability to read, write and use a computer. For younger children (i.e. those in the prime story telling age) this would basically mean another adult would have to sit with them and do all the interacting – which would spoil half the fun (and would mean it’d take both parents to tell 1 story)

    The second limitation is the 30 second turn length. Thats nothing for an adult, but small children aren’t exactly known for their patience.

    Still – if you could get around those it’d be top.

  30. Reapy says:

    What would really be cool here is if you could flip through and watch/read ‘stories’ that other people have gone through. I can imagine there will be some genuine comedy gold out there. With each story being able to be rated on a top list, yeah, that would be pretty amazing.

  31. Gpig says:

    It would be cool if I could make a story for my mom to play for Mother’s Day. The last time I ever tried to sit her down to play a game was Rez and she wasn’t able to move, so I’m not sure if it will just be too daunting, but I want to try.

  32. The Walker says:

    This is so up my alley it’s not even funny. I absolutely love the idea of bringing tabletop RPG-style storytelling into computer gaming, why hasn’t someone come up with this before now?

    • Wulf says:

      Irony!

      But yes, the problem with previous iterations was that they weren’t exactly accessible, as walls of numbers prevented storytellers and partakers of stories told from getting involved, whereas they otherwise would have. On the times I could get people involved, I had a blast, because it was interesting showing them that something like Neverwinter Nights could be something a bit different.

      Do you stumble if the Dragon you’re about to kill has a terminal illness and played you like a fiddle, orchestrating your adventure to his lair, so that he might put to death by the sword of an innocent and pure hero before his final hour arrives?

      Gods, I had fun with NWN.

      But yes, numbers made it inaccessible. I hope this will be more accessible, and it just might be, all it will take is finding the right group of people — and by the right group of people I mean those who can look past the graphics, which should be easier to find than a group of people who’re interested in a story rather than numbers.

  33. Taillefer says:

    I’d be interested to see the consequences of having a room/story with two players and their respective DMs in. First player will do something, their DM will affect the consequences in the room. The other player will then do something, and then their DM will change the room accordingly.

    A duel of story-telling, or some literary duet.

  34. biscotti says:

    And in my experience Sierra normally had a response for the filth. Or maybe that was just due to the limited concept of filth I harbored as a ten year old.

  35. Vinraith says:

    A) you cannot play this without a second player.

    *sigh*

    B) If this doesn’t go absolutely huge upon release, the Earth deserves to perish in fire and pain.

    Statement A virtually ensures that the “if” clause of statement B will not be met, therefore fire and pain it shall be. It’s a pity, this looks phenomenally clever and interesting, but there’s no point buying something that’s dependent on my ability to find another player (let alone one on my schedule whose presence I actually enjoy) for something this niche.

    • jarvoll says:

      Your (gaming) partner, whom I believe you’ve mentioned before?

      Sadly, I find myself in the same boat. Love the concept, but hate most people, so my chances of actually playing are pretty low. I know I can’t be too bitter that I’m so introverted and the world tends to be so extraverted, but things like this can make it a bit of a tough swallow sometimes.

    • Vinraith says:

      @jarvoll

      The wife wouldn’t be interested in this kind of thing, I’m afraid. Nor would any of my gaming friends, and I can’t see playing this with a stranger being anything other than a chore.

      Anyway, the world’s actually not that extroverted, which is why you see statistics like those Demigod multiplayer numbers (wherein 70-something percent of people who’d bought a primarily online game never took it online). MP players are a gaming minority, they’re just an incredibly loud one.

  36. geldonyetich says:

    To look at this in the light of previous games which allowed the players to be DMs/GMs, I’m not terribly optimistic.

    Developers: Behold, Dear Players! We have provided you the means to tell your own story as you see fit!
    0.1% Of The Players: Awesome! I’m on it!
    99.9% Of The Players: … Dur? You want us to do what? But that would involve exerting ourselves.
    Developers: … *sob*

    • Wulf says:

      Your example is accurate, but after some golden Neverwinter Nights excursions, I’m exceedingly optimistic.

      Stafan Gagne became one of my most favourite people on Earth after I became involved in a session with him as the DM, as rarely have I seen a more clever, charming, and genuinely funny DM who’s willing to embrace the creativity of their players. That he’s a brilliant writer to boot didn’t hurt the proceedings, either.

      This is for the brilliant, shining, creative 0.1%. Blessed be the 0.1%.

  37. JB says:

    Hmm. This clearly has a shedload of potential. Sadly it’s mainly resting in the hands of us, the players.

    I personally think I’ll take a look. I have a gaming friend who is interested in writing fiction, and 2 or 3 of us knocked together a story or two as a group back in the day. Bravo, Mr Rohrer.

  38. Joe says:

    Passage was clumsy, not profound. I’m suspicious of anyone who says they found it moving. This is nothing that couldn’t be done in a chat room, and nothing that hasn’t been done on MUDs / MOOs before. Why are we treating some guy with flashy opinions and “pixel art” as the saviour of gaming?

    • Wulf says:

      What you say of his latest effort is true, it’s not anything that hasn’t been done before, but it is being done in a particularly new and interesting way. Star Guard isn’t that different from Mega Man, and yet it was still a fascinating little thing that I loved.

      On the topic of Passage though… Passage did get me, and I got it. Maybe you simply didn’t get it? Some people look at Dada’s paintings and think of those as clumsy messes, they don’t get it. It’s not the duty of everyone to understand everything, to perceive and comprehend everything, nor should it be! But just because you didn’t see anything in it, well, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t anything there.

      To each their own, and more importantly, to each their own perceptions.

  39. laughoutlord says:

    readying pixel goatse as we speak

  40. Cynic says:

    I see this turning out like every bad unmoderated game of Space-station 13. “make bomb, arm bomb”, “kill monkey”, “imprison player 1 and call him names till he suicides”, “abuse female character”, “set fire to everything”

  41. Graham says:

    I don’t know what you’re all complaining about. This is clearly a multiplayer remake of System Shock 2, with one of the players as SHODAN.

  42. mrrobsa says:

    I recently watched a fascinating documentary which paired up Jason Rohrer and Chris Crawford. Throughout, Crawford laments that almost all video games are just spatial puzzles, and that they are unable to tell stories, but he praises Rohrer’s use of space as metaphor in games like Passage. Crawford’s been working on his interactive storytelling for years now and its quite engaging (if a little buggy).
    I wonder if this game is in anyway influenced by their chat. Regardless, I am eagerly anticipating its release.
    The link for the documnetary if anyone is interested is:

  43. Miles of the Machination says:

    I have to say, this sounds exactly like http://www.mspaintadventures.com. Click “Forums” on that site, and you will be instantly transported to a place where hundereds of people are making stories that other people provide commands for. Why would you need to make that into a game format?

    The Machination’s WordPress
    The Machination’s Twitter