Strongbad on Thy Dungeonman

Part 1: You Just Have To Sit There And Imagine

Computer screen with Strongbad reflection, white text reading: On the other hand, it might be cool to be in one of those text-based adventures. You know, for those intellectual people with better imaginations._

It is possible that you aren’t familiar with Homestar Runner or their weekly flash cartoon Strongbad Emails, notable for a goofy nostalgia-driven aesthetic and narration by a loveably sinister man-child, a nerd/bully in a Mexican wrestling mask.

However if you are at all interested in games or new media, you should at least acquaint yourself with Email 94: Video Games. I suggest watching the entire episode, but here I’ll be talking about a brief segment on “Text Adventure Games” (a.k.a. Interactive Fiction) that I’ve excerpted here:

[Strongbad plays “Thy Dungeonman” in the Ye Flask Clip]

Transcripts, Traversals, Walkthroughs

Before getting started, some throat-clearing on transcripts, in IF and out:

Transcripts are vital but vexed documents in the study of IF, and they come in two varieties - “walkthroughs,” or lists of typed commands, which generally allow one to recreate narrative or game outcomes of an IF without the extended trail-and-error and wandering typical of actual IF sessions, and “logs,” or complete records of IF reading sessions (or “traversals” as Nick Montfort calls them) - which has the advantage of including not just the commands but a record of the produced text. Both have the disadvantage of flattening choice and interactivity into a linear mode, like pinning butterflies to a board. However when their advantages are combined, they can perform a kind of ideal reading, and they offer a major advantage to the scholar or critic - easily quotable and referenceable text.

Likewise, transcripts make serious work with webcomics and web cartoons manageable - or would, if any many available outside a few third part fan efforts. When I work with a resource that has words embedded, either in graphic form or as an audio clip, I like to provide a transcript. The transcript is useful for full-text searching, for cutting and pasting, for indexing by google, and most importantly broad access to the disabled or people who hope to overcome foreign language reading barriers with the use of dictionary and translation services.

Please consider finding or creating your own transcripts when working with rich media sources. Ideally, this text would be bundled directly with the resource as metadata,however these are still the dark ages of bundled metadata, with the common sound and graphic formats unable or inconsistant when it comes to embedding a simple piece of descriptive text with lyrics or what-have you.

The transcript included below is an unusual case - a Flash animation clip of a screen slowly covered by two distinct kinds of typing, accompanied by dialog that moves in and out of sync with the typing. Rather than type up the literal contents of the final screen, I decided to write a screenplay-style description of the text and audio as it unfolds.

Strongbad Email 94 - Video Games: Ye find yerself in yon dungeon. Ye see a FLASK. Obvious exits are NORTH, SOUTH, and DENNIS. What wouldst thou deau? Get ye flask. You can't get ye flask! I'm certainly not going to tell thou. Graphics shmaphics... for sooth!

Transcript: Strongbad Ye Flask Clip

Shot 1: Strong bad (via the back of his head and his moving reflection on the computer screen) types quickly while narrating his typing outloud.

Strongbad: On the other hand it might be cool to be in one of those text-based adventures. You know, for those intellectual people with better imaginations.

Shot 2: A simple greater-than command-line slides up the lefthand side of a black screen. The text is green and the black screen has faint diagnal syncing lines moving across to indicate that it is old. When it reaches the top, Strongbad begins typing his way down the screen with interjections from the parser, which causes lines to appear suddenly, all at once.

Strongbad (outloud): You’d be like
Strongbad (typed and outloud):

> Ye find yeself in yon dungeon. Ye see a flask. Obvious exits are NORTH, SOUTH, and DENNIS.

Strongbad: (Hits enter. The parser prompt line immediately appears all at once.)

Parser (line printed):

What wouldst thou deau?

Strongbad (outloud): and you’d be all like
Strongbad (typed and outloud):

> Get ye flask

Strongbad (outloud): and it’d say

Strongbad (typed and outloud): You can’t get ye flask

Strongbad (outloud): and you’d just have to sit there and imagine why on earth you can’t get ye flask! because the game’s certainly not going to tell you…

Parser (line printed): I’m certainly not going to tell thou

Strongbad (outloud): …and there’s no precious graphics to help you out, either!

Parser (line printed): Graphics schmaphics… for sooth!

When we slow down and look at this sequence, there is a lot going on in terms of parodying the form - from the way that Strongbad types out the opening description, to the unsolicited parser comments at the end, both the interactor and the parser seem to be cheating, assuming each other’s role’s. But I’ll start next time with a more general discussion of what insight Strongbad’s parody offers into IF - particularly the charges of anachronism, pretension, and gratuitous frustration.

2 Responses to “Strongbad on Thy Dungeonman”

  1. 1 Christy Dena

    Ah yes, I remember Strongbad’s emails! Very funny. I too love transcripts that are offered by the actual game/from the designer. The bot Hal offers a transcript if you chat for a while. It appears to come as a reward of some kind and I really like that idea. This transcript is purely that of the text contributions, however, from the user and bot (indeed the ‘interaction text’ as Nick Montfort calls it in IF).

    I like your attempt to retell the experience. It struck me that an all-out use of screenwriting meta-data would benefit the reading — but perhaps only for those who are familiar with the codes. I’m referring to things like VO for voice-over instead of (out loud). But there is the possibility of developing a transcript language specific to onscreen forms. Rather than EXT (exterior) and INT (interior) you could describe the modes: TXT (text), AU (audio), FL (flash) and so on; and in addition to characters (avatar names and in-game characters or INT for interactor for IF games) you’d distinguish between in-game narrators and those of the ’system’ (SYS) or ‘parser’ (PRS). By the system I’m referring to the program messages like ‘SAVE’. So, in this sense the PRS would be a character. Or, the instructions or ‘directives’ (Montfort) could be delivered in the same manner as the scene descriptions in scripts — in a consistent font.

    But on another note too. I think the overall task of documenting the experience of a work is an interesting one. I find with my research and reviewing I have a lengthly process of taking screenshots throughout the work. I have developed a file naming system to assist in locating the time and place of the screenshot but I really would love some way to add metadata (or have it generated) quickly to images when saving them…

  2. 2 Christy Dena

    I’ve just gone back to watch this movie again and realised that the joke games shown at the end of the email sequence (the boxes of games mentioned in the email) are playable. Just click on the boxes and play. The IF, of course, goes around in loops!

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