Scott Adams at UWEC: Audience Q & A (Cont'd)

Listen along in .mp3 (12 MB)


  1. Social aspects of gaming
  2. Merits of story vs. puzzles
  3. Games drive the PC industry
  4. Future of gaming
  5. The role of game mods
  6. Do stories work in current games?
  7. Character and story in Daggerfall
  8. Ultima: assassination of Lord British
  9. Adams finds text adventures boring
  10. Jerz descdribes the IF renaissance
  11. EverQuest on E-bay
"People like Amanda here, shouldn't have to be a programmer to put into the media her creative thoughts. Today you have to be. Five years? I don't think that will be the case.…  There will be an underlying tool that you'll be able to use to shape, be creative as you need to. Today, that doesn't exist. It will exist." -- Scott Adams


Somebody ask them [i.e. the other panelists] questions.
Audience Member: I'd actually like to go back to the comment David made. Talking about these original games and I feel that what made the game so successful wasn't necessarily the storyline, but it was more so the thought process involved to be able to interact with the game. Like, you spent two weeks trying to figure out how to move a block, and I think that is what really... the challenge is what made it really popular. 

Social aspects of gaming


With friends too, you play these with friends and you would have a kind of social interaction, which you don't necessarily have now. I mean if you do have a social interaction, with certain kinds of games you're trying to kill the other person, rather than cooperate with the other person.
Adams: EverQuest is a good example. I work for a company now. I'm a 9 – 5 guy and I'm a basic engineer geek, okay?  I may seem very outgoing and forward here in this setting... and I can be. But my normal persona is I'm quiet, an introvert, and I do what I'm doing and I don't really go out to seek people. Got eighty engineers in the company. I maybe know five or six of them. 

Started playing EverQuest, we got a group of about ten players together. I know more about them now in the three weeks that we've started playing EverQuest together than I did in the last five years working side-by-side with them. It's a tremendous draw to have something in common that you're enjoying, that just brings out the social aspect of it.

Shih: There are some new first person shooters that really stress cooperative play…
Adams: Tribes.
Shih: Yeah, or Counter Strike or games like that.
Adams: Counter Strike. Teamwork, you've got to play as a team. You can't play it solo. You got to be a team.
Audience Member: I disagree with that. Especially going back to the early days of computers, I think the story carried a lot of the games. Especially text adventure games like anything from Infocom in the early 80's or games like "Portal" [a hypertext by Rob Swigart, Activision, 1986 --DGJ] that came out on a Commodore 64 and stuff like that. A lot of those – if it wasn't an action game, the story carried it. I mean if it wasn't "Centipede" or something like that, I think the story carried it.

The merits of story vs. puzzles

Audience Member: I think the story did keep interest in stuff, but what kept people coming back to the game, kept people talking about the game, kept people interested in the game itself was the challenge.
Adams: ...was the challenge.
Audience Member: To find out how the story ends.
Adams: It's like having a book and also having a puzzle that goes with the book. Well, you can't turn the next page of the book until you complete this puzzle. Well the puzzle is the challenge, but you're right, the story is also a draw too, but they're both there.
Audience Member: What about the King's Quest games?
Audience Member: Which ones?
Jerz: King's Quest.
Audience Member: Yeah.
Jerz: And about this unlocking puzzles, I do assign some interactive fiction in my class and I know that if I were assigning a regular story, students can flip through it and get an idea of the plot and fake their way through a quiz. But if I say, "What's the significance of the queen in the purple section of Photopia" and somebody hasn't played it, they're totally check-mated. There's no way that they can spill that out. So... I know how far each of you got in these games, my students!

Our time's up, but I don't think anybody's coming in after us; so if some of you have to leave to go someplace else, this might be a good time to take a break. 

Scott has said he's perfectly willing to sit and talk with us. Do you have another question before you have to go?

Audience Member: With games like Quake 3, that comes out and pushes the game with the technology you know, and really demands a lot. Do you think those games are significant?
Adams: This is a very good question. Final comment here. 

The computers you have today, these PC's with large memory and great video cards, do you know why they're as good as they are? It's not because of Word, it's not because of Excel. 

The computers you have today have been pushed to where they are today for one reason only -- and that's computer games. That's what drives the technology. You think otherwise you're kidding. It's a billion dollar industry, easily. And it's the games that require the better technology. 

Word will run fine on a Pentium 90. Try playing Quake 3 on a Pentium 90.

Adams: games drive the PC industry

 Audience Member: With games like The Sims where you know you get closer and closer to a…
Jerz: Thank you for coming everybody.

[At this point, part of the audience left  because the scheduled time for the roundtable elapsed.  However, the panelists remained. --MH.] 

Audience Member: …virtual reality. Do you think as we get more and more powerful computers…
Adams: Become more virtual. 
Audience Member: ...simulationist interactive fiction.
Adams: You've seen Voyager's holodeck -- that's where we're going. They don't have television on Voyager and they're right. They have holodeck adventures. That what they have. They don't have TV. [Note: An early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation mentions that television did not survive past the early 21st century; however, I'm not quite geeky enough to recall the exact date. --DGJ]  They do not have any flat show me and entertain me. All the entertainment that takes place in the Star Trek universe is virtual, in the holodeck. You become part of the game. 

Scott speculates about the future of gaming

Audience Member: With interactive fiction, do you think that as things progress people will write interactive fiction where they don't necessarily code every object? 
Adams: Exactly right, you can't. You've got to have the tools in place that allow you to become more and more creative. 

People like Amanda here, shouldn't have to be a programmer to put into the media her creative thoughts. Today you have to be. Five years? I don't think that will be the case.

Audience Member: Do you think there will be a drive from the audience for text or will it have… 
Adams: It doesn't matter what the game is. There will be an underlying tool that you'll be able to use to shape, be creative as you need to. Today, that doesn't exist. It will exist.
Okun: For example, like what's carrying a lot of these games are published like three, four years ago is the fact that the community can modify them. And I'm… 

Jake Okun discusses how game mods affect the gaming experience

Adams: The add-ons are what are…yeah. 
Okun: Doom, Quake and yeah...

And I was one of the founders of this company called out of Boston, and basically what they're trying to do is allow and trade tools, something like an online developer forum, for allowing people to create 3D games and stuff over the Internet. But, I mean every business, they want to create their own environment and by providing them an engine, an open engine like the Quake games, these games are still, I mean there's thousands and thousands and thousands of people playing them right now. 

Audience Memeber: Do you think though that we're going to get to the level of, I guess a depth of story that maybe is lacking in just about all, most video games right now? 
Adams: Don't confuse the video games with the PC games. When the X box comes out the confusion is going to… 
Audience Memeber: I notice what you're saying with EverQuest where it's essentially the people creating the story, but do you see an example where the game itself could have the depth of character, and depth of plot and story?

Do stories work in current games?

Adams: I think Deus Ex already does and Half-Life already does.
Audience Memeber: But it still is about shooting something…
Adams: That's right, well that's what the… 
Audience Member: …jumping over this and running down the hall.
Pro Jerz: So are a lot of stories that are sold in novels. Tom Clancy and... [I was planning to go on to mention traditional narratives such as Crane's The Red Badge of Courage or Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game," in an effort to differentiate between stories with battle/contest themes, and games that involve simulated battle -- but the conversation led elsewhere. --DGJ] 
Audience Member: Rainbow Six is a game that grew out of a Tom Clancy novel
Adams: Right and it is a tremendous game. 
Jerz: Michael Chrichton wrote a text based adventure game in 1986. The name escapes me. [The game is called Amazon.  the plot is based on the novel Congo. Download it here.  -MH.] 
Adams: He just wrote another one that is a piece of junk. 
Audience Member: Another game along those lines, if you don't like them -- it's a more set plot line, but it has different objectives -- are the Thief games… 
Adams: Right. I'm waiting for Thief 3. I can't wait for that to come out. 
Audience Member: The company went under… 
Adams: And guess what. And guess who bought them? Spector. The same people who did Deus Ex. Warren Spector is doing Thief 3. It is going to be tremendous. 
Audience Member: The original plans for Thief 3 that I read about online were basically to make an entire city. You have the city ….and you can alter it with whatever you want. These are the objectives, but you can alter anything in that border. More matrix style set up. 
Audience Member: That goes back to, I remember emailing you back and forth. Have you guys ever played the game called Daggerfall?

Character and story in Daggerfall

Audience Member: Oh yeah. 
Adams: I've heard of it. 
Audience Member: That was, basically you had a map and a terrain that, I mean this is way back, like Pentium 1…
Jerz: Numerous countries… 
Audience Member: You could like hold the forward key and walk all afternoon and not get to the other side of the map. Basically you could buy housing in these different cities... buy horses, wagons, equipment, shop, you could play a thief, and you could run around at night and guards would chase you. 
Jerz: And if you committed crimes, the NPC's would start running away from you, and shopkeepers wouldn't help you out. 

You could sneak into a shop and wait until after dark and loot the place and then go back and sell the stuff to the guy. There were all kinds of nifty things like that 

Audience Member: The game was a little bit ahead of its time.  And it was pretty buggy. It had random dungeon generators where you had to save your game every five seconds or you'd fall out of level. But I mean, that game kept me for about a year.  

You could create any kind of character you wanted to based on RPG rules.  You had so much terrain to play with, I didn't even get through the first two quests because I got drawn into the world -- you just ran around and did what ever you want. 

Jerz: One thing I really liked about the opening character selection in Daggerfall was it gave you a  short story.  You're walking along a stream and you see a little puppy that's about to fall in to the lake.  Do you:
  1. pick up the puppy, take it home, and nurture it.
  2. walk by, figuring, "Whatever."
  3. kick it.

And based on your scores they would figure -- well, if every chance you had an opportunity to be violent, you chose a violent action, then obviously you were going to want a lot of action. But if you picked up things and cuddled them and so forth, then it created plots where you were supposed to go rescue things and get magic herbs and stuff like that.

Audience Member: Even in the creation of the character, depending on what you entered in the story, your character points actually differentiated 
Jerz: Yeah, that was how you selected your attributes and so forth.  That was for people who were more interested in storytelling and weren't used to the idea of  clicking on the up arrow to take this particular skill and take away from charisma and add it to intelligence and stuff lie that. 
Audience Member: The Ultima series had, I think it was six or seven, had that exact same thing. 
Audience Member: It was four. 
Audience Member: Ultima did the same thing as this Daggerfall, where you could go into any house and pick up any object. 
Adams: That's basically what Ultima Online is all about now. 
Audience Member: I mean the whole series still follows the same story line as when it came out in '82. 
Adams: Excellent idea. Ultima's problem right now it's grown long in the tooth. They just cancelled Ultima 2. Like you were saying there's no more real estate if you get into the game now as a newbie, you really can't do much. They're catering to their old players and they don't have openings for new players. You can't buy new land to put a house up if you wanted to.
Audience Member: I think one of the best parts about Ultima was …people who find different routes, future things like (inaudible)…in programming and I think that added a really dynamic element to the game because if you could find out some way to confuse the game then you can get away with it.
Audience Member: Wasn't the, did the king get killed or something like that at one point, they had like, after the game first came out somebody exploited the bug and killed the… 
Adams: Lord British is the guy who developed Ultima. He brought together all the crowds at his royal palace and he's going to give this tremendous speech about it. He's a developer mind you. Well, he forgot to equip himself with the royal ring of invulnerability. 


Somebody hacked the game illegally, but he didn't do anything, he didn't exploit any bugs. He came in. He picked locks. He came through the passage. He got behind the king, before the king could start speaking. He killed him. 


Banned for life.


Ultima: assassination of Lord British

Audience Member: They really banned him? 
Adams: Yes. It's unfair. Exactly right. 

[Note:  When this website was featured on Slashdot (05 Sep 2001), some posters offered a different version of the Lord British incident.  Adams replied, noting that he had been speaking without notes in an informal Q & A session, recalling a second-hand story from memory, and accepting the poster's version, which was much less sympathetic to the assassin. --DGJ] 

And the problem is, the game is run by people. And let's face it, people are some of the sorriest people I've ever met. There is a great deal of potential in the games and that's the point that he brought up. Something like that happened, even the developers didn't even think that this would happen. And it did. 

Shih: I was thinking that maybe one of the biggest obstacles to the resurgence of text based games would be kind of internationalizing of game play so that, this isn't a PC game but I think there is a game for the Sega Saturn that people can interact with people from other countries and they can communicate with one another without having to use English or Japanese or whatever. It seems to be such a wonderful development and I was wondering if all games were kind of improving in this direction or if PC's already have this...
Adams: Could be.
Audience Member: What's your favorite interactive fiction game? 

Scott finds text adventures boring.

Adams: Strange thing is now, I don't play text adventure games. I don't like them.
Audience: (Laughter) 
Adams: I find them too boring. 
Audience Member: You do? 
Adams: Yeah, they're basically puzzle quests and I got over that about twenty years ago.  [Note: There's a gap in the audio file at this point. --DGJ]  EverQuest is a puzzle quest of a different nature. I like the graphical things. I think text adventures have their place. I've licensed my game to Warthog, they're supposed to be bringing them out on cell phones. So there's a place for text adventures, but I think a really good graphic adventure with really good graphics is going to be wonderful. 
Jerz: I'll just jump in here. In the last five years or so, in fact since Graham Nelson made Inform, which is computer programming language that allows people to write "Infocom style" computer games. Since he released that, with a detailed manual, which just came out in the 4th edition (handing a copy to an audience member), the interactive fiction community on the Internet has really gone into a renaissance. I'm an English professor type guy and I really do think there are quite a few interactive fiction games that are definitely of the quality of at least a short story. 

Jerz talks about the mid-90s IF renaissance

Ok, we're not talking novels here, we're not talking epics or Shakespeare, but there's just like the, I'm paraphrasing from Graham Nelson's book but... he explains that although sort of the heyday of interactive fiction is gone... to many people it's tedious, and I kind of joked a little while ago, this is how we played games and it was fun -- and everybody laughed.  It was really fun. It wasn't a date... I mean it was either that or Pong, right?


In this case, there are a lot of talented authors... using the tools, and there are plenty of text tools that allow you... For instance, if you want to create a door, Graham Nelson has already got a library that allows you to create a door. You don't have to deal with all the details. 

But, if you were going to write a game that had a flying pig in it, OK? And I said, "Matt, a flying pig is dumb, make it a flying gerbil."  Search and replace, and the pig turns to a gerbil. Ok?  So... revision [is easier].  Just like the simple quote "'you are on a beach' unlocks vistas," with the right person who is a talented storyteller a and talented programmer, one person can create an interactive masterpiece, whereas EverQuest requires a lot of people.

If somebody, a computer game manufacturer wants to innovate, wants to try something unusual, millions and millions of dollars are at stake. And the computer gaming industry is going to get a choke hold on people who want to try something radical -- unless there is freeware, open source, things like Inform.

Low risk areas.  If I come out with a computer game that experiments with a new kind on NPC and it's not a game, it's just a "sit down and have a conversation with an NPC," then that raises the bar for all other NPC's.  Emily Short has done that -- a short story called "Galatea."  The Pygmalion myth, Pygmalion creates Galatea, and falls in love with her.  You are an [art critic] walking into an art gallery, and there's the statue of Galatea come to life. It's a branching conversation tree. It's a moody character study. It's not a game. It's a different kind of textual experience. It's as different from graphic computer games as poetry is from novels, as novels are from rap music. 

But, within that realm, within that new realm of interactive fiction, people are experimenting. They're trying new things. They're learning how to tell a story when you've got to manage all these multiple branches, so that text games don't have to be tedious. You know, for me sometimes a dungeon crawl is very, very tedious, but there are times when I want to map that maze. You know? Sometimes finishing a crossword puzzle  -- what have you done when you've finished a crossword puzzle? You've finished a crossword puzzle. That's all you need to do. And, sometimes I want to frag bad guys. 

I don't always need a story...

Interactive fiction of twenty years ago -- it really has changed quite a lot. And there's an annual competition, if you only have time to play a couple of interactive fiction games, look up the interactive fiction annual competition and play the two or three winners each year, and you'll see how far interactive fiction has come. It's definitely up there with the best of Infocom's games, as far as story depth. And there are plenty of obsessed people who spend a lot of time following this stuff.

Adams: And if you want to try a graphic adventure game there's a new one out that was very big in Europe and it's finally been published in the United States and that's Longest Journey. It can get tedious in the conversations. It's also PG-13 or R rated at points, but it is an excellent example of what somebody can do with a graphic adventure game.
Audience Member: Is Inform a designers' manual, or what is Inform? Is it  a… 
Jerz: Inform is a computer programming language. It looks a little bit like C. It's object oriented and it's a free language that some guy created because he wanted to make interactive fiction games and he just gave it for free over the Internet. Look up Graham Nelson and Inform in any search engine, you'll find it. Okay? Alright. Take my class. Writing electronic texts, English 309
Audience Member: Is it fun? 
Jerz: Yep, yep, three of these guys, their projects in the class is writing interactive fiction using Inform.
Audience Member: Nice

Is there a pre-requisite for the class?

Jerz: I encourage you to have taken 305, but if you're a computer pro – that's intro to technical writing... because it is a writing class. If you can – fine. Creative writing major? That's okay too. Computer programming is not a pre-requisite, because Amanda picked it up.

Also, like I said, there is an obsessive group of Internet fanatics. Matt posted a programming problem. He wanted to code a case of cigarettes and people just sent him codes – here try this, try that. 

Audience Member: He wanted to do what? 
Jerz: He wanted an object that was a pack of cigarettes in the game and he had some specific needs. And people said "Oh well, here's a game that's got one, here try this."
Adams: Are you using Usenet when you're doing…
Jerz: Yes, it's the Usenet discussion group
Audience Member: I have a question. I've heard a lot of terms and a lot of people talking that are very much role-playing like, with paper and pencil type of role playing. How much, if any, of an influence would you say that has had? I mean you mentioned dungeon crawl, you mentioned Tomb of Horrors which is actually a D&D…
Jerz: Will Crowther the creator of the original Colossal Cave Adventure, was a Dungeons and Dragons fan. In his role playing in Dungeons and Dragons his character was “Willie the Thief” and in the Colossal Cave Adventure, in the maze you meet a thief. So, definitely, absolutely, also J.R.R. Tolkien is another strong influence. 

[Points to an audience member] He's bowing and scraping. 

Adams: You know what's coming out the same time as [Star Wars] Episode 2? The same day. 

(Lots of talking here... multiple conversations going on at once.)

December 9th I think it is. Episode 2 and ….And Lord of the Rings part one. They are done with the filming. They're doing the editing. They filmed all three Lord of the Rings, but they're only going to release them one a year. 
Write your congressman. 

Audience Member:  I haven't been paying enough attention to Episode 2 to know that because I have been …. 
Audience Member: What's your take on the bleed-over between EverQuest and selling things on Ebay?  Do you think that's going to get more and more prevalent? 
Adams: That's a good question. I went out to E-bay and did a search on EverQuest. Try it yourself sometime. I found somebody selling “in game money” for real world money. In other words you want to buy 2000 platinum it'll cost you 100 dollars. You want to buy a full character that's already at level fifty, cost you 1500 dollars. There's a lot of…

Scott discusses the sale of EverQuest in-game items and money on E-bay and what it means to future games

Audience Member: If you have nothing better to spend your money on. 

(Again, more crowd chatter.)

Adams: And you who's paying it? Guys similar to me. Older guys, they get hooked into the game. They have a successful career.
Jerz: And have lives, yeah. 
Adams: And have lives, and want to play the game at a higher level and don't want to work their way…
Audience Member: …just don't want to waste the time building up the points… 
Adams: To me it's not a waste. To me the fun is the build up. I don't want to be that higher level character unless I got there on my own. But, other people play differently. They just enjoy playing the higher level character. 
Audience Member: Do you think as games become more sophisticated, that's going to happen more and more?
Adams: Sure, you'll pay someone to play the game for you. Get it to the point where it is that you want to play it at.
Jerz: Start a business idea, guys? 
Adams: There are some, literally, there are some guys, that all they do is play EverQuest and sell their characters or play UO and sell their characters. I'm serious. There are people that make a living at that. 
Audience Member: And I thought I was a nerd… 
Adams: I'm talking to one guy that works a Boeing. He's got a level – I'm a level twelve now, I'm pretty proud of it – he's got five level 60 characters. He said, as an experiment he's got a level 45 barbarian that he's been playing for five days. That's five “in game days.” My level twelve character, I looked at his play time – five days. Big disparity here. He says – I wanted to know when he was on – he says, “Well, I'm usually on between, daily Monday through Friday from 5pm to midnight, and I get on earlier on weekends."


Audience Member: Does he have a family?
Adams: I do not know. If he does, I don't know how. 
Audience Member: It's not a very happy family. 
Adams: He does have a family, but they all live on EverQuest. 

There are weddings on EverQuest. There's a new, I just found a new website, it's called [the site is actually part of Yahoo! -MH.] and it is so sad. 

This woman saying, “ … and my husband, he got on this and I read his chats and he's been married on EverQuest and he has this sex slave on EverQuest. Is there a way I can get him a divorce?” It's incredible, it is so sad. And it's true. It is a tremendous addiction for some people. It is going the way there. Let me tell ya. That is going the wrong way.

[At this point, Jerz thanked the audience for coming.]


Adams continued speaking afterwards at a small reception sponsored by the Department of English, where he offered career advice and gave away free copies of his most recent text game, "Return to Pirate's Island 2.".  Later, he took several starving students out to dinner. He got more and more generous as the day wore on. I hope he had as much fun on his visit as we did. My students already want him to come back. --DGJ