Romancing the Blade
Letters to the editor
- D.A. "Flux" Nissenfeld
Need No Justice!
- Erik Jarvi
- Selina Kelley
Why Run a Mud?
- By Peter Wood
A Working Mud Economy
- Geoff Wong
The Skotos Proximity System
- Skotos Tech Inc
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The Skotos Proximity System
by Skotos Tech Inc
A Sense of Place
Characterization and a Sense of Place
In fiction offering a sense of place is an important part of the
author's craft. Most writing instructors suggest giving the reader a
distinct sense of place and time in the opening paragraph if not the
first sentence. If a writer fails to do so, the reader can be confused.
Without a location to anchor him, the reader will be unable to envision
either the characters inhabiting that location or the actions they
Alan Turing stepping out of a bus.
When multiple characters are involved, it is also important to explain
how characters are positioned relative to another. This not only gives
the reader a better sense of place, but also offers characterization. As
an example, notice the sense of place in the opening sentence of Dashiel
Hammett's _The Thin Man_:
"I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-second
Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping,
when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting
with three other people and came over to me."
In this introduction we discover the protagonist is quite comfortable
lounging in an illegal bar, probably in the twenties, in some large
urban city in the USA. He has a girlfriend or wife that is wandering
elsewhere, and he isn't too worried about being separated from her. A
young woman socializing with others notices him, though he's doing
nothing in particular to attract attention, and goes over to him. You
already know that she wants to speak to him.
This paragraph gives a remarkable sense of place and of characterization
in just a few words.
Interactivity and Problems of Place
In multiplayer interactive fiction, a basic sense of place is easy.
Either the player exists in a room that can be examined or the player
exists in a scene that will be described as he takes actions. However,
multiplayer interactive fiction does a poor job of integrating that
sense of place with other players in the game.
This probably comes from multiplayer interactive fiction's roots in
single player games like "Adventure" and "Zork" , where there is truly
only one significant and realistic character--the player. At Infocom's
height, the best NPC were just a notch above a puzzle--not truly a
In multiplayer interactive fiction, everyone is significant, and
everyone passes the Turing test (well, almost). So we need to find a way
to describe a player's interaction with his environment and with other
players in a fashion that is significant to characterization.
The locale has been described, but how does the player fit in? Is he
comfortably leaning against a wall, resting at a table with his head in
his arms, or nervously standing at the door, waiting for someone? When
someone else arrives, how does he react? How does he show his interest
or lack of interest?
Problems solved by the Skotos Proximity System
Skotos solves some of the problems of characterization and a sense of
place through a technique called "Proximity". With the Skotos Proximity
System, combined with the Skotos Expression System (described in another Technical Summary), a player can be near a door, sit at a table, pray before the
altar, or kneel in front of his bride.
The proximity system also solves other problems. If someone approaches
you to kiss you, you have an opportunity to retreat before the kiss is
completed. If you drop something, it is close to you and someone else
will have to be just as close before they can pick it up. If you are
sitting at a table, you will not notice other people in the room unless
they are shouting, or unless you decide to pay particular attention.
Summary of the Skotos Proximity System
The Skotos Proximity System creates proxes, or proximities, which
qualify associations between objects.
Proxes are defined by two objects, a vector, and a preposition.
Prox chains describe how an object is linked up to the container it
Prox trees describe how all of the objects inside of a container
The categories of adjacent, nearby, vicinity, chamber, and
bordering describe how far apart proxes are.
A prox (short for proximity) is a distinct association between two
objects that describes the spatial relationship between those two
objects. It always includes a preposition (on, near, in, etc.) and a
In this case the preposition is _on_ and the vector is from the spoon to
the table. In this situation, the spoon is described as "The spoon is on
the table" and the table is described as "The table has a spoon on it."
The spoon is considered to be a "child" of the table, and the table is
considered to be the "parent" of the spoon. The vector from the spoon to
the table (i.e. child to parent) is considered "up", and the reverse
vector from the table to the spoon (i.e. parent to child) is considered
If you choose an object, find its parent (there can only be one), follow
that parent's prox up to another parent, etc., the entire set is known
as the "prox chain".
If you choose an object, find its children, and discover all the
children of every child, all the way to the bottom of every chain, the
entire set is known as a "prox tree".
For example, this is a prox tree of a room:
Adjacent, Nearby, Vicinity, Chamber, and Bordering Proxes
Every object is "adjacent" to its parent and children. For instance
Alice is sitting next to Carol who is sitting next to the table; Carol
is adjacent to both Carol and the table, but Carol is only adjacent to
By default, unobvious actions and quiet sounds can be heard by all
objects that are adjacent. Thus when Alice whispers, Carol can hear her.
When Carol whispers, Alice can hear her, and if the table could listen,
it would hear her as well.
The "nearby" class of an object is determined by going up the object's
tree until the first non-volitional parent is found. All children of
that parent, down several levels, are "nearby". For instance, everyone
sitting at a table is nearby to each other, including the Alice who is
sitting next to Carol who is sitting at the table, and Bob who is
standing on the table.
By default everyone that is nearby will see all the actions and hear all
the sounds of those who are also nearby. Thus everyone speaking in a
normal voice will be heard by everyone at the table, and they will see
all normal actions.
"Vicinity" is defined as everything associated with the same detail of a
room (or container). The prox chain is traced up until a room/container
detail is reached. Then, all children down several levels are considered
to be in the "vicinity". For instance, Carol is sitting at a table in
the back corner of a room (a detail of the room). She is in the vicinity
of everyone at her table, of everyone to in the back corner of a room,
and of everyone sitting at other tables in the back corner of the room.
By default only significant actions and loud sounds will be seen or
heard by all that are in the same vicinity. Thus when Bob shouts and
dances on the table, all in the vicinity will see and hear it, but they
will not hear the normally voiced complaints of those that are at Bob's
Every object that is inside the same room (or container) is considered
to be in the same "chamber". By default, a few very significant actions
and very loud sounds can be seen or heard be everyone in the same
Two rooms (or containers) that share a common entrance/exit pair, are
considering to be "bordering" one another. Very loud sounds or a general
"din" of noise may also be heard in rooms bordering each other.
Proxes in Practice/h2>
Proxes have a number of basic effects in the game:
Level of Description
In most cases when an object is described, only one level of proximity
up and down is detailed.
spoon->ON->plate->ON->table->IN THE MIDDLE OF->room
If you "look at room" you'll see "You are in a room with a table in the
middle of it."
If you "look at table" you'll see "You see a table with a plate on it,
in the middle of the room."
If you "look at plate" you'll see "You see a plate with a spoon on it,
on a table."
If you "look at spoon" you'll see "You see a spoon on a plate."
Proxes with Stances & Poses
Prepositions are often combined with stances (i.e. "standing against the
wall" or "sitting near the flowers"), or with poses (i.e., "reading in
the chair") or both (i.e. "kneeling and praying before the altar"), as
per the Skotos Expression System (see that Technical Summary).
However, certain proxes may be disallowed with specific stances or
poses; for instance, you can't "kneel above the altar". Others stances
or poses may require specific kinds of proxes, for instance, "with his
arm around Carol".
The Power of Proxes
Proxes also allow for some more advanced effects:
They can be used to measure personal space, as the basis of a consent
A sound system can be modeled using proxes.
Personal Space & Consent
People have personal spaces and proxes can be used to model this. Two proxes
are defined for every player: Near and Close.
Characteristics of the Near prox:
The 5-10 feet around a person.
Increases ease of conversation.
Groups objects together in descriptions.
Characteristics of the Close prox:
A person's intimate space.
Required for actions such as "hug" and "kiss" and "shake hands".
Objects that a person drops appear in the prox.
All volitionals (players, NPCs, and other living creatures) have some control
over what happens when other people try and enter their Near or Close prox.
Avoiding Near Proximity
Volitionals may avoid approaches to Near proximity by changing prox before
the attempt is complete.
Take an example where Bob is approaching Carol, who is sitting at a
table. He moves across the room, approaches the table, then enters
Carol's Near proximity. There's a slight delay before Bob's approach
to Near proximity succeeds. Carol chooses to leave the table during this
pause. She gets up and walks quickly away. Bob's attempt to approach Carol
fails because her prox has changed.
Denying Intimate Proximity
Volitionals may refuse the close approach of another volitional into an intimate
If Carol had not moved away in the example above, Bob would have then tried
to enter her Near proximity. Carol sees the message "Bob begins to move
close to you -- D)eny, A)ccept, R)eturn, or C)ounter".
If Carol D)enies the approach, only Bob will know that the attempt
failed. If Carol types nothing, the default is D)eny.
If Carol A)ccepts the approach, everyone will see "Bob gets closer
If Carol R)eturns the approach, everyone will see "Bob and Carol
get closer together".
If Carol C)ounters the approach, everyone will see that Bob failed
to get close.
Once Bob has entered Carol's Near proximity, a number of consensual
actions are possible and objects can easily be traded.
A Sound System
A proximity system also allows for the creation of a more realistic
sound system. Rough guesses can be made as to the distance of objects
by using the prox classifications already described: Adjacent, Nearby,
Vicinity, Chamber, and Bordering.
The basic of the Skotos Sound System is the son. This is a sound
scale basic on subjective perception. It is used because it reflects
the way in which humans respond to sound. The volumes of some basic
evocations have been defined in sons:
Proxes, Speech & Sons
Proximity affects how clearly things can be heard. In an average room
(ambient sound of 1 son) things are intelligible down to the level of a
soft whisper (1 x 1/4 son) for adjacent proxes.
Each additional category of proximity (nearby, vicinity, chamber,
bordering) increases the level of infallibility by approximately x4.
Thus the minimum intelligible level for nearby objects in a normal room
(1 son) is 1 son (1/4 x 4^1 x 1 son). Normal human conversation (4 sons)
can be heard in the vicinity (1/4 x 4^2 x 1 son). Quiet shouts (16 sons)
can be heard in the chamber (1/4 x 4^3 x 1 son). Screams can be heard in
bordering areas (1/4 x 4^4 x 1 son).
Below these levels, words are increasingly garbled, down to the level of
inaudibility (a multiplier of x1/4). Thus the minimum level at which
something garbled can be heard in an adjacent prox is 1/4 son. This
multiplier could be carried through all the categories: nearby 1 son;
vicinity 4 son; chamber 16 son; bordering 32 son.
Other activities can increase these levels, such as paying attention,
which is a x4 multiplier. Thus the absolute minimum level at which
something garbled can be heard by an attentive listener in an adjacent prox
is 1/16 son. This multiplier could be carried through all the
categories: nearby 1/4 son; vicinity 1 son; chamber 8 son; bordering 16
Proxes are a very useful method for setting up dynamically controled
room descriptions. They are a very flexible method of controlling the
depth at which you display descriptions and dealing with these sorts
of problems in real time. In addition they allow for the creation of
more fully modeled systems, such as the consent and sound systems
May 2000 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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