Game Designers In Detail is an interview series between a current NYU Game Center MFA student and a PRACTICE speaker. PRACTICE is the NYU Game Center’s annual conference that takes a close look at the concrete challenges of game design, creating a context for conversation among game designers of all types.
Ansh Patel: I am curious to know what exactly led to you and your Loom team deciding to abstract the verb-object model that was so prevalent in the adventure games back then?
Brian Moriarty: The previous Lucasfilm adventure games employed what was essentially a menu system, in which the player constructed imperative commands from a selection of verbs and nouns. But the characters in the game never do what you’re doing. They’re waiting for you to tell them what to do. The connection between the player and the character is indirect. From the beginning, I wanted Loom to offer a more immediate connection to the protagonist. To whatever extent possible, I wanted the player and Bobbin to perform magic, together. My first idea was to implement what is now called a gestural interface. The player would draw previously learned shapes on the screen to invoke magic spells, with Bobbin imitating your motion as you drew. Maybe not a bad idea, but there was a problem. Our principle market at the time was PC compatibles running DOS. And many customers with DOS machines did not have a mouse. Loom had to be playable with the keyboard alone. And you really don’t want to make players perform gestures on a keyboard. But another kind of performance works very well on a keyboard: Music! We eventually settled on a UI with only three affordances: Walking, touching and spellweaving. Hovering over an active object shows its icon. Clicking on the object moves Bobbin over to it. Clicking on the icon touches the object, which can produce a variety of effects. The distaff you find beside the Great Loom is special. When you touch it, Bobbin picks it up, and it becomes a more or less permanent part of the user interface. Otherwise the game has no physical inventory. Many objects emit musical notes when you touch them. These four-note sequences, called drafts, are the verbs of Loom. They can be applied to any touched object by repeating the note sequence on the distaff. Bobbin’s performance is synchronized with yours. You play together.