Could Siboot Be Revived?

On his site Chris Crawford posted the above question about his previous attempt to re-imagine the 1987 version of Trust & Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot using Storytron technology. (I like to think his 2014-2018 project was inspired by my work back in 2009-2010. 😉)

“Having to abandon work on Siboot was one of the most painful decisions of my life. I had realized that I had lost the cognitive abilities necessary to continue work (that is, the ability to keep many different variables in my mind at once) as early as 2015. But I struggled on for another year, then tried several alternatives in an effort to salvage the project, before finally giving up a year ago. Even then, I returned to the project every few months, trying to see if I couldn’t get the old brain cranked up to the high pitch it needs to function on this project. Every time, I failed. So here I am again, wondering if there isn’t SOME way to get this thing working.”

I thought something similar back in 2017 but my short answer to his current question is “No, not with the current technology.” Right now SWAT can’t even reproduce the seamless experience of 1987 Siboot. Only with integrated encounter and face editors could an reboot succeed.

I think the idea of finishing Siboot at this time is wishful thinking on Chris’ part, a balm to his ego. It certainly could be attempted. Chris could issue another rallying cry, recruit some acolytes, and then attempt to lead them towards a release of something (I myself signed up for his previous quest in 2014) .

But my opinion is that this new team wouldn’t get any closer to a release than the original Siboot team did. But let’s be a pollyanna—what if this quixotic venture did get to version 1.0? What then? I think Chris’ own words are prophetic.

Suppose that I could indeed finish Siboot to my own satisfaction. What would happen?

First, few people would appreciate it. They would judge it by the only standards with which they are familiar: the standards of current game design. They would conclude that Siboot is a lousy game — and they would be right.

Siboot was never intended to be a game; it’s interactive storytelling. The emphasis is on character interaction, and it already offers interesting dramatic character interaction. But people aren’t looking for interesting dramatic character interaction; they’re looking for the things that make great games: challenge, a smooth learning curve, impressive graphics, catchy little tunes to accompany their play. Above all, a game must be winnable. Yet stories aren’t necessarily about winning and losing; they’re about drama. 

No matter how good Siboot turned out to be, it would not create the splash I had hoped for. It would not go viral and trigger lots of tweets and viral videos on YouTube. It would certainly attract a small comradeship of people who recognize its importance. Everybody else would be unimpressed. 

Yikes, this doesn’t bode well for Storytron! But putting on some rose-colored glasses let’s press on along this optimistic trail that we’ve started down.

The only hope for Storytron (and a future Siboot) is the integration of encounter and face editors into the SWAT application. Chris has tons of knowledge about interactive storytelling and extensive experience with the Storytron source code. He should learn how to use GitHub, roll up his sleeves, and contribute to the Storytron.org project in some significant way. If he doesn’t feel up to coding he could help out with the Gossip tutorial or work on one of the wikis.

While I would welcome Chris’ contributions I wonder how this would work out when he is not the sole person in charge. Having been a lone wolf for so many years and used to being in control I wonder if he could “demote” himself and function as just an individual contributor on an open-source project. What would happen when he was asked to make a change to one of his pull requests or, heaven forbid, had one of his pull requests rejected.

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