Game Jam Winner Spotlight: The Hounds Follow All Things Down

from the gaming-like-it's-1924 dept

Over the past three weeks, we've featured Hot Water, Legends of Charlemagne, and 192X in our series about the winners of our public domain game jam, Gaming Like It's 1924. This week, we're focusing on the winner of the Best Adaptation award for the game that best embodied the original 1924 work upon which it was based: The Hounds Follow All Things Down by J. Walton.

J. Walton is one of our returning winners, having taken the award for Best Deep Cut last year with Not A Fish, and this year's entry feels in many ways like an evolution of the ideas and mechanics introduced in that game: they both break a work apart into component pieces, and let players discover its hidden meaning (and generate new meanings) by finding connections in a play-space that grows outwards like a puzzle or a map. But The Hounds Follow All Things Down situates this play within its world in an ingenious and beautiful way. It's based on the 1924 novel The King Of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany — a highly-influential early work in the fantasy genre that wasn't fully recognized as such until decades after its release — which presents readers with the fantastical and majestic world of Elfland and its inhabitants. The game imagines an epic and ancient poem within this world, which has been passed down for generations in countless incarnations, and tasks the players with performing their version of this poem to an audience of elves that is always hungry for new variations.

This premise speaks directly to the themes of changing culture and the public domain that directly inspired the game jam, and also to the spirit of fantasy and legend that suffuses the novel. Gameplay takes the form of a series of scenes, performed by the players and generated by drawing prompt cards and placing them in a grid where they form connections with each other. By the end the group will have composed and performed a version of this fictional poem that is entirely unique, yet intimately connected with every other version that comes out of the game and with Dunsany's world of Elfland.

One of the most interesting aspects of the game is how the prompt cards were developed: by playing around with the text of the book and a predictive algorithm. The designer's notes describe the process in detail:

The text excerpts were generated using a fairly strange process. As with some earlier experiments, I used Jamie Brew’s pt-voicebox, which is available for free download on GitHub. This program has the interesting tendency to get caught in loops. For example, if you give it the text of The King of Elfland’s Daughter and ask it to continually pick the 6th most likely word to appear next, you get this as output:

he knew the speed was in all other side the old songs of came down sitting elfland the flood the border was not the two wide stole and a wind loitered summer days the border but all as forest in that valley land the trolls had they let us from the trolls with they went by since one evening standing grey with her back from that bewildering black which she got left her and away from a pigeonloft but alveric in him and back a few days things in a he house amongst our earthly things waned the hounds saw him far this time had driven for all were content they went by since one evening standing grey with her back from that bewildering black which

After a while, it simply starts repeating the passage in italics. And a similar thing happens any time you tell pt-voicebox to pick words with a fixed ranking of likelihood (the 13th most likely word, etc.), as well as when you give it a regular pattern of picks (the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.). The only way to avoid these loops is to pick words in a random pattern, either intentionally selecting ones that sound interesting—which is how it’s designed to be used—or picking words randomly (always choosing the 1d6th most likely).

I became fascinated by this tendency of the program, so I generated a bunch of text loops from The King of Elfland’s Daughter and then lightly edited the looped text to create the “poem excepts” used in the game.

The results of this process ("Mournfully the old leatherworker had to work his sword", "Upon those lawns, the hounds came for his dreams") are truly intriguing, and the stories that arise from play are sure to be as well.

You can download the rules and cards for The Hounds Follow All Things Down on Itch, or check out the other submissions in our public domain game jam. And come back next week for the another winner spotlight!

Filed Under: 1924, copyright, game jam, games, gaming, public domain

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  1. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 8 Mar 2020 @ 4:45pm


    I hate to paraphrase an acquired Disney franchise, but:

    "Stay on target, er, topic!"

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