June 21, 2006

Split Infinity Game Generation

by Andrew Stern · , 3:47 am

For quite some time now I’ve been waiting for some astute game scholar somewhere to analyze Piers Anthony’s most excellent Apprentice Adept sci-fi/fantasy series from the early 1980’s, the first book being Split Infinity. From what I can tell via Google, in the context of game studies and game design, no one has yet written about The Game from the Apprentice Adept novels. Maybe I’m the first; perhaps there are few game scholars old enough to have read Anthony? :-0

I read these books as a 10 or 11-year old kid (as well as Xanth, etc.), and I still think about them once in a while, particularly The Game. Anthony offers what I think is a fascinating vision of the future of game competition, and game generation; I could imagine attempting to create a video game version of this.

First, some backstory: the Apprentice Adept series takes place in two worlds, the technology-based planet of Proton, and the parallel universe of Phaze, a land based on magic and fantasy. The series focuses on the character Stile, a Citizen of Proton who discovers Phaze and travels back and forth between the two worlds / realities, has adventures, etc.

Anyhow, on Proton, societal status is based on your ranking in The Game, sort of a cross between the Holodeck and a Gameboy. Every time two players begin a Game, the form of the competition is unknown, to be determined by the players themselves. Players begin by taking turns choosing game characteristics, progressing from the abstract to the specific. Thousands of different games can be generated in this way; part of the strategy is to choose game characteristics that favor your aptitudes and not your opponent’s.

Rather than describe it further, I took the liberty of scanning in a few pages from Split Infinity, below. These are from my original 1980 paperback, that I bought at the mall at B. Dalton in Raleigh, North Carolina with my allowance. I edited out extraneous text not related to The Game. The characters here are the protagonist Stile, and a woman he just met, Sheen.

 
Later in the book, Stile plays another couple of Games, against two different opponents.

 
The Wikipedia article on the series further describes other Game events: “Stile plays a Naked Arts round in interpretive dance, while later on the same category produces extemporaneous poetry. ”