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The Mystery of Paradise Island

By Samuel Stoddard

The Original Transcripts

Caution: This section of the site contains a condensed telling of The Mystery of Paradise Island. Almost all of the many plot twists, therefore, are spoiled here. If you do not know the story and wish to preserve the experience of the novel, go back and do not read further.

The Mystery of Paradise Island had an unlikely origin in an extended improvised storytelling session in RinkChat, where it was entitled, euphemistically, Danger On Paradise Island. Participants in the fourth Ultimate Bot Tournament, a three week bot game tournament, competed against each other in a series of chat room games. During and in between the games, I told a murder mystery story one little bit at a time.

To challenge myself to improvise the story, rather than plan too much of it in advance, the first two tournament sessions were devoted to "character auditions," for which players were shown 150 photographs of people and vote on the ones they wanted to be characters in the murder mystery. Five men and five women were chosen, and suddenly I had to develop names and personalities to fit the photographs, and devise the beginning of the story. In fact, since the male and female characters were elected on different nights, I had to write and present the first chapter of the story without even knowing who the female characters were ultimately going to be.

Furthermore, although I would decide all other plot developments, I would leave the identities of the murder victims up to the players of the tournament. Each night, players would vote on which character they'd like to be the next murder victim, and then I had to incorporate that selection in the next chapter of the story. As the story progressed, its course became more and more set; ultimately, I had to overrule the results of the fifth vote and not hold any others, but I did manage to abide by the results of the first four victim selections.

One or two weeks after the tournament ended, the story still resonated strongly within me. I realized that its telling in the chat room had not, after all, sated my creative energy. This was a story that was crying out to be written as a novel. It had wanted to be a novel all along. I was just slow to figure that out. The tournament version was essentially my outline -- an outline presented as a finished story and performed to an audience, sure, but an outline nonetheless. With the outline complete (and already run by a test audience!), I began the real work.

The novel, despite following the story of the tournament version pretty closely, is quite different in tone and scope. It delves much deeper into the characters, their psychologies, and their histories and includes a great number of scenes not present in the original version. Although the novel came second, I regard it as the canonical telling of the story. Nonetheless, the tournament version holds up in its own right, for several reasons: as it is told only with dialogue and pictures, it feels like a movie or a comic book; it has moments of high humor that would have been out of place in the novel; and the inclusion of audience reaction to the story as it unfolds -- laughs, gasps, and shouted advice -- is undeniably infectious.

I highly recommend reading both versions of the story. The novel is probably the better place to start, but if you'd rather read the tournament version first, that will work, too.

There are two ways to read the tournament version. One, you can read the archived transcripts of the bot tournament, in order from session 1 to session 10. (Actually, you can skip session 1 if you wish, because the story doesn't begin until session 2.) These transcripts contain not just the story but the games played in the chat room as well. If you're interested in the RinkChat community and/or the kind of games we play in the chat room, reading these transcripts is the way to go.

But if all you care about is reading the story, you can do that by reading the pages below. The pages below are basically the same thing, only with all the non-story portions of the bot tournament edited out. If all you care about is reading the story, read these pages.

When you're done reading the tournament version of the story, you may be interested in reading my account of how the story developed in my mind as it went along. Why were the key story decisions made? When did I know how it was going to turn out? You can read this, plus see a record of who voted for which characters to die, in my afterword.