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Re: Storytelling (Was Re: Loki...)

Steve Baker wrote:
> There were a couple of panel sessions at last year's SigGraph about this.
> Once we have nailed photo-realism and game physics, how do we make better
> games?

I'm very pleased to see this subject brought up on the list!

The story and direction issues you mentioned are valid and important,
but did the panel cover any interesting solutions rather than just
iterate the depth of the problem?

One of the problems you mentioned was that if a spotty kid in an
open-ended world makes the same decisions, unguided, that he'd make
in real life then the game story is going to be no more interesting
than h{is,er} mundane life.  Well, an obvious solution to that -- and
one that almost applies itself by the nature of the game -- is to
drive the story by the *situations* into which the character falls
without putting the game 'on a track'.  That is, just leave no /room/
for mundane actions -- have the game's environment (world, characters)
dense and/or dynamic that even when actively fighting the tide of
the story flow (you've probably designed one, or payed lip-service
to one :)) the player is increasingly violently (metaphorically)
thrown from situation to situation, perhaps side-quest to side-quest,
until they get back on-track through Brownian motion.

I think that games like Diablo II take a rough stab in this direction,
but specifically D2's 'situations when fighting the flow' are
basically 'wander in circles in caverns you've already visited
AGAIN killing the infinitely-regenerating skeletons AGAIN and
taking their gold.  Repeat for 20 hours of game-play until you've
racked up enough gold for a mildly interesting weapon.  Cast around
for some new area to run in circles in.'.

Grand Theft Auto 3 I see as a wonder of open-endedness -- not because
the story throws two or three alternative missions at you for you to
pick and choose at any given time, but mostly because the whole city
environment has been fundamentally designed to give you a massive
playground for rather plot-orthogonal destruction.  If the 'actual'
story in GTA3 had been strong[er] then it would have had the best of
worlds -- as it is, most people play it as a sort of destruction
derby, as the designers knew was the attraction of the first two games,
and so they devoted most of their developmental effort in the 'openness'

But the issue is, of course, that there we have 'openness' and
'storytelling' but not 'storytelling through openness'.  As long as
a human is writing the script then there will be a very finite
number of directions in which a coherent story will develop from
any given point, and in any other direction we have to dramatically
tread water while gently ushering the player back onto a progressive

Alternatives -- algorithmic storytelling?  It's hard to see that
computers have the heart for it.  Such a story would likely be
extraordinarily formulaic by nature.

Enough rambling.  EOL.

Adam D. Moss    . ,,^^    adam@gimp.org    http://www.foxbox.org/   co:3

But not us (no never) no not us (no never)
We are far too young and clever