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Storytelling, games and the Escapist... again

Mister Nizz

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Once Again..

The exceptionally talented staff of the ESCAPIST magazine weigh in with a subject dear to my heart, storytelling. Granted we are discussing a medium only tangentially interested to your humble narrator, that of game console games and MMORPGs, yet I do spend an inordinate amount of time in Second Life, after all, and if there ever was an example of meta-reality fiction, that's it.

Warren Spector, an extremely prolific and prolix designer that has worked for everyone from Steve Jackson Games to TSR to Dark Point Studios, weighs in with a nicely crafted start of a four part series about the promise of new technology in display, processing power and AI for the art and craft of storytelling.

Are we concentrating too much on the hardware and whizz bang at the cost of a solid AI? How can this assist in telling the game story?

Warren's article is not a trailblazer, we have seen discussion about these elements before, but
it is rather well structured and it offers up some ideas.

Not long ago, I had a conversation with Doug Church, secret master of gaming, where he said something like this: A story is constructed of sentences, strung together in a coherent, dramatically significant order. Game "sentences" are the actions available to and selected by a player. The more sentences we allow players to construct (in other words, the deeper the pool of options we offer), the cooler and more numerous the story possibilities will be. To that extent, a robust world and character simulation - both made possible by next-gen hardware - will allow us to tell a better story. But there's a hitch: all the graphics power of the new platforms

We've made - and, thanks to the new hardware, will continue to make - great strides in the fidelity with which we can portray a world. Our characters will look even better. Our worlds will look and feel much more convincing than they ever have. And audiences will come to expect a certain level of believability in the worlds they explore. They will expect the world to look and behave the way the real world does. ("It looks real; it'll act real.")

All of that means AI - cornerstone of creating great characters and, therefore critical to great story games - becomes even more challenging. And here I'm just talking about the fundamentals of navigation and base level interaction. We've made great strides in AI over the last few years, but you'd hardly know it - the advances have come in the service of "just keeping up" with graphical and simulation enhancement.

-- THE ESCAPIST, issue 94, "Next Generation Storytelling", by Warren Spector.

I look forward to reading more in the series. Console gaming is not my cup of tea, by any means; but it is a surprisingly adept distant cousin to that ancient art of telling stories, and traces its roots to that circle of hunters, crouched around a fire at night, fearful of the wolves-- and telling each other stories to pass the time.