constraining interaction to create emergent narrative greg costikyan ceo, manifesto games

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  • Slide 1
  • Constraining Interaction to Create Emergent Narrative Greg Costikyan CEO, Manifesto Games
  • Slide 2
  • Before 1973... People would have looked at you funny if you said something like games are a story-telling medium. Chess? Monopoly? Candyland? Or even Afrika Korps?
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  • In 1973, two things happened Colossal Cave:...and Dungeons & Dragons:
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  • Interactive Fiction Colossal Cave was considered Interactive Fiction from the start... Though interaction is limited (few viable actions at each location) And as fiction, its not that interesting. Later games in the genre work better as fiction (e.g., Tom Dischs Amnesia)
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  • Interactive Fiction Text adventures no longer a viable commercial genrebut they live on as a hobby/literary movement (see Graphic adventures declining in popularity, but some still appear Leads also to action/adventure hybrids (e.g., Psychonauts, Fahrenheit)
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  • RPG Boom in tabletop RPGs in the 70s Direct inspiration for computer/console RPGs (e.g., Richard Garriotts Akalabeth, the precursor to the Ultima series, was based on his D&D campaign) Indirect inspiration for MMOs (via MUDs) Leads to LARPs In 21 st century, spawns the indie RPG movement of experimental RPG design Still commercially both in tabletop & digital games
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  • Cultural Clash over Role of Story & Games From the Start In 1977, the Game Manufacturers Association (collection mainly of tabletop wargame & RPG publishers) adopts the name adventure games for its field (over the objections of wargame publishers who prefer simulation game) Every GDC (and before it, CGDC) conference has had talks debating the role of stories in games
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  • ...and Continues Today the biggest debate among game scholars is between narratologists (who view games as a form of narrative) and ludologists (who maintain they must be viewed as formal systems) No end in sight (despite by calls by some, e.g., Janet Murray, for a truce)
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  • Basic Problem: Theres a central conflict between the demands of story and the demands of games Stories are linear. Though they can leap about temporally, they are experienced the same way every time. Games are non-linear. Though they are experienced over time, game sessions are different each time.
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  • From Story to Game You can put most games on a continuum from story-with-minor game to game-with- vestigial story attached.
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  • Cortazars Hopscotch Two Paths. But really just a play with time (Proust/Remembrance of Things Past, Joyce/Ulysses, Vonnegut/Slaughterhouse Five) These are hat-tricksnot going to see a genre of Hopscotch novels But still interesting: This is the minimal branching narrative (one decision point) More game-like than a typical story, but still a long way from a game
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  • Hypertext Fiction Robert Coover, Eastgate Systems, afternoon: a story (Michael Joyce) Multiple choices at each node, netlike narrative Generally not a predefined resolution, instead strives for the reader to have an epiphany after exploring enough of the narrative But not necessarily a good way to tell stories And no goal, aimless browsingnot a good game
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  • Gamebooks A/k/a Choose your own ending or which-way books Fighting Fantasy Branching narrative, sometimes rudimentary game system Lots of dead ends (but at least one win state) Basically the same as hypertextfollow a link to the next bit of text
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  • Solitaire Adventures & Paragraph-System Boardgames Solo Adventures are similar to gamebooks, but use the more complicated rules of a tabletop RPG, thus more potential outcomes Para-System: Boardgame, leading to occasional short gamebook style adventures with resolution. Tales of the Arabian Nights. Considerably more replayable
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  • Dragons Lair Arcade analog to gamebooks Two paths at each decision point, one leads to death. Popular when introduced (1984) because the first game with cinematic-quality visuals But sequels failed, because this sucks as a gameplay concept.
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  • Text & Graphic Adventures More free-form: Not predetermined paths, but limited game spaces until new ones are opened (beads on a string concept) Free combination of game objects within spaces Not that different from a gamebook, except that the text can respond interactively to younew paths opened/items available
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  • Graphic Adventures Characters (but limited decision-tree interaction) Cut scenes (but when overused, kill gameplaye.g., Tex Avery: Overseer) At best, this is a happy compromise: Compelling story, entertaining gameplay (e.g., Grim Fandango) All games are structuresbut graphic adventures quite constrainednecessary to ensure excellence of story
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  • PC/Console RPGs Ultima, Final Fantasy, Zelda, etc. Intimately tied to story, but far more freeform on a moment-to- moment basis. Often multiple ways to overcome obstacles Some choice of spaces to enter Character growth But one (or a handful) of outcomes, story experience not much different from player to player.
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  • PC/Console RPGs (cont) PC/Console RPGs still highly dependent on storybut a greater degree of freedom more gamelike Limited repeat playability because tied to an essentially linear story
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  • MMORPGs Large-scale environment, thousands of players Sometimes a story of the game, but players have no impact on outcomelinear story irrelevant to gameplay. Mini-stories in the form of quests. Since the game goes on forever, and it is hard to allow players to meaningfully impact the world, real story is impossible.
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  • MMORPGs To add story, you need to bring the game to a conclusion: A Tale in the Desert Or allow real changes to the world (but hard to do in a multi-server environment) These are story settingsbut have almost lost the connection to story in exchange for becoming good social environments as well as good games.
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  • Tabletop RPG Game system very similar (sometimes identical) to PC/Console --but vastly more freeform: since there is a GM, players can do anything he deems physically possible. While there are adventures (=pre-written stories), most GMs create their own stories for their friends.
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  • Tabletop RPGs True roleplaying for the first timeshowing off for friends. (Roleplaying in MMORPGs is bogus, because no possible impact on game outcomes ) Stories are created through play, and for participants, can be if anything more powerful than the ones they receive through interactive media
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  • Tabletop RPGs but are invariably dull as hell if told to non- participants (expedition write-ups suck). Many RPGers dont give story a second thought: more interested in roleplaying, problem solving, or character advancement (the Blacow player types).
  • Slide 25
  • The Continuum Thus, you can view the continuum between story-with-minimal interaction (Hopscotch) through the game-with-some-story- connection (tabletop roleplaying) as an attempt to find compromises between the highly linear nature of story and the inherently non-linear nature of games
  • Slide 26
  • Constraining Gameplay I used to think that was all there wasthere was only one dimension along which narrative games could lie... But maybe a better way of thinking about it is that to tell a satisfying story, gameplay must be constrained to ensure that story does emerge.... And reducing gameplay to interaction within beads on a string is only one way...
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  • Embedded Stories Multiple stories embedded in the gameeach linear, but encountered by players in different orders, thus improving replay value. MMO quests. Paragraph-system boardgames. True of some (not all) console/PC RPGs
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  • Beads on a String But Multiple Paths Within Each Bead Asset development for digital games is expensivehard to get away from beads on a string... But you can allow multiple ways to solve each problemand multiple ways to shape a character (fighter, sneaker, hacker)... And multiple outcomes (victories of different game factions).
  • Slide 29
  • Ending the MMO The never-ending MMO with multiple shards essentially cannot permit players to shape the overall arc of the story, if any. But if you end the game, you can. ATITD has two possible outcomes: the players accomplish the tasks necessary for Pharaoh to triumph over the Stranger, in 1 year of playor not.
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  • A Tale in the Desert (cont) And high degree of player freedom during that year. Commercially riskyyou lose a big piece of the player base with each game end. But artistically worthwhile.
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  • My Life with Master Narrative arc is explicitly fixed (the villagers will destroy Master). Game explicitly played in scenes with beginnings, middles, ends. No dierolls for individual actions; actions are unconstrained. But a die-roll is made to determine whether the player succeeds or fails in this sceneand he must roleplay the results.
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  • ...The Constrained Narrative RPG In other words, the game sp


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