March 14, 2007
by Andrew Stern · , 5:54 pm
- Here are three links (1 2 3) covering a positively cyberpunk-looking Will Wright giving a keynote at this week’s South-by-Southwest (SXSW) festival, a conference traditionally focused on music and film that in recent years has added an interactive media track. Wright wanted to talk about story, perhaps because he’s talking to so many linear media folk, but was billed to talk about Spore, so he tries to mash the two subjects together. Wright points out the problems with status quo approaches to interactive story, and implores game developers to make games that listen to the player more, suggesting Groundhog Day or Truman Show type structures. (btw, Wright’s comments about “story parsing” are identical to the points he made in a July 2002 SIGGRAPH panel on interactive story Noah and I organized.) The first two links here are live (attempted) transcripts, each of which differs a bit, each containing phrases I find it hard to believe Wright would utter, such as “Games inherently are this branching tree” and “movies are far more compelling than interactive drama, because interactive drama is quite flat”. (I think it depends what he means by interactive drama in the context of this speech; as a counterpoint, one transcript has Wright describing Façade as an interesting approach that moves towards generativity.)
- There’s a slick-looking, graphic novel-esque branching adventure/mystery game for the Nintendo DS called Hotel Dusk. The Flash animation on the site gives a nice peek at it, and how they effectively use the DS interface. Gameology has a few comments about it; I’d curious to hear if anyone has played it.
- Playing with conventions of interactive story, artist-couple Michael and Auriea of Tale-of-Tales, whom we had the pleasure of meeting in person at GDC last week, have a new interactive character/narrative/experience in the works called The Path, building upon their prototyping with Drama Princess. I made sure to let Uli Spierling know about their project, since she recently organized a symposium on interactive stories based on Little Red Ridinghood.
- Finally, an interesting new initiative to create FicML, a markup language for fiction. The project is intended to assist in the creation of an ongoing hypernovel called Troped.
March 14th, 2007 at 6:47 pm
I’ve played Hotel Dusk. I’m not very far into it yet, but it’s basically a nice take on the adventure genre with more emphasis on conversations than on click-hunting. The game is very text-heavy – so far I’ve spent most of my time in the game reading and clicking to the next dialog piece.
Rather than giving a menu of conversation choices every few lines in the style of most classic adventures, the dialog is primarily linear with points at which you can click to interrupt and choose from one of two questions to ask. These interruptions can potentially get the NPC frustrated or happier with you, depending on the situation and what you choose. (Your character is a bit of a jerk, so sometimes an interrupt is necessary just to make them like you again.)
During the conversation the game will automatically take note of questions you’d like answered. At the end of the linear dialog, you can ask any questions you have in your “question inventory” (my phrase, not theirs) for that character. Some of the questions you gather during one conversation may end up being asked to a different character later.
Stylistically, the game is very unique. Most of the art has a rough sketch feel that I really like. Also, the game is played holding the DS sideways which does seem to give it more of that holding-a-book feel. It also makes good use of the dual screen layout, especially in conversations. The PC on the left and the NPC on the right, and it gives both a nice back-and-forth feel plus allows for a character’s physical response to be displayed while listening to the other side speak. The only part that feels awkward to me so far is when you’re left with no one to talk to and you’re walking around the building. The game’s story seems to be running on a timer, so there are times when it seems like I’m walking around with nothing to do until the next event triggers. Maybe I’m just missing something, though.
March 14th, 2007 at 10:05 pm
I enjoyed Hotel Dusk quite a bit… it works well as a sort of graphic-assisted novel, and while the storyline isn’t really a branching one, they’ve essentially developed the game around the idea that given the motivation of finding out as much as you can and a protagonist that can’t get along with anyone, players will want to choose the answer most pertinent to the investigation and least likely to offend people – which happens to be the choice the story progresses from 95% of the time. Upon going back and replaying the game, it was surprising how often the other choices either ended in an immediate game over or affected the game no further than the immediate response, though the tradeoff of agency for length and depth of story seems to pay off here, as the illusion still holds quite well.
March 15th, 2007 at 9:30 am
Adventure Gamers has a review of Hotel Dusk here: http://www.adventuregamers.com/article/id,726.
March 15th, 2007 at 10:52 am
Was very nice to finally meet you Andrew :)
March 19th, 2007 at 9:23 am
Laying out the problem of reconciling story with game, Will Wright remarks:
> [G]ames are primarily interactive, so whenever we take control away
> from player at all we are taking away the most important thing
> about games. Like going to a theater and showing a blank screen.
> Games inherently are this branching tree. [Whereas] Linear sequence
> is the basis of story.
Games are indeed primarily interactive, but that does not necessarily mean they are branching. Interactivity does not necessarily require or imply agency. Agency is not a necessary ingredient of all interactive stories.
(The cynic might point out that life itself is largely interactive, but the agency we have in our lives is pretty trivial. Q: What can I *do*? What can I *change*? A: Nothing and nothing.)
When I invent ideas for interactive stories, I normally set the protagonist in a world where he has little if any agency, little if any control over the course of the story. The player is a ghost, or stuck in an unchangeable situation.
One of my favorite works if IF is Andrew Plotkin’s _Shade_ . (If you know this work, you’ll probably recognize the connection pretty easily — hopefully that’s not too much of a spoiler already.)
Observation is a powerful form of interaction — not mere passive spectacle, I mean, like in the movies. I mean active, aggressive observation.
Existence is the most fundamental (and perhaps most powerful) form of interaction. If the player exists in the story, it is interactive in the fundamentally important way, regardless of the player’s agency.
So of course agency remains a problem — one cannot do away with it with the observation that agency is not the same thing as interaction. But it’s nice to avoid over-conflating the two concepts.
One way of reconciling game and story is to recognize the difference between interaction and agency.
March 31st, 2007 at 1:17 am
[…] torytelling in games. I can’t even link to proper coverage of it, I can only link to coverage of the coverage. But he goes on about how story in games is […]
March 31st, 2007 at 10:48 pm
The full Will Wright podcast is available online (alas, sans slides): http://2007.sxsw.com/blogs/podcasts.php/2007/03/21/will_wright_s_keynote_at_sxsw_2007
April 13th, 2007 at 10:49 pm
While playing Hotel Dusk, I kept noticing one element of their “detective’s notebook” design really bringing me into the game environment. Your notebook – in other games, the inventory screen – is very intimate and personal. Instead of a screen laid out with composed typographical elements (though they are still present in places), you are presented with three or four blank notebook pages, upon which you can scribble your notes with the stylus. This was an interesting way of making the notebook mechanism into more tangible evidence of your playing the role. You are responsible for writing concise longhand notes to yourself, and when non-player characters have to describe something visually, you hand them your notebook for them to scribble in. I was reminded of the composition books full of notes that I usually use while playing through text adventures, and thought that this was a great implementation of that concept within a game platform that readily supports it.