June 20, 2007

Playing Defender

by Nick Montfort · , 1:15 pm


Generating Narrative Variation in Interactive Fiction

Nick Montfort
University of Pennsylvania, Computer & Information Science
Mitchell P. Marcus & Gerald Prince, Advisors
Committee: Aravind Joshi, Mark Liberman, Fernando Pereira, Marie-Laure Ryan

(This is a distilled version of my dissertation defense from this morning, for Grand Text Auto.)

Update: My dissertation itself is now online.

The main question I’m considering today (after working on it for a few years) is:

How to create a text-generating automatic narrator to tell about the same events in different ways?

The context for this question is interactive fiction (IF). There are two parts to the answer:

If it were possible to do everything perfectly the first time, it would just be a matter of developing the correct theory and then implement it. As it happens, in the actual project I’ve undertaken, the first attempt at a theory and implementation informs some changes and another attempt, and so on…

Today I’ll consider the theory and the implementation of a new interactive fiction system, nn. The name “nn” is meant to suggest the fundamental distinction between the narrated (events and existents; content) and the narrating (the telling of these).

Types of narrative variation


The distinction between the content of a story (what events happened in it; what existents are part of the story world) and the particular way it is expressed or told is an essential one, one of the foundations of the discipline called narratology that has existed for about 40 years.


Matt Madden made use of this distinction when he began his book 99 Ways to Tell a Story with this comic narrative, one in which the events are rather uninteresting … (These images are all taken from Madden’s site for the book; higher quality versions of all of these are available there.)


He continued the book with 98 variations on this comic, providing different tellings of the same underlying content. Here he has told the same events in one panel, on the left, and in 30 panels, on the right.


While creating a lot of variations is fun, it’s helpful to be systematic when trying to determine the essential types of variation. Probably the first really thorough consideration of how narrative can vary was Gérard Genette’s Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method (1980; originally in French, 1972). By analogy to grammar, Genette described how narrative can have tense (pertaining to the order of events, the speed with which they are told, and the frequency with which one or more are told), mood (distance vs. immediacy, focalization or perspective), and voice (pertaining to the time of narrating and other qualities of the narrator and narratee, the one to whom the story is addressed).


In the second telling of this story here, represented at the bottom, order, speed, and frequency have all been changed. The last two events are told out of chronological order: “The jester laughed, after the clown usurped the throne.” The second event is passed over entirely – narrated at infinite speed. Events can also be narrated more slowly, so that there is twice as much text representing them, for instance. Finally, the first and third event are told at once – “the king and queen died” – with a single narration, in a type of frequency that is called iterative.


In discussing focalization and distance, it’s helpful to return to Matt Madden’s comics. In the one on the left, the perspective has changed so that we’re looking out as if through the main character’s eyes: a sort of “first-person” view. In a textual narrative, a character who focalizes regulates the narrative information. We know only what that character knows and perceives. Note that such a character doesn’t have to appear in the text as “I”; a purely third-person narrative can still have a focalizer. On the right, a few things have changed – an extra narrative level where a character in the story himself tells a story, a shift to past tense – but what I want to point out is that there is no visual representation of events anymore; they are now told in this characters “speech,” textually, making them less immediate and more distant.


Finally, there’s time of narrating and the narrator and narratee. The narrator can be placed, temporally, subsequent to events (so that narration is in the past tense, which is typical), simultaneous with events (as with a cell phone user saying exactly what he or she is doing while walking down the street), or even previous to events, as in this unusual and somewhat prophetic example. Furthermore, the narrator (who tells the story) can be signaled more or less prominently, and can be made into one of the characters in the narrative. The same goes for the narratee. In the bottom text, the queen is the narratee and the jester the narrator.


nn can produce narrative variation in all of these categories, but I’ll discuss just two things today: Order (which I’ll consider jointly with time of narrating) and focalization.

Interactive fiction’s promise


Before going on to discuss these and the nn architecture in detail, a few words about why interactive fiction is so interesting and is worth research effort. The idea of this project is to combine the underlying simulated world of IF, exemplified here by Adventure, with variable narration, allowing different expression. Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, the book that was the basis for Matt Madden’s comics, is the exemplary work in this case. Brining these together … should lead to a real benefit for the literary and gaming arts, and maybe offer some benefits beyond that.

IF has some virtues that are particularly nice for computational linguistics research. It is:


Over 30 years, interactive fiction has moved through three productive eras, shown here.


Independent games haven’t been slackers compared to their commercial cousins, as even the briefest look at a few examples can attest.


My vision is for a fourth era of IF, one in which interactive narrating joins interactive fiction. It wouldn’t preclude other independent IF production, but it would bring IF more fully into the literary life of our world and use computation in new ways to do some of the important work of literature and art. If IF does become a more prominent part of our cultural life, we could expect to see landmarks like these.

The architecture of nn


The current IF system has two well-developed modules: The parser, to handle input, and the world model, to simulate the world. The basic “game” that an IF author writes is an instantiation of classes provided by the world model. From my standpoint, and with my interest in being able to vary the narrative, this is highly simplified, but what this architecture does in providing a simulated world and a form of natural-language understanding is very useful, and it’s the basis for my work.


I have proposed and implemented a more elaborate architecture, but one in which each module corresponds fairly clearly to a function that the IF system needs to carry out. Some modules aren’t involved in processing commands – the Clarifier handles unrecognized inputs; the Joker deals with directives at the game level, such as “quit,” “undo,” and “restore.” The modules that are part of command processing are (1) the Preparer, a simple tokenizer, (2) the Recognizer, basically a parser that is based on a semantic grammar and uses a discourse model, (3) the Simulator, a language-independent subsystem for determining what events happen and what the next state of the world will be, (4) the Narrator, which uses the world models, plan for narrating, and discourse model to produce the appropriate telling of events and description of existents, and (5) the Presenter, which formats the output string for the output device, say a terminal window or Web page. The whole system is needed for interactive operation, but the critical components from a research standpoint are the Narrator module, the plan for narrating, and the world models.


The narrator itself has an internal architecture: A three-stage pipeline. The first stage is the Reply Planner, where events, existents, and the plan for narrating are converted into a reply structure, an ordered tree of proposed expressions representing what is to be expressed and in what order. This is the content selection and structuring stage. In the next stage, the Microplanner, that tree is converted into a list of paragraph proposals, each of which has a list of sentence proposals. A formalism called “string-with-slots” is used which is reasonably easy to author and, while it is not highly abstract, still allows variation in tense, aspect, and number. Aggregation occurs here, and all grammatical specifics are decided upon and connected to the strings-with-slots. Finally, the realizer converts the abstract paragraph proposals into the final output strings.

Varying order


The Narrator has to rearrange events when they are to be told in a non-chronological order. Here’s a simple story with six events in it. The events can be told out of order: 341256 instead of 123456. But a simple sequence doesn’t tell us much about the order. Genette identified many categories of order, and this sequence could fall into several of them. If it came about because we decided to narrate based on the location of events (kitchen, garden, dining room), it would be an example of narration by category, or syllepsis. If we had simply mixed the events up at random and 341256 was the result, it would be a jumbled narration, what Genette calls achrony. Finally, if we flashed back from the main sequence (3456) to tell about what had happened the previous day (12), this would be an instance of analepsis. These are three different types of order, but all can produce the sequence 341256. Clearly that sequence by itself will not be enough as input to a text generator, which has to know more about how to narrate.


Instead of using a simple sequence, these ordered trees – reply structures – represent the order of events. For syllepsis, the first level of the tree has the three categories, and beneath each one are the corresponding events, in the order in which they are to be narrated. Achrony is a very flat structure with one jumbled level. And analepsis has the main sequence with the earlier sequence embedded in it.


Intuitively, this representation is more meaningful, but what exactly is stored in the internal nodes to make generation of narrative possible? The information we need is something that, in combination with the time at which the events happened, can let us decide the tense that should be used to narrate. Hans Reichenbach’s theory of tense explains that what we need is reference time and speech time; from the time of reference, speech, and event we can determine the appropriate tense. So for Analepsis, we can set reference time to follow events (E=R), set speech time to max (E=R<S), and we have the simple past for all events on the first level. But then when we get to the internal node that is the parent of the analepsis sequence, here we let the values of R and S stay as they are at that point: R=4, S=max. Then, when narrating the analepsis, E<R<S, and the anterior past (past perfect) is generated. We can also add some cue words (“Yesterday,” “Anyway…”) at the beginning and end of this sequence easily, since the structure shows us the right place for them. Achrony can be generated as well if we want to “privilege confusion.” Just set R to follow and S to follow, so that the present tense is generated (unhelpfully) in all cases. This is the representation nn uses and the way reordering is done.

Varying focalization


The world models also have an internal architecture: they consist of an IF Actual World and a Focalizer World for each actor, following the ideas in Marie-Laure Ryan (1991). The IF Actual World is complete, correct, current, and used for simulation. Each Focalizer World is (usually) incomplete, possibly wrong, has history, and is used for narrating. History is necessary because when retelling some events that happened 100 turns ago, it’s necessary to remember what the world was like at that point: who else was in the room, for instance?


Here’s an example of a focalizer’s incomplete knowledge. On the left, the player character stays in the middle of the plaza and can only see that the trash collector picked up “something” – the event can be seen, but not what is being picked up. If the PC had walked over to where the trash collector is, it’s clear that this is “a candy wrapper.” A model of visibility, prominence, and vantage is used to determine what can be seen. If something can’t be seen by a focalizer, a blank existent is included in its place in that Focalized World.


Here, knowledge of the world has been initialized differently. Walking out of the building, the standard adventurer knows only where she just came from – that the building’s interior is to the east. The “know-it-all” adventurer, on the other hand, has a Focalizer World with a full copy of all locations. As a result, all four exits are known and are indicated. So, characters can not only perceive things differently; they can also know more or less about them to begin with.


The same ten turns underlie both of these narratives, these recountings. On the left, the focalizer is the adventurer, who is doing lots of exciting things. On the right, the focalizer is the pirate (also addressed with “you”) who just stands at the end of the road and waves, having a much less interesting perspective on things. These different perspectives show the fundamental use of the Focalizer Worlds.

Creative work, evaluation

Two short creative pieces – more stand-alone demos that real games – were created to see how higher-level narrative effects can be composed out of simpler ones. Additionally, a pilot evaluation was undertaken in which annotators rated 14 IF output texts on naturalness, identified events in them, and identified the chronology of events. There were some good comments from annotators that will inform future improvements, and the evaluation offered several ideas about how to conduct a full-scale evaluation.

Future work

To name just a handful of the many potential future projects:

Summary of advances

In a nutshell, the project has managed, so far:


42 Responses to “Playing Defender”

  1. Darius K. Says:

    Fantastic presentation. I’m forwarding it around to a lot of people I know will be excited to read it.

  2. Doctor Montfort, I presume? « TREVOR DODGE Says:

    […] n on narrative “variance” in interactive fiction at UPenn this morning and has posted some of the more choice nuggets here at Grand Text Auto. Fascinating stuff. […]

  3. Dennis G. Jerz Says:

    Very intriguing stuff. To continue the Defender theme… this was definitely smart, and surely not a bomb.

  4. Water Cooler Games Says:

    Dr. Nick Montfort

    WCG friend and personal collaborator Nick Montfort has defended his dissertation, Generating Narrative Variation in Interactive Fiction! Congrats Nick! The diss is about computational narration, specifically automating different narration styles in …

  5. Chris Lewis Says:

    Congratulations on your real-life level up.

    How far do you think you could extend this idea outside the boundaries of interactive fiction? Graphical RPGs are a close sibling to IF… could you re-order the actions of NPCs to give an impression of intelligence and randomness, when in fact it’s all been scripted from the start?

  6. Steven Davis Says:

    Fascinating. I look forward to hearing more. It would be interesting to see how these ideas can be extended to “multi-reader/player” generative narration.

  7. Jill Says:

    Congratulations, Dr. Montfort!!! Very impressive posting the blog-adapted version the very same day. Looks great :)

  8. scott Says:

    So did you pass?

    Congratulations, if so.

    Nice slides, either way.

    Dr. Montfort

  9. nick Says:

    Yes, I did pass, Soctt – I will revise a bit and file the document, and will completely finish up soon.

    Chris, the system I’ve developed is purely text-based, but the principles it is based on are all independent of medium, and certainly apply to graphical RPGs. Of course, the proof of this will be in applying them to a graphical system, but there is no fundamental reason the ideas shouldn’t work.

    Thanks to all for the comments!

  10. noah Says:

    Many congratulations!

    I’m looking forward to reading the full dissertation!

  11. dglen Says:

    Congratulations, Nick. I am truly impressed by your accomplishments, and look forward avidly to more.

  12. dr. b. Says:

    LEVEL UP!!

    Congrats Dr. Montfort!

  13. PlayNoEvil Game Security, Game Cheating, Gold Farming and RMT News & Analysis Says:

    NOTED WITH INTEREST: Nick Montfort defends his Dissertation

    (Courtesy of Ian Bogost at Water Cooler Games) Nick Montfort has defended his dissertation on Interactive Fiction. It is well worth reading for those interested in interactive fiction as well as game design.

  14. Jesper Juul Says:

    Congratulations Nick!

    PS. Can we play the game?

  15. Jason R. Says:

    Congratulations Nick!

  16. laurie taylor Says:

    Congratulations Nick! I can’t wait to read more!

  17. Fox Harrell Says:

    Congratulations, I am really happy to hear this news. It sounds *extremely* interesting.

  18. andrew Says:

    Very cool! Congrats, and I too look forward to reading the dissertation when it’s ready!

    I like your use of Matt Madden’s comics.

  19. Robb Sherwin Says:

    Hey, congratulations, Nick!

  20. Nicolas Höning Says:

    Very nice.
    I’m looking forward to a public release (which, I can imagine, is a lot of work).

  21. Matt K. Says:

    Congratulations, Nick. Once they actually confer your doctorate you’ll be able to jump into hyperspace at will.

  22. Rubes Says:

    Awesome, congratulations! It would be great to see full-size versions of the slides as well. Very enjoyable.

  23. Mike Rozak Says:

    I just skimmed your defense, so you may have already mentioned this:

    The narrator needs to (a) known what the player knows, and (b) know what the player needs to know (and when).

    A simple implimentation already exists in IF where a long description is provided for an object the first time it’s seen, and then only a short descriptions later times.

    The concept is more generalizable. For example: The 1st year of the TV show, Heroes, is about stopping a huge explosion from happening in NYC. The viewers need to know this fact fairly early on in the narration since it glues the whole series together.

    In terms of IF, the narrator would know that initially the player doesn’t know about impending explosion. If they don’t happen to talk to the fortune teller right away and hear about the impending doom, then maybe another NPC would mention it as part of a conversation (hearing it from the fortune teller). If the player had talked to the fortuneteller, then for the sake of brevity, the second NPC would never bother to mention the info.

    Of course, this goes a bit beyond what your definition of narrator seems to be… more of a director role since it affects the world model.

    This can be extended further into more director-like behavior, ensuring that certain activities happen in a certain order… but that’s a different discussion not entirely related to a narration module.


  24. breslin Says:

    “And after all these years?”

    This is not a well-earned doctorate. I would have rejected this defense. I would have rejected it with the enthusiasm that would rightly accompany an acceptance of Mateas’ thesis. The extreme to which Mateas earned his Ph.D. is the degree to which Montfort did not earn his degree. It was given, that’s all.

    First of all, there’s a difference between a powerpoint presentation and a thesis. This is a powerpoint presentation. As we all know, the major work in a thesis of this kind is not in the presentation itself but the work which the presentation describes. If Mateas’ thesis is 200 pages, his efforts documented therein easily amount to ten times that. In other words, a thesis of this sort is supposed to be a critical summary of a great work. Not a fluff-job on a minor work.

    == the intro ==

    You would not be well advised to spend 1/4 of your time re-explaining the pedestrian conception of signifier and signified.

    Cartoons to make the point. An intellectual analysis of “Heathcliff” would be more rewarding than a pseudo-intellectual analysis of a quasi-intellectual cartoon. This is all very transparent.

    You really don’t understand Genette *at all*. Soundbyting a philosopher is like tasting uncooked ingredients, before the meal is prepared by a great chef. Genette’s work is proto-deconstructionist, in the sense that it proves the difference between visiting a moment in the argument and asserting a proposition. If you *must* reduce Genette — and it is criminal to do so — you would be better with the formula: x=x; y=y; x~=y; y=x; x!=y; y!~=x; therefore think.

    No, Genette’s work is not this schematic-clownlike presentation you find convenient for the sake of your argument. (You should have studied him in one of the philosophy classes they have at Penn. It’s actually one of the best departments in the country for European philosophy.) Many good dissertations have been written on this. I suggest you read one or two. I think Genette is only present in this work because — if you can make it sound like he said it, it won’t sound so inane when you say it.


    I can’t believe you dedicated a section to your “hopes and dreams” for the genre. “Oh gosh I imagine someday, for IF.” — Are you really this gormless?


    Ok, now *more than halfway through*, FINALLY finished with the fluff, and on to the actual ideas.

    Your description of modern IF architecture is a disgraceful joke. Really: there’s a parser and a world model (within which a game file)?! I just cannot *believe* how dumb a view you’re happily adopting. That’s like saying “ok, take a Playstation, there’s a controller and a TV. Oh, and the console is attached.”

    The one idea that’s worthwhile here is also entirely derivative. Emily Short’s already done it. I’ve already done it. Anybody working in the field of automation-report has already done it. Even the main Tads-3 library already does it to a degree. That one idea is report grouping. BTDT. (Been There, Done That)

    A doctoral thesis is supposed to contain *new* ideas. So let’s press on, hoping to find a one.


    two-thirds done, and a conceivably-useful idea. Different ways of ordering a story, both chronologically and conceptually.

    A very sketchy claim: “The Narrator has to rearrange events when they are to be told in a non-chronological order.”

    You haven’t identified a need for a narrator to rearrange events, but only a desire for events to be told non-chronologically. This is abysmally sloppy thinking.

    Automatically re-ordering narrative events under one of a few structures — this is a conceptually-simple algorithm, right?

    There’s a bit of meat here, but scant little.


    varying level of detail in report. I was writing about this like 4 years ago. Nice job, ace.


    If this were the doctoral thesis of a nobody-dumbass, I wouldn’t mind. But this is billed as cutting-edge theory in IF. Which is just awful.


    (due to grade inflation)

  25. nick Says:

    Thanks for the congratulations! I apologize about the tiny slides; I was trying to put together something that would read sort of like a blog post, even if a long one. I will be posting more about this work on Grand Text Auto and will try to make the material from this talk available in more detail and more legibly.

  26. matthew j roberts Says:

    congrats nick… it’s great that this work is happening at penn…

  27. William Patrick Wend Says:

    Congrats Nick!

  28. david myers Says:

    This is very interesting to see. I’m a fairly casual follower of the formalization of IF theory, but I do
    think that it is important that some people are making such attempts. Given your literary background
    and given the goals of the thesis in the first place, I think breslin’s critique misses the point. Still
    I am not willing to say he is all wrong about everything. I think IF has struggled for some time to realize
    the abilities of what modernization of its architecture could do for its possibilities. Anyone who has
    been around IF for a while understands this. What disappoints me about the presentation is that I *still*
    do not have a clear picture of what nn changes about that equation. I am happy to wait for the 200 page
    version to make a better statement about whether there are really new ideas/tools in there, though.

    It seems obvious enough that there is a ripe area in revising how IF handles narration. It’s extremely
    important that NPC handling be tied intimately to whatever narrative scheme emerges. I’m missing whatever
    nuance might exist in the dissertation itself when it comes to your take on this. It’s so key, so I hope
    you’ll comment. I think it’s just poor if you don’t at least publicly make some attempt to rebut breslin,
    regardless of how challenging that might be. So please fill us in a little more, and if possible, post a
    link the pdf of the final dissertation so that there can be a better discussion.

    Thanks for what you are trying to do.

  29. noah Says:

    David, I have to disagree with your suggestion that Nick respond to breslin. That would just be feeding a troll. Surely we all know that breslin hasn’t read Nick’s dissertation, because the dissertation isn’t yet available. We also know that the talk at a defense merely scratches the surface of a dissertation — and breslin didn’t hear the talk either. If breslin decided to attack Nick based on the slides of a talk he didn’t attend, about a dissertation he hasn’t read, then it’s simply troll behavior, not an honest intellectual disagreement.

  30. breslin Says:

    With all due respect to the view that I am merely interested in exciting aggression and not engaged in intellectual debate (however minimal the respect which is due to this view may be), I was certainly not attacking Nick personally (however personally disappointed I am in his work) nor am I pretending to be yet qualified to discuss ‘nn’ itself (however unimpressive his thesis suggests this system to be). I will of course read further work as it emerges, and I’ll address that then. I will continue to address in the present what is available in the present.

    The main point was simply that this work really doesn’t show a lot of promise. The course of the argument strongly suggests that the underlying project is badly thought out, which further suggests that it’s not terribly interesting on a coding level either. Altogether, that’s pretty depressing.

    I should probably apologize for writing as though I’m scandalized by all this. But I really am mad about it. I guess I don’t know why I should be. Some ethic thing I guess, about how a person (especially one who has the power and indeed the faculties to change things) is supposed to do a good job and not be a nincompoop. So no I won’t apologize for scolding; it’s an honest reaction and I do think it’s the right thing to do.

    I will, however, apologize in the formal sense: I apologize if I offended anybody; I do not mean to be offensive. etc.

  31. reqfd.net / uh, three links from June Says:

    […] ;
    college canary in coal mine: Tenured Radical on the close of Antioch College a dissertation defense posted online poetry in motion: the composition process on re […]

  32. nick Says:

    Sorry I haven’t had time to visit GTxA recently; I probably won’t be able to again for a few days.

    David, I posted my slides to inform people about my work and to allow discussion, so I’m glad to answer any serious questions about them. I’m not sure what you mean by “NPC handling,” but my work on this project focuses on the level of narrating, on narrators rather than characters. I haven’t really tried to improve what characters do or what things that happen in the world, just how those things are told. There is certainly a connection between what you need in order to narrate from a certain perspective and what you need to determine how a character should act. I discuss this some in the document, but didn’t cover it in any detail in the presentation.

    My full dissertation will be available for free from UMI as soon as they process and post it; when I get the chance, I’ll also post a PDF myself.

  33. breslin Says:

    Normally there’s at least an attempt at a projected release date for the underlying program. Is there anything like this for ‘nn’? Does ‘nn’ really exist programmatically (if so, how much?), or is this just a conceptual thing at this point? (Personally I think it’s a complete scam, and if it’s not, it’s something that wouldn’t take a week to code.)

    > I posted my slides to inform people about my work and to allow discussion, so I’m glad to answer any serious questions
    > about them.

    Your post is not only slides; it’s a representation of your argument. And either you represented your dissertation very badly (i.e., it’s good but you make it sound dumb), or you represent it reasonably well (and it is in fact impressive).

    You say you’re interested “to answer any serious questions.” Does this include the problem of your misappropriation (or, charitably, naive simplification) of your principle (sole?) theoretical source; the problem that report grouping (by report-class, and by detail) is nothing new; that your theorization of chronological rearrangement implies that it’s necessary to automate chronological narrative, but you haven’t identified a need for an automated narrator to rearrange event-report, but only a desire for events to be told non-chronologically?

    But you know as well as anyone what the serious questions/problems are. Hell, you or I or Short or Eve or Roberts or Nelson or Plotkin or Nyman or Jerz or Thornton (or a lot of other people) could have put this or a better thesis together in a couple solid weeks’ work. There’s no work here to justify a doctorate, or if there is, you really haven’t let on. You must know that you’re considered the guy who believes that we’re making progress when we translate well-known ideas into Greek. The last time your work was discussed on RAIF, it was generally concluded that your hypotheses are untestable and your theories ungrounded.

    If you don’t recognize a problem, there’s no hope. You’ll applaud yourself when arising from the toilet. “Thanks for the congratulations!” indeed.

  34. Chris Lewis Says:

    >you haven’t identified a need for an automated narrator to rearrange event-report, but only a desire for events >to be told non-chronologically?

    I’m not going to purport myself to be well-versed in narrative theory, but are you saying that you can’t find a need for events to be told non-chronologically as well, or just that Nick hasn’t made one? I can think of plenty of ways this can be used in video game AI, such as the one I mentioned almost at the top of this thread.

  35. noah Says:

    breslin, you’ve shown on the Indigo Prophesy thread that you’re capable of non-troll discourse. However, I think it would be inappropriate to engage with you on this thread given the tone and approach you’ve exhibited.

    But I will offer this one thought. If you have a friend you trust, who you think communicates well, maybe you could show them what you’ve been posting on this thread and ask for their opinion as to whether it’s appropriate?

  36. breslin Says:

    I could say…

    noah, you’ve shown on the Indigo Prophesy thread that you’re capable of having a discussion wherein you don’t shriek “troll.”

    … but that would be an equivalently trollish approach, and I think it’s just a matter of us not being properly acquainted.

    Anyway, yes I’m sure Nick is the Golden Child and everything… but I did make the list of questions pretty clear. If greater clarity serves the cause:

    1) misappropriation (or, charitably, naive simplification) of the principle theoretical source

    2) the problem that report grouping (by report-class, and by detail) is nothing new

    3) theorization of chronological rearrangement implies that it’s necessary to automate chronological narrative, but Nick hasn’t identified a need for an automated narrator to rearrange event-report, but only a desire for events to be told non-chronologically

    and of course 4) the existence and interest of ‘nn’.

  37. breslin Says:

    Chris Lewis writes:

    > are you saying that you can’t find a need for events to be told non-chronologically[?]

    No, quite the contrary. Obviously it’s sometimes good to tell events non-chronologically. (The obviousness of the value of a-/multi-chronology threatens the pretended usefulness of this claim, when the claim is made in a doctoral work. Simplifying Genette’s very sophisticated treatment of the subject — this does not make the point less inane.)

    So, yes of course it’s sometimes good to tell events non-chronologically. Does this imply that chronology should be handled by an automatic narrator? No. Is it possible that automatic handling of mixed-chronology is a good idea? Yes, it’s possible. But Nick’s argument falls well short of this question.

    The overriding reason for non-chronology is the same as the reason for multi-threaded story; multi-chronological and multi-threaded are structurally the same on a high level. Nick hasn’t recognized this; he hasn’t thought this through.

    This thesis smacks of something thrown together at the last minute. — Which really really surprises me. I expected something much more.

  38. Ricardo Malafaia Says:

    breslin, don’t be so harsh.

    From what I understood from this presentation, Mr. Montfort claims in his doctorate thesis to have a system for producing variation of narrative of several kinds, including by order and focalization:
    “nn can produce narrative variation in all of these categories”

    I’ll take it such system does exist and is verifiable for him to get his doctorate. I have no reason to think otherwise for now, specially from such a celebrated author.

    Such a system is good for the advancement of IF as both a narrative and more interactive medium. And, AFAIK, there’s nothing like that out there, or at least that doesn’t involve writting some several thousand lines of custom hackish efforts by the author.

    He’s talking about dynamic variation of narrative and you reply with report grouping. These are clearly not the same thing.

    I am eager to see it in action and to read more of the theory behind.

  39. david myers Says:

    well, now this thread is really getting somewher… oh… maybe only a little.


    Nick- As for what I am talking about with NPC behavior, I guess I assume that
    your god-narrator has some idea how to pull the marionette strings all over the
    game. That includes what transitional (traditionally narrated) text the player
    gets exposed to, and it also includes whatever plot-forcing-forward text the
    player gets exposed to by way of interactions with NPCs. Sorry my original question
    sounded vague. So what I am asking is whether nn specifically or non-specifically
    attempts to address this.

    To me, what’s at stake with narration-automation is that at some level there’s
    the author, who either explicitly or implicitly holds the narrative arc in
    their hands… and so with a tool/engine for automation of some of that, your
    god-narrator can presumably do a lot of fancy things at a broader level. I was
    asking whether nn specifically anticipates the need to treat NPC-related narrative
    bits any differently than anything else in the game.

    So your comment that your work focuses on narrators and not characters sort of
    tells me that philosophically, you’d rather let NPCs be automatons of another sort
    rather than ones that get to interact with the plot/narrative engine. Ok. That’s a
    really big philosophical choice, to me, at least. Is that where you stand on this?
    To me it is a little too limiting to say that the voice of the top-narrator only
    gets voiced as a voiceover, that’s all.

  40. breslin Says:

    Ricardo Malafaia writes: “He’s talking about dynamic variation of narrative and you reply with report grouping. These are clearly not the same thing.”

    My point exactly. :)

  41. Grand Text Auto » “Narrative Variation in IF” Dissertation Online Says:

    […] tion, Generating Narrative Variation in Interactive Fiction,” is now online. If my slides and defense summary interested you, you can check out this long form writeup […]

  42. nick Says:

    David, sorry I have been so long in getting back to you. You’re right that once the simulation and narration are split, there a new question: Does the narrator have authority over the simulation, or does the simulator (or the characters within the simulation) control the narration, or what? nn can allow either arrangement. In my demo Lost One, things that happen in the world (because of the player’s choices) change the way events are narrated.

    While nn is flexible enough to allow either side to influence the other, it doesn’t provide any sort of pre-made solution for how this should happen. Characters can interact with the underlying world and with the narration and drive it in a bottom-up way, or a drama manager could take care of everything, or some other scheme could be used. In any case, a system would have to be implemented to make this happen, so aditional work will have to be done. My hope is that for many types of systems, splitting the narration and the simulation will be very useful to creating new narrative effects.

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