Tuesday, March 15, 2005

GDC 2005: Why Aren't We Doing Interactive Stories?

Why isn’t the Industry making interactive stories?
Panel With Michael Mateas, Tim Schafer, Warren Spector and Neil Young

This panel wasn’t nearly as incendiary as a few of the other panels through the week. Overall it lacked cohesiveness and didn’t really get at a solution to the problem. There were, however a few interesting gems hidden throughout.

Warren pointed that games have yet to resolve the deep conflict between a game’s need for a victory condition and a story’s need for an emotional or compelling narrative end. The only stories where these two come together are the typical game fantasy stories that we have always done. I thought this was a interesting way of stating why you don’t see many romantic comedies or deep tragedies in games.

Tim mentioned that one approach is not to try to force the game to follow a big story, but to take that big story, shatter it, then shove the pieces into the gameplay where it will fit.

He also said that you can't expect game publishers to take the risk of interactive narrative. It isn’t there job, it is his. The difference is that he doesn’t have to tell them about it. The panel seemed to agree that at big companies, the Trojan horse method is the best for innovation.


At 8:52 PM, Blogger Seg said...

Funny, interactive story telling is exactly what I'm doing.

My game development started with the script it self on a PHP website. Hell, the one puzzle isn't fully completed at this point and I have a month to go!

I think Mr. Schafer is correct in putting narrative as a hidden aspect to a publisher. Last I checked, the publisher's only real concern is to sell product, not care about the art involved.

At 12:13 AM, Blogger Foopy said...

What's "a typical game fantasy story"?

I have to admit that I'm a little surprised by the title of the panel--I was under the impression that the industry *is* doing interactive stories; in fact, Warren Spector's own Deus Ex happens to be one of my favorites.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger OrangeDeca said...

I consider a typical fantasy game story a the kind of narrative you see in a summer blockbuster. One man must save the world by blowing a lot of shit up. That kind of thing.

The panel seemed to concentrate less on why we arent doing more interactive stories, and talked more about what is lacking from current stories. The concensus was that modern games dont have the kind emotional resonance that stories in other media have.

And yes, Deus Ex is an great example, although it is rare to see games like that. Too bad, eh?

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Foopy said...

Ah, I understand.

Did anyone in the panel ever mention interactive fiction? As in, the recent text and parser-based work that the online community has been doing? Some of the stuff out there is amazing, featuring multi-linear stories that have lots of emotional resonance--Adam Cadre's Photopia and Emily Short's Galatea are a few that come to mind.

I heard a few years ago that Warren Spector actually hired someone from a university in Texas who had done work with such interactive fiction, but I'm not sure if it was just a rumor.

I do hope that developers could somehow take inspiration from the work of the IF community and apply it to commercial games, though, if that's at all possible (I was under the impression that Spector was/is trying to do this); but it's unfortunate that part of what makes IF so successful--the fact that it is largely text-based--is also what makes it entirely unmarketable.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger OrangeDeca said...

Micheal Mateas' work at Georgia Tech, Facade, was the big example used. The big problems I see with IF, and the panel echoed this, is a) the commercial pressures - there is not a lot of evidence that games like this would sell, and b) the difficulty of making games likes this in a wide scale that meet the production values of AAA games. I think there is a way to do it, but it will take a really bold company that does it right and makes alot of money.

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Foopy said...

Wow, I hadn't heard of Facade before, but it looks really awesome.

I agree with you about the complications of applying IF techniques to commercial games, although I do wonder if applying these ideas to non-AAA games might be easier; for instance, perhaps the shareware market could be a good outlet for them?


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