Moving From Games to Interactive Storytelling AGDC08 – The Narrative Design Exploratorium™

Moving From Games to Interactive Storytelling AGDC08

Chris Crawford AGDC08At this point Chris Crawford is a legend, since his beginnings as a game designer for Atari in the 1970’s he has been a proponent of dramatic games, ones which push the boundaries of the the medium to new heights.  In this 2008 Austin Game Developers Conference (AGDC) Session, Crawford focused on the creation of a new medium, one which focuses on interactive storytelling.  As creator of the Game Developers Conference (GDC) he was one of the first to speak at this years conference, over 20 years since he held the first GDC in his living room.

Apparently Chris’s first proposal for this talk “14 Conceptual Shifts…” was turned down, and most recently he was asked to speak and rewrote the talk to be “15 Conceptual Shifts“‘ When asked why he was turned down he quickly replied, “Because I’m an asshole.” Apparently Chris does not care for games, and as a result has made some sworn enemies. He seeks divergence from the game industry as interactive storytelling is to create a new form of entertainment; one beyond useless interactivity not driven by compelling human drama.  Storytron, Inc. is in fact his venture into creating this new industry. His company’s website proudly displays the copy “Play a Storyworld“.

He was/is a big shot, 14 hits, wrote the first book and journal on Game Design, about 16 years ago he walked away from it during the creation of the game Wing Commander.  He saw the industry falling down a dark path, away form drama and towards toys, puzzles, things which are antithetical to the dramatic potential for interactive storytelling.  Games are supposed to be about people, there is no real feelings, emotion and people. It’s taken him 16 years.

15 shifts for the interactive storyteller

1. People not things

the focus of interactive storytelling is on human relationships, the game industry as a whole
doesn’t understand this.  Human social experiences are the important
thing to worry about.

2. The primacy of interactivity

primacy of interactivity is fundamentally accepted by the games
industry, but not writers. “Interactivity is the sine qua non of
software.”  Without interactivity you ain’t got nothing.

3. Screw Graphics
has primacy.  Graphics exist solely to support the interactive activity.
What graphics do you need for storytelling.  Novels don’t need graphics,
storytelling does not require graphics, “in fact screw graphics.” 
Anything that is not central to this task get’s in your way”

4. Ditch plot
Stories have plot, storytelling is not the same as stories.  Story is data, storytelling is process. Allow players to interact with process not data; “You can’t put plot in interactive storytelling.”

5. What does the user DO?
yourself this fundamental question, not what they see, what they feel,
it’ about doing things. “Act”, interactivity.

6. What are the verbs
Make a list of verbs to
describe your software, this is what is fundamentally important about
the system.

7. Linguistic User Interface – LUI
3 Classic systems 1) command line interface: 20 verbs 2) GUI: 100 verbs 3) LUI: >1000 verbs.
There are two forms of software, 1) Civilian software, less that 100 verbs, and, 2) pro-software, more than 100 verbs. A “Little Golden Book” has 122
unique verbs. We need to be able to speak to our computers, just like
in Star Trek.

8. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
Can’t do
natural language, Sapir-Whorf: language mirrors reality, if you want
language to fit inside a computer you need to put reality inside a
computer. Stories have toy realities, ergo us a toy language. That
world is a toy universe, a toy reality, use a toy language, therein
limiting yourself.

9. Language = Reality
Don’t design
reality, then fit language; don’t design them together, as one entity.
You want the language and the reality to be the same thing. Design them
as one entity. This requires a powerful auditing system.

10. Inverse Parser
analyzes sentences, user must conform to parser, Invert the process and
the user rules. Parser puzzle problem, has plagued us since the
beginning of adventure games,Chris’s solution is an inverse parser.
What words are acceptable at this point in the input process?
Syntactical context dramatically narrows the range of words that are
possible. If you do syntactical parsing in advance you can limit the
verbs offered to the player. Dramatic context also narrows the range of
opportunities, so the list of verbs in narrowed to the user. Verbs must
be reusable, iterative, and incremental.

11. Ditch Space
are obsessed with the spatial (3D). Why do we need space in drama?  Hamlet
would never say “To turn left or to turn right, that is the question”
Characters are about social cognition not spatial cognition.

12. Programmers are not storytellers!

Ergo, storytellers must “program”. Doing a professional story requires a professional storyteller.

13. Algorithms Animate!
is about what people do. They make choices, those decisions are driven
by algorithms. Choices are context-dependent, express that
context-dependence with algorithms. “The ugliness of a truth has no
barring on it’s truth value”. They story algorithms must be designed by
the storytellers. 

14.  A programming Language for Storytellers

Sappho, Color-coded, No acronyms, Syntax errors are impossible.

15. Kinder, Gentler Math
Numbers, special arithmetic for storytellers. All numbers fall between
-1 and +1.  A special math for storytelling and storytellers must be
created. Storytrons simple math system is based in their proprietary
tool Story World Authoring Tool (SWAT)

Chris Crawford AGDC08Laura J. Mixon, an
engineer and professional science fiction writer, whom shares Chris’s
vision for interactive storytelling also shared the stage. Believing in
Chris’s theory he hired her to test his system in 1997. They are not
satisfied with story which is added onto a game, their focus is drama.
She believes verbs must be sourced from atomized plot.

discussed the Implications of the Interactive Storytworld. Interactive
Storytelling will be structured as spirals, they will be incremental,
and iterative. Players need to genuinely care about characters, or
Non-players Actors (NPA), must have thier own goals. Player must sense,
increasing tension and building stakes, and a resolution at the end.
Theme emerges from events, inextricably linked to characters and
events. Theme is as important to interactive storytelling success as it
is to a traditional story. “Stories help us remember what it is to be
human, the help us find faith in humanity and the future. They give us
the courage to stand up for what we believe in.” The challenge for
interactive storytelling is to bring this to the interactive medium.

The interactive Storytelling Revolution
We must learn from lessons from the past. Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones
was arguably the first novel, and it was a major conceptual
break-through, creating a whole new industry. The second transition was
D.W. Griffiths The Birth of a Nation, the first film to break
from stage craft and to bring the audience into the dramatic action
rather than keeping them behind the fourth wall so commonly associated with the stage. Now we are at the breaking point for a new form or

“How many times in your life will you be able to get in on the ground floor of creating a new art form?” -Laura J. Mixon

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This page contains a single article by Stephen E. Dinehart published on September 15, 2008 10:30 AM.

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