The Narrative Design Exploratorium™: Conferences: September 2008 Archives

Conferences: September 2008 Archives

Tom-Abernathy-AGDC08.jpgTom Abernathy gave a stellar talk at the Austin Game
Developers Conference entitled “Galatea 3.0: Designing and Writing the Great
Game Characters of the Future”. His focus was on how the symbiosis between
writing and design can create richer experiences and help play designers
better do their job. His fundamental thesis: Good characters, and subsequently
story, make good design better. It is his belief that a tighter integration of
writing and design will create better experiences for future players.

Story is derived from characters. It emerges from the
internal desires of a character.

When a character acts to achieve an object of
desire, hence externalizing internal desires, those desires come in conflict
with the outer world. It is here in this conflict that story emerges. This is
truly a classical Aristotelian approach, emphasized by Tom’s references to the
Iliad and Casablanca.
It is also very reminiscent of Robert Mckee’s screenwriting techniques, which
too are derived from Aristotle’s Poetics.

Tom took it a step further and suggested that characters not
only make a story, they sell a franchise, creating hot intellectual property
(IP) and marketing hooks. It’s true, and as storytellers we must remind the
pockets and purses that our craft drives sales and deserves development
dollars. It is only through emphasizing the fiscal prudence of investing in
story that we can convince producers and investors that we deserve just as many
dollars as the art or play design pipelines. As too many of us are familiar
with the opposite and clearly see the detriment in product quality, and
subsequent sales, which results from a lack of investment in story development.

Bruce Sterling, legendary science fiction author, was unable to make it as our keynote speaker as scheduled.  He instead sent a graduate student of his from the future to address the conference, or so said an individual representing Bruce on stage, who looked remarkable like the man himself.  At almost 90, with the skin of a ten year old and the hair of a rocker, he was unable to make with his Segway from 2043. The good news is that in 2043 Austin is still weird, because as Bruce, or his representative said “they kept it that way.” According to Mr. Sterling’s representative, computers in 2043 are boring; they are really quite boring, in fact they are quite like towels, paper, and other normal things of mundane human existence. His General Electric Pocket Mediator, apparently a handkerchief, didn’t function as it should, since the cloud isn’t existent in our time, and I’d say the same for most of his aspiration filled techno-jargon.

Bruce’s representative spoke at length, rather poetically, about the incoherence of the future. His performance at first glance seemed to add little to the conference in the way of real substance.  The main hall was empty, and virtually silent, less the lonely laughter of a few forced giggles, as if to say “I get it”. Though I did enjoy his rather slanted take on a GDC keynote, it was a performance, and superficially contained little helpful substance for the world of today’s game makers.  If I were to take anything away, beyond a glimpse into living on the edge of keynote infamy, it would be:

1) Redefine video games for the future.
2) Don’t be a clog in modern video game publishing.
3) Explore other forms of interactive media.

Looking back it was quite refreshing, there were no product pitches, no self-comparisons to Walt Disney, he did not even try to wow the audience. Instead he was honest, humble, and insisted on ‘taking the piss’ out of all us self-righteous gamemakers. He threw off the rules, and that’s exactly what he called upon industry vanguards to do.

Andrew Walsh presented the session posed on the question
‘Are game writers witnessing the death of three act structure?  Mr. Walsh was alive, full of passionate
self-reflexive humor.  His talk was a great postmortem on how layered
interactive storytelling can further game experiences while maintaining their
classical roots.  Clearly defending the form forged by Aristotle, he went on
to explain how he used the form in Prince of Persia and how it lent to creating
a next-generation interactive story experience.

Andrew Walsh AGDC08

In creating his
installment in the Prince of Persia series he had set some clear markers for
successful storytelling:

  • A strong identifiable story.
  • A simple playing experience.
  • A deep
    story world.
  • Allow the player choice and control.
  • Making the characters feel alive.
  • Providing a next generation experience.

What is his conceptual tool?  “Ondemend storytelling”  Just
what is it?  Andrew went on to explain, “Ondemand storytelling is a story design that allows the player to
choose when to access the story and how much of it they want to
experience.”   It is a layer of
interactive depth that is available to the player at the designers discretion
to give the story hungry player additional content.  The Ondemand elements are
not required to forward gameplay, they exist to provide depth to the player, in
that they allow the player to customize their own experiences.  Anyone who has
played Gears of War will be familiar with such systems.  By holding a button (Y)
on a console controller a player can shift focus, shift control, to the game
makers, so they (writers/designers) may direct their focus to story points of

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.

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This page is a archive of articles in the Conferences category from September 2008.

Conferences: April 2008 is the previous archive.

Welcome to the Narrative Design Exploratorium. Please feel free to browse and comment.

Author Stephen E. Dinehart is a producer, designer, writer, and artist. You can find out more about him on his self-titled website.

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