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True interactive storytelling

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I've been thinking about the ways that stories are implemented in games. Video and Computer games are often described as being "interactive entertainment". This is definetly true for the gameplay portion, but what about the story? Story is handled in most games through cutscenes. Story has become a goal in most games rather than something that is interacted with. It used to be that the goal of video games was to get the most points, but now it is about getting from plot point to plot point. Instead of being rewarded with points, now the player is rewarded with more pieces of the story. So what would be a true interactive story? The closest we have gotton to this goal is to have games with multiple endings. However, cutscenes still need to be triggered by doing specific actions. Playing a game nowadays with a story is like watching a movie, and playing a game in between each scene of the movie. The player never feels that they are truly part of the story. My idea for an interactive story would be a story that happens regardless of whether the player has done anything or not. The story would take place over a certain amount of time leading up to a single event. At any point during the story, the player can act in ways that will affect this timeline. But, if the player does nothing, the timeline will continue. The player has complete freedom and can do whatever they want. If they are asked to save the world they can simply say no or if someone important is talking to them they can simply leave the room. There would be no cutscenes, and the player can do anything available to them in their environment. Has this concept already been done before? If so, what game has done it. Sorry if I haven't explained my idea that clearly.

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The problem is that such a game would require an immense level of interactivity.

Take your "If asked to save the world, they can simply say no." What if The King of the Realm asks me to go and save the world, and I want to respond, "I'll do it if you let me sleep with your attractive daughter." Firstly, the game would have to let me say that (and unless my speech is purely text-based, it'd need to synthesise the sound of that sentence). Then, the game AI would have to understand what that response means, and would have to be able to elicit an appropriate response from The King. Then, assuming I do manage to save the world successfully, the game has to tell the story of my night of passion with the nubile yet innocent Princess Jennifer...

I don't think we'll ever have truely interactive stories because to allow that level of interactivity would require a Matrix-level simulation. And that's the benchmark - a truly interactive story is one where the player doesn't know that they're following some predetermined path.

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What you need to implement to create a truly interactive story is where the game can produce, all on it's own, the who, what, and why of the world being threatened (or whatever). A truly interactive story would have to be able to create and alter a plot, characters, and motivations depending on whatever the player does.

This has been discussed a lot.

How to do this is the question. It's easy enough to make a NPC character say, "Will you help me?" and then give the player different options. "Yes," "No," or "Give me some cash, first." You can then script out different responses and ultimately different changes to the story.

But a "story" needs to be a coherent whole. It has to have a story arc, a protagonist and an antagonist, conflict, resolution, hopefully a few surprises, etc. etc.

Letting a player interact with the environment and do whatever he wants can be fun, but it doesn't tell a story.

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In the past discussion a few problems arise with this idea

1)NPC, probably the hardest to deal with, in a game its pointless to be able to do whatever you want if the CPU character cant react to it in an intelligible manner. EX If a village is half destroyed will the surviving NPC realize this and act accordingly, if not this will ruin the game play pretty fast. Sound simple but getting a AI to do this dynamically isn’t.

2)Trying to dynamically write a story or even minor continuity will pose a problem. You want to be able to do whatever you want but if you cant have some way of dynamically maintaining continuity all you left with is going from one town to the next doing insignificant errands.

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Trust me, I know the diffucultys this will present on the technical side. I mean, I find it daunting to make formations in galaga[grin].

There of course would have to be limitations on how much can be done. The actions the player could take would be limited to the abilities layed out in the controls by default and by that avalable in the environment. I agree that too high a level of interactivity would require an uber matrix computer as superpig pointed out.

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There was a thread about non-linear storytelling last month that you should probably look at.
As I mentioned in this earlier thread, my game project _Xenallure_ has a tapestry-like plot structure somewhat like you describe, with a set beginning and climax but different paths you can take to get from point A to point B. It's not completely freeform because we consider a good dramatically satisfying story to be more important than player freedom, but there's a lot of room to persue different goals. Here's the description of how our plot as driven by character interaction works. I realize it's not that coherent, I would appreciate hearing people's questions about anything that's unclear because I'm trying to revise these paragraphs to get them as clear as possible before I put them in our design doc.

Quote:

From an external perspective, _Xenallure_ has are two sets of plot goals that the player can choose to persue during the game: romantic goals of courting any of the major NPCs, and political goals of trying to go home, trying to go native as one of the 3 races, and trying to stay human and build up the human settlement. We use interior monologue choices to ask the player which of these goals he/she wants to persue, and then further develop the ones chosen to establish a narratorial focus for the game that has been customized to the player´s interest.

From a more internal perspective, Xenallure´s plot and dialogue are driven by a hybrid of a plot tree structure and an automated sim-like structure with gauges (specifically, a passion gauge and a friendship gauge). In order to create a truly interactive plot structure which is driven by the PC´s relationships with the ´gettable´ characters I had to walk a fine line, avoiding the "tree of death" problem on one hand and the "souless, dramatically unsatisfying sim-world" problem on the other hand. And I believe I have come up with a successful solution! :)

There are two types of characters - regular NPCs, which are simplistic people-furniture like those in an RPG, and Romanceable NPCs who are the deeply developed ´gettable´ characters of the game. There will be approximately 9 of these. Only the PC´s relationships with these RNPCs have any effect on the plot - the regular NPCs´ behavior is all deterministic + some randomzation. But not the RNPCs! Each of them has their own subplot (this is the plot tree part), and these subplots weave together to form the overall story of the game.

So where do the gauges come in? Each RNPC has one issue that causes them problems, and the player´s main interaction with the each RNPC is to affect (mainly through dialogue choices) the RNPC´s attitude toward that issue. For example, one character´s issue is whether to idealistically see only the good in everything, or whether to realistically see all the ambiguous shades of gray. Another character´s issue is whether to respond to his prejudices´ being challenged by becoming more open minded and feeling guilty over his past behavior or reaffirming and violently defending his correctness and superiority.

So each RNPC has a unique issue that they have an ambivalent, dynamic attitude toward, and the player´s choices push their attitude toward one of two resolutions, and these resolutions determine the ending of that RNPC´s subplot. It´s not that linear and simple though, because the RNPCs affect each other. If you win the minor villan´s heart, he might break his alliance with the major villain because sie is threatening you. If you ally with the major villain then one of the previous good guys becmes the new major villain. Some of the characters get jealous, while others don´t. Two RNPCs may become a couple if you don´t try to court either of them. Characters may be biased towards or against you as your racial and political alliances change, or because of your relationship with them in previous plays through the game.


[Edited by - sunandshadow on February 7, 2005 8:49:53 PM]

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Cutscenes were recently changed and made interactive by Capcom in Resident Evil 4. I must admit it was a cool idea but it is unforgiving. You die if you mess up on a cut scene, but sometimes its fun to mess up on purpose to watch the cutscene of your death.

Very interactive storyline is Half Life 2. There are no cutscenes and you basically can choose to follow or not follow the storyline.

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What sunandshadow is working on sounds interesting. I looked through the previous thread and found a very good quote from kaze that gives a good explanation of what I would hope to accomplish:

Quote:
all the truley non-liner game i have played feel like im just doing random errans for people for no reason other than a few gp. I would be a intersting game if you had a decent storyline but could feel like you were actually in control of it
I have played a few story games that give you options but there are usally only a few branch points or all the option have the same end result, this is probably becouse as you already stated it would requre exponentially more work


Resident Evil's interactive cutscenes are not unique. This concept was first explored in Shenmue. In Shenmue, this was called ATB.

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Quote:
Original post by Stompy9999
Has this concept already been done before? If so, what game has done it.


The short answer is "no."

I think there are a few reasons for this. . .

1) This model places perhaps a little too much stress on the player to be in the right place at the right time if he actually does want to save the world. Someone who wants to be a hero would not be allowed to stop and smell the roses, tinker around, explore the game world, lest the game's story leave him abandoned at the train station. Rather than allow the player to do whatever he wanted, the player would be stuck in a Sims clone.

2) The kind of work and technology required to alleviate the above problem far exceeds the amount posessed by today's gaming market. If the world were truly interesting enough for the player to say "Nah, the world can go screw itself!" and still have some meaningful gameplay thereafter, the developers and designers would have to have spent horrendous amounts of hours scripting and world-building. It'd be more effort than it's worth.

3) Many people like to have clear and obtainable goals. Some people even like to be spoon-fed story (ie: "Final Fantasy X" which is more like a movie where you have to repeatedly push the "play" button to keep watching). There comes a point where the "freedoms" awarded to a player turn into holes in the gameplay where nothing interesting really happens.


Now I'm the kind of person who hates to bring up nothing but negative feedback. So, here are my thoughts on solutions. . .

It seems to be a big theme on this forum: Using the phrase "truly interactive." Sometimes, we forget that the fact that if the player's pressing buttons affects the game, it is, by definition, interactive. (Even if the interaction bears no ultimate relevance to the game's story.) But I understand and agree with the overwhelming urge to have more freedoms in a game world. Because if we wanted to watch an effing movie, we'd watch an effing movie.

You don't need to script every imaginable possibility into the game in order for the interactivity to work. I've said this before in this thread as well as on other game design forums: You need only provide decent context for the limitations you do impose upon the player and from there, the player will agree with and feel comfortable with the restraints placed on him/her.

One good example is found in "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" where, if your feet are wet, you cannot do the cute little ninja-run up the walls because you don't have the traction necessary to climb them. This was a sound way of letting the player know that there were limitations on what walls he could and could not climb with the little wall-run ability.

It shouldn't be too hard to, in the game's story line, world, culture, and delivery to give players a clear and appreciable focus such that they will truly interact with the story -- but upon the terms that you can reasonably quantify and calculate for.

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A game which I liked immensly was a game called Breakdown. It was made by Namco I believe. The game always was played in first person, meaning it didn't even go third person during cutscenes. In fact, the player could move around during cutscenes. It gave players the sense that they had more freedom.

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