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Stompy9999

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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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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morrowwind is close (and i think better then what you are proposing). However the story wont progress unless you progress it. You wont know what npcs will progress the story (however you can get an idea if you pay attention to what ppl say), nor what quests, nor if an npc is even important. You could even kill a vital npc making it difficult to complete what is considered the last quest. Killing people in the town makes you a wanted criminal if seen in the act. you can steal from who you wish, and if yoru good you wont get caught (yes actual pickpocketing for the rouge class). you can even stea from the shops (though some of the better shops are gaurded and difficult to steal from). You can enter a castle, and go to the armoury and steal whatever was availible. you coudl pick doors that were locked (though some locks are harder then others). A sequal is coming out sometime this year i believe.

The best part was the game allowed interaction with the npcs via multiple choice. So you could get some items without questing (ie if you had the money or perhaps already had the item the npc wants). In some cases you could be hated by the npc (because of affiliation). So you might need to steal the item, or if your a warrior kill the guy and his buddies then take the item.

you should also check out knights of the old republic, it also has a very open ended gameplay.

dont forget that too much interactivity reduces direction and increases workload for possible little gain or a loss in immersion. By raising the players expectations you can ultimitly take the plaer out of the game even when its much more interactive compared to the competition.

Also zelda: majoras mask (i think, the one with time travelling) basically had a time based game where you needed to complete things within a time limit. you coudl chose not to and lose the game because the world was lost/destroyed/becomes a bad place to be. though i suspect this is not what you had in mind.

personally making a timeline for teh story is stupid. the player should be able to play at their leisure. A time constraint can make the game unbeatable if the player is just enjoying teh side quests or exploring the world. You dont want the player to miss the vital parts of the story. A better system is a system that progresses the story when the player does certain quests. Any number of previous quests can affect which quests that the player can complete, and can cause the player to need to finish more quests in between the "important" quests that are teh main storyline. You could create a very complex branching storyline, it just requires time and forthought to ensure that any quests that are availible to the player wont break things (ie only activate quests that make sense considering the quests the player already has completed).

content is the most difficult part.

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Quote:
Has this concept already been done before?

In contrast to what ishpeck said, my short answer is yes.

There are several properties regarding this topic, including:
- degree of player freedom
- responsiveness of the game world
- diversity of outcomes
- diversity of intermediate plot elements

These are spectrums. It is rather meaningless to discuss trying to achieve infinity in any of these properties (i.e. it is meaningless to say, "I want the player to have COMPLETE freedom")

The simplest form of interactive stories are text-based adventure games. If you think about it, the interactiveness actually declined. There were interactive stories in the beginning, with not just multiple endings, but multiple plots and all the rest. It is only due to the increasing emphasis on gameplay that diluted the complexity of the stories.

Furthermore, any strategy games also fall into this kind of formations. In a strategy games, the plot elements are not presented in dialogues and cutscenes, but in events, such as rushing an enemy base, securing a resource, hiding from the enemy to build an expansion, etc.... (And the player has to perform all of these 'acts').

Interactive stories are games of strategy. In this perspective, designing the mechanism for interactive stories is the same as designing the game elements and AI for a strategy game. In general, these are the things that you need to declare:

1) Forces and objectives - In a strategy game, the objective can be simply to destroy the others.
2) Action freedom - pertains to what units can be built, where they can move.
3) Reaction Rules - this is the overall AI of the forces, such as the building order, what kind of troops to use, what to attack, etc...
4) Perceivable Actions - things that the AI will assess and observe in order to make decisions.


Relating these to the design of a story: (an example)
Quote:

Cardinal Prime
This is a multiplot, multi-ending, non-combat, mystery, romantic, interactive game. In this game you plays a jaded professional thief who recently lost the lover. You have been hired to steal an artifact, the Cardinal Prime, from a museum within a week. If the player follows the usual routines of getting prepared, go into the museum, steal it, and turn it in, the default ending is the player being assassinated or that life continues as another day like the day a week ago.

In other words, the time frame is set to be seven days. Within the time frame, the player is invited to make sense out of the situation, by exploring the past, the present, and to make decisions for the future. The player is expected to play the game through multiple game-runs to get a complete interpretation of the story out of many interpretations.

In terms of the 4 elements described above:

1) Forces and objectives
You, your client, your lover. Your given objective is to steal the artifact for your client. However, the story (as well as the ending) will gives hints to you that that is not the actual objective of the game. Your other objectives include finding your lost lover, discovering the identity of your client, the identity of the Cardinal Prime, and your past (there is no amnesia. this is about the one player discovering the past about the PC). Depending on what you have explored and how you interpret the situation, the identity and the objective of your client changes. Your client can range from being the rightful owner of the artifact, to someone taking revenge against you. The objective of your lost lover also changes from helping you to going against you depending on what you do.

2) Action Freedom
This pertains to what you can do within the seven days. The standard actions include: getting equipments, visiting your client, sorting through the stuffs of your dead lover, visit the museum, and to steal the thing. Other options are available as the player declares thoughts, perspectives, and suspicions. Addition actions include: Searching for info about the artifact and the client, sneaking into the client's mansion, visiting your lover's birthplace, visiting an artifact expert, and visiting a weapon dealer.

3) Reaction Rules
This section is large. In general, after you have interacted long enough, the identity and objectives of your client and lover will be set (around day 4). After that they will follow timelines to perform the rest of their deeds. Before that, the events follow a fixed sequence that can be interpreted differently.

4) Perceivable Actions
These are based on the reaction rules. Since I didn't actually show the rules this section is not very meaningful. However, this section includes how when you visit your lover's birthplace she is able to know that you went there. In this game, since the time frame is short, a discrete approach is used to assess the player's perspectives and throughts.

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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.


I had thought of something similar for a little personal project, and sunandshadow's _Xenalure_ does have some interesting elements of its own. ;D

I would have gone on a large jaunt as to how it would be implemented, and what it would involve but Estok seems to have summed it rather nicely, GJ!

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

?? I guess this was ironic :)
HL2 is an example of a game _completely_ linear, where you have no freedom at all (except freedom of movement), everything is scripted, and you can fool these scripts quite easily using some tricks like flying, bunnyhopping and grav-jumping...
even if you are free to move wherever you want, the storyling is completely static and predefined, you can't do anything else but follow it (or die), you can't even kill these damn "friendly" NPCs that get in your legs all the time and sometimes get you killed because they're so dumb that they block you in some corner and you basically can't move...

this is an example of a game as linear as it could be. you have absolutely no choice in the story, it always starts the same, continue the same, and ends the same, as long as you finish the game, no matter how you played...

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here is a small add from me, since i'm on gamedev i was basically saying what estok says, but i'm SO bad in english...

IMPACT CHARACTER
one way to add drama into game and turn it into a dinamic story is impact character. If you don't know what is it, sunandshadow talk about them in a sticky in the writing forum go seek it!
Impact characters set the dramaplay of the game, dramaplay is the stake of the gameplay, depending on the drama, the game would be perceive differently and then wouLd be play differently. The idea is to mesure valence of the player's action according to impact character (estok's forces),you should have many different impact character to map all the problematic area of the game.
To mesure the dramatic tension in the world, you could simply compare the ressource of each impact character in game, then according to this tension set an event that affect the way this tension would evolve to control the pace of the story.

ex: the first time i try it it was a simple scenario, the world was set with two impact character, the empire and the rebel, the player was a rebel and had some influance the game would flow. Actually the system was set that whatever the rebel do, the empire add an overwhelming force that would crush them slowly. Since action had effect, you had an illusion that you actually could have a control other the situation, but things could only get worse, at some point, when the ressource of the rebel was low, we toss an event like that, the daughter of the emperor rebel herself and switch side, this hindering the empire effort. Actually whatever you do, the princess switch because it's in characterisation that she couldn't stay passive while the mount of victims RAISE(thus making a pressure on his behaviour), according to flow of event, you could see came into argulent with his father according to event that happen (base on the ressource of the rebel, of course these ressource is set that they could affect the princess dramatic jauge (care of the weak), for example casuality which is inevitable from the empire acts), and according to the way you play she would have a different behaviour towards you but still accomplishing his goal in a dramatic sense (bas on affinity she may threat you hard being a foolish bringing people to casuality or threar you well because you play wisely).
Each impact character have their gauge on how they evaluate the world, these are these gauge which decide which state the world could be toss.

Key word are events, ressource and impact character.
I could expend the thought, or maybe not because i'm so bad at english, but this theory had me skip two years in a famous gamedesign school while recruitin new student!

SUNANDSHADOW is really close to this.

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Quote:
Original post by Estok
Quote:
Has this concept already been done before?

In contrast to what ishpeck said, my short answer is yes.

There are several properties regarding this topic, including:
- degree of player freedom
- responsiveness of the game world
- diversity of outcomes
- diversity of intermediate plot elements

These are spectrums. It is rather meaningless to discuss trying to achieve infinity in any of these properties (i.e. it is meaningless to say, "I want the player to have COMPLETE freedom") . . .


Very well put.

I whole-heartedly agree that the design must find the spot that he is most comfortable in upon these spectra.

What you said encapsulated something that I was trying to say. I guess I shouldn't talk on the phone, write code, and post on the forum all at the same time, eh?

Some of the things you said about strategy games are prime examples of the solution that I propose: Provide a meaningful context under-which the gameplay can implicitly and adequately convey the game's storyline -- thereby making the story's development seem more interactive.

It's also important to understand that a story must be flexible and lucid enough that, regardless of what the gameplay does, a story (no matter what routes it takes) will develop.

If storyline is going to be a major incentive for designing the game, it should be good. You can't just rip-off Star Wars and call your plotline complete. Properly developing such an element may even be beyond the scope of this forum -- because this is not a story writer's forum, it's a game developer's forum.

One thing that helps make a story feel more alive is making the story driven by characters and their personalities. Rather than say: "I want to have two nations go to war, so let's put a jerkface king in charge of one. . ." Start with the characters and say: "We have two rulers of different nations. One is a quiet, unassuming fellow who struggles to be a just and respected ruler, to be worthy of the title he bears; he constantly struggles with his own megalomania but managed to keep himself in check. The other ruler has survived a grizzly civil war that left him and his nation rather jaded or perhaps even a bit morbid." Then develop the situation from there. By allowing all characters (NPC and player alike) to drive their own goals, it gives the world and story more life, making it feel less linear.

Simply by scripting all the relevant NPC's in the game with coherent personalities and appropriate activities, the virtues and abilities of the game will shine brighter than its limitations.

For an example of good NPC/story interactivity, see . . .

Star Control 2: The Ur Quan Masters (http://sc2.sourceforge.net/)
Ultima 6: The False Prophet (http://www.uo.com/archive/)

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A little something I have been playing with

The system is based around sprites that actually have to do things on their own (cant just teleport between towns, has to walk) and can become “persistent” , that they try to do a task but continue even when they’re off screen. You could order a follower to do a task in another town but rather that just have a 25% chance of success he would have to got to the next town, he could success, fail or just get killed by a random encounter. The idea is so anything you do could dynamically generate one of hundreds of possible outcomes, they would also be more realistic, EX if you killed most of the monster in an area this would make it easier for your guy. But by treating all persistent sprite like the player sprite you could devise a complex plan involving them that wouldn’t break down the second you think of something the programmer didn’t.

You would have most enemies being the non-persistent just attack anything type but you could have a few special ones, EX a monster that attack a village every night, you would be abele to do this without it being 100% pre scripted (how many games have bosses that just sit in a room waiting for you) also if you wanted to pursues it you would actually have to cache up before it got away

Yes, I know having even a few persistent sprites with basic AI+ path finding would be unrealistic in a real game scale but it would be a interesting experiment.
It might work though since off screen without graphics their action would just be pure number crunching and although all NPC sprites could become persistent they would normally be treated the usual game way and do nothing when off screen. They would only become persistent as the result of the action of the player or a already persistent sprite

I doubt this system could handle a storyline but it might be able to have a fairly interactive world with somewhat inteligible npcs and continuity

[Edited by - Kaze on February 9, 2005 12:58:32 AM]

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