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If gameplay were plot, would there BE story?

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This is another thought experiment for those interested in dynamic plots... Imagine that you and a half-dozen NPCs are trekking through wilderness. You all have been forced together by fate, you all have the same objective, but you all are pursuing it for different, hidden reasons. Different people in the group have different strengths/attitudes/abilities, and you suspect there are some covert alliances. Because you're the only one that can read the ancient runes on the map, you've been designated the leader. Oh, and you have a hint that one of you might be a murderer.
Now imagine that you have a suite of basic plot-related actions. For the sake of brevity (a skill I'm still learning [rolleyes]) I'll suggest a few, but imagine it's 5x as many:
  • Try to ally with / try to drive away a character
  • Accuse / defend a character (let's assume all significant events, like theft or attacks, are logged & useable in dialog)
  • Express disapproval (rumor/undermine) / support for a character
  • Typical actions: Take / drop / attack / sneak / etc.
  • Plot an action with an ally on any of the above

Given these parameters, you might experience a game like this (apologies for the length, have to set this up): -You, Mario, Max, Gordon, Kate, Sam, and Link all stop for camp. Kate and Sam strike up their ongoing conversation on stealth techniques (alliance?); Max intimidates little Mario into getting firewood; you hear Mario cursing under his breath about justice or revenge but can't be sure because of the accent; Gordon starts fiddling with some electrionic contraption; and Link, as usual, goes off to practice with his sword. -You go over to Link and he offers to spar with you; after some helpful skillbuilding exercise, he asks you what you think of that pushy Max character; you decide to confess that you don't like him, and Link suggests (a bit darkly) that somebody ought to do something about him -Back at camp, Max and Gordon have gotten into a fight and Gordon's electronic contraption is in pieces. The fight escalates when Max pulls his guns on Gordon, who is unarmed apparently due to his technical difficulties. You try to get Max to see reason, but he only relents when Kate intervenes. (They talk away from the camp a bit, and Max seems more mellow coming back) -You notice Sam studying Max intently before your watch is over -You wake up to the sound of Kate and Mario having a loud argument about missing bullets and koopas (whatever the hell those are), and you notice that the map you had, the only guide through this dangerous territory, is missing. And so is Max. -Exploring around a bit, you come upon Max, face down in a puddle of water, but with no map.
Would This Experience Be A Story? Assuming this all happens freeform and plays differently each time, would it be considered a story? A story is usually defined as a set of events which are neatly tied together, with everything happening for a reason. But in this scenario, many events (like arguments) could repeat-- nothing is set just so such that it happens at the right time, only once.

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I don't want to get into a debate over definitions or semantics, but I will say that I think that what is proposed would be a disappointment in story terms for me. Tensions between characters can make a storyline so much more interesting, but you're still missing a major story arc. This is another reason why I am very sceptical about proposals to create 'purpose' in games through procedurally generated quests and so on - it's easy to get things right on a fine-grained level but the really important stuff, the growing tendency towards one major conflict and resolution, is unlikely to arise this way.

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It sounds as though it is story to me. I'm not sure what the definition of story is.

Perhaps the defenition of story when it comes to games should be different than the literary one. Games aren't the same as movies or books no matter what we want to think due to the interactivity.

I guess my thought is: who cares if it fits into the definition of story. That sounds like it would be a very innovative and fun game.

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I think if gameplay were plot, it would essentially be the Low Level Story with some worldbuilding to setup circumstances.

Quote:
the growing tendency towards one major conflict and resolution, is unlikely to arise this way.


It depends on how situations are approached. Lets take the main character (you) and your ability to read Runes. The rest of the team knows they need you, even though some of them may dispise you or have their own motives, so until they get where they need to go they won't do anything to you. But the moment they don't need you anymore, it would be time to do some re-evaluating, and they may try something, start a fight, or run off. At that point, it would be upto the player to resolve his issues with his companions (brutally or with diplomacy, whichever way he likes). Or the player may choose to purposely not decipher some runes to buy himself time to resolve some issues (who killed Max) before they don't need him anymore and try to make a move.

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I'd say not, it raises more questions then answers, and people generally like resolution to their plot, that being said, it would be a good start to a story arc. Also, a good story will generally build up to something big, although this story has foreshadowing, there really isn't that much conflict, and for a game I think it would be kinda boring.

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I may be off base, but what you're describing seems to look a lot like The Sims. I get a lot of different options that let me interact with others around me on varying levels and they, in turn, respond to those actions. Depending on the level of companionship I have, my actions will produce different reactions.

This is great for interaction and a certain degree of role-playing, but it doesn't tell a story. I guess some people might play Sims and tell themselves a story that goes along with it, but they are invariably making most of it up in their own minds. Sims doesn't really tell a "story" - it allows you to interact. Those are two different things.

With that said, I'd probably have fun with the kind of scenario you have above, and I can see ways that it would allow you to influence the greater story, but I don't see interaction, in and of itself, a story.

.... Hmm, thinking about it, I think that this could become "story" as soon as you introduce "motivation." Why did Max run away, after all? If his reason, his motivation, for running is your "story" it might work.

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Don't know, or really care if it 'story'. But I think that it would be a step forward in terms of 'unscripted language' in games, which is one of the biggest problems that we face at the moment. We either have to sidestep it or bypass it.
Personally I'm hoping Will Wright will do something ingenious in this area or inspire someone else to do so.


It would be good to have an icon based ideas exchange / information gathering-giving / order giving speech system. Maybe some kind of radial Maya-esque menu that has several main icons, ask , tell , order, special. When you click on ask you get several icons pop up around it that represent ask about person, ask about goals, ask about feelings etc. With a little tool-tip to say what that icon means just so people don't keep forgetting.

This way you could tell someone about your quest, tell them how you feel about them, ask them what they think of Max etc.
Language was one of the main evolutionary factors in human development, and could have powerful effects on the type of games we get.

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That's a good beggining for a story. What determines wether it's going to be a good gameplay experience is what happens -after- that.

So if it goes on and all there is is a kind of a Sims game, it's not goint to be much fun for most of your intended audience.


I think that the single most important thing that can bind all of these low-level gameplay "atoms" together is purpose. Interaction is just a set of rules that supports this. Random things like accidents and stuff belonging to that category can happen like in real life with seemingly no apparent purpose. But anything else -must- have purpose. By "purpose" I mean, it is the direct or indirect result of a "sentient" creature (simulated of course) trying to achieve an objective. In your example scenario, the natural question that the player asks is "why?". Why is this happening? If the answer doesn't make sense, the "story" doesn't make sense. The only way to answer this is "because character X wants to do Y" (there could be a chain reaction of events so that a character's action could end up being the cause of whatever is happening now).

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Would it be able to (dynamically) reach a conclusion/climax (presumably once you reach your destination, whatever it is) where the hidden motives would be revealed and things would seem to fall into place?

If yes, at least then I'd be certain there was a story :)

Btw. this thread made me think of a Matthew Reilly-plot-o-matic (TM). If you don't know, this guy writes very turbocharged action/adventure books, usually following the formula of several competing (armed) teams going after some extremely valuable objective in some well-defined location, and there being the usual traitors & plot twists. Could be sweet if a game would dynamically create stories of this kind, with different world & destination & teams each time...

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Quote:
Original post by Taolung
Sims doesn't really tell a "story" - it allows you to interact. Those are two different things.


This sounds to me like you think that story can only be told, not experienced. Would that be accurate?

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