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Branching Storytelling

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Im working on a small text based rpg to test my ideas about branching storytelling. I would like to know how people define branching storytelling (or dynamic storyteling if you prefer)?

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There are a lot of definations for what a branched or dynamic story is. Marie Ryan's book Narrative as Virtual Reality covers it best however, and offers up the fundamental structures that a branched narritive can have. I would suggest starting their.

Overall though, a branched narrative should be one where different descion points allow you to follow a differnt story. (I think this is a failed model for story telling, however. I think a more interesting model is a set of story Loci, each of which allow the user to go along a different and possibly unrelated narrative path.).

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My take on branching storytelling is that the branches need to have moral weight rather than just strategic choices, because plain strategic choices are better implemented as gameplay, while moral choices which are relevant to your story's theme can allow your player to expresss their personality and their own morals and idea of what the best ending would be.

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I would agree about moral choices as well, strategic choices tend to not really be a realistic option. If you are gioven theoption: Do you win or lose this battle? I think it is pretty clear which option you choose. A question of do you show compassion or mercy leads you in more interesting places. (but hopefully you spice them up a bit more to make it a more difficult moral choice than I just suggeted).

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Have you ever played solo pnps like The Wizard of Firetop Mountain? Wouldn't that be an example (probably pnps would be the first example) of branching storytelling?

I have to add that in solo pnps the story sometimes branches at random without any other factor influencing it.

Heres an example:

"You are walking in a straight corridor. Sudenly the roof behind you starts crumbling. You have to act quickly and without time to think.

(Throw a dice. If the result is 1,2,3 read A, otherwise read B.)

You rush forward trying to find an exit from the crumbling corridor.

A. You notice a small passage you walk inside with some difficulty.

B. A the end of the corridor there is a slightly opened door. You run to it quickly and jump inside the room before the ceiling falls on you."

Also why do you think this is a failing story-telling mechanism? Both have their advantages and disadvantages that can be exploited.

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Personnaly, I would define "Branching Storytelling" as a sort of semi-interactive occupation. The interactive part requires, well, decisions to be made by the actor of the story, ie, you. The non-interactive part comes from the author.

What I would do about that (and I am fully aware that I am bordering on anal retentive about that...) is create a perfectly neutral storyline. A plot, a story, that does NOT take the actor into consideration. THIS will be the basic storyline, and it will be up to the actor to modify it at leisure. Obviously, this leisure is limited by the creativity of the author through the opportunities to modify the story he allows to be used, but here lies the possibilities for inter-action.

As for Sunandshadow's "moral choices", I am sorry to say that I do NOT think it has anything to do here. I know that you are heavily bent on making all your writings bear some sort of moral, but in the real world, not everything has a hidden meaning behind it, and in fact, most of what happens does not have ANY meaning at all. People just do stuff, out of spite. A story is just a relation of someone doing something. Sometimes, there is also the explanation of what the author thinks of the actions of his character, in one form or another, but a story is just facts. Plain facts. Making choices hard to make to tailor the story to the actor's opinions ir pretty nice. But it has to be done on the fly, for I don't think it is possible to imagine every possible outcome or idea anyone can have. You have to limit the possibilities, therefore limiting the character's evolutions, and therefore limiting the moral choices to those the author is ready to give to the actor. Imposing "moral choices" in interactive storytelling is a little like those crappy language courses you took while in tenth grade. Your teacher came up with a nice little extract of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and you studied it inside and out, and when it was time for personal production, the question asked was "what do you think of slavery?" There is no possible way to decide and try to prove that slavery was a valid concept at that time. You are compelled to say that slavery is bad, mostly because it denies freedom to men. Moral choices are not the point here. It's called moral lessons. And it is likely that anyone trying to give moral choices will drive the reader-actor along the path he prefers for him.

It is incredibly difficult to write for character that do not think in any kind of comprehensible ways. What would you do if your character decided to act as a psychopath? Some players DO play as psychopaths in MMOs today, so why wouldn't they in interactive storytelling games, or devices, or anything? What is there to prevent anyone from deciding to chainkill everyone in the city, because they felt like it? or because they wanted to see what would happen afterwards? I'll grant you it doesn't alter the overall plot, but what is there to drive the reader/actor to be interested in the story afterall? Why wouldn't try to do what he wants if there is a possibility to do so? If doing anything isn't allowed, then the interaction isn't as great as I supposed it would be. And then, I wouldn't call that interactive storytelling. I would merely call that multiple choices questionnaires...

Interactive storytelling means, in my opinion, that you are able, at your little level, to alter the functionment of the world, and at some point, to make the events of the world revolve around yourself, spinning on your finger.

Let's take the exemple of a cop in a police dep., somewhere. In the same city, the mafia is preparing a heist. The development of the heist is planned by the author in all its details. And all the little things that can fail are also prepared.

Meanwhile, the cop/reader/actor is spending his life doing his job. He goes on rounds and arrests people. If one of the members of the heist team is arrested, then the plan shifts, and probably more things are likely to fail. If the heist happens anyway, then it may be the task of the cop/reader/actor to find them, arrest them, or recover the loot, or maybe, if he hasn't proved himself so far, to keep on doing his job.

Interactive storytelling is not about forcing the reader to take moral choices. It's about making him live a life in a world that requires taking action, and those actions having an impact over the world. They do not need to make whatever story you chose to put in to evolve, but they must impact over the reader/actor.

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I'm trying to work out how to make interactive stories myself, but anyway I do see one problem with your suggestion Fournicolas you may loose the story if you have/give the player too many choices. In the loosest sense a story is a related chain of events and they generally need a reason for the teller to tell it. So if the player is able to do whatever they want it would be hard to hold together a structured story through all they myriad possibilities of what they player can do.

If you do have a story to tell though the player does need to be guided down certain avenues to get to where you want it to go, although it can have several destinations and purposes. What you suggest would be more like a virtual world and a story that revolved around the player would have to be made up as the player went along.

If I was going to do a branching story I would look at the choices the characters can make in certain situations not simple ones like left and right, most right handed people go right anyway, but the real choices. Most games give the player choices but if you look at the choices, to play as a certain character type Ultra good they dont really have any so its pointless. In the real world you never always know or can be certain that what you do is good and someone else can always percieve it as bad. Thats as far as I can get at the moment I'm just figuring out how to write a normal story.

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There is a difference between writing a virtual world, an interactive story, and a "simple" story.

A virtual world is a world that can live by itself, with or without the character, and that will develop new events out of itself.

An interactive story DOES NOT revolve around the character by default. It revolves around the story you wrote, by default. the alterations provided by the actor/player/reader/whatever only modify superficially, if not only cosmetically, the story. Being able to remove a character from the plot makes it difficult for it to happen, unless said character is not important to it. A secondary character is easily removed and replaced, at no cost. But modifying the chain of events is important for the story in itself.

A "simple" story, is a chain of event, told in a particular way.

So, by definition, an "interactive story" is either a chain of event that can be altered by the reader by acting on it, or a set chain of events that cannot be altered, but the telling can be altered.

So, all in all, I would think of trying first to develop a "simple" and above all SHORT story, with a clear chain of events, and then trying to develop a secondary chain by replacing the last link, then a third one, by replacing the penultimate link, and providing another ultimate link. Then plotting a chain with a different antepenultimate link, and different following options. And then working the way backwards, each time developping content. It will probably look like a tree at first, and then, when you look at it more closely, it will more likely look like a strand. It implies that some events can be altered by other events happening way further down the tree (if we consider that the story evolves like a tree, with a single original lower trunk, and multiple ending leaves...).

I am sorry to say that, but interactive storytelling is probably the worst kind of writing, because of the sheer amount of work you have to put, for such a short period of time spent using it... But how amusing they are to write and to read...

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Quote:
Original post by Fournicolas
As for Sunandshadow's "moral choices", I am sorry to say that I do NOT think it has anything to do here. I know that you are heavily bent on making all your writings bear some sort of moral, but in the real world, not everything has a hidden meaning behind it, and in fact, most of what happens does not have ANY meaning at all. People just do stuff, out of spite. A story is just a relation of someone doing something.


Well, you're entitled to your own opinion. My opinion and that of most writers is that a story bears little relation to reality, and that any statement about the way things are 'in the real world' is a very poor way of figuring out how things ought to be in stories. The simplest argument for this is the phenomenon of the 'satisfying ending'. If a story were just telling a series of happenings, there would be no reason the last one would be special. Yet, audiences think endings are definitely different from middles or beginnings, they expect endings to be 'satisfying', and random people tend to agree with each other about whether something is an ending and even whether it is a satisfying ending.

My own belief that stories are inherently moral comes from six years of studying what people mean when they say stories are satisfying and important. I studied this by looking at educated people's theories of how stories are structured, uneducated people's choice of what myths and fairytales are worth listening to many times, and psychological studies of language and audience emotions and behavior. My concludion is that conflict in a story comes from an argument over goals and/or methods between characters/faction, and the climax of the story comes when that argument is resolved. So the plot structure of a novel is equivalent to the persuasive argument made in a speech or essay, it just gets a lot longer (but also more subtly persuasive) when you encode the argument into the actions of characters and the behavior of the setting. The conclusion of the argument is the moral of the story. That's what I mean when I say that all stories are inherently moral, because every story is an argument and in deciding who wins the author necessarily promotes the belief that that side is right.

I also believe that gameplay is inherently strategic because it's based on math, and thus any purely strategic decision you want the player to make is thus better handled as gameplay than storytelling; on the other hand it's very hard to convey abstract beliefs through gameplay because it's wordless, so those are better handled with storytelling. Although if one wanted to make a strategic choice have moral consequences you might want to use storytelling to warn the player to expect moral consequences, and of course to present the consequences when they happen.

So, that's what I believe and why I believe it. Everyone's free to disagree with me, I just wanted to explain why I believe these things for anyone who hadn't heard the full explanation before.

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If i understand correcly you are saying a player is looking for a storie in a game that has a begining or an initial seting, an evolution and a final conclusion or at least a suprising feedback on the players actions.

In non-dynamic storytelling the player is only allowed to imagine what is going to happen next. The story inspires the player imagination and make him try to predict the outcome to have some strategic advantage from it. Sometimes there is no gameplay inpact at all which i find very unsatisfying as a player, because then i think why am i playing a game when i could just be reading a book. And even when there is a gameplay inpact we can't say this is a dynamic story because the telling is allways the same.

However i don't think that the audience wishes for a storyline structure are in conflict with branching storyline. We don't need any inquire to know that players want to have fun and read something interesting that stimulates their imagination, if possible something that impacts on the gameplay since they are playing and not just reading afterall.

So perhaps what players which is branching quests that CHAIN together (in this case dynamicaly) and somehow in the middle provide the player a satisfying explanation (feedback) of what is going on. Why restricting yourself to a certain story-telling mold when what the player wants is just to have fun and follow a trail be it dynamic or not. If it's just because it's easier then this is a just an economical that should be separated from storytelling.

Have you guys ever tried to mod Daggerfall. This was the only game i know that used dynamic story-telling techniques. You can check the quest source in here
http://institute.no.sapo.pt/quests.html
to examine how stories would branch dynamicaly. Most are very simple but some are almost a small story that adapts slightly to who is requesting the quest and his reputation with the different factions.

The main quest is only dynamic on the green arrows.
http://www.uesp.net/dagger/hints/walkthro.shtml

The paralels paths in the story graph have nothing to do with it being a branching storyline or not. Only the green ones count.

Does anyone knows of other games besides the ones i mentioned that used dynamic storytelling techniques? Even simple ones?

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