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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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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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Planescape Torment, is like what you suggest in it your character and his attributes affect your available choices, not sure whether it branches much but I think it is dynamic.

Thinking about it now it may be possible to have a story which revolves around the player and is seemingly made up as they went along. The player could just behave his normal random way and the computer depending on how many jobs/quests the player has done calculate common factors between those jobs and then create connections between certain jobs and then tack on trails and conclusions which are premade, something like that anyway.

I do agree with you Sunandshadow stories do need to have a purpose I am so fed up with reading books where the moral seems to be, find out next issue, or look at the big bang, or giant alien robots can fix everything. I guess it all depends how the message is delivered, these days with our jaded audiences, to obvious and it looks contrived, to vague and no one hears it.

[Edited by - Torquemeda on August 12, 2006 9:16:38 AM]

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Original post by sunandshadow
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 am rather happy that this opinion comes from someone who has spent so much time reading and forming opinions as you. I have conscienciously read almost every post of yours in here since we have worked on your story. And it only got me half convinced.

Let's presume, for the sake of the argument, that you're trying to write a single story, weaving the point of view of, say, six different persons, living a personal life, and coming across eachothers at different intervals, like, say, Magnolia, or Shortcuts by Altman, or something equally close. Both movies told a story (or more accurately, stories) and I have been unable to find an end to said stories, because the movie only presented a tiny part of the overall stories. Let's assume that you deliberately tried to write a moral for each part of these stories.

Now let's assume, still for the sake of the argument, that someone (your editor, maybe...) came across your manuscript, and decided to alter some parts of your manuscripts. What you thought would drive to some moral is now only a chain of action links only related by the actual universe they share. Some parts may even only be related by the ghosts of your past story, and if you are bent on putting a moral ending onto the story, you may have to prune some of these out of it, and weed out your moral ending to allow for those added or modified events to exist at all.

That's what happens with an interactive story. You write as much as your editor, or co-writer, or reader, or player, or whatever, and have less of a final decision on what it becomes.

But what is more frustrating is that, far from being the one to decide when and where it ends, the editor (or player) is the one who takes this decision. Bent on putting a proper ending sequence and a moral on it, you may also be ready to only leave moral choices in your story, therefore leading to a moral lesson instead of an interactive story, and no possibility to continue to play after you decided there would be no story.

A better image of what I imagine Interactive storytelling to be is the movie "Groundhog day", with Bill Murray. You have a world that revolves with or without you, and have some leeway to alter it in some way before it all goes back to the beginning. You are free to kill whoever you want, to kidnap the groundhog, to commit suicide, to help repair tires, to steal money and distribute it, to invite the girl out as many times as you want with no fear of getting wrong, because you know you'll have a chance of getting things better the next time. A story is told, but the story is NOT that of the character you're playing. You're only background, and you have to work your way in order to find a way to get to foreground character. And you have to work even more in order to become the main character. And yet even more in order to give an ending to your story.

That's why I said that moral choies meant very little in interactive stories. because you cannot think of ALL the choices anyone can make, without infusing spontaneously some of your own morals. And since not everyone thinks just like you do, giving a "moral ending" to a story is more or less like a moral lesson. A fable, if you will. "don't do this or this will happen". "You cannot escape yourself." "A good deed doesn't go unpunished". "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Putting that kind of moral sayings at the end of a story always makes me feel like I've been cheated of something. I'm dying to see a story that doesn't end with hero feverishly kissing the heroin and them riding in the setting sun to live happily everafter, even in Speed... I want to see the Indians win, sometimes. I want to see the Hero die stupidly just because the Evil Warlord conned him, or used against him his Heroic features, like truthfulness or other nice feelings. I'd like the Bastard to say something like "drop your weapon or she's dead.", the Hero thinking for a moment, then doing it, and the Bastard saying "well, I lied. You'll both die anyway. And him killing both. It DOES makes the reader feel cheated of his righteously earned "beautiful ending". But I don't care. I want to know that I did what I thought was right, and I lost anyways. I want to have to go through hard times, have to choose between staying rigidly in my moral standards and dying from it, or becoming a righteous bastard, and chainkilling everyone, then having to face the families of all those I killed to reach my goal, and the legal consequences.
The Good Guy doesn't always win in the end, in reality. So why should I lie to anyone by writing stories that pretend you only need to be honest to be happy and rich, when everyone can tell you you need to be a greedy bastard to be able to bargain more than anyone? Why should I lie to everyone including myself just to write "satisfying endings"?

And why is Scrooge presented as someone repenting before what is about to come because of his actions, when obviously the character is built on trying to make money? Why is Scrooge suddendly changing his mind, and deciding that making isn't as important as making people happy? Because you need a moral ending? Then why can't the moral be "be honest and truthful to yourself, follow your heart and bear the consequences"? WHy can't you find a single story that makes you face the consequences at the end?

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Fournicolas, I think you are not working from the same definition of interactive story as me. In my vision of an interactive story game there are either a finite number of endings pre-created by the autho to express different moral endings (which may be combined modularly, if one is is a character ending and one is a political ending for example, but all of these endings occur at the same point in the plot, such that the game plot is always the same length OR there are a finite number of end-conditions, the game gives the option to end, continue, or restart whenever the player accomplishes one, and each has one or two specific endings associated with it. So in my definition of interactive story the player cannot choose when the game ends.

[Edited by - sunandshadow on August 15, 2006 2:01:20 PM]

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Sunandshadow what do you think of the quest structure of this game?
http://www.uesp.net/dagger/hints/walkthro.shtml

We certainly can call this branching storyline as there are multiple parallel paths (lets define it this way for argument sakes) which basicly breaks the monotony of a linear story, like the way it is used in books (LOTR for example) but is it dynamic or interactive?

Only those quests marked with green paths are interactive because they are conditional. That is the way they chain together depends on what the player has done before and who he has suported in the dispute to the throne of Wayrest.

OK so you could argue that every story path and quest is finite. That every quest in an interactive story is allways triggered by a finite number of pre-established conditions and thus all the possible quest chainings that form a dynamic story would have to be pre-imagined to convey each dynamic story a moral of a minimum quality.

Without this dynamic chaining of chapters conditioned by the players actions, stats, reputation and how he afected the world an interactive story may not exist. I would say that chainning conditions are what truly caracterizes an interactive story and not just parallel paths as they may exist both in interactive and non-interactive storytelling.

About the story moral i don't disput that every story has a moral. I believe it's not possible to create a story without having a moral be it intentional or not. In the same way it's not possible to create music without sound.

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elander - Well, in general I don't like quests as the basis for gameplay. I prefer the 'present a game event, give the player an array of options for responding to it' model more like those old choose your own adventure books. But that aside, here are what I think are some good definitions:

An interactive story is any story in which the story responds to the player's choices. The story must give the illusion of responding in a meaningful way to the player's actions, such that the game and player are having a conversation. One not-so-obvious fact about interactive stories is that limiting the player's possible actions and making sure the atory can respond to all of them creates a better play experience than giving the player lots of options and only responding to a chosen few of them. So randomness is bad for interactivity.

A dynamic story is one which turns out differently each time it is told. It does not technically have to be interactive - it could be something as simple as a story which allowed the player to enter their name or pick the gender of the viewpoint character, or simply randomly chose at each point where the plot should go next. A dynamic plot on the other hand is one which has multiple branches - either multiple endings, or multiple middles uniting to the same ending. These are represented by a flowchart like your diagram, but with all the boxes being events in one plot through which the player must travel one path or another, whereas in your example each box is its own mini-plot and the game contains many of them, none of which are mandatory.

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"An interactive story is any story in which the story responds to the player's choices. The story must give the illusion of responding in a meaningful way to the player's actions, such that the game and player are having a conversation. One not-so-obvious fact about interactive stories is that limiting the player's possible actions and making sure the atory can respond to all of them creates a better play experience than giving the player lots of options and only responding to a chosen few of them. So randomness is bad for interactivity."

Your thinking makes sense but it also limits you in a way. I think writers are not usualy very interested in repeating stories or randomize elements in those stories because it breaks the mold they are more confortable working with. But in certain games like rpgs that are more about telling the story of the world, it's characters and their own personal (dynamic) stories i think it's important to use random elements or story templates that can be slightly randomized each time one quest is instantiated from a template. Thus improving interactivity by making story outcomes slightly harder to recognize and to predict.

"A dynamic story is one which turns out differently each time it is told. It does not technically have to be interactive - it could be something as simple as a story which allowed the player to enter their name or pick the gender of the viewpoint character, or simply randomly chose at each point where the plot should go next."

True. I think we should make a distinction between branching, interactive and dynamic storytelling. However i think some imply the others. It's hard to concieve a dynamic or interactive story without some sort of branching. In the same way we can have a dynamic story but not an interactive (random chainning) but we cannot have an interactive story without it being dynamic.

The question is can we have a branching storyline without it being dynamic. See the graph above, for non-green paths the only thing that changes is the order in which quests can be picked (there are also reputation conditions but lets ignore these for the moment). If you consider reorder and mutual-exclusing as being dynamic then i supose we have to call it dynamic storytelling.

These are the most simple techniques we can image to create dynamic storytelling. The state of the game is not queried by the quest. The quest doesn't check any conditions on the player or adapt itself slightly depending on who activated the quest.

"A dynamic plot on the other hand is one which has multiple branches - either multiple endings, or multiple middles uniting to the same ending. These are represented by a flowchart like your diagram, but with all the boxes being events in one plot through which the player must travel one path or another, whereas in your example each box is its own mini-plot and the game contains many of them, none of which are mandatory."

If i understand correctly what you are refering to is mutual exclusion for quest conditions and that all quests must be connected. There are some mistakes on the graph in relation to the game. There should have been more conditional transitions (green arrows) between the isolated quests and all quests are pre-requisites (one way or the other) of the final quest.

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My apologies, I overgeneralized. I should not have just said "randomness is bad", I should have said that truly random randomness with disregards thematic and moral value of the object chosen is bad, but more controlled randomness, where a story-generation engine makes a choice among several equivalent options can be good for replayability. For example you could randomly decide whether the damsel in distress should be a daughter, niece, or granddaughter of the person asking for her to be rescued. But, I still think that the idea of generating quests is in itself bad. A quest is one of the weakest possible things one could build a story segment around.

Have you read the thread in the design forum archives where I described how I would go about creating a story generation engine for an interactive story game called Island? Here's the link.

At any rate I would say RPGs are not and should not be about telling the story of a world because that makes players feel unimportant and ignored, which totally defeats the purpose of an interactive story being responsive to the player. RPGs should be about telling the story of the player's experiences and learning within the world. If you are familiar with Dramatica theory the story of the world is only the OS or external throughline, whereas I am trying to say the external story is only given meaningfulness by how it effects the emotions and lives of specific characters.

Quote:
Quote:
A dynamic plot on the other hand is one which has multiple branches - either multiple endings, or multiple middles uniting to the same ending. These are represented by a flowchart like your diagram, but with all the boxes being events in one plot through which the player must travel one path or another, whereas in your example each box is its own mini-plot and the game contains many of them, none of which are mandatory.


If i understand correctly what you are refering to is mutual exclusion for quest conditions and that all quests must be connected. There are some mistakes on the graph in relation to the game. There should have been more conditional transitions (green arrows) between the isolated quests and all quests are pre-requisites (one way or the other) of the final quest.

Mutual exclusion is kind of the opposite way of looking at it - I mean that the player must take at least one of an array of options (but may take more than one if they are modular or stackable or whatever you want to call it.) Also, since I don't think I said it clearly before, let me point out that the problem with your example chart is that it does not show one plot and the choices made within that plot, it instead shows the relationship between several mini-plots aka quests. I'm trying to talk about a case where a game or an episode of game has one coherent plot and the player makes choices within that plot to reach one of several different endings with different morals. A game which has unity of plot, one of the major virtues Aristotle said every story should have.

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"A quest is one of the weakest possible things one could build a story segment around."

Could you elaborate more on this?

"Have you read the thread in the design forum archives where I described how I would go about creating a story generation engine for an interactive story game called Island? Here's the link."

I will have a look at it.

Im working on a text based rpg to test some of the ideas i mentioned so it may be useful.

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Well what is the definition of a quest? A quest is a character making a journey to obtain, alter, or destroy an object or group of objects. So all quests are stories about objects, which makes them emotionally weak because objects don't evoke people's emotions very well. Then you have the journey itself - in traditional heroic monomyths the journey is where most of the story happens: if there is an adventuring party the characters are trapped together, which is good for brewing arguments and romances; if the journey is making the party run out of supplies or their boat is taking on water you could have increasing desperation and suspense about whether they will make it to their destination before they are doomed; usually the characters must endure some sort of test, which might give insight into their inner strengths and weaknesses or cause them to learn a lesson. But when a quest is generated in an RPG the journey is usually reduced to mere wading through random monster encounters, and nothing thematically meaningful happens - the story is backgrounded, and the player loses the emotional investment and immersion in the story which they had built up.

Even if an RPG does the quest plot as brilliantly as possible, it is still only one type of plot, and limited in the themes which it is appropriate to explore. Players get bored of experiencing the same plot over and over again, especially because they are probably sick of seeing quest plots done badly in all the other RPGs they have played before yours. And some players, particularly women, are just not interested in heroes slaying monsters and getting rewarded with treasure. So I think it's very important to choose a more broad, flexible type of plot to generate.

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I don't doubt that must be the defenition of a quest. But games like Daggerfall and Fallout must have expanded the meaning of it and certain rpgs like Starflight for example don't have quests at all.

In Starflight theres only clues (no contrat is made with the player). For example when the Thrynn try to deceive the player giving the wrong coordinates of the secret planet of a global enemy to destroy one of their own enemies. This is only a clue and the player decides what to do and when to do it, if he wants to do it at all or research for more clues.

Fallout uses quests in a much broad sense. You are often reward with lore and info to influnece other chars and open more quests and as a secondary reward you get items, money, new playgrounds, etc. The lore reward is often the best reward.

What i was refering as a quest is what is described in Gurps as adventures or the episode of a campaign. Again if this is too limited just call it a plot episode or a module. I think if we want to dynamicaly create a story in need to have pieces the computer can assemble after checking certain conditions.

http://e23.sjgames.com/media/SJG02-0004_preview.pdf

I have discussed this in other forums. This post i made explains what im trying to do. Just replace the word quest with whenever you read because thats what its realy intended to be:

Quote:

I was thinking in ways to expand the quest template system with more twists and perhaps storylines. There are few good quests that are very complex, almost like a small stories, with some interesting reputation games. However the bulk of the quests even if they are fun to read amount to provide a new random dungeon to crawl or a new house to steal or an opurtunity to get some books hard to find anywhere else. In contrast with the main quest that is very well writen but its allways the same.

I was thinking if we could use the templated quest system to make quests more like stories that chain based on how the player has completed a quest before while still preservng its procedural virtues. So the thing to play with is more quests twists and more quest chaining.

I have some quest ideas about this which i will desciribe:

Quest Objective: a bandit needs the be caught.
Quest Repeating: about 1-2 times a month the quest will allocate a new bandit and a new hideout for him and make this quest available.
Quest Giver: the law or the guards, also from posts in taverns and commerce houses
Quest Condition: anyone with a positive reputation with the law
Quest Twitches:
1 - a small chance the player will compete with other prize hunters.
2 - a small chance the bandit will surrender immideatly and plead innocence and even offer a quest to the player which he may refuse of course with a bonus to repute with the law, otherwise he gets a repute penality.
Quest Chaining:
if player chooses 2 he will get the innocent bandit quest wich may be more than one variety picked up at random or acording to the player caracteristics. This quest can possibly fire even more chained quests creating a dynamic storyline.


Quest Objective: smuggle stuff out of town trough the sewers and deliver it to a person waiting outside.
Quest Repeating: Ocasionaly a noble or a merchant will ask the player to smuggle something out of town.
Quest Giver: A merchant or a noble.
Quest Condition: Anyone with a negative reputation with the law, the more negative the better but not a person who is a known murderer.
Quest Twitches:
1- Someone will try to rob the player. The player may intimidate the survior to reveal his hideout and try to assault it.
2 - The player will open the package and keep the item for himself.
3 - The subject to smuggle is a person related to the quest giver that tries to flee/seduce the player.
Quest Chainning:
If player chooses 1 a new quest will be activated with an hideout location the player can assault to steal their loot and investigate further their activities in the area (i believe in allways giving lore as a primary reward for a quest and loot as secondary reward). If 2 a new quest will be activated to hunt the player down or make him pay for the damage. If 3 the player may get a quest to investigate the past of the subject if he flees or negotiate with a subject for a better reward to let him/her flee. Also a quest to hunt the player will be activated.

What do you think? It won't be a writers novel but it would improve the idea of templated quests. This structure follows closely that of solo pnps.

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Your example is complex but it could be handled with in a way similar to what i have descrived above and by adding a more sofisticated AI with objects and rules (rules is knowledge how to solve objectives in AI).

Quote:
...if there is an adventuring party the characters are trapped together, which is good for brewing arguments and romances; if the journey is making the party run out of supplies or their boat is taking on water you could have increasing desperation and suspense about whether they will make it to their destination before they are doomed; usually the characters must endure some sort of test, which might give insight into their inner strengths and weaknesses or cause them to learn a lesson.


Heres some possible steps for your generic plot.

1. Trap party and limit resources (air, fresh water, etc).

Could be a dungeon or an enclosed place.

2. Add game events used to trigger certain plot transitions.

For example, a monster spawning, a water flood, an npc companion breaks emotionaly, etc

3. Add necessary dialogs to companions about their doubts on the current
situation and personal life dialogs, objectives for the current situation
and rules to solve their objectives.

Adding dialog that allows npcs to explain their "feelings" in the current situation, add objectives for certain npcs to share some facts of their lifes with others, etc

4. Add puzzles the player or other npcs can solve to advance in the plot.

I have no illusions about this. It will never be as good as a non-dynamic plot made by a good writer. But there are details that make dynamic plots very interesting for rpgs. Parts of a plot can be easly reused for other plots and the plot reacts better to the world. For an action-adventure game this is not a problem since the game is a one time voiage. Rpgs however, good ones, are highly non-linear. It's also necessary to feed the player with adventures so that the player may grow (character progression). So dynamic stories may be the evolution of quests, but don't replace conventional storytelling (the one time stories).

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Why do you think good rpgs are highly non-linear? I've seen some excellent linear ones and some terrible non-linear ones, and well as some decent non-linear ones and some lousy linear ones. I think non-linearity has greater potential but is harder to do even halfway well.

As for your steps, they seem a bit arbitrary - where is your overall structure? If you want to create plot and character arcs you have to know how that progress works and where in the arc you're supposed to be at any given time. I'm familiar with gurps and it doesn't say anything about plot or character development - it's about gameplay generation, not story generation, that's usually left to the GM. I think that the only way to make a good non-linear RPG is to emulate a great GM's understanding of the principles of storytelling and make generation of specific quests or whatever subservient to that.

Consider the last roleplay I did. This was a diceless roleplay, so it was pure interactive storytelling. There were only two players, so each functioned as the GM and NPCs for the other. We started with a random setting (provided by the host) of a medieval capital city with royal court, and the additions of slavery and magic. Now my partner and I asked each other some questions about what we wanted to do - we wanted a romance between our two characters, with mine being a soldier enslaved as punishment for freeing an unhappy slave, and given as a captive/pet to hers, a nobleman who didn't understand love and didn't trust anyone. Then we started playing and had a great time for several weeks. How, pray tell, would you create a gameplay experience like that using any kind of quest generation? This kind of story certainly can be told in an RPG, ang I think players would really enjoy it, but it cannot be done if one's brain and game design are stuck in 'quest, dice, and foozle' mode.

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It can't. Theres no computer that can simulate the mind of a creative human writer as i said above. Dynamic stories are not suposed to replace true storytelling.

But I think we can improve on the type of dynamic stories that are being done. Again the tools would be modules or pieces of stories (similar to solo pnps chapters) with associated conditions and actors whose AI could be dynamicaly updated to suit the dynamic plot needs.

I think a better question is why do we need dynamic stories if we can make everything by hand using human creativity?

"Why do you think good rpgs are highly non-linear?"

That would take a long post to answer your question properly but i will try to make it short. We usualy expect an rpg to provide skills and a chargen system of some sort where we can choose a past, specialization skills, a face, initial affiliations, initial reactions, perks and quirks and other customization options that allow us to create a character.

We also expect that our character is provided with gameplay, quests and in-game reactions adequate for our character choice. For example a thief or a dilomat is not suposed to go around solving problems by killing everything in his path. So there is also the mater of character progression. Will the character starve for quests, stories, whatever that allow him to progress maintaining his own personality and gameplay style?

Not every character is fun to play. A blind begger, for example, should not be a great choice for role-playing. The choices are usualy restricted to fighting for warriors, thieving and stealth gameplay, puzzle solving, technlogical skills and information research (detective gameplay) for scholar types, medical abilities, diplomacy and leadership for social types, magic (not necessarly combat magic) or a combination of those.

So as you can see, it's easier to make a good non-linear rpg than a linear one. You don't have to force your story or restrain your imagination in order to support every gameplay style possible in one single plot. The best solution for this seams to be non-linearity (see Oblivion for example), a mix of dynamic stories (solves the progression problem and improves replayability) and a set of non-linear plots made by creative writers that supports different game styles.

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So basically you are saying you want to work within the 'quest, dice, foozle' mindset because that's what players expect and RPG to be? What about innovation, trying to give them something better than they expect? Personally I think existing mom-linear RPGs suck. As a player my opinion is that if a dynamic story isn't as good as a real linear story I'd rather have a linear story. But as a designer I believe it IS possible to create an interactive story as good as a linear story - the easy way is to have a real human author create all the pieces of the interactive story, the hard way is the story generation engine I describe in the thread I linked to above.

Personally I just don't like D&D or GURPS or any other dice-based systems with lots of stats, I'd much rather see a ren'ai (dating sim) type system where dialogue interaction is what controls how the plot branches. My own favorite rpgs are the linear Final Fantasys and Vagrant Story, and the non-linear Harvest Moons, so a combination of those is my definition of the perfect RPG, and what my Xeallure design was based on. If you want to talk MMORPGs I'd like to see one where the player choosed their character's gender and appearance but every noob starts as a child/student with no class or skills, and establishes their character's personality and clothing style through gameplay, and more deeply-developed NPCs that each player can try to establish a personal relationship with.

So, this is my vision of the ideal non-linear RPG - if your own version is very different from mine then there's not too much I can say to help you woth yours.

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Sunandshadow look at it in a bigger perspective than just dices and stats. They only serve the purpose they were made for, that is role-playing.

Most ocidental rpgs these days use and abuse of stats but are not rpgs. Why? People use stats without realy understanding why they exist in the first place - what's their purpose. Skills besides combat are useless, most choices have no significant consequences on the world, what the npcs think of the player is irrelevant and won't afect the player in any significant way, reputation is usualy only an indicator and doesn't affect anything.

These tools are essential in rpgs to build your chars are biography, body and mental attributes (health, stamina, etc) , skills, advantages and disadvantages, reputation and affiliations. These can be anything you want and not just numbers rolled with dices copy-pasted from a pnp book. A advantage can be something like "will heal faster while immersed in water" or "heals faster in daylight".

They do the same that a writer does when he sketches his characters and defines the world and social balance where his stories are going to play. So if you use rpg techniques well it can help you as a writer when creating your stories.

"What about innovation, trying to give them something better than they expect?"

Then why calling it an rpg? Why is so many people willing to pay millions for a license to do a Fallout game, for example, and then getting rid of gameplay considered essential by their creators? It doesn't make any sense.

Just call it action-adventure games because thats where they fit in. Games focused in dialog and storytelling with some action and some puzzle solving, usually focused in a SINGLE adventure. In this sense we can say that action-adventure games are more developed stories because, well ... that's the purpose of making an action-adventure game.

I played the FFs and even enjoyed some but these are more action-adventure games than role-playing games. The use of stats in those games is for the tactical combat and it's most of the times irrelevant for role-playing. I only played FF7 and FF8 so don't know about the rest.

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