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Situations and their structure

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So, following on my concept of the situation, which I have been pushing around these forums for about a year now, how can this idea be maximally exploited, and what would be the optimal structure of it? A situation should, in my opinion, be viewed as something with structure, and elements, or slots, which are fleshed out by the writer. This really is a writer''s tool, and I see it as the vehicle to let writers have their say in a game world. I think the elements of a situation are:
  • The constraints which allow it to come into existence. Among these are the set, such as a garden or alley, the time of day, and the background mood of the environment, i.e. is it busy, quiet, frantic, lazy, etc. Others include the thus far history of the player''s character, such as past events which would lead up to any future situation.
  • The actual plot or storyline of the situation. What happens in the situation, how it happens, and what purpose the situation might have for furthering the main plight of the character, etc. I am extremely hesitant to use the phrase ''furthering the main story'' so I instead referred to it as the player''s plight.
  • The characters, or actors, of the situation. Instead of a true simulation, it seems perfectly reasonable to me that the program can introduce, or spontaneoulsy produce an actor or actors to play the roles required by the situation as needed, in their respective places when the time comes to introduce the situation.
  • The state changes the situation makes to the world. These are not only physical changes, but information changes such as the world''s beliefs about the player after the situation changes.
Now, a note on the player''s plight: It really is the player''s plight which is the story. If the program can guide the player''s plight via situations, or access the player''s plight and recognize it as qualifying as some type of plot, then the porgram has a shot at molding a story around the player''s character as the player plays the game. ___________________________________

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Interesting topic This goes along something I''m currently studying. Amazingly enough, there are general "situations" that almost every good story has. For a much further indepth story, go to amazon.com and buy "The Writer''s Journey". Here''s the review...

At the beginning of The Writer''s Journey, Christopher Vogler asserts that "all stories consist of a few common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies." Some may be hard-pressed to accept this idea (and will wonder how storytellers from Homer to Shakespeare to Robert Altman might respond to the proposition). Others may imagine that since Vogler uses movies like the Star Wars trilogy and The Lion King to defend his mythological philosophy, he is, unwittingly, listing the reasons why Hollywood films of the last 20 years have been so unimaginative. But there''s no doubt that Vogler''s notion, based on psychological writings by Carl Jung and the mythmaking philosophy of Joseph Campbell, has been profoundly influential. Many screenwriters have used Vogler''s volume to understand why certain scenarios sell, and to discover a blueprint for creating mythic stories of their own.

Now in its second edition, The Writer''s Journey sets forth archetypes common in what Vogler calls "the hero''s journey," the mythic structure that he claims all stories follow. In the book''s first section, he lists the different kinds of typological characters who appear in stories. In the second, he discusses the stages of the journey through which the hero generally passes. The final, supplementary portion of the book explains in detail how films like Titanic and The Full Monty follow the patterns he has outlined. --Raphael Shargel"

To give you a clue to how this works, here are the stages he presents as "The Hero''s Journey"...

1. Ordinary World
2. Call to Adventure
3. Refusal of the Call
4. Meeting with the Mentor
5. Crossing the first Threshold
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
8. Supreme Ordeal
9. Reward
10. The Road Back
11. Ressurrection
12. Return with the Elixer

Now, I''m not going to explain what each one means, but most of them are self explanatory. One would be surprised at how many movies AND games follow these structures. Think about it, how many RPG''s have you played where you wake up in your ordinary world, and then something happens that changes turns the ordinary world into a special world? How often in a game is one of the tasks to be completed involve meeting some "wise man" of sorts that gives you advice or guides you?

Now.. Character Archetypes are also something interesting. Here are the one''s listed...

Threshold Guardian

These are "Masks" that a character can wear. These "masks" alter the characters actions. Hero and Mentor are self explanatory. Threshold Guardian is any character that represents a current challenge tha the "Hero" must complete for the story to continue. Herald issues challeges and announces the coming of significant change. The Herald is often used to push the story forward. The shapeshifter is an unpredicatable character, who''s actions defy reason. The shadow in some way represents darkness - often the "shadow" of the hero''s "light" - therefore representing the opposite of the hero. The trickster is a comedic element. The trickster survives by wit.

Often multiple masks can be worn by a character. For example, a Trickster Hero is very common. Look at Mario Brothers Mario was no super hero, he survived great odds by his wits and humor alone.

Now, I technically could start into "story types" like "Fish out of Water" and "Ship of Fools" but this message is getting entirely way too long simply for me to reply to the above message.

Okay, so, to the point... these are all the basic elements of story structure. One doesn''t need to use them - in fact, often times a story is better if some elements are omitted. However, mastery of skills within these elements of situation are very important.

Why? Here''s my best example. You want to write a scene about a frog that wants to get across a street. Okay, so, lets label the frog as a trickster hero. The situation? Well, this fits the "Fish out of Water" story structure. The frog, from the pond, has to survive in a place different that he''s used to: a highway. To make this more interesting, lets add a Threshold Guardian... A turtle driving a truck that wants to squish the frog.

Now, since one has "fleshed out" the archetypes etc... and after knowing the characteristics of all of these, putting together the story, deciding motives, results, etc should be fairly easy. This also helps to prevent your stories from becoming too confusing and also helps you generate ideas.

I dunno, anyone have anything else to contribue? (Sorry for the sloppy message, I have a class here in a bit, so I''m in a bit of a hurry)

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Heh, I should have looked in here before I made my new topic, this is practically the same thing. I just finished re-reading through the archetypes in Jung and The Hero''s Journey, and being dissatisfied with them and wanting more. ;P I''m working on a list of other ones, but it''s not very long so far, and I need to go watch some more anime about ''divine teams'' or read a family tree of Greek gods to get some inspiration.

Anyway... I don''t think plot should be part of the situation - it should be part of the larger structure of the game, along with the player''s inventory, and the inventories and stats of persistant npcs.

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Situations, as I envision them, are things which happen to the player. They are exactly what their name implies: situations which are imposed on the player. Situations are the computer program''s (and the writer''s) way of making something interesting happen to the player. If the situation isn''t custom tailored for the benefit, amusement and entertainment of the player, then it isn''t worthwhile. I don''t see the situation as a vehicle to compartmentalize different types of plots or substructure of plots if they are not going to be used as direct effectors on the plight of the player''s character.


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Heh heh, I actually just got back from a class where we were discussing this.

I know you said you were dissatisfied with the Archtypes, but try combining them. Trickster Heros, Shadow Mentors, Herald Mentors...

This list isn''t very limiting. These are only "Masks" a character wears that sets boundaries on what the person does and gives more meaning to a character. If a character is too broad your story will either lack clarity or be too confusing. Every character can''t be a hero.

Another thing discussed as far as the usefulness of "The Hero''s Journey" is setting the Tempo for the Story... or "Story Beats" and "Story Shifts". A scene is useless if nothing happens. A Story Beat is when a task is accomplished. A story shift is when something changes... Either from Positive to More Positive, Positive to Negative, or Negative to More Negative. A story shift also occurs when a character switches masks... Like when a Mentor puts on the mask of a Shadow. Ever played Terranigma? Major plot twist at the end *Spoiler* The elder and companion (both mentors) turn out to be evil at the very end. This represents a story shift. An example of a story beat would be Thresholds... a task the hero and his companions must complete. Take just about any dungeon in a game. Thats a threshold, with the boss being a "Threshold Guardian".

Most stories can be completely structured by definining these categories. You have "The Story" the "Scenes" and the "Characters" that each can be given a label. The scenes map out a Story, and the Characters drive the scenes.

I''m very tempted to take an old RPG and map out these functions in it

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By the way... If you wanting another angle at this, get The Art of Technique: An Aesthetic Approach to Film and Video Production by John S. Douglass and Glenn P. Harnden. While its geared towards film, the entire first half is dedicated to storyline. Also, it doesn''t hurt to know a lot of the things dedicated to film... as much can be applied to game design - especially with 3d games where lighting, camera angles, etc are used.

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Let''s look at what stories are made out of:

A story has one or more premise/moral/message(s). This is a philosophical idea that the story rhetorically supports by its plot progression. E.G. if a premise is "god favors elves", then the elves in the story should be more prone to getting miraculously rescued, being given cool foozles, etc.

A story has a plot. The plot is a linear (at least it appears so from the audience''s POV) progression through time of the conflict(s) in the story. This is diagrammed in a variety of useful ways: a freytag''s pyramid, a plot snake, a thesis-anthesis-synthesis step diagram, or a generative grammar tree.

The plot is carried out by smaller units such as chapters and scenes. Story beats and story shifts determine where chapter breaks go. A scene is made up of a series of exchanges between the main character and his/her environment (or between the narrator and the audience). A scene has unity of time, space, and emotion. Some new information is given in every scene and this modifies the behavior of the recipient (main character or audience). This is the level of detail diagrammed by storyboarding.

A story has a beginning, in which the audience must be introduced to the main character and oriented in time, space, physical environment, and society (including technology level).

A story has an end. The end happens when the largest goal in the story has been decisivey achieved, defeated, or abandoned. More specifically, the achievement/defeat/abandonment is the story shift that happens at the end of the climactic chapter and scene. The ending or dénouement is actually the following part where loose ends are cleaned up and the consequences of the climax are considered.

A story has a setting. This is too complicated to discuss here, but I can re-post the extant fragments of my worldbuilding doc if anyone wants.

A story has characters. We already mentioned archetypes. Characters have histories, statistics, inventories, goals, info known, personalities, drives... they''re really very complicated and there are lots of partially-successful schemes for emulating them. Creatures 3, The Sims, and that-AI-thing-Bishop_Pass-knows-about-that-I-forgot-the-name-of.

A story has sentences. This is the other really difficult part to emulate, and I want to finish reading my text generation book before I comment more, but it seems safe to say that transformational generative grammar is the way to go. Either that or create a completely regular artifical language and make the players learn it to play the game.

Old relevant links:
36 Plots
Part of My Thesis About Plot
Narrative Interpolation

And there were a bunch of links on that rpg 2000 ezboard, if that still exists. Rrr, gotta run to architecture class now.

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More on Characters: Archetypes vs. Roles

Pirandello said there are 6 roles:
Leo - protagonist
Mars - antagonist
Sun - object of protagonist''s desire
Earth - recipient of sun
Moon - helper (most npcs are this)
Balance - arbiter who decides victory between leo and mars

Propp said there are 7 roles:
object of desire (usu. princess)
donor - gives foozles. Is really pretty similar to a helper.
dispatcher - hero''s superior, usu. king
false hero

My revised version:
Object of desire
Helpers - people lower in rank than the protagonist:
1 sidekick
2 groupie/underling
3 bystanders
Donors/dispatchers - people higher in rank than the protagonist:
1 wise old man
2 hero''s commander/ruler
3 gods/other superior beings
false versions of any roles

And that''s pretty much all the roles there are. Don''t forget that some roles, especially the Object, may be played by inanimate objects/situations/principles/groups of people. More than one character may play a single role, and one character may play more than one role.

There is, on the other hand, no consensus at to how many archetypes there are. An archetype can be pretty much any abstract concept personified (see the minor greek gods like Plenty and Poverty for good examples).

Jung''s archetypes are as follows:
Animus (of these two one is generally the protagonist)
Syzygy (divine couple)
Wise Old Man

The journey book adds:
Hero (a special case of protagonist)
Threshold Guardian
(This is really a role, not an archetype. A threshold guardian is a minor antagonist, who may convert to a donor/helper when defeated.)
Herald (Also a role, a donor/helper.)

If we want to look at Fushigi Yuugi, we find
The Annoying Child - Miaka
Beauty - Hotohori
Passion - Tasuki
The Sister/helper - Nuriko (Nuriko has a secondary role as a Shapeshifter)
Power aka The Alpha Male - Nakago
The Rejected and Ignored Sidekick - Tomo and Soi (doubles of each other) This cross-classifies as ''wounded'', see below

My romantic archetypes:
The Pursuasive Slut aka the Sprite
The Lucky Zen - This is the guy who can walk unscathed out of an exploding building and wonder if it''s time for tea yet.
Wounded aka Beyond Distressed - This character is a walking stress-fracture who overreacts to everything and lashes out with one characteristic emotion, e.g. nervousness, anger, contempt, fawning. Examples are Tomo and Soi from Fushigi Yuugi as well as Saionji from Utena and Justin from _Cyteen_.
Play aka Candy Kid - This exaggerated child is high on life, mesmerized by bright colors and shiny objects, and empathetic.
Prankster - A trickster who delights in causing people to scramble around, as opposed to the traditional trickster who has obscure motivations.

You can probably see from my examples why I''m not happy with Jung''s archetypes - they''re just too vague to be useful.

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