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RE: A response to Walt

>> To Jason's and Brandon's implications that theorizing is useless relative 
>> practice: judging from the lack of discernable improvement in IS since
>> about1980, I could suggest that practice is pretty frapping
>> useless too.

>Really?  Your opinion of the entire rec.arts.int-fiction community is that
>low?  Is that based on firsthand examination of tons of work?  Or is it
>an unfounded prejudice, a misconstruction that nobody's been doing anything
>since the 80's, when clearly they have?

Um, a little license for hyperbole here. Do you really think I'd have spent 
20 years on both theory and practice of interactive storytelling if I 
actually thought both were useless? My point was directed at the 
put-up-or-shut-up sentiment against theorizing. I'm trying to achieve 
interactive plot and narrative quality simultaneously without the runtime 
involvement of a human storyteller. No one has done this. No one has come 
close to doing this. No one has more than a bare inkling of how to do this. 
Under those circumstances, theorizing really isn't such a bad idea.

The interactive fiction community has different goals. Interactive fiction is 
predominantly used as a medium for the interactive telling of fixed stories 
(or at best fixed story trees). This is an artistically worthy endeavor. I'll 
even grant that it's proper to call it "interactive storytelling" with the 
understanding that in this case "interactive" is a modifier for "telling" and 
not for "story." A lot of creative and innovative work is done. But it sheds 
no new light on plot interactivity. Which is nothing against it, because it 
rarely intends to.

I think it's a good idea for people interested in interactive storytelling to 
consume and create works in related media as much as possible. I've written 
and played interactive fiction. I've designed and written and played MUDs and 
graphic MUDs. I've written multi-player single-computer text-based computer 
games (haven't played any, since as far as I know the ones I wrote are the 
only ones). I've authored and played CD-ROM adventure games with 
dialog-driven plots. I've designed and implemented and played interactive 
graphic playground worlds (haunted houses and the like). I've designed and 
implemented educational lab simulations (in fact, that's how I currently make 
my living) including ones delicately balanced between being open-ended and 
being goal-directed. I've written and run and participated in dozens of live 
action role playing games in several fundamentally different formats 
(SIL/ILF, IFGS, World Game), most involving 50-200 participants for 48 hours 
and taking a year to write. I've gamemastered and played tabletop role 
playing campaigns and designed my own systems for some of them. I play most 
varieties of board game and card game and I've designed a few. I play many 
modern computer and video games. I practice realtime interactive storytelling 
one on one (perhaps the most challenging and valuable of all). My biggest 
gaps: I haven't had a chance to study improv, I haven't built an Erasmatron 
storyworld yet, I haven't written a complete linear novel or screenplay 
(though some of the projects listed above involved far more than a single 
novel's worth of prose), and I haven't developed as much for the Web as I'd 
like to.

I do tend to move on when there doesn't appear to be anything fundamentally 
new to learn about interactivity. That happened with IF a long time ago. I 
try out samples from time to time, and things haven't seemed to change much. 
If there's specific recent work that offers new insight into balancing plot 
interactivity and narrative quality, tell me and I'll go look at it. One 
reason I pay attention to lists like this one is to learn about things I may 
have missed. But I have no interest in sifting through any sort of work, in 
any medium, that's measured in "tons." Is this prejudice? It certainly is.

>> To Bob's and Laura's warnings about over-analyzing, I can only
>> point out: my computer has no heart.

>Why should the computer be doing the job of providing "heart?"  Even in
>the Erasmatron, I see the emotional components as mere hooks into which 
>authors can reposit good material.  Or bad material.  It's up to a human
>being, not an engine.  Much as you can get abstract data types done in
>C, but there are useful standard mechanisms for doing it in C++, and you can
>fry yourself thinking it's all about turning everything into C++ objects.

Well, this brings us full circle back to the data versus process issue. I 
agree with you that (at present) any interactive storytelling system needs an 
author to supply the "heart." (And the "beauty," as I was saying weeks ago.) 
Others may disagree.

But the existing process of writing fiction, however mystic and holistic and 
heart-filled it may be, cannot create plot-interactive fiction. A different 
process must be invented. Doing so almost certainly requires breaking down 
and understanding stories and storytelling and rebuilding their elements 
(along with new elements, perhaps) into something new. You mention 
Erasmatron: Is it not obvious that creating the Erasmatron required Chris to 
analyze the nature of character interaction in stories with far more clarity 
and detail than any academic literature course would ever attempt? If we get 
to the point where an author can successfully reposit heart into an 
interactive storyworld using an authoring tool, then we'll have succeeded. 
But we're not there yet. Telling us to stop analyzing at this stage is 
equivalent to telling us to stop working on the problem.

- Walt