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- To: Dan Lyke <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com
- Subject: Re: Dialogue
- From: Aa-Tchoo! Translations <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2001 23:53:01 +0100
At 09:16 29-01-01 -0800, you wrote:
>Kenneth Lu writes:
>thoroughly, they've lead to the current state of gaming, and we're not
>going to make progress until we ask a different set of questions,
> How can interaction make a story more compelling?
>This is not an easy question. The largest markets for storytelling,
>television and, to a lesser extent, movies, are not interactive, and
>in several ways they're effective _because_ they're not.
>We don't have many good models for interactive story. Sure, every
>major city and most minor ones have an improv group, but my experience
>has been that for the most part they're more fun for the participants
>than the audience. As the audience grows a little we get theatre and
>storytelling, in which the actors and storytellers work within a
>structure while tailoring their drama to a given audience. Seeing a
>person or troupe perform a work to a few different crowds shows that
>there really is a feedback loop there.
>But as both of these get more popular they get larger audiences, and
>at some point you hit critical mass such that the performers _know_
>how the audience is going to respond.
Nevertheless, the skills are there. Live storytellers - you know, the heirs
of old-fashioned, fireside storytellers - also have techniques and models
to explain how they make their stories interesting. There are people out
there who know how to interact with individuals and small groups of people,
to give them the kind of story they will enjoy.
>And we have to ask "how can we make _story_ more compelling" because
>hoping that story is somehow magically going to appear out of
>simulation is utter hogwash and a pipe dream. Heck, how often does
>story appear out of life? How close to reality do "based on a true
>story" movies ever come? Not very, because life, like simulation,
>mostly just isn't all that interesting.
Here, I must contribute by disagreement. I have seen various live
storytellers on stage before small audiences, and I would say that the best
of them have simply established a relationship to the audience and
proceeded to describe their own experiences of events that the people in
the audience could also have experienced, but didn't.
It will take a longer discussion to describe how this works, and this is
made more difficult by the fact that not everybody here has experience of
the kind of storytelling I am talking about. And I confess, I am not a
hardcore gamer, even though I have spent the last year working as a
translator in a computer games production house. So I have not been to
school much, I have only met the scholars. ;)
One of the tellers I am thinking of was a man in his fifties, an ageing
hippy type, who described the time he went to Prague and spent the whole
night drinking and dancing in a pub with a group of gypsies. He left at
dawn. "And that was the end of that story."
The audience were mostly young, in their twenties. But this story brought
the house down.
>How many times have you sat in a bar listening to some drunk recount
>every single gawdawful boring detail of some event? Or a four-year-old
>doing the same? Is that story? Perhaps, but I'd argue that when you're
>willing to chew your arm off to escape it's just reality. A
>storyteller is someone who can cull that same chain of events down to
>the two or three turns that resolve the conflict, telling you only
>what you need to know, the good ones will tell you even a little less
This is part of it, but not all. Most of the tellers I know have no
knowledge of dramaturgy in any sense of a shared body of knowledge, such as
you might read in the many excellent books or learn on a course at a film
school. But yes, they do know what the most relevant details are.
More importantly, we do not listen to the drunk because they have not
establiished a rapport with us, an agreement as to what kind of experience
we are to share. The young child is more likely to succeed, because we are
likely to agree to the child's charming terms of engagement.
In film writing, this is often called the "contract". We can get annoyed if
the story starts out being boy meets girl and turns into boy stops runaway
train and forgets all about girl. Because we have invested our time on the
understanding (contract) that this would be a story about "boy get girl or
don't get"? Or turn it around and we see a trailer for a film about a
runaway train, but when we sit in front of the screen, the train runs away
into oblivion and the characters spend the rest of the movie resolving some
kind of romantic conflict.
The same goes for marketing a game: no point calling it strategy on the box
if the essence of the game is in answering trivia questions.
> So the thing is, I'm currently thinking along the lines of a
simulation-ish game where characters do stuff.. and maybe somehow plot will
emerge (it's a very vague idea)..
> And it occurred to me that dynamically generated dialogue is very rare,
if at all existent, in games today. Would it be possible to somehow have
> sufficiently interesting things that vary based on the situation and such?
An important distinction must be made between sport and story. A basketball
match is an example of a sports experience and a film is an example of a
story. Computer games combine the two. Sports do not have the same kind of
structure as experiences we generally call stories, and I think it is
crucially useful not to throw this distinction away. Story structure is
more planned, generally in accordance with some theory of dramaturgy,
whether this be the kind you can learn from a scriptwriting book or
something of your own invention.
You guys will probably not have seen the Danish cult game, Blackout? This
is an awesome first-person interactive film with four plot lines, shot and
edited as a doll animation! Really weird, but really interesting. In the
game/film, YOU wake up in a strange apartment, you have no memory of who
you are and there is a woman lying dead on a bed in the bedroom. Her head
is missing. Now, you've got to figure out who you are, how you got there
and who the dead woman is. The story has four basic plot lines, and the
game designer, Simon Andreasen, explains that it was necessary to limit the
number of possible plot lines, because there were too many uninteresting
possibilities among the infinity.
It is interesting, I think, that a live story can be interesting where a
computer game story will be boring. Presumably because the presence of a
live storyteller is an experience with much higher resolution sensory
inputs? You sit on a seat, you make eye contact with the teller, you can
see every fibre of his hair, the sweat on his brow, and nothing (yet) comes
close to the experience of close contact with a real human.
Dynamically generated dialogue will be interesting and enjoyable when it
comes. But in terms of computer processor power, it costs too much to be
top on the list of things the designer considers most important. And
creating whole new lines of plot development based on every possible
interaction is also extremely demanding on the game designer, as if he had
to put all of the stories a good storyteller could collect in a lifetime
into one game.
Well, that's some thoughts about this interesting topic, off the top of my
I am also the moderator of a mailing list for discussing stories of all
kinds, traditional and new. Mostly, it is easiest to exchange simple
stories - Dutch urban legends, devil stories, Inuit stories of shamanism,
raven stories from all over the world, etc. - but there might be other
angles on this discussion from some of the live
storytellers/scriptwriters/others unidentified but lurking for _something_
The list is called storytellers, and it's on Yahoo! Groups. To subscribe,
send a mail to email@example.com and reply to the confirmatory
mail. Then please READ THE FINE WELCOME MESSAGE. :) Here's some more
Come prepared to describe the basics of gaming story to those who do not
have your knowledge, and to come away with inspiration from other kinds of
stories. Also, be welcome to read the archives for its great treasures.
Finally, in one forum or another, I believe I can round up some people here
in Denmark who would be interested and have good insights (much greater
than my own) to contribute. I'd prefer to do this in my own group, as I
think it will be easier to maintain a critical mass on there. And it will
take some time - maybe two weeks - to round up the people with experience
and/or theoretical knowledge of relevance to game design.
I hope it is OK that I plug my own group like this, as I really want a
viable discussion and I reckon it is hard work getting enough people on the
one list at the one time. But I'm sure Kenneth knows this!
I am also prepared to continue this conversation here, to whatever degree
is interesting and useful. But most of my experience and current interest
is in the area of live storytelling. - Currently preparing for my first
ninety-minute show. (!! Tell stories and keep people interested for the
length of a feature film!)
Thanks for the discussion so far.
Aa-Tchoo! Translations: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tsentsak Medical Translations: email@example.com
+45-3616 5666 / 2192 5666