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Re: Dialogue

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,
>starting with:
>    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
>than that.

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 
characters say
 > 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_ 
on there.

The list is called storytellers, and it's on Yahoo! Groups. To subscribe, 
send a mail to storytellers@yahoogroups.com and reply to the confirmatory 
mail. Then please READ THE FINE WELCOME MESSAGE.  :)  Here's some more 
info: http://www.angelfire.com/ny/talesandstories/

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.

Best regards

Aa-Tchoo! Translations: aatchoo@aatchoo.com
Tsentsak Medical Translations: tsentsak@business.tele.dk
+45-3616 5666 / 2192 5666