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Games Entertainment

Storytelling in Computer Games 131

Posted by michael
from the kill-troll-with-rusty-knife dept.
Cosmicbandito writes: "The latest issue of XYZZY News features transcripts and audio downloads of a 2 hour panel discussion titled "Storytelling in Computer Games Past, Present and Future". Scott Adams, the celebrated designer of classics like "Adventureland" and "Pirate's Island", described his experiences in the early days of the home game market, offered his opinions on the current crop of games, and made predictions about games of the future. Scott is credited with writing and marketing the first commercial computer game. Of special interest to Slashdotters, he is also an avid Everquest player. And no, he doesn't draw "Dilbert"." Think "pre-Infocom".
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Storytelling in Computer Games

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  • by eggstasy (458692) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:03PM (#2257600) Journal
    Games aren't built from the ground up for christ's sake.
    Serious companies have their own in-house libraries which they extend and adapt to make their next game.
    Think SCUMM and Lucas Arts for instance. There were *oodles* of adventure games made with it, and they all ruled!
    Think of the Final Fantasy games. I love all of them, even though they are all very similar. The first five or six in the series must have shared a LOT of code, being almost photocopies of each other with updated graphics and slightly different gameplay. They were all basically a tile graphics engine plus some sort of scripting thing for the gameplay events etc.
    Then they went 3D with FF7 and I can bet whatever you want that FF 8 and 9 reused one hell of a lot of code from 7.
    People don't do anything from scratch these days.It would take *years* to develop the sort of libs companies have accumulated over time.
    If someone tried to make a game from scratch, it would most certainly end up being bug-ridden, delayed, and much less than the cutting-edge stuff large companies put out with the latest in 3D and EAX-enhanced sound.
    Start-ups just buy an old engine and try to make something interesting with it. And often fail.
  • by James Skarzinskas (518966) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:29PM (#2257698) Homepage
    I would like to point out here that the storyline was the critical part of Half-Life's success as a singleplayer FPS, and if all it did was drop you into the second episode with a crowbar and tell you to bash up some headcrabs, it wouldn't be the same at all.
  • by bumagovitch (181060) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:51PM (#2257751)
    Before rpg/adventure games reach "the next level" in storytelling, we'll need to make some really major advances in in-game language and social interaction.

    Dialog trees and the simpler (a la Diablo) mechanisms of social interaction that we have in today's games are fine for today's stories, but if you want anything more, they get really limited really quickly.

    Since the days of text adventures and the old-style Sierra games, we abandoned user-input speech for simpler forms because computers were too limited, and actually dialoging with player-driven characters was unweildy and unrealistic. But in the year 2001 our computers, which can render 3 physical dimensions and intensely realistic video and audio ought to be able to handle more convincing linguistic social interaction.

    In today's games, stories are vehicles for killing things or for solving puzzles. I don't think that you're going to see these things disappear any time soon (most of us like killing things and solving puzzles) -- but there's a lot of room for story to become gameplay, and not garnish-for-gameplay, that has not been tapped yet.

    For example: really multiple storylines / outcomes. (You could do these with dialog trees but the amount of work/writing would be too much). Situations with moral consequences, situations where interpersonal problems change the game and how the story unfolds, that the player actuates. We have hints of this in Planescape, The Longest Journey, etc., but only hints, really.

    Kudos to the Piaget-poster. I'm a big fan of Piaget, and it's a good point that storytelling in video games is about cognitive mechanisms. In terms of solutions to these problems though, looking to Chomsky & other linguists, and to book-writers might be most productive.

    Ben Schneider
    Scenario Designer
    Stainless Steel Studios, Inc.
  • by elmegil (12001) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @06:00PM (#2257779) Homepage Journal
    Sounds to me like Scott is reflecting his own career onto the industry, rather than vice versa. If you analyze his games (which I don't mean to imply are cookie cutter), he basically wrote an adventure game engine, and then cranked out games using that engine. That was the basis of his success. Up to that point, Zork and the original adventure game were all custom done jobs, which would have been prohibitive to do commercially (when Zork was adapted for the wider audience it was "ported" to Infocom or whoever's engine).
  • by the way (22503) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @06:07PM (#2257792)
    A good game rewards the player to draw them in, making them think they've overcome the system, from the state where they're fumbling with the controls to the stage where the control has become transparent through practice

    So true. But there's so much more that goes to make a 'good game'. In Trigger Happy: The Secret Life of Videogames Steven Poole (composer, Time Literary supplement author, and videogames enthusiast) sets out to answer the question 'What makes a videogame good?'. His attempt at understanding the videogame aesthetic does a great job of building a taxonomy of videogames and describing what makes a game enjoyable.

    I couldn't hope to capture his findings in this brief post, but suffice to see that neither story nor game mechanics are of themselves enough to make a good game. Other elements discussed by Poole includes the importance of balancing the right amount of reality vs fantasy, the importance of frame-rate, appropriate graphics and sound, the use of rewards, the development of an immersive experience, and a whole lot more.

    If anyone thinks that building a great game is easy and can be done by following a simple formula, I think you'll change you mind after reading this book.
  • by Trekie8472 (517426) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @06:43PM (#2257852) Homepage
    You said you don't know a single game that matches up to Elite. I know one that far exceeds it. Escape Velocity [ambrosiasw.com] is the most versitile game I have seen. You can play it as a sort of RPG, space shooter, or simple trading game. Not only is there the story line of the Rebels vs. Confeds, you can download plugins that others have made. While the orignial game story isn't the ultimate of computer game story telling, many plugins are very detailed and have interesting plots. These plugins can be made to expand EV [ambrosiasw.com] as it is, or completly change all the missions, ships, outfits, and planets. It is made for the Mac by Ambrosia Software [ambrosiasw.com], but can be used in many Mac emulators I have seen.
  • by Dennis G. Jerz (473507) <`blog' `at' `jerz.setonhill.edu'> on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @10:16PM (#2258406) Homepage
    cribeiro writes: "The first Infocom games date from the early 70's..."

    Mainframe Zork was released in the late 70s, before Infocom existed as a company, and after Adams released "Adventureland".

    Infocom, as an entity, did not actually release Zork until 1981.

    See a recent MIT student undergaduate paper that carefully examined the history of Infocom:

    Down from the Top of Its Game: The Story of Infocom, Inc. [mit.edu]

An inclined plane is a slope up. -- Willard Espy, "An Almanac of Words at Play"

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