Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Next-Generation Storytelling

Warren Spector | 24 Apr 2007 12:00
Editor's Choice - RSS 2.0

Similarly, I can't have just one conclusion to this article. Buckle up, read on and pick the conclusion that best fits your prejudices and beliefs.

Conclusion 1
Stories have been around forever. The success of story games tells me current players are vitally interested in them and will reward us for taking story games to greater heights.

But we want to look beyond current gamers to the vastly larger potential audience of (current) non-gamers - an audience we have no chance of attracting if all we have to offer are prettier, louder versions of what we've done before.

To grow our audience to match our ballooning next-gen development and marketing costs, we have to broaden the range and increase the quality of stories we tell. We need to lure people in with things that are familiar and comforting, and we must take interaction out of the realm of the abstract and into an area they already understand - emotionally satisfying stories about recognizable people, stories that illuminate and enrich their lives.

Conclusion 2
Obviously, I think the road to more compelling stories involves learning to share authorship with players.

If I could have one thing, one wish granted, for our business, the thing I'd most like to see is more developers making games that offer players freedom to explore story spaces within constraints imposed by a dramatist. We'd let players off the rails a bit more. We wouldn't settle for offering tactical choices, challenging puzzles and movie-inspired cut scenes.

Instead, or in addition, we'd offer players opportunities to explore more freely and to delve deeper into the inner lives of their characters in ways that don't involve killing them. In other words, we'd offer players real choices, with real story and character consequences.

Great story games are only partly dependent on technology. They're hugely dependent on will and creativity - on the need to engage in dialogue with culture, problems and players. Games can be about something more than killing, fighting and puzzle solving.

This doesn't require new technology - it just requires new thinking.

Conclusion 3
The industry can't do this alone. It'll take the efforts of people inside and outside the mainstream game business.

To be clear, I think industry's doing a pretty decent job. Any medium that can boast of having produced games like Thief: Deadly Shadows, Indigo Prophecy, Psychonauts and so on has a lot going for it. We are making progress.

Cool as those industry efforts are, even the most daring of pre-existing games is just a baby step toward the goal of a truly compelling, interactive story. Face it: The home team's coming to the plate and swinging for singles.

I don't fault any of the developers represented here for that: Swinging for the fences story-wise would probably be commercial suicide, in the short-term, requiring an R&D effort far beyond anything I've ever seen or heard about in the game business, with no guarantee of success.

Publishers - our only realistic source of funding - have to be profitable. To do that, they have to ship games. On a regular basis. To stay in business, developers have to give publishers what they want. And the audience seems to like games, and game stories, the way they are. It seems unlikely publishers are going to invest in multiyear, blue-sky research efforts to change the way we tell stories - efforts that may or may not succeed. And who's going to fund a three- or five-year research effort into natural language processing or more compelling NPCs when the marketplace isn't demanding it?

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