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A New Stab at Interactive Fiction 141

Posted by timothy
from the could-also-use-wrench-in-parlour dept.
pamar writes "Dr Dobbs Journal interviews Chris Crawford, the noted game designer, about a new direction for interactive fiction. In the interview, he talks of his new stab at Interactive Fiction, and mentions Storytron, his new company which he hopes will make interactive fiction easier to write, not only for games, but for complex social interactions in general."
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A New Stab at Interactive Fiction

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  • by Channard (693317) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @02:09PM (#16444765) Journal
    .. will still be not allowing the player to think out of the box. You're still going to have a finite number of solutions to a problem.
  • by Wordplay (54438) <geo@snarksoft.com> on Sunday October 15, 2006 @02:58PM (#16445045)
    This doesn't compete with Inform, TADS, or any of the narrative languages, at least in a meaningful way. As best I can tell, this approach doesn't even allow for a traditional guided narrative at all.

    You have an initial setup (there's your bit of narrative). You have Stages, Verbs, Actors with Inclinations (personality), and Roles (which are sets of reactions).

    You, the player, and the Actors can all perform Verbs. Performing a Verb on an Actor causes a reaction, defined by a Role assigned to the Actor. Actors semi-autonomously react, within their Roles, by performing Verbs on you and the other Actors. The Verbs they pick are constrained by the Role, and weighted by the Actor's Inclinations. Actors also choose to wander between Stages according to Inclinations, which increases or decreases the possibility that two actors meet. The important bit is that all of this is cyclic. If I do something to Actor A, Actor A may react by doing something to Actor B, who in turn reacts...etc. Or Actor B may just have -witnessed- what I did to Actor A, and then goes off and gossips to Actor C, who...etc.

    So, basically, any story is emergent. You define Actors, Stages, Verbs, Inclinations, and Roles, so as to guide the Storyworld towards a particular type of theme, but from there, you (the architect) don't have very granular control. I suppose you could program an Actor as the MoverAndShaker, whose agenda (through some pretty absolute Inclinations and Roles) is basically to wander through the Storyworld and provoke people in the direction you want.

    In any case, note that this type of storytelling can be very successful. Facade works much this way.

    It's a really interesting setup. In its current form, I'm not sure how successful it be for game-authoring, if only because the game interface seems to be Actors' talking heads plus a diagrammed language. It's pretty obscure for any sort of casual player. But as a core technology and an authoring system, I think there are terrific possibilities for this. I'd be especially interested in a hybrid between this and traditional guided narrative.
  • Re:Pilot's seat? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lawpoop (604919) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @03:19PM (#16445165) Homepage Journal
    That's exactly right. Fiction, or a story, is not interactive. Fiction is a retelling *of the past*. It's not what you're doing right now.

    A story has three parts. In the first act, we have the status quo, situation normal. A good storyteller might call this the set up. Then, something happens that disturbs the status quo -- something that the protagonist has to deal with. They can't go back to the status quo. In the third act, there is the final confrontation with whatever the obstacle is. After the final confrontation, there is a new equalibrium, a new status quo.

    So, if you are having a bad day, you don't know where the story ends. You might get in a car wreck in the morning. You might get fired by your boss in the afternoon for being late. Your wife might leave you in the evening for getting fired and wrecking the car. At any point, you might decide to tell a story about 'the car wreck', 'the firing', or 'my wife leaving me', or you might tell a story about 'my horrible day'. Any one of those events might be the climax or final confrontation of this particular story you are choosing to tell.

    You have to decide in advance what events *of the past* are going to be in your story. You have to know the climax of the story in order to build it up properly. This subject is coincidentally the subject of my last journal entry [slashdot.org].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 15, 2006 @03:54PM (#16445441)
    Is it possible to have an Actor react based on what another Actor doesn't do, not only to what they do? For example, if one actor doesn't show up at work, or doesn't greet the boss, he might get fired.

    And what about acting based on who other Actors are, not just on an Actor's own Inclinations? For example, if Actor A had assaulted Actor B earlier in the game, the developer might want Actor B to avoid Actor A in the future, even though Actor B has no Inclination to avoid other Actors in general.

    And what about reacting based on a combination of what Verb was performed on the Actor, along with who performed the Verb? For example, if a composer hears applause when his symphony is performed, he might be satisfied. But if it's being applauded by the King, he might be ecstatic.
  • Re:A little confused (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Wordplay (54438) <geo@snarksoft.com> on Sunday October 15, 2006 @04:03PM (#16445497)
    Sort of. I'm sort of distilling this from his whole "comparisons with existing technologies" riff on the Overview, but here goes:

    Interactive Fiction is primarily Fiction--that is, a semi-fixed story. It has multiple detours (and perhaps even multiple endings) based on choices you make, but a start, middle, and finish was envisioned before you got there. The primary craft in Interactive Fiction is to hide that from the player, such that they believe they have a large effect on what's going on. In fact, you've artfully constrained the number of possibilities, via the verb and object list usually, such that they actually have a relatively small effect. With some exceptions, the plot resolution is the primary attraction, providing a carrot to draw you through the interactions. In especially well-crafted ones, the interactions themselves are equally entertaining.

    Interactive Storytelling is primarily Interactive, with a largely un-fixed story. You and the computer interact to make the story together (the Storytelling part). The craft in Interactive Storytelling is in defining and weighting the dramatic elements (Actors, Stages, Inclinations, etc.) such that the stories that emerge will be interesting more often than not. The primary attraction is in the spontaneity of the interaction, as well as exploring the range of stories that can emerge from different interactions. To use a science-fiction reference, it's like a very limited version of a Holodeck vacation.
  • by Wrataxas (745719) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @04:10PM (#16445533)
    If the box is big enough, then you don't need to think outside it to have truly interesting experiences. Chris is building a bigger box...
  • Games Masters (Score:2, Interesting)

    by munrock (933555) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @04:18PM (#16445595)
    Isn't an interactive story basically a 1 player RPG? I mean interactive fiction is basically an RPG but with more depth to the written narrative. Isn't it?

    And the thing that keeps tabletop RPGs alive is the games master. or DM or whatever the particular set of rules call him or her. That's your storytron right there: a human mind that can generate new narrative on the fly in response to the 'reader's initiative.

    Unless storytron is an AI that can take the best from human GMs, human authors and Game Engines, then it's nothing to write home about. Otherwise, the key to interactive fiction lies in using the existing techniques available ('foldback') in the best way. The same way a good game designer will make the player feel that he's using his initiative when really he's being subtly guided, or in giving the player short bursts of freedom while the overarching story is on rails.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 15, 2006 @05:28PM (#16446227)
    At the core this strikes me as a great idea: create actors and let them wander around interacting with the player and each other. Like a verbal "The Sims." There is a lot of potential here. How do you as the player know what the others are doing when you aren't watching? Can you have a character that sings to himself when alone but when anyone shows up he's quiet?

    What bothered me is that it isn't done and they want people to "try it out." Not even the tutorials were finished, and even if they were, there isn't anything to play the game on. Crawford said "look at the board" but there aren't that many comments, spread out every few weeks or so.

    It reminds me of another great Dr. Dobbs interactive fiction letdown I had. An article written by David Betz about his new "Drool" adventure writing language that looked fantastic. Oh, it wasn't done yet, but he's working on it. That was back in '93...
  • Re:Trolls. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dmala (752610) on Monday October 16, 2006 @12:15AM (#16449139)
    You should check out some more modern games. The form has come a long way in the almost 30 years since Zork.

    http://www.brasslantern.org/ [brasslantern.org]
    http://www.ifcomp.org [ifcomp.org]
  • Re:Pilot's seat? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cruise_WD (410599) on Monday October 16, 2006 @08:19AM (#16451267) Homepage
    "Interactive Fiction" implies that you become, to some degree, the author of the fiction.

    Chris Crawford on his site defines interaction as a conversation - each party in the conversation rotates through three stages: listening to another, processing the information and formulating a reply, and then conveying that reply back.

    Currently, computer games are appalling at listening to the player, and pretty mediocre at forumlating a reply. "Facade" (http://www.interactivestory.net/ [interactivestory.net]) is an excellent example of how that is improving, and it's also a subject I'm reasearching and investigating myself.

    The goal of interactive fiction is effectively turn story-writing into a conversation, with the tools providing some of the information (world, background, etc.) and the "player" providing events and emotions. At the end you have a static piece of fiction, a story. It is the process of generating the fiction that becomes interactive. Naturally, however, the "player" experiences the story as it is constructed, so the reading and creating happen similtaneously, which makes it less obvious the end result is still a "static" piece of fiction.

    Our brains do it naturally in many ways. I designed a simple combat system suitable for MUDs and their ilk, using text-based descriptions entirely, rather than numbers, and strategic mechanic that rewarded careful choice. My beta-testers regularly sent me messages with stories of battles they'd had:

    "The beserker lunged at me, and I parried, but the blow left me greatly unbalanced. He attacked again but I rolled out of the way. I risked pausing to catch my breath, and luckily he expected an attack and wasted the chance blocking. I feinted, but he knocked my sword aside so powerfully I staggered back. He took the chance to slash at me but I managed to dodge out of the way. I attacked, and he was so tired by this point he fumbled his parry, and I managed to run him through."

    From a simple web-page based combat game their brains constructed this whole battle. My software provided the setting and antagonist, they provided the character and emotions.

    It's just a case of making sure your game encourages that part of the brain, rather than insisting on talking to the rational, logical, numerical sections.
  • Good... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Ithorian guy (1011301) on Monday October 16, 2006 @04:13PM (#16457881)
    Cool. This won't be amazing news for, dare I say it, 'mainstream' gamers. But I on the other hand would pick Zork against World of Warcraft anyday.

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