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A New Stab at Interactive Fiction 141

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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  • Pilot's seat? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 15, 2006 @02:06PM (#16444751)
    Here's the question though. Is fiction really ment to be interactive? Or is fiction the journey the author leads you on?
  • Re:Pilot's seat? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by secolactico ( 519805 ) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @02:21PM (#16444831) Journal
    Here's the question though. Is fiction really ment to be interactive? Or is fiction the journey the author leads you on?

    Why can't it be both? When you move from one medium to another, there's always a period of adjustment and sometimes new creative mechanisms and paradigms must be developed. When you try to "migrate" a work of fiction from one medium to another, the results tend to be shoddy, which is why seldom books adapt well to the movie screen and why movies give way to crappy games tie ins.

    Now, both books and movies are guided journeys but this only means that new storytelling forms have to be found.

    Aren't pen-n-paper rpgs a form of interactive fiction. It might not be for everyone, but I'd call it succesful. Most computer RPG are actually puzzles with a background but if they are done right and the story is engrossing enough, you don't really care.
  • by headkase ( 533448 ) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @02:31PM (#16444889)
    There is still the problem of brittleness [] which this verb based approach WILL suffer from. Each verb represents a concept and unless you allow concepts to overlap (probably using fuzzy logic []) you will end up with situations where the mapping of the user input does not match the preprogrammed verbs properly. Basically he's programming points on a line where the computer knows what to do instead of creating a smooth continuum where the computer can compute the probability of what you meant. Then as the number of verbs grow the complexity of the system increases exponentially so you need some sort of culling algorithm (maybe as simple as a list of synonyms) to reduce the choices to something that more closely fits the preprogrammed responses.
    People smarter than you and I have been working on open-ended AI for a long time and there's still no solution yet so I wouldn't get my hopes up too high for this program.
  • by paintswithcolour ( 929954 ) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @02:31PM (#16444891)
    How is this different from the Interactive Fiction programming languages that are already out there?

    The limitations of these languages have generally always been with the developer not in the chosen language, so I'm a little unclear how this will make inherently more immersive games. I'm not even sure it looks easier to use (this is a little unfair as I'm judging on screenshots), but the language 'Inform' has made leaps forward in this area with a natrual language system. Or designers can use 3rd party GUI tools to assist with construction in many of the IF languages. I'm skeptical of how this will compete with the games developed with other languages and made freely accessiable in the IF archive.

  • Re:Pilot's seat? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Merovign ( 557032 ) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @02:48PM (#16444973)
    Fiction is always interactive.

    No matter how precise and demanding an author is, the reader always brings understanding, misunderstanding, interpretation, and their own preconceptions to a work.

    There are several schools of literary interpretation, which argue and debate and grapple incessantly, and some of which are almost violently hostile to each other, but if you were to ask them WHETHER the written word is interpreted (rather than just received), they would pretty much all look at you like you had three heads.
  • by dforsey ( 107707 ) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @03:50PM (#16445393)
    The basic problem with interactive fiction is the interactive part... :-)

    A player is extremely unlikely to make the choices and take the actions that lead to a compelling story.

    They won't make the mistakes that lead to King Lear or Hamlet to their tragic ends.

    They won't make the choices that take Luke Skywalker to defeating the death star (not if they have real choices that affect the storyline)

    A good story takes the reader through a series of psychological stages resulting from the characters making choices a player is unlikely to make. (they just look up the "right" answer on the net...)

    I would be more convinced if Crawford had a single example: mockup, text, an animated video - anything - that demonstrated how a working game would play in a (even a 15-minute) gaming session.

    I don't even want a working system at this point - show me a walkthrough so we can get an idea of what game play would be. (it would be nice it that doesn't require the strong AI problem to be solved first as well:-)

  • How would that be different from The Sims? From the screenshots it looks like each actor has a ton of varibles that might get influenced when different actors interact and then cause them to do things. This sounds pretty much exactly like The Sims. Maybe it allows different kinds of scenarios or such, not just the puppet house that the Sims provide, but I don't see a fundamentel difference that would turn his stuff magically into 'storytelling' while not The Sims. Sounds kind of like a Sims Construction Kit, but I fail to see how the actors and storys will get any more interesting then in any other sandbox games.

    Speaking of Facade, while interesting, its pretty much normal interactive fiction, type in a few words and get a reaction when you hit the right verb. All the reactions are completly pre-scripted and the freedom you have in Facade is still pretty much non-existant, except the normal branching points that you get in most other games as well. The interesting thing in Facade is that the gameworld doesn't wait for the player to interact like in a normal point&click adventure, instead it always progresses, but thats not really something new in terms of storytelling, its more an issue of presentation, The Last Express, Half Life 2 or Fahrenheit do pretty much the same thing.

  • Re:Pilot's seat? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MrTufty ( 838030 ) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @05:07PM (#16446011)
    I'm with you on this one, interactivity to me suggests a 2-way process.

    Books and films don't change depending on your own actions. Games, it could be argued, do - at least to a certain extent. I think it's perfectly possible to create a game which is only just interactive, in the sense that no matter what you do, the same things happen.

    Which basically means to me that the best way to create a truly interactive game is to have multiple branching storylines and good AI. Not many games have managed that yet... perhaps that's the next step.
  • by oZZoZZ ( 627043 ) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @05:43PM (#16446423)
    He rambles on about how modern games are just copies of old games, and that everything being done in game design today is irrelevant. No one in the game industry respects him anymore. He's alienated himself from the entire industry by going a different direction and insulting those not on his path. I have no problem with him persuing interactive storytelling, but I have a big problem with him calling all games that aren't interactive stories worthless, or "irrelevant." He did a great thing by creating the GDC, but got kicked out when he started to redefine games as limited to "interactive stories."
  • by Chris Crawford ( 1013933 ) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @07:10PM (#16447111)
    OK, here's a mockup screenshot of one turn in a game: l []

    and here's a more detailed explanation of verb-based interaction: based_dramatic_interaction.html []

    here's a very thorough discussion of the nature of the interface: []

    We don't have to solve any AI problem because this is not an AI problem; it's an artistic problem and is solved by each storybuilder as per their own artistic sensibilities as expressed in their scripts and verbs.
  • by Chris Crawford ( 1013933 ) on Sunday October 15, 2006 @07:40PM (#16447391)

    "Everybody" hates me? Does Ezra Whorton hate me? Sandy Piscator? Johnny Fisher? What kind of scientific study did you do to arrive at this conclusion? ;-)

    I'd suggest that your statement would be more accurate if you rephrased it to "Everybody I know hates Chris." And then of course it would be reasonable to ask how many people you know.

    There certainly are some people who hold my work in high esteem -- I keep getting paid to speak at all manner of conferences. However, I agree that my caustic remarks about the games biz have alienated a great many of the younger members of the games industry. The older guys are generally more sympathetic to my points, because they've been around the block a few times and recognize that, while my phrasing might be undiplomatic, my basic points are often sound.

    And even more interesting is the fact that some people hate me because they don't like my ideas. What does that suggest?

Air is water with holes in it.