Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Next-Generation Storytelling

Warren Spector | 24 Apr 2007 08:00
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"The stories we tell reflect and determine how we think about ourselves and one another. A new medium of expression allows us to tell stories we could not tell before, to retell the age-old stories in new ways, to imagine ourselves as creatures of a parameterized world of multiple possibilities, to understand ourselves as authors of rules systems which drive behavior and shape our possibilities."

- Janet Murray, "From Game-Story to Cyberdrama," First Person

The quote above really speaks to me - and to the importance of game narrative. Murray's comments speak to the personal and cultural uses of stories, to the new stories afforded us by a new medium, to the ways in which narrative structures remind us that we live in a world of infinite possibility, even to the ways in which each of us is the master of his or her fate. I can't read that quote without feeling like I'd be wasting my time if I didn't at least try to bridge the gap between game and story.

I draw further inspiration from yet another Janet Murray quote, this one from "From Game-Story to Cyberdrama":

"[W]hy are we particularly drawn to discussion of digital games in terms of story?...[I]t is a medium that includes still images, moving images, text, audio, three-dimensional, navigable space - more of the building blocks of storytelling than any single medium has ever offered us."

How could anyone not look at the state of the art and wish for more?

So, how do games tell stories, and what does the future hold for us? And is next-gen technology really the answer?

In this four-part series, I've discussed the elements of storytelling, how they are (and can be) used to tell stories in games, the importance of characterization and character interaction, and the concept of a virtual dungeon master or storyteller. In this, Part Four of the series, I'll be discussing how next-gen hardware can help and hinder the cause of making great games, and what we can do to ensure that the next-generation of games isn't actually a step backward in terms of design.

Next-gen Hardware and Story Games
Sure, more powerful hardware offers new possibilities. We will certainly be able to create more believable actors. We're already seeing next-gen visuals get better. And there's at least the possibility that some of our horsepower will go toward more robust NPC behavior. This could allow us to tell better interactive stories.

And more horsepower could mean better simulations and more interesting worlds. If you believe, as I do, that one of the best ways to empower players is to allow them to craft their own experience, their own narratives through simulation, more horsepower will be a godsend.

Simulations - of environments, of objects or character behavior - offer players the opportunity to reason with our worlds, identify problems and solve them the way they want. Simulation enhances our ability to offer significant player choices, unique outcomes, perceivable consequences. And more powerful hardware clearly makes deeper simulation possible.

But, fundamentally, next-gen hardware isn't the solution to our story problems. The 360 and PS3 and Wii seem (to this basically non-technical guy) to be about equivalent to high-end PCs, in terms of their capabilities - falling short in some ways, surpassing them in others, but basically equivalent. And it's not like story and character interaction problems have been solved in the world of PC gaming. In fact, it may be that next-gen hardware will make it harder for us to accomplish our story goals.

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