Corvus’ “Interactive Storyscape”

Interesting post by Corvus Elrod, describing his approach to story/game creation: Interactive Storyscape.

I refer to the Drachurae Cycle as an Interactive Storyscape, as not only is it a narration built for interaction, but of interaction. Rather than craft linear plot lines and usher players through them, I create, characters, environments, and situations, which I invite players to explore, effect the outcomes of, and add their own ideas to the mix. This atmosphere of co-creation is at the heart of my storytelling and the digital incarnation of my work will incorporate it as much as conceivably possible.

Now, this seems on the face of it to be a description of a virtual world/MMOPG and the like — where players make the world come alive in many ways. But what Corvus is burrowing deeply into is the peculiar experience of writing for interaction. In such circumstances, one needs to create a world with characters and events that people want to be a part of, persistently; but also, one needs to consider what sort of events and characters and environment encourages co-creation. It is one thing for someone to like the space and the skin they’re in, it is another for them to want to (and feel they can) build upon it. How does this change a story? Well, I don’t have a quick list for you right now. For now, consider the following questions:

  • What sort of stories would you like to watch?
  • What sort of stories would you like to be in?
  • What sort of stories would you like to co-create?
  • What sort of stories would you like to create?

Can you say yes to all of them for the same story?

8 Replies

  • I seem to be incapable of generating track backs these days. Not sure where the problem lies, exactly. Probably with me!

    Regardless, I’ve posted a response on MBB to this article. It’s somewhat shorted than I set out to make it, so I’ll just post it here:

    You’re right that it’s more than just creating characters and situations people want to be a part of. It’s creating situations where people can have a meaningful impact on the outcome. We have these two separate approaches to game story happening, both in online and single player games. On the one hand we have designers presenting rigidly linear plots via the static elements of narration (i.e. cut scenes, dialogue) and we have sand box games where the player is fully responsible for the creation of story using the dynamic elements (i.e. gameplay). World of Warcraft, Fable, and Jade Empire represent the first approach, which is what we most commonly think of as a game’s ’story.’ Sims and Second Life represent the second approach.

    What I didn’t say on the blog (in this post, anyway) is that I’m in the process of designing (the concept portion of it, coding is a ways away yet) an engine that will allow a storyteller to craft a story utilizing the dynamic elements of game narrative.

  • I noticed that you mentioned a program you were working on originally, but I thought I should of known that and so didn’t say anything! My trackbacks haven’t been working too well either, so no worries there. I’ll pop the link to your response here.

    Your post actually inspired me to do a continuum of story and game elements. I haven’t had time though, and so I’ll jot down some ideas here. Although, I’m aware that plenty of people have been discussing & writing about this for ages — but I just don’t have the time to honour them all here either!.

    There are stories that are explored through gameplay (eg: Choose your own adventure books through to Interactive Fiction etc). That is: stories that are prescripted but which require ‘gameplay’ to access them. I guess these could come under Espen Aarseth’s ‘ergodic literature’. There are traditional linear stories intersperced within games (cut-scenes);
    There are games that rely on ’emergence’: the story emerging out of the player actions. In these games we have a story setting, characters & events that the players can participate in (missions), but the script/the actual performance is up to the players. It seems here, the difference is not between games & story, but between stories delivered & those told collaboratively — which is what you’re interested in. Andrew Glassner — in his book Interactive Storytelling, Techniques for 21st Century Fiction — puts forward a 4 parameters for the combination of stories & games: game, story, social, computerised…

    To me, there are two extreme approaches (with plenty in between) to participatory fiction: software programs that react to the player and humans that react to the players. On the software end we have the interactive drama area where researchers are working on creating AI-driven systems that react to the players input to create compelling drama. Examples are Chris Crawford; Nicolas Szilas; Andrew Stern & Michael Mateus; R. Michael Young and so on. And on the other end we have the “puppet-masters” in ARGs (alternate reality games). People who react to the activity of the players by introducing new plot points, creating more puzzles and so on.

    But anyway, thoughts over.

    Tell me about your program. I’m fascinated in how you’re doing it.

  • While I say that games are taking one approach, or the other, I certainly don’t mean to indicate there aren’t gray areas in between. So, a continuum is a good way of phrasing it. It’d be interesting to see some formalization of it though, with games placed in their appropriate positions along a graph.

    You asked, on my blog, whether I saw game and story as separate. I do not. If you do some back reading at MBB, you’ll find lots of evidence that I consider all aspects of a game’s design to be a part of the narration. Story, by the definition I have chosen to use is not the same as plot. Story is the emotional, and experiential, progress through the plot. The author has a story they are trying to communicate via a narration. The audience, should that narration be well crafted, will experience a very similar story, but one colored and altered by their own life experience.

    I’ve been getting a lot of requests to share my engine ideas. I’m hesitant to do so at this point for a variety of reasons, from legal to logistical, but I’ll try and post something this week that at least discusses the goals of the engine.

  • I thought you did see it that way (story & game) but wanted to make sure. Apologies for not being attentive to your blog. I see now how you have already addressed these issues, in particular with your post: The Delicate Balance. I also like your post on Games as ‘Open’ Texts as I am working on how to represent a dynamic work using a polysystem approach. You also talk alot about the diffference between the implied & inferred story, the intended and actual. Narrativity is an interesting area and I’ll be posting soon aobut some interesting research I found on this area.

    And I understand completely that you feel the need to hold back detailed information about your programme. I struggle with frustration about my own ideas & research about the poetics of cross-media. I want to blurt them to the world but also realise that I can’t just give it ALL away. I want to share information, to colloborate with ideas, to create a well-considered work. It is a delicate balance.

    I look forward to hearing more about your work and hearing more about how you view story & game. These terms are, of course, human constructions. We separated them in the beginning and it is up to us, perhaps, to bring them together again. I like the observation by Narratologist David Herman on the debate about the transmedial nature of narrative: that it isn’t a question of narrative being present or not, but that there is a “common stock” of narrative design principles that are exploited in different ways in each medium. I think this extends to gameplay. That there is a “common-stock” of human experience or communication techniques (how we relate & affect each other) that are exploited in different ways at different times. Some works employ alot of game-play techniques throughout the whole work, other toggle between narrative & gameplay techniques, and others have both present, a multi-modal experience if you like.

    I used to call what I do research into “cross-media storytelling” and changed it to entertainmet to be obvisouly inclusive of narrative & gameplay. Indeed now, I do not refer to the story or game component of a franchise (when I talk to myself that is!), I refer to an ‘event’ — which combines the two.

  • No need for apologies about not keeping up with MBB. If I had time to read every single article that interested me, I’d not have time for other things, like eating, or sleeping.

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