[MUD-Dev] A footnote to Procedural Storytelling

Brandon J. Rickman dr.k at pc4.zennet.com
Tue May 9 00:56:20 CEST 2000

On Fri, 5 May 2000, Travis Nixon wrote:
> Brandon Rickman wrote:
> >Being able to recognize a "cluttered desk" is equivalent to a polygon
> >renderer deciding that there are too many objects to draw all of them,
> >thus the level of detail presented to the user is unusually indistinct.
> Sorry, I was trying to present too many ideas in too few words.  The idea
> I'm trying to get across is not that having more detailed environments will
> make better stories.  That is quite obviously not true.  However, having
> more detailed environments will not be possible as long as an artist is
> required to create them.  It would be possible to have a few cluttered
> desks, but if an artist has to not only build them, but make them all
> unique, it would not be possible to have even a few hundred of them.  (given
> the assumption that the game itself has very little to do with cluttered
> desks)  It will not be possible to have truly large worlds as long as an
> area designer has to have his finger on every part of the world.

Hidden in this is something of a contradiction, because while the designer
can't build _everything_, one wants to create a virtual world in which a
player can always seek more detail in even the most trivial of objects.
So either the designer has to build everything, but provide few details,
or build a few very detailed objects and risk that the player will never
want to look at anything else.

If you factor in the multi-player aspect of it, the latter isn't a very
good option; you want lots of people to have plenty of room to explore.  
The few detailed items will get squandered or, like the infamous key to
Castle Krak, get lost at the bottom of the ocean where no one can find
them.  {Sorry, wandering into another thread...}

Personally I'm interested in that latter option, creating a world with
many deep levels of detail.  One reason is that I'm tired of being
"immersed" in a virtual world where it only takes a little bit of effort
to figure out the scale of the world.  By scale I mean a lot of things,
but generally it is the sense that you know how much new text you'll have
to read every time you go to a new room.

Of course it is equally impossible to design a world of infinitessimal
detail as it is to design an infinitely large virtual space.  There just
isn't enough time.

I'd suggest that "design" isn't quite the right job description; design is
kind of a commodity-based concept, as a designer one creates form for
objects that would otherwise be artless.  But here we don't want to create
any one specific object, one specific piece of art.  A designer for the
infinitessimal should try to create /potential/, create an open-ended set
of relationships between objects and a couple of tools for pushing those
relationships around.

How about a tool where, as you design a landscape, your contour lines are
echoed in places that you can't see.  Adding a hill in one place results
in a pit at the bottom of the sea.  Each layer of design gets repeated,
rotated, transforms some other layer of the game world.

Well, enough speculation for the moment...

> In the same way, it will simply not be possible to populate a large world
> with interesting "stories" as long as a writer is required to come up with
> them all.  (I'm sort of mangling the word story here.  What I mean is
> building a history of past events and a system for determining future
> responses to possible player actions, as opposed to a simple recounting of a
> sequence of events)   The costs would simply be unreasonable.  Sure, have
> writers for the big, major, world-changing plots, but to truly fill out the
> world and the characters in it, you need a lot more than that.

As far as "determining future response to possible player actions" - hey,
if players want to screw around

"Hm, I don't think I'll rescue the princess after all.  I think I'll lock
her in a tea chest."

then they get bad stories.  Hey, it is their own fault.

> So, back to the original point.  What we need here is two major things.  A
> way to create large worlds, and a way to populate them with interesting
> things to do / see / hear about.  er...well, ok, there are actually a lot of
> other things we need too, but those are two of the largest undertakings, and
> where a lot of my idle thought has gone lately. :)

We need a way to leverage the energy spent on design, and a way to take
advantage of the weird ability people have of attributing meaning an
intelligence to a system they don't understand.

- B!

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