[MUD-Dev] A footnote to Procedural Storytelling

Brandon J. Rickman dr.k at pc4.zennet.com
Tue May 23 19:21:59 CEST 2000

On Tue, 23 May 2000, Lee Sheldon wrote:
> Brandon, with all due respect, you work from such prejudiced assumptions,
> it's difficult to know where to begin.

Well sure.  It wouldn't be a very interesting conversation if we both made
safe remarks.

> > It sounds like Dreampark.  All of the technological wizardry
> > aside, you've
> > got a team of writers turned into stage managers.  You support them in
> > every way you can, with random number generators and prop masters and
> > actors, but your relying on the talent of one or a few
> > brilliant writers
> > to make the whole thing work, to turn "a collection of
> > concepts" into a
> > "narrative".
> Please don't make the mistake of throwing out competence to chase
> brilliance.  I'm arguing for the education of professionals, none of whom
> may be the next Shakespeare.  There aren't enough brilliant writers in the
> world to support ANY entertainment medium.  We settle for competence all the
> time.  It's not a bad thing.  Neither is supporting writers "...in every way
> you can..."

Sure, but it helps if your end result is entertaining or worthwhile.  
Your properly trained writers will produce a broad spectrum of
entertainment, some of it brilliant, most of it okay.  Perhaps players
will pay more for better entertainment, but regardless you're going to
provide most people with a merely competent product.  Sounds like a good
business plan, but personally that is not what I'm interested in.  I want
to provide an entertaining activity to everyone who plays my game, or if
there are any particular groups I am not interested in entertaining, that
would include those hardcore hack-n-slash gamers who dominate the RPG
market.  In other words, I want to provide a quality experience for any
potential audience for which the current models of entertainment (tv,
online RPG) are not appealing ("merely competent").

> It is a staffing structure that predates film by a good many centuries.  You
> think the aforementioned Mr. Shakespeare had no help?  That all his fellow
> actors sat around silently while he (or Francis Bacon) came up with one
> exquisitely turned phrase after another?

Exquisite phrases be damned, you still haven't made it interactive.
You're just guaranteeing that I'll get my money's worth.  "Well, at least
they put a lot of _effort_ into the production."

> The stage manager assumption is yours, and I don't agree with it at all, but
> I'll try to respond to your conclusion based upon it.  Writers work with
> world runners all the time, often writing on demand, just as in other
> ongoing media.  In daytime drama I had actors leaving for an attempt at
> movies, actresses getting pregnant (Including one who was playing a virgin
> for crying out loud), studio fires, all sorts of interesting "seat-of-your
> pants logistical problems" that required massive tap dancing and rewriting.
> Writers handle this kind of stuff on a moment's notice.  I remember hundreds
> of times being called to the set in primetime to write by the seat of my
> pants.  Imagine discovering part way through shooting an episode that the
> damn thing is going to be too short.  Now imagine it's approaching midnight,
> and you're already into golden time.  You write sprawled on your back on
> America's favorite sofa while a hundred people sit around waiting, and the
> money ticks away.  It may not be the way Chaim Potok works.  But it's part
> of what many writers do.
> I'm afraid you're looking at a profession from the outside, without really
> understanding much of the nuts and bolts of it.

> > 3 - If I'm one of your "talented writers" I'm not sure I want
> > to be a part
> > of your interactive commercial fantasy world.
> Sorry, I have no idea what you mean by this.  Talented writers don't want to
> do interactive?  The WGA is forever holding seminars and lectures packed
> with writers trying to figure this out.  It's pretty much the blind leading
> the blind right now ("Hey, I just invented something I call branching!  It's
> the key to interactive entertainment!"), but that will change.

I think a talented writer would be tempted to move on to better things,
like creating their own fictional world, instead of contributing to an
extablished one.  But this would be true of all the involved professions,
not specifically writers.

> > 4 - If I'm a player in your interactive commercial fantasy world, I'm
> > still a puppet on a string.
> Puppets can be a perfectly good thing as long as the puppets can't feel the
> strings.

Something an engineer would say?

> If I created a murder mystery where I allowed you to miss a clue, I'D be
> sunk.  As a game designer who first made his mark as a mystery writer, I'm
> baffled by the assumed game story structure that is necessary to support
> that statement.

Have you never played interactive fiction?  Part of the game is to hide
clues from the player.  If the player finds a clue, they get points.  If
they miss clues, they have to play the game over.  Hey, that _is_

> > Adventure Construction Set.  Yes, the automatically generated
> > games were
> > dull because they weren't well authored.
> That sounds like the one, yes.  Not well authored?  You mean a lack of le
> mot juste?  Well yes, but repetition had far more to do with the boredom
> factor I believe.  If not well authored because the repetition should not
> have been so obvious?  I agree with that, too.  And that's far more serious.

The authoring problem doesn't have so much to do with specific words.
Probably more tedious than boring.  If I'm on a quest for a fur-lined
helmet, don't send me on another quest for "something blue" - help me find
the helmet!  Make it spontaneous, make it feel like I've accomplished

Ironically, one thing missing from most interactivity is a sense for
the duration of the activity.  "It will take me 30 minutes to play this
game."  Film and television provide this structure (with the occasional
cliffhanger thrown in).  With a time limit, the player gets the
satisfaction that something will be resolved.

Unfortunately this wreaks havoc in a real-time based world.  My biggest
assumption is that you would want real-time, you would want a persistent

- B!

MUD-Dev mailing list
MUD-Dev at kanga.nu

More information about the mud-dev-archive mailing list