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Emergent Story Systems

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A bit of surfing around the internet shows that procedural content in games isn't really anything new. That didn't come as a surprise to me. For instance, a lot of games use algorithms to construct new levels. I offer Civilization as an example, where the world you'll play on is completely generated. Many games before and after Civilization do the same.

I was also somewhat aware of procedural graphics. Years ago, I dabbled around with demo programming a bit. After scrolling starfield in different ways, I got some nice plasma working, but the tunnel effect never turned out quite right. If you want to experience the true power of procedural graphics, surf over to or Pouet and download some of the cool demos there. I especially recommend watching a couple of 64K intros, so that you can not only enjoy the nice graphics and music but also be amazed by the fact that all this is done in just 65536 bytes of code. Or less, of course.

Interesting though procedural graphics may be, it's not what I'm after. I'll probably fool around a bit more with Perlin noise and stuff like that in the near future, but what I'm really interested in is emergent story systems. In essence, an emergent story system means that I, the game designer, lay down some basic ground rules from which a story emerges that you, the player, shape through your actions.

Emergent story systems differ from other story-based games by the fact that there are no predefined events. With linear storytelling, like in a novel or in an adventure game, events follow each other in a predefined order. With non-linear storytelling, which seems to be all the rage these days, the order of the events is a lot less rigid. As a player you are more or less free to choose which event you want to experience next. You can even skip some of them. However, even with a non-linear story, all events that you can experience are still put into the game explicitely by the game's designers.

An emergent story system doesn't have a predefined set of events. Instead, the events emerge from the rules of the system and the actions of the player. This makes the experience truly unique for each player. How to accomplish this, is what I'm trying to find out.

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(i) says:

Have you taken a look at Chris Crawford's Erasmatron? ( It's been a while for me, but I think he means to create a system where story emerges, as you describe.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005 6:30 AM

Joost Ronkes Agerbeek says:

I have. I have even talked with Chris Crawford recently, as I have blogged about. In a way, Chris and I are trying to accomplish the same thing, but we are taking different roads to get their. Chris believes that the player should have more power to express him/herself. He tries to cater for that by providing the player with as much verbs as possible. I believe that in a computer game the non-playable characters and the world around the player should create most of the story, and full expressiveness for the player isn't that important. I don't think Chris' approach and mine collide with each other. There is no reason why we can't get both our systems to work. Hopefully they can even complement each other some day.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005 12:36 PM

mahlzeit says:

Story is an incredibly complex thing to create, even for human beings, let alone a computer. Not only should a bunch of interesting events happen, they should also relate to each other in a meaningful way, creating a progression that puts the characters through their arcs. (Blame Aristotle.) The events must weave together to form a plot. When the player looks back at all the events that happened, they still must make some kind of sense. In addition, plot and character are closely related: the plot changes the character and the character changes the plot. In traditional fiction, the writer can make the character do anything he wants, but in interactive storytelling, the "writer" (which in this case is the computer) has no control over the player. The player is not only the audience, but also the protagonist. These differences are big enough to make interactive storytelling significantly different from movies or novels. I have been interested in this kind of technology for years, but all my designs ran into problems because I was trying too much to stick to traditional forms of narration. Regardless, it is pretty cool to be at the birth of a new medium. Pioneers never have it easy. :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005 2:49 PM

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