Chris Crawford and interactive storytelling

Well, here is something, by way of Mark Barrett and Robin, that distracts me enough from trying to get to level 40 in World of Warcraft that I’m going to update my blog.

Two years ago, Greg Costikyan wrote a post-GDC entry on his blog that expressed a lot of the frustration that I think many people, or at least me, were feeling (even if I was a bit more optimistic than Greg). It looks like this year that honor may go to Michael Mateas, over at Grand Text Auto.

Michael makes many points that are worth commenting on, and I will do so later. But first a more personal issue.

Down in the comments, Chris Crawford writes:

Yes, the years of failure have sapped my energy. I don’t have the energy to work 10 hours a day on it as I once did. I work for a few hours, then my mind wanders. It takes enormous discipline to sit down and force myself to continue working on a project that the entire world – my wife included – thinks an utter waste of time. I take no creative joy in my work, nor any optimism that it will ever produce the results I hope for. I work now out of towering stubborness, and out of desperate fear of the thought that my life’s work – and therefore my life itself – has been an utter waste of time. I’m like a shipwrecked sailor in a rubber dinghy thousands of miles from any possible rescue, stubbornly paddling forward because there’s nothing else to do but die.

I remain absolutely certain that interactive storytelling can and will be achieved. Many of the arguments I witness on the topic no longer excite my attention, as I have long answered most of those questions to my own satisfaction. First among these is the “plot versus interactivity” debate. I solved that problem 15 years ago, published the solution, and nobody seems to have noticed it. Fine. They’ll figure it out someday. There remain serious problems to be solved, but I no longer consider any of them to be killer problems. They are what physicists like to call “engineering details".

So when others say that they are losing interest or getting discouraged, I can surely second that emotion. This is not an easy problem. It will not be solved by a few brilliant strokes of genius. It demands the solution of a number of gigantic problems. I believe that I have found one approach that solves those problems. I can see others making progress on very different strategies that seem promising. This is going to be a long, hard struggle. But make no mistake, someday we will plant our flag at the top of this mountain. If my role is to be the dead body holding down the accordion wire far below the summit, so be it.

So, a little personal history. At the spring ECTS in 1993, while I was a level 3 beginning game developer working for a small company in Germany and there still was a spring ECTS – remember the ECTS? – Richard Garriott gave me Chris Crawford’s telephone number. (For many years, this was my ultimate name-dropping story.) I called Chris, we talked about game design, he recommended that I read the journal he was publishing, the Journal of Computer Game Design, later Interactive Entertainment Design. So together with my good friend Erik I bought every single back issue and a subscription. (Most of the material is now available online.) This had a great influence on my development as a game designer, and I still believe that no-one has written as much quality material on game design as Chris. In fact, if I hadn’t read all that, I probably would have written a lot more, and it would not have been very good.

Chris and I kept in touch. I met him in person in Utah in 1994, and I visited him a couple of times in San Jose, meeting his charming wife and his many pets. We met at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 1996 (which started a five year run of me going back to the Netherlands once a year to watch twenty movies a week), and there he told me something along the lines of: "Jurie, you’re a smart kid, I want you to be working on interactive storytelling in five years time." Since I’d missed my personal goal of making the Citizen Kane of interactive by age 26, I agreed.

And I missed that new goal too. But interactive storytelling is basically what I’ve been wanting to do even before I started making games for a living, when I was a demo programmer in the late eighties. Chris’s obstinacy and frustration are a more intense version of my own. Even though I took a safer, more circuitous route, pretty much every career decision I’ve taken was to get me closer to somehow being involved in interactive storytelling. I’ve seen my share of failures and frustrations, and yet, because I am apparently a stubborn, unreasonable optimist who won’t take no for an answer, I keep going.

During all that time, there was always Chris’s inspiring example. He has dedicated himself to this endeavor for a ridiculous amount of time, making a huge personal investment. Who was I to call myself stubborn compared to him? I never quite worked up the courage to take the big step and focus on interactive storytelling full time, instead of, ah ah, trying to change the system from within.

This is the first acknowledgment of the cost and the frustration I’ve seen from Chris (as well as the first acknowledgment that there is more than one way to skin this particular cat). Perhaps perversely, I think it’s a good thing: it would have been bad if he had never shown this human side. Nevertheless, I hope it doesn’t mark the end of his involvement in interactive (so far the signs are good.)

Like Chris, I think interactive storytelling can be done, it will be done, and it’s terrifyingly hard. But why try doing something easy? I can’t think of a more fascinating quest than trying to create a completely new artistic medium. Onwards!

Update: Robin has posted a bit more about this topic. She’s better at the touchy-feely stuff than me:

So here’s me fessing: reading his words really gave me pause. First
because… it’s… Chris – who has always been a huge source of inspiration
(he is heavily quoted, for example, in the first chapter of my thesis).
Second because he has always seemed so…. incredibly, inhumanly stubborn
and focused – at times, despite his own best interest. Reading such a
frank account of his doubts and struggles was just… a bit disarming.

What she said.

And changing perceptions of the industry over time, that’s a highly interesting topic of it’s own.

 

Comments 79

  1. Stephane Bura wrote:

    What can I say but “Yes.”
    Jurie, thank you for introducing me to Chris’ work – especially the Lilan letters that proved to be an excellent entry point for this opus.
    Interactive storytelling is also my lifelong goal and I too hope to reach it within the system.
    It pains me to see the struggles Chris has to face and I hope he knows that he remains an inspiration for a few dedicated dreamers.

    Posted 29 Mar 2005 at 15:53
  2. Jesper Juul wrote:

    I believe that one of the problems with “interactive storytelling” is that it does not refer to any specific present or future genre, and that hence neither does it refer to any specific set of problems to be solved.

    What do you mean by interactive storytelling?

    Posted 29 Mar 2005 at 16:39
  3. Jurie wrote:

    Hi Jesper! That is a good question (although I wouldn’t pose it in terms of genre). The rather vague goal definition is one of the big obstacles of IS. If I knew what I wanted to build, I’d build it…

    There are many visions of interactive storytelling, and I don’t subscribe to all of them.

    However, I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t try to answer this question here and now (especially since I’m at work).

    Posted 29 Mar 2005 at 16:52
  4. JMS Blue Ghost wrote:

    I personally suspect the idea of interactive storytelling is a waste of time. To be certain I’d need to know what you mean by the phrase though.

    Is it at its most generic a system where some story is outlined and controlled by the creator? Thats what it sounds like anyway… :)

    Posted 29 Mar 2005 at 23:02
  5. God Zilla wrote:

    Jurie,

    It’s a measure of how little progess has been made* that the first question subsequent to your post was, “What do you mean by interactive storytelling?” That we’re still debating definitions of terms after all this time says it all.

    * It’s also a measure of the degree to which various factions have tried to take ownership of the term ‘interactive storytelling’, either by defining it in ways favorable to their own cause, or, by lying in the grass and sniping away at everyone else’s efforts. Let the games continue.

    Posted 30 Mar 2005 at 0:35
  6. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    “That we’re still debating definitions of terms after all this time says it all.”

    Says what, exactly?

    But yes, it really IS an undiscovered country, so it’s easy to imagine some shape in there that you don’t like, or to feel protective about your own vision and get upset when someone else has a different one. And then of course there are always the Gameplay First people who stare at you when you even mention story… Frustrating as it is, we have made some progress: the chasm between ‘storytellers’ and ‘engineers’ is not as big as it was ten years ago.

    Interactive storytelling, as much as I like to use the term as short-hand for my own fog-shrouded Grail, probably won’t ever be narrowly defined, and I suspect it shouldn’t be. Attempts to do so are likely to be political exercises.

    My personal definition of interactive storytelling as a general direction (!) is quite simple:
    - Reacting to what the player is doing (the interactive).
    - Integrating the fictional and the mechanical aspects (the storytelling).
    If you take these two elements beyond what is common in games today, you will get something that I would call interactive storytelling. Right now, we’re on a local maximum. (Note that I’m not saying there’s something inherently wrong with games today, just that there’s more we can do.)

    Of course, this is still very broad, and I suspect I will need more than these few lines to make a convincing case.

    Posted 30 Mar 2005 at 9:59
  7. Lee Sheldon wrote:

    Jurie said:

    >>the chasm between ‘storytellers’ and ‘engineers’ is not as big as it was ten years ago.<<

    There are times when I actually believe this. But for the most part I think it’s just as wide as the chasm Chris and I debated about (we used that very word) ten years ago on the Compuserve Gamers Forum. Because storytelling continues to be done by non-storytellers in our industry, other storytellers and non-storytellers alike see that as proof that it can’t be done.

    As long as engineers confuse “I can’t do it” with “It can’t be done” and as long as storytellers confuse branching with interactive storytelling (Look, ma! it even has multiple endings for replayability!), interactive storytelling (at least in games) will continue to suffer. Because the the stories authors provide -do- need the systems engineers construct. One without the other will never be that truly interactive holy grail.

    Lee

    Posted 30 Mar 2005 at 15:20
  8. Aubrey wrote:

    Broad as it is, it has me nodding in agreement.

    I’m just currently (and persistantly) frustrated that despite many people having inklings of the right idea in terms of IS, the market tends not to appreciate our efforts, to the point that we’re considered “selfish” for not making standard fare. The connaitation that IS undermines, or is in any way opposed to the standard fare, equally, shows how much understanding and convincing we have to do before we can practically broaded games out.

    I’m in the unfortunate position of having been able to reason various stabs toward IS within internal projects – “unfortunate” because every time I’m told I “done good”, I pessimistically wonder what I must have compromised for an idea to fly! Perhaps this is a hint that IS is becoming more of a natural progression, and less of a leap of faith with every passing day? Or perhaps our rebellion is slowly becoming the state of the art?

    Posted 30 Mar 2005 at 15:34
  9. Jurie wrote:

    Lee,

    >>the chasm Chris and I debated about (we used that very word) ten years ago on the Compuserve Gamers Forum.>As long as engineers confuse “I can’t do it” with “It can’t be done” and as long as storytellers confuse branching with interactive storytelling<<

    But I think it’s gotten a bit better. I realized a few months ago that I hadn’t ranted about the Chasm for ages. People still don’t know what they don’t know (to quote Mark), but at least it is not uncommon to have someone called a writer on a game team. And I haven’t heard of people discovering branching for some time now.

    I still think game developers don’t understand writing enough, but I think it has now become a problem of integration. I’ve tried various approaches, but I can’t see any good method for achieving good writing in games that doesn’t involve a full-time writer in the team. (Apparently, Clint Hocking said the same at the GDC this year.)

    Posted 30 Mar 2005 at 16:35
  10. Jurie wrote:

    Aubrey,

    >>I’m in the unfortunate position of having been able to reason various stabs toward IS within internal projects – “unfortunate” because every time I’m told I “done good”, I pessimistically wonder what I must have compromised for an idea to fly!>Perhaps this is a hint that IS is becoming more of a natural progression, and less of a leap of faith with every passing day? Or perhaps our rebellion is slowly becoming the state of the art?<<

    In Chris’s evolutionist/revolutionist dichotomy, I used to tend more towards the evolutionist side (me being an unreasonable optimist). My opinion has changed a bit. Bigger steps are necessary to counter the pressure of increasing risk avoidance.

    I still think we’ll get there.

    Posted 30 Mar 2005 at 16:41
  11. Lee Sheldon wrote:

    Jurie,

    “But I think it’s gotten a bit better. I realized a few months ago that I hadn’t ranted about the Chasm for ages. People still don’t know what they don’t know (to quote Mark), but at least it is not uncommon to have someone called a writer on a game team.”

    And this is a good thing? I sort of believe ducks should be called ducks. We have a lot of ducks calling themselves writers. I’m not sure it helps.

    “And I haven’t heard of people discovering branching for some time now.”

    My reference was to writers in other media attempting to cross over into ours. But branching gets re-discovered periodically even here. It will come round again, mark my words!

    “I still think game developers don’t understand writing enough, but I think it has now become a problem of integration. I’ve tried various approaches, but I can’t see any good method for achieving good writing in games that doesn’t involve a full-time writer in the team. (Apparently, Clint Hocking said the same at the GDC this year.)”

    Jurie! I’m glad you reached that inevitable conclusion, but sheesh! I’ve heard trying various approaches for achieving good programming don’t work very well either. Best to have a full-time programmer on the team. ;)

    Lee

    Posted 30 Mar 2005 at 18:22
  12. Jurie wrote:

    I don’t know why your comment didn’t show up well, the text was all there. I’ve changed the formatting, leaving the ranting… I mean, insightful commentary ;) untouched. I’ve also deleted the second comment.

    I will deploy my rapier-like wit later :)

    Posted 30 Mar 2005 at 18:48
  13. Stephane Bura wrote:

    [Belated comment about how broad the definition of IS is.]

    I don’t plan to solve the IS problem. I’d be satisfied if I could make a game where a player can express meaning (without having to choose from a list) and the world reacts dramatically to it.
    I have a pretty good idea of how to achieve this and how difficult it is: you must build your gameworld from the ground up with storytelling (not story) in mind and it’s very difficult.
    I’ve been working on this problem for years now and it’ll probably be even more years before I can test my theories.
    Anyway, I’m very stubborn about this and I’m sure I’ll get to discuss the subject further with you smart people when my game gets announced :)

    Posted 30 Mar 2005 at 19:48
  14. JMS Blue Ghost wrote:

    But IS is just gameplay.

    Well seriously though, what is the difference?

    How do you mean: “you must build your gameworld from the ground up with storytelling”

    Are the players themselves telling a story? Or by interactive storytelling to you just mean mechanics which allow the player to create a defined story? In which case isn’t it just game mechanics which force the writers happy ending upon players?

    Posted 30 Mar 2005 at 21:10
  15. Stephane Bura wrote:

    It’s more mechanics allowing the player to take part in an interesting story in which he is the driving force.
    Basically, it means building a storyteller or a game master into the game.
    For it to work, the virtual storyteller must understand what’s going on and how to make things interesting, implement and modify a story arc, etc.
    So, every object in the gameworld and every action must be imbued with meaning. What I mean by “building from the ground up” is that we can’t (yet) hope to take the storytelling techniques we know from the real world and apply them to a game world. We must design a world simple enough that all the information a virtual storyteller needs can be put in it, yet rich enough to produce moral quandaries.

    Posted 31 Mar 2005 at 6:47
  16. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    Lee,

    “I sort of believe ducks should be called ducks. We have a lot of ducks calling themselves writers. I’m not sure it helps.”

    I think you’re saying writers in game teams aren’t good writers – I’m saying it’s good if a team has a full-time writer at all, just like it’s good we have full-time game designers, project managers, and QA, all of which was not at all given a mere ten years ago.

    I’m sure more bright persons will discover branching again, and more passive entertainment writers will blunder into games, but overall I’ve noticed that the irritating phenomena that we used to complain about five years ago have been replaced by new irritating phenomena. That sounds like progress to me! Of course, your mileage may vary, I’m just talking about my impression.

    We can talk about the glass being half full or half empty, but the real questions are: are we dying of thirst? How do we fill that glass?

    “Jurie! I’m glad you reached that inevitable conclusion, but sheesh! I’ve heard trying various approaches for achieving good programming don’t work very well either. Best to have a full-time programmer on the team. ;)”

    Either I don’t understand what you’re trying to say or you’re contradicting what you said about ducks. The reason I favored working with free-lance writers is so I could work with top people like you and Mark. If I work with a full-time writer, it is much, much harder to find the right person. But anyway, this is a pretty big subject, related to some projects I’ve been involved in the last few years and my conclusions about what went right and what didn’t. I think we pretty much agree.

    Posted 31 Mar 2005 at 9:04
  17. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    “But IS is just gameplay.

    Well seriously though, what is the difference?”

    This is a question that comes up a lot in these kinds of discussions. Even ignoring the chronic terminology problems, explaining it is really hard: you either see it or you don’t (and I don’t mean to imply that you’re stupid). I’m not even sure Stephane and I have the same vision, although I think we’re pretty close, even if we probably have different opinions on implementation details.

    IS, as I see it, is more about using the bits that are already there in new ways, rather than inventing new bits (I need to remember that line for pitches…). It’s a qualitative difference, and one which has the potential to become a dominant form in interactive entertainment, a space where a lot of creative expression is possible (unlike, IMHO, Spore, staggering work of genius it undoubtedly is).

    Take a typical game that has some storytelling in it, say, a role-playing gam. Now imagine that what you experience in the game reacts to what you’re doing to a much larger degree than what is common in games now. Imagine the dynamic core of a strategy game, or a flight sim’s dynamic campaign module, tied to an up close and personal character-based game. That’s more or less my vision (and I’ve had this since at least 1995, with first notions dating from 1989…) It should also be obvious why this is so hard: you need to make two games and combine them in a completely new way. You need to make a game, and where other people would ship it, you need to spend another year or so building this dynamic system and tuning it so it is still fun… You need to convince people that even though you’ve reached the top of the mountain, you need to go into the valley again and climb an even bigger mountain.

    That’s how I think about it. Like I said, it’s hard to explain. I may well be wrong.

    Posted 31 Mar 2005 at 9:26
  18. Stephane Bura wrote:

    I see what you mean, Jurie.
    Your way is probably easier than mine. Since I want to start from what you call the “dynamic system”, it could take me much longer to get a tunable game.

    I too feel that all the tools we need already exist. There’s no IS secret somebody needs to discover. Actually, it’s very close to what I think about GTA: somebody just had to do it right.
    I also think that we just need to spend a lot of time creating a design process adapted to IS, what most companies can’t afford or won’t do. IMO, the problem is less in the difficulty of the task than in the will to do it.

    Posted 31 Mar 2005 at 11:09
  19. Aubrey wrote:

    I don’t know if I can really add anything other than an alternate view of the same idea.

    A story is a game in hindsight: When you are told a story, the systems that have given birth to the set of events are implied – the characters, the economy, the circumstances surrounding the story etc. etc. You watch a story wondering what you’d do in the same situation, and throw around what-if scenarios. We typically need a main character we can empathize with in order to more easily put ourselves in his/her shoes and understand his/her reasoning. We never get to play out our own choices, however. That’s where interactivity steps in…

    I.S. systemizes more of the situations that have given rise to a story, rather than leaving us in scripty-scripty MoH land where our freedom only really extends to when, where, and what we can shoot. I.S. gives us the freedom to think in percievably broader terms when figuring out a new solution, even if it’s the same density of game systems as a regular game (Jurie’s point about “qualitative difference”).

    So, as I understand it, I.S. has been about making the natural game play (story) that emerges from game systems into something that is percievably story-like. We’re no longer looking at running, jumping, punching and shooting as the main verbs, but, instead, at character modeling (motivation, morality, reasoning etc.) and interaction, meta-actions – actions ABOUT actions (well, in game language!).

    The way I approach it (and this is rather rough and ready, so who can say if it works?) is to look at an intended story (tends to be what I’m as an initial game concept, sadly!), and break that story down into the systems that gave rise to the story, and make each of those systems enjoyable game mechanics in of themselves and in combination with others. Thus, in playing, your actions can’t help but become story-like.

    Gosh, I’m really the worst person to take a stab at explaining this.

    I.S. is definately interesting to me: I am pushing it in most of the designs I do! Even though it is a holy grail for many of us, I don’t think that anyone would want to suggest that I.S. is “better” (or worse for that matter) than conventional games. After all, it’s essentially just trying to adapt percievably conventional stories into games without compromising player expression/choice/freedom. We’re battling crank-work-cinema, and the hideously misinformed notion of “interactive movies” (branching etc) by actually trying to refactor conventional storytelling into an interactive medium. But this does not make games of pure skill or abstract consideration any less important to the way we play. It’s just another flavour of play.

    I mean, you look at Katamari Damacy, and can’t ignore that it is meant as Art (with a capital A, no less!), but its relation to I.S. is fleeting at best. No-one is (or SHOULD be) trying to imply that I.S. is the only way to make a stab at artistic legitimacy within the medium – in that repsect, we’ve already achieved works of art. We’re already there, even if it’s not interactive art as some might have it.

    Posted 31 Mar 2005 at 11:18
  20. Jurie wrote:

    Aubrey,

    “So, as I understand it, I.S. has been about making the natural game play (story) that emerges from game systems into something that is percievably story-like.”

    Exactly. Any game that is not completely abstract is already an IS system – it’s just that the stories it ‘generates’ are bad (that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad games).

    Your approach to doing this sounds decent to me, although perhaps as a general approach to turning a story into a game (without the IS bit).

    And by the way, I think KD is more coherent than most games, storytelling-wise. But that’s beside the point.

    Posted 31 Mar 2005 at 15:07
  21. Jurie wrote:

    Stephane,

    “Your way is probably easier than mine.”

    well, I was just describing a way of thinking about how to get there, not necessarily how I would get there. I don’t know if it would really be easier.

    OTOH, I’ve considered making a Nethack clone and fooling around with that, Nethack-ish games being a very good minimum game to fiddle with. If only I had time…

    “I too feel that all the tools we need already exist. There’s no IS secret somebody needs to discover.”

    I agree that there are social problems, for want of a better word. But at least for me there are conceptual problems as well. Although maybe these are caused by the need to explain to others what I want to do, instead of just doing it…

    Posted 31 Mar 2005 at 15:15
  22. Jeffool wrote:

    Jurie:
    “Exactly. Any game that is not completely abstract is already an IS system – it’s just that the stories it ‘generates’ are bad (that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad games).

    After thirty minutes of getting this right I erase it all because Jurie already responded to Aubrey. Thank God I previewed, huh?

    “But at least for me there are conceptual problems as well. Although maybe these are caused by the need to explain to others what I want to do, instead of just doing it…”

    I think what is being discussed actually is a quantitative difference. One that will assumedly lead to a qualitative one. And it’s here where I take issue with your dismissal of Spore as, while genius, not what’s needed. Spore as I understand it does with geometric content what needs to be done with narrative content. The breaking up of content into chunks of narrative that can be woven into the larger storyline at reaction to the player. Just as Spore adds geometric content procedurally, we need to find a way to do the same for storytelling. Talk about back to the drawing board. (And I know it’s apples to oranges, but they’re both fruits in this case. While done differently, the effect of what we want to happen is the same.)

    To do so would mean that most predetermined narrative is useless save in tandem with IS to lead the player to desired outcomes/reactions. Typical narrative just pushes the player in a general direction in the form of outside pressures (like having to get somewhere in a city by a certain time,) at the developer’s discretion. It’s the ‘Dungeon Master’-ing. The actual story would have to be added all in reaction to the player.

    Posted 31 Mar 2005 at 15:42
  23. Stephane Bura wrote:

    Jeffool,

    “Just as Spore adds geometric content procedurally, we need to find a way to do the same for storytelling.”

    That’s the most eloquent way of saying what I couldn’t. Thanks :)

    Now, what is the Pacman of IS?
    The Diablo?
    The Populous?
    The Sim City?
    The Civilization?

    Posted 31 Mar 2005 at 16:13
  24. Aubrey wrote:

    “Your approach to doing this sounds decent to me, although perhaps as a general approach to turning a story into a game (without the IS bit).”

    Ahk. Yes. I definately agree. The systems that form as a result often have great similitude to I.S., purely because we’re working around modelling the same kinds of systems.

    The approach (hell, i wouldn’t even call it that!) is really just down to how my position has worked out within our studio. Recently, I’ve been more of a “game-ifyer” – a game design consultant of sorts. I’m not really allowed on the concept side of things, since concepts nowadays seem to be created out of licensing opportunities. *Sigh*. I’m sure you feel this pinch too – that we’re rarely given free reign on such things, unless they are our side projects.

    Still, dealing with limitations is part of being creative, eh?

    Posted 31 Mar 2005 at 19:16
  25. Jeffool wrote:

    Stphane Bura:
    “Now, what is the Pacman of IS?
    The Diablo?
    The Populous?
    The Sim City?
    The Civilization?”

    I think the Sim City is fairly obvious. The Sims. I know it’s so obvious it’s silly, but stay with me here.

    I invite a bunch of neighbors over for a party. I invite a bunch of my lady neighbors into my new Love Tub Jacuzzi with me. Two take me up on the offer, the third refuses. The next night I invite just the third one over. While she disliked the idea of getting into the jacuzzi with other women, she doesn’t mind getting into the jacuzzi with me. If we added dialogue to this it would go:

    “Sorry Jeff, I’m not really comfortable with it. It just feels kinda wrong.”

    and

    “Okay, sure.”

    And that’s where we’re being held back from reaching Civilization. Everything in neuron/perceptron ‘feelings’ of AI is done on a largely binary basis with no regards to specific moments of history. The Sim should be able to say “Look, I really like you, but you were in there with two women last night. I’m not like that.” Or the Sims equivalent would be her talking a picture of the other two Sim women with big red X’s over their heads after I invited her in the second night as well.

    Posted 31 Mar 2005 at 22:38
  26. nzagalo wrote:

    Jurie

    “Exactly. Any game that is not completely abstract is already an IS system – it’s just that the stories it ‘generates’ are bad (that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad games).”

    From this sentence we can realize that what you’re looking for is better stories, not different game mechanics.

    I completely agree with that. Any game that tries to tell a story will use interactivity to develop a shared process with the player to drive story progression in game. So, it’s nothing else than an Interactive Storytelling experience.

    Jeffool,

    “Just as Spore adds geometric content procedurally, we need to find a way to do the same for storytelling.”

    Yes, putting things like this can be a good way to think about it. But as you said before, we are talking about quantitative not qualitative. Storytelling is not really a quantifiable matter. Storytelling stands for the art of developing meaning in the mind player through the creation of events grouping. Putting the player in the position of the events grouping creation and not of the meaning developing is changing completely his role in the relation with the artefact.

    At http://www.gamespy.com/articles/595/595975p1.html they said : «”Owning” the content in this way means that all the stories that the gamer creates are much more meaningful. Putting two and two together, Wright concluded that there had to be some way where users could create content, instead of armies of developers, and a way to make a game craft itself around the user’s contribution. »

    This is far from true. People want significant stories delivered by others. They are looking for surprise, for learning new visions, different social approaches. The “doing” can’t be mixed with the “receiving”. Most humans “do” things firstly to show to the others and then feel great for the feedback of these others, with the exception of narcissists. People want to interact with the thing, people want to feel like being part of the thing, and so people don’t want to have to build the thing.

    Aubrey

    “You watch a story wondering what you’d do in the same situation, and throw around what-if scenarios… we never get to play out our own choices, however. That’s where interactivity steps in…”

    The problem with answering to the “what you’d do” is the number of what if scenarios needed to end the cycle. If you were able to create such a system and so give such an option in a game, player curiosity wouldn’t rest till he had followed all the “what if” scenarios, that the system would permit. In the end player would be so worried with all the variations just for one scene that he wouldn’t care for the overall story. Just think about “Back to the Future”, and hypothesize an IS like that for it. Player would like to try infinite variations to see results, forgetting completely any possible story goal. The story reception would be transformed into story new events sets construction, having the player feeling gratification and reward from the different rationalizations about the event he built upon than from the story itself.
    The interesting is that this seems to be like a real game, like chess making use of strategy in every new move, with almost infinite possibilities in every match we play. The big difference and so big problem is that chess only needs one board and the plastic pieces, and so this becomes possible because chess is not worried about telling stories.

    Going back to the actual IS games, we can see that we have already interactivity and storytelling. That we can interact with the artefact and at the same time feel surprising sensation of learning new ideas, of being surprised by story content.

    Sure, we can improve on this. Having better stories, invest in characters expressivity, invest in virtual body interactions among characters and invest in the developing of new technologies like natural speech.

    Posted 01 Apr 2005 at 4:00
  27. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    Nelson,

    “From this sentence we can realize that what you’re looking for is better stories, not different game mechanics.”

    Yes. But those better stories may require different game mechanics. Remember, I want to use the bits that we have in a different way to achieve a qualitative difference.

    I think there are a certain number of inherent stresses in modern game development that will grow and lead to (occasionally painful) adjustments. One of the more obvious ones is the conflict between the rising cost of game development and the current form of the industry, which leads to various pressures. Another one is between the necessity and desire for innovation and the need for risk reduction.

    But there are two that I think are a bit more subtle and that are pertinent here. First of all, there’s a steadily growing conflict between presentational complexity and functional complexity. We are increasingly using more realistic depictions and more realistic settings, but the underlying game mechanics, NPC AI, mission logic, etc. remain very simple. At some point, this will become problematic.

    Second, the quality of storytelling, from a craft point of view, is steadily increasing. It’s maddeningly slow, we’re reinventing wheels left and right, there’s still a lot of low-hanging fruit, but we’re moving along. At some point, the conflict between the stories we feel capable of telling (in an interactive way) and the means we have to do so will become obvious. To me, it’s already jarring, and it spoils my enjoyment of quite a few games. I believe that over time it will become obvious to more people.

    My point is that IS, as something magically distinct from current games, is not just about trying to not suck at storytelling, although you can still get a fair amount of competitive advantage out of that, but also about doing more simulation, giving the player more true choices, and reacting appropriately. This can emerge semi-spontaenously, and I would argue that this is happening today, and that some day we’ll look back and see certain contemporary games as precursors of IS.

    I would simply like to go there more directly.

    Posted 01 Apr 2005 at 9:50
  28. Stephane Bura wrote:

    Jeffool,

    “Or the Sims equivalent would be her talking a picture of the other two Sim women with big red X’s over their heads after I invited her in the second night as well.”

    Yep. It’s just that it’s a very complex problem:

    - Understanding context
    - Knowing what a character likes or dislikes about a context (and, even harder, how to make plans to generate satisfaction and avoid disappointment)
    - Memory, relationships
    - Creating relevant messages (which image? what do the X’s mean? where do you put them?)
    - Displaying message at the right time
    - Reacting to message (i.e. reacting to info about the world instead of reacting to events)

    Jurie,

    “there’s a steadily growing conflict between presentational complexity and functional complexity”

    We’re digging the Uncanny Valley.

    Posted 01 Apr 2005 at 10:35
  29. Aubrey wrote:

    “The problem with answering to the “what you’d do” is the number of what if scenarios needed to end the cycle. If you were able to create such a system and so give such an option in a game, player curiosity wouldn’t rest till he had followed all the “what if” scenarios, that the system would permit. ”

    Not true. I had to be *told* that Deus Ex could be played more than one way – my first play through was under the assumption that I was playing the “correct” way, as I had previously been led to believe in more restricted games. I thought that its I.S. only extended as far as a three way branching plot on the last level, until I was corrected.

    “Player would like to try infinite variations to see results, forgetting completely any possible story goal.”

    I don’t think that would happen with good, intentional design going on – continually informing player know about the opportunities currently open to them. Assuming there MUST be a “story goal” (which *is* an assumption!), the story goal can often be the inevitable systemic outcome of any play-through – every interaction in the game can work toward bringing at the “story goal” closer, just as naturally playing Jak and Daxter, hoovering up items around levels, leaving them cleared, heards you toward the next level.

    So, if we DO need to get a player “back on track”, we use systemic inevitability. One does not have to take rain water carried in a pail from the top of a hill, and walk down to pour it in the river (This is where my art director steps in and calls me a “goddamn hippy”). Possibility spaces can be crafted so that some possibilities are more likely than others, and others, still, are inevitable.

    One could say that the believability of HalfLife’s story is that you’re never in a position to affect the overall invasion. Implied higher level machinations go on without you, and you can accept it, because the opening to change such things is never given to you.

    There is still a limit to the possibility space in more dynamic games – it’s just a lot broader than “Bullet Proof Tube” games.

    I.S. is not just a “goal system” tacked onto a shooter. It has to be integral, from the core mechanic to the housing structure.

    “The story reception would be transformed into story new events sets construction, having the player feeling gratification and reward from the different rationalizations about the event he built upon than from the story itself.”

    The point is that those events, and that gratification IS the I.S. we’re looking for! The point is not to lead the player in anything by the most vague terms (nudging, rather than dragging), but have such a turbulent/dynamic world that opportunities for conflict and resolution keep cropping up emergently, often (ideally!) due to the long term consequence of your own actions. This gives the situations an air of percieved consequence – it makes the player feel as if a story really is playing out, rather than being crank-worked, even though the events are merely the nth degree of feedback of a complex deterministic system. It’s believable feedback, rather than hamstringing our play so that their own involvements are trivial.

    A good example of this is Total War’s higher level Civilization style game. While I do prefer the core combat, having that higher level system going on gives each battle a real context. It doesn’t just feel like a Sunday League Match – it has real consequences, and was formed out of real, player choices.

    “The interesting is that this seems to be like a real game, like chess making use of strategy in every new move, with almost infinite possibilities in every match we play. The big difference and so big problem is that chess only needs one board and the plastic pieces, and so this becomes possible because chess is not worried about telling stories.”

    It’s not like I.S. is going to require the entire universe to be modelled. We have a bit of jargon over here: “Edge Metaphor”. It’s a precievably logical reason why the player can’t leave the designated world space. Understandable reasoning for limitations… like Halflife 2′s various force fields, as opposed to Brothers In Arms’ frikkin’ invisible walls. It’s why the GTA3 games have all been set on islands. It applies not just to world space, but to game system space (“you’re never going to have more than 6 bullets in your six shooter”) and story space (“She’s never going to hump your character, because she is a Nun” err. Possibly bad example).

    So, content requirements CAN be managed by fully understanding the extent of the systems you design, limiting them with good Edge Metaphor, where possible. There’s a lot of scope for procedural content being created on the fly – musical segments mixed based on the time of day, the location of the player, the characters in the vacinity. Facial animation is come far enough now that we can link various blends based on a character’s current emotion. There are a wealth of procedural methods out there, and yet more in the pipeline. They’re certainly going to be a mainstay tool of I.S. if we want more than 2 forms of feedback in our stories.

    And Chess does tell a set of events every time it’s played, even if that’s not a perceivably conventional story (as Jurie mentioned). That’s the point of I.S., really – to make games whose machinations SEEM story like. If every piece on the chess board were fully characterized, visually and emotionally, and interactions were more involved – less abstract (think battlechess times a thousand), you could definately create an interesting story. It’s not quite as simple as that, obviously. No-one said this would be easy! There are certainly technical speedbumps in creating I.S. at a AAA level, but it’s still not impossible.

    Posted 01 Apr 2005 at 11:45
  30. Aubrey wrote:

    Yikes. I was going to write one sentance!

    Posted 01 Apr 2005 at 11:45
  31. Jurie wrote:

    Goddamn hippy.

    Posted 01 Apr 2005 at 14:19
  32. nelson wrote:

    Jurie

    “doing more simulation, giving the player more true choices, and reacting appropriately. This can emerge semi-spontaenously”

    Aubrey
    “Assuming there MUST be a “story goal” (which *is* an assumption!)… The point is not to lead the player in anything by the most vague terms (nudging, rather than dragging), but have such a turbulent/dynamic world that opportunities for conflict and resolution keep cropping up emergently, often (ideally!) due to the long term consequence of your own actions.

    This is what the theoretical concept of Emergent Narratives (http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/user/michaelm/www/nidocs/Aylett.html ) is all about. The problem is, what to do when the story doesn’t emerge :-)

    Can you imagine someone buying a game for 100 euros/dollars (possible price of the next generation games), and then after some playing hours still nothing happens?

    Emergence is amazing, is delicious but we can’t forget the drawbacks. I believe it’ll evolve more and more, get used more and more in games and IS, but IMHO you’ll need to have a story line to give them. You can’t bet everything in the emergence.

    In the end this comes to the mixing everyone was and still looking for: Sims + GTA III. San Andreas tried that a lot more with the character management within the game. However, if you had no missions at all, could the character really evolve his “respect” without doing some predefined missions, based in what? In the number of killings performed, number of robbed cars, number of insane car manoeuvres arbitrarily like in real life? What would be the goal for the player, live a virtual life of crime in a virtual copy of our world? With what purpose? What would be the fun of that? Would people really find any reward for playing it?

    Aubrey
    “it makes the player feel as if a story really is playing out, rather than being crank-worked, even though the events are merely the nth degree of feedback of a complex deterministic system. It’s believable feedback, rather than hamstringing our play so that their own involvements are trivial.”

    Storytelling goal is not to be life like, but to be a slice of life. Storytelling is not a window to life that you can try to enlarge through IS. I believe that IS is more like a bridge to that slice, something that can bring it closer to me, making me feeling it more intensely. Interacting with that slice is in IMHO the goal.

    Storytelling is well cared event selections of the real world, expressively worked upon. Life is boring :-), stories are not boring it’s not their goal :-). Sure a system like that can turn to be believable, but not in story like framing but in a life like framing. We should then change the name from Interactive Storytelling (IS) to Interactive Life-Like (ILL) :-)

    My position regarding IS is more in consonance with

    Andrew view (http://grandtextauto.gatech.edu/2003/10/03/taking-bernsteins-bait#comment-383)

    “Without well-formed experiences — efficient pacing, filtering out the ‘boring bits’ — games may not breakthrough to a mass audience. Most people just don’t have the time to spend hours and hours playing a game for a few moments of meaningful drama. Games will need to be as “efficient” as movies, TV and books in this regard.”

    Aubrey
    “One could say that the believability of HalfLife’s story is that you’re never in a position to affect the overall invasion. Implied higher level machinations go on without you, and you can accept it, because the opening to change such things is never given to you.”

    Exactly. You have a story-line that supports everything else, that maintain story goal, and so player believability, player interest to proceed and then willing to find is reward. What we need is to augment the interaction between our playing character and the NPCs, among other things.

    Aubrey
    “”Edge Metaphor”. It’s a precievably logical reason why the player can’t leave the designated world space. Understandable reasoning for limitations [..] like Halflife 2′s [..] force fields [..] GTA3 [..] islands. It applies not just to world space, but to game system space [..] and story space.”

    “Edge metaphor” can be translated into storytelling by the story-line. Like HL2 “you’re never in a position to affect the overall invasion” :-). This sentence is your story edge metaphor. You can’t break it, if you do the world will become uncontrollable, story will disappear, and it will only rest a playground to be used by players as they like, waiting for some emergent story that can never occur

    Aubrey
    “If every piece on the chess board were fully characterized, visually and emotionally, and interactions were more involved – less abstract (think battlechess times a thousand), you could definately create an interesting story. It’s not quite as simple as that, obviously.”

    Yes chess has a sort of buried story in a very deep meaning level. But it’s so deep that trying to bring it on top would not be easy as you acknowledge :). All of us have played computer chess versions with pieces “characterized visually and emotionally” and you know that the fun of that comes from the novelty. After some time, you start playing with the rules in mind, forgetting any characterization of the Queen or Bishop, because your worry in that moment is not what your Queen will do to the Bishop morally or in actions, but how to strategically arrive there based in the rules you have. You don’t have a story goal interest, you’re not supposed to learn or be surprised by anything about the outcome of the King death, about his kingdom. You have a predefined know goal that will take you to the end of the experience, the death of the king is not significant and so not surprising to the player, and only the winning/loosing condition has significant value. This is a game, not a story, :)
    We can even think about the strategy used to kill the king, which can be surprising, emotionally rewarding but this is more of a form matter than content and so more of a gameplay appreciation than story comprehension pleasure.

    I’m not trying to knock-out IS, on the contrary I’m also looking for it, however I don’t agree or better I don’t believe in all the paths to arrive there, firstly because I believe that we have already some types of IS, so we’re not discovering the wheel. Also I’m not a believer for “branching”, “intelligent automate story managers”, “emergence only” or “build your own story”. I’m looking for interactive mechanics transparency that can carry an authored story directly into the player “heart”. Looking for interactive mechanics that can give the player a feeling of participation in the telling, of sharing and helping in the act of telling with the “storyteller”, not sharing the act of story creation with the story writer or even to be the writer himself.

    Posted 01 Apr 2005 at 20:12
  33. jimmyt wrote:

    Hey Jurie — I used to hang out with you on the compuserve GameDev forum. Long long time ago. I too went to Chris’s first Developers Forum, and we met there. Email me if you remember!

    Posted 04 Apr 2005 at 17:55
  34. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    Yes, I do! Wow, long time ago :)

    Posted 04 Apr 2005 at 23:39
  35. Aubrey wrote:

    nelson – great points. I will read the links you have linked, however, I have the feeling that I’ll probably stay of the opinion that it’s possible to “stack” systems in such a way that interesting conflicts are an inevitable outcome of even the most trivial interaction.

    HalfLife/2 ‘s approach has been fine for I.S.. I agree that we’re already doing I.S., and that as we continue, we’re just exploring more ways in which to do it.

    I guess that the problem I have with the tunnel approach (however believably its edge metaphor is pulled off) is that the limits of possibility are discovered suddenly. As soon as you stop thinking in Dr. Freeman’s mind set, or stop following the orders of your squad commander (i.e. being in any way creative), you rub up against the edges of possibility. When the edge metaphor is systemized slightly more, you feel an entire system gently pushing you back, away from the edge of possibility, rather than a very instant inpenetrable rule which you smash into like the invisible clipping planes or instant death scenarios that seem to instantialize this technique so hamfistedly. I just get the feeling that explaining the reason why you can’t move into a certain possibility space via “softer” sets of rules is less condescending, because it atleast explains *why* you can’t go there in a safe way, rather than just telling you you can’t, and leaving it at that.

    (Here comes a poorly chosen example:) GTA would probably be less interesting if it gave you a “fission mailed” every time you killed a pedestrian. As it is, it shows that there ARE consequences to your action, rather than nannying your moral choices by forcing your hand. (Although, I guess forcing someone’s hand is a design choice, if there is conscious intent. Bleh.)

    I also have a silly notion that we sort of *need* “boredom space” to accentuate the interesting parts of possibility space, or to give a player time to breath, or a chance to feel like they can put down the controller. You could also think of it as the interactive equivalent pacing in films -I’ve heard it referred to as “frequency” rather than pacing. Seems a nice term to me.

    … but if I took that idea too much further, I’d be moving into the hippy-space of this discussion-game.

    Posted 05 Apr 2005 at 11:55
  36. Jurie wrote:

    Judicious use of boring bits is done quite regularly in MMOs (think gryphon flights in WoW) to encourage socialising.

    I also think turning the heat off is great, cause then you can turn it on again (think good dance DJs).

    I consider this good practice, not hippie talk. But then, Berkeley is one of my favorite places in the world.

    Posted 05 Apr 2005 at 18:06
  37. Lee Sheldon wrote:

    >> I just get the feeling that explaining the reason why you can’t move into a certain possibility space via “softer” sets of rules is less condescending, because it atleast explains *why* you can’t go there in a safe way, rather than just telling you you can’t, and leaving it at that. <<

    I could not agree more. This is true for -all- aspects of the game design thatattempt to mimic the “real” world, not just IS.

    Lee

    Posted 06 Apr 2005 at 0:40
  38. AFFA wrote:

    Aubrey wrote:
    >>I’m just currently (and persistantly) frustrated that despite many people having inklings of the right idea in terms of IS, the market tends not to appreciate our efforts, to the point that we’re considered “selfish” for not making standard fare.

    Consumers aren’t going to buy IS until it’s as entertaining and accessible as linear storytelling. Game producers aren’t going to incorporate IS unless they think it will pay off (in higher sales or lower development costs). The IS tools and methods I’m familiar with are more difficult and time consuming than linear storytelling and more difficult for the average person to understand.

    This doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing. The potential rewards of IS are huge. But progress will be made by hobbyist, academics, and a few advocates in the industry. The good news is that the IS techniques from 10 or even 20 years ago (which have been refined and “proven” in less popular titles) are finally making their way into mainstream games (sometimes for the second time).

    Jurie wrote:
    >>I still think game developers don’t understand writing enough, but I think it has now become a problem of integration.

    Lee wrote:
    >I sort of believe ducks should be called ducks. We have a lot of ducks calling themselves writers. I’m not sure it helps.

    It’s not always a lack of understanding or being waterfowl. Frankly, writing is not the most important thing in most games. If the plot sucks, most players won’t care. If the game doesn’t run, has last year’s graphics, or boring gameplay, players will send death threats to your inbox.

    I worked in the game industry for seven years. I wrote a few dozen novels worth of (mostly linear) text and dialogue. It wasn’t very good text, not because I’m a duck (although that’s debatable), but because I had to design and implement 300 quests in 3 months or 50 books in 2 weeks. Sometimes I had to write whatever passed for a story while working full-time on code or level design that had a higher priority.

    Narrative is a luxury, even in roleplaying and adventure games. IS is an even bigger luxury unless it somehow becomes cheaper than linear storytelling. I think narrative will get more attention in the future. Not because games require narrative or IS, but because game companies will finally be able to afford a full-time writer. If budgets and teams continue to grow, a good, full-time writer will be a small expense that will give some companies a slight competitive advantage. If procedural content, better content creation tools, or more re-usable content make game development “cheap” again, more companies will be able to put money into neglected fields, such as writing. The future looks brighter either way.

    Jurie wrote:
    >>We are increasingly using more realistic depictions and more realistic settings, but the underlying game mechanics, NPC AI, mission logic, etc. remain very simple.

    I think you may be underestimating the progress in game AI. There’s a big difference between preset patterns and rules (ghosts in Pac-Man, aliens in Galaga) and BDI or even FuSMs. There’s a big difference between A* with a sparse pathgrid and framed quadtree vector fields. There’s a big difference between “shoot everything to get from point A to point B” and “to get to point B, you need to use stealth and small-unit tactics, solve two logic puzzles, collect three items, and intimidate or persuade four NPCs.”

    nelson wrote:
    >>After some time, you start playing with the rules in mind, forgetting any characterization of the Queen or Bishop, because your worry in that moment is not what your Queen will do to the Bishop morally or in actions, but how to strategically arrive there based in the rules you have.

    The games that have succeeded with limited IS techniques, such as branching, made the interaction part of the gameplay. A story on top of chess is window dressing. Having to talk to people to win/advance the game (i.e. The Last Express) makes IS part of the gameplay. Meaningful narrative choices that affect your avatar (Planescape, KotOR, Discworld Noir) make these choices part of the gameplay.

    And now for some blatant self-promotion. I’ve been writing a review of the Living Games Symposium. One of the panels there discussed procedural narrative. While alot of it won’t be new to anyone here, you might find it interesting:

    http://www.grimwell.com/index.php?action=fullnews&id=263

    Posted 06 Apr 2005 at 2:45
  39. CorvusE wrote:

    AFFA wrote: “I think you may be underestimating the progress in game AI.”

    I think the point is that, while the AI itself is getting more complex, the application of it is not, by and large. When people refer to great AI in games, they are typically referring to more intelligent seeming combatants. Complex scripting perhaps, but simple implementation.

    AFFA wrote: “more companies will be able to put money into neglected fields, such as writing”

    That’s nice, but great IS cannot be stapled onto the top of a system not written to support it, in its entirety. KotOR’s biggest failing was that the actual story interactivity was a discreet element from the rest of the gameplay.

    It isn’t enough to hope that the industry will one day hire writers, when the cost of the rest of the game development goes down. That’s never going to happen, Will Wright’s genius not withstanding. Marketing departments, and therefore publishers, don’t feel they can sell a good story, because you can’t put a screenshot of a good story on the back of a box. As long as hardware manufacturers continue to need showcase games, the industry isn’t going to change its focus.

    Posted 06 Apr 2005 at 13:05
  40. Lee Sheldon wrote:

    AFFA:

    “It’s not always a lack of understanding or being waterfowl. Frankly, writing is not the most important thing in most games. If the plot sucks, most players won’t care. If the game doesn’t run, has last year’s graphics, or boring gameplay, players will send death threats to your inbox.”

    I absolutely agree, however:

    1) With all due respect, you’re committing the same sin politicians do when trying to legislate our content. You’ve lumped all gamers into a narrow subset that may seem astronomical by some developers’ standards, but is a far cry from mass market. There are actually quite a few gamers or potential gamers (consumers of more enlightened media) out there who actually enjoy well-crafted stories.

    2) Since none of us have ever played a video game with writing at the level of artistry other media can provide, there is no way to determine how even the soul-deadened individuals you cite would react when faced with something like that.

    “I worked in the game industry for seven years. I wrote a few dozen novels worth of (mostly linear) text and dialogue. It wasn’t very good text, not because I’m a duck (although that’s debatable), but because I had to design and implement 300 quests in 3 months or 50 books in 2 weeks. Sometimes I had to write whatever passed for a story while working full-time on code or level design that had a higher priority.”

    I can commiserate. You were doing the job of three people. When all I had to do was look over the producer’s shoulder, help cast actors, meet with directors, churn out 500 pages of original story and dialogue a month; and edit the work of three other writers for a daytime soap that required new content five days a week every week of the year, year after year, I was doing the work of only about 2 people. But I never used it as an excuse-with myself or anybody else-for the quality or lack thereof of the content. (I was also getting paid a hell of a lot of money to have no life of course.)

    “Narrative is a luxury, even in roleplaying and adventure games.”

    It is a necessity (for games that want to include it). And the first games that get it right will prove it.

    “IS is an even bigger luxury unless it somehow becomes cheaper than linear storytelling.”

    Neither is particularly expensive if attention is paid from day one of the development cycle; if the engine is developed with writer input; and if those responsible for the writing actually know what they’re doing.

    “I think narrative will get more attention in the future. Not because games require narrative or IS, but because game companies will finally be able to afford a full-time writer. If budgets and teams continue to grow, a good, full-time writer will be a small expense that will give some companies a slight competitive advantage.”

    Boy, I wish that were true, but I’ve been dabbling in this stuff on and off since the early 80s. I remember when a production manager and I proposed a budget for a game to EA at around $40,000 (and we were giving them incredible bang for the buck) and they began to quiver in their polished mahogany chairs. If an indie film production made for under a million dollars can afford to hire a real writer, why can’t 10-20-30 million dollar games? Top dollar writers have been known to take huge cuts in compensation just like top actors to be a part of something special. Could it be we have nothing special to offer?

    “If procedural content, better content creation tools, or more re-usable content make game development “cheap” again, more companies will be able to put money into neglected fields, such as writing. The future looks brighter either way.”

    The problem for me isn’t in the cost of games, it’s the cost to our products when decision makers have no idea how to find good writers who can think non-linearly, and cull them from the gaggles of wannabes who took a couple of composition classes in college.

    [Jurie, I had another -really- long rant here which you'll be happy to know I excised. ;)]

    Lee

    Posted 07 Apr 2005 at 0:07
  41. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    I like your rants, Lee :)

    So much stuff here! I must sit down and read it properly.

    Also, I need to change my site layout, so there’s more space for the text…

    Posted 07 Apr 2005 at 1:19
  42. CorvusE wrote:

    “Also, I need to change my site layout, so there’s more space for the text…”

    Yeah, it feels a little like KotOR’s inventory screen at the moment. *kniw*

    I found a link to this article over at grand text auto yesterday:
    http://www.idlethumbs.net/display.php?id=87

    It looks like we’re not the only ones who think the industry isn’t going to be the breeding ground for innovation. This is the topic of many a conversation between my business partner and myself. I keep stressing that we’re not going to find a publisher for our game unless we bring an already existing participant base along with us. Fortunately, we’re at a point where digital distribution is quite feasible. Now, finding funding becomes the interesting part.

    Also, writers aren’t going to solve our problems. We need storytellers. Storytellers who have the vision of a director, the insight of a psychologist, the empathy of a religious leader, the logic of a politician, and the leadership and multitasking skills of a elementary school teacher.

    Oh, and they need to be non-linear thinkers while we’re at it…

    Posted 07 Apr 2005 at 11:48
  43. nelson wrote:

    “I also have a silly notion that we sort of *need* “boredom space” to accentuate the interesting parts of possibility space, or to give a player time to breath, or a chance to feel like they can put down the controller.”

    Jurie

    “I also think turning the heat off is great, cause then you can turn it on again.”

    That’s exactly one of my claims in terms of emotion in games, based in my personal observation and some psychiatric talks. Most games don’t reach the low tension spectre of emotions. This low tension area is divided in two areas one negative and another one positive, the first one goes for “miserable” and “sad” to “depressed” the second for “calmness” and “tranquillity” to “serene”.

    So here in our lab, we decided to start a study with real people and find out if this is true. We’re performing the experience now and it will take us some more months. What we start to find out in the beginning, when collecting games and asking people their emotional experiences, was that nowadays games seems to reach that low spectre, however these experiences seems to be very “cutscene” dependent (like Final Fantasy series). So we are moving the experience from the best sequence in a game to the best interactive part of a game experience.

    However at this moment we’re not sure that this is the right way, taking the cutscenes out. I would like to hear opinions from all of you, on this.

    [Edited at request of author - JH]

    Posted 07 Apr 2005 at 12:43
  44. CorvusE wrote:

    I believe the Greek’s called those “boredom spaces” katharsis, small moments of relief from the tension of the drama. Like with any well crafted story, the audience has to be given a chance to breath. Incessant tension leads to desensitization.

    I actually have a game moment that exemplifies this quite nicely. In the first System Shock, I exultant that I had finally managed to get the elevator running, thereby finally completing the first level. I was super tense (having been playing for hours into the morning). The music, the dark atmosphere, the eeriness of having spent all that time listening to dead people’s voice logs. I was not ready to quit, but my nerves wouldn’t take much more. I got on the elevator, only to have the mood completely changed due to the change in soundtrack. Instead of spooky ambient sounding muttering, I was treated to… elevator music of course! It lightened the mood considerably and I went on to play the second level feeling quite refreshed.

    Posted 07 Apr 2005 at 13:10
  45. nelson wrote:

    That’s exactly one of my claims in terms of emotion in games, based in my personal observation and some psychiatric talks. Most games don’t reach the low tension spectre of emotions. This low tension area is divided in two areas one negative and another one positive, the first one goes for “miserable” and “sad” to “depressed” the second for “calmness” and “tranquillity” to “serene”.

    So here in our lab, we decided to start a study with real people and find out if this is true. We’re performing the experience now and it will take us some more months. What we start to find out in the beginning, when collecting games and asking people their emotional experiences, was that nowadays games seems to reach that low spectre, however these experiences seems to be very “cutscene” dependent (like Final Fantasy series). So we are moving the experience from the best sequence in a game to the best interactive part of a game experience.

    However at this moment we’re not sure that this is the right way, taking the cutscenes out. I would like to hear opinions from all of you, on this.

    Posted 07 Apr 2005 at 13:21
  46. CorvusE wrote:

    Here are a few of my rules for use of cut scenes:

    1) If the cut scene has the central character performing actions the player can perform during regular gameplay, it shouldn’t be a cut scene.

    I created this rule in reaction to one of the Soul Reaver games (I think it was the latest) where it seemed like they used a cut scene every other minute to show you where you needed to go, or to actually move the character across the room to a specific spot for you. It was jarring and inexcusable. I felt as if I spent more time watching the developers play the game, than playing it myself. If players aren’t understanding where they need to go, the solution ought to be found in the level design.

    2) If you do need to force an event to happen, it is better to put it in a cut scene than to take absolute control of the character.

    I’ve played games where suddenly the character is running in a direction I didn’t intend, or performing actions I didn’t dictate. This is frustrating and unforgivable. Switching to a cut scene, indicated by removal of interface, letter boxing, different art, or what have you, is always preferable to wrenching control away from the player.

    3) If a players’ input during a forced event is minimal, keep it in the cut scene.

    Examples: In the ruins on Dantooine (in the first KotOR) you are treated to a cut scene of a door opening, control is returned to the player, you walk through the door, only to find another cut scene, showing you walking the rest of the way into the room and seeing the *spoiler*. Why bother returning control for two steps? You’re already in a cut scene, stay there! Also, in NWN, NPCs will run up on you and engage you in conversation, which is fine (although I sometimes see how long I can run and avoid them), but once in conversation I find myself clicking, “1, 1, 1, 1, 1, ” through pages of non-branching text. I’d rather have the whole monologue in a skip-enabled cut scene.

    4) If you need to force your players to experience certain things, try to give them the incentive and direction through use of level design, color, music, and/or in game rewards.

    …and finally

    5) If you find the only way to tell the story is via cut scenes, you should consider going into animation instead of games.

    Posted 07 Apr 2005 at 14:18
  47. Lee Sheldon wrote:

    Cut scenes are unecessary to tell story in games. They’ve become a crutch. Unfortunately like so many other things, publishers just assume a game needs cut scenes. The irony isn’t lost on me (as one who has argued against them for years) that I have had to put so many cut scenes into And Then There Were None, and how nobody minds except me. Somewhere some playful god is laughing. You could argue that a game based on a novel might need more cut scenes. But it’s already been filmed so many times I really wanted to create a uniquely “game” experience, and in doing so use it as a test case to prove my thesis. Oh well, maybe next time…

    Posted 07 Apr 2005 at 18:30
  48. AFFA wrote:

    CorvusE Wrote:
    >>When people refer to great AI in games, they are typically referring to more intelligent seeming combatants.

    That is one of the things that has drastically improved. From enemies that have very simple behaviors (stand in one place, chase the player), we went through less simple behaviors (if state is 1 then do attack pattern 1), and now we have enemies that hide, ambush, call for help, use terrain, etc.

    NPC tactics have improved, but NPC acting has not. They still can’t interact much in terms of speech/text or have believable emotions. I don’t think this is because of a conspiracy against writers, but because natural language, procedural narrative, and emotion modelling are much tougher problems.

    >>Marketing departments, and therefore publishers, don’t feel they can sell a good story, because you can’t put a screenshot of a good story on the back of a box. As long as hardware manufacturers continue to need showcase games, the industry isn’t going to change its focus.

    I think this criticism is misplaced. Games have been pushing hardware limits because of the market (gamers like graphics). I never worked on any cutting-edge games, but the only interaction I saw with hardware makers (even on big projects, like Morrowind) addressed compatibility issues (i.e. shader code for a particular video card, X-Box specific optimizations, etc). I never heard anyone say we needed to double the polygon count. Hardware people seem to be trying to catch up to the developers, not the other way around.

    You can sell stories, even in games. You can’t take a screenshot of “story,” but you can put “so-and-so says this game has a great story!” on the box. “Story” has been one of the major (only in some cases) selling points for many RPGs and Adventure games. But they’re usually linear stories.

    >>It looks like we’re not the only ones who think the industry isn’t going to be the breeding ground for innovation.

    I find it amusing that people declare the death of innovation (among other things) every couple years. I find it particularly amusing this year, right after the release of Katamari Damacy and the Spore demo. Not to mention lots of good independent games in the last couple years (which actually got some attention for a change), and several hardware innovations (Eyetoy, etc).

    Also, catharsis isn’t quite the right word. Catharsis is… hm. The release of tension. The feeling you get when a game is over, not the feeling you get in-between the interesting parts. You could say the moment immediately following an exciting part is catharsis, but this is a feeling that passes quickly.

    Changing the mood is important to avoid boredom. You don’t want to go from the potential boredom of constant action to the known boredom of counting sheep. You need to go from one non-boring mood to another.

    Lee wrote:
    >>With all due respect, you’re committing the same sin politicians do when trying to legislate our content. You’ve lumped all gamers into a narrow subset that may seem astronomical by some developers’ standards, but is a far cry from mass market. There are actually quite a few gamers or potential gamers (consumers of more enlightened media) out there who actually enjoy well-crafted stories.

    I am assuming that gamers will continue to be gamers. I see alot of potential for interactive fiction in games. I don’t see much potential for it outside of games. Frankly, I suspect most people, even gamers, prefer story content in more passive, linear media. I’ve enjoyed some game stories, but if it was just story I was after, I’d get a book.

    In games, good stories sell… but only a little. Graphics sell alot more, which makes me suspect the market for good stories is currently smaller than the market for eye candy. This does not surprise me, given which movies (usually not the “great story” ones) sell the most tickets. While it’s possible that there’s a huge, untapped market for interactive stories among non-gamers, I just don’t see the evidence for it.

    I’d buy them. But I’m weird. And I’m already a gamer.

    >>If an indie film production made for under a million dollars can afford to hire a real writer, why can’t 10-20-30 million dollar games? Top dollar writers have been known to take huge cuts in compensation just like top actors to be a part of something special. Could it be we have nothing special to offer?

    I’m not saying they can’t already afford it. I’m saying that they’re getting a better return on their investment elsewhere. When/if the costs of graphics come down or it’s no longer possible to push graphics any further, game companies will have to look at other ways to improve their product. Currently, graphics and non-story content are the better investment. But graphics have improved so much that there’s not much room to grow. Narrative has only improved a tiny bit, and has alot more potential.

    Posted 07 Apr 2005 at 23:30
  49. CorvusE wrote:

    I’m not going to bother to pull quotes, as it’ll be pretty obvious which bit I’m referring to.

    I understand that AI scripting in games has become very complex. However, by the AI standards set forth by the books on AI research (not game AI), it’s laughable, maybe even pitiable. AI is not elaborate scripting. AI is a top down, pattern recognition approach to problem solving. Regardless, as has been pointed out elsewhere, interactive stories and AI are not synonymous.

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t Spore’s “breeding ground” be the demo scene and NOT the industry? As I hear it, Will Wright specifically went to a non-industry source to work on spore. Wonder why he made that choice? Wonder why, after quite a lot of development, the industry is just getting its first look? Also, by industry, I’m referring to the publishing side of things more than the developers themselves.

    I’m also not declaring the “death” of innovation. What I’m specifically saying that the “industry” of game design is not a breeding ground for innovation. In other words, it doesn’t foster and encourage it. For every innovative success, we have multiple stories of publishers like Eidos mandating that their studios make their games more like Game X, or loose funding, or closing down Looking Glass after keeping a dismal project alive for far too long and too much money. You even say yourself that the innovation came from “independent studios”.

    I am not a basher. I think we have done some amazing things in game development. I am quite opposed to those who say we are completely off the storytelling mark, or that games simply cannot tell stories. I think, however, that an industry run by the studios has not been, is not now, and will never be a “breeding ground” for innovation.

    A release of tension is exactly what I mean. But you’re right that when Aristotle expressed his ideas on catharsis, he meant it in a more final sense. Perhaps mini-catharsis is the term I should use?

    I think you do gamers an injustice. On the one hand you tout the innovation of Katamari Damacy, which sold quite well, and on the other you say that gamers like graphics. Gamers like graphics, it’s true. Heck, I even appreciate a well rendered scene. Gamers also crave story. It’s what they talk about for years. They don’t say things like, “Oh, I loved that game, the graphics were so hot!” They say things like, “I loved that game, the main character was so cool,” or, “The story was so great,” or, “I replayed it fourteen different times, just to try all the different character types.” Perhaps the teen gamers who make up the bulk of the target demographic at the moment find graphics to be more important than story. But why are they our target market? My wife, a 30 year old writer, liked games “all right” but when WoW came out, she took to it like a duck to water. Now, WoW’s graphics are nice, but certainly more heavy on style than on glitz. Is that why she liked it? No, she liked it because of the rich history of the world. The back story.

    It will always be possible to push the graphics further. More polys, more shaders, bigger texture maps, and eventually, even holograms. Saying “Clive Barker thinks this story is good,” on the back of a box doesn’t appeal to a demographic that doesn’t like to read, much less like to read the big thick books Mr. Barker has been writing of late.

    So let’s stop writing games for these people! What? We can’t? It’s the only market the publishers are willing to invest in? Then let’s find a way to move outside the system and make the games where stories count.

    Sheesh. I need to learn to say more in less space!

    Posted 08 Apr 2005 at 1:12
  50. Alexei A. Korolev wrote:

    CorvusE

    Yes, AI scripting is very complex. Today we have a lot of technics for creating pretty AI, but customers desires perfect graphics and high FPS (what eats a tons of machine resources), hence AI get just low priority in the games :(

    Posted 11 Apr 2005 at 8:45
  51. Aubrey wrote:

    “So let’s stop writing games for these people! What? We can’t? It’s the only market the publishers are willing to invest in? Then let’s find a way to move outside the system and make the games where stories count.”

    Well, quite! I.S. starts at home :). There’s nothing to say that a typical shooter can’t be governed by an I.S. framework.

    Posted 11 Apr 2005 at 12:38
  52. Fran Willett wrote:

    Can you give some insight as to whether Full Sail and or DIGIPEN are good choices for someone wanting to get into the career?

    Posted 17 May 2005 at 16:33
  53. Lee Sheldon wrote:

    Fran,

    I know more about Full Sail than Digipen since I spoke there a few times, but they seem similar. They are both technical schools, not full-fledged universities. As such they provide access to great equipment and software, and seem to be pretty good about teaching students how to use it all.

    What they aren’t very good at is supplying context or lessons in how to use all that great equipment and software to create something meaningful. So, if you’d like to get a job as a programmer or artist at a game company, they may give you the tools you need. And being on the inside at a company is the best way to advance. However without the skill to focus whatever talent you may have, you’ll find it difficult to take advantage of that inside track. In short, if you want to design and/or write games, you’ll find yourself still at square one after graduation.

    I’d recommend a traditional education at a university that at least begins to teache you about Art with a capital A and Life with a capital L at the same time you learn C++ or Maya. You may then have the skills necessary, even though you may still start as a journeyman artist or programmer, to move up through the ranks.

    Lee

    Posted 20 May 2005 at 16:42
  54. Physics Monkey wrote:

    Lee, please don’t assume you know what Digipen is like if you obviously haven’t researched or even visited it. Comparing it to Fullsail is like [making me feel slightly annoyed].

    Give Digipen a call, stop by sometime, look at the games they put out, talk to their graduates, but please– don’t [ruffle my feathers] again.

    Cheers!

    [Unnecessary profanities censored by site owner]

    Posted 27 May 2005 at 11:46
  55. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    I just censored the anonymous comment above – maybe I should have deleted it? It’s so flamy, I suspect it might just be a troll. But let’s give Physics Monkey the benefit of the doubt before I ban his or her IP address.

    Let me give an even less informed point of view – the point of view of someone who was involved in hiring about 15 people last year. I know Full Sail and Digipen as being fairly well-known game development schools, they seem vocational but there’s nothing wrong with that, Chris Crawford teaches at one of them but I’ve forgotten which one. I have never been terribly impressed by vocational game educations, but I only ever look into them every couple of years or so. That’s just me.

    The first thing we tend to look for is recent credits on shipped console games. Then we look at good non-game-specific university degrees (ie computer science for programmers) and experience in animation or film (for artists). Then we look at experience in the modding scene or vocational game development degrees. Details may vary (there’s various people involved), but that’s more or less how it goes. Of course, we also look at work permits, location, that kind of stuff.

    So the difference between Digipen or Full Sail would be lost on me. Most likely, if you were in the US, we’d sooner get someone who has done a multimedia course in Austria, unless you had a really good demo reel. You would be a newbie, why go to the trouble of getting you to Vienna?

    Your mileage may vary of course.

    Posted 27 May 2005 at 13:04
  56. Jeffool wrote:

    Many Full Sail students don’t try very hard to find a job. They had a reputation of whining about not having a job rather than looking or trying.

    Others I know from Full Sail now have jobs making games ranging from cell-phone games to “AAA” titles.

    And there’s people like me who haven’t found a job, and have tried not to make a deal out of it on blogs. Yeah, I came from Full Sail and don’t have a job in games. And I’ve talked to a person or two on the Net about job leads, and I’d hope I’ve not made a nuisance of myself. And while job-hunting I’ve fallen back on what I did before going to Full Sail, studio manager of a TV station.

    So take from that what you will. Full Sail students are just like any other kind. You have those who fail, those who succeed, and those who haven’t succeeded, and are too hard headed to fail just yet.

    Of course, there are some things about the school ‘I’ didn’t like while I was there. It wasn’t perfect by a long shot. Some things were downright wrong in my opinion. That said I’m curious to know what about the school didn’t meet your standards when you visited.

    But to be personally offended that (assumedly) your school was compared to Full Sail? Aren’t were all in this to make good games?

    [Edited at request of author]

    Posted 27 May 2005 at 13:14
  57. Jeffool wrote:

    Unless I really missed something, Chris Crawford doesn’t work at Full Sail. Or at least he didn’t when I was there as of late last year. Though if you want ‘some’ geek credentials, Dave Arneson is there teaching a class on gameplay mechanics where he mostly uses board games and other non-video games as examples to compliment his lectures.

    Oh, and sorry Jurie, I began writing my reply before yours was up, it just takes me forever as I love to bother with minute details. If you want you can change that last sentence to “But to be personally offended that (assumedly) your school was compared to Full Sail? Aren’t were all in this to make good games?” Same point, I’d think.

    Posted 27 May 2005 at 13:34
  58. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    Done :)

    I guess Chris teaches at Digipen then – are they in Washington? Whichever one is close to Oregon :)

    Posted 27 May 2005 at 14:02
  59. Jeffool wrote:

    Yeah, that’d be DigiPen then. It’s in Washington; the north-west of the country. Full Sail is in Florida; the south-east.

    Posted 27 May 2005 at 21:38
  60. Mike Shepley wrote:

    Hi-

    Can anyone tell me where Mr. Crawford got “&emdash” (?), it just don’t compute.

    The bit about engineers (I come from a long line there-of, back to when they were called ‘mechanics’)- Mr. Carwaford in his KIMtanktics could not figure out, for ten months, how to let a player pick the tank he (no she’s then,l anyway) wanted to order motion/action first (2nd, 3rd). You (or, correctly, “one”) had to start with tank #1, then #2 on thru to 8.

    He eventually found the way. The lesson, so much like in AA, keep putting one front in front of the other and you will get to where you thought you were headed.

    He did. Big time.

    There is another lesson in AA (not that I ascribe to any step): apolo9gize for past mistakes to clear your heart/mind/head/soul or what gots ya.

    To me he should be 1) pulling Ms Minnik’s rug & 2) grokking what he put out on the GA coll. site- it looks a little like the 2nd longest suicide note (the labor parties 1982 manifesto #1) in history.

    (By the way, I must say I am sorry I kicked his ass every time (minus one) we played BLITZKRIEG in old Ygnacio High days.l;

    bye

    (Is this tale in his book(s)?)

    Posted 31 May 2005 at 21:01
  61. Stephane Bura wrote:

    Dadaism is not plaid!

    Posted 03 Jun 2005 at 16:20
  62. Jurie wrote:

    Yes it is. It’s been plaid for a long time.

    Posted 03 Jun 2005 at 16:39
  63. Physics Monkey wrote:

    It seems everyone here misses the point, so I will restate it:

    Before you go judging an institution, do some research on it first.

    The median SAT score of the incoming RTIS student in 2004 at Digipen was 1320. Not Harvard, with a 1490, but rather somewhere near UCBerkeley with a 1310. SAT scores don’t say everything, but I think it starts to get at the heart of the matter.

    Let me tell you about some of the current students:
    1- A sophomore group (Ivar’s Adieu done by Habib Loew, Josh Beeler and David Siems) gave a talk at the University of Washington to the Applied Computer and Mathematics group last month. In their game, they had to solve problems that the juniors and seniors at UW were having trouble understanding. They will be giving a talk at the Northwest sectional ACM meeting this Fall.

    2- A senior, Marc ten Bosch, just had his talk accepted for presentation at SIGGRAPH next year. You should look forward to his team’s game, ‘Orblitz’ being presented as a finalist in the IGF at GDC next year.

    3- An entire senior team are being contracted to produce their product for Valve this summer.

    4- ‘Kisses’, a student project, was in the *professional* finalist category this year at IGF/GDC. Last year, ‘Bontago’ won innovation in game design (professional). Every year there are multiple Digipen finalists in the student shocase, but these were in the professional category.

    5- This year, graduates have been hired with full-time positions at Valve, NST, Microsoft, Bungie, Turbine, Midway, Activision, and a slew of other institutions. More than 60% of this graduating class had jobs BEFORE they graduated. They *regularly* turn down jobs at non-game-industry jobs. Names and contact information will be provided upon request.

    Digipen does not teach tools. Digipen is about building the game designers of tommorow, not the game testers of today.

    Why does putting Full Sail and Digipen in the same sentence drive me into rant mode?

    I would repeat what I said before, but perhaps my verbosity will convey my passion better than my low-brow humor. Digipen charges less than half of what Full Sail does, it advertises less, accepts fewer students, places more game programmers, but gets lumped with them when people talk about ‘game schools’. Graduates from Digipen have the skills and the drive to get jobs anywhere in the software industry. A Digipen bachelors’ in RTIS is no way less than a ‘real degree’ from a ‘real college’. Take a look at the curriculum:
    http://www.digipen.edu/programs/degrees/rtisbs.html

    Game programming is not an easy field that can be done by anyone. It requires natural aptitude and a large amount of dedication. Game programming cannot be learned in 21 months by the masses for $65,000. Game programmers is not something your standard ‘vocational school’ can produce.

    Not all Digipen graduates are going to be market leaders. You may not see many of their applications floating across your desk. Ignore them if you want, it doesn’t really matter to me. However- I beg of you- please don’t tarnish their name to people who might actually take the time to look at what the Digipenners can do. They are smart and dedicated students who should be looked at with a fair eye.

    Feel free to email me with any questions you may have. Best of luck,

    The EPM, a graduate of a vocational monkey school.

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 12:49
  64. Jurie wrote:

    I thank you for writing such a detailed argument, there was a lot in there I didn’t know.

    However, you also missed a point, one that is unrelated to the relative merits of Digipen and Full Sail: some of the people who are involved in making recruitment decisions don’t necessarily know much about either school. That may be unfair, but that’s how it is. It doesn’t mean nobody knows about them, or that the recruitmnent process is broken. Mileage may vary per company and certainly per continent.

    Is Digipen trying to educate all of the people involved in HR decisions at the major game companies?

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 15:04
  65. Physics Monkey wrote:

    That’s a great question. What would you do to inform HR at all of the software companies in the world?

    It’s a daunting task. Wasting on advertising comprimises the education students receive, and there is way too much to be done. Digipen has taken the tack of producing quality BS graduates, and waits for the world to take note.

    The graduates get jobs in the game industry. Many times they are programming interface, tools, or some other less glorious tasks to start with, but their skills are usually recognized and rewarded. Their placement rates are also due to the fact that every year, the dP’rs make a game from start to finish. When they apply in industry, they can point to a portfolio of completed games, many of which are quite impressive.

    I think if Digipen were not placing its graduates, it would be taking more aggressive action to ‘get the word out’. The last two years, Digipen has had a Career Day where potential employers come by and meet the graduating class.

    Unfortunately, I think our reputation is not very well known in Europe. Hopefully, some of our European grads will take it back and show some of their work. Check out the aformentioned Marc ten Bosch and his 3rd year game:

    http://kmr.free.fr/marctenbosch/

    If you have the time, try out Orblitz. The single player and multiplayer are both worth some time. Marc is intent on going to graduate school next year rather than entering the game industry, but he’d be an excellent ‘poach’ if someone can pull it off.

    EPM

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 20:44
  66. Physics Monkey wrote:

    That link above should be changed to:

    http://www.orblitz.net

    I’m also still looking for input on how to remove the perception that Digipen is nothing but a training facility. Any ideas?

    The placement rate from the 4-year program at Digipen into the game industry is over 85%. I don’t believe they could get that sort of number if they produced nothing but trained monkeys.

    Digipen is always looking for more input from industry as to how to better prepare students.

    EPM

    Posted 30 Jul 2005 at 5:36
  67. Aubrey wrote:

    Do you provide your reading list on your site? I’d be interested.

    My experience of game design within games courses is that it has always been dissappointing to students, or, worst case scenario, damaging. Nacent art form, so it’s to be expected at this point.

    I don’t know much about digipen except enjoying most of its output since genjox, but looking at the site, I only see listings for game design as part of English courses. Hmm. Curious.

    I suppose that a lot of the mechanics part of game design comes across in software engineering, but there is an art to it, and it seems a shame that there’s no course for it specifically. I suppose that every class in that list works to help people understand game design as a whole. Perhaps it would undersell game design to segregate it into one class, as it’s an aggregate of so many other skills. I’m finding in my work that design is really the glue which brings all the other elements of development together in a guided and artful manner, so it may be fitting that game design is something the students come to find is something that exists inbetween the other modules.

    Looks like one of the better courses I’ve seen.

    Posted 30 Jul 2005 at 11:49
  68. Aubreya wrote:

    WTF?

    GAM 100 Project Introduction (3 Cr.)

    I swear this wasn’t there the first time i looked! Sorry! I take everything back! Go Digipen!

    Posted 30 Jul 2005 at 11:50
  69. Physics Monkey wrote:

    The GAM series (100, 150, 200…400, 450) that students take every semester is the lab class for which they make games.

    These courses are taught by industry producers/technical leads/designers and feature guest lectures by local interested parties. A good amount of the ‘theory’ is discussed in these classes, but not ‘tested’. The grade is solely dependent on the project: Design, Documentation, Presentation, and the game itself.

    GAT classes (Game Application Technology?) will also have more game design courses.

    How should ‘video game design’ be taught? Digipen seems to think it’s by making games. I think we could also benefit from a history of video game design course as well. Who would be qualified to teach such a course?

    I appreciate the thoughts. Feel free to stop by the ‘pen any time you’re in town and chat with the people here.

    One of the major issues faces the GAM professors is keeping current with a quickly changing field. The technical instructors for the GAM classes tend to enjoy their time at the ‘pen, but feel the need to create (and make 150k/year) again after a while. How can Digipen continue to attract skilled designers with code experience? Sabbaticals? Would companies be interested in sending more senior guys off to think, reflect, condense, and teach?

    EPM

    Posted 30 Jul 2005 at 22:47
  70. Mobile ICBM wrote:

    “I don’t believe they could get that sort of number if they produced nothing but trained monkeys.”

    I guess that would depend on whether the games industry needs monkeys who are trained in whatever you’re training the monkeys to do. I.e., apart from your ego involvement, it’s possible to look at a roomful of artists working on meshes and skins as trained monkeys if they’re doing little more than executing someone else’s plans. Same goes for engineers carrying out the experiments designed by a physicist. Yes, they’re all wonderful people, but whether they can think on their own, let alone think on the cutting edge, is an open question.

    If Digipen is training people for the industry in any capacity then they’re doing the same thing any trade school does, and should be applauded for it. But implying that Digipen is anything more is a reach, and one predicated on the assumption that because one is working with computers one is smart. If the games industry has taught us anything for certain, it’s that that is not true.

    Posted 31 Jul 2005 at 23:47
  71. Aubrey wrote:

    Man, I’d sabbatisize my self in a second. But maybe I oughta release game #1, first :).

    Regardless, I can tell you that you’d definately see a desire for professionals to have a change of scenery for a while, especially in an industry which is so happy to work so excessively.

    Posted 01 Aug 2005 at 11:20
  72. Physics Monkey wrote:

    Interesting. So your contention is that any place that prepares people for a particular marketplace is nothing more than a training institute?

    I would immediately ask what you think of Film schools…

    Granted, creating games is a much more technical exercise than film production, but it still requires creativity and independent thinking. I think the Digipen student’s ability to think and create comes out in the games that they produce. Even with limited time and resources, they are able to create some fun and interesting games.

    I suppose it comes down to a specific philosophy on the purpose of higher education. I believe that a real education is one that teaches you to think rather than how to act. The acting part comes naturally once you know what to do.

    I must politely disagree with your statement:
    “implying that Digipen is anything more [than a training facility] is a reach, and one predicated on the assumption that because one is working with computers one is smart.”

    This is a complete nonsequitor. You are saying that because Digipen graduates end up working with computers, I am claiming that they’re smart. Any claims I lay beyong that are a “reach.”

    Each student is different, and certainly, those that are not able to get a job have to apply to more places, thereby increasing their relative visibility. That being said, I would argue with your implied claim that these graduates are merely, “working with computers.” They create games from the ground up, without SDKs or premade engines.

    I will explicitly state that Digipen is more than a training facility.

    My first bit of evidence is the first-hand experience of having seen the students go through this education. I would encourage you to refute this one– please stop by and see what the students at Digipen are doing.

    My second peice of evidence is the games they produce. Again, I will encourage you to download and play them.

    My third chunk is the graduates themselves. Look at where they are hired, and talk to the employers. In the Seattle area, try NST, Valve, Arena.Net, Suckerpunch, Bungie, and a whole slew of other employers.

    My fourth piece of evidence is still emerging. Think of how long a particular skill set in computer game creation is useful. At some point, the products of a training institute would become obsolete and outdated. Those that graduated Digipen with the first 4-year degrees in 2000 are the start of this testbed.

    There is one final peice of evidence, but one that you’d have to email me to get.

    Best of luck,

    PM

    Posted 01 Aug 2005 at 20:42
  73. Terry wrote:

    Presently I am listed as, a very-VERY, enthusiastic computer hardware person because of all my computer, “hardware”, skills I do NOT have a “certificate”, OR any other type of paper, to document my accumulated computer skills. But I can build, from scratch and mix-matched parts, a complete computer unit (recently I’m trying to collect information on doing Laptop computers because I’ve worked mostly on desktops/towers); I can also refurbish literally any unit, etc. I’m NOT employed and often been accused of being “overqualified” by employer/interviewers because I have more computer skills than they can “RE-”train me for, and well I can go endlessly on-’N-on on this subject. But mostly I’d like to do “something” in purely computer tech on-my-own while I’m waiting for “some” discovery of my skills and waiting to get into “some” college/university to develop Graduate-level computer skills classes to further my computer skills and knowledge.

    Feedback?

    Posted 05 Sep 2005 at 18:08
  74. Physics Monkey wrote:

    Don’t wait to be ‘discovered.’ It turns out that it’s not a passive process. If you want to be ‘discovered,’ you have to go out there and present yourself.

    I would advise you to get in to the best school you can, show them what you can do in the classes, and expand your horizons. You can get a McTechJob if you want, but that won’t take you anywhere. Computer maintainance and repair will not get you to ‘the next level’. You are overqualified because the world doesn’t need top-notch computer repair guys. You have proven, to yourself at the very least, that you have technical ability and interest. I am convinced you will succeed, so long as you can find a field that interests you.

    Best of luck,

    PM

    Posted 08 Sep 2005 at 19:07
  75. Lee Sheldon wrote:

    Geez, I’m sorry I didn’t notice this thread had been dragged back to life until today, and apparently by my post from months ago. (Jurie! Feel free to tell me these things!)

    First, I checked my remarks, and I do say clearly I know more about Full Sail than Digipen.

    However, I just went and looked at your course offerings in your key degree programs. For the BS in Computer Engineering I found TWO (2) courses, Art Appreciation and Creative Writing for Game Design out of FORTY-SEVEN (47) offered over four years that might deal with the history of other media and how it has mirroed and shaped our world; and none that explore reasons people build games and the responsibilities inherent in doing so.

    The BFA did better with FIVE (5), including a media ethics class.

    Physics Monkey,

    Your heart may be in the right place, but look at any self-respecting university on the planet and compare liberal arts courses to math/science/engineering. I lumped Digipen with Full Sail because both are clearly trade schools. I’m not interested in your rivalry. We actually share opinions about Full Sail. But…

    Check this link for Digipen’s answers to questions from WomenGamers.com: http://www.womengamers.com/interviews/digipen.php.

    Look at where the teachers come from. Wonder why the curriculum is so obviously trade school? This is not putting your professors or your school down. Please understand that my only objection is both school’s representing themselves as something they are not. Be a trade school and be happy. You aren’t MIT.

    You mentioned film schools. Strangely enough I got my MFA at a film school: California Institute of the Arts. We had more courses in a year concerning context, history etc. than you have in your entire program. Before that I received my BFA in theatre at Boston University. Most of my courses at both places were focused on my degree tracks: making movies and plays, but there were still always requirements for other courses that were far afield: literature, history, philosophy. Why? For cultural context. Without that context all you have is budding talent stifled by understanding the technology, but not what using it truly means to the big world out there. This industry is awash in very intelligent, very gifted people making meaningless games. The only time we get press is… oh don’t worry, Jurie, I won’t bring -that- up again… We are impacting wallets for sure, but our work is virtually ignored other than as an acknowledged media trend. What an empty victory.

    A lot of your graduates get hired? Great. I mean that. That’s something to be happy about. But how many are lead designers? Turning out any game writers? Are any of your graduates creating games that touch our souls or just our tendons? Let me know when the first Digipen graduate does something that advances human beings as well as technology. Then prove it was your robust programs in the humanities that influenced her or him. Then you’ll have something special.

    Lee

    Posted 20 Sep 2005 at 19:07
  76. Physics Monkey wrote:

    I feel obligated to clear up some of your misconceptions, Lee. I don’t mean to be cruel, but there are few things you need to know.

    1- The RTIS program is for making games. CE (computer engineering) is something different– it’s made for embedded systems design. I would happily detail that degree, but I’m afraid it might distract from the topic at hand. RTIS has at least 3 required courses that deal in history of other types of media. 8 courses (each of the GAM courses) in which the lecturers often discuss the history of games themselves. There *is* even a required course on society and technology– the effects of games on society and vv. This is not to mention the elective courses that everyone *must* take to graduate. Those that are interested may pursue Art, Literature, Film, or a whole host of other subjects further.

    2- That link to womengamers.com was made over six years ago, before the first four-year graduates had graduated. The instructor that answered the question, ‘What are the backgrounds of the Digipen’s professors?’ was in the GAM department, and answered it specifically in response to his department. He unfortunately did not talk about their academic backgrounds, only their business ones. I think it’s unfortunate that a person espousing the importance of context so clearly ignores it when making an argument. Art without context is like a window with the blinds drawn.

    3- I don’t consider Full Sail a rival. I do see Digipen and Full Sail in the same sentence way too often though. They exist for completely different reasons.

    4- How many Digipen graduates are lead designers? When they’ve been out of the school for 0-5 years? A few, and most for smaller studios. That being said, there is a team working at Valve that has full freedom in designing their own game. Our students have won many awards at game developer conferences and gatherings. They didn’t win them for making clones of brain-dead games. They didn’t win them for flashy graphics. They won them because they were creative, artistic, and intriguing. I’ll give you a list, but you can get a list if you bothered to look at what independent games were being presented at the GDC in the US. Turn this question around, Lee: How many game designers are there 3 years out of undergrad? Not many, but I’ll put money down Digipen has the most.

    5- Since when are literature, history, or philosophy courses, ‘far afield’? They are fundamental to all artistic endeavors.
    That being said:
    How many scientific courses have you taken? Have you taken a technical course on quantum physics and relativity? Talk about context– these are the rules that bind our universe. The analogies given in popular science are not the rules themselves.

    5- Games that touch souls? Tendons? How many people anywhere are writing games that touch souls? Your writing touched me, but in a *bad touch* kind of way ;)

    All that being said, I might even agree with you to a certain extent. I am not impressed by the drivel that comes out of the mass production ‘entertainment’ business today. It is clearly a business and not an art form. Lee, this is a problem with capitalism, and nothing else.

    Digipen is *not* a liberal arts college. To call it merely a trade school, however, is to sell it short. If I were a betting man, I’d put down money that your BC/CIA training gave you less exposure to science than dP students get to liberal arts.

    I will repeat myself with renewed vigor: before you make comments on what Digipen is or isn’t, do some research. Come by and take a look around. Allow me to buy you lunch and chat. Find some of the Literature professors and discuss narrative in games. Search out some students and see what’s on their minds. Look at the games that they create from scratch, and give yourself an opportunity to evaluate them for what they are and aren’t.

    If you have more recommendations on what Digipen can do *for* the industry, I’m more than willing to listen.

    All the best,

    Physics Monkey

    Posted 22 Sep 2005 at 7:48
  77. Lee Sheldon wrote:

    PM,

    Be cruel, even sarcastic. Don’t worry about me. You seem sincere despite the fact that your arguments are all over the map, and sometimes off into the blank areas marked simply as “Here there be monsters.” You obviously think highly of your school. I’m sure it’s a wonderful school. I hope it and its students are very successful.

    I’ve rechecked the curriculum offerings. Digipen appears to be an enlightened trade school in that it does acknowledge the need for a few courses other than the basic programming and art courses, not something that Full Sail does. But it -is- a trade school. I went and checked to be sure my definition of what that means is accurate. I believe it is. Here’s one of many similar definitions easily Googled:

    “A vocational school, also sometimes referred to as a trade school is one operated for the express purpose of giving its students the skills needed to perform a certain job or jobs. It is usually a post-secondary school…”

    I don’t see that as a negative. You obviously do. Maybe someday Digipen will grow into something else, if its vision demands it.

    In the meantime, I think it’s best that we agree to disagree. If I’m ever in the neighborhood, I’ll ask at Digipen’s reception for Physics Monkey, and maybe we can have lunch -if- you promise not to throw food.

    Lee

    Posted 27 Sep 2005 at 15:37
  78. Physics Monkey wrote:

    I would laugh, but I must again protest your unresearched attempts to disparage. Let me start off with your quote:

    “A vocational school, also sometimes referred to as a trade school is one operated for the express purpose of giving its students the skills needed to perform a certain job or jobs. It is usually a post-secondary school…”

    What you didn’t include was the end of that sentence nor any of the next. Allow me to complete it:

    “…but in some instances may take the place of the final years of high school. Vocational schools do not exist to further education in the sense of liberal arts, but rather to teach primarily or only job-specific skills, and as such are better considered to be institutions devoted to training, not education.”
    [Wikipedia Definition of Trade School, Sept, 2005.]

    I take the title, ‘trade school’ to be vastly different from what we do at Digipen. Digipen is NOT around to train students in a particular skill. Digipen is around to educate students interested in a *field of study*. When they leave here, if they have not learned how to LEARN, they will be useless in years, if not months.

    In an attempt to dispell your ignorance, I will detail factual differences that separate Digipen from a Trade School.

    1.”…giving its students the skills needed to perform a certain job or jobs.”

    The students who graduate from Digipen aren’t trained for the game industry, they’re *prepared* for it. They can and DO get other ‘jobs’ in completely different industries. A sizable contingent end up working at Microsoft doing non-game, highly-technical work. They have all of the education of a ‘Computer Science” graduate from a high-powered 4-year university.

    2- Trade Schools don’t have a significatn percentage of graduates going on to graduate school. Graduates from Digipen can and DO go on to graduate school. Give me the name of another ‘trade school’ that has sent graduates to NYU, Brown, and other graduate schools this year (within a graduating class of under 100).

    3- “[A trade school] is usually a post-secondary school but in some cases may take the place of the final years of high school.” Digipen has a master’s program in computer science. How many trade schools offer master’s degrees? Mastery of a trade comes with its application, not with its study. A sizeable fraction of Digipen *undergraduates* already hold degrees from other institutions (Oxford, Princeton, Northwestern, others).

    4-”…do not exist to further education in the sense of liberal arts…”
    Again, I’ve got to hit you over the head with facts here. Perhaps you’re unware of what “liberal arts” means:

    “The term liberal arts has come to mean studies that are intended to provide general knowledge and intellectual skills…” [Wikipedia, "Liberal Arts",Sept., 2005]

    Many of the courses taught at Digipen are indeed taught only for the purpose of expanding the student intellectually. Tell me what purpose our current quantum mechanics course serves for someone not going into physics? Perhaps you could be so proud as to explain in what manner Art History trains someone to be a game programmer. Wait, you could certainly explain why every student has to take Mythology. Well, at least you could explain Storytelling, Charater Analysis and Development, Creative Writing, Media and Ethics, Society and Technology, Probability and Statistics, Wavelets, Graph Theory, Abstract Algebra, Art Appreciation, Electromagnetism, and a list of other such courses. Find me a self-titled trade school that includes those classes for graduation.

    5-”…institutions devoted to training, not education.”
    The faculty believe that they are providing an education, not training. Those that visit Digipen come to understand the same thing.

    You say Digipen *is* a trade school. Back up your statements with an argument. Just because every argument can have two sides does not mean that each side is equally valid.

    You say that, “I don’t see [being a trade school] as a negative.” If you understand the never-ending learning and adaptation required by the game industry, then you will certainly recognize that game development is NOT a trade. Any school that treats it like one will not have useful graduates; they will be outdated and useless.

    I believe the front office will know where to send you when you come by, but I cannot guarantee that food will not be flung. It’s in my nature.

    Best of luck,

    Physics Monkey

    Posted 27 Sep 2005 at 21:06
  79. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    There will be no food-flinging here :P

    Seriously. Interesting as this discussion has been (and increasingly far removed from the original subject), I think it has run its course. I’m closing comments on this thread.

    Posted 28 Sep 2005 at 0:22