Question: Can high drama be produced from a wide-open simulation?

Creating a game that tells a story is one thing. Creating a game that tells a dramatic, moving story is quite another.

Can you really get a dramatic, moving experience from a game that is not tightly scripted or linear? Can high drama truly emerge from an open, unbounded simulation-style game?

Everyday life is a wide-open sandbox. Clearly, there is high drama in real life. But, as mentioned a while back on, “Most people’s lives are not filled with high drama all the time. Some events will be dramatic, but creating a dramatic story from those requires editing out all the mundane parts.” (greg)

That editing, in game terms, is what I imagine is the scripting, restriction, or forcing of linearity onto the game narrative.

Isn’t high drama really the product of the manipulation of people’s emotions through selective presentation?

More from same thread:

“I’m not convinced that truly open world designs will lead to the kind of epiphony-based stories that are real emotional milestones in the world of art, literature, and gaming.” (Paul Furio)

“All games (not just IF) are an attempt to fit several impossible things into one package, and then fool the player into not noticing the hack.” (Mike Rozak)

“A deep worldsim and smart, reactive characters (AI or human) may be enough for great interactivity, but to make that interactivity dramatic requires a third component that knows when and how to meddle.” (Ron Newcomb)

“I’d propose that there’s a hierarchy of dramatically interesting: at tier 0, you have real life, where you’re frankly happiest if there’s not all that much drama happening to your avatar; at tier 1, competent but formulaic static fiction, say, CSI; tier 2, open-ended simulations, like table-top RPGs and MMORPGs; and tier 3, the really good stuff, with the ephiphanies and so on, like the best books and films. I guess the question is whether IF or interactive media in general have a place in tier 3.” (Mike Roberts)

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  1. Jason
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 11:28 PM | Permalink

    Around the same time we invent strong AI. The problem is that emergent behavior in an open-ended game like The Sims is more like watching a puppy. There’s too many limitations both in what people can do in the game world, and the ability for the AI to come up with something genuinely interesting.

    If you replace the puppies with 13 year olds, the same thing applies to MMORPGs 😉

    It’s already hard enough for most humans to come up with compelling drama. Expecting it to come out from a computer is a little too much to ask.

  2. Posted February 19, 2010 at 1:40 AM | Permalink

    How about Left 4 Dead’s “Game Director” then? That’s an AI specifically created to formulate dramatic moments within the world based entirely on the actions of the players. Granted, the actions available to the player are not that many (shoot, jump and run basically) in that game, but one could extrapolate the idea of a Game Director and apply it to a much more open game in terms of verbs and player freedom, don’t you think?

    Personally, the idea of “AI that takes into account the player’s actions to concot possible future scenarios for the player” is perhaps one of the designs that interest me the most. The thing is, it just so happens to be mind-blowingly complex to actually design and program.

  3. Posted February 19, 2010 at 8:12 AM | Permalink

    I think “game directors” and other types of drama managers are most interesting new direction that games are taking in this domain. I’m not as familiar with the one used in L4D, but the concept is certainly intriguing. It’s still not clear to me, though, whether this type of drama formulation is just a different way of imposing scripting and linearity upon the open world, to produce drama.

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