[MUD-Dev] Re: Storytelling vs. Simulationist (Was Re: Room descriptions)

Brandon J. Rickman ashes at pc4.zennet.com
Thu Oct 1 20:55:48 New Zealand Daylight Time 1998


On Thu, 1 Oct 1998 ApplePiMan at aol.com wrote:
> On Wed, 30 Sep 1998 Raph Koster wrote:
> > Hmm, I really wonder whether an awareness of the "old way" 
> > as a "way" was really present, if you know what I mean. 
> > Meaning, how many decided to view the split between 
> > simulationist and storytelling as an aesthetic choice, and 
> > how many actually just made the hodgepodge because it was
> > all they knew?
> 
> I believe I'm using "storytelling" in what follows in the same sense as 
> Raph's post: not something, like quests, tacked onto a game world after 
> the fact, but rather plots, sub-plots and intrigues hooked into the game 
> world at such a low level that the world is, for all intents and 
> purposes, inseparable from its stories. If that's not correct, I 
> apologize for using the quote in an inappropriate context (but would 
> still like to see answers to the questions I'm posing =) ).
> 
> Is the implication in the quote above that simulationist and storytelling 
> worlds are at opposite ends of a continua? I don't see that they are, of 
> necessity. Why can't a world's primary focus be storytelling, and yet 
> have it still be simulationist?

One problem with the term "storytelling" is that there is that subgenre of
muds themed around the World of Darkness (which is still owned by White
Wolf?) and the Storyteller system.  [Or something like that.] So there are
storyteller muds that have no relation to this discussion of storytelling
versus simulation.  Well, they do in that the action within these muds
tends to be generated by the players and not rigid bits of code, the game
does not simulate character combat the way an LP mud invokes a fighting
mode, generating random numbers and calculating damage based on clearly
defined player/object stats.

If there was a continuum between simulation and storytelling it might
center around the quantity of pseudo-physics used by game systems.
Simulation relies on a high amount of physics, usually hidden or
abstracted, a set of rules that is at an extreme completely deterministic.
Storytelling can use few or no physics, maybe a handful of suggestions but
not a lot of fixed code.  Simulation wants a cause for each effect;
storytelling wants to make things up as you go along.  

You could generate the exact same room description either way, but the
logic of _why_ a room has a certain description is different.  With
simulation, the system has to know lots of fine details about objects to
generate descriptions with any quality of mood or style.  So evidence of
mood or style has becomes associated with storytelling and, in the current
thread, has actually become the definition of storytelling.  I don't
really like that definition, I would say that storytelling has the goal of
generating mood or style and at an extreme it can be just as abstract and
sterile as simulation. 

So logic is more important.  Simulation would describe only what is in
the room.  Storytelling may describe things that should be in the room. 
Simulation will kill a character because the numbers said to. 
Storytelling will kill a character because of the dramatic value, and may
even resurrect the character six weeks later without any problem. 

Simulation gives everything a pretty even amount of potential.  If you can
burn one thing, you can burn any thing that will burn.  Common consensus
says that this is a guarantee for fun.  But a simulation will keep running
even if no one is paying attention.  There is the potential that you might
log in one day and find that all the characters have been killed and eaten
by starving wolves.  This is not fun.

> Please note I understand the technical reasons why implementing one 
> would, with the state of the art, limit the other. What I'm asking here
> is if there were some way to magically brush those technical reasons
> aside, is there some deeper level at which drama is so much at war with
> free will that, even if the story were not "fixed" and instead were 
> allowed to drift toward a new destination determined by the players (but
> prodded and reacted to by a godlike storytelling Agency), you could never
> have a game world that was strongly storytelling and  simulationist at the
> same time?

You can switch between the two, alternately letting the story drift
according to player desires and rooting the story in fine detail.
Personally I find simulation to be unforgivingly rigid, and it already
permeates what is out there, so I have no interest in pursuing it.  I
think the audience for storytelling is much larger than for simulation,
but simulation is a more attractive solution for those who are actually
capable of building these worlds in the first place.  That doesn't come
close to answering your question.

- Brandon
"Down with Simulation!"





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