[MUD-Dev] Storytelling vs simulation, AGAIN! was Re: Influent ial muds

Mik Clarke mikclrk at ibm.net
Tue Mar 2 22:12:26 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999


Koster, Raph wrote:

> Concatenating two replies into one post here....
>
> My question was:
>
> > > "Koster, Raph" wrote:
> > > > Do any MUSHes actually have storytelling capabilities? What exactly IS
> > > > storytelling capability in a mud? Can you define a feature set?
>
> > From: Mik Clarke [mailto:mikclrk at ibm.net]
> > > There are a few people around trying to evolve combat based
> > > muds into role playing muds.  While some of it is enhancing the social
> > > aspects a lot of it is trying to add some story telling capabilities.
> > Storytelling (in muds, Miks view) is related to scenarios, quests and
> > plots.
>
> Mik said both of the above. To my mind, this is a fairly reductionist view
> of the issue. The fact is that adding quests to a combat-oriented game
> doesn't necessarily constitute storytelling. I say this as someone who has
> done plenty of exactly that. Quests per se tend to devolve into mere
> "amusement park rides" regardless of how narratively powerful they may be.
> This is directly related to the fact that they are static.

Yep. It's a bare-bones framework that basically provides just the plot control.
It is as static as its author wants to make it.  A simple plot is linear and
repatative.  A complex one might adapt itself to different players and not be
replayable.

> Mik also stated
>
> > The system I'm looking at should be multi-paths, basically a network of
> > 'story events', with the sequence of events you have taken determining
> > what further events are available and how those events get played out.
>
> This begs the question of whether this forms a narrative (defined as, a plot
> structure imposed upon the participant) or whether it really is merely an
> experience, with narrative structure imposed on the events retroactively by
> the player. In other words, are you defining a branching plot structure in
> advance, or is the following example

> > For instance, if you met the wizards daughter and talked to her and she
> > gave you the map to the wizards tower, he is likely to react differently
> > when you ask for his help as to how he would react if you had killed his
> > daughter and taken the map to his tower from her corpse.
>
> actually an example of good simulation, rather than storytelling? In which
> case the wizard reacts that way because of an assessment of numerous
> variables, many of which might be randomly generated (his attitude towards
> his daughter, his liking of short hairy adventurers, etc). In which case we>
have a generalized simulation system, not a narrative structure.Well, there's a
state machine hidden at the heart of it, and as the player progresses through
the quest they are travrsing the state machine.  In any given state there are
only a few 'plot scenes' available to the player (ie they cannot reach the
wizards tower without first getting the map from his daughter).  Yes, there are
elements of simulation as these are used to carry other information to help the
adventure (a good priest would not ask an evil player to perform a good deed).
The structure is more a graph than a tree, as the branches are allowed to
recombine.  Stat transitions might be like:

  Talk to frog (state 0 to 1)
  Search wood, find daughter, ask for map (state 1 to 2)
  Search wood, find daughter, kill and take map (state 1 to 3)
  Find wizard, if in state 3 he attacks, if in state 2 he talks
  Wizard slain (state 3 to 4, state 2 to 4)
  Talk to frog, unhappy (state 4 to 0, punish player)
  Wizard talks (state 2 to 5)
  Talk to frog, get second part of quest (state 5 to 6)

Note that the first bit can only be replayed because of the state change from 4
to 0, returning the player to the 'not started' state.  Talking to the frog in
any state other than 0, 4 or 5 will get some advice about what you are meant to
be doing.  The wizards tower can probably only be reaches in states 3 and 4, and
possably his daughter can only be found in state 1.

> > From: Dan Root [mailto:dar at thekeep.org]
> > Speaking as someone who has run several MUSHes in the past,
> > I'll take a stab at defining a more technically oriented feature set.
>
> OK, while I agree with everything you said above, I don't see how in any way
> they add up to storytelling. They are useful tools for a number of things,
> both creation of environments and narratives.

Mushes seem to be like empty stages with lots of tools for making props and
costumes, but the script has to be provided by the actors.  What I like about
MUDs is that they have their own (admitedly fairly stupid) actors built in.

> A few truisms I'd toss at this issue right here:
>
> - if you've got a static structure of ANY sort, it will in one way or
> another fail over the long term in your virtual environment.
> - you cannot add new static structures at the pace that players will demand
> them.
> - most tools people tend to add for "storytelling" are static structures:
> quests, fillips in the environment, etc.

In general I agree, although some of the answers depend upon the ratio of
builders to players.  The Ars Magica approach of having the gamers take turns at
being supporting actors for one or two real characters has some possabilities
(and sounds much like how MUSHes work).  Static does not mean fixed and does not
mean always the same.  Plots are like mazes - they can be explored and may hold
all sorts of little secrets.  Some may not be replayable at all, others may be
changed on later runs (probably due to bugs and debries rather than design).
Some may change depending upon what the human actors involved do or say.

> I think a fruitful course of investigation would be to ascertain what *sort*
> of storytelling it is that people really crave in a mud. I think that Mik's
> statement
>
> > It should also be possible for the world, or at least parts of it, to
> > react to your progress through the story.
>
> is key. People want their stories to have significance, and they want to
> have an impact in the world. They wish to leave their mark. One can easily
> make the leap of logic to an examination of why the two "classic" methods of
> adding storytelling into a mud fail:

You have to watch out for the 'Ho.humm. Saved the world this week. Again. Fourth
time in a row.' syndrome.  Not all of the stories can be mega-hero ones.  There
has to be a scope for smaller stories that affect the 'lives' of only one or two
mobs.  What is important is the the world should be seen to react in someway to
a story.  Freeing to ghosts isn't very satisfying if they are back the following
night.  So in the players world, they should stay free (ie they have completed
the quest and are unable to rerun it).

> - static narratives aren't significant because they repeat. Eg, they are
> essentially periodic events.
> - randomly generated encounters aren't significant because they are too
> small in scope.
>
> This right here could be the key issue behind "storytelling vs
> simulation"--neither one, as currently used, tends to result in narratives
> that are sufficiently large in scope.

Granted, a quest should be something that takes between a few hours and a few
days of play time and should give a sense of acheivement when it is finished.
Writing a good one should be much like writing a book or a longish short story.
Webs of interconnected events and characters, which is sufficiently complex that
the player cannot comprehend the whole thing from the information they have
available.  That is to say that it should be non-predictable and non-trivial.  A
task such as 'find the wizard' could be subdivided into a whole sub-plot all of
its own (which you have to follow, because if you 'cheat' you get to the right
room in the wrong state and you cannot find him).

> A third tactic, of course, is giving tools to the players, as Dan cites
> MUSHes do. Yet my observation is that while tools for players are a very
> good thing & a very powerful thing, few players actually build narratives
> out of them. They build toys, they build environment. They usually don't
> build stories. (And yes, better environment contributes to their building
> post facto stories out of their memories, but I'm speaking of previously
> determined structure here).
>
> Lastly, the playerbase is highly resistant to change. This means that in
> general, the parameters for both a static narrative construct OR a
> simulation tend to be narrowly defined. We can't generally do things like
> cause continents to sink, cities to die of the plague, etc etc, because it
> scares the bejeezus out of the newbies, horrifies the players who lose their
> standing or accumulated possessions, and disturbs those whose sense of
> familiarity with the environment is the biggest reason why they still play.

Which brings the posabilities for subjective play.  A players state in a quest
is personal for them.  Therefore, when they return to the city, we can drop them
into a cheap copy filled with zombies and liches.  Their actions have unleashed
the powers of darkness and their world is polluted with them.  To banish them
and return to the real world, they must complete the quest.  All the other
players are just walking around in the normal world, completely undisturbed by
the unleashing of the powers of darkness.  The city of the dead can probably be
reused in a few other quests, as it will mostly be empty.

Yes, there probably should be a few (very few) more powerful quests that change
the world for everyone, but these require a LOT more planning and setup work
than the subjective quests.

Mik




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