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

J C Lawrence claw at varesearch.com
Wed Mar 10 14:41:38 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999


On Tue, 2 Mar 1999 11:40:59 -0600  
Koster, Raph<rkoster at origin.ea.com> wrote:

> 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.

Dynamically genreated quests, or quests containing dynamic elements
also don't really solve this, as, per se, typically the flavour
remains constant (or at least one of minimal number of
permutations).

More simply I see problems with the entire quest structure:

  1) They are too short.  They take RL hours or to compleat, not RL
weeks.

  2) They have pre-defined end points, that are known to be
achievable and which do not vary or develop during the progression
of the quest.  There is no, "Well, I was going to save the princess
until I found out she was an utter bitch, so I joined the rebels
instead, killed the princess, and now I'm pretending to be her but
am a 5th columnist waiting for the King to be asassinated by the
stooge I trained..."

Better quests are player derived.  They are not game-system
derived.  

> - 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.

Expressive fertility.  You can't afford to build structures.
Structures don't scale and they don't breed and develop as fast as
players do.  Instead you have to concentrate on building really good
mulch that players can then grow things in.

In the final analysis, mechanical games are boring and people, and
their machinations are endlessly fascinating (cf soap operas).  The
scale between the Talkers (or IRC) and pure gamist MUDs is that of
the extent to which the venue (MUD) provides a defined backdrop and
toolset to those human machinations.  Expressive fertility.

> I think a fruitful course of investigation would be to ascertain
> what *sort* of storytelling it is that people really crave in a
> mud. 

Ouch.  That's a doozie.  I see several components (which is a
different answer to a different question) but am undecided on how to
relate them:

  personal affinity for some principle(s) in the event
  personal interest in the development of a principle(s) in the event
  a motivator to prime personal action
  sufficient reason to think that the event has importance

> 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).

Is there really a functional difference, or at least one we care
about, between pre-determined stories being enacted in the game
world, or a series of past events being retro-actively considered a
story?

Yes, most of what we see today in such areas is pretty wan stuff,
but I wonder more if this isn't simply immaturity in the field.  You
can pile up as much horse manure and water as you want, it still
takes simple RL time to grow a rain forest.  Right now we see
pfragmentary tools and toys whose use tends toward what we think we
want but doesn't get there.  I wonder if the problem isn't in the
paucity of the environment (as we've argued here), but in our own
lack of patience and understanding of what makes good fertiliser.

> To my mind, the only thing that has enough scope to really
> generate mud-wide stories, then, is player social constructs. And
> usually narrative structure will be imposed after the fact.

Quite.

> Thus, it could be argued that the absolute best tactics for mud
> storytelling are

> - encourage players (through the provision of tools for this
> purpose) to form groups with conflicting goals (philosophical,
> territorial, etc) of *some* sort that are a) significant in impact
> b) achievable yet c) not overly destructive of the
> environment. This is a large design issue which is in many ways
> frankly contradictory to basic design principles in many mud code
> bases today.

> - assiduously report the "latest news" in conflicts, cast as story
> and narrative, with context, embellishment where necessary, and if
> need be, presented in such a manner as to encourage ongoing
> conflict, picking of sides, etc.

Agreed with one cavest: Don't do the second one, just actively
encourage and support players doing it.  Doing it yourself doesn't
scale.  Players *LOVE* fan sites and 'zines.

--
J C Lawrence                              Internet: claw at kanga.nu
---------(*)                        Internet: claw at varesearch.com
...Honorary Member of Clan McFud -- Teamer's Avenging Monolith...


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