[MUD-Dev] Storytelling and Professionals (was: RE: )

Lee Sheldon linearno at gte.net
Wed Nov 28 13:16:58 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


-----Original Message-----
From: Kathleen Foley

> One qualification to this statement I'd add is that people can
> learn. Not everyone sprung forth fully-formed and able to
> entertain audiences with tales of adventure.  I'm not talking
> about playing other games, either, I'm talking about serious study
> of literature and storytelling. Even this poor tech geek managed
> to get a degree in literature.

A friend of mine, Glen Dahlgren (Wheel of Time), was a programmer
first, and became an excellent writer.  But I said elsewhere
something about paved roads and muddy paths...

> I agree that the attitude of "It just can't be done!" sounds silly
> coming from those that are not professional (or even trained)
> storytellers.

<nod> <sigh>

> I think you're being a little harsh here, Lee.  Admittedly, my own
> AC experiences didn't involve story in any meaningful way; I was
> always too low of a level to interact with the "story" by the time
> I tried to play extensively.  But, I don't think it's just that
> the story was "bad", I think it's more that the story didn't fit
> with the medium.  I'll explain more below.

Instead of bad, I could have said unexceptional.  But I was in an
ornery mood.  We need more than unexceptional to create any sparks.

> (And, I don't mean to pick on the AC people, either.  I've met
> lots of them and they're great people with bright ideas.  Plus, I
> was just as guilty of creating a story unfit for the medium when I
> worked on Meridian 59.)

Me, too.  Several are friends, and many of the original developers
came to my GDC tutorial the year the game was released, so maybe I
need to take a bit of the blame. :)

>> People don't want the games to tell them stories, they want them
>> to be stories.

<SNIPPING SEVERAL GOOD POINTS ABOUT RPGs AND STORIES THAT I AGREE
WITH>

> I don't hold much hope up for SW:G in this respect. (Sorry, Raph.)
> Given what I know about the Star Wars universe and all, I don't
> see much room left for players to do interesting things with
> within it.  There's also the issue of licensed properties,
> something that Raph has already spoken out about (greatest
> boon... biggest albatross).  The pre-conceived notions players
> will bring into the game will hinder chances for participatory
> storytelling.  (On the other hand, if anyone can do it, I'd be
> Raph.  I'm willing to eat my words for his sake. ;)

He writes.  He clearly knows something about storytelling.  My hopes
are based on that.

>> The truth is so much simpler.  People LOVE to tell their own
>> stories, AND they love to have stories told to them.
>> AND. AND. AND.  For the first time in modern entertainment we
>> have an industry with the theoretical capability to provide both
>> in a single mass media product.  But it hasn't done it yet.

> And, this is what I think is the truth.  Storytelling in our
> medium has to be participatory.

Yes, that is its strength and its potential.

> At one extreme, you have Mr. Rickey's main hypothesis, that you
> cannot do story, don't bother, let the players do it.  This can
> only end in tragedy as expectations collide.

As I posted elsewhere they HAVE story.  It's just sort of free
floating, connected to a vague backstory the way some quests were
connected to backstory in EQ.  And another plus for DAoC's story:
it's much easier to find than EQ's!  If you want, you can learn
pretty quickly who is on who's side, and who isn't... some history
of the realms, etc.  It's just a shame it goes nowhere.

<SNIPPED PERILS OF PLAYER-CREATED STORIES COLLIDING>

> On the other hand, you can't have a monolithic story written by
> the developers that people can't interact with meaningfully.  This
> is Asheron's Call's failing, IMHO.  The story "affected" the
> world, but the players couldn't do much to affect the story!

Come on, Kathleen (er is that you Brian in that wig?), did the story
REALLY affect the world after the meteors at the end of Beta?  Did
the rivers turning red affect how players played?  Did the GM-driven
guest appearances affect anyone other than the few who lucked out
and happened to be on the scene when they occurred?  My quibbling
doesn't mean I don't agree with your assessment.  I do.  Players
need to affect the story.

> It was the same way when we tried to tell the "story" of the
> Duke's death in Meridian 59.  We had this great plot planned out,
> and we would tell this wonderful story!  Sure, lots of people
> logged on for the story, but without a meaningful part in the
> story, most players got bored and started acting out.

Yup.

> Yet, finding the center of this spectrum isn't easy.  There are
> professionals that know how to write stories, like Lee does.
> We've also seen how to create a sandbox for people to play in;
> we've also seen what that leads to (think early UO).  So, how do
> you create a well-written, original story that allows people to
> interact and dynamically change it?  I have my theories and I know
> Lee has his.  It's not an easy answer, though, especially given
> the current climate.

And despite how it may appear here on this board, more than one is
trying.

>> Apparently this industry hasn't the imagination to do it.  So it
>> says it can't be done, and even worse, that the hundreds of
>> millions of people who have responded to stories told to them
>> over the centuries don't want it either.  It is to weep.

> Again, I think you're being a bit harsh, Lee.

Yeah. It wasn't an unthoughtful harshness though. :) Sometimes being
a bit extreme can spark the debate that subtler methods may leave
dormant.

> Personally, I think we're too busy worrying about other things to
> sweat the story.  I think most of the people at Mythic wake up in
> the middle fo the night in a cold sweat shouting "How the HELL do
> these people create so many customer service issues!!!"  Probably
> involves a lot more swearing, actually. They're also busy probably
> creating new ways of saying, "It's not a nerf."

Hehe.  Agreed.  But that's also an easy excuse in a culture with
little concern with content.  I expect the additional content we the
players are now hearing about will be more of the same, and aimed at
the same subset of the potential audience.  They've not done or said
anything to the contrary.

> Plus, the game industry is always adverse to risk, especially in
> times of economic slowdown.  Expect a lot more EverQuest clones,
> even from games that originally wanted to be something else.  The
> people with money want a sure bet, not some risky venture
> involving this "story" thing that we'll have to rely on expensive
> professionals to provide!

Yes, I mentioned in another thread that this isn't confined to our
industry alone.  Look at Survivor.  Look at all the Survivor clones.
Look at the numbers.  Won't stop the next bandwagon from rolling on,
or people running to catch it though.

> Two things I will bring to defend DAoC:

>  1) It's been said in public that the game was intended to be
>  evolutionary rather than revolutionary.  This boils down into "We
>  wanted to make a better EQ/AC/UO" for those of us not speaking
>  from an official position.  Therefore, you can't fault them for
>  not including large amounts of story content since this wasn't
>  exactly in the game plan.

I don't fault them for that at all, Kath... Brian... I will fault
the assumptions stated in this thread that may have grown out of
that goal however.

> Whether this is a good goal to have is an entirely different
> story.

I'm perfectly willing to let the market decide.  I don't bear the
company or the game ill will.  But I will rail against unsupportable
pontifications and justifications that may hurt our industry in
general by their narrow view of what the audience wants, or what
others in the industry may be able to provide.

> I fault Dave for

Ooops, I thought you were going to defend them twice...

> 2) There are some interesting nuggets of story if you know where
> to look.  The "epic" quest for my class has some interesting bits
> of story in there.  On the other hand, I've seen enough people
> wander by the smith near the forge in Jordheim asking about
> "Thane's Blood" (the theoretical target of my quest) enough times
> while crafting to know I'm hardly the first person on this great,
> expansive quest. :)

Yes, I've mentioned the story in the quests.  Linear. Solo-game
structured.  But still at times quite pleasant.

<SNIPPED BRIAN ADMITTING HE'S A STATISTICAL ANOMALY>

> People said the market couldn't support another fantasy game when
> DAoC was announced. It's gone on to sell an amazing amount of
> units in a small amount of time.  True, it'll take some time to
> see if those people stay, if it's cannabalizing from other games,
> and if that pace can carry them to the top of the heap.  But, the
> fact that it didn't fall flat on its face out of the gate proved a
> great many people wrong.

Well, others have pointed out its stability had a lot to do with it,
coming on the heels of disasters like WWII Online and AO.  And I
like much of the gameplay elements in it.  I'm still playing.  I
signed up for another 3 months.  Despite it's clonish tendencies, it
makes a number of things more fun for ex-EQers like me.  And I do
think the market is a snake eating its own tail.  There's a lot of
market history to back up that worry, as I mentioned here and
elsewhere.  But the market for these IS finite.  There will always
be some natural matriculation, but the market IS finite.  Trust me
on that.

> While I agree that story-based games will be a natural progression
> for the medium and well eventually become the de facto standard, I
> don't think we're in any danger of running out of customers right
> now.  I could be wrong about the running out of customers thing,
> though. :)

I may be underestimating this particular niche (which I don't
consider the same as Sims Online.).  I hope I am, because "Me, Too"
development dollars vanish faster than chips at a roulette wheel.
We'll see.

Lee

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