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September 15, 2008

Day One (at the AGDC)

It was an entertaining first day at the AGDC. It's certainly more fun listening to talks about interactive storytelling, cinematic design, and writing characters in games than it is listening to talks about pharmaceuticals and obscure research findings.

As expected, Chris Crawford's talk was, to a large extent, a rehash of material that I believe he has presented previously. Still, seeing it in person, particularly with his entertaining delivery, was worth it. His talk was titled "15 Conceptual Shifts: Moving From Games to Interactive Storytelling," and it reviewed many of the points he has tried to make over the years -- among other things: stories are about people, not things; the importance of interactivity; and the role of verbs as opposed to nouns. And, of course, the last few concepts dealt largely with his Storytron project, although unfortunately he did not provide a demonstration.

Much of this is material from his book , and there didn't seem to be any radical new concepts introduced in the talk. I will say that I hadn't previously heard him refer to the ideal interface as a "linguistic user interface" or LUI, which sounds like it could be the right approach. He also re-emphasized his distaste for graphics, plot, and spatial relationships -- points that, I think, have some merit, although his inflexibility is curious and, in some ways, probably counter-productive. Still, I enjoyed the presentation, and regardless of your acceptance of his views I think everyone with an interest in interactive storytelling should hear him speak in person at least once.

The presentation also included a portion given by one of his colleagues, Laura Mixon, a science fiction writer who is authoring one of the first Storytron storyworlds. She gave the "storyteller's perspective" on interactive storytelling, discussing things like the components of story and storytelling, and some of the key elements to interactivity in the context of a storyworld. I thought it was good to hear a few words about Storytron from someone other than Crawford, although I can't say I took away very much from the talk, and she did not demo the storyworld she is working on. Then again, she did make reference to the movie "The Red Violin," which is never bad in my book.

After the talk there was a brief, informal Q&A session with Crawford. I didn't know he would be speaking at AGDC, so I didn't have time to prepare any good questions beforehand, but I had to bring up the subject of interactive fiction. So I mentioned how I had read his book a while back and, although I recognized his disapproval of IF, I didn't feel like his explanation was sufficiently convincing, given some of the very sophisticated works that have been produced over the past few years. Suffice it to say that I don't think he was prepared to give an answer -- he just referred to the primitive nature of IF as a medium, which to me only reflected the fact that he likely hasn't kept up with the field.

Although he did not provide a demo of Storytron, he did briefly show the website and described how one of the storyworlds, Balance of Power: 21st Century, is currently playable. I checked it out briefly. There's a lot that could be said about it, so perhaps I'll leave that to another post. I'll just say that, although I can see some of the sophistication that is possible, the system could still use some major work.

I went to a few other talks, mostly centered around interactive storytelling, writing, and design, and although there were some interesting viewpoints and entertaining presentations, there was little in the way of new groundbreaking material.

I will say this, though: I had great anticipation for the last talk of the day that I attended, which was titled "Galatea 3.0: Designing and Writing Great Game Characters" and given by Tom Abernathy of Microsoft Game Studios. I applaud Tom for placing such enormous emphasis on character design and development in games and for preaching and teaching this point in such detail -- it's a lesson that most game designers would be wise to learn. But seriously: can you really have a lecture titled "Galatea 3.0" about great game characters, and not once mention what is widely perceived as one of the groundbreaking interactive fiction games of the past decade by the same name, precisely because of its outstanding game character?

4 comments:

georgeolivergo said...

I'm curious, was Abernathy referencing Galatea, or the novel Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers?

Rubes said...

The novel, although it was only mentioned briefly at the beginning.

jrw said...

Yeah, seriously, I really wondered about the missing reference to Emily's work. Even if he were just Googling "Galatea" as general prep you'd think it might pop up. I thought about asking him about it at the Gingerman Pub last night, but I didn't want to put him on the spot at a friendly gathering.

I talked to Emily last night and mentioned the name of the talk. She's aware of the Galatea 2.2 book so she understood the gist of calling the talk 3.0. But, you know... hmmmm.

Rubes said...

I never made it to the Gingerman last night, but I was thinking about going there to ask him that. Probably best that I didn't.