Storytron: ???

edited May 2008 in Story Games
I hate admitting to not having the first clue about something others are discussing intelligently.

But "Storytron"?

Right. Don't have the first clue. So, wait, what?

Comments

  • edited May 2008
    Let's start with the power of the internet:
    http://www.storytron.com/

    http://www.storytron.com/blog

    Which isn't meant to direct any discussion elsewhere, but because if I hadn't seen the link in the "Things to Watch" thread, I'd have less of a clue than you do. But I'm not much more informed now.
  • edited May 2008
    Much of Storytron's implementation is described in Chris Crawford's book "Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling". Gamasutra has a good overview here: Book Review: Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling
  • I have to admit, I tried to find out what it was from the official website but utterly failed. I *think* it might be some software into which you can write (or prepare) an interactive experience. Not sure for whom - yourself perhaps?

    I dabbled in interactive video games a long time ago, and have come across Crawford's name before, but always with a "Huh?" feeling at the end of it.

    Can anyone give me a brief summary of what Storytron actually is or does?

    Cheers :)
  • It's shiny; that's what it is. Very shiny.

    Essentially, it's a system for creating CRPGs (Crawford may be trying to call them something else, but they are) in which the characters in the game are actually independent entities with meaningful motivations and responses. The idea being that you get an emergent and engaging world in which you are playing. Crawford thinks that there is a huge market for this outside of the usual gamer market; I don't see it but Crawford has an annoying habit of being right about stuff.

    When I get some time I definetely need to have a play with this.

    (Suitable disclaimer about lack of experience with Storytron and thus possible inaccuracies in the above)
  • edited May 2008
    What is seems to claim is Story Now in Text Based Adventures.
    From reading the review and web site what it will probably achieve is Illusionism for Text Based Adventures.

    It is basically an inference engine with a not-quite-natural language interface.
    I don't know if that means anything to anyone so I'll put it in layman's terms... It has a database of facts about the world and it can generate new facts about the world using some rules. The rules have to be carefully written so that a natural language system can translate them into something that a human can understand as a story. One of the rules involves getting input from the player.
    It works just like a traditional RPG, you ask the GM if you can perform an action and the GM tells you what happens.

    Sadly, the GM is a set of preset rules, written by the author of the story world. To get a decent world you'll need to program in thousands of carefully prepared props, actors, stages and actions. Even when it's done you will be limited by the vision of the writer.

    This is fascinating to me... I write game AI professionally so it ought to be, otherwise I need a new job. I have read papers about using inference engines in game AI before, so this isn't exactly new, it just promises a larger scope I'm not sure it can deliver. You'd need at least another layer of AI to write the Story World for you as it went along.

    I'm interested in what this achieves, but I'm not expecting anything miraculous.

    John,

    EDIT: This post's not ment to sound as cynical as it does.
  • edited May 2008
    Well, John, I'm not sure, but I think that Crawford is claiming at least to have made somewhat of a breakthrough. As it stands now, most CRPGs have programmed responses for their characters, and these are very limited, because creating an extensive network of responses is time consuming. You have to create each one individually.

    With Storytron, if I understand it correctly, you don't program all responses individually. You intead program the NPC to have motivations. What then happens is that the player input in the special language is parsed by the machine, and this interacts with the NPC motivations for it to determine what response you get from the NPC.

    Thus the player can put in any sort of input at all. As opposed to most branching systems we're familiar with where you can only select from a set of things to say or do to the NPC. This is one of the primary breakthroughs. And it's not simply that each response will fall into some bucket, but that each is evaluated individually. The engine then creates an emotional response for the NPC from the wide ranges of responses it knows how to create (these cover most human emotions).

    Now, this alone wouldn't mean much if the NPCs only had certain set reactions. But I believe that the idea is that once given an emotional response, the machine then further comes up with something dramatic for the NPC to do to reflect that response that's based on the current game situation. So that as things change in the game world, the responses of the NPC become dynamic to the game world situation.

    This, if it exists, is the real advance. No, you don't have to have a second level of AI writing the game as you go, because the game evolves as a TTRPG does, organically to the action at hand. When playing WoW, even if I had the ability to enter any command I wanted, the NPC would always only have a couple of programmed responses. In Storytron, you enter the motivation of the NPC, and the machine comes up with some interesting plot advancement based on what it knows about the story world.

    A caveat here, this is again only based on what's written about it. It's not like I've had experience with the alpha or something. It could all be BS. But I think it's an exciting step forward.


    Basically you probably won't play in your own world, except to test it. Because knowing how you programmed it might drain out some of the suspense. Any secrets of the NPCs, for instance, are already known to you. Just as an example. But interestingly, the game does have some potential there, because you can't easily determine how it will play out given a set of moves, since there's no tree to follow.

    But, typically, the notion is that there will be "story world" designers who will make and even sell their worlds for others to play. these people are like authors or GMs. Other people then pick up these worlds, make a character (or play one created for the world, I'm not clear on this), and play through the story that emerges.

    So... it's really not a story. It's "Story Now" insamuch as the player really is creating stuff that's being reacted to dynamically. He does, in fact, push the plot in a certain direction.

    Or, again, that's the theory at least.

    Oh, and to be clear, it's not quite here yet, and there could possibly be further delays: http://www.storytron.com/blog/

    June 1st, if all goes well. It'll open up with the ability to get at an already created world. I think this world has been under test for a while, but opening it up will represent Beta testing, if I read correctly. So we won't have to wait for somebody to create the first story-world.

    Mike

    P.S. Note to people who have not seen it, it's entirely text at this point, and they're only working on getting heads of NPCs to come up to show emotional responses. Chris' feeling seems to be that a 3D interface would only add useless information. I have the feeling that, if Storytron is successful, that it'll be merged down the road with 3D interfaces. Storytron is the proof of concept for a new technology, that'll be adopted if it's actually successful.
  • edited May 2008
    Mike,

    Probably didn't make myself clear. I can see the breakthrough, he's created a language that can be interpreted by an inference engine to produce human style behaviour, including emotional response. It's still a rules based system though.

    In (for example) World of Warcraft a rule says 'if player within 30 yrds and I'm aggressive, attack player'.

    In Storytron it's more complex. A rule says 'if I'm angry at player, if I have a weapon, if I am a violent player, if player is close by, attack player'. This introduces a huge amount of interesting interactions, for example you could be angry at the player for all sorts of reasons (governed by other rules). If you're not a violent person, maybe there's a rule where you shout at them instead. If you aren't nearby maybe you go and hunt them down.

    If you don't make that rule, angry violent people with weapons will not attack the people they are angry at. The computer cannot deduce that this is the correct behaviour unless it is told.

    The developers of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion tried this, but they didn't get it good enough for release (I read an article where one NPC wanted to rake some leaves, so he killed his neighbour to get a rake).

    My point is, each NPC must be created in advance. Each motivation, each rule and action but be created first. You are free to direct the story, but only within the confines set up by the world designer. It is a simulationist sand box, not a place for stories (in a narritavist premise addressing way) to happen.

    It's not a new idea or a giant leap forwards, but it hasn't been implemented well yet, so while it isn't the first system to explore this, maybe Storytron will be the first successful implimentation and at least a step forwards in game AI.

    John,

    P.S. I don't see it having any appeal as a text based system, especially given how limited computers are at producing an unscripted narrative. Creating a regular game and bolting this on to create more realistic behaviour is the way I see this going.
  • edited May 2008
    I was of the opinion that much of the "branching" statements your talking about don't have to be created in this system. Instead of you selecting all of the conditions that have to be met, the engine already has this programmed into it.

    Imagine, if you will, that there's only one NPC, with all of the possible reactions programmed in. The variables, then, are not what the reactions are, but the inputs. If the only input were the player's input, all NPCs would react the same. But the author's input, I believe, is to select from a set of NPC motivations. These in combination, are what trigger the various potential clauses. Given the cross-product of the number of choices that are available, this means that a character with just a few motivations quickly becomes distinct from others. Not just in terms of the "color" choice of what object it might value, etc. But simply in terms of the number of combinations (permutations) of motivations that are available.

    Like, let's say you select "Greedy" as an NPC motivation. The engine knows that when presented with money or other economic incentive, that the Greedy NPC will have a favorable reaction, perhaps approving whatever request that is coded into the command line. Like "Pay 100 to Pass Guard." The parser reads the part about giving the money, notes the guard's greed, gives him the "satisfied" emotion, and then accepts the second part of the clause. The engine does the detecting for suitable value or whatever, as relates the greed motive.

    If the greed motive is attached to an item, like "Greed Food" then that's what'll be particularly valued by that character. Yes, you do have to "program" the NPCs, but I think that you don't have to program all possible actions you want for them to possibly take. The engine deals with extrapolating them from the motivations selected. It accompishes this by assigning an emotional response to a given stimulus as that stimulus interacts with the character's motivations. And then it figures out something dramatic to have happen from that emotional state and the situation, so that you don't get neighbors killing each other for rakes. I also get the impression that these dramatic things they do are not deterministic, either. So while they may be in a range of behaviors, we might not be able to predict them with 100% accuracy. If a character gets the violent emotion, they might respond by attacking you, or they might go and attack somebody else. Perhaps interacting with their "Behave Bold" or "Behave Cowardly" motives.


    I could be over-reading, certainly, and all of my examples are pure, pure speculation. Maybe this is what they want us to think it's like, and then we'll get the old bait and switch, and it'll turn out to be exactly what you're predicting. In any case, I'm sure it's got limits. But unless they're blowing smoke up our collective skirts, it's supposed to have features we have not yet seen.

    Mike
  • I got the impression from reading the user manual that we would get a toolkit, rather than completed NPCs waiting for a motivation. You have to worry about genre and setting when determining appropriate actions.

    In a political game a set of motivations and actions may cause heated debate, while in an action game it may trigger a gunfight. In a roman political game it may be appropriate to assassinate your enemies, in a modern political game it's unlikely.

    From this, hopefully you can see that to make an agent act appropriately you need much more than motivation, to the point where you may as well write it from scratch if you want a decent game. I'm not saying you have to program each action into each NPC, more that you need to have a central pool of appropriate actions that all NPCs can use (given the right traits).

    This is mostly speculation though, since we haven't been given anything substantial to look at. It may also be coloured by my own ideas on the subject, I've given quite a bit of thought to making 'Plot AI' so maybe I'm just a little disappointed this isn't it.

    John,
  • Looking at the documentation, it appears to be a human-readable fuzzy logic system (plus a rules engine, as John pointed out) for human interaction. You're a bit of a slave to the way he has modeled it. That is, your game inherits many assumptions that Storytron has made about how humans act. It beats programming all those assumptions yourself, but I didn't see a way to override any core behaviors with custom behaviors.

    I'm also not fond of their "write locally, run remotely" paradigm. If my Internet connection is down, I can't run my game. The engine runs on the Storytron server. I have to upload my story (and the intellectual property associated with it) to the Storytron server. I'd like more control over it. Maybe he'll license the server to serious parties.

    The manual reads like one of those RPGs that has a lot of Capitalized Terms but hasn't figured out what to Do With Them yet. I suspect the manual isn't as good as the language. I can't tell yet how well it supports user-defined libraries and code reuse, which is a make-or-break thing for a serious story designer. I want to create, reuse, and share behaviors, events, objects, and world models.

    (My background: I have been developing and running a small text-based, role-playing-focused MMORPG for 11-12 years.)
  • The manual is, apparently, still a work in progress. Yeah, we're going to just have to wait and see.

    I'm assuming that it supports user-defined libraries or the like... worst case, it's code, and that's just text that folks can share. If it all has to be written mostly from scratch each time, then, yeah, that's a problem. But if I can grab Adam's monster response module, and John's political response module, etc, then I think he's got something.

    Yeah, I'm assuming that there will be different response sets for different sorts of games. And, hopefully you'll just build off of what others have made. Not sure how tailorable things are down to what level, either.

    Again, gotta wait and see.

    Mike
  • I'm sticking with Inform 7.
  • Damn you Ben Johnson, I was just about to point to Inform 7 as an analogue for this.

    Damn you Ben Johnson!! Damn youuuuuu (etc etc)
  • Would someone fill me in (in whisper if you prefer) on how Inform 7 competes with Storytron in interactive, dramatic storytelling space? I played around with Inform a long while ago and love it for trad IF, but it seems it would require an awful lot of wheel-reinventing to get it up to Storytron's level of more dynamic branching and decision-making.

    Or is version 7 different in some substantial way from previous versions?
  • edited May 2008
    Storytron seems to just be what Chris Crawford says it is - an basic but functional implementation of some snazzy theory. There's nothing groundbreaking from a technical standpoint, but it is a different approach to "gaming".

    Interested parties should really check out the Balance of Power sample "game" to get a feel for what it is and does. It's a relationship-simulator which handles the problem of suspension of disbelief when talking to a computer by decreasing the fidelity of communication. It uses a version of the English language without filler words and greatly simplified grammar both as an input and feedback system. A properly designed "story" can indeed appear to contain realistic, intelligent-seeming actors by constraining both available language and forms of interaction - sort of like decreasing video resolution can make a heavily made-up actress look naturally gorgeous.

    A neat idea, and infinitely extensible.
  • Version 7 is magnificently different from previous versions. It has a natural language programming front end.
  • Inform 7 is indeed pretty hot. If Crawford can somehow work his theories into something that easy to use, then he will really have something.
  • One of the interesting things is how people will keep scrutinising an NPC, looking for unrealistic behaviour. Seriously, if your looking to make thematic choices but spending all your time exploring NPC's for faults and looking to make them even deeper to explore...well, don't poke too much fun at NPC's who kill each other for rakes ;)
  • The problem is that, while you can create a functioning world with independent NPCs, but that won't make you any story. A story emerges only if you program reactions to the players, so why is it called storytron? Well, maybe it can work if the author can use somekind of time factor.
  • It's probably called Storytron for the same reason people expected coherant stories from playing Vampire and it's ilk. You have a world, you have characters with motives and desires, so surely that must create a story.

    The thing is, you need extra something to turn it from a simulation into a thematic story. You may be able to get it from carefully choosing actions and motivations, but I think it'll need a little something more than that, like the overarching AI I mentioned in my first post to manage exploration of the theme and story arcs. If Storytron has it, it has been kept secret so far (it's all suposed to be a bit secrative so no reason why not).

    John,
  • edited May 2008
    Well, he says that the NPC responses will be dramatic. That is, after they've been assigned an emotion, they do things (technically they act on "Plans"). What they do is chosen, apparently, by some sense of dramatic logic. It may be deterministic, but I hope it's actually dynamic. Else what's the point of having many emotional states?

    Hopefully what he's calling "dramatic" is something that creates a choice for the player. So... if I piss off a villain, they may go and threaten two people I care for (to use my by now extremely hackneyed example), and I have to choose which one to save first.

    Something like that. We'll see how well the engine determines such dramatic actions. It does so according to a cycle that's explained in brief here: http://www.storytron.com/ag-drama-cycle.html

    Mike
  • I've read the drama cycle section before, looks like a fairly normal routine for updating the world status. It did refer to system verbs though (scroll to near the bottom of http://www.storytron.com/ag-verbs.html) which seem very illumination.

    The MeetingAlarm / PropAlarm / StageAlarm / ClockAlarm verbs seem to be what needs to be setup to create a story rather than a series of events. The structure looks to me like it would be a bit like writing a pre-written RPG scenario, you can interact with the world generally but a preset plot happens when a certain condition arises.

    http://www.storytron.com/ag-reaction-cycle.html: The Reaction cycle is rather interesting. However the computer selects a list of valid reactions for the protagonist and the human controller selects them from a list. I can see this being the only way to ensure appropriate actions from the player but it does seem a little rail road like.

    John,
  • Posted By: John KThe structure looks to me like it would be a bit like writing a pre-written RPG scenario, you can interact with the world generally but a preset plot happens when a certain condition arises.
    Or phrased differently, you can interact with the plot generally, modifying its variables, and when certain conditions (or patterns of conditions) are fulfilled then new situations occur?

    In other words, Bang-driven play.

    Is there any reason the system cannot be used to create "situation" rather than "preset plot"?
  • edited May 2008
    Posted By: John KThe thing is, you need extra something to turn it from a simulation into a thematic story. You may be able to get it from carefully choosing actions and motivations, but I think it'll need a little something more than that, like the overarching AI I mentioned in my first post to manage exploration of the theme and story arcs. If Storytron has it, it has been kept secret so far (it's all suposed to be a bit secrative so no reason why not).
    Yeah, Crawford is developing (has developed?) a drama manager. He calls this something different though -- Fate -- thinking that the drama manager term (popular in this field generally, see the game Facade for example) is too clinical or something.

    Basically with Storytron the author adds many verbs (I think Crawford says the minimum for a successful storyworld is 1000+) and the player and NPCs utilize these verbs in conjunction with their emotional and mental states to create the story. The thing that puts me off of Storytron is the presentation. I can't wait to try it, because right now the presentation language (the narrative of the story, such as it is) just looks hopeless. Furthermore this presentation is a cornerstone of Crawford's whole system, so I don't know how someone would profitably change it.

    Inform 7 is pretty much a completely different medium, so comparing it to Storytron is kind of like comparing Neverwinter Nights to Storytron. Not that it can't be done, but it's difficult. It's going to give you a much more traditional interactive fiction experience in most cases -- though of course the range there is huge. See for example the games Deadline Enchanter and Gunmute.

    Anyway, yeah, I'm a huge interactive narrative fan, and my name is George.


    eta: crossposted with lachek, yes, Storytron is mostly about situation -- story now as people in the thread have mentioned.
  • edited May 2008
    @lachek: I don't know how much control you have over the conditions that form the next situation. However, you aren't writing the bangs as the player (they are written by the StoryWorld creator), so they aren't really bangs (by my understanding of them).

    Without all those preset triggers you'd probably have a situation, but I can see it being a bit aimless.

    @ George: Fate just seemed to be an actor that is omnipresent, maybe there are some tricks you can pull with such a thing, hopefully there are.

    I'm starting to find it hard to talk in detail about a system I haven't seen in action. I think I'll have to bow out of this discussion till next month once it's released properly.

    John,
  • edited May 2008
    Players write bangs? That's not a part of the definition at all. Kickers, yes. Those are "bangs that start the game off." But they're just a technique that one can do without. Bangs are created either by the GM, or by the player in terms of the ramifications of the decisions they make. When all is said and done, a bang can be defined as "a decision that the player must make, but which has more than one fun outcome, allowing the player to be creative in making the decision."

    "Fun Outcome" is the tough part. Basically the decision actually has to cause play to go off in the direction they started.

    So, yeah, I'm with Mikael, I think that from what I've read that I'll be theoretically possible to create bangs.

    Hell, you can do it with scripting, too. NPC gives two options, go north to fight orcs or south to fight trogs. That's a bang if it's a decision of consequence to the character. That's the more subtle part of the definition of bangs, that once the decision is made in a bang, something about the character is revealed.

    This is "plot" in the literary sense. Which revealing choices the protagonists make in response to the situation of the fiction. And it's this which we seek to do in play. To actually have play branch off in any possible direction based on the myriad interesting choices we could make.

    Note that Crawford is right that it varies from "Choose Your Own Story" branching, not only in terms of the number of branches being much greater. But in that there's no set outcomes (which often make "Choose Your Own Story" books "gamism" based... you're trying to figure out how to get to the good ending). Yes, the story ends on some trigger, just to have an end. But what the state of things are at the end of a Storytron game will vary widely, I think. Practically infinitely. Instead of pre-programmed outcomes.

    So, OK, in my game when we the Evil Duke died, my character had joined him in his rebellion. In your game, when he died, you killed him. Player input leading to entirely different dramatic outcomes. Every player's outcome somewhat different based on the decisions made along the way. That's what we're after.

    The theory behind it is actually very simple. It's like a dungeon. Yeah, there may well be limits to the dungeon, outside of which you're no longer playing the dungeon. But inside of the very simple limits of the dungeon, there are an infinite number of ways that we can approach it. We can go down the first corridor cautiously. Or we can run down it pel mel. Or we can search for traps. Or we can blow our horn to scare the creatures of the dungeon first. Or... well that's just the first corridor.

    Basically what I'm hoping we have here, is a system that responds exactly like World of Warcraft does to your exploration of a dungeon. Basically allowing your control of the character to have impossibly minute effects on the outcome. Do I stop to drink some to get mana back before the next group of baddies? Or conserve my resource? How much? Do I activate one of my trinkets early in this fight? Late? Not at all? A thousand decisions to make, which, in combination have a nigh infinite potential for creating independent results. Some may be similar, even very similar. But the player had agency in making that outcome, and that's the important thing.

    The inputs are infinite, and the outputs are as well. Each fight, each dungeon delve has at the very least minor differences in outcome, and often quite major (did we wipe? Why!?) Even when the dungeon itself is quite "linear."

    The problem with storytelling systems to date is that they try to control the outcome of each action individually, instead of coming up with a "Physics model" and allowing the permutations of action to create variability. Hopefully Crawford's system allows that same variability of input, and "physics model" of emotion and drama that allows us to have very different experiences in encountering a story based on the player input.

    Mike
  • edited May 2008
    Ok, got my terms in a twist (got bangs and kickers muddled).

    Bangs looks possible, but then they are easy to pre-program already. It'd take some clever scripting to generate them dynamically.

    I think endings are the other point of concern I have, how to ensure an apropriate ending within the system. Time will tell...

    John,
  • edited May 2008
    Here's the thing... "appropriate ending" is not neccessary. Oh, sure, it'd be fun to ensure that the ending was powerfully dramatic in getting all of the loose threads tied up in interesting fashion. But that's not a requriement for me, at least.

    Here's the interesting fact. We don't really want a story at all.

    Let that sink in.

    What we want is the ability to create plot points that have real effects. Not just tactical effects like in WoW, but thematic effects. Did I just kill that man? Fine, now his family swears a blood feud on mine. The decision to kill the man, what it says about my character is thematically interesting, and the ramifications are dramatic, becuse they ask, "And what do you do about that now?"

    I don't care if the game never ends. Could be like a soap opera, for all I care, going on endlessly. I don't want a three act play. I simply want for my character's choices to be thematically interesting in terms of the ongoing shifting of the situation of play.

    This is the paradigm of RPG play, and that's what we're trying to replicate. Not actual literature.

    To this extent the Sims is actually pretty close. We simply would prefer that instead of a "realism model" (which the Sims make an interesting attempt at that says as much about us by it's failure as it's success), is a "drama model." Where instead of boring realistic things happening as the results of our actions, things occur which constantly ramp up the stakes for the characters. So, instead of my character getting slapped by the lover he's jilted, he now has to face the fact that she's threatening my new lover.

    Mike
  • edited May 2008
    We're talking cross purposes then I feel, I was after a system that produces an interactive story, with a beginning, middle and end, which explores a theme and wraps up nicely at the end.

    From the looks of things, Storytron should deliver what you want quite easily (well, it'll still take hundreds of hours to create a decent world). A sandbox world where we have choice that mean something. It's still something I find interesting though, just not what I had envisioned.

    From reading Crawford's comments on the subject, I got the impression he's hoping to appeal to the same people that read novels. I doubt many of these people are after an interactive sandbox, it's a different appeal.

    John,
  • Oh, I think he's got a point. Imagine the "General Hospital" crowd. Interacting to create a soap opera, instead of just watching it. The same people who often shout at the screen pointlessly to try to get the characters to do what they think is right.

    I think the potential audience is titanic. He thinks it'll reach the hoi-polloi, and since they're much more likely to watch a soap than read a book, I think he's right on track. Even if he mentions best sellers in his arguments.

    Mike
  • edited May 2008
    Posted By: Mike HolmesThe same people who often shout at the screen pointlessly to try to get the characters to do what they think is right.
    People usualy shout things that would make for a dull story though. Most of the shouting removes the need for thematic choices. If, for example, Sharon is in an abusive relasionship but feels she loves Phil anyway the tele-shouters will shout 'leave him, he's a bastard!' but that would end the story, they'd probably shout it even before the plot had begun if it was forshadowed.
    Posted By: Mike HolmesHe thinks it'll reach the hoi-polloi, and since they're much more likely to watch a soap than read a book, I think he's right on track.
    Do the soap opera watching masses want an interactive stories? Or do they just want relax and get told a story without the effort of interacting meaningfully? A book at least requires a little more than just sitting on the sofa.

    John,
  • Like what, jumping jacks?

    ?!
  • Considering how huge The Sims is with non-gamers, I think Storytron (as a toolkit) has promise. In fact, The Sims 3 sounds like it is adding more "drama" bangs outside the player's control. One example from the following article is "Running into an ex-husband at the movie theater with his new wife".

    http://www.1up.com/do/previewPage?cId=3167001
  • Okay, like, has anyone downloaded it and tested it yet? I did. There are two sample worlds.

    The ChitChat story world isn't done yet. I couldn't make heads or tails of the damned thing. It was buggy. It's basically a bar and you interact with people. It's not clear what your goal is -- or, worse, what it could be.

    The Balance of Power story world seems much better than ChitChat. Balance of Power is an old geopolitical game released on a variety of platforms by Mindscape, starting in the mid-1980's. He's basically just ported this over to Storytron. In fact, I suspect Storytron's design was heavily influenced by design problems in Balance of Power on previous platforms, as the game involves making lots of political decisions and seeing how they affect the "mood" of other countries. I fooled around with the BoP story world and was pretty easily able to have the U.S. live happily ever after, solve the Iraqi terrorism problem through medium sanctions and E.U. and Russian support, and keep Iran from getting involved. (Eat me, George Bush.) It was only vaguely fun.

    The game interface presented by Storytron seems to be Deikto words. Essentially, it's a dumbed-down version of English syntax, presented as a computerized version of Mad Libs. That is, the sentence might say "[I] [perform some action on] [a country]." Those [brackets] mean there are three clickable boxes. I click on [I] and it tells me who I am but offers no other choices. I can't change that one. I click on [perform some action on] and it gives me a drop-down with a few choices like "bomb," "sanction," and "negotiate with." I click on [a country] and it gives me a drop-down box with all the countries that make sense for whatever I chose as my action (usually all of them in this game). If I somehow create an invalid sentence, it tells me it's a dead end and I have to change stuff.

    I find the Deikto interface extremely counter-intuitive. While it is my dream that someday I will tell my computer in English what I want it to do, I do not want to have to do so through drop-down boxes and the mouse. I don't really even want to type it, though this does eliminate the guessing game that players of text-based games like Zork had to tolerate (e.g., is it "get box", "pick up the box", "give me the shoes", or "lift cardboard carton"?). The Deikto Words interface tells me the vocabulary that is valid at any point in time.

    At certain points in Balance of Power, it spit out large amounts of useful information. Hover over the country name "Iraq" and get Crawford's editorial on why the country is so fucked up, for example. The game also has some maps.

    I suspect that, like ChitChat, Balance of Power is also not complete. It's just not a very entertaining interface. The game might be fun if there were more feedback so you'd know what was going on when you made little changes to policy. I think the original games produced world newspaper headlines to give you that feedback. I didn't see these here. The primary feedback mechanism seems to be advanced smiley faces that show you how people feel.
  • edited May 2008
    Neither game is complete, though BoP is at least playable.

    Once I figured out the interface, I was very happy with how it worked in play, compared to the numerous menu-driven IF systems I've seen. Its context-sensitivity works well (I never managed to construct an invalid sentence??).

    I do believe there are some unnecessary limitations to the interface, though - like choosing the "intensity" of an action by picking a word between "super-tiny" to "ultra-large" with a dozen intermediate terms. A slider would have been nicer.

    Some sort of customizable status window would also be nice, and could solve the feedback problem you're talking about, Adam. I think in BoP, the lack of feedback is a feature - you can get information by requesting a country to reveal it, but it shouldn't be available at your fingertips. Other games would not benefit from having such an obscure feedback mechanism, though.

    I assumed everyone who commented about it here had tried it already. ;)
  • The BoP that you describe might be an incomplete and dumbed down example (I hope), but it does not sound like particularly interesting, or new (or even new-ish). It sure sounds much simpler than (say) the people's mood and wandering programming of Theme Park (which is... I dunno, ten years old?).

    ...and yeah, I know it's only an example, but... if you don't have a compelling and fun sample implementation that alsodemonstrates fully what's the potential of the *watever*, then it's not projecting a good image.

    What the "sampling guy" gets from that is that it's either incomplete, or not really working (I mean, even the developer cannot put out a working and fun example... why should I think I could?)
  • edited May 2008
    We're still a couple of weeks from the deadline for release of the Beta (June 1st). The hope is that the version released then is not just the one we're seeing plus two weeks of work, but that there's a more complete version that's waiting to be revealed on June 1st. So I don't know that evaluating it by what we're seeing now is going to do a lot of good. It certainly gives an idea of what it's supposed to do, but the release version may have a lot of changes.

    Or maybe not. We'll see.

    In any case... let's say it's very much exactly what we're seeing now... I think that this does represent a movement forward. Perhaps not a practical game. But expecting such is, to use the analogy I'm on, like expecting prototype Fusion power plants to produce excess power. They don't right now, it takes more power to power them than they produce. But does that stop folks from making them? No, we make them as steps along the path to getting the actual productive parts going.

    Yeah, he's marketing it like it's going to be a full, fun to play project. And I think it won't be totally devoid of practical use. But, again, I think that this is a prototype that he hopes will get more money, and thus designers, behind the project so he can make the "real" version someday.

    Yeah, this is a problematic approach in the video game industry, where there are billions to be made putting out a retread of last year's best FPS. But I'm not seeing another option.

    Mike
  • Mike:

    So, what you're sort-of expecting here is a deeply informative failure?

    Because, well, I can dig that. Like, a lot.
  • edited May 2008
    Yeah, so, another thing to consider is that Crawford's not making a game, he's making a game engine and authoring system.

    NeverWinter Nights didn't see really good stuff come out for its engine until years later.

    So BoP can be buggy and boring and still be a good tech demo of the underlying engine, and to call Storytron a failure because a tech demo wasn't bug-free and a revolution in superfun when the engine was in beta is... ???
  • Posted By: lachekto call Storytron a failure because a tech demo wasn't bug-free and a revolution in superfun when the engine was in beta is... ???
    Point. I retract the word "failure". Not sure what to replace it with, though, to keep the underlying "what we'll see"?
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