September 29, 2007

Updates on the Pursuit of Interactive Story

by Andrew Stern · , 3:03 am

It’s amazing how often I learn about a new group or individual with their own particular approach to building interactive stories. Here’s a couple dozen (!) descriptions and/or updates on the efforts that have caught or re-caught my eye recently.

(For a list of what was I tracking a few years ago refer to this page of links, that I haven’t updated since; also see my emergent behaviorists post from 2004 — has it been that long?!)

I’ll begin with Javier Maldonado’s posting of a collection of material about his intentions and plans for Masq. I found this material very interesting since it overlaps a great deal with our goals for Procedural Arts. Thanks to Javier for sharing these ideas and thoughts.

Why I hadn’t found Michael Gibson’s Zap Dramatic games till now, I don’t know. They’re pretty cool, even if their underlying structure, like Masq, seems CYOA-ish. Try the free interactive drama offered at the top of the page, Move or Die. There’s an impressive number of dramas to be found at Zap Dramatic, as well as negotiation games, mediation and “difficult conversations”.

(Speaking of, check out the video demo of Simmersion’s voice-activated interactive conversations. These also seem CYOA-ish, with the interesting interface gimmick of voice-activated dialog: you are presented with a limited menu of dialog choices, but you actually speak the words of the choice you want to make into a microphone, instead of merely clicking on the choice. It makes the video demo seem more impressive than the reality of it, I think.)

Chris Crawford and Laura Mixon are posting online design diaries on the construction of Balance of Power 2K and La Casa Negra (respectively), each being built with Chris’ alpha-stage interactive story engine, Storytron. It was a wise and necessary move for Chris to build a game with Storytron in order to truly get the engine up and running; his diary details all kinds of tweaks and changes he’s needed to make as the rubber hits the road when trying to build a complete game with an in-development engine.

Omar Khudari of Cecropia (one of the emergent behaviorists from my 2004 post) got us very interested last year with previews of The Act; his site seems to be applying those “personality video game” techniques to Flash-based advergames. Check out this awesome little demo, with more humor and personality in it than most full-sized games.

(Another from the list of emergent behaviorists, Ingeeni Studios, recently releaesd Creature Park, worth a look, powered by their new Borneo player, “a self-installing browser plugin that powers animated interactive characters with Artificial Intelligence.”)

Jeff Orkin received some good press for his work so far on The Restaurant Game. Hopefully he’ll be submitting it to the Independent Games Festival for this February’s GDC.

The program is up for this November’s AAAI Fall Symposium on Intelligent Narrative Technologies. GTxA’s Nick has a paper, and I’ll be on a panel about authoring that Michael is moderating. Newly-blogging Ian Horswill has already put online his very interesting paper.

Also, check out the call for papers for a Workshop on Integrating Technologies for Interactive Stories at Intetain 2008.

Emily Short has several good recent posts surveying interactive story techniques in academic research (1 2 3 4 5). I recently found her excellent article on NPC conversation and review of Avatars of Story.

Santiago Siri, who blogs at Games are Art, has an ambitious set of interactive story authoring tools in the works, called PlayDreamer. He gave a presentation about it at last year’s Serious Games Summit at GDC (sadly I missed it), but the video is online; according the summit postmortem, it was a very popular talk.

Corvus Elrod, who blogs at Man Bytes Blog (recently added to our blogroll), has plans for an interactive story system of his own, called the HoneyComb Engine. Browse through his blog archive for lots of interesting interactive story posts, that I’ve only recently discovered.

Craig Perko has been blogging a lot about tackling interactive story, including posts on component plots, rules in social sims, personality, cooperative storytelling, and lots more.

Justin Gibbs envisions an interactive story system called TapBot; he’s looking for collaborators. Here’s a few blog posts of his describing his ideas (1 2 3).

Josh Green recently completed an MFA thesis at USC called Barfly: An Exploration into the Effects of Generative Gameplay Elements on Narrative, in which he builds a “conversational role playing game” and analyzes the results.

Wylie Sawyer is the author of Storybase.net, a semantic web of over 3,900 narrative situations. Play around with it, it’s pretty cool. According to the site, Storybase is a descendant of the DOS-based program Plots Unlimited, which represented a modernization of Plotto: A New Method of Plot Suggestion for Writers of Creative Fiction written in 1928 by William Wallace Cook, who appears to have been influenced in his thinking by The 36 Dramatic Situations written in the late 19th century by a French intellectual named Georges Polti first published in English in 1921. Whoa. (Surfing around I recently re-discovered Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations, also here.)

Here’s a post about a recent presentation at USC about The Korsakow System, “an easy-to-learn tool for creating interactive narratives that does not require actual databases or programming knowledge. Korsakow is useful for rapid prototyping of interactive narrative structures or creating web-publishable projects using video clips and a keyword-based associational structure.” Googling finds the original site.

Here’s a couple of interesting interactive story games worth checking out: Mike Rubin’s 3D interactive fiction
Vespers 3D
, an adaptation of Jason Devlin’s award-winning original text-based IF (also see this interview with Mike who appears also to have edited Defending the Galaxy), and Krishna Scott’s gorgeous Crimeface, billed as an interactive drama but is really a linear video with hotspots allowing for brief additional bits of exposition. Worth a look though!

Finally, don’t miss Chris Bateman’s Inefficiency of Games as a Narrative Medium, and Clint Hocking’s collaborator Patrick Redding’s recent Austin GDC talk Familiarity breeds contempt: Buidling game stories that flow, and of course Nick’s recent dissertation on a new IF system focused on generating narrative variation.

Phew. What other new approaches to interactive story are out there that I’ve missed?

20 Responses to “Updates on the Pursuit of Interactive Story”


  1. Rubes Says:

    Thanks for mentioning Vespers3D, Andrew. By the way, never heard of “Defending the Galaxy” — I’ll have to check it out! Must be yet another guy pretending to be me.

  2. andrew Says:

    Hi Mike, I just made a correction in the post, and added an additional better link to your work.

  3. Patrick Says:

    Storytron’s in Beta actually, not Alpha. I’m making something with it as well, but its a “serious game” rather than an ambitious narrative thing. Do have some plans though…

  4. Mike Rozak Says:

    If you’re going to mention Vespers 3D, then I’ll plug my own project, http://www.CircumReality.com .

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  6. noah Says:

    Minor Studios is another group (described as an “interactive storytelling and design company”) that might fit in with this list, and they have a good-looking blog. (Thanks to Eric Pan for the tip.)

  7. Once more into the… « Kooneiform Says:

    [...] ar. A little bit of a let-down that TADS 3 is sorely under represented. GTA recently had a round-up post for interactive storytelling, and it was in [...]

  8. Rubes Says:

    Thanks, Andrew. Definitely check out Mike Rozak’s project, too — it looks like a really interesting approach.

  9. Justin Gibbs Says:

    Andrew, thanks for compiling this list and including TapBot. The list should become a good jumping off point for further development in interactive story.

  10. Patrick Redding Says:

    Great list, Andrew. I’ve already pointed a bunch of Ubi design folks to this as a ready-made syllabus.

    (and thanks for the link too!)

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  14. andrew Says:

    It appears that development of Playdreamer is indefinitely on hold. Too bad, it was one of the more promising looking systems on this list…

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  16. andrew Says:

    Here’s a new group: Riteworks.

  17. andrew Says:

    Crimeface is nominated for a Webby Award.

  18. crimeface Says:

    …and indeed Crimeface won jury and audience award in the Webby’s.

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