Story vs games part II

edited March 2014 in Story Games
Hi, I made a followup to my previous post on this subject. Its at

It touches on some subjects brought up in an article by Greg Costikyan that specifically mentions My Life With Master. I haven't actually played this game, but I make some assumptions about it in the article, let me know if I am off base there.


  • edited March 2014
    [Rolls up sleeves] Be warned: after James Mullen, I'm probably the most zealous fan of MLwM on this forum. So, I'll read your post but, if I read anything disparaging about MLwM, you'll wake up to find a horse's head in your bed. Capeesh?

    EDIT: on a first (cursory) read-through: you make some interesting points. I'll comment more fully once I've had time to digest the whole article.
  • (quickly re-edits the entire article)
  • Lol! Only joking dude - seriously, it's a very cogent analysis, and I don't think Paul would be offended. As I say, sub for now, will read it in more depth a bit later.
  • This seems pretty solid to me!

    Thanks for sharing.
  • edited March 2014
    [Rolls up sleeves] Be warned: after James Mullen, I'm probably the most zealous fan of MLwM on this forum. So, I'll read your post but, if I read anything disparaging about MLwM, you'll wake up to find a horse's head in your bed. Capeesh?
    Wow, and I went furious after I played MLwM because of the lack of connection between the rules and what the game said it would be. :) But we can have played it wrong, and I can excuse the game because it's so old - Forge games weren't that good, mechanic-wise, back then. I would never pick up a similar game nowadays. (Sadly, it was two years ago so I hardly remember anything about what I thought of the game other than this.)
  • It's certainly true that you have to consider a game like My Life with Master within its historical context: certainly, when it came out, it was an incredibly ground-breaking and successful game. It blew a lot of people's minds, and a lot of people had fun playing it.

    Whether it has stood the test of time or not... I can't answer that (though I'm sure others may).
  • Ok, it looks like I'm in the minority on this one. I'll try to explain why I like MLwM so much, and at the same time attempt to defend it against charges of mechanical disconnect. I'll take some time to marshall my thoughts, and when I'm ready I'll start a new thread. Watch this space...
  • edited March 2014
    I loved MLwM from the moment I read the rulebook: it took me a little while to sort out the machinery of it in my head, as there are a lot of parts that interact in a complex way, but it's one of two games that have played out exactly in the way that I imagined they would (the other being Danger Patrol.)

    So (over) confident was I, that I offered to run it for some total strangers at a convention before I'd even played it once, but it all went swimmingly and was one of the best games I or one or two or the players had during that con. It may well be one of those games that would be written differently if it was being done now, but that's because it helped to define what we are doing now and contributed to changing the landscape of contemporary gaming.
  • edited March 2014
    As for the blog post. I'm not sure what it's saying. If it's just saying that there exist games - roleplaying games - that focuses on the story, then that's true. I wonder if I either missed something, or if what I read is already so clear to me that I thought everybody knew that.
    The summary is that narrative RPGs seek to produce the kind of situations and decision making that is associated with engaging fiction, and to honour the player’s protaganism by allowing the consequences of their decisions to play out in full within the general constraints of the game.
    It's funny that you write that, because what you wrote is a reinforcement system. A player does something and get a response out of it. It's a learning process in how to play the game. Many "story games", like PTA and FATE, have in-game mechanic reward systems that has nothing to do with this. It's just a dog treat to make the players understand what to do in the game. "Ah, I will get a bonus for this so therefor I should do it". I, for one, would rather prefer reinforcement structures like the one you wrote, instead of the typical reward system (XP, artha) that story games dragged along from traditional roleplaying games. To be able to play this different form of roleplaying games, we need to adopt the traditional tools to that form.

    Further on, I don't really think decision-making has anything to do with story games. Decision-making, as Greg Costikyan said in I Have No Words, is about interactivity (and I agree). Sure, you need it, otherwise it wouldn't be a game at all (or?) but story games can also be played as ... collaborative interweaving of fictional elements. What I mean with that is that you can invent something while I invent something and then we try to find a connection to bind them together. You could call this decision-making but I would say that is stretching the term to far, like saying puzzles is about decision-making. I feel that you're talking about decision-making as in having a conflict, which roleplaying game designers have come to believe is a must in roleplaying games. It's not. Not at all. Conflict is one way of creating uncertainty, which is also important otherwise it wouldn't be a game at all (or?), but there are other ways of creating uncertainty. Having to take into account what others make up in a collaborative interweaving of fictional elements is also a way to achieve uncertainty.
    The purpose of interactive fiction is not to produce a story, it is to participate in a story. It is the quality of the participation, rather than the quality of the objective result that is important, the same as any other type of game. A basketball video game isn’t judged by how much like a real game of basketball it appears, its judged by how much fun it is to play.
    I'm curious of how you thought when you wrote this, because I can kind of sense what you meant while I at the same time disagree. I play roleplaying games to participate in producing a story (often GM-less with none pre-session preparation). While I play, I think of how I would enjoy the story as if I was watching it as a movie. I just happens to create the moment at the same time that I'm enjoying it.

    Also, a game of Pong can be said to be table tennis but it's easier to immerse (spatial immersion, not character immersion) into the game - to feel that you're actually the player playing table tennis if you got better graphic, a ball that moves with a physic that reminds of the real world and if the controller is actually a table tennis racket connected to the console. That's another way of enjoying a game. To feel how real it is.

    Given all that above, isn't what you wrote in the quote more about what you like from those kinds of games?
  • edited March 2014
    I'm certainly NOT speaking out against MLwM here - it seems like a fantastic game to me - I just don't feel I can say too much, positive or negative, because I've never played it.


    It sounds like you and stefoid are looking at different (but similar) ways of playing a 'story game', and I've experienced both types of play (and found both enjoyable). They're similar yet also quite different. There's a distinction between two types of fun here*:

    1) Playing a game in order to enjoy making fictional decisions (most often in-character), to experience the dilemmas and crossroads faced by a protagonist in an engaging story.

    2) Playing a game in order to enjoy the feeling of being a a participant in the creation of an engaging story: participate in producing a story, as Rickard says.

    There's definitely a lot overlap between the two, yet I feel the two of you have put into words quite well how they can feel very different and appeal to a player in different ways.

    As a (rather extreme) example, you can see how poster AsIf's ( @AsIf ) game "Watch the World Die" fulfills the criteria of the second type of play, but does not at all do anything for the player looking for the first type of play.

    * In old Forge terms, these correspond somewhat closely to Narrativist/Story Now and Simulationist/Right to Dream play, respectively, if that matters to anyone a'tall.
  • I see what you did there ;-)
  • (Well, someone needs to play the next turn, wouldn't you agree? If you can't lead a horse to water...)
  • Hey Rickard, the article is about designing games that focus on story - its intended to be read by people who arent that familiar with tabletop RPGs, if at all. Which you know, would be most of the population of the planet :D

    Other than that, Paul said what I would have said.
  • edited March 2014
    OK, then I understand. I mostly wanted to make you aware that some of the text in the blog post (the two quotes in my previous post) was generally written as in how to play a storygame, when it actually was more your playstyle that you described.
  • Interesting blog post. It looks like one person's making sense of the story game movement of the last nearly fifteen years. I think we've all gone through this. Writing is a good way to make sense of it because honestly a lot of the concepts were not so well explained. I remember when I was doing this sense making thing (2004). I'd say what I thought the ideas meant and be told I was wrong. That happened a lot. Wasn't very fun. This exploration seems pretty close to my understanding of what a narrative game is - you make choices and then live with the consequences (which is a big part of the fun) - but I'm probably wrong.

    I had a copy of MLWM ten years ago and I didn't know enough about how narrative game were played so I couldn't figure it out. I think you needed to see it played to get it. You Tube actual plays would have been very useful for that - pity it didn't exist then. We should do more video actual plays now.

    I think the point about story game ideas being a great future for video games in interesting. I'm publishing a game this spring that is about writing the cut scenes of an imaginary GTA like video game - Die Romeo Die, so I think it can be done. It just requires a game engine that takes our written descriptions and then acts them out with the avatars. You know this is going to be possible. It will just take some really difficult coding that I can't imagine. We then have many players watching the movie the other players are making as we play. More interactive than a Star Trek holo deck.
  • Hi Rickard. I agree -- Im trying to describe a style that would be classified as a 'game' by gamers, and have some chance of being implemented as a computer game.
  • edited October 2014
    I see. Have you had a chance to take a look at the games that Telltale Games does, with brands like The Walking Dead, and The Wolf Among Us? It's way too railroady for the typical tabletop roleplaying gamer while it has lot of decision-making, but I can't see how it can be done otherwise because computer programming is fairly railroady in itself. The only way I can otherwise see consequences being built in is to create a number of happenings that will be executed during the course of play, say like 25 of them, and depending on what the player does (or doesn't), some of these happenings wont happen. Lets say that one happening depends on another, like a granny committing suicide. The players decision to save her will then hinder the next happening to appear but if they do save her, perhaps the next happening will come in the way of a third happening to appear or in other ways change it. That would give the illusion of the computer taking the players' decisions into mind while it's still being able for the game designers to prewrite the story (or at least, create a chain of happenings).

    Or did you have anything special in mind when it comes to implementing story participation in computer games?
  • edited March 2014
    I feel like I should read things and chime on this later. "Story AI" is a concept that I've definitely tossed around, especially dabbling in the area of the Visual Novel, which is probably the best example of a story with meaningful choices...with the caveat that the intent of a VN is often to play through every possible path (because there's a relatively limited number of possible paths).

    I'd love to see an intersection betwixt that and a more networked web of consequences. *World could be a great model for that. Also, the Story Nexus games are good ground to build off of, with the way that they use stats to model all sorts of story stuff.

    But I should probably go see what the rest of this thread is about, first.
  • Two words need to be injected into the conversation right here: "Object-Orientation".
  • Two words need to be injected into the conversation right here: "Object-Orientation".
    Ooops, yeah. That was an implicit assumption that I forget isn't part of the general parlance.

    Actually, it bears mentioning in the wider story + games context as well. (I think I brought this up way back when we had the shindig about "procedural" games.) Powered by the Apocalypse games are totally Object-Oriented RPGs.
  • Precisely. And if there's ever anything like an emergent narrative generation system, I believe its design will be guided by OO principles and patterns.
  • Object orientation? Anyone care to explain?
  • Okay,'s been a while since I did programming, but "object-oriented programming" is a methodology that emerged to make more robust structures possible.

    Previously, "procedural programming" had been how computers worked. A computer would follow a list of instructions, from top to bottom, and execute them. Sometimes, you can tell the computer to skip over certain sections of the code (or jump back to earlier sections) if certain conditions are met. My favorite analogy here is a train in an amusement park which goes around and visits each ride in turn. When the train arrives at a ride, you decide whether you want to go on it or keep riding the train. If you take the ride, then you go back on the train towards the next ride.

    The problem being, it's not flexible. If you don't want to follow the pre-ordained path, you're out of luck. (That is to say, it's almost exactly like the computer program version of GM railroading.)

    Enter "object-oriented programming": it uses bits of procedural code as objects in a virtual space. Essentially, it applies the principles of physics to programming--each "object" acts and reacts in particular ways, given the changes going on in the virtual environment. The analogy here is an amusement park: each ride has its own internal set of rules for how to operate, and when you go to a ride, it uses those rules.

    That's the barebones of what allows for emergent programming. Note the similarities to Apocalypse World: every "move" in Apocalypse World is a discrete object that gets triggered at certain times. You don't need to go through a loop to check every move, whenever something happens. Instead, you watch the action and realize that a specific move applies. Then you execute the rules in that move, and keep going.

    I guess the brief summary would be: object-oriented programming is modular, not sequential.
  • Ok, that seems pretty reasonable. Personally I find AW's discrete objects to be a lot of mental legwork but I imagine that's something of a mindset. There's totally a precedent for this kind of thinking in the earliest D&D games in random tables which are their own discrete mechanics that inform fiction when activated, so I feel very familiar with this being how RPGs work rather than an revolutionary idea coming from *World games.
  • edited March 2014
    Object Orientation is a programming methodology which can be applied both to code and the design process itself. The key idea is that, rather than writing one massive procedural set of instructions to be processed in linear order (like programming in BASIC if you've ever done that), you write lots of small self-contained chunks of code (called Objects) that only "know about" the stuff they need to know about to do their own job, and they only handle their own outputs. This is, after all, the way Objects work in the real world, so Object Orientation is a better way to simulate a complex and realistically-dynamic world.

    The difference between this and D&D action tables is that the action tables apply identically across all character types, and you step *out* of the character object in order to execute them. So they are procedural functions of the system, not objects in their own right. They are just verb resolvers. If each character class had its own action tables, those would be methods of object classes.

    Some examples:

    Character Generation in AD&D is a single linear and homogenous process which results in the entire set of possible characters: roll the dice, then choose a class, then continue. Chargen in Apocalypse World is an object-oriented process for which each character type has its own logic and the heterogeneity of the output is not considered a problem. Compare the process of creating a BattleBabe to that of creating a Hardholder, for instance.

    An "adventure module" in AD&D is (typically) a linear set of narrative beats which occur in a predetermined order; and causality only flows in one direction (the direction of the railroad track). Compare this to a "front" in AW, which is a distributed set of independent concerns with no original connection to each other, which may (or may not) interact with each other, they can be encountered in any order, and this means the resulting narrative will be emergent rather than planned.
  • That's true! Moves are just the start of the object-orientedness. Fronts are a great example of that.

    (And yes, the object-oriented elements are individually procedural in a weird way...but that's semantics that's not worth getting into, methinks.)
  • edited March 2014
    n.b.: Object Orientation does not do away with procedure, but packages it differently: It distributes procedural agency by placing small specific functions within those individual objects that require them. Example: Character Moves and Custom Moves in *W.

    Okay, so what does this mean for us in the context of the current conversation, in which we are considering the possibility of creating intelligent systems that create their own stories? Two things. To systems engineers, object-orientation is a welcome methodology because it makes it easier to break down the task of simulating a whole world into smaller, logical pieces that can be handled individually. To storywriters, object-orientation (while intriguing) is a scary place to go, because it demands giving up control of the narrative flow in a way that is anathema to most writers. it demands that you trust the player/reader/audience, and it demands that you trust the system. Woowoo!

    The best people to handle this challenge - the people on the planet with the most experience in both aspects of this problem - are GameMasters.
  • Today in Story Games: adventures in programming!
  • edited March 2014
    Object-orientation is basically minor packages of rails. If you were to program a roller coaster you could have the following packages:

    [Object0] a steep climb
    [Object1] a huge fall
    [Object2] going horizontal
    [Object3] going into a loop


    This above is describing a roller coaster with a steep climb followed by a huge fall, going horizontal, loop, going horizontal, loop, and finally going horizontal.

    It's a way to minimize code by reusing previous bits of code, but I don't really see the implementation in story participation in computer games to actually make it work. (I have i previous threads talked about how structures in roleplaying games are being built up with pools and procedures [and triggers]. Example: You got a pool of moves to choose from and each one has it's own procedure.)
  • The way you apply it to stories is by treating story elements as discrete objects, instead of as chronological events in a narrative. When conditions are right, the program would pick an element to add to the story, customizing details to fit with the current narrative as given.

    It'd actually be a lot like how some people play games like the Sims, only you'd have the computer providing a stronger connecting narrative between the incidents.
  • edited March 2014
    Agreed, Carpe.
    Rickard: They're not all rails if you don't build them that way. It is allowable to conceive of meta objects. :-)
  • edited March 2014
    I will put this plain and simple. I don't think a computer today can create a coherent story by following, for example, a dramatic curve based the input given from a user. A computer can't make up even a descent response, like a human being can when playing storygames, but instead have to rely on already programmed responses. You can prove me wrong by making a game like that, and I will applaud you if you can achieve that (Actually, I'm hoping to see that day). You don't even have to program it. Just make a paper prototype of it and I will play it. But I will write this again: it has to be programmed but it has also to make sense and the story of the game will therefor be very limited compared to tabletop roleplaying games. You can fake that the computer gives a proper response but someone will always have to write that response.

    I'm not talking about a player freely creating a story together with a computer but that I can't imagine anyone can create a sandbox (or similar) where the computer gives proper responses and at the same time presents a good story. You can create programs that creates stochastic events, like germs spreading (or other sims), but stories demands a continuity and to follow a logic and dramatic path. We need a different way of handling computers for that to happen. As for today, I agree with what Greg Costikyan wrote ten years ago when it comes to computer roleplaying games: stories and games can't be combined. Either you get a crappy gaming experience, a crappy story, or a mediocre game experience with a mediocre story. Storygames played between humans is, however, a totally different story.
  • edited March 2014
    I agree absolutely. I especially like the part where I build that system and you applaud me. Time will tell, my friend!
  • There's a lot of tricks you can use; I highly recommend Failbetter Games' work on this subject. Here's a sample where they talk about their method of presenting story nuggets.
  • edited March 2014
    @Aslf: And it would be lovely. :) I do think computer game designers should reconsider how they make stories, and taking a stance from storygames is an interesting idea so I will see where it ends.

    @CarpeGuitarrem: Thanks for the link. I thought this tag had numerous of interesting blog posts. Haven't read them yet, but will check them out.
  • edited March 2014
    We're definitely not there yet. But we are at the point where cybernetic systems augment and multiply the powers of the storyteller (which is a human system). Before we get to the point where the cyber systems can supplant the human systems, we will reach a tipping point in the middle where human systems begin to play less authoritative roles in realtime, relative to cyber systems. An example might be the game envisioned in Larry Niven's "Dreampark" (which was a huge inspiration for me).

  • @CarpeGuitarrem: Thanks for the link. I thought this tag had numerous of interesting blog posts. Haven't read them yet, but will check them out.
    Very welcome! I tend to think of FBG as the leading edge in cyber-stories (because "cyber-story" is just a cool name I made up ;-) ); their stuff isn't necessarily at that level yet, but I see how you could put the pieces together and make it happen. There's a little bit of magic trick involved (giving the human mind enough of a gap to meaningfully connect the dots, but not so much that they notice), but I think it's even currently possible.

    If you have the time, taking some of the StoryNexus games for a spin is a fun thing, too. You can see the smaller steps of non-linear interactive storytelling there. (And Fallen London is far from perfect, but there's a lot of nifty stuff going on there.)
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