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What about the stories that exist between the players, versus top-down narrative?
RG: So, the analogy I would give you is the early days of Dungeons & Dragons on paper. I was one of the earliest adopters of Dungeons & Dragons on paper, and every Friday and Saturday night throughout my high school time, we would have a group of 30 to 40 people that would play at my house, my parents' house, usually in two or three or four games at once in different rooms for years.
But as the game gained popularity, an interesting thing changed. Early Dungeons & Dragons, no one cared about the rules. No one cared about what your +2 or +3 sword was because it was irrelevant. What really mattered is if you had a great gamemaster who was weaving a great story you all got to play your part in.
And if your team did something that was fun and clever and would not have worked, the guy would roll some dice back here, but it worked because it was fun and clever.
If you were doing something really stupid or boring, it didn't work, funny thing. And so what it became is a dialogue discourse between a great gamemaster and engaged players.
Well, once D&D became more and more popular and you ran out of good storytellers for gamemasters, it devolved, in my mind, into the [talks with a lisp] "Well, I'm standing behind you and I've got a +3 sword, and I've got a slight advantage because my dexterity is a little higher", and they do complicated calculations, then once every five minutes, roll die, and say you win. Which I think it not roleplaying.
It might be a fun game... This is my personal definition; most people don't adhere to this. Diablo, great game. Loved it. For me, I use the term "RPG" for it because it is a stats game. It's a "Do I have the best armor equipment compared to the creature I'm facing?" There's not really any story for it. It's a great challenge reward cycle game. Blizzard, by the way, does the best challenge reward cycle games I've seen.
On the other hand, Thief or Ultima are role-playing games versus RPG -- which I know stands for role-playing game. When I think of a role-playing game, it is now where you are charged with playing an actual role and qualitative aspects of how you play are every bit as important as what equipment you use. That's what I find most interesting. It's a lot easier to do stories there.
And while I think your question really came from what about the story that has naturally evolved between players, clearly that's what's profoundly important about any shared experience.
But if you only rely on that, if you just create a sandbox and say, "You guys make your own stories," it goes back to D&D. There's no context. There's no guidance. There's no showcasing. A good game should constantly lead you over the next hill to see what's on the other side, and it's got to be something of wonder that you and your friends all get to share.
The interactive dialogue in Fallout 3 is not amazing, but it has great scenario design. I feel like as an industry we're better at doing that than delivering actual narrative, written story.
RG: While I think narrative, written story is an important component of good narrative -- which doesn't have to have written story. I think as an art form, we need them all [to be] strong, like they are well-developed in the cinematic industry.
But there's no question. I think often, just what I call "ad hoc" -- what feels to you is ad hoc discovery -- but in fact was the designer put it there near enough for you to bump into and then made each of those encounters have some special response based on the context of where you've been and who you are, I think is very powerful. And I agree, we have some examples, like apparently Fallout 3 has, that begin to showcase that.
One idea that I had for how to make interactive dialogue better -- I'm just curious to bounce this idea off of you -- is iterative dialogue writing, wherein you write it to the best of your ability, and then you play through it properly in the game and then do a re-write based on how it works contextually.
RG: Well, I think as a process that absolutely is necessary. I think that would absolutely give benefit. I would add to that and go, you know the experience you described in Fallout? What was so positive about that -- and again remove from your mind whether it was a text interaction or an event interaction -- because in my mind, both of them advance your state of belief about yourself and your state of belief about the world and where you are and the Joseph Campbell hero's journey arc, so it could be any of those processes.
But the things that almost all games do so poorly that you've uncovered with your example of Fallout [having interesting events but poor dialogue] is most dialogue in most games are you're told to go to location A, you might find some monsters on the way to location A, but there's nothing relevant story-wise to your growth as an individual is going to happen on your way to location A, and when you get to location A, there's generally one real outcome, which is go to location B.
And I don't care how good a storyteller you are, that's never going to be very interesting. You're never going to feel like you've really participated in a truly meaningful way unless you discover things on the journey from A to B, and also when you do get to A and meet that person and have dialogue with, some form of discourse with, that it again has some outcome that for you will be unexpected, as often is not.
If you think about it in the real world, when you research a problem, you might know, "Gee, to find some information, I might need to go to France, where she lives," but you might not know exactly who to talk to, exactly what question to ask, and exactly what company to go and investigate. That's the joy of discovery. You have a general indicator, France, but you don't know what you're going to do when you get there. And that's the joy and excitement of being there. You're like, "Wow, I'm going to have to figure out what it is."