Friday, September 16, 2011

Storybricks Questions

About two weeks ago I already wrote a bit about Storybricks. If everything goes as planned Kelly will give me a little demonstration this Sunday. This post is about four questions that I had sent to her two weeks ago, and which she had forwarded to Lead Designer Stéphane Bura.

1) What are the advantages your emotive AI has compared to extensive scripting?
- The much cheaper cost of content generation
- The combinatory aspect of each new piece of content (new behaviors, new traits, new interactions), that can even enrich existing stories
- The simplicity with which you can design stories
- An unified language for story design and interaction (this is huge and complex to explain. I talk about this in my forthcoming Gamasutra article)
Sounds good, but since you are answering player questions, not designer questions, more details concerning the final product would have been interesting.

2) Which released games, which use extensive scripting, could have benefited if they had used your technology, and how exactly?
Probably none. We’re really offering a new paradigm, a new kind of gameplay that requires that you design your game from the ground up with this in mind.
Scripting is exactly what you need if you want to control all the aspects of a gaming experience. The StoryBricks present a new way of interacting with a story, as if it were a living system, not a series of gates you have to go through.
This is almost a revelation! Storybricks aren't actually a powerful tool to do better what is already done. Instead, they require ”a new paradigm, a new kind of gameplay that you design your game from the ground up with.”.
I honestly can't wait for the new games! However, I am not so sure what the investors think when they read this (?).

3) Why do you think current AAA MMORPGs don't use extensive scripting for NPCs right now, and why should the developers be interested in the emotive AI then?
What we’re doing is hard, both at the design and at the technical level, and thus too risky for publishers to even consider. That’s why most of our funding won’t come from the industry, btw.
Developers *are* interested by emotive AI and living worlds. I’m part of several groups of designers and AI specialists who have been thinking about doing something like this for years. We’re just fortunate enough to be in a company that’s willing to take such a risk.
I am not surprised at this point that most of your funding doesn't come from the industry. It's like asking traditional car companies 20 years ago to invest into battery research.

4) Assuming a successful development, how will this affect the player in practice? I.e. how will the queen, in your prominent example, react differently to the player due to the emotive AI?
This is a vast question because it applies to every detail of our design. Regarding that specific example, once a relationship is established between two characters, it alters the type of interactions they can have together (you can ask something from a friend that you wouldn’t from a stranger, you’re more likely to help a friend than a stranger, etc.). This also means that more plots can be triggered that involve these two characters (righting a wrong done to your friend, protecting them from a threat, involving them in a conflict of interest if, for instance, they’re friends with one of your enemies, etc.).
This answer is too vague. If you want to convince me (and others, I assume), you need to come up with a more detailed vision of what storybricks actually mean for the p(l)ayer.
This is really what drives me mad when reading your web page. It's all very nice. But after reading it I still don't know what exactly storybricks are going to be like for me, the player.


  1. Yes, what I have seen referred to as "evangelical sales" - something different not just bigger/faster/cheaper - are much harder and slower. I hope they have deep pockets.


    My hope was the SB were for the players. E.g., if you are in a game where you are Trajan not Achilles - i.e. it is not you as the solo hero but you as the hero commanding ship(s) or legions or droid companions, then a system to allow you to send out your minions and influence their behavior would be interesting to me and dozens of others. :-(

    I.e., deciding which vendor to work for or what tasks to do can be quite interesting even if the tasks themselves are not. Deciding whether to kill wolves or wombat or mine mithril could be interesting even if the task is not.

    The example from my elder gaming is the market. Deciding what to buy and what to sell is interesting. But nobody wants to wait around trying to sell it themselves; that can happen when I am logged off and asleep.

    Some sort of storyboard-like way to set up tasks & behaviors for my minions to go out and interact with NPCs and other minions could be interesting.

    Except that would make it even more of a conceptual sell. And most MMO developers and consumers are just focusing on same-old same-old these days.

  2. Scripting is exactly what you need if you want to control all the aspects of a gaming experience. The StoryBricks present a new way of interacting with a story, as if it were a living system, not a series of gates you have to go through.

    I had a problem with the above explanation as well (and I am corresponding with Kelly too). As a player-designer who would be using these tools to create content, why would want spend time essentially setting up a sandbox for people? I want to make a story, craft a narrative, not brick up a bunch of NPCs and let the players do whatever they want. And in such a scenario, how much time does it actually save me if I have to plan for every eventuality?

    It seems to me there are two completely different functions of Storybricks. The first is an emotive AI routine that turns states like Sad, Angry, Scared (etc), into NPC body language. That's fantastic! I always thought that expressing emotion in videogames was way harder than in writing. "The queen arches an eyebrow at your request." How could a game convey the emotion in that simple sentence without being wildly exaggerative or requiring photo-realistic NPC models ala LA Noir? More of this = good.

    The second function though is the professed "emergent questing" which continues to make zero sense. "Establishing a relationship" with an NPC is something that sounds fine, whatever. Who writes the (generic?) dialog that actually gives you the quests? Is there really a difference between "helping the brigand makes the guard sad/mad at you" and "Clicking this dialog option on the brigand triggers Sadness/Angry +1 for the guard?" Supposedly Storybricks handles all those triggers automatically, which is good, but would that also not create potentially thousands of unforeseen problems without a robust QA feature?

    For example, if you had to program the triggers yourself, the only danger is that interactions that could be fun aren't available (you can't side with the bad guys, etc). If Storybricks handles it, you could theoretically get into trouble where everyone hates you but the player-designer never actually wrote a quest/dialog which lets you get out of the hate loop. Helping the brigand could make the entire castle hostile in a cascade of AI which, while realistic, is unlikely to be fun if the entire thrust of the story was to save the queen from demonic possession (or whatever).

    Besides, as I mentioned before, I don't want a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure PvE sandbox, nor am I interested in creating it for other people. It might work if the setting is the most interesting "character," but again, I prefer crafted narratives in compelling settings, followed by crafted narratives in generic settings. If this means Storybricks is not the tool for me... then okay. But I don't think many bloggers understand what exactly they are excited about.