Category Archives: procgen

Trailers for My New Games!

Trailers

I made a few trailers for my newest projects! First, here’s some gameplay footage of Iridescent Crown. I’m waiting until the next update before I record another trailer (though I don’t have much left to change/add).

 

Here’s some footage of Seraphim Automata generating ambient piano music. My computer unfortunately slows down too much when the drums kick in. But the game is generally more pleasant to the ear without drums (as much as I like the random drum code), which is something I’m keeping in mind for the sequel.

Since this game covers jazz music, the sequel will cover a different genre – ambient or perhaps post-rock.

 

This video is shorter, but is also less chaotic and contains a repeating melody.

 

Here’s a video of Celody Life generating some melodies. Again, my computer lags if too much is playing while recording, so the clips are pretty short. I did catch two gliders in this video though.  🙂 It’s cool to see how they can play complex melodies on their own.

 

I also created a trailer for my old horror game, Deadman’s Dark Scenery Court. OBS didn’t completely cooperate with me on this one but I managed to fix it in Videopad.  😛

 

Updates

Planning to update Iridescent Crown sometime next month. I’ve also been working on music, which I hope to share soon.  🙂


Iridescent Crown and Zephyr 3 are officially complete!

Iridescent Crown

Play it here!

I uploaded a new HTML5 version of Iridescent Crown with a few important bug fixes. The soundtrack has been added, and the Windows version is now available to purchase.  🙂

The release has been somewhat marred by ISP problems, but at least I had the game up in time for Christmas (and Diablo’s 20th anniversary!). One of the bugs screwed up the ending sequence, which, along with missing the soundtrack, made me feel less than comfortable sharing the game around. But now everything’s cool.

I’m really glad to have this game out of my way. I started it way back in 2010, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted it to turn out until recently. A lot of things just happened to come together at the end – like the final boss and ending sequence, which I’d been turning ideas over for years, but ultimately only needed a few hours to throw something together.

Finding the right graphics+sfx resources to fill in certain roles was also essential in speeding up the creation process. I don’t feel too bad about using cc0 enemy sprites in my game, because the alternative would be a game that’s still unfinished.  😛

I’ll follow up with a more complete dev blog when I have some time. Right now I’m working on trailers for the game. Stay tuned.  🙂

 

Zephyr 3 bug

z3x

As I suspected, there was only one line glitching up this game and keeping it from running in HTML5. As soon as I dropped “direction_to_object” and changed it to “point_direction” – essentially the same function with a different approach – the damn thing loaded up fine in HTML5. It even lags less than I expected. You can play it in your browser here.

Game Maker Studio is weird sometimes. Only 173 lines of code in this game, and it took just one to break everything. To contrast, Iridescent Crown’s engine is +6 years old, bloated as fuck yet somehow works fine in HTML5.

The source code is available for anyone who wants to learn how to make this type of game.

Zephyr 3 basically marks the end of the Zephyr series. But not the engine itself – I plan to use it again in the future.  🙂

 

Planning for Steam Greenlight

I should be getting better internet in mid-February. So for now, I’m going to focus on recording gameplay footage of my projects. Then I will upload the videos and see where to go from there. I’ve recently managed to get OBS working with my computer – though not with the best quality.

Every article about “indie game marketing” stresses the importance of Twitter, but I don’t think Twitter is as helpful as it seems when it comes to getting your game out there. I get a good amount of likes and retweets whenever I post screenshots or links, but honestly they don’t translate to people clicking on my game often. So “marketing my game” usually feels like wasted time that could be better spent on development. It does help to chronologue my development, but that’s about it.

Gamers make ~93% of their purchases on Steam. So… I probably need to get a game on Steam. People don’t buy games often enough on itch.io.

I’m most proud of Seraphim Automata, but it may be too weird / experimental for Steam. I’m also not sure what audience it appeals to in its current state. What “genre” is it, for instance? It lacks a certain long-term replayability that could be solved with more musical variations (read: a sequel). I may revisit it some time later and add more traditional gameplay features.

I’m also proud of Iridescent Crown, but wary because I haven’t gotten much feedback. And it’s definitely not as unique as SA. It’s really hard to strike a balance between innovative and traditional in game design. Any ideas people give me for IC will probably be saved for a sequel as well, since I’m happy with it in its current state.

While I do have more “work” ahead as far as marketing and making trailers, for once I can finally say that I have nothing left to work on in the field of game design. My existing projects are 100% complete. Which means I can let myself take a break.

… I hope.

Save

Save


Iridescent Crown is out! Looking for Pixel Artists

Iridescent Crown

ic-titlescreen

You can play it in your browser here. Let me know what you think in the comments. I’m still working on adding updates – namely touchscreen controls. The random generation for levels and weapons is inspired by Diablo.

My internet’s been broken the past few weeks, which is why I haven’t uploaded a version with music. Hopefully that will change soon.  🙂

 

New Stories

I added two new horror stories! AMETHYST 2.0 “Safe Version” was a strange idea I’ve had for a while. The premise itself read interestingly, but I could never figure out how to approach it from any of the main character’s perspectives. So I ultimately just took the original premise, edited it a bit and presented it as classified information from some secret agency.

I repeated this formula to some extent with AMETHYST 3.0 “Leon’s Story”. It’s a concept that’s been bothering me for a while, regarding how to express it. The connecting theme in the AMETHYST series so far seems to be ouija boards and alternate identities. I know this version doesn’t make a lot of sense and probably reads like a David Lynch script. But I may revisit the idea later.

“Ouroboros” is my shortest story so far, at only 667 words. It was originally the premise for a video game – the text would have been given in bits as you progressed.

I also added a new angel story called “The Rebirth of Raphael”, which I wrote back in May. I was planning to write more stories in this world and it just hasn’t happened yet.

I’m currently working on AMETHYST 1.0 “Corrupt Version” and a few secret stories, so look forward to those!

 

Year End Summary

2016 has been a pretty good year for me. I released three games this year. I released my first game that runs in a browser. I released my first game with “infinite replayability”. I finally finished a platformer I started +6 years ago.

I tackled procedural music generation for the first time in Seraphim Automata. I made a small music tool that lets you generate music with Conway’s Game of Life. I released a music tool that lets you explore microtonality in your browser.

I also translated one of my games into 7 languages.

yuzhou_hefeng

I discovered this earlier this year, on a Chinese website that pirates my game. The fact that my game has been pirated at all still intrigues and amuses me a bit. I always wanted to see that game in kanji, so it’s ironic but fitting.

I’ve done everything I’ve wanted with game design so far, so I feel comfortable taking a long break. I’m looking forward to GMS 2 coming out. I have no concrete plans for any new projects unless I collaborate with a visual artist.

I’m hoping when I return to game development, I’ll be working with a radically different artistic style than these games. It doesn’t have to be an “art game”, but I would like to make something more avant-garde. Or at least more modern.

On the other hand, I’ve fallen pretty far behind with music. I’ve barely written anything since last year. So that will be my main focus for 2017.  🙂

 

Looking for Pixel Artists

If you want to collaborate on a future project, feel free to contact me. If you’re a pixel artist or a game developer that uses Game Maker Studio, I would love to work with you!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


Getting Out of Dev Hell, Assets and Horror Games

2D Platformer Dev Blog, or Reflections in the Multimirror

To call this game old may be an understatement at this point. I recall starting this project sometime in 2010. I released an early version of the game for a Halloween competition back in 2012, then called “Hillel”, which didn’t look too different from the version I’m still working on now. The procedural generation of the levels honestly wasn’t that different either.

newgame2

Here is a screenshot from when I uploaded it to gamejolt in June 2014 as “Multimirror”, which shows how little it’s changed.

Even as far back as 2012 I was anxious to release the game, but it needed better graphics and after I lost my home that year, I wasn’t in much of a position to focus on my pixel art skills. I stopped working on the game and shifted my focus to Cosmic Zephyr, which seemed more suited to my skills, as well as a better vehicle for my music.

mm4

Here is a version of the game with a color shifting effect that I ended up taking out. It was too awkward to use while playing.

untitled-oct15-2

Here is the new version of the game. I gave up on making my own enemy sprites and simply found some free assets on the internet. I know this means you could potentially see these sprites in other video games, but I don’t care. My goal right now is simply release a working version of the game. I can always go back and improve on it later.

Since the success of Spelunky, the roguelike platformer genre has become so popular that it’s almost annoying – probably because few games have added much to the genre. Meanwhile, infinite procedurally generated worlds have gone from being an ideal to being a fad.

I’ve become increasingly conscious that if I finish this game, it will need something to set it itself apart from similar 2d platformers. But at the same time, I know if I worry too much I will end up paralyzing my creative process.

I no longer care about my 2D platformer game being called a clone by people too young to remember the age before 3D games dominated everything. I’ve learned through experience that game design communities are really toxic places, and I’ve had to cut ties with a lot of communities I grew up with because of the changing atmosphere.

 

Getting Out of Dev Hell

People can preach about video games being an artform all they want – that doesn’t matter when most game developers are only in it for the money. A lot of people are passionate about game design, yeah, sure. But for most people, passion is not enough to get them through crunch mode or development hell.

Real art does not go through crunch mode. A comparison between the quality of pop and art music is a good example of this. It’s not that art music is always great, it’s that it doesn’t have the soul sucked out of it like most pop music does.

Video games are still in their pop music phase, with most innovative artistic experiences either sitting on the sidelines in obscurity, or being hyped beyond human expectations like Braid or Journey.

I hope to take a long break from game design after I finish this project. I’m having health issues that directly interfere with spending too much time on the computer. My back started giving me problems when I was adding translations to Cosmic Zephyr back in March. My eyes have also gotten increasingly sensitive to light.

Much of this goes back to the malnutrition that comes with being chronically ill with Crohn’s disease. One of the major reasons I’ve continued designing games past the point of exhaustion is that a successful one would help pay for food and medication.

November 1st marks six years since my father was hauled away by police for being a cokehead. When he divorced my mom, the judge ruled that he owed us no alimony because mom and I smoked weed. We lost our home in March 2012 and I’ve been in fight mode ever since. I’m just now getting to where I don’t worry about money every day of my life.

I like to think if things had turned out differently (read: if my father hadn’t fucked everything up in 2010), I would have hired artists to help me finish games as a team. You have to have money in order to make money in this world. Unfortunately I’ve seen the dark side of how independent game studios can turn out, and I’ve fallen out of love that with that idea.

A lot has changed in 6 years.

I’m hoping to finish this game by Christmas. We’ll see how that goes.

 

Video Game Assets

For me, 2016 has been the year of the procedurally generated video game asset. Why spend time manually drawing tiles or making sfx for a game when you can have a program generate them for you?

shinynoisebricks1_preview
These are the bricks I decided to use in my platformer – procedurally generated by SpiderDave.

Traditionally, there was always a tough prejudice against using other people’s assets in your own indie game. I think people have since become more realistic in regards to the concept of the lone developer that is equally skilled in programming, art, and music.

Now with this new generation of indie game developers using engines like Unity or Unreal, and especially the introduction of the Unity and Game Maker asset stores, assets are not only acceptable but also a lucrative way for designers to make money. Arguably more so than actually making a game. Which only leaves me to wonder what the future of game design will look like.

From a developer’s standpoint, it’s very tempting to “go meta” and create tools for game design rather than games themselves. There are too many games, yet not enough tools to help create them.

And yet if enough of these tools are created, we could reach a point where very complex, detailed game concepts could be created by people with little to no knowledge of programming, art, or music. Which would lead to even more market saturation, and even more difficulty in finding good quality games.

Lowering the bar of entry for game design is always a good thing, but it has its downsides. I think what this all leads back to is increasing importance for game reviewers that are willing to sift through the dirt in order to find diamonds.

Most people are only aware of the limited amount of games that are being hyped at any given time, because major game journalists only cover the few AAA and indie games that everyone else is discussing. It’s an odd Catch-22, but few people are willing to go out of that collective safe zone. Jim Sterling’s Greenlight Good Stuff videos are one refreshing example of a game reviewer trying to help games that are unjustly obscure.

 

Horror Games

I was originally planning to make a horror game this October for the Pixel Horror Jam, but to my disappointment I found most of the participants use RPG Maker. I don’t mind RPG Maker, but the competition dynamic really changes when it’s more story oriented. I personally don’t want to take part in any game jam where the story is a significant factor to winning.

Horror games themselves have become a kind of joke that’s hard for me to take seriously, which is sad. I used to have great experiences with the many Japanese horror games that made their way onto PS2 – Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Siren, Clock Tower 3, etc. But now when I go back to play them I only notice the clunky controls, stiff animations, and lackluster gameplay.

Good horror doesn’t really come from story or gameplay. It comes from the “atmosphere”, which is a nebulous term for how a game makes you feel. What good horror games lack in gameplay, they have to make up for by being evocative in nature. They have to evoke strong feelings of fear, paranoia, confusion and anxiety. Which… isn’t really hard.

And I guess that’s why I feel like horror games have stagnated – it doesn’t demand the same level of quality as other genres. You can still get away with mediocre gameplay that would be unacceptable in other genres, as long as your game has atmosphere. Because it’s easy to scare people. So horror games have essentially become the low-hanging fruit of game design.

It should also be said in terms of replayability, the initial shock of a game’s atmosphere wears off after a while. Which is why now I play Silent Hill with almost no feeling of immersion. The experience is never as good as the first time.

I think story-driven games in general are in a weird place right now, with the growing popularity of short form video games. Games with longer stories demand too much patience these days, unless they’re very engaging or innovative. Successful titles seem to be relegated to the AAA industry and niche circles like the RPG Maker scene.

I had great experiences with To the Moon and Her Story this year, but those are both examples that lack traditional gameplay. Meanwhile there are games like Outland and Valdis Story: Abyssal City that have great gameplay, but I couldn’t care less about the stories. The characters and plot leave no memorable impression on me, and I probably won’t play them through to the end.

It points back to the fundamental disconnect between story and gameplay, and how some games are trying to bridge the gap while others remain traditional.

 

TL;DR

Once the platformer game is finished, I’m probably going to take a long break from game development to explore other forms of artistic expression. The format of a “video game” feels too creatively limiting for where I’m at in life. I’m sure the inspiration for new games will come back to me eventually, but right now I want to focus more on music and songwriting.

Congratulations to Bob Dylan for winning the Nobel literature prize, and thanks to him for reminding me the most important element of good music – the lyrics.

I’m working on a list of best albums released in 2016, as well as a list of worst albums. Both articles have been a lot of fun to write so far. So look forward to those!  🙂

Save

Save

Save

Save


Emergent Gameplay #2, No Man’s Sky and Holy Grails

No Man’s Alibi

As far as I can tell, No Man’s Sky does not have emergent gameplay. Nothing exciting is going to happen as a result of combining these procedural generation engines. You won’t even be able to have emergent multiplayer experiences, because Sean Murray and Hello Games have clearly lied about multiplayer being an available feature.

Not only that, but they avoided denying it by saying the odds of meeting someone in the game were virtually impossible due to its sheer size. Two lets players managed to meet up on PS4 the first day the game was released. So that was another lie.

You hear animal noises on planets with no animal life. You cannot terraform the planets in any meaningful capacity. The game frequently crashes. No unique ships. No factions. No intelligent aliens outside of buildings, ever. Reaching the center of the universe, the only real “quest”, is hugely disappointing. 18 quintillion planets of emptiness and sameness. The list of removed features, broken promises and issues have been cataloged on reddit, and it is overwhelming.

But what really kills me is they haven’t learned anything from the current situation. Sean Murray is still actively promising base building and “giant space freighters” in a future update – once they’re done handling customer support and fixing crashes on PS4. They cannot stop getting ahead of themselves. They are still trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Worst of all, they’re still using trailers unrepresentative of the game on Steam and their website in order to sell their product. Steam, for their part, are accepting refunds from users with more than two hours of gameplay. The game’s sales have already dropped by 81% in its second week. Right now, No Man’s Sky looks more like an alpha demo than a finished product.

I definitely think Sean Murray is making similar mistakes to Peter Molyneux, as far as dreaming too much while marketing his game.

 

Emergent Gameplay and Glitches

For now, the Holy Grail of emergent game design is still just a selling point for companies like Hello Games. The promise of truly emergent game design still has not been achieved. Maybe it won’t be for a long time.

However, what we can do right now is look at No Man’s Sky and where it failed, and think about how game developers can do better in the future.

When people go on about the importance of randomness and emergence in video games, they are usually referring to the factor of unpredictability it brings. If your game is highly unpredictable, then you have implemented procedural generation well. However if your game is too predictable then you could argue that the procedural generation could have been implemented better. Sometimes while trying to smooth bugs out of the game, the latter scenario can happen.

A potential paradox here is that glitches are a good source for emergent gameplay. If you completely iron out the glitches in your procedural generation, you could be losing potentially intriguing aspects of the game. The Far Lands in Minecraft is a good example. Glitches occur when you travel to extremely far distances, but you also find unique structures that wouldn’t occur anywhere else. These glitches can add an extra level of replayability.

Of course a distinction should be made between glitches that are difficult to find and exploit, vs bugs that occur on a regular basis and have to be removed for a polished game. Sometimes, especially from a developer’s standpoint, the distinction between the two cannot be all that clear.

The question is does a AAA game have room for that kind of experimentation? In the case of No Man’s Sky, clearly not.

Hopefully in the future, games media will be more pressing about the specifics of game development. I think the media’s “we’ll take your word for it” attitude is partially to blame for the outrage surrounding the game. They report Sean’s non-explanations as explanations and continue defending the game, basically to avoid the wrath of the hostile NMS fanbase.

 

Holy Grails

I first wrote about No Man’s Sky back in January 2015 in an article about emergent gameplay. Replacing pre-written dialogue with chatbot AI, dynamic voice synthesis to create unique voices for NPCs, expressing complex emotions without dialogue, were a few of the ideas I proposed for the potential future of open world games.

When people talk about the Holy Grail of game design, they can be referring to several different ideas. What are the Holy Grails of AI and game design? For a long time it was chess AI, then more complex games like Go, which was only recently conquered by AlphaGo. Infinite, randomly procedurally generated worlds are the current trend in the gaming world. Unlimited replayability is one of the ultimate goals here.

For an idea to qualify as a “Holy Grail”, it has to be an idea easily recognizable to most people but very difficult to attain in practice.

Complete immersion within a video game is considered a Holy Grail to some – a game that never breaks your suspension of disbelief. Highly emergent gameplay with unpredictable outcomes is also regarded as a Holy Grail.

Other realms include the Holy Grail of algorithmic music composition, which has been led by David Cope since 1981. Artificially intelligent replication of famous classical composers has slowly gained popularity in more recent years. On the other side you have programs which compose entirely original music.

Then you have story generator algorithms such as Sheldon Klein’s Novel Writer system from 1973, which generated 2100 word murder stories. Newer algorithms such as MEXICA, BRUTUS, and FABULIST have pioneered increasingly complex methods to generate stories. Algorithms for poetry are still uncommon, but I suspect that will change in the future.

For many, chatbot AI that can pass the Turing test is the Holy Grail.

To many others, the Holy Grail is simply generalized AI. Or more specifically the “singularity” event, where generalized AI begins exponentially acquiring more intelligence.

 

The Outsider

So which Holy Grail am I referring to? I’m referring to David Braben (creator of Elite) and his use of the term in 2005, when talking about a new golden age of gaming. He spoke of storytelling in video games breaking free of their “non-interactive roots”.

In games on the fifth generation, glorious imagery is not a problem. Details like beads of sweat are now expected.

Natural-looking fur can make creatures and people look very real, though non crew-cut hair brings many additional problems if it is not set in place with military strength hair gel, but that is not the point.

This is merely a slight increment over what fourth generation games are doing on the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube and is behind the complaints being voiced – the appetite is there for more and we are tired of the car-on-a-train-track spectacle.

Story-telling in games in most cases is little different to the stories of those Harold Lloyd films of the 1920s.

The player is stuck on pre-defined railway lines, forced to follow their character’s pre-determined adventures, much as in a book or a film.

In story-telling terms at least, games have not yet broken free of their non-interactive roots.

The Holy Grail we are looking for in fifth generation gaming is the ability to have freedom, and to have truly open ended stories.

Games that have even hinted at that freedom in the past like Elite and Grand Theft Auto have been hugely successful. This Holy Grail is what will herald the new era for gaming.”

Reading this again, it sounds a lot like Sean Murray gushing over the (unrealized) possibilities of No Man’s Sky, procedurally generating every fiber and atom in the game and so forth. Of course, you have to shoot for the moon if you want to hit the stars.

During that 2005 interview and for a few years afterwards, David kept hyping up Frontier’s game The Outsider as the first true fifth generation game. Wonder why you’ve never heard of it? It was cancelled around January 2011. It seems they had trouble finding a publisher, and EA wanted to turn it into a game for the Bourne franchise.

David re-confirmed the cancellation of the game in 2014. Yet another example of a potentially great game being shelved due to executive decisions, a shifting market, and an unwillingness to take risks. How many executive decisions affected No Man’s Sky development, I wonder? Here is another enlightening interview, discussing innovation and interactive narratives in video games.

So why do you think story hasn’t moved forward as much? Do you think you have the magic bullet that no one else has discovered?

DB: No one has a magic bullet. We’ve been working on it a long time. It’s a risk as well. The reason I mention The Darkness and BioShock is, story’s not a priority in reviewers’ eyes, and I think that’s a sad thing. […] We really need to move forward on story — as one of the fronts. That’s not the only front left. Look at Katamari. A while before that, people were saying there are only so many genres, and then someone comes out with a lovely game. And tomorrow it will be something similar.

[…]

I had an argument with somebody that there were only four types of gameplay, and then out comes Populous. Okay, there are five, then. And usually, it’s an excuse to plagiarize. We all take inspiration from other games, and that’s fine. It’s when we take inspiration and don’t do any more. That’s the sad thing. When you don’t move it forward. And there’s a danger. […] Especially these days, where we’re making fewer games than we used to. We’re essentially being trusted to use the opportunity to do something fantastic, and if we don’t we should get slapped around — which I’m sure we will do. [Laughs.] – Citation

So what point am I trying to make? The point is most game developers are not in an environment that allows for the pursuit of experimental ideas, lofty thoughts, or “Holy Grails”. Trying to break new ground is risky, and scares investors. So the big publishers play it safe and settle for mediocrity. That’s why the overly ambitious No Man’s Sky came from a team of 15 people, and why Minecraft was started by a single person.

For now, it seems that true innovation still has to come from outside the AAA video game industry.


Emergent Gameplay, Cosmic Zephyr on sale

Cosmic Zephyr on Sale

My game Cosmic Zephyr is on sale on itch.io for the next week! Help support a starving artist! http://dylanfranks.itch.io/cosmic-zephyr

Procedural Generation

No Man’s Sky, which is still in development, was the show stealer at last year’s E3. It boasts the procedural generation of 18 quintillion possible planets. This may be a pretty staggering number now, but I expect more games will soon become centered around generated variety like this.

I have had a long history of playing with procedural generation, going back to when I first discovered Game Maker in 2004, and the destructible terrain code that floated around on the GMC forums. The idea of a code that unfolds a world with infinite variety has existed with me for a long time.

My interest with emergent gameplay as a way to randomly generate story narratives began in 2012 or so, when I was getting frustrated with linear, story driven games. As much as I love JRPGs, I have mixed feelings about high quality games with little replay value. My attention has drifted more toward open world games along with the rest of the Western gamer culture. Minecraft, Dwarf Fortress, Skyrim, these are the games that become popular in Western gaming, because they allow the freedom to explore and take on challenges at your own pace.

Games like these, along with Animal Crossing, The Sims and many open world games like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, have driven my desire to design a complex single player open world game that you can get lost in like any MMORPG.

Deepening Realism

Most games currently run on pre written dialogue – you will eventually read all there is to read in the game. In the future, games will begin to incorporate more advanced code for NPCs like chatbot AI, which can open a whole new world to how games are played. If you deepen NPC interaction to a certain point, characters could be very fluid and changing, self-sustaining their own world without the players input.

Dynamic voice synthesis will bring in innovations of its own. With dynamic voice synthesis, NPCs could have individualized voices to further increase realism. This, combined with chatbot AI, could open up a world of possibilities with artificial character interaction. Until then, we’ll have to settle with reading dialogue off the screen, or listening to voice actors. I really don’t expect dynamic voice synthesis to become common for at least 10 years.

Gestures and emotions could be an alternative to generated dialogue. The Chao Garden in Sonic Adventure 2 is very good example of this, I’ve spent at least 100 hours playing it. The Chao will interact with you differently through stages of life, and express a variety of emotions without any dialogue. They can be very attached, indifferent, or even scared of the player depending on how you treat them.

The only downside is interaction between Chao is limited. They are never actively drawn to one another, unless one Chao is playing music and others join to listen or play. Of course, it is a 15 year old game. Like Animal Crossing villagers, they have few goals outside simply existing.

This prophetic article by David Braben, the co-creator of Exile, was written on New Years Eve 2005, four years before Minecraft would begin building its cult status of freedom and open-endedness.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4553620.stm

In the 1920s, films were almost pure spectacle, and that spectacle became ever more extreme to keep the audiences coming back – cars skidded around towns, people dangled and fell from buildings, cars were forever being smashed to pieces on railway crossings.

The stories were light-weight justifications for linking the dramatic moments together. The advent of synchronised speech, the Talkies, didn’t change this right away.

But it opened the door for the golden age of film, where Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd gave way to Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles in the 1930s.

The Holy Grail we are looking for in fifth generation gaming is the ability to have freedom, and to have truly open ended stories.

Games that have even hinted at that freedom in the past like Elite and Grand Theft Auto have been hugely successful. This Holy Grail is what will herald the new era for gaming.

Emergent Gameplay

I believe simulation is the keyword here. No brain or computer can create a perfect model of reality – that is why they are called models. In that sense, everyone’s models of reality are equally true. Even those of a schizophrenic person, or strange computer program. Games like The Sims already prove that emergent narratives can be successful, if they replicate the world we know well enough. The simulation’s model of reality only needs to resemble your mind’s model of reality for your mind to begin filling in the blanks.

Emergent narratives should be considered separate from traditional stories. The latter are planned by authors in the past, while the former are experienced by players in the present.

Emergent experiences from gameplay can not really be compared to pre written stories. This goes back to my initial frustration with linear storytelling in video games – because the story is separate from gameplay, it adds very little replayability. Games are caught in a cycle of gameplay, cutscene, gameplay etc.

Why is replayability so important? Here is the prime issue I have with linear story driven games. When I pick up Silent Hill, Kingdom Hearts, or an old point and click game, I am trapped at that point in the story unless I have other saves. I don’t have the ability to flip through pages, or even fast forward and rewind in a video game. Games are unique in this regard. They should take this into consideration if they want to be the vehicle of serious stories. As much as I love the stories in the aforementioned games, they have little bearing on the gameplay itself. And it’s difficult to enjoy a story through subsequent playthroughs if you don’t like the gameplay.

The question here is whether stories can have an actual impact on gameplay and vice versa, or will they always be mutually exclusive?

additional literature:

Narrative Theory and Emergent Interactive Narrative

Emergent Narrative As A Novel Framework For Massively Collaborative Authoring

An Emergent Framework For Realistic Psychosocial Behaviour In Non Player Characters

AI-Based Game Design: Enabling New Playable Experiences

Scripting Versus Emergence: Issues for Game Developers and Players in Game Environment Design

other links:

The Big List Of Indie Game Development Forums