2008/12/28

Exciting and Interesting Cool Things - Part 5

Here's a new game for you to try out: Storyteller. This clever little experiment allows you to manipulate three characters to influence the outcome of the story they live in. And what's interesting is that people seem to like it! I couldn't find any negative comments about it at all.

This one example may be simple, but it hints at the awesomeness that could be had with more sophisticated interactions and a more immersive presentation.

As I mentioned in a comment on Kongregate:
If people can enjoy a story space consisting of permutations on pairings between three simple characters, imagine what greatness could arise from a more complex and nuanced story.

There was also an interesting discussion of the game on GameSetWatch, focusing on the unusual way it deals with story structure.

"Storyteller works through and because of its clich├ęs. Does it have anything to tell us about interactive storytelling?

If so, what it has to say is probably this:

Explicit structure matters.

Storyteller allows us to change almost everything about the outcome of its storyworld, but it constrains us to three episodes: set-up, crisis, outcome."

More recently, another experimental, pixelated game has been taking the world's Flash portals by storm. This is the delightfully be-tentacled
I Fell in Love With the Majesty of Colors. It has been popular enough to be the subject of a card challenge on Kongregate and has been featured on the front page of Newgrounds for over a week now. This is quite surprising for a game that has no goal other than to explore all possible branches of the story. And I'm not complaining.

The Majesty of Colors has been described as a vignette game. I'd also describe it as a sort of Environment Sketch, with less on the procedural content and more of a focus on character and story instead of natural beauty. It is also very much a roleplaying game, in the sense that the gameplay consists of playing a role, of acting, and deciding what kind of character you are by the actions that you take. Of course, it is almost minimally simple, like Storyteller, but it hints at the exciting possibilities to be found along this path.

The game also relies heavily on text, as does the earlier experimental hit You Have to Burn the Rope, which I find intriguing. This text is like a sketched placeholder for something that would, in an ordinary game, be conveyed through interactivity. Which is not to say that the writing feels rough - in The Majesty of Colors, this text is very poetic and establishes mood and expectations superbly.

I wonder about the minimalism of these games. Are they that way simply because they are quick experiments, the first of their kind? Could the concepts support a more complex, involved implementation? Is this perhaps an example of intentionally limiting resources to spur creativity? I don't know. I guess I'll just have to try, and see how it turns out.

And now for something completely different.

Or perhaps not so different. This post has been all about the triumph and promise of exploratory, freeform gameplay over the rigidly goal-oriented kind. Now here's an article arguing that play, contrary to popular belief, is not a waste of time: No more game shame. Its premise is actually quite far-reaching:

"We've been steadily increasing our productivity for decades. We work and work and work; when we finally give ourselves permission to play, we party and binge-drink ourselves into oblivion (or sleep in restorative seclusion), maximizing the efficiency of even our recreation. Then we crash and recover just in time to report back to work. Somewhere on a hill Sisyphus is smirking.

We need more creative energy, imaginative thinking, and an infusion of earnest, unselfconscious, child-like faith in impossible dreams. We need more playful fun - not simply downtime or vacation time - that engages our minds and spirits in joyful re-creation. In other words, we could stand to bring back a few lessons from the world we enter when we play with toys."


One reader goes even further in this comment:

"If primitive peoples could get by on four hours a day spent on securing their survival, why, with all of our modern technological advances, do I need to spend twice as long doing the same thing? I perceive WORK to be the waste of time. The eight or so hours a day I spend at work is time I pissed away doing nothing pertinent to what I value or my goals for myself, the world, or my environment."

An interesting perspective on work. And primitive peoples. It brings to mind this delightfully inflammatory article, about the work of Food Not Bombs: or, Free Bread and Soup is a National Threat. As its author says, "The realization that I lived in a culture that locked up it’s food in order to force us to work was a brutal shock." Yes. Interesting.

Why do we work? For money, of course. I came across another article recently. It happened to be curiously relevant to this particular line of thought. I had never really thought about money before, or the dynamics of the system it supports. But now I can see something rather sinister about the whole deal, and where it ends up...

"Essentially, for the economy to continue growing and for the (interest-based) money system to remain viable, more and more of nature and human relationship must be monetized. For example, thirty years ago most meals were prepared at home; today some two-thirds are prepared outside, in restaurants or supermarket delis. A once unpaid function, cooking, has become a "service". And we are the richer for it. Right?"

Right? Maybe not. Read on:

"Or I can find a traditional society that uses herbs and shamanic techniques for healing, destroy their culture and make them dependent on pharmaceutical medicine which they must purchase, evict them from their land so they cannot be subsistence farmers and must buy food, clear the land and hire them on a banana plantation -- and I have made the world richer. I have brought various functions, relationships, and natural resources into the realm of money."

That doesn't sound too good to me. The guy who wrote Ishmael has this to say about the difference between traditional economies and those of us civilized people:

"In [tribal] societies, people look after each other for much the same reasons that people in [hierarchical] societies take jobs and have careers. In [tribal] societies, people look after one another not because they're saintly but because looking after one another assures that they themselves will be looked after. If they don't look after one another, then the community disappears -- and no one is looked after.
...
It's an economy. An economy based on support instead of products."

Can we do better?

Well, to bring this back to the world of games, how about I link you to a game development diary detailing the day-by-day progress of a simple Flash game? You like that idea? I wish more people would publish that sort of thing. Maybe I should do one. Hmmm... :)

8 comments:

Jonathan said...

Are you the artist who did the Haida-lisk on Deviant Art? That was really good, I ran across it while googling for Haida art images. I'm curious about what program you're using for the next images, I've tried photoshop for Haida art and it's very difficult to do. I end up scanning images in and using it to touch them up rather than doing the whole image on there. I'd be very interested if you'd clue me in on how it went.

Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Jonathan

jvanweert@gmail.com

axcho said...

Yes, I made the Haida-lisk, thanks. :) I did it in Photoshop with a tablet, but I wouldn't recommend that technique - it was very tedious and produced less than ideal results. I've done several more drawings since then using traditional media, which I found to be much easier. I used big pieces of paper, starting with a pencil sketch, going over the outlines in pen, and then coloring it in with marker.

However, I would like to do some more designs on the computer, but next time I plan to use a vector drawing program like Illustrator or Inkscape. Probably the easiest way would be to make a pencil sketch on paper, scan it in, and then create the vector curves on the computer with the pen tool.

Try that out sometime. :) I'd be curious to hear how it goes.

Krystian Majewski said...

That's quite the stream of thought you got there.

I like the idea of exploratory gameplay. Another game you haven't mentioned is I whish I were the Moon. There are also other, somehwat similar experiments like 99 Rooms or The Hospital. Hopefully I will be able to contribute to that newly growing selection of games soon.

And as far as work goes: I'm highy sceptical if there were really only 4 hours required to assure survival. As a kid I often visited my grandmother, who lived in a very simple polish rural village. Although the people there were mostly self-sustained their workload was somewhat compareable to a urban society.

But anyway, if your work does not contribute to your life goals, you might be doing something wrong. A recent book published in Germany is called "We call it work". It is about a new kind of lifestyle emerging because of the internet you might call "digital bohemia". It is basically living off offering personal work (videos, blogs, flash games, self-made accessoirs) on the Internet.

I found this a quite intriguing concept. But one doesn't have to go THAT far. Just making sure your dayjob offers you some kind of additional value beyond the money is enough.

My barber recently said he works to live. I pity him. I choose to live to work.

axcho said...

Yes, I didn't mention I Wish I Were the Moon, but that's another one. I'm eager to see what you're working on that may be similar to these. :)

As far as the four hours thing goes, my understanding is that it's the difference between agricultural sedentary (and modern) lifestyles versus nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles (to which the four hour estimate applies).

About my own personal preferences, I'm all for digital bohemia, though I start to wilt if I stay too long surrounded by electronic screens and devices rather than plants and sky. I also love to work, provided it's for projects that I am passionate about.

David said...

It's simple. Storytelling is broken online. We've fixed it.

Here are some of the highlights:

Heekya is the Wikpedia of Stories, a social storytelling platform that is changing the way consumers create, share, and discover stories. Free. Fun. Easy. 60 seconds. See it here: http://heekya.com/preview.php
What you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) drag and drop story editor. Import all media (photo, video, text, and audio) from third party services (Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, etc.)
Users grab and embed Heekya story widget across social networks (Facebook, MySpace, et. al) blogs (wordpress, blogger, twitter) personal websites and via e-mail and instant message.
Ability to re-mix and mashup other stories, retelling them from a consumers own vantage point, that will keep user engagement levels high and attract more traffic virally, as people share and re-share stories.

Storytelling is at the core of human existence. We're building Heekya to unlock powerful stories of people all over the world and empower them to share their story with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

axcho said...

Hmm, Heekya does look very intriguing. I'll forgive the spam. For now. ;)

Patrick said...

Dan Benmergui is a good friend of mine, he's been showing me his new shit, it's going to be really interesting.

Also, the economy is a big game designed to motivate certain behavior. Clearly, there's a lot of work in that direction. Anything that can harness the chaos of unemployed populations will do quite well, alternatives to employment, co-ops and community currencies, look into that.

axcho said...

Cool, so you're friends with the guy who made Storyteller? Glad to hear he's working on a new project, I'll be very excited to see it. :)

I'd certainly agree that the economy, along with many other systems, is best imagined as a big, messy game. I wouldn't really use the word "designed" though... Interesting suggestion about harnessing the "chaos of unemployed populations" - that was meant as a suggestion, right? ;)