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Warren Spector: Games, Forms, Problems, and Narrative

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Warren spector
Warren Spector, the legendary game designer of videogames such as System Shock, Deus Ex, and Epic Mickey preformed a talk at GDC 2013, comparing the video game medium to other media forms. He asked the question, what can be learned from other narrative media? And what we can, can't, and shouldn't borrow from them.

Movies

"The video game includes still images, moving images, text, audio, three dimensional, navigable space, more of the building blocks of stortelling than any single medium has ever offered us"

We can tell stories because we combine other media characteristics. No media survived without change, evolving past its roots. It's become Transmedia. Is that the only niche feature we have to offer?

Movies + interactivity = Wallking Dead, Heavy Rain. Even more than these. What we need to understand how other media make meeting and adopt conventions for us, know about them to mold them into our own approach.

Movies cut from one image to another, more dreamlike than real world experience, cutscenes fall into this realm. Film uses more fundamental editing techniques. Parallel Action, cut between multiple locations, audience knows things characters don't. This basic cinematic technique is something that everyone expects and understands, but it contrast against games Games shoudn't be doing this. It breaks the illusion of immersion, it pulls control away from players, who want to be their own directors.

Movies are non-linear, and games are linear in the way they treat time and space.


  1. Pacing: Games pace differently than movies. Movies: 90 minutes - 150 minutes Games: 6 hours - infinite.
  2. Ecoomical Storyelling: screenplay 90 pages, minute per page, dialogue reflects how people talk, frequent interruptions, no monologues. Working with game writers, it can take 50 pages to simply think of conversation enders. It's important to make sure the hero doesn't say the same things, over and over, you'll be interacting with NPCs who can't say the same thing in "I thought I heard something". Branching narratives. Illusion of immersion propels this deeper
  3. Characterization, What's valuable is to allow players to make the magic moments. Repeated actions, regardless of their coolness, lose signficance if repeated, the coolness comes from player context.

Other Media

We can learn from collaborative storytelling, player expression,and  letting players drive story, in a manner similar to a Dungeon Master in Dungeons and Dragons

Audio is important to games, and comes with more bang for their 'word-buck' than screenwriters,

Comics, the amount of information the reader can provide is huge, understand icon presentation of information and characters, all presented in one manner.

Oral Storytelling: Some something about the way storytelling can interact with people is valuable, storteilling is an interactive listen, utilizing imagination, unique teller choices, unique listener experiences.

What can we learn?

New story structures.Games are real time choices, consequences, response. Players interact in real time, opportunities to act, conqusenqces from those actions, and the game responds appropriately. Player experience comes first.

Interaction models between NPCs have no changed since 1990. Very easy to kill, but impossible to talk to them. More improvements should come to Non-Combat AI. We worry about pathfinding for AIs, but what about the response of going into the women's bathroom? Spilling a drink? Interacting with a spurned or would-be lover?

Build worlds, not sets.

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