Question: What are the key areas in which video games need to be improved in order to tell powerful stories more effectively?
I break “story” in video games into three distinct but overlapping elements: The “game narrative,” which includes the plot, the world, and the characters; the “story-telling,” which covers all the techniques used to convey the narrative; and the “player story,” which is the experience as described by one player to another and is wholly unique to games. Anything that could improve upon all three of these elements simultaneously is most likely to have the biggest impact on “story” in games.
Among the most obvious areas that meet this criteria are AI and animation, both of which allow us to create more engaging, surprising, responsive and relatable characters. Relatable characters make a plot more than just a series of events; I start to care about the stakes involved because I care about the characters. Responsive and engaging characters give the worlds we build a sense of verisimilitude, no matter how bizarre the setting; and a well-rendered and well-realized character can be an excellent story-teller as well. As we push further into AI and away from scripted encounters, we can give characters quirks and unpredictable – but understandable – behaviors that will allow them to surprise players and create more individualized player stories, while also making them more “human” and thus even more relatable.
When it comes to AI and animation, we like to dream big, envisioning Westworld-like interactions and Turing-level conversations with NPCs. But, there are thousands of smaller steps we can take now that would all improve “story.” We might improve scheduling or task systems so that NPCs have more flexible routines that can evolve over time or react more effectively to players. We could create more powerful macro-systems that allow an antagonist to relentlessly pursue an end goal, but change tactics based on player choices and actions. Even something as simple as giving characters different animation overlays based on the situation – the shopkeeper is relaxed and casual when addressing a Paladin, but keeps his arms crossed and jaw set when talking to the Thief – would improve all three elements of “story.”
Machine learning is another area that could dramatically improve story in games. There are AI applications in this area, such NPCs developing new behaviors or tactics over time based not just on interactions with one player but with all players. However, more immediately, we should be able to use machine learning to create more interesting assets more efficiently. This could allow us to produce more detailed and immersive worlds for players to explore; or experiment with a wider range of art styles to create more memorable settings. If we truly unleash machine learning for asset creation, we might end up with terrains that are wildly alien, yet still believable because they adhere to an internal logic. It’s conceivable that machine learning could also allow a game to make sweeping changes to environments and characters in very little time, which would in turn allow player choices to impact game worlds in more meaningful ways – transform a desert into a forest with the wave of a wand, or allow the cat people to rebuild a village you’ve already cleared of goblins. One day, machine learning might also make it possible for anyone to play a game in his or her native language without publishers spending huge sums on localization.
Finally, we need to embrace the idea that the players are co-authors of the experience, and innovate on this across all three aspects of “story.” Hundreds of games allow players to be co-authors in the player story by supporting multiple play-styles, branching level design, parametric loot and spawning, an array of weapons, and other features. But, beyond branching dialogue and binary choices at key moments, it is rare that players are actually co-authoring the narrative in any meaningful way; while games that allow players to co-create the world and characters or shape the story-telling techniques are even more elusive. It is my hope is that we one day see games that are essentially story sandboxes where the developers have provided the backbone, rules, and tools (including core gameplay) that players can then explore to craft compelling narratives, all of which are told in ways that are most interesting and engaging to them personally. If we can one day achieve this, then every game story and every player story will be truly unique.
Don't miss Haden's talk in the Design Track on Tuesday 9 July - Everything Tells a Story
Find out more...
Book your conference pass now with a 30% discount - you can save as much as £355!
Offer ends 29 July.Find out more
There really is a huge mix of people at Develop - loads of peers that you can learn from and the perfect blend of every element of game development as well.
Develop is important – the networking is very important. And go to talks they’re inspiring and get your creative juices flowing, they can make you think and you’ll learn how other people do things.
Develop:Brighton is especially unique - it’s by the seaside and there’s a lovely relaxed tone that goes with that.The talks are cool, the networking is cool and having the opportunity to catch up with people – that’s always the excitement for me!
I really like Develop, I really like the intimacy of it and I love the location.. there’s a good diversity of talks going on so there hasn’t been a time when there’s nothing I want to see.
It’s really nice to see some of the younger people in our studio come to Develop, interact with other people in the dev community and make new contacts. I think it’s really important to learn from other people.
Develop is the must-attend event for the games industry in the UK. It’s where we all come together and learn from each other. It’s the best way into the industry and it’s the best place to learn from your colleagues.
Building games is hard and it’s taxing physically, mentally and emotionally. So being around a community that understands that is great – there’s a comraderie here.
Develop always gets put in the diary. There are many reasons to be here, not just the talks, but the networking, people exchanging ideas about where the industry is right now and where it’s going to. It’s pretty essential to be here I think.
Ian Livingstone, CBE
Develop:Brighton’s a great conference. It’s got a spread of people from all parts of the games industry talking about such a wide range of topics.
There’s really something for everyone at Develop and the experience of being around like-minded people is really useful.
There are many ways you can be part of Develop:Brighton 2020 - including speaking in the conference, taking a booth in the Expo or becoming a sponsor.Find out more