Detracting from storytelling and Guitar Hero

January 15, 2013 at 4:27 pm Leave a comment

Extra details detract

I read two very interesting blog posts over Christmas (well more than that, but I’m going to mention two here) related to storytelling.  The first was on the Quest site (Thoughts on Interactive Storytelling and the Hobbit).  The Hobbit part really interested me.  If you’re not interested in reading the post, the writer talks about how the Hobbit has been produced in ultramegasuper spec (admire my technical filmmaking knowledge!), which is just fine and dandy except for the fact that it actually detracts from the film.  There’s no need for it – it doesn’t add anything to the story or the characters.  In fact this new form takes enough extra brain power to process the ultramegasuper realism that actually we have less left for the story.

A classic phrase any writer will probably be familiar with is “murder your darlings” (I’m not sure where it is from – feel free to let me know in the comments if you know).  It signifies the process writers (and presumably other artists/creators) have to go through to get to what the essence of the story is. You often need to cut a lot before every single word of your story has a purpose.  It’s why I fail to understand sometimes how “We need to talk about Kevin”  is so critically acclaimed – it’s a real “why use one word when three will do” kind of book.

Back to the point – anything that doesn’t guide your reader through the purpose of your story detracts from it.  So how does that relate to interactive stories where you have multiple routes through?  I would argue that each route should still have a purpose, but I have been finding it tricky to decide what to cut and what to keep in.  I could easily provide an avenue for every single decision in the story, but not only would that make the story cumbersome to go through, I think, like the fancy filming, using too much brain power on unnecesary bits that will ultimately have to lead to dead ends could easily detract from the point of the story as a whole.

Pictures are another related issue.  If pictures are abstract (there just for something to be looking at) rather than illustrative will they detract from the story?  I would argue probably yes.  But would the gamebook format look bare without them?  Probably also yes.  The easy answer would be to make sure all of the pictures are illustrative so that they add meaning and understanding to the story, but the scenario I’m working on at the moment is talking about potential future processes and systems…I will need to do much more thinking about it before I can come up with pictures that can illustrate that…

A Musical Analogy

The second was on the inklewriter site (A Musical Analogy) was linked to the idea of how to structure an interactive story.  Inkle has been exploring some quite adventurous means of storytelling.  One of their projects “First draft of the revolution” where you get to re-write the character’s personal correspondence to each other to change the outcome of the story.  I had a go and I can see why they’ve had some comments that it feels quite constrictive – it doesn’t feel like you can change things very much.

The Musical Analogy blog post likens interactive storytelling to Guitar Hero to explain this.  Guitar Hero doesn’t give you limitless possibility to create fantastic music, you play along with the songs it has.  Similarly interactive stories aren’t providing the reader a way of creating fantastic new stories, just a way to play along.  I think where the problem comes is managing the expectations of the reader.  In First Draft it feels like you should have total free reign so when it pushes you down certain paths you can get irked.  Whereas the majority of the adventure games I’ve played have only got one ending and yet you don’t feel like you’re been shoved in that direction all the time.  You’re following and picking up the pieces of the narrative so even if you do things in a slightly different order or in a slightly different way from another player you still feel like you’re a part of the story.

In that way it’s kind of a matter of perspective.  Is your reader a part of your story or are they the narrator?  If they are a part of it they follow a character, see their options and direct them, and as  the storyteller you can tell them what their options are and guide them down the route of the story without making it look like you’re forcing one route.  If they are the narrator then they feel like they should have control over everything, so when they can’t do what they want it jars them out of the emersion.  I guess in theory this could restrict your reader to one point of view, but as long it is clear when you switch POV and that the reader switches completely to become that POV I think it could still be done.  Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is a good example of a point and click adventure with multiple POVs that works well.  Each time you switch your motivations, abilities and options completely change so you’re completely invested in that character until the next switch.

Definitely going to have to be clear in the scenarios what point of view I’m in at any one time and not be too generic.

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Entry filed under: Digital storytelling, Interactive stories.

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