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I'm developing a game at the moment and I had an idea where the game's story line would randomly generate as the player progressed and their actions would affect the story.

Would this be a bad idea in terms of gameplay or would a storyline that has multiple endings be the best idea?

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Do you mean some kind of karma system; if you kill lots of people, the storyline will turn more into you evading the law..whereas if you're a good guy, you'll try and bring justice to the world? –  The Communist Duck Apr 30 '11 at 14:55
    
@the-communist-duck That would be a slight aspect but I mean the ENTIRE Storyline is procedurally generated. The only thing that will be the same is the start but as the play progresses, the story will change and new aspects will come into action e.g. the dilemma for one game is different to another. –  Ginger Bill Apr 30 '11 at 14:59
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@Ginger Bill to tag with multiple words, just type them as they show. I didn't get notified ;-). And I see what you mean. The only issue you are probably going to get is creating a good storyline, procedurally. –  The Communist Duck Apr 30 '11 at 15:22
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@Ginger Bill - Maintain some control, or the consequences of the player's actions might lead to that edge case where all the factions kill each other. Whilst I'm sure the playerbase will find that hilarious if it's just an edge case, it'll stop being funny if that sort of thing happens regularly. If you do make a procedurally generated storyline, it must be simple enough you can understand what could be going on at any time. Having a mostly-fixed storyline makes that really, really easy, especially when games like Dragon Age have only some isolated consequences. –  doppelgreener Apr 30 '11 at 16:34
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@Ginger Bill: Remember, gameplay is not always related to story. In fact, I'd tend to assert that a good story is secondary to good gameplay for most folks. So, if possible, there shouldn't be any harm in taking risks with a randomly-generated story provided it sort of hangs together and is backed by fun gameplay. What sort of game are you making? –  ChrisE May 4 '11 at 15:38

4 Answers 4

A hand written storyline is going to be much, MUCH better for the end player. A good writer who can write a storyline well will manage to convey the storyline across much better than a computer will.

A procedurally done storyline would also take a LOT of implementation. Even then, it's going to have to rely on some kind of random choices from data - it can't just make up the entire storyline.

Some games have incredibly immerseful storylines (Fallout 3, Amnesia), and they're hand written. Fallout's is slightly different, in terms that it has the karma system I mentioned..as such, the people will react differently to you (and you get different storyline options for the finale).

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If you can find a copy I might recommend looking for the DnD book "Guide to Villains." To this day I wish I hadn't lost that.

The reason I bring it up is because they discuss a very interesting approach to doing a semi-random story that responds to the player's actions, called a "power matrix." In essence the story space is designed ahead of time with a bunch of characters, their relationships, and story pieces (ie. event X happens) but the specific order those events happen or even which events happen reacts to what the player's choose to do.

At the most basic level the story depends on the very first choice the players make: who they talk to when they first arrive. As soon as you talk to someone, their relationships to all the other characters determines which characters ultimately take on which roles within the story.

I've always wanted to experiment with a power matrix in a computerized game, and hopefully someday I'll have the time for such a project.

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This idea maybe what I am looking, thanks. However, I might have to string elements of everything together to achieve the "perfect" product. The idea of a power matrix is new to me and I might try experimenting with this first. –  Ginger Bill Apr 30 '11 at 21:33
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This reminds me of Skyrims 'radiant story system': A radiant quest specifies the difficulty (e.g. what level and how much enemies) and some goals and required assets (e.g. a boss enemy, a trinket you have to recover) and the game picks one of the locations and populates it with enemies and assets. Also, there are quests for which the npc who gives them to you is randomly determined. creationkit.com/Radiant_Story –  sarahm Dec 14 '12 at 22:14
    
wow that 'radiant story system' described there does sound a lot like a power matrix –  jhocking Feb 16 at 17:15

This is a non-trivial problem. I spent a fair amount of time delving into it last year.

You will want to look into the implementation of the first ever dynamic storyteller program, TaleSpin. This was written in 1976 and still things have not progressed much further in terms of dynamic story generation. TaleSpin will give you an idea of the basic elements you would need to model. See this and this.

Ultimately, a dynamic story will hinge off agents' motivations and goals (and further, one might specify how a particular agent might go about achieving its goals). It will also work off their knowledge of the world and how that knowledge enables them to come up with solutions to meet goals in their goal stack. (Depending on how you model the problem space, and I don't doubt there are many ways, graph theory and discrete mathematics in general may come in very handy here).

Since real-life motivations/goals are often quite complex, you would need to look into how much realism you would want.

Essentially, if you want anything more than a very (and I do mean very) simple story generator, you have a good deal of work ahead of you. Beyond that, even, there lie issues of balancing that others have noted. Caveat emptor -- This problem is a hotbed of hidden complexity.

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Also see this (I am limited in the number of links I can post): ijcai.org/Past%20Proceedings/IJCAI-81-VOL%201/PDF/004.pdf –  Nick Wiggill Apr 30 '11 at 17:35
    
For more information about how long people have been working on this problem, take a look at Chris Crawford's essays at erasmatazz.com –  jhocking May 1 '11 at 0:50
    
+1: Thanks for the interesting links! –  ChrisE May 4 '11 at 15:36

This is a very good idea, but one which requires too much research and development for an independent commercial software developer. I have been slowly working towards this lofty goal with the research and development of open source middleware for multimedia authoring and videogame creation for the past 20 years and am not even close to releasing product.

You see, I am increasingly nauseated by the current trend towards Cinematic Videogames.

It is a phrase that I regard as something of an oxymoron.

Developers could remedy this by realising that narrative is merely a symptom of an underlying theme. If it is the intention of the artist to convey this theme, then what does it matter to hold to a particular pre-scripted narrative?

Games are systems of rules within which interesting behaviour may emerge, often with some aspect of challenge, or competition for the player to measure their performance against. The designers of Chess and Football didn't need to fret about "Story", but despite this stories still emerged from interesting games:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Chess_Championship_1972

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maradona#1986_World_Cup

However, there are a great many more matches that were dull. Being a passive spectator does not really help with engagement, yet the ideal would be to 'rig' the match so that the opponent either made deliberate mistakes, or suddenly got a whole lot better (e.g. equalising just before half-time).

Once the game's rules have been modified to make it seek entertaining levels of drama rather than boring old fairness the player's psychology can be probed by offering them a choice of actions (NPC proposed procedurally-generated missions), the successful completion of which would gain you "Kudos" for your competent role play and unlock more challenging and subtle missions as the game's personality model of the player's "alter-ego" was further refined.

This would allow games to get away from the thinly disguised corridor along which revelatory narrative scenes are encountered in the correct sequence. A game may seem to then be an Open World, but on extended interaction the player would find their choices constrained by their past actions and probably be oblivious to the subtle interventions of the game shaping the set of available choices (and their consequences), throughout in order to reinforce the underlying theme - forcing irreversible character developments, then stage-managing a cathartic climax.

Players would assume roles and try to play that part as best as they could being rewarded with Kudos for remaining "in character". Counter-intuitively, this would herald a break from players avoiding character death as this would no longer mean GAME OVER.

Indeed, heroic sacrifice, or a villain getting his comeuppance, could both be terminal for the player's character, but pay a handsome reward in terms of Kudos. The player would continue with the game, selecting from a choice of new, equivalently experienced, characters - adding equipment in keeping to the new role they were adopting from a cash sum each character had been allotted. As a result, play would have a different, dramatic, motivation rather than mere, hackneyed, survival and because the story was built in response to player psychology they would more likely be drawn in to its emergent story.

So, in summary:

Randomly generate? No.

Procedurally-generate in harmony with player psychology and a coherent theme? Yes.

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-1: Extraneous information for first half of answer not helpful to questioner. Second half of answer contains mostly speculation, while at the same time failing to clearly state the exact system used for promoting "drama". –  ChrisE May 4 '11 at 15:34
    
@ChrisE Your criticism would carry more weight if you had shown the courage to advantage any constructive suggestions of your own. It is obvious to me that you just enjoy sniping from the sidelines. –  Uncompetative May 8 '11 at 13:24
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If you could provide information about how you quantify drama, elaborate on the concept of "Kudos", and otherwise explain better your idea of how to engage the player psychology, I would be more than happy to change my downvote to an upvote. Right now, unfortunately, your answer strikes me as buzzwordy and somewhat fluffy. –  ChrisE May 9 '11 at 21:55

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