I recently said something in class about how narrative- or story-based video games haven’t developed much beyond branching events, and a someone mentioned open world games like Grand Theft Auto were very sophisticated story-driven games. Players could follow the main story-arc and finish the game, or they could focus on side-missions or no missions at all, if they want to.
I couldn’t express the missing potential of story-driven games at the time, but I’ll try now. Basically, interactive stories are still following the storytelling conventions of older media like movies and books. As they evolve, however, the old distinctions between “player,” “author,” and “character” will blur. The player of a game will not just take the role of a character in a predetermined story, but will increasingly be the author or creator of their own story.
For example, if we were to create a game based on a well-known story like Harry Potter, or Lord or the Rings, there are a few possible approaches:
Enable players to play the role of an established character (like Harry Potter or Gandalf) who goes through a story described in the books, or through a similar adventure within the narrative structure established by the books.
Enable players to create their own characters and go through a series of adventures within the established bounds of the books. This might be a sequel or a set of re-worked plots the player can choose from.
Enable players to control an established character or create their own characters and take them on an adventure that goes beyond a preconceived plot unanticipated by the game designers or authors of the original books.
This last item is what I mean by the potential of interactive stories. In a truly interactive game within an “open-world” setting, you might control Harry Potter to drop out of Hogwarts and become a master criminal. Or Hermione might become the first Wizard Queen of England. In a truly open-world framework, narrative choices can be mixed-and-matched the way physical objects in Minecraft can be combined.
Researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) think so and were so impressed with their first crowdsourced flaw-detecting games, they announced an new round of five games this week designed for improved playability as well as increased software verification effectiveness. DARPA began the program known as Crowd Sourced Formal Verification (CSFV) in December 2013 and opened the Verigames web portal (http://www.verigames.com/home), which offered five free online formal verification games.
Design fictions draw on a long tradition of technological storytelling. Every technology starts with a story. We don’t know how the first hominids who fashioned a hand-axe from a flint shaped their thoughts, but the very action of flint-knapping implies a plan for the future: the result will be better, in some way, than the flints already to hand. So it is with all technologies. ‘A tool always implies at least one small story,’ writes the historian of technology David Nye in Technology Matters (2006). It begins in the imagination, and that imagining extends to what the tools will help us to achieve.
Today, Epic Games faces more competition than ever, both as a developer and an engine maker. To retain its dominant spot in the industry, one established over the past two decades, the company is making aggressive moves to attract new designers to the engine.
“Everything we’re doing now is about iteration,” says Sweeney. “We’re developing the engine live. We’re doing both incremental improvement and major new systems and features, all simultaneously. This is it. This is what we’re going to be doing for the next decade. If over the course of this constant stream of new things we’re developing, if at some point we call it Unreal Engine 5, that will be a version number rather than some top secret project that eventually sees the light of day.”