Archive for December 4, 2010

Narritivium

The worlds in RPGM are randomly generated – random geography, random people, random histories. Yet we want players to have fun playing adventures in them. The natural line of thought would be to also randomly generate the stories for these adventures. This is easily said, but if you’re a game developer or academic involved with AI, this should raise several red flags.

The current state of the art for┬árandom story generation is not glorious. In the academic world, the main focus these days is on story telling, guiding players through game content in an interactive way that keeps the game fun. While ofcourse very interesting, that’s not what we’re talking about here. The few bits of actual random story generation research out there deliver results that read like it was written by a four year old. With ADHD. This did not seem like a good direction for RPGM.

So instead of randomly generated stories, we’ve chosen a different approach: We apply prewritten stories to a generated world. We swap out the main characters for those that exist in the world and make them play out the scenario. While trying to describe this system to others, it hit me: We’ve introduced Narritivium. Narritivium is a concept thought up by Terry Pratchet for the fantasy world of Discworld. It is that which compels stories to happen. Narritivium is what makes the damsel in distress wait in her tower for the eligible bachelor hero, instead of, say, hitting the guard with a frying pan at two in the morning and making a run for it. It is the stories wanting to happen.

In our worlds, we’re making stories happen according to predetermined scripts – the actors change, the settings change, but the stories remain the same. It is how we can fit human-written narative in an otherwise completely randomly generated world.

Now, ofcourse all of this is a gross oversimplification of our actual system – it’s actually growing into an immensely complex beast of a system. But we’ve had our first randomly generated story to go help a farmer in the tavern, and it works!

To quote ‘The science of Discworld, part II’:
“If you understand the power of story, and learn to detect abuses of it, you might actually deserve the appellation Homo sapiens.” I wonder if it also counts when you’re the one doing the abusing yourself?