First of all, this topic ultimately ties into my blog entry about new concepts for video game systems, but unlike the concept mentioned in the other article, this here actually would be achievable, if someone did put the necessary effort into development. This is about procedural story-telling.
Unlike (unfortunately) a lot of gamers, i don´t like the emphasis on story that many nowadays games follow. Some more, some less, but when i read how gamers list story as an equal category to something like gameplay, i feel a little sad inside. BUT: It´s not really game stories that i dislike, it´s the way how they´re handled. You know, always following a tight script, basically playing a movie. Games that i like are no exception, even if you take a low-story game like Zelda, in the end you run from cutscene to cutscene. Shigeru Miyamoto once said in an interview that he doesn´t want to make games where cutscenes are used as a prize for getting so far, but that the active gaming experience itself is the prize. His games certainly feature that philosophy, just look at Mario64 or Mario Galaxy, playing was what brought fun, not reaching some cutscenes. In my opinion, it´s these premade cutscenes that ruin an active gaming experience. That is why i want to talk about something i made up myself, at least i never heard that term before:
So what is that acutally? For me, i first heard the term “procedural” in context with Spore. Will Wright talked about how every creature that the player creates will adapt a natural, realistic kind of physical movement. He called the “Procedural Physics” or “Procedural Animations”. Procedural simply meant that whatever the player does, the game reacts accordingly. In Spore that was limited to the creature editor.
Now simply replace physics/animations with story, and most of you will already have got what i´m talking about. Simpley put, procedural story-telling is an organic story, a story that is not set in stone. Depending on what i do, the future story will change, reacting accordingly to my ingame-actions.
There already are games that do a little of that, for example Mass Effect. Though here, the pool of options is very limited. It´s still a preset story, just branched off into multiple alternatives. What i´d like to have is that those branches try to go towards infinity. Just whatever i do will have a smaller or bigger effect to the overall story. I know that this would be very ambitious and i´ll say it here that i would be content with at least more games trying to create multiple branches. For example, make the next Zelda so that you can do any dungeon in whatever order you like, but depending on the chosen order, the story will differ.
Procedural Story-Telling is the story-telling of the world of games. It takes the story-element and puts interactivity into it. That´s why i love the pure thought of it so much. People often say how games are just a combination of older entertainment media, but reality is that we simply haven´t done everything we can to put the one single most important part of games, interaction, into every part of a game. We have interactive gameplay, interactive visuals and interactive music. Now we´re ready for interactive stories. Well…i am.