Monday, September 5, 2011

Techniques for Telling Nonlinear Stories

At the beginning of October, I'll be participating in a digital narrative workshop for the GRAND NCE called 'Experiencing Stories with/in Digital Games.' The following abstract describes a round table talk I'll be giving as part of the student gathering:
Non-linear fiction ranges from the use of static plots with events presented in a non-chronological way to interactive story worlds where users make choices that affect the outcome of the story. A wide range of media can be used to implement works of non-linear fiction, including novels, film, storytelling engines, and games. In all of these cases, there are multiple techniques available for designing and telling a non-linear story.

We have compiled a taxonomy for these techniques with broad categories for strategies for explaining non-linearity, structuring stories as graphs, relying on emergent behaviour, creating character driven plots, and designing data-driven interactive worlds. Each of these categories breaks down further with classic examples from all types of media and with approaches reported on in academic literature. For instance, a strategy to explain a story’s non-linearity is to attribute it to time travel (The Legend of Zelda: Orcarina of Time) or to a hallucinating or brain-damaged character (Memento). Many examples use a simple branching structure to change the story based on player choices (Choose Your Own Adventure) while others rely on game data to adjust how other characters in the story react to you (Fallout 3).

In this talk, we will present our taxonomy and frame it in the context of story in games. We will discuss what techniques have been used in existing games, and which have not yet been employed. We will consider why games have not used certain techniques, and use this to suggest how they might do so in the future.
I'm currently hammering out a potential thesis research plan for myself, and this work will contribute toward that.  I'm really enjoying this whole narrative thread I've embarked on this past summer.


Eugenia said...

This sounds awesome! Can't wait to hear more about your research in this area.

Gail Carmichael said...

Thanks! I'm excited to finally nail down what my thesis will be, and I've been finding this stuff is particularly interesting. Any idea what you'll be doing for you PhD? (In general obviously - I know you haven't even started!)

Haz said...

Hrmz...sounds like we may have some overlap in research here ;). Can you elaborate on what you mean by 'taxonomy'? How are you representing a non-linear story-line?

Gail Carmichael said...

Really? That would be so cool! Really, for this talk, I'm just categorizing different strategies for making nonlinear stories, not all of which are technical - nothing complicated.

But one thread you may be interested in that I have been thinking about is the notion of using inference engines to connect simple story pieces together for educational purposes. So players would be able to control which pieces they want to learn more about, then see the connections between them. I think this would work well for history, and probably other subjects as well.

Haz said...

Definitely some potential for overlap then. This was recorded, but unfortunately the company doing the recordings buggered up and lost the vid:

This is a paper we both should read before meeting to discuss further ;)

Gail Carmichael said...

Excellent - I will definitely look at these. I'll email you when I'm done. I am unlikely to do new new AI stuff for my thesis, but wouldn't mind using already-made stuff for certain contexts. Will explain more later.

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