The thirty-first Ludum Dare game competition is going on this weekend. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the competition check out this video.
The theme of this competition is Entire Game on One Screen. I don’t know what a majority of the entries will be but it got me thinking about interactive storytelling and Teen Talk, my iOS port of Chris’ Gossip remake.
The goal is to become the most popular person by calling other people over the telephone and gossiping about the other people in your group. You can tell the truth or lie but since other people in the group can talk among themselves, you’ll never know if you’ll be caught. The web of arrows in the center give you an at-a-glance idea what each character’s like/dislike is for the other characters (red = like, blue = dislike) but even that is suspect depending on the level of difficulty. The up and down arrows allow you to tailor your responses.
I have to admit that’s Teen Talk is more of an experiment than a game. After you play it once it’s not very interesting but I think it’s characters-on-a-stage mechanic will be central to interactive storytelling.
At its heart, interactive storytelling will put people first. Yes, there will be props and locales to add color to the storyworld but characters will be front and center. And when you put characters together on a single stage they talk and they gesture, they posture and they pose. I recently went to see Hedda Gabler at the Gamm Theatre and it was intimate and totally engaging, human drama stripped to its basics.
When characters get together in an interactive storyworld it will be much like a crowded party in a small apartment. People will come and go. You’ll be able to see at a glance who’s around you and from your past histories and present conversations you’ll be able to figure out who hates who and who’s sleeping with whom. The social dynamics will shift and the drama will ebb and flow according to the storyteller’s dramatic intent.
If it was just my opinion I would be sceptical but Alex Vostrov, a game designer whom I know from my Storytron 1.0 days, emailed me a couple of days ago about Rumours, an experiment of his that was inspired by Chris’ Gossip remake.
Alex’s experiment “focuses on exploring the tension between status and friendship.” You’re in a kung fu tournament with eight other contestants and you’re trying to find two partners for your team. You want to find the best possible partners but you don’t know anyone and they don’t know you. The core activity is talking to other characters and exchanging information about what other people did (similar to Teen Talk).
Alex was kind enough to send me a copy of his prototype and a writeup about its creation (when he posts his work to his site I’ll link to it here). I’ve only played it once but the similarities are encouraging.
As interactive storytelling matures I don’t know what final components will make up the complete experience but I have a feeling that the mechanics implemented in Teen Talk and Rumours will play a big part.