Warren Spector tells us some game stories

Kyle Orland
K. Orland|03.08.07

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Warren Spector tells us some game stories

Three years ago, Deus Ex creator Warren Spector spoke about the sad state of narrative in the then-current crop of games and challenged the industry to makes some changes. Three years later, Spector today told a packed GDC auditorium that they had made some progress, but there was still a lot of work to be done.

Spector broke game narratives down into a few basic forms. There's:
  • The rollercoaster: An exciting story that gives the illusion of a lot of exciting twists and turns, but inevitably ends up going in more or less a straight line. Spector said the influence of this type of game story is weakening, but it will never go away completely.
  • The "Will Wright": Like archetypal games SimCity and The Sims, these games build stories with the player's input rather than overpowering them with a narrative decreed from above. These games are built on the idea that players can share better stories with each other than the ones told to them by developers.
  • Procedurally generated stories – Games like Facade that can alter the story on the fly without following pre-defined paths. These games offer a "terrifying amount of freedom," and provide a great way to "explore the innerspace of personal relationships as much as the outerspace of the game world," as Spector put it.
While game stories have made progress on issues like structure and character graphics, Spector said stiff character interaction and animation remained the biggest obstacle to creating engaging stories in games. He also chastised the industry for not offering enough ways to interact with a game story without killing things. "I want the opportunity to play a game and not play the part of Vin Diesel," he said. Spector also encouraged developers to build fully explorable worlds, not simple, flimsy movie sets that are "just an excuse to shoot stuff."

Fixing these problems is going to take some major time and effort, Spector said, as well as a willingness by developers to fund something other than better graphics. It also take a fundamental change of perspective for many game writers. "Get over yourself," Spector told the audience. "Your story isn't that interesting. Trust the players a little bit ... let them off rails. ... This is as much a design issue as a technology issue at this point."
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