SxSW: Will Wright Keynote

by Luke Wroblewski March 13, 2007

Sims creator Will Wright spoke about the structure and opportunities of storytelling as it relates to his new game Spore at South by Southwest 2007.

  • Nature of story: following one causal chain and presenting that to an audience. Stories are series of interconnecting causal chains arranged in different ways. Manipulating casual chains sets up different story structures.
  • Games have traditionally been developed as branching trees that utilze equations to determine possibilities.
  • Linear storytelling is more compelling due to nature of story arcs. Drama can be built over time. Dramatic amplification in linear stories allows small events to lead to big outcomes.
  • Language, Imagination, Empathy = Story
  • Film: rich emotional palette (joy, sorrow). Truman Show & Groundhog Day are the two movies most relevant to games.
  • Games: basic instincts (pride, accomplishment, guilt, expression)
  • Game use agency vs. Film use empathy (can I do it vs. what will happen)
  • We are stuck in a timestream. But stories transfer experiences through time and space. They displace experiences. Through shared experiences we build abstractions to shape our future.
  • As you think forward into a story, the realm of possibility is wider. You begin filling in adjacent possibility space with your mind: imagining branches of possibilities.
  • Biggest obstacle of interactive story telling is we don’t know the outcome. Linear story telling directors know the possible outcomes.
  • Game models: branching models (pick your own adventure), gated (levels, loops), generated (fragment of story with trigger conditions and results)
  • Media is something today’s generation molds. The computer is a now a communication device. Player use games to tell stories: unintentional subversive, expressive.
  • Unintentional: Players come across bugs and create back stories about why they occurred.
  • Subversive: try to push envelope of the game.
  • Expressive: parallel simulations get translated to linear narratives.
  • Story listening: can we teach the computer to listen to user stories?
  • If we understand intended end states, we can introduce obstacles to increase dramatic effect.
  • Time spent consuming linear entertainment is pretty much flat across age gaps. But interactive entertainment is still skewed to younger audience.
  • Games are evolving more toward hobbies. Like tools of self-expression.
  • Fulfilling aspirations of design through tools. Players love making content in games, sharing and collecting, and organizing.
  • Quality vs. Quantity. Most of the content created is crappy. As we create better tools, will increase the value of the output of those tools.
  • Players build models of games in their heads, but now computers can build models to understand users and build games that adapt to their behavior.
  • Give players tools to be George Lucas not Luke Skywalker.
  • Spore demo: wow.