Storytelling in Computer Games: Panelists; Audience Q and A
Listen along in .mp3 (12 MB)
|"I dont like the player-killer servers, where the desire is to go out and kill the other players. Thats not for me. I dont like that. Id like to see less of it myself. I think a world that works together and teams together against a common evil is going to be a far better world than one where youre going head to head." -- Scott Adams on violence in computer games.|
|Jerz:||(To co-panelists) Amanda, or Jake, and
also David Shih. David
Shih is a colleague of mine in the English department. And he
has boxes and boxes of Scott Adams games in his parents' house back
in Texas. And when we were talking about this, he thought he would
just love to come by. Thanks for coming.
I've spoken with all three of our sort of [co]-panelists here. Dave, come on over here. Pull up a chair.
Go ahead; go to it. Ask some questions or give your feedback. Scott has been very generous with our time... with his time.
|Co-panelist David Shih arrives.|
|Audience:||(To panel) If you guys have something you want to say or if you want to take some questions but... (to Scott) How much have you felt story-telling has improved in video games over time?|
|Adams:||Okay, that's a
real good question. There have been a lot of different games
out there. Of recent note probably one game sticks in my mind more
than anything else, two games actually, as fantastic storytelling
opportunities that they took advantage of.
One of them, the first one, was "Half-Life." Anyone hear of that? Ok. Anyone here play it? Hands, hands. Ok, a number of you.
Current games driven by stories
|Basically what Half-Life is, is
a science fiction first-person
shooter. You're plunked down in this world with literally nothing,
and you're thrown into a world where a disaster happened of an extra
terrestrial nature and you're going to save the world, literally.
The thing is, the writers did a very good job. They suck you into
the story. You, after a while, feel like you are the player[-character].
There was something awesome about walking down this darkened corridor,
seeing this monster coming -- no, I'm sorry, walking down this brightly
lit corridor, just having accomplished this great task, and
I'm walking back and all of a sudden, one by one, the lights start
going out. And the next thing I knew is I hear a roar down at the
end of the corridor. I was like this in front of the computer, OHH!!
The artist who wrote that sucked me into his world. He was telling me a story and I was living it. That was excellent.
Another game that recently came out that also did the same thing was "Deus Ex". Yes, it's from the old Greek [actually, Latin --DGJ] "deus ex machina," which meant basically "from God", but it meant the hook that would come in and rescue the protagonist when they're put into a situation that they couldn't get out of...
|Jerz:||God from the machine, deus ex machina.|
|Adams:||A lot of people will pronounce it "deuce
ex," but the game itself was unique and one of the first to
do it and you'll see a lot of them coming out that are going to
imitate it. You're put into the same type of thing, first-person
shooter -- except it's not. You can go in and solve any one of the
problems. You can be the guy with guns blazing, blowing out the
marines at the front door, or you can decide you want to play this
as a computer hacker, come around the back, hack the computer, and
have their weapons that are there to protect them turn and shoot
them. You can decide that you want to play it as a thief and sneak
through the tunnels and through the air-conditioning ducts. You
play the game not exactly the way you want to, because
there are constraints, but your freedom to play the game is greatly
This was tremendously difficult for the game developers. Not only did they have to provide all the different routes in, they had to make sure that every person that was playing the game and wanted to choose a particular route would have that available to them. Also, as you played the game, the character you were playing would grow, and you'd come to choices. He was like The Bionic Man, he came to section where he could get implants. But depending on which implant you pick now, that would mean later you can't pick a different implant, so a lot of choices were made, a lot of branches. But the whole thing has to come to a conclusion at the very end, and that was kind of hard to do. I see a head nodding, did you like that one?
|Audience:||I love that game. The four different endings I thought were amazing.|
|Adams:||Exactly. Not one ending, four endings
that you could choose from.
This is one future of interactive fiction or interactive game playing. The other one is, as he was mentioning, is the massive-multiplayer online role playing games. I recently got sucked into, it was about three weeks, I haven't been playing it long, EverQuest. If you've never tried a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game, that is something worth trying.
Scott Adams on EverQuest.
|Right now, it used to cost $50 for the
game and $10 a month to play, right now they brought back the classic
version. It costs $10 to buy the game, they give you the first
month for free, and you can cancel it at any time. So basically,
you can try the game for $10 for a month.
Its extremely addicting because its not only do you go in and youre fighting the monsters. Thats fun. Everybody wants to fight monsters, sure. What youre doing is youre building a character. You basically come into the world in a loin cloth or a bikini, depending on the sex or gender youre playing, and a couple of cents in your pocket and a wooden club and you go from there. Youre not just fighting the NPCs, which are non-player characters. Its the PCs in there.
At any given time when I log on to the EverQuest world there are literally 50 to 100,000 people playing at the same time. Now were not all playing in the same world, they are divided up into multiple servers. The world that Im playing in usually has about 2000 people online at the same time.
So you have all these people playing together. Were not only relating to the monsters, were relating to each other and that is the fascinating part.
Heres an example. First day Im playing this character, I get into the world and there I am in my loin cloth and my wooden club and I said, 'Im going to role play.' You can role-play or you can be an avatar. Role-playing means that I am a creature that really lives in this world. Im acting
|Somebody comes up to me and says, 'Hey
man, what level are you?' And I say, "Excuse me young sir,
I am a new apprentice and do not know what this level is that thou
"I said what level are you!!!"
"Please do not shout at me I am just a lowly apprentice and do not understand this strange talk."
Jumping up and down, "What level are you!!!"
By this time he has attracted a crowd around us, I dont know why. So we have other players standing around looking at this guy jumping up and down, yelling at me, "He wont tell me what level he is!!"
(Sniveling voice) "I am a lowly apprentice. Please sir, dont hurt me."
A woman walks up dressed in big flowing robes and a crown on her head and a scepter in her hand. Obviously not a new player. And she starts talking to me and she says, Is there a problem here?
And I said, O noble lady, please I am but an apprentice and do not understand the strange ways of this land.
We start talking back and forth, meanwhile this guy is over in the cornerWhat level are you!!
One-track mind, OK.
Talking to the nice lady, every thing going well, every once in a while she would turn and say, Shut up!
Still no good, hes still bouncing up and down.
She turns and she gives me 10 pieces of platinum. A platinum is approximately a thousand dollars in this game world. I have the equivalent of fifty cents in my pocket, starting as a game player. She suddenly gives me ten thousand dollars. This is a tremendous boost.
By the way, when you go into this game, it doesnt matter who you are, rich, poor, whatever. Everybody starts the game at the same level, starts with the same things. Everything you want, you have to get for yourself or have somebody give to you as you build up your character. Socialization is very important in this game. It is amazing.
So she gives me the 10 pieces of platinum and I turn to the other guy and hes looking at me... (Crying sound.) She just gave me a small fortune and hes going, What level are you?
So I decide to take pity on him and I go OOC mode, out of character mode. It means that anything I say, Im deliberately not role playing, Im talking person-to-person, and I say to him: Im role playing, Im not really mad at you, Im not upset -- Im just simply role-playing a character."
And he types back, Whats role playing?
|Audience:||(Gasping and murmuring.)|
|Adams:||Very serious. So I proceed to explain
to him and all of the sudden on his avatar was like DING.
A light bulb goes on over his head -- and hes role-playing
He gets into it a little slowly but he falls into it and we play that night. I played with him. So I was having fun. We went out and killed monsters and looted their corpses. And he was a level 7! Ooh! I was a level 1. So he could go after monsters I didnt dare attack. And he got some loot that there was no way I could get. And he gave 90% of it to me. He was really generous and friendly.
At the end of the day I said to him This is really nice. You were a tremendous friend to me. I kept calling him Young Sir. You were a tremendous friend to me, Young Sir. I shall always remember you when I become a famous fighter. And I had a plan to become a tailor. I know, sounds funny, but hey, it pays well -- let me tell you.
And I said, Maybe someday Ill be able to help you out. And he says, Ha ha ha, Im a level 7. Youre a 1. Youll never be able to do anything for me. Never mind, just forget it.
Yesterday, or just last week, I was playing and I ran across him again. Im a level 12 now, hes a level 7 still. I was able to help him tremendously and I told him it was because of the nice things he did for me while I was first playing.
The key to this whole thing is, though: Im getting sucked into this world these designers created, and Im creating the story as I go along. And there are a thousand other people doing the same thing at the same time. Weve got guilds; weve got groups that play together. It is utterly amazing, what is happening.
The graphics are still relatively primitive compared to going to see a movie or something like that. But the interaction between people is what makes the game a lot of fun. And there are those people who get in that simply go in, kill the monster, get what you can and get out. Thats fine. You can play it that way. They dont know what role-playing is. For those who jump into the world and wrap themselves in it and want to become an actor, its fascinating.
Now... you had a question.
|Audience Member:||Yes, I played Ultima Online, which was another online role-playing game. I played that back in school and I thought it was interesting how we would travel different worlds that you could play on all basically the same map, but eventually the game got so popular that you could build houses. All the land where the people would run around and kill deer and do stuff like that it was all being overrun by houses||
Overdevelopment in Ultima Online
|Adams:||It was all being built up.|
|Audience:||Yeah, actually you had people like lobbying for conservation and it was kind of funny.|
|Adams:||Could you imagine this in a role playing
game? The Green Party! Yeah!!
Yeah, absolutely and these types of things happen. And youll get another group that comes in. Theres a very popular thing, in Ultima Online originally, and it still is, players, meaning humans on the game, could kill each other. Normally, youre playing on the game and you walk up and you want to kill someone, you cant. You fight. Fight it out till the death. Alright. EverQuest came along and they thought, this is driving a lot of people away. They dont like the inter-player conflict so were going to make it optional. In EverQuest you can be a player killer, or not be a player killer. And if youre choosing not to be a player killer the other players, in general, cant hurt you. But they may not help you either. In general the majority of the players are not player killers in most of EverQuest. But there are a couple of servers where anybody logging on to that server is in a player killer world, and theres no choice. So they have it both ways for the people that want to play it.
|Jerz:||Jake, really quick, you have experience in the industry, the stuff that weve been talking about, graphics versus story-telling; whats your experience of that from your side?|
|Jake Okun||Im more the
opposite of you guys.
I designed games and stuff that were, lacked form and lacked substance in a sense where the player is seeking immediate gratification. Im talking about first person shooters and stuff. And the 3D graphics.
When you essentially, again, Ultima Online and stuff, those games lack a form of story line. In that sense, consumers can replay the game. A game like Quake 2, those games are still really popular, because theres no story line and its constantly...
Jake Okun explains why story is uneconomical
|Okun:||dynamic. Its replayable. You dont play through the story line once because there is no story line.|
|Adams:||Like Deus Ex or Half-Life. Good example, you play through Half-Life and youre not going to play it again. Youve already played through Half-Life.|
|Jerz||Story takes a lot of resources. When you run out of story, youre done with the game.|
|Adams:||Plus you can only put so much story in there. And if youre story driven youve got a one-shot game, so its hard -- how do you make it? Now Deus Ex sort of changed that, because then you can replay it being a different type of character. But still theres only one type of story in there.|
|Okun:||And even most single player games out there now, youre talking about a max playtime of 48 hours, and to invest that much time and resources in developing story lines just is not practical these days.|
|Adams:||Now there are some that are different.
A good example would be Baldur's
Gate 2, which recently came out. Its a fantasy role-playing
game, something like Ultima Online, but single player. You go in
and you control up to 6 characters and you have a story through
They literally have close to two or three hundred hours of game play in there and whats happened is some people say thats too much. That they get tired of it, doing the same thing over and over. So sometimes theres got to be a balance between the two to. 48 hours is an average. There are some games that are even shorter. 20 hours and somebody says, Hey, I paid 50 bucks for this game, and I only played it for 20 hours, and I wore it out."
|Jerz:||Amanda, you are writing a game for my class; tell us a little bit about your experiences, learning what gives... what you have to get rid of, in order to use the strengths of the interactive media.|
|Amanda Fullan:||Well, a lot of the
problems I ran into in the beginning was learning the
program language. Like Dr. Jerz said before, Id never
done any programming before and this is very new to me.
So, a lot of my creations were limited by my programming ability and so I originally wrote out a transcript of things that I wanted to happen in the game and when I went to program it, there would be glitches in things that I couldnt put into those things that I wanted.
So I ended up cutting out a lot of that original material and some of it is stupid things like you forget to put in a comma and the whole thing wont work. For someone whos not used to that kind of thing its very, very frustrating.
Amanda Fullan gives a newbie's perspective
|Adams:||Computers are very, very literal. If you say one thing they take it exactly the way you say it and not what you meant. ["Garbage in, garbage out" -MH.]|
|Fullan:||And so that works with your processes...|
|Adams:||It plays havoc with your creative
|Jerz:||Oh, Scott, could you tell us the story about the bear and the parser.|
|Adams:||Ok, heres a very good example of an unintended side effect. I told you about my first game Adventureland. Well, to conserve space in the 16K world, I only looked at the first three letters of the nouns and verbs that people typed in. Theres a section where theres a bear on a ledge and youve got to get past this large bear and, being a pacifistic game, youre not going to be able to kill the bear no matter which way you try. You can give it honey if you want, but honey is one of your treasures and youre going to end up wasting your treasures.||
The "Adventureland" bear reveals an amusing game "feature"
|Jerz:||Thats why I didnt get the full score!!||Listen along in:
|Adams:||There is an alternate solution. What
I wanted the player to do was to yell at the bear, to scare it off.
You could also scream at the bear too, as an acceptable
Well, I got a fan letter in that just had my whole company rolling in the aisles. It said:
Now the following is rated PG-13 so if you dont want to hear it, please close your ears. Ok. Continuing..
They thought I was a genius programmer!
|Jerz:||Dave, from your childhood playing Scott Adams games, do you have any experiences like this with one puzzle that youve just never been able to solve, and you would like to ask Scott now how to get past it?|
I hope Im remembering this correctly. This was around 1981 or 1982. This was before we got the IBM PCs. We had a TI 99/4A.
David Shih recalls playing Scott 's games in the 80s
|Shih:||The one that was talked about by Bill Cosby. Actually you probably dont even remember these commercials but|
|Adams:||Anybody remember Bill Cosby??
Yeah, you remember Cosby.
|Jerz:||Great Jell-O commercials.|
|Shih:||It came with a very expensive single sided floppy drive if you wanted to have that. But, what most people had was a cassette recorder, and you kind of hooked it into the computer. Thats the way that I would play the Scott Adams adventures and you had to get a cartridge that you put in and you would purchase these cassette tapes with the games. The one that I remember the most is, I think it was called "Tomb of Horrors." Im not sure if "Tomb" was in the title, but there was this moment when you were in a kind of pyramid|
|Adams:||Pyramid of Doom.|
|Shih:||Pyramid of Doom, right. Pyramid of Doom
and youre supposed to move this block somehow and Im
not sure youre supposed to get on top of the block to go through
kind of a passage way, but youre supposed to do something
to this block and move it out of the way.
I swear I must have spent a couple of weeks (laughter) trying to figure it out
|Adams:||Screw the block!
|Shih:||I guess I should have been more profane.
I was twelve.
But would you remember that situation?
|Adams:||A very funny thing about Pyramid of Doom....
I didnt write it.
This is an interesting story.
I did seven adventure games, and was starting to think about number eight, when I get, in the mail, a letter from a fan. A fellow by the name of Alvin Files. Hes a lawyer. He still is, I had email from him recently. But anyway, he was a lawyer and he loved my adventure games so much that he disassembled my source code and figured out my system. I couldnt even figure out my system. (Laughter). He literally was able back up everything that I had done, figure out how I did it, and he wrote an adventure game and he sent it to me. He wanted to see if it would be alright if he sold it. And I thought wow, this guy really has got something on the ball. To take my code, literally, and take it apart bit by bit, and figure out what it was doing, figure out the system and write a game.
Thats what Pyramid of Doom was. I didnt write that.
|Shih:||Hmmm, do you have his email address?
|Adams:||Yes I do. Actually Ive got hint
sheets on my website so they can download and see how to get
I did play the game and I did edit it with him. I went back and fourth and I said we cant do that. This is going to be a non-violent game, but in general 80% of the work is his.
I honestly dont remember the stone thing.
|Adams:||So sorry. It was an interesting side note though.|
|Audience:||What do you think of the effect of violence in video games nowadays, how it's|
|Well, I play EverQuest. And in EverQuest the idea is to act and kill the monsters. It is not graphic though. You are sitting there swinging the knife and they're sitting there clawing at you or whatever. You dont see blood going or you dont see blood gushing... its cartoon violence.|
|I have seen some
graphic, very graphic games. Soldier
of Fortune is one that comes to mind, where shooting someone
in the groin they kneel over, grabbing themselves, screaming in
horror. My feeling of that is its too graphic. I dont
need that. I went to see the
latest 'Hannibal' movie and walked out halfway. I dont
need that. I dont need those sort of images burned into my
Its not fun. Its disgusting. Theres by nature a violence in us, and man is a violent animal. Were not herbivores. We are omnivores who are out there. And in general the male of the species is more violent then the female. There is a need to express that violence, whether it's in professional sports -- let's face it, professional sports is not a knitting club, theres a reason for this, that's the way it is. Its mans violence against men, being channeled. And I can see channeling in video games -- theres nothing wrong with that. Taking it to extremes though I think is wrong, and going to cause more problems in our society than anything else. Thats my personal opinion.
In general, I like, myself, writing games that I know anybody can enjoy. I dont have to put a label on it and say this is just for "R" rated or "X" rated. When I do a game I just say anybody can play it, anybody can enjoy it.
I can understand writing games for an adult situation. What I cant understand is writing games that give people the desire to cause more hurt to other people. I dont like it.
The games I enjoy playing are cooperative. I love playing a cooperative game of EverQuest. I work with people, against the evil that confronts us. I dont like the player-killer servers, where the desire is to go out and kill the other players. Thats not for me. I dont like that. Id like to see less of it myself. I think a world that works together and teams together against a common evil is going to be a far better world than one where youre going head to head.
|Audience Member:||In regards, starting with games and violence and certainly does with EverQuest, I dont know (inaudible)...|
|Audience Member:||Did you hear about the (inaudible) incident that they want to place EverQuest (inaudible). Well this happened, I suppose, about two months ago now and they talk about the role-playing in the game and how theyre playing to be (inaudible).|
|Adams:||Well if you want to come on Tribunal, look me up.|
|Audience Member:||Do you want to join a guild I just started?|
|Adams:||I just started one too.|
|Audience Member:||Anyway, this is about, you know kind
of a role playing in games, and that happens in games but then it
gets dry. Out of the game where the message boards on the internet,
people are writing stories either about things that happened in
games or stories that they make up based on this world and they
get them posted, and on the (inaudible) server there was one character
who invited me to be a (inaudible) and the character in the game
was a female. The person that actually wrote it was a male. So he
wrote this. He played evil characters. Pretty much all of his characters
were evil. People that posted on this one board that I frequent
sometimes, they were all, most of them all were geared more toward
He wrote this one story that depicted a rather graphic rape scene. And it would take place in the EverQuest world. The people running the board never did anything about it. They just let the story go because they decided to let people have the freedom to write what they wanted.
Well, the company, Verant, the publishers saw the story and didnt approve of it, so not only did they ban that person from the game, they also then forced all the boards where the story was posted to be removed.
|Adams:||A copyright infringement. There was a legal basis there.|
|Audience Member:||So now I sort of switched my perspective wondering, do you see, how long have you seen this in the past, was there experiences, or a precedent? Do you see that being a problem with copyright infringement and evil corporations trying to shut down people?|
|Adams:||Now we can get
into Napster. (Laughter). Anybody
have any opinions on Napster? Heres just a quick bottom line
as far as copyrights go -- being a published author, one who relied
on copyrights, one who went out of business because my copyrights
were not honored by those people out there.
I have to say I am 100% against Napster and the idea of Napster-like things. When you have something that you create and you sell it to somebody its no different when you creatively make a story and wish to sell it to people, you still own it. When you infringe on somebody elses copyright you are simply, bottom line, stealing from them. No different from going into Wal-Mart and shoplifting. Stealing music, stealing anything else that somebody else owns, that they have not let you do, is stealing. So I am dead set against copyright violations.
Scott on Napster and copyright
Now what Sony was doing there [Sony owns Verant, the publisher of the EverQuest series of games- MH.] was not because this guy was stealing from them. Sony just totally disagreed with the direction that they were twisting their universe into. It was certainly not family friendly to have these virtual rape stories out there. So they were using that as a legal maneuver to get it shut down. I would have to say, from my point of view, what Sony did was probably 100% legally correct and probably 90% morally correct. I dont have a problem with the way they handled it and that they did. I think they did the right thing.
Games Links (Jerz's Literacy