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Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling Paperback – October 16, 2004
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More than the realizable concepts, the energy and persistence the author is pursuing his ideas with is striking.
This jewel is a humorous, intelligent overview of the current state of Crawford's fourteen-years-long research into the subject. Choosing to present the material in this way - as a status report with many loose ends and as many questions as answers, shows great honesty and modesty - and it also allows the author to concentrate on what he does know instead of trying to conceal what he doesn't. In an intellectual field populated by many instant experts and charlatans, this work really stands out.
But don't get me wrong - Crawford knows a great deal about the subject. Perhaps the greatest benefit that you'll derive from this book is learning how not to think about interactive storytelling. For example, it shows why one shouldn't think about the subject in terms of other artistic media, including literature, theatre and cinema, as well as computer games, interactive fiction and hypertext literature. Even before I was aware of Crawford's work, I had been very interested in interactive storytelling. While reading this book I found that I had been making many mistakes in my thinking that were obviated by Crawford's lucid arguments and explanations. The man saved me years of cogitation.
Crawford also presents several of the chief concepts that have guided his research. He offers the best definition of interactivity that I'm aware of, and explains how it can be combined with stories. He makes many important points about the nature of the artistic works resulting from such a combination. All of these ideas are highly valuable, and allow the reader to ask the right questions, which is all one could ask for, since, as yet, no one has most of the answers.
The author also presents the core technologies required for any interactive storytelling system to be successful, and explains their function and role in the system. This explanation is thorough but not overly technical, and really helps to create a practical grounding for all the book's theories.
There are also several smaller topics addressed in the book, like an overview of other research projects on the subject, and a discussion of the mindset required from an interactive storyteller.
This work is a mirror image of Crawford's project - a state-of-the-art work-in-progress filled with inspiration and insight and based on a great deal of expertise attained through trial-and-error. It is also infused with Crawford's excellent sense of humor.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in the great adventure of birthing a new artistic medium.
The possibilities of this medium are exciting to just about anyone, but there have continued to be a set of Hard problems that cause theorists to continue to stumble. Crawford proposes that many of these problems are too hard to think about solving anytime soon, or are indeed impossible to solve. Instead, he provides creative abstractions that obviate the problems so that we can get someplace tantalizingly close to a workable model.
The biggest problem with this being that there are no examples. Crawford's assertions are indeed well thought-out and documented, but there is no concrete back-up. I find this forgivable however, considering that even though the ideas are not entirely complete, they do tackle many problems head-on that previously went unanswered.
Another minor point is that while much time is spent on the inner mechanics of a theoretical storytelling engine, little time is spent on how these stories might actually be presented to the user. I believe this to have a pretty significant impact on how the engine might work. One can imagine many possibilities for how interactive stories might be protrayed, and this certainly has an impact on how they would be perceived.
A dense, exciting book that particuarly those in the games industry should read and think about. I look forward to his future work.