- Paperback: 528 pages
- Publisher: A K Peters/CRC Press (February 28, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1568812213
- ISBN-13: 978-1568812212
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,871,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Interactive Storytelling: Techniques for 21st Century Fiction
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"First, this is a book that everybody who wants to make compelling games should read..." -Slashdot.org, October 2004
About the Author
Andrew Glassner is a writer-director, and a consultant in story structure, interactive fiction, and computer graphics. He has carried out research in 3D computer graphics at the NYIT Computer Graphics Lab, the IBM TJ Watson Research Lab, the Delft University of Technology, Bell Communications Research, Xerox PARC, and Microsoft Research. His research work has resulted in a half-dozen patents. He is currently developing a feature film for Coyote Wind Studios. The New York Times wrote, "Andrew Glassner [is one] of the most respected talents in the world of computer graphics research."
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Unfortunately, Glassner runs off the rails when he starts to talk about combining gameplay with storytelling. He frequently makes theoretical arguments founded in preconceptions from traditional storytelling media, while ignoring the practical experience obtained by professional game designers over the last forty years. His chief argument against branching storylines, for example, is that they haven't caught on in mainstream media such as books, television, and movies. At the same time he acknowledges that branching storylines are one of the most popular ways of doing interactive storytelling on computers. The fact that flipping through book pages and rewinding the VCR is awkward, while a computer can deliver a branching storyline seamlessly, does not seem to have occurred to him.
Worst of all, his perspective seems to be based more upon what he WANTS players to want rather than upon what they actually DO want. He proposes what he calls the "Story Contract," in which the author is granted exclusive control over both the psychology of the main characters and the plot sequence. Having done so, he treats this contract as axiomatic for the rest of the book -- but a good many game designers and players would strenuously object to both provisions.
In addition, the book contains a great many irrelevant digressions into territory with which the author is clearly unfamiliar. He categorically condemns settable game difficulty modes (easy, medium, hard, nightmare, etc.) and airily proposes that all games should include dynamic difficulty adjustment. However, he doesn't address the points that dynamic difficulty adjustment is hard to do well, not necessarily suited to all game genres, and above all, that some players LIKE to choose a difficulty level at the beginning of the game. And what this has to do with interactive storytelling, I cannot imagine.
In short, I second Jonathan Lev's conclusions, though perhaps not in such vitriolic terms. The first two hundred pages are good basic material for first-year undergraduates. The rest isn't much use to anyone who actually wants to build interactive storytelling experiences.
The first half of the book is an introduction to the fields of storytelling and of game design. While I already was fairly well informed about some areas covered, it was worth reading through, as there were interesting tidbits along the way. Glassner's writing style is engaging and enjoyable, and his frequent use of real-life examples makes even normally dry, definitional material interesting.
The meat of the book is its exploration of the contradictions inherent in the idea of interactive storytelling and its proposal of some solutions. How do you resolve the idea of someone designing a story with dramatic elements yet have a player feel in control of his destiny? One extreme is the "Planescape: Torment" school of having only one story path you can follow. It can be an entertaining one, but the person playing is mostly doing tasks so that the next part of the story is revealed, vs. making the story himself. The other extreme is "The Sims", more a dollhouse than a game (though "The Sims 2" is more gamelike), where there are a few story-like elements and considerable freedom of action. Here the story is told almost entirely inside the player's head, as the player imbues his character's actions with meaning (e.g., "my character is staying home on the couch because he's depressed about his inability to get into art school").
Glassner explores what is good and bad about current offerings and offers some possible solutions. Classic problems are covered, such as how some computer game task cannot be overcome by the player, thereby breaking the story flow and also making the game unfinishable. One solution he discusses is having the game notice when such a hurdle is encountered and attempt to make the task ease up in order for the game to progress. This goes against the grain on one level, as people consider getting through some games as accomplishments; if the challenge changes depending on the player, this feeling is diluted. But if the goal is to actually allow all interested players to finish the game and the story, this solution makes perfect sense.
It is the exploration of ideas like these that make the whole book a worthy addition to the literature. Is the goal of the experience being designed to tell an engaging story, or to provide the reader mental and physical challenges within some themed framework? Can both elements ever coexist? Games that purport to tell stories have, to me, been mostly a failure to date. Yes, there might be a climactic series of challenges to overcome at the end with a certain dramatic tension, but my normal feeling at finishing such games is "whew, glad that's over, it was a ton of work to overcome all those starfighters/dinosaurs/orcs at that last system/island/dungeon." Or worse yet, the relief is often along the lines of, "thank the gods I don't have to do that repetitive task/walk those corridors yet again/delivery yet another frobitz to those people anymore." Compare this to reading a book with a wonderful ending, where there is no sense of work or boredom.
So, what is great about this book, for me, is that it challenges me to rethink many of the elements of storytelling and gameplaying and how these can work together. It brings these areas and their overlap into focus, questions current flawed attempts to reconcile the two, and, ultimately, makes you think about what entertainment itself is. Some ideas from this book have stuck with me; you owe it to yourself to read it if you have an interest in this field. It won't change your life, but it's likely to influence how you think about things.
There is little in this 'book' of real value. Many chapters are given over to simple ranting about how bad particular concepts are, without offering any kind of insight or solution.
But the worst sins are the contradictory arguments. In one chapter he decries the use of branching narrative as completely broken and useless, that narratives are not meant to branch - and in the very next chapter he complains about the limited number of choices characters are given in the games he's played!
This is without doubt the shoddiest, most badly-researched book I've ever read. I physically tossed it away, and when I came here to read others reviews, I was unsurprised to hear someone else had thrown the thing across the room too. Believe me, this work demands action.
Let literary darwinism take it's course, and steer well clear.
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Part 1 is a broad and deeply flawed overview of linear narrative basics.Read more