A development blog for our mobile adventure game

Stories & Songs (part 2)

Hey folks, I know it’s been a long time since I posted, but I’m here with another short exploration of MicroVenture’s story system.

This time, I will talk a bit about the extent of the story generator. From the get-go, James wanted to have meaningful stories to tie our adventures together; give something more meaningful to the player than the throw-away text you might get from another mobile game.

At first, our ultimate goal was the incorporation of MINSTREL into our game. Being that we have close ties to the creators (them being our professors and TA), we thought it would be a neat practical application of the technology for a game about stories. Quick rundown, MINSTREL is an author-level AI being developed with the goal of automatically generating engaging stories with complex plots and relationships.

If you’re interested, the paper they wrote on it can be found here:

http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=1822309.1822321

Go ahead and read it; it’s good stuff. Don’t worry, I’ll wait…

…aight, welcome back. Anyway, that was the original plan. Note the quantifier “original”. Two realizations dawned on us as we developed the more “Mad Libs” style generator that was our initial system.

1) Writing tons of stories is not easy. Procedural story generation is HARD.

There’s a reason people have devoted their entire careers to this subject: you could spend that long on it and never really reach a conclusion. We don’t have that luxury of time. Moreover, technical limitations made the logistics of incorporating MINSTREL onto a phone alongside a game a daunting task. Our best solution would be to put it on a server, and have the game query it for new stories every time the player starts a new game.

2) What do we get out of it?

This one came to us much more slowly than its brother. How many players are actually going to read the stories? How many of them are going to get something out of the stories? How would complex plots add to a game that should take less than 10 minutes a day to play?

In short, the answers are “Most of them”, “Enough of them”, and “Not much”. We are first and foremost a video game – to ignore that fact in favor of trying to duplicate a system that took years to create that makes stories people might not even be reading would be an almost suicidal decision. We wouldn’t be a game anymore.

If you ask a person which they cared about more, who wrote a story or what happened in that story, most of the time people will care about the story itself, and not where it came from. They’re there for an experience, not a tech demo.

So, we abandoned high-level author decisions in favor of a simpler and more manageable template-based system. I hope this sheds a little light on the decisions we have made so far. Talk to you more soon.

-Kyle “I am so sick of reading right now” Huey

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