The Austin Chronicle

Playing Around

Reports From Interactive Panels on Gaming

By Carson Barker, March 16, 2007, Screens

Austin Convention Center, Monday, March 12

Warren Spector Presentation: The Future of Storytelling

Spector's speech on what makes a great game story was just as elaborate and detailed as the games he's constructed. Spector broke down game-writing to its most essential details like a college literature professor would and slowly built the elements back up into a complete verbal scriptwriting manual.

Focusing on the problems with game stories today, Spector noted several times how today's storylines can take the game out of games. "Ninety percent of the games today tell a story through roller-coaster method, because it's the easiest way to do it," he said.

The famous game designer described the roller-coaster method as taking a gamer on a fun and thrilling ride, where the action is completely linear, the motion is controlled, and the future is easily foreseen. This idea of designer-controlled games reoccurred through his speech as he emphasized how game storywriters need to work with developers to break out of the box.

Spector ended his panel with a four-part conclusion (a mimicry of his games' aspects of having different endings), the last one discussing how high tech graphics are ruining good plots and storylines.

"Next generation hardware makes it harder for us to develop better games, because graphics are always improving instead of AI and character interaction," Spector said. "We might have missed our window because of the graphics craze."

But as long as there are innovative designers like him, new windows will open.

Writing for the Next Generation of Games

The future is a hard thing to debate, considering its unpredictability, as panelists Mark Bristol, David Cook, Aaron de Orive, and Austin Grossman discovered. The Writing for Next Generation Games panel wandered through many expansive questions like, "How can we make games more imaginative?" and "How can we write games to engage us emotionally?" all taking stabs at an uncharted dilemma.

Though the next generation of games was never clearly defined, and most of the questions had vague answers, the topic of MMOs consistently reared its head.

"Unlike a single player narrative, in MMOs each part is a quest with a beginning, middle, and end," said Cook.

The panelists pointed out that MMO games and user-generated stories are the antithesis to game-writing and almost pose a threat to the narrative-game industry. They also noted that the game industry is still lacking games for women.

"The big, untapped market that every MMO market wants to get into is women," said de Orive. "What that story is going to look like, I don't know."

Whoever does know the answer to writing girl-game stories was probably not at that panel.

Online Games: Beyond Play and Fantasy With Joi Ito and Justin Hall

"We go seamless between the real world and the game; I don't think we can separate that out as fantasy anymore," was one of Joi Ito's opening comments for the Online Games: Beyond Play and Fantasy panel. Alongside the pioneer game blogger Justin Hall, the two panelists dove deep into their theories of virtual worlds and the real world being one in the same.

"World of Warcraft is a great way to build relationships," Ito said. "We build teams together and perform tasks that as individuals, we couldn't do on our own."

Hall also introduced his online game, Passively Multi-Player Online, which tracks the user's Web pages that they have surfed and rewards them for surfing certain Web-page genres.

Both Hall and Ito, well-established in and out of the gaming industry, discussed how online games have integrated into their lives and are passable as efficient social interaction. Though nongamers see this as a threat, the gamers that spoke at the Online Games panel truly and openly embraced the idea.

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