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Evolution of Storytelling

      Noah Falstein
   CCO, Suddenly Social
My Background



n    Began as a game programmer, 1980
n    16 years in companies – LArts, 3DO, DWI
n    15 years freelance design worldwide in console, PC,
      serious games, social, mobile
n    Now Suddenly Social with creators of Habitat, about
      1/4 of Lucasfilm Games in 1985
                          © Copyright 2012 Suddenly Social
Evolving Stories…
n    Stories and games seem to go together
n    And of course in many ways they do
n    But in others, they are 180 degrees
      apart, and can fight each other
n    Understanding evolution, game design,
      and psychology can help us align them
n    Let me demonstrate…

                   © 2012 Noah Falstein
House on Fire
n    Let me tell you a story…
n    Is this MY story – or YOURS?
n    What’s going on here?




                    © 2012 Noah Falstein
Evolution of Storytelling
n    Games are very old




                   © 2012 Noah Falstein
Evolution of Storytelling
n    Storytelling is likely even older




                     © 2012 Noah Falstein
Evolution of Storytelling
n    They seem to have a lot in common




                   © 2012 Noah Falstein
Evolutionary Roots
n    Question of human nature, behavior
      n    Many designers turn to psychology and
            evolutionary biology
n    Need a theory for the hunter-gatherer society
      where our ancestors lived for millennia
n    But it should also help explain modern
      entertainment in all its variety
n    And of course, video games!
n    Maybe help point the way forward as well
                           © 2012 Noah Falstein
The Core Assumptions of
Natural Funativity
n    Why would early humans take play so far?
      n    Play as kids to learn survival, then Work/Rest as adults
      n    But evolution favors fittest, and neotenous genes present
      n    How to be more fit – use energy, must have payoff, must
            not be too dangerous
      n    Like many evo things, have multiple uses, like language
n    People who didn’t experience fun were less
      likely to survive to become our ancestors
n    Only the context has changed a bit:

                               © 2012 Noah Falstein
Hunter/Gatherer, Then:




           © 2012 Noah Falstein
Hunter/Gatherer, Now:




           © 2012 Noah Falstein
Video Game Hunter?




          © 2012 Noah Falstein
Video Game Gatherer?




          © 2012 Noah Falstein
Evolution Premise
n    Entertainment is all about gaining
      survival (and reproduction) advantages
n    Stories are the first Virtual Reality
n    We learn from others’ experiences
n    Games are about choice and actions
n    We learn by getting better at skills
n    Games are Doing, Stories are Telling
n    For more info google “Natural
      Funativity”
Gameplay trumps Story
n    So “Show, don’t tell” becomes “Do, don’t
      show”
n    Many great games with lots of
      interactivity, no story – Tetris, Bejewelled
n    No great games with lots of story, no
      interactivity. Count ‘em. None!
n    But there are fabulously successful things
      with no interactivity and great stories
n    We call them Movies
Diablo II –
Great Game, Lousy Story
But the intrinsic “storytelling”
was enough
So is it hopeless?
n    We can mix stories in games
n    Stories can make games more fun
n    They can intensify emotional response
      or enable new feelings
n    They can add a new dimension to an
      already good game
n    It’s just hard – so you should have a
      good reason – and a good writer!
Story and Gameplay
n    Let’s look at good gameplay and game
      design and see how it can blend with
      good storytelling




                   © 2012 Noah Falstein
Definition of a Great Game
n    A great game is a series of interesting
      and meaningful choices made by the
      player in pursuit of a clear and
      compelling goal
n    Dissecting this helped with a lot of early
      ideas about Natural Funativity


                     © 2012 Noah Falstein
A series of … choices in
pursuit of a … goal
n    Must have choice, or it is not interactive
      n    Chris Crawford says “Verbs, not Nouns”
      n    I prefer “Do, don’t show”
n    Must be a series of choices or it is too
      simple to be a game
n    Must have a goal or it is a software toy
n    With Sim City, The Sims or Facebook
      players may bring their own goals
n    Storytelling supplies goals
                         © 2012 Noah Falstein
Interesting and Meaningful
choices
n    Choices may be dull and uninteresting
      because it was easy to code that way
n    Or it may be the reflection of a lazy
      designer
n    Meaningful choices are perceived by the
      player as having significant
      consequences – illusion is enough
n    May not have actual consequences…

                    © 2012 Noah Falstein
Clear and Compelling goal
n    Clear goals, because it is not fun to
      flounder aimlessly
n    Avoid the “protagonist with amnesia”
      and other clichés in your story
n    Compelling goals are goals that follow
      the concepts in Natural Funativity
n    Survival is always a compelling goal
n    So is romance – finding a mate
                    © 2012 Noah Falstein
Structure: A series of choices
n    No choice – simplest, but least
      interesting possible structure – this
      is a linear sequence or narrative




                     © 2012 Noah Falstein
Evolution of gameplay
n    So let’s look at how video game
      structure has evolved over the years,
      and what has been proven to work




                    © 2012 Noah Falstein
A series of choices
n    Meaningless choices
n    Obviously fold back into same path
n    Players discover this quickly
n    But good for simple action game




                    © 2012 Noah Falstein
A series of choices
n    Infinite choices
n    Quickly become unmanageable




                  © 2012 Noah Falstein
A series of choices
n    Choose wisely
n    Kill off player with any wrong choice
n    Better but frustrating




                    © 2012 Noah Falstein
For example…




          © 2012 Noah Falstein
And more recently…




          © 2012 Noah Falstein
Classic game structure
n    A convexity
n    Starts with a single choice, widens to
      many choices, returns to a single choice




                    © 2012 Noah Falstein
Convexity qualities
n    Go from one to many to one
n    Can be a level, an act, an episode
n    Can be any kind of choice – geography,
      weapons, tools, skills, technologies,
      quests – or story dialog choices
n    One example – exploring an island
n    Another – technology build tree

                    © 2012 Noah Falstein
Fractal structure
n    Large scale structure repeated on
      medium, smaller scales, like a coastline
n    In the case of convexities, each circle is
      not a single choice, but a convexity
n    Frontierville example – To gain
      experience, build cabin, need tools, visit
      friends, tend their crops, request gift

                     © 2012 Noah Falstein
A series of convexities
n    Many games are chains of convexities
                  B       B                 B
          B   A       A             A                A
      A




n    Points of limited choice (A) alternate
      with points of many choices (B)
                              © 2012 Noah Falstein
Story Tension Diagrams




           © 2012 Noah Falstein
A series of convexities
n    Many overlapping convexities in great
      games
n    Examples include Halo, Zelda games,
      Civilization, Diablo II, Starcraft,
      Bioshock, Frontierville, many others
n    Player can be starting one task or area,
      in the middle of another, and at the end
      of a third, all simultaneously

                    © 2012 Noah Falstein
Why is this structure so good?
n    Give the player choice but not an
      infinitely expanding set of choices
n    Mix of some “any order” choices (B)
      and some in fixed order (A), blending
      freedom with linear storytelling
n    Can be structured so players see most
      of the game, minimizing waste
n    Can have difficulty go up in new levels

                    © 2012 Noah Falstein
Psychological advantages of
classic structure
n    Alternating intense learning (A) with
      time to practice (B) is the best way to
      master new skills
n    Gradual learning and introduction of
      new skills at the heart of fun game play
n    “Easy to learn, difficult to master”
n    Stories – series of acts, building to crisis

                      © 2012 Noah Falstein
The concept of Flow
n    U of C professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
n    One of his books is “Flow: The
      Psychology of Optimal Experience”
n    Flow is a state of exhilaration, deep
      sense of enjoyment
n    Usually when a person’s body or mind
      is stretched to its limits to accomplish
      something difficult and worthwhile

                    © 2012 Noah Falstein
The Flow Channel
n    Start with relatively low level of
      challenge to match starting skill levels
n    Gradually increase challenge
n    Fast enough to prevent boredom
n    Not so fast as to induce frustration



                     © 2012 Noah Falstein
The Flow Channel
                        Too Hard (Frustrating)
Increasing Difficulty




                                                                            si   on
                                                               y   Pr ogres
                                                          lt
                                                eD ifficu
                                       G   am
                                 Ideal

                                           Too Easy (Boring)


                            Increasing Time (and Player Skill)


                                            © 2012 Noah Falstein
The Flow Channel
n    Flow state is common while developing
      same skills noted in Natural Funativity
n    Best to introduce skills one at a time, let
      player master them, move on to new
n    This results in staggered increase in
      difficulty (wavy difficulty line)


                     © 2012 Noah Falstein
Difficulty Increase Varies




              B          B              B
      B   A       A             A               A
  A




 A = Rapid Difficulty Increase, B = Slower Increase

                         © 2012 Noah Falstein
Typical game mechanisms
n    High difficulty increase: Boss monsters,
      climactic battles, quest resolutions
n    Low difficulty increase: Bonus levels,
      new resource- and treasure-rich areas,
      series of easy “minion” enemies
n    Overlap introduction of new skills, areas
      to explore, tools, enemies

                     © 2012 Noah Falstein
Story Tension Diagrams




           © 2012 Noah Falstein
Conclusions
n    Games, stories about evolutionary
      advantages
n    They blend on some levels, conflict on
      others
n    Use them in harmony and you will
      succeed, use them in conflict and player
      will feel frustrated

                    © 2012 Noah Falstein
Thank You!
n    Noah Falstein
n    Send me a Linked In request, mention
      this presentation or conversation
n    nfalstein on twitter, skype
n    noah@suddenlysocial.net (note .NET)



                 © Copyright 2012 Suddenly Social

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Evolution of storytelling - Noah Falstein

  • 1. Evolution of Storytelling Noah Falstein CCO, Suddenly Social
  • 2. My Background n  Began as a game programmer, 1980 n  16 years in companies – LArts, 3DO, DWI n  15 years freelance design worldwide in console, PC, serious games, social, mobile n  Now Suddenly Social with creators of Habitat, about 1/4 of Lucasfilm Games in 1985 © Copyright 2012 Suddenly Social
  • 3. Evolving Stories… n  Stories and games seem to go together n  And of course in many ways they do n  But in others, they are 180 degrees apart, and can fight each other n  Understanding evolution, game design, and psychology can help us align them n  Let me demonstrate… © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 4. House on Fire n  Let me tell you a story… n  Is this MY story – or YOURS? n  What’s going on here? © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 5. Evolution of Storytelling n  Games are very old © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 6. Evolution of Storytelling n  Storytelling is likely even older © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 7. Evolution of Storytelling n  They seem to have a lot in common © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 8. Evolutionary Roots n  Question of human nature, behavior n  Many designers turn to psychology and evolutionary biology n  Need a theory for the hunter-gatherer society where our ancestors lived for millennia n  But it should also help explain modern entertainment in all its variety n  And of course, video games! n  Maybe help point the way forward as well © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 9. The Core Assumptions of Natural Funativity n  Why would early humans take play so far? n  Play as kids to learn survival, then Work/Rest as adults n  But evolution favors fittest, and neotenous genes present n  How to be more fit – use energy, must have payoff, must not be too dangerous n  Like many evo things, have multiple uses, like language n  People who didn’t experience fun were less likely to survive to become our ancestors n  Only the context has changed a bit: © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 10. Hunter/Gatherer, Then: © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 11. Hunter/Gatherer, Now: © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 12. Video Game Hunter? © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 13. Video Game Gatherer? © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 14. Evolution Premise n  Entertainment is all about gaining survival (and reproduction) advantages n  Stories are the first Virtual Reality n  We learn from others’ experiences n  Games are about choice and actions n  We learn by getting better at skills n  Games are Doing, Stories are Telling n  For more info google “Natural Funativity”
  • 15. Gameplay trumps Story n  So “Show, don’t tell” becomes “Do, don’t show” n  Many great games with lots of interactivity, no story – Tetris, Bejewelled n  No great games with lots of story, no interactivity. Count ‘em. None! n  But there are fabulously successful things with no interactivity and great stories n  We call them Movies
  • 16. Diablo II – Great Game, Lousy Story
  • 17. But the intrinsic “storytelling” was enough
  • 18. So is it hopeless? n  We can mix stories in games n  Stories can make games more fun n  They can intensify emotional response or enable new feelings n  They can add a new dimension to an already good game n  It’s just hard – so you should have a good reason – and a good writer!
  • 19. Story and Gameplay n  Let’s look at good gameplay and game design and see how it can blend with good storytelling © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 20. Definition of a Great Game n  A great game is a series of interesting and meaningful choices made by the player in pursuit of a clear and compelling goal n  Dissecting this helped with a lot of early ideas about Natural Funativity © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 21. A series of … choices in pursuit of a … goal n  Must have choice, or it is not interactive n  Chris Crawford says “Verbs, not Nouns” n  I prefer “Do, don’t show” n  Must be a series of choices or it is too simple to be a game n  Must have a goal or it is a software toy n  With Sim City, The Sims or Facebook players may bring their own goals n  Storytelling supplies goals © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 22. Interesting and Meaningful choices n  Choices may be dull and uninteresting because it was easy to code that way n  Or it may be the reflection of a lazy designer n  Meaningful choices are perceived by the player as having significant consequences – illusion is enough n  May not have actual consequences… © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 23. Clear and Compelling goal n  Clear goals, because it is not fun to flounder aimlessly n  Avoid the “protagonist with amnesia” and other clichés in your story n  Compelling goals are goals that follow the concepts in Natural Funativity n  Survival is always a compelling goal n  So is romance – finding a mate © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 24. Structure: A series of choices n  No choice – simplest, but least interesting possible structure – this is a linear sequence or narrative © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 25. Evolution of gameplay n  So let’s look at how video game structure has evolved over the years, and what has been proven to work © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 26. A series of choices n  Meaningless choices n  Obviously fold back into same path n  Players discover this quickly n  But good for simple action game © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 27. A series of choices n  Infinite choices n  Quickly become unmanageable © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 28. A series of choices n  Choose wisely n  Kill off player with any wrong choice n  Better but frustrating © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 29. For example… © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 30. And more recently… © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 31. Classic game structure n  A convexity n  Starts with a single choice, widens to many choices, returns to a single choice © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 32. Convexity qualities n  Go from one to many to one n  Can be a level, an act, an episode n  Can be any kind of choice – geography, weapons, tools, skills, technologies, quests – or story dialog choices n  One example – exploring an island n  Another – technology build tree © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 33. Fractal structure n  Large scale structure repeated on medium, smaller scales, like a coastline n  In the case of convexities, each circle is not a single choice, but a convexity n  Frontierville example – To gain experience, build cabin, need tools, visit friends, tend their crops, request gift © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 34. A series of convexities n  Many games are chains of convexities B B B B A A A A A n  Points of limited choice (A) alternate with points of many choices (B) © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 35. Story Tension Diagrams © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 36. A series of convexities n  Many overlapping convexities in great games n  Examples include Halo, Zelda games, Civilization, Diablo II, Starcraft, Bioshock, Frontierville, many others n  Player can be starting one task or area, in the middle of another, and at the end of a third, all simultaneously © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 37. Why is this structure so good? n  Give the player choice but not an infinitely expanding set of choices n  Mix of some “any order” choices (B) and some in fixed order (A), blending freedom with linear storytelling n  Can be structured so players see most of the game, minimizing waste n  Can have difficulty go up in new levels © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 38. Psychological advantages of classic structure n  Alternating intense learning (A) with time to practice (B) is the best way to master new skills n  Gradual learning and introduction of new skills at the heart of fun game play n  “Easy to learn, difficult to master” n  Stories – series of acts, building to crisis © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 39. The concept of Flow n  U of C professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi n  One of his books is “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” n  Flow is a state of exhilaration, deep sense of enjoyment n  Usually when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 40. The Flow Channel n  Start with relatively low level of challenge to match starting skill levels n  Gradually increase challenge n  Fast enough to prevent boredom n  Not so fast as to induce frustration © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 41. The Flow Channel Too Hard (Frustrating) Increasing Difficulty si on y Pr ogres lt eD ifficu G am Ideal Too Easy (Boring) Increasing Time (and Player Skill) © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 42. The Flow Channel n  Flow state is common while developing same skills noted in Natural Funativity n  Best to introduce skills one at a time, let player master them, move on to new n  This results in staggered increase in difficulty (wavy difficulty line) © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 43. Difficulty Increase Varies B B B B A A A A A A = Rapid Difficulty Increase, B = Slower Increase © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 44. Typical game mechanisms n  High difficulty increase: Boss monsters, climactic battles, quest resolutions n  Low difficulty increase: Bonus levels, new resource- and treasure-rich areas, series of easy “minion” enemies n  Overlap introduction of new skills, areas to explore, tools, enemies © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 45. Story Tension Diagrams © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 46. Conclusions n  Games, stories about evolutionary advantages n  They blend on some levels, conflict on others n  Use them in harmony and you will succeed, use them in conflict and player will feel frustrated © 2012 Noah Falstein
  • 47. Thank You! n  Noah Falstein n  Send me a Linked In request, mention this presentation or conversation n  nfalstein on twitter, skype n  noah@suddenlysocial.net (note .NET) © Copyright 2012 Suddenly Social