Fun, Consequence and Emotion – Edinburgh Interactive (Session 1)

David Yarnton, Chairman of Edinburgh Interactive, opened the 10th anniversary festival. Selling the festival on the aspect of change, the speed of change and the impact on everyday lives as an introduction to the festival at large.

With advances in the industry David noted how inundated we are with options for entertainment, including social media. The availability and content delivery of this entertainment and the fact that video games were becoming recognised more and more as a legitimate form, but that there was still work to do.

The Future of Fun

Due to unfortunate circumstances Seamus Blackley, President of Innovative Leisure, could not be there and prepared a video presentation.

Seamus wanted to discuss the future and whether we actually understood the train games companies were on. Considering if companies are over analysing the industry in an attempt to understand what it is doing, suggesting an alternative path.

The games industry is a creative endeavour, with a passionate and enthusiastic audience. It’s hard to stay ahead and satisfy the audience, because they are so passionate. The future of fun is to find ways to address that passion, not get distracted by trends like genre, business model or sales and ensure a successful product grabs the imagination of the audience.

Audience will still physically go to the shops to buy code. One of the few packaged goods business left in entertainment with the expansive online markets provided by LoveFilm and Netflix, and the reason they do this is their passion. This isn’t dismissing Downloadable Content (DLC) but, given the proliferation of broadband, they still will buy packaged goods.

The reason why, because they love games.

Marketing and demographics are muddling the minds of developers and publishers from whether the game is fun or not. Is it more entertaining than something else people enjoy. Would they rather watch a TV programme, go out or doing something else? If so then the fun element has been lost somewhere in the process.

The sustaining force is the memory in the players mind, engaging them, seeing them talk about it because it is entertaining and fun. Proving the entertainment value and fun to be had. This is a hard thing to pin down. Relative to the experience rather than the branding but is best done by engaging the audience.

Companies who are successful engage with their fans. The more this is done the greater the ownership they feel and, more impressively, giving them the opportunity to engage, in something they love, engenders them to the product but most importantly the fun to be had

So to find the, “white hot core of fun”, you need to trust your instincts, the feedback of your most important resource, the players, and make sure that the future of fun is… fun.

by Phil Harris (@PhilipGHarris)

Consequences and Emotions

Advances in AI are delivering feature sets that will open new opportunities for non-linear creative story telling and new gaming experiences. Stephane Bura (@s_bura) a proven veteran of the AI world of games presents his newest venture: Storybricks (@Storybricks).

Starting his talk with “How Interactive The Design of Everyday Things” is he talked about interacting with systems. As much of his talk asserts, stories and interaction can be simplified down to why, how and what: Three cyclical features, all feeding into and affecting each other.

If you’re making a sandwich, you’re not consciously thinking of these things, you just make it. It doesn’t have to be a soul searching experience, but it can be! You might want this to be the best sandwich possible for someone you care about.

The most important interactions for all these how’s, what’s and why’s are when others are involved. Given the history of interaction is older than speech, Stephane maintains that we can’t help but communicate, since even saying nothing is a form of communication.

However, with computers it can’t work like this. Computers don’t negotiate, for a start. They work according to roles, they don’t care about your wants; they’re only able to be involved in the “How” part of the equation. Even so, they do it badly. Hence the frustration many feel when interacting with computing devices. We’re capable of learning tricks to make ourselves more comfortable. Google has made strides in getting computers to answer the “Why” parts of using devices. Which leads us to “What” as well, if your searching for specifics.

Can we have a meaningful interaction with computers? Interactive storytelling/entertainment need to do better, from Stephane’s point of view.

“A good narrative speaks to some thematic truth that you recognise in yourself or the world at large” — Film Critic Hulk.

Action movies entertain us, but do not “touch us”. Computers are a tool allowing us to experiment with systems in a safe way. Nobody ever got radiation sickness playing Fallout.

Games take “What” and transform it into feedback. Interaction is usually buttons, but LA Noire changed that, where looking at the face of a character is an interaction. Mass Effect, with the simplicity of dialogue choices, not saying exactly what the character says can backfire, since users can get the wrong impression from some choices.

With Storybricks: It literally uses bricks to tell stories through an editing tool, in the format “character”, how they feel and what they feel about the subject/emotion. A conflicted character, showing how the rules fit together in less than ten bricks. In this way, a whole environment can be created, talking about fear, disdain and suspicion as the emotional bricks in a scenario of a corrupt kingdom.

The true power is in the “How” part of the system. Plot templates are a key part of that. In a love triangle, labels between husband, wife and lover help define the needs and wants of the characters. In procedural story generation the goal is to make interactive experiences more engaging and therefore more fun. For example, when there are parts of known templates within the system, that system is capable of filling in the missing parts; completing the afore mentioned love triangle. This creates a world in which “stuff happens”, then choices are introduced. A player might be given the choice whether or not to be part of a love triangle.

Storybricks identifies the frustration of completing a quest, with an NPC being saved and afterward they just don’t care, because they’re not programmed to. A matrix of emotional equations would allow the player to set the emotional display of your character, affecting how NPCs react to you. It’s hard not to think of the rudimentary version of this in the Fable series.

In this way the plot can be tailored to the player and creates a solution for stories and plots in games, creating a new kind of interaction.

When we consider difficulty what does hard or easy mean? If you choose easy are you a bad player? Or does you just have a power lust and want to lord over the inhabitants of the game? Some choose easy to engage with the story and exploration without impediment.

This leaves the question about “What” we want from the media, This is usually obvious but it doesn’t address the “Why”. How do we go from opening a Netflix app to deciding what to watch? The difficulty menu is something to help the player to enjoy the interactive experience and Stephane sees this expanding into education as well.

Is this the future for interactive storytelling? Stephane makes good points to support his notion as one of the modes it may follow; considering the fundamental How, What, Why structure of communication.

by Michael Black (@firm3d)

Session 2 

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Session 4

Session 5

Session 6

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