SXSW – Will Wright Keynote

These are the live notes from Will Wright’s Keynote. no context or analysis yet.

Some insiders believe that SPORE may be the most ambitious most highly anticipated computer game in history. USA Today calls it “gaming’s giant leap.” The New Yorker says it explores the “limitless possibility of life itself.’ And the New York Times, suggests that SPORE ‘deserves to be seen as a work of art.’ Drawing on inspirations that range from the SETI project to the Eames movie, The Powers of Ten, SPORE takes gaming to an unprecedented scope and scale to the concept of life itself. You begin as a microscopic cell struggling to survive in the primordial soup. If you can evolve, growing and gaining intelligence, you can travel a vast galaxy deciding the fate of entire planets. Join us as Will Wright, the visionary game designer behind SPORE and arguably the most celebrated game designer of our time will discuss his plans to bring to life vast beauty and possibility offered by our universe, and create a game that encourages every player to consider his or her place in the galaxy. He will also address the challenges of developing a narrative in non-linear and linear mediums, and explore his inspirations for the game. This session should not be missed.

I was not intending to present Spore, I was preparing a presentation of story. But then read the speach notes…so I will mash them up.

I’ll tell you I hate the stories my computers try and tell me. Novels have been the model, I’ll tell you about the nature of story. I look at the world as a simulation, things cause changes in other things, a dense web events, but a story is a causal chain. stories are unchanging and linear. games are mesh, many interactions. movies are visual, games are interactive. when we take control away from player we take the most important thing away. moving interactive to passive. games are a branching tree. we try and find the compressed rule set to give all the possible options when we design and build games for computers.

There is topology difference btw games and story – dense to open. you can present a dramatic arc with movie when all viewers feel the same. the game arc is very different, it is not a dramatic arc, you can repeat things all the time. we think linear drama is more compelling than interactive.

Stores based on language, empathy, imagination.

actors are emotion-sims, emotional avatars

Film has a rich emotional palette as they have avatars – joy etc, games appeal more to the basic instincts. pride accomplishment, guilt, expression.

Appeal is empathy for film whereas games are agency, i can chose what happens in games. both build models on different ways empathy vs agency

you are stuck in a timestream but we want to move experiences outside either outside place or time. story allows learning

experiences – play or story – an abstraction – models – help predict further and change behaviour

the best way to prevent the future is to predict it

stories start out, with characters, the structure is fuzzy at this point. once it starts you see the sequence and all acts narrow the range of possibilities. In your head you imaging eh the possibilities whilst watching films,

at the end, you start amplifying, dramatic amplifications, at the end of start wars there are 2 major possibilities. – will the rebels be blown up or the Death Star.

the biggest obstacle in interactive is that in linear the director knows the end state; interactive you don’t they are chaotic systems, Stories show causal chain as it is relevant, with interactive you can’t. film makers are playing with this causal chain; much in literature, films such as magnolia or timecode show multi threads. I like films that take a massive left turn, change the expectations. Momento plays with causal chain. each point causes you to reevaluate what you know. deeper in the story you were having to reconstruct what happened.

Groundhog day is a brilliant film, it felt the most like a game. goes through he same things again. with restarts. the director knew future and past, you could skip over things you filled it in. we should do this in games. let players skip levels if they keep failing. The real world does not have a restart, but it makes games interesting

Game stories can be branches or gated; early adventure stories…pick your pages. branching models. they get expensive if you deepened the story

Gates – within level have freedom, then have to get to next level etc. have different topologies. you have subgoals etc. and you have hybrids btw gated and branches. all of these things just throw data at problem.To double experience you need 4x as much work

New approaches are generated stories, have story fragments, have a trigger and result conditions, you can put the bits together to put story together. got more potential than has been explored; not clear what level we want to do.

Player stories…they are unintentional, subversive, expressive. players have stories about how they were playing in a game, describing what they did. Players come across bugs etc and they make the back story for it. Subversive stories are where players are trying to push out the envelope. they get excited about finding exploits. Expressive…they are like the sims, they have an intentional message, I developed a character in GTA, I hung around, finding what I wanted. I did not like messages, just wanted to hang and tell stories

With Sims, players they would be verbalising the story as they played it. they were dealing with parallel simulation but turning into linear stories. players were good at creating stuff and showing off; we put a site to collect the stories. they were like small novels. Then there’s the whole machinima movement. They are entertainment and meaningful stories, allowing people to express what is happening in their life.

so we have storytelling and story listening. with interactive entertainment, it’s more interesting to me to think about listening to stories, teaching computers to listen. let computers get understanding, understand the theme. the computer learns the story that is in the players head. you can look at stories at different levels, have the computer understand, is it girl meets girl or teen slasher etc. if we know the goal states we can present obstacles, to amplify the drama. if we can parse, present, influence/assist and then replay as a movie. we can change the the environment, drive events to clarify he story. I suspect this is more likely to happen with a lot of parallel learning, watching millions of players. this is close to truman show. the computer is like the director of the truman show. It can control environment but not violate freewill. the truman show and groundhog day are both closest to games,

Looking into the future there is this concept called the magic circle; everyone respects the rules of the game, those outside the circle do not ness respect the rules. in the circle you agree to follow them.

stories are similar, they sit around together and have similar things. storytelling has evolved, as has story.

We went from small groups, to epic with films and then started circling back to home, ipods etc, back to being a small group. we can do fractal stories, 3 min things from YT. stories circles change in time space. diversifying across platforms. there are many game niches and story niches.

Linear entertainment is watched at a fairly similar percentage across ages; interactive participation has a strong peak in the younger groups. Games are not just about story and sports, are now evolving as hobbies, tools are increasing and we start to fulfill design aspirations. players love making content. They like making, sharing and collecting, people like organising the power of collective effort is amazing, there is a quality vs quantitative; most is crappy, some OK, some great. as tools be better we should be able to increase the quality of what they are doing.

Players are building mental models in their head and we now have chance for the computer to build models of people, how they play, what they do, how they move, what they buy, what networks do they do.

We can build fairly elaborate models predicting behaviour. give tools when they can build things and then get the computer to amplify…the asset they build has value.

So take what they have made, see what other things they may like and bring it back into he world. move player away from being Luke Skywalker and playing a role and to George Lucas and making a story.

With Spore, we wanted to make the universe a game. There has been a lot of friction for players to create, so in this case the process of creating is the process of playing the game. we want the game to share automatically. we can build an infinite sized worlds.

[there followed a demo of the world, building, creating, moving between the dimensions of gameplay]

i want the game to bring up issues for players, history and future of life. philosophical implications are huge. i think of the games as elaborate montessori tools. how can they learn. this is a phil tool so that you can think about life. so what happens when you have your planets – we have weather, geology. climate etc. you can terraform. and you can destroy. game play at certain levels based on my favourite science fictions, eg the monolith tool from 2001 to raise intelligence etc. As I travel I can build up an encyclopedia of everything I have seen. over time you can explore larger and larger areas, se the entire galaxy, things are built b the players.

technology is an extension of the human body, computers do a lot of things, but importantly they extend our imagination. we use for entertainment, education communications, etc. so how does this impact? we go through a major shift every now and again, social changes, etc technology is driving paradigm shits more often, the rate is more frequent, political changes, social issues, environment issues, warnings etc about what is happening,

games have a reputation as a time waster, but they can much more, they can change how we see the world, how we behave. we can navigate the future with a little more intelligence than we could before.

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