My brain’s in a knot. Any way I push or pull it draws the knot tighter, leaving me ever less capable of unravelling. Here’s how it happened:
Captain Jameson, in its current form, is fun. It’s fun to explore the galaxy, hopping from station to station and nav point to nav point, picking a path between laser beams and oblivion. Unfortunately, this exploration doesn’t serve any purpose. I usually invent my own goal by setting off in an arbitrary direction, but for most players that isn’t enough. People need a reason to journey into the black. Initially I thought the problem trivial, and I set out to build a quest system. I figured it’d take a few hours. All I’d need to do is create a station visible from a long way off and tell the player to go there. I haven’t done it yet.
The reason I haven’t built this system is that I’m not sure I should. I want Jameson to have procedurally generated quests, so that each time I start a new world I have new things to discover. Unfortunately every generated quest I’ve ever seen in a game they have been utterly, utterly dull.
“Hi! My name is charactername. I need your help! Please deliver itemname from placename and I will reward you with lootname. Thanks!”
No thanks. This led me to think about generated narrative content, about which there are many articles suggesting it should be possible, and very few examples of it working in any way. Most of the articles focussed on the Hero’s Journey, otherwise referred to as the Monomyth. Here’s an overview:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
The idea is that most myths follow this template, with other elements (such as supernatural guides, vision quests, death and rebirth) often contributing to the tale. Working from this formula it seems trivial to automate the process of building a good narrative, but despite all the talk nobody seems to have managed it. Thinking more, I’m not even sure I’d want to do this. After all, this formula is tailored to non-interactive storytelling. I’m sure there’s a lot I could learn from it, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to just dump it into a game and assume it’ll work. No, I think I need to understand how and why it works, then consider how that effects the design of interactive systems.
Now all I need to do is learn narrative design, discover some incredible way to make it procedural and interactive, and code it. People have been trying this for years without success, so my expectations are extremely low. Still, I have a giddy feeling about it so I won’t give up just yet.