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Podcast about Storytelling and Writing in Games! (With Brad Muir and Khris Brown this week!) :D

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Hey all!

If you never saw me on the MC forums, I'm Max, one of the writers on MASSIVE CHALICE. My brother Nick (the other writer on MC) and I started a podcast last month called Script Lock about storytelling and writing in video games. Every episode we bring in at least two guests to talk about their history, their process, and where they think storytelling is headed. We've had a bunch of people on so far, including Robin Hunicke (producer on Journey!), Brian Kindregan (writer on Mass Effect 2!), and Rob Auten (co-creator of THIS crazy ARG).

This week we've got Khris Brown AND Brad Muir together for one of the happiest episodes in podcast history. We have some super fun discussions on VO, narrative/gameplay dissonance, working on the story for MASSIVE CHALICE, and hugging. :D

Anyway, we've tried to make this thing easy to listen to for people both inside and outside of the industry, but let me know of any comments you have! We're definitely planning on having a few more familiar voices on in the future!

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Sounds like the sort of thing I'd love to listen to! Will try my best to remember this and listen to it when I have a lot of paper pushing to do at work. Thanks!

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Thanks, guys! This was a fun listen, and I hope to make time for the other episodes in the weeks to come. I'm especially looking forward to hearing from Robin Hunicke!

Since there aren't comments or discussion (and since I am not on the twitter), I will leave the thoughts I had here, to bake and dry and crackle into dust in the desert wasteland of Double Fine off-topic.

At one point Brad is talking about how he doesn't really care for games that have more movie-ish/book-ish linear storylines, because he doesn't feel that really leverages the advantages of the medium. I am not at all surprised to hear that from him, and I understand why he favors a more procedural or systemized approach to stories. I mean, he and his personality have always given off a very strong vibe of being a gameplay/mechanics oriented person, so I love hearing it from him because "that's so brad", but at the same time, I feel like he is perhaps too quick to straw man and shrug off linear (or *mostly* linear) stories. There are things you can do with linear (or *mostly* linear) stories to fiddle with them in ways that TOTALLY leverage the strengths of the medium (and I don't mean branching storylines or multiple endings either). It mostly has to do with creating spaces for expression and subjective experience of the game world along the narrative path. Half-Life 2 really nailed this in ways that few have been able (or have bothered trying?) to emulate.

Anyway. Cheers, Brad! Miss you already, buddy.

But what I really wanted to comment on was the part where Brad---being such a lover of mechanics and gameplay and not so much a lover of linear narratives---contemplates whether it's possible to have an open world game like GTA or Skyrim where there are no story missions or quest givers to drive you along. Khris joins into that conversation to ponder along with him.

I feel like possibly I just sound like a fanboy pimping my favorite games when I say this, but I feel like games like Dark Souls or even Terraria point VERY strongly toward that type of game experience. Even if you don't like the cut of Terraria's particular jib, it does EXTREMELY interesting things in that department that I wish a few more games would notice and try their own take on. In short, here are the cool things Terraria does that I would love to see in an open world game in the style of GTA, Skyrim, Assassin's Creed, or what have you.

--The game starts and you are in that world. There are not cutscenes explaining the story or catching you up on the lore/events of that world. It's like you just wake up in that world. At most, there is an NPC that says, "Hello! You're here now! Have fun!"

--There are no "missions" in the traditional sense of an objective you are given by a quest-giver. You just start exploring, and by that I mean exploring the physical space of the open world but also exploring the mechanics and the range of things it is possible to do there. It is MORE FUN to discover those things and conduct your own experiments with them as opposed to having them explained to you in an NPCs lecture and then being "tested" on them via tutorial or mechanic-centered mission. I think a lot of people love to apply their knowledge and skill more than they like being explicitly tested and evaluated (where I guess the quest-giver is your proctor/teacher or something) on their knowledge and skills. Tutorials and missions can feel like examination, which might be why people hate them so much.

--As you explore the world and mechanics, it turns out that there ARE missions, but they are not implemented as instructions given to you by a quest giver. They are implemented as DISCOVERIES. For example, imagine if you were playing a game completely identical to GTA except there was no story and no missions. You are just stealing cars and crashing them and exploring the city. But there is a hook in the game where, after you jack X number of cars, or try to steal a car in a certain area, it summons a boss! Let's call him the Car Defender. Let's imagine that he's sort of like Optimus Prime and he's a semi truck that drives up to you and transforms into his robot form and starts persistently attacking and won't leave you alone until one of you is dead. You're not ready for this the first time, so he totally destroys you. This is great! You've discovered that the Car Defender exists without being told and without being given a quest. But now you know that there is a "quest" (your quest is REVENGE) where if you steal X many cars, or steal cars from Car Defender's hood, that you can summon that challenge. It's especially good if the challenging is interesting enough that it requires some forethought, preparation, or strategizing rather than just a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots style punch off.

--Discover that the world is not static in some ways. For example, as you play through Terraria, the enemies and the landscape gradually start to change via the "corruption" system, which is a slow and gradual upscaling of difficulty (reflected by certain appearance changes in that area). You discover that you have the ability to "fight" the change by converting the changes back using various combative "cleansing" techniques, but if you like the challenge presented by the corruption changes, you can also just ignore it and relish in the new evil landscape.

--Don't forget that enormous energy can be created in communities as fans share the various discoveries and secrets hidden in the open world and then go try to find them for themselves. Adding some very tough but open-ended challenges (Terraria bosses and Dark Souls bosses are sort of similar in this way) gets fans in the community swapping tips on the loadout and strategies they used. (In Terraria, there is a certain emphasis on manually building an optimal arena for a boss before summoning it).

--Terraria follows Ron Gilbert's adventure game principle of there being a big world, but you are trapped in a tiny part of it at first, and you have to gradually open the rest of it through your efforts. GTA and other types of open world adventure games will gate off parts of the world for story purposes, but obviously that is the exact thing we don't want. But in a game like Dark Souls or Terraria, the only thing blocking you from those other areas is that those areas are very, very hard, or there is something incredibly formidable in the way, and you just have to be a skilled player to get there. In this way, the player always has goals (i.e. get over THERE) without any quest giver having to set the goal. Players love to prove that they CAN do what the game currently (seemingly) will not let them. Every player is John Lock from LOST, whose trademark line was, "DON'T TELL ME WHAT I CAN'T DO." *instantly determined to prove that he can do that exact thing*.

There is more I could say, but I'm already writing a book. Suffice to say, I think Terraria has some very interesting principles that could be applied in even more interesting and sophisticated ways in a large open world. Dark Souls already uses some of them! You just have to convert the "quests" into "discoveries"---be they challenging discoveries or merely interesting or funny discoveries. Make the player hungry to see what all you've buried in that garden and then give them the shovel to dig for days.All of that of course is the perspective of yet another player on the internet talking out of his ass about a field he's never worked in! VALUABLE INSIGHTS.

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Oh man, thanks for the great reply! Yeah, when we ask questions about linear vs procedural vs modular storytelling, it's always as a starting point because inevitably a lot of the answers will be "We should do everything!"

Also, everything I've seen of the moment to moment gameplay of Terraria never really interested me, but after hearing about the stuff you mentioned, I'm definitely intrigued enough to check it out!

Hope you enjoy the Robin episode! It's our longest one yet, but she says SO MANY good things in it that I couldn't bear to cut most of it out.

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Oh man, thanks for the great reply! Yeah, when we ask questions about linear vs procedural vs modular storytelling, it's always as a starting point because inevitably a lot of the answers will be "We should do everything!"

Re: "we should do everything!"

Haha, yeah, that sounds accurate. Fair point.

Also, everything I've seen of the moment to moment gameplay of Terraria never really interested me, but after hearing about the stuff you mentioned, I'm definitely intrigued enough to check it out!

I gifted it to a few of my friends who didn't really like it very much at first. One of the downsides to a game not giving you any specific directions and instead relying on you to discover things for yourself is that you don't really know what to expect, so it can just kinda give off the impression that there isn't much happening in that world at first. I think the lesson there is to make sure that an exciting discovery happens SOON. (The first random boss attack doesn't happen in Terraria until, if I recall, your first armor upgrade.)

A few of my friends who didn't like the game got WAY more interested in it once I talked them into some co-op and showed them around some of the different biomes and challenges. Once some of the (semi) random events and secret bosses started happening, and they realized there was actually some genuine metroidvania stuff in there, they got way more interested.

But some people just have no taste for the minecrafty stuff or the "windmill arms" combat, and that's fair. ;-)

Hope you enjoy the Robin episode! It's our longest one yet, but she says SO MANY good things in it that I couldn't bear to cut most of it out.

I can't wait! =D

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Interesting stuff. Personally I love narrative as much as I love gameplay, so the pairing of the two is heaven for me.

I really expected Minecraft story mode to be more GTA like (it has such an amazing sandbox, after all), but it looks like it's far more linear than that -- although I admit I'm basing this assumption on the trailer :)

Am I wrong?

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Interesting stuff. Personally I love narrative as much as I love gameplay, so the pairing of the two is heaven for me.

I really expected Minecraft story mode to be more GTA like (it has such an amazing sandbox, after all), but it looks like it's far more linear than that -- although I admit I'm basing this assumption on the trailer :)

Am I wrong?

My assumption it's that it's just another Telltale game using TWD model, but all the characters are minecraft blocks.

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Interesting stuff. Personally I love narrative as much as I love gameplay, so the pairing of the two is heaven for me.

We loved having both of them together, not just because they're some of our favorite people ever, but also because Brad's said multiple times that he's not really a story person. It's an important perspective to have on the podcast because it's still probably the dominant mindset for leads in the industry (not to say that's bad either!).

ANYWAY, I'm stoked to see more people interested in checking the podcast out, and if any of you fine folks feel super generous after listening to an episode, feel free to leave a review on iTunes! You hear this from everybody, but it really does help.

Oh, and while I'm writing all of this out - what are y'all's preferences on podcast length? We've heard from a lot of people that 90 mins is the sweet spot, but I guess Nick and I are in the minority where we prefer longer episodes. Especially with writing podcasts, like the Nerdist Writers Panel, I want to hear everything the guests have to say. That said, I don't think we're going to go over 2 hours that much because that's usually how much time our guests block out, but still I'd love to eventually do a gargantuan 3 hour, 4 guest EXTRAVAGANZA.

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I feel like 90 minutes is pretty sufficient in a lot of cases, but it really depends on how many guests there are and how interesting the conversation is getting!

Maybe you could do the Stewart/Colbert thing and have your show be *officially* 90 minutes, but if things are going extra great and the guests are down, you can always add a "such and such interview: extended" cast to go along with the official, i.e. one cast for the game and a second cast for the overtime.

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I found time today to dig in and listen while working on one of my games. It was a fun show! Thanks again for sharing :D

I love that as Anemone mentions, Brad and Khris are such strong, distinct characters with solid angles that they view the world from, and it was nice to hear them have the opportunity to conversationally waffle about the stuff that's important to them (compared to tighter timeframe/heavily edited interviews).

Hope you enjoy the Robin episode! It's our longest one yet, but she says SO MANY good things in it that I couldn't bear to cut most of it out.

Ah, looking forward to checking that one out too! I know the feeling - we recently had Simon Roth (developer of Maia) on a show that I co-host, and I had trouble editing it down to under 3 hours. It's heartbreaking to trim down good content D:

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