Plans for the Future



If you read my tale of what went wrong with Storytron, you can see that the central mistake was too much complexity. I simply added too many geegaws, producing something that was simply impossible for anybody (myself included) to master well enough to be able to grind out a complete storyworld.

It was certainly a stupid mistake, but it immediately suggests the necessary corrective: cut out complexity. This is a much easier task than most people face: their problem is attaining enough complexity to produce an entertaining storyworld. My problem is scaling back on the complexity. It's a lot easier to rip out technology than to create technology. So in that sense, Storytron really is in pretty good shape.

But what to cut? I don't want to just wade into the code, deleting thousands of lines of code willy-nilly. I must first establish a clear vision of what a simplified version of Storytron technology would look like. And I have already nailed down some of that vision:

No inclination scripts Creating and polishing inclination scripts is the single most difficult task in building a storyworld. I'd guess that it occupied at least 50% of my time in creating a storyworld. By eliminating inclination scripts, I cut the workload in half in a single stroke. But if inclination scripts go by the wayside, how are all the Actors controlled? Simple: we make it an online game and use real people to provide the decisions otherwise made by inclination scripts.

This does impose a rather nasty constraint upon us: all the Actors in the storyworld must be protagonists. You can't have a multiplayer storyworld about, say, King Arthur: who would want to play the role of a servant, or some minor knight? Even being a Round Table knight, like Sir Sagramore, keeps a player in a position much inferior to the major Actors, like Arthur, Gwenevere, Lancelot, and Mordred. Who wants to participate in a multiplayer game where they just sit around watching other people do most of the dramatic activity? No, for such an arrangement to work, each Actor must be equipotent. That greatly restricts the range of storyworlds we can do.

But this problem can be evolved out of. As we get a few storyworlds up and running, we can start adding minor Actors who don't do much but are controlled by simple inclination scripts. We can evolve our way to the full-scale storyworlds.

Large base of system verbs We had a basic storyworld called "BareBones" and that pretty much describes it: it provided a skeleton of a storyworld, but that author still had to provide, on their own, livers, kidneys, lungs, hearts, pituitary glands, gonads, musculature, brains, and all the other stuff required to get a body working. It was just too much for people to do. Therefore, what I need to do is create a storyworld that has a lot more than just bones. It has to be a fully functional storyworld that does something interesting. It should permit a group of Actors to engage in some sort of basic interaction that will be common to most storyworlds. I believe that this basic storyworld will consist of gossip interactions: people talking with each other about other people. That seems to be the common denominator of many stories.

Screw breadth! It's time to set aside the notion that Storytron technology should be able to handle any kind of story. That's one of the things that killed us. We have to narrowly limit the range of storyworlds that can be built with Storytron technology. We can always expand later. For now, we need to contract. And I think that the simplest, most fundamental kind of story is the soap opera. Not a full-scale soap opera with lots of oddities; instead, I'm thinking of a basic soap opera with people getting caught up in machinations over romantic pairings.

No verb manipulation This is really hardcore waist-trimming: basically, we tell authors that they can't touch the verbs; the only things that they can play with are the nouns in the storyworld: Actors, Props, and Stages. They can add or subtract, and they can alter the values of Attributes, but that's all.

No scripting Yes, friends, Sappho is now off-limits. It's too much for people to hoist on board.

No attribute creation Big Brother Chris decides what Attributes are used in the storyworld. You only get a few. You can't add any more. And smile when you say, "What the hell!?!?!?"

The nice thing is, this entire agenda can be accomplished without any changes to SWAT. We can simply declare that "this is the way you're expected to build storyworlds." If you violate the protocols, we can't promise that your storyworld will work, because we might make changes. Stay within the defined boundaries or else." It would be nicer, of course, to remove these things from SWAT for the time being, only to restore them when we think that the world is ready. But that requires programmers who require money, and until I get something good operational, that's not going to happen.