Ernest Adams

Posted by PH on December 15, 2008

I recently attended the ‘Interactive’ day of SAND 2008. The first speaker of the day was Ernest W. Adams, well known game designer, author, and educator.

Although couched in game-design terms, Adams’ presentation was about the tension that lies at the heart of all interactive narratives, and which we could summarize into two bullet points:

  1. The interactional freedom of a new media object calls into question the wholeness and unity of narrative (and particularly of the plot).
  2. Interactivity constantly breaks the illusion of the narrative (often stated in terms of immersion in the narrative).

In a wide-ranging and highly amusing talk, Adams worked towards resolving at least the first of these problems. His model included three core elements: a database of “character agnostic” situations; a database of characters; and a story engine. In practice the user would encounter a situation in the game and would select one of the characters to deal with it. Depending on which character was chosen, the outcome of the situation would vary.

The character would also ‘learn’ by having experienced the situation (i.e. they would have internal parameter values changed) and this learning would be carried forward in the game. The user would re-evaluate the state-of-play, the story engine would inch forward, and the game would develop uniquely each time played.

Good meaty stuff, which this post does little justice to. I was hoping to have a podcast of the presentation to include but I’m afraid technical issues prevent me from doing so. More on that later…

[Thanks to Chris Jones for the photographs.]

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