GDC Diary Day Two: Submergent Narrative

By John Walker on March 19th, 2014 at 10:00 pm.

(This is about Tuesday, but you know, time travel, internet access, etc.) Today is Clandestine Day. Today Nathan and I are meeting with SECRET DEVELOPER to look at SECRET GAME. I’m also going to SECRET MEETING at lunchtime. And playing SECRET LEGO MMO THAT’S NOT ACTUALLY A SECRET this morning. I’m like the world’s greatest spy.

Right now I’m sat at some public tables within the convention, spying on a chap from Microsoft sneaking up to unsuspecting developers to ask them about their analytics of player in-game behaviour, and getting them to do surveys. These developers don’t speak much English, and I’m not convinced it’s going very well. Microsoft: you’ve been SPIED. Oh ew! He just gave them a Starbucks card to “thank them”. CORPORATE CORRUPTION!

He just tried to get me! Fail there. But then… Guy at the next table.

“Hi, I’m [person] from Microsoft.”

“Hi, I’m [person] from Sony!”

“FIGHT!” I cry, banging my hand on the table. “FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!”

They didn’t fight.

After a SECRET BREAKFAST MEETING my first proper thing today is a session called Stories, Meaning & Emergent Narrative, by Jeremy Bernstein. So, off to that now.

ROVE

In that session now. Berstein begins with a somewhat misleading statement. “I hate emergent narrative.” He likes his precious words. A former chemist, perhaps best known for writing Dead Space 2, what is he to do with that, and why does he contradict himself in his own tastes?

He breaks narrative into two, paraphrasing a Professor Jenkins. There’s “embedded narrative”, that’s pre-generated content. And “emergent narrative”, that which emerges in real-time by the process of playing. Acknowledging there’s a scale from one side to the other, on which games exist, he admits he finds himself more drawn toward the emergent narrative.

Interestingly, he argues that the embedded narrative is actually the newer, more unusual form. Ancient storytelling was influenced by the reactions of the audience. Stories changed and were tweaked to match the response. Gaming narratives, he says, are contrary to this. This thing he finds so precious, it’s not the ancient form he thought. In fact, he goes further, and points out that saying there’s emergent narrative in The Sims is like seeing faces in shapes. It’s our imaginations filling in the gaps in a fixed system.

There’s a lovely story he tells, about how New Line’s tech for The Lord Of The Rings, where they set up code to have Humans fight Orcs. When they ran it, they saw that some of the Humans saw they were outnumbered and turned and ran. But they’d not programmed any ability to flee into this AI. It looked, at first, like something extraordinary. Except, when they looked into the code they discovered that Humans were programmed to, when they’d killed an Orc, to look for a new enemy to fight and charge at them. But sometimes they’d get turned around in a fight, with their back to the fight, and not seeing an enemy they’d run forward to try to find one. Rather than the AI developing new skills it wasn’t given, it was in fact too stupid to find a fight that was right behind it.

Quoting Turing’s question about whether people can’t tell the difference between a machine and a thinking man, does the difference matter? Will there be a D&D machine that can pass the Turing test, and is it important? Is there any genuinely emergent narrative in single-player gaming, and is it necessary? He ends asking not for questions, but for answers.

I’ve not done this talk justice, and lost a lot of nuance that addresses the larger issues in how I’ve told it. But it’s a great example of a GDC session, raising issues, asking questions, and putting metaphysics into gaming chat.

ROVE

So then an awful lot of secretive things happened, which were just so cool, and I’m so cool for knowing what they are when you don’t, and that basically makes me way cooler than you. Then the afternoon finished with visiting Dungeon Of Dredmor creators Gaslamp Games to have a look at Clockwork Empires. I’ll have a LOT to say about that on Thursday, but it couldn’t have better reflected that talk from this morning. That notion that the emergent is an illusion created by us, as we connect the dots of the scripted events that chain together, is illuminated and advanced here. By drawing those dots so much closer together, Gaslamp are both proving the point, and better highlighting Turing’s belief that who cares if the computer can think, if it looks like it can.

Too many SECRET things today, to be able to flesh this out properly. Hopefully tomorrow shall be more shareable.

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15 Comments »

  1. The Dark One says:

    Rather than the AI developing new skills it wasn’t given, it was in fact too stupid to find a fight that was right behind it.

    Sounds emergent to me. Things like that crop up in biology all the time. The genes that control the amount of adrenaline produced also control the amount of melanin, so trying to control one output causes a change in the other that you might not expect or want. Once that expression is there, you can build on it, though. It’s a crude hack and is probably broken and glitchy, but that’s why we ended up with a blind spot in our eye.

    • aldo_14 says:

      Sounds emergent to me. Things like that crop up in biology all the time. The genes that control the amount of adrenaline produced also control the amount of melanin, so trying to control one output causes a change in the other that you might not expect or want. Once that expression is there, you can build on it, though. It’s a crude hack and is probably broken and glitchy, but that’s why we ended up with a blind spot in our eye.

      I’m not sure you can actually view it as something to be built upon. Intelligent agency typically requires (amongst others) goal-orientated behaviour; in this case the behaviour itself is incorrect/irrational for that particular goal, so extension would lead to further illogical actions.

  2. SominiTheCommenter says:

    It’s Half-Life 3, isn’t it?

    I KNEW IT!

  3. Jac says:

    What does ROVE mean? I’m genuinely perpleximacated.

    Enjoying the updates though.

    Edit: great news about clockwork empires – looking forward to words written about it by RPS. Top of my most wanted list by far and the only developer website I have ever actually visited to read development blog posts every week. Highly recommend reading.

    • soulblur says:

      I believe he means he’s roving around. AKA walking.

      [edit] And I’m excited about Clockwork Empires as well!

      • soulblur says:

        That, or Karl Rove is doing some serious legwork around this conference.

        • Jac says:

          You both put forward strong cases.

          He has after all been a wild rover for manys the year, he spent all his money on whiskey and beer. And its no nay never… no never no mooore, will he play the wild rover, no never, no more.

    • Bluerps says:

      Yes! Those developer blogs are amazing – both very interesting and funny. Reading them means to sacrifice your mind to Quag’garoth, but that’s a small price to pay, I think.

  4. OscarWilde1854 says:

    I truly hope you actually pounded your fist and yelled “FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT”!

    I picture an anchorman-type (The will ferrell movie) battle royale ensuing. Hand grenades, tridents, and a Will Smith fronted all black ESPN sports news team battling it out for tech supremacy.. Personally I would hope Will Smith would win and be the leader of all future technological innovation.. Putting the Fresh Prince in charge can’t ever be a bad thing……

    • John Walker says:

      I really did. They were confused.

    • amateurviking says:

      ‘That escalated quickly’

    • The Random One says:

      Will Smith descends from the heavens, in a white suit, to everyone’s adoration, until someone realizes the holy relic he carries is in fact an OUYA. He is then shot.

  5. thedosbox says:

    Rock Plushie Shotgun.

    Rise-up GDC-deprived powers that be! Rename the site!

  6. Koozer says:

    I was utterly convinced the header image was some kind of AR simulator for a good 10 seconds.