Frontiers in Storytelling: The Elder Scrolls V

I’ve just devoured GameInformer’s preview of TESV:Skyrim, and it’s encouraging stuff. The animation improvements sound excellent. Something we learned working on an internal project at TT was that seamless, varied, context-sensitive animation contributes far more than clever AI to the verisimilitude of a character. And the lighting improvements over Fallout in the first official screenshot are glorious.

But what’s got me most excited is the Radiant Story tech, which basically custom-creates side quests by taking an authored template and inserting characters who the player has developed a relationship with – so instead of quests from random strangers, you will be approached by someone you know to undertake a task involving someone you like. It’s essentially what a good Game Master of a tabletop RPG would do, and something I’ve wanted to try out in a game for over a decade. Sadly working full-time on other people’s games has prevented me from exploring it myself, but I’m delighted to see Bethesda tackle it.

The compelling thing about role-playing is your attachment to your character, and their role in the world of the game. Every decision you make as a player, whether in a tabletop game, LRP, or CRPG, makes your story a little bit different to anyone else’s. Mostly in subtle ways – a few points in this skill instead of that skill, or a grudge against an NPC forgiven instead of held – but they all add up to making the player feel invested in the story, even if the final encounter turns out exactly as the referee expected. By customizing the peripheral content to reflect the player’s prior investment, Bethesda could be creating the most immersive CRPG ever.

And when developed to a point that it could be used in the main storyline, this could be a fantastic alternative to the tired old branching plotline. An AI system that understands story, and can populate Campbell’s mythic archetypes in each player’s quest with characters whose skills, power, and personality traits complement or contrast with the system’s analysis of the player. A system that can engineer moral dilemmas and opportunites for dastardly betrayals, tragic heroics or glorious rescues. A system that could sculpt whodunnits or soap opera as well as epic fantasy.

Now that’s the bleeding edge of modern gaming.

Wrapping up LEGO Clone Wars

The big crunch to finish LEGO Star Wars III: the Clone Wars is almost over. All the critical stuff seems good and solid, and we’re down to mopping up occasional glitches in what has turned out to be Traveller’s Tales’ biggest game ever. I’m told it takes the QA team about 26 hours to complete a 100% playthrough, and these are guys who’ve been playing it full-time for months already. There is a LOT of cool content. I’ll post a reminder when it’s in the shops…

And with that, I have a little spare time again…most of which I plan to spend with my sorely neglected family – but once my little girl is in bed and my wife is roaming the Mojave Wasteland picking off Fiends with her sniper rifle, I can spare some time for my own little side projects.

I’ve spent a few pleasant evenings getting to grips with Blender and Unity3D recently, and it feels good to be creating stuff of my own again. I’ve got a couple of little web projects I’m developing just for practice, and a handful of more ambitious ideas that tie in with the world of Voidships. Looking forward to a very creative year…