Will Wright Keynote Speech

Will Wright Keynote Speech

Amazing, amazing keynote. Half an hour exploring concepts of linear and interactive narrative, followed by half hour demo of evolutionary / generative computer game Spore.

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Wright runs the “Stupid Fun Club.” Video: A robot has fallen over and is calling out to passers-by: “Help me! Help me!” and then recorded reactions of public. (Looked briefly for this video, couldn’t find it).

Now he’s building a simulation of the universe.

A few thoughts on storytelling. Why I hate stories that my computer tries to tell me. There are a lot of things happening – that’s the state of the world. A story is following one causal chain (Mousetrap!). Stories tend to be linear while games tend to be open-ended. Movies are primarily visual; games primarily interactive. Too much story in a game and you’re throwing away its main characteristic. Games are inherently a branching tree of possible states. Try to find the most compressed ruleset to generate possibilities of the world. Linear sequence is the basis of storytelling. Because it’s controlled you can generate a dramatic arc. But in a game it’s like “Go here, lose, go back to the beginning. Lather, rinse, repeat.”

Actors are stand-ins for avatars. Film: rich emotional palette because of actors – hence we think of film as being richer emotionally. Games are more reptilian – you feel pride, or guilt, which you don’t feel when watching film.

Empathy is what makes us feel compelled in films, while games use Agency (“Can I do it?”) These are two models of cognitive technology. We evolved them to help us abstract the world around us.

We’re stuck in time, but stories let us escape from the time stream. We build world models: compressed versions of the world.

The best way to prevent the future is to predict it” (Frankenstein, 1984)

Causal link in storytelling is us filling up the possibility space.

Dramatic amplification: Small events lead to dramatic outcomes.

The director knows the future, so can present small details that will become important. But in non-linear games we can’t do that as easily. In linear drama you can show the causal change.

In many films/books you have a lot of sub-plots that slowly weave together. Remember movie “Timecode?” Stories would parallel and merge and split apart, but ultimately converge.

Gated story: Player has free range on a level, but must satisfy one criteria (get the key) to go through a narrow funnel – the gate – to the next level where s/he has free range again.

This generation is used to the idea of media as malleable thing – something they directly mold.

From watching players of games, Wright identifies types of Player stories:

– Unintentional (e.g. player encountered bug – I spontaneously combusted!)

– Subversive (e.g. player is trying to push boundaries of the game, find exploits, have a million tanks blow up at once)

– Expressive (I’m not the one on the motocross bike in the woods, I’m the one eating the burger at BK). Players will verbalize the story as they play it. For the players, it’s like playing a musical instrument. Allowed players to post stories about their experiences on their site: Some of them were almost like small novels.

Storytelling vs. Storylistening

Can the computer learn to figure out what kind of story the player is playing? “Ah, this is a boy meets girl story.” What could we do with that? We could change the lighting, the music, even the events to match the story type. We could drive events to match the story. But then we’re creating a movie.

The Magic Circle: When people are playing a game together, the players have conventions, agree to the rules. People outside that circle are not bound by the same rules.

Now we’re getting to snack-size media – shorter stories. Doesn’t have to be 90 minutes in a dark theater – 5 minutes on a video iPod is now common.

Games are becoming thought of as more a form of self-expression than passive entertainment.

Players love making content, and they also love sharing it. The power of the collective effort is amazing. And so, we get changing quality vs. quantity curve (most of it sucks).

From mapping player modalities – the paths they take through the possibility space, the kinds of personalities they take on…

Spore is about how to close this loop. Take the player out of the role of Luke Skywalker and more into the role of George Lucas.

Spore: Mapping the universe from the very small to the very large (Powers of Ten). A lot of the work in Spore has been about creating the right kinds of tools. We wanted to fold the creation tools back into the game play, so you don’t go outside and download, put stuff in folders, use external creation tools, etc.

Spore demo

Too hard to capture this in words, and couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. If you’re not familiar with the game, read up, and prepare yourself. This is going to change the face of gaming forever. Absolutely brilliant / compelling.

In a way, it’s a philosophy engine – gets users to think about the meaning of life, why are we here, how did we get there, what is god doing, etc.

Teraforming, cities being destroyed because he pumped a whole bunch of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Melting the ocean… the species start to die off. But he was able bing it back – the entire planet is a toy to play with. Captures most of the dynamics of evolution.

Wright sees a primitive species and drops a monolith in front of them (2001!). The creatures came to worship around it.

Spore-opedia – a chronicle of everything you’ve encountered in the game. Every creature, every building, every continent, every planet…

Eventually I want to see interstellar wars between the Care Bears and the Klingons.

Wow… the whole thing was mind blowing.

Tools extend us (wheel is an extension of the foot). Computers do a lot of things – one of those things is to extend our imagination.

The rate of paradigm shifts in culture is increasing in frequency.

Games are perceived as mindless toys, but they can allow us to do systemic thinking about our world, build more accurate models, give us the ability to navigate the future with more intelligence than we did before.

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