21 April, 2012
I feel like I should write a standard excuse for my sporadic blogging. Something I can cut and paste whenever I finally do sit down to write something. Doing actual creative and innovative work tends to tame my ranty side. The Storybricks project has been demanding a lot of attention.
But, I haven’t forgotten you, brave people who still have this blog in your RSS reader, or who haven’t removed me from Twitter yet, or those of you who notice when I post on Google+. Let me expound a bit about why Storybricks is a toolset and not a game (even if I mess up and use the wrong term sometimes).
Let me start by sharing a bit of Storybricks news. We have a new website for your viewing pleasure. And I do mean pleasure; it’s a very nicely designed site. It shows off some of the progress we’ve made. We have also created a new dev diary with footage of the current state of the client. We’ve also been talking to a few companies about licensing opportunities, which is pretty exciting; it’s nice that others are starting to appreciate what we’re doing.
Anyway, take a look and then sign up for the newsletter, or follow @Storybricks or Storybricks on Google+ to keep up to date with our work. Call me biased, but I think Storybricks is something awesome worth supporting with your time and attention. :)
We’ve had internal discussions about how to describe Storybricks. Is it a game? Well, not really. The term “game” has a lot of implicit assumptions and baggage associated with it. Saying something is a game, or more specifically an “MMO game” instantly conjures specific thoughts, perhaps of WoW or M59. But, you won’t look at Storybricks and think it’s like either of these games. (Not in its current state, at least.)
Of course, Storybricks is presented within the context of a setting, a world we’ve created; we needed some way to test the toolset and let people get meaningful feedback from their tests. However, our goal has always been to minimize the impact of the world on the toolset. We call the generic storybook-inspired world “The Kingdom of Default” because it’s intended to be generic and malleable, to conform to assumptions and sterotypes to put the focus on the toolset instead of distracting people with interesting lore and depth. But, because we have a world, it’s tempting to make a mental shortcut and consider this a game. When you compare Storybricks to established games, however, it’s not really so close from that perspective.
But, what defines a toolset? It’s a tool that allows you to do something. In the case of Storybricks, it’s a toolset that allows you to create a story within a setting using a visual editing system. You do this by influencing how NPCs act within the world.
Storybricks within a game
If I wanted to write a really long post, I’d delve a bit into “what makes a game”. It’s possible someone will probably pick up this gauntlet and write a long comment about it. But, for now, let’s gloss over the definition and consider what Storybricks might look like when put within the context of an actual game.
The core of Storybricks is allowing people to create their own stories. We’ve initially considered games from MMOs to games reminiscent of tabletop RPGs for the next context for Storybricks. Let’s focus on an MMO for now, since that’s where my professional experience lies. Standard caveats apply: keep in mind that this is my own personal opinion and not holy writ about the future of Storybricks. (We may decide to pursue other opportunities than something that looks like a traditional MMO, from small group games to licensing to other companies. Being a startup, we do what we can when we can. Not that someone won’t dig up this post later and try to corner me about some inferred promise, right?)
The first important thing that a game containing Storybricks would need is a strong central world. In any creative endeavor, the hardest thing is often the blank page (canvas, screen, whatever) you start with at the beginning of the project. It’s a lot of work to create a whole setting: the world, history, characters, and events that make for deep and engaging stories. If you’ve been on the internet for any length of time, you’ve probably seen fan fiction written by fans of a setting. It’s easier to take an existing set of creative work and build stories within that. Even fan fiction about MMO game worlds. Don’t mistake this fandom with laziness or lack of creativity; Liz is obviously a highly creative person, it’s just that the setting provided her inspiration. Note that this setting could be anything from typical high fantasy to science fiction to a modern setting; Storybricks could fit within many different settings and games. But, in order to tell stories I think a strong central setting is vital.
The other part of this strong central world is compelling gameplay. A wonderful world with drab gameplay won’t be very engaging. In fact, you could argue that a game with terrific gameplay and a mediocre setting is better as it will draw people in and give storytellers a lot more room to create compelling stories that don’t compete with the official storylines. However, I don’t think we need to intentionally make a mediocre setting to satisfy this. I think it’s also important that the gameplay support the telling of stories. We’ve had a lot of internal discussion about how stories will be presented to players. We expect that not everyone will want to write stories, but we hope that many people will want to experience stories. How do we make them a vital part of the game without making them feel forced? How do we deal with inevitable issue of quality; not to slight our future players, but interactive storytelling is a rare art in our day and age, and it’s something that might require a lot of practice before becoming very good in the digital medium. (However, I am always willing to be pleasantly surprised.)
The future of Storybricks
As we develop Storybricks, we will have to make a lot of decisions that shape its future. We also listen to the discussions of our players to guide our decisions as well. Right now, we’re focusing more on the toolset than a future game we could put it into. Part of our focus right now is to make it so that the Storybricks toolset can fit within multiple games easily. Of course, this focus on flexibility can lead to frustration as games often live or die on their special, specific cases that make things more fun than alternatives.
What do you think? Did you think about Storybricks as a game before this? Or were we effective in communicating that it is a toolset? What type of game do you think would be best for Storybricks to fit within? What elements would a gameworld need in order to make it compelling for you to want to play and/or tell stories in?