I came across this article on Polygon describing some of the awesome tech behind the new and improved Storybricks Engine, which purportedly can generate stories from scratch. I was intrigued. The Storybricks team (currently working with the Everquest Next folks), seem to be taking sort of a simulation approach. The rationale is that if every NPC in the world had a complex model of emotions, personality, motivations, goals, desires, and capabilities, then they’d naturally start creating conflict with one another, so quests and stories would (hopefully) write themselves. A player who takes a stroll through the world will have a different experience every time, because the NPCs are constantly fighting and changing relationships.
This is the biggest step to making truly interactive stories I have ever seen. Storybricks is finally taking all that stored-up knowledge in academia about generating narratives and applying it. Yet I’m not convinced that great stories can ever be “simulated”, no matter how complex the simulation. Think of it this way:
“If an NPC dies in a forest, and no players are around to see it, does it matter?”
The problem with a simulation, in my opinion, is that it focuses on making NPC relationships as realistic and as varied as possible, and then hoping that all players are getting cohesive, enjoyable stories out of it whenever they happen to walk by. The issue is that players are never going to get a connected, cohesive story out of these bricks. The focus is on building good NPC stories centered on the lives of NPCs (of which players can stumble upon), rather than a good story centered around each player. While cool stories happening to NPCs is great for lore and exploration, I’d much rather that cool stories happen to me, with my character as an important (rather than incidental or supplemental) element of the plot.