Solving the Sandbox Paradox: Branching

Today we’re talking about a tried-and-true, predefined solution to the “Sandbox Paradox” in games — Branching Narratives. You may have heard of them in book form as choose-your-own-adventures. The plot of a traditional choose-your-own-adventure story takes the form of a branching tree with many nodes. At each node you can choose one of (typically) two or three options actions that you’d like your character to take next, and you’re taken to the next branch in the story based on what you did.

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The “Sandbox Paradox”

Writing stories for video games is hard. I mean, could you imagine being an Author and trying to write a novel if your main character was being controlled by someone else? What would you do if your hero just decided not to fight the villain? Even worse, what would you do if they decided to join forces with the villain?

Most game stories are not interactive, and by that, I mean that the player cannot influence the direction of the story. This makes sense, because with the exception of choose-your-own-adventures, it’s impossible to write a complete interactive story beforehand. Games simply don’t have the time or money to write an epic game story for every possible choice that a player could ever make during the course of the game.
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Genre Crisis

Have you ever noticed the difference between the kinds of genres in games, and the kinds of genres in… everything else?

In fiction (books, movies, graphic novels, etc.), genres are divided up based on the kinds of stories that they tell, and the kinds of worlds those stories take place in. Sci-fi, action, fantasy, steampunk, crime, horror, mystery, urban fantasy, speculative fiction, romance, thriller…

But in games, the genres are exclusively based around the mechanics of the game. Side-scroller, platformer, RPG, first-person-shooter, action-adventure, puzzle, MOBA, turn-based tactical, real-time strategy, visual novel, text-adventure, MMORPG…
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On the Side

In previous posts, we’ve mentioned that immersion into the game’s world can be a fantastic tool to enhance the appeal. One way to pull this off is by including small details which make it look like you’ve thought a lot more about your worldbuilding than you really have. Today I’d like to zoom in one way to pull this off: side stories.

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Can a Computer be Creative?

Outside of the strange swirling nether of the internet, I have a life. I’m a graduate student studying computer science, and my project deals with building an artificial game master for real-time games.

This opens up a great deal of questions. If Game Mastering requires creativity, then how can you ever expect a computer to be able to do it? I’d simply like to deflect that question to you, the reader.

Do you believe that a computer could ever be ‘creative’? What does it have to do before it can be considered so?

Mashing Genres

In an effort to avoid getting too philosophical or “meta”, I’m going to keep this short and to the point. I’ve been thinking for some months now about how a game might help change the gaming mindset of running frantically from objective-to-objective. Quest-based storytelling has some severe limits on what kind of stories you can tell.

A couple random thoughts on “new” genres of games that would change the mindset we have when playing them:

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