Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Natural Narrative Inclinations



     Within his brief seminar regarding narrative and gameplay, Michael Mateas urges developers to transcend the tireless debate and "move on" to a more progressive form of game creating.  Frequently, he reminds his audience that though narrative is not inherently tied to interactivity, it does not necessarily work in resistance to the institution.  On contrary, many games (Mateas mentions Spec Ops: The Line and Journey) weave interaction into the story-line, often revealing inspiring and unsettling aspects of electronic gaming.  In addition, Mateas argues that giving a player to much creative control may result in a forgoing of responsibility, but finds that it encourages critical thinking and creativity.
     Kodu Game Lab is a game/development software published by Microsoft near the end of the passed decade for Xbox 360 and Windows-based PCs.  This "game" literally awards the player/creator with several simplistic tools in order to create the game of their choice.  Commonly, players were found to create multi-level shoot 'em ups and various pinball tables.  However, despite the games initially childish appearance, it allows for intricate programming, going so far as to create NPCs with various pieces of dialogues and habits, as well as functional inventory and leveling systems.



     The ability to design one's own RPG (or whatever genre of game) also conjures an interesting query:  Is one bound to design a narrative, regardless of their own compliance?  Largely a learning tool, Kodu provides several tutorials on how to program specific objects a functions, ranging from materializing realistic bees to engineering a inter-stellar vehicle.  Kodu lacks, however, any tutorials regarding story development, characterization, or avoiding even deus ex machinas.  To some degree, and not dissimilar from Mateas's claims, players (playing as developers) are instructed to ignore discursive tradition.  Instead, they are let loose on a world with omniscient power, and authorial endeavors are considered an afterthought.
     The notion of Microsoft excluding narrative-centric lessons from Kodu's tutorial library is yields many implications.  For instance, one could think of narrative's absence as Microsoft's subliminal inclination to world without meaning.  Or, on a much less cynical note, Microsoft's encouragement towards would-be developers to start imagining.  Regardless, Kodu Game Lab served as an adequate test subject for Mateas's comments.  As for my personal experience, I've adapted the scenario into a short screenplay:

-Player spawns within a clearing in a forest.
-Giant NPC approaches player.

NPC:  "Oh my, you look like my lost cat."

-From then on, the player must elude the clutches of the NPC, or suffer an eternity in the purgatory that is his woodland cabin.
-The player may collect acorns to throw at the NPC.
-The player wins the game when it successfully knocks out(10 acorn hits) the NPC and hides the body from 4 blue NPCs (the authorities).

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