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EL & Player Generated Narrative

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Greetings folks! Long time no see :)


As some of you know (*hides from Acelon*), I have been occupied with uni for the past, hrmm, two years now, and thankfully everything has been running smoothly so far. Doing a games development degree is heaps of fun, it has its pros and cons, it's fantastic to be able to sketch, draw, model and animate anything that you can come up with in your imagination, but it's become hard to play a game without picking up on and criticising bad game design and mechanics :P


Ok, now to the reason of this post.


We do a mix between theory and practical classes at uni, and for one of my theory classes this semester I've decided to base my academic essay assignment on Eternal Lands :P On to the topic! \o/


What I need from you guys is for you to examine, discuss and give me your opinion and thoughts on how the environment of Eternal Lands provides resources for the development of emergent narratives (careful when I say environment, in a games degree you need to think outside the box, environment can mean both in-game and on the forums). What I mean by emergent narrative is, narrative or a driving story that isn't embedded into the game, but rather created by the player or players that play the game (ie. "emerging" in their minds). I haven't been around for so long so I've lost track of many things. So please lend me your help :)


One thing I'd like to request is some feedback from Radu and any fellow developers regarding how Eternal Lands is designed to house player generated narratives and what impact this has on the game, and how important of a factor this is. MMORPGs are quite good when it comes to emergent narratives because the worlds are so rich and full of small details that can be interpreted by players in many ways. And online forums is such a great way to extend this narrative. It's so fascinating :)


In the following post I'll provide some further information and examples on this topic, feel free to read it. If there's anything you're confused about, anything you want to ask me, please don't hesitate.


Thank you for your time, and nice to see you all again!

And hello to all the new players! Nice to meet you all and hope to see you in-game one day!




P.S. Those of you who want to be quoted in a proper way, please drop a name you want to be quoted under (nicknames not preferred).

Edited by Sistema

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Emergent narrative, a term introduced by designer Marc LeBlanc in his lecture "Formal Design Tools" at the 2000 Game Developers' Conference, refers to storytelling produced entirely by player actions and in-game events (Adams, 2010). Narrative can emerge from the simplest unintentional things, or can be specially and carefully designed by the developers to provide maximum potential of narratives being generated by players.


The latter works very well in The Sims. Will Wright, creator of The Sims, has designed the game in such a way that narrative emerges from the player's actions, it emerges through gameplay; the player decides what the story of their sims will be, and uses the environment to enforce it.


Those of you who have played Left 4 Dead will know that the difficulty is automatically adjusted according to the players' performance. However, it's not only the difficulty that being tweaked, Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve, states, "The events are trying to give [the players] a sense of narrative. We look at sequences of events and try to take what their actions are, to generate new sequences. If they've been particularly challenged by one kind of creature then we can use that information to make decisions about how we use that creature in subsequent encounters. This is what makes procedural narrative more of a story-telling device than, say, a simple difficulty mechanism."


The Grand Theft Auto series plays an exceptional role in player generated narrative. How many of you have ditched the main missions and just hopped into a car and given yourself a story, quest and goal of your own? Exploring, seeing how fast you can go, running away from cops, running over strippers, do these sound familiar?


So all these narratives are generated when the player interacts with the environment, with the game space.


Eternal Lands takes this a step further, like all MMORPGs do, because the player is no longer interacting with only the environment, they are interacting with other people. There are many empty houses in many cities in Eternal Lands. What's great is players choose a house they like and take ownership over it (not officially, but in spirit). They spend time there, they invite friends over. They use the objects found in the house to create a story. This is one example I could think of, I'd like to hear everyone else's. :P



Edited by Sistema

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Hello Sistema, nice to see you around!


I would certainly mention the creation of new NPCs by players. According to your "thinking outside the box", it is certainly a peculiar feature of EL that players can join the development team and write NPCs, and in so doing, literally invent history, politics, religion of maps and races. Acelon will be able to tell you all about it, provided he gets a new PC that is! :P

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Hi Sistema,


i'm on board with the NPC team and sometimes it is a lot easier to start a script if you actually visit the place where the NPC you are trying to write is supposed to be located. Lots of ideas come organically from the game environment.


I think a good example of the players making a story for something out of the environment might be Tankel. IIRC there isn't anything in NPC scripts about him being a drunk, but the majority of EL knows that the idiot drunkard might ruin your armor. I assume this came about because of the scattered bottles and mugs around him.


Good luck with your paper :)

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A small but possibly significant point is that there's also contests based on the game environment too. For example, there's currently a hyperbag contest in Events, with clues to the bags locations in the form of rhymes, based on terrain and npc information. So it isnt just currently generated narrative but also guided future narrative that is created on occasion. After all, if the contest causes people to change their normal routines then planning the contest in advance guides a players personal narrative towards something they would not otherwise be doing (IE wasting keys trying to find bags they know are around here somewhere....).


As for thinking outside the box, I will be more enthusiastic when I see evidence there was thinking inside (thanks for the quote mr pratchett, sorry if I buggered the wording up). over 24 hours now and only one bag found..disgraceful!

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Yay, Sistema! You've reached the stage I was at five years ago, when I was working on stories for EL. It's nice to have someone else talking and thinking about emergent narratives (or environmental storytelling, or low-level stories, as I called them back then).


Some examples for you of emergent narratives:


- Weddings. There are plenty of invitations on the Events forum, but have a look at Scorpius' and Bernie's invitation here. Two things stand out. One is that they're using specific in-game environments to have personally-meaningful events in (such as holding their wedding reception in a tavern). Secondly, have a look at the Love Movie that Scorpius made to celebrate their union. It's an interesting case study of how he used various environments, poses and situations to illustrate his love story. That's emergent narrative right there, captured on video.



- Invasions.. They provide a lot of personalized accounts about in-game events, though many players don't realise it or take advantage of it. Some of the ones that did wrote their stories on the forums, though. Razia's Ballad of the Red Moon War was a poem written shortly after the first invasion (ever). And later, Shea melded both his own comments and in-game messages to create The Call to Arms. Plus there are tons of invasion screenshots around, and the mods still take in comments about recent mod-run invasions to improve the player experience. (Though this was primarily for the purpose of gameplay improvements, rather than narrative improvements.)



- The 3-lupine patch in Portland. That was my favourite spot for harvesting ingredients for mana potions, and I wove it into my history as the secret burial spot for my character's mother (see Memories of a Healer, part 1). Not to mention "Bob the Gob", the player-named goblin of Portland (he was first named in one of the Newbie Channel conversations, approximately around end of 2004, IIRC). He then got further remediated through another story about Bob and Sheila.



- #beam. A game functionality command turned into a location, which then turned into a place with social and cultural meaning for players, and immortalized into a poem. Beam is where friends meet. It is the common home ground for all of EL's players. It was also a great place to do some environmental roleplaying for me. I don't know if people still do healing at beam, but I can share an example of what I used to do, just to spice up the routine when I sat down for a long session of healing. I would make an entire story out of lighting the campfire at beam, using emotes:


Lyanna sits down.

Lyanna places some wood onto the campfire.

Lyanna throws a Fire Essence onto the wood.

<at this point, I would light the fire>

Lyanna summons a kettle!

Lyanna places some Chrysanthemums and 2 Water Essences in the kettle.

Lyanna places her teakettle onto the fire to make tea.

Lyanna summons a teacup!

Lyanna pours tea into the cup and sips it.

[Lyanna]: Ahhh...

Lyanna looks around for someone to heal.


So, you could argue that the way the emote system is set up in EL - the idea of just putting a ':' before being able to type anything you want, can allow for fairly complex (though text-only) emotes and actions being conveyed. In fact, it's possible that the very abstract (textual) nature of these emotes may make them more flexible, as opposed to the emotes used in many modern MMORPGs, which restrict you to a menu of physical actions / faces that you can display.



- The Expedition to Irilion and the corresponding Role-Playing thread that it spawned. There was a case of a deliberate, planned effort to stimulate interest in the story of EL with the introduction of the second continent via "news posts". The fact that it happened to generate an epic role-playing thread in the forums was unanticipated, but highly satisfying to watch, and you can see how I tried to provide further tools for them when I gave them a scrap of the map for better organizing their storytelling efforts. This was an interesting case study because players took the basic forum posts about upcoming in-game content, plus lore and maps, and managed to create an entire (mostly-coherent) narrative out of it based on their own characters. You can also see how guilds tried to get into the act by posting official communiques on the news thread.






Personally, my take on it is that emergent narratives often depend more on the player than the environment. A player that desires to create narratives will do so no matter what the environment offers. Myself, for example... every single story I've written has been based on some element of the game's environment, population, or gameplay feature. But not many people desire to create narratives about everything. Some prefer to experience or hear narratives told by others, while some don't care for narratives at all (forget the story, just let me get on with the levelling game!).





Edited by Lyanna

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