Any thoughts on Storytron the interactive storytelling engine?

1 Jan 2011 - 4:13pm
5 years ago
1 reply
2520 reads
interactive fiction

The other day I came across Storytron by Chris Crawford a games industry legend. I was eager to check it out because I'm currently reading "The Art of Interactive Design", which he wrote. Unfortunately, I have mixed feelings about it, and was wondering if anyone from the community had any experience with it as well so we could compare notes.

I couldn't put my finger on it right away, but I realize now that the big problem is the use of text. Crawford eschews graphics because he's more interested in the story aspect, rather than the eye candy. I'm fine with that part, but he relies on a very simplified form of English called Deikto. If you've seen "True Grit" or read a very good book, you know how engrossing language can be. Deikto just doesn't live up to that, which is a shame for a text-based storytelling system.

The part where things did work was all the clicking. Crawford seems to have accidentally stumbled on one of the reasons Farmville and other Zynga games can be so addicting. Clicking a lot creates a kind of hypnotic effect. The problem is that I was doing it more or less randomly. I think this is a fault with interactive storytelling in general, though, not just Storytron. Traditional stories are powerful because you get this evolution of character or circumstance from beginning to end. With an interactive story, sometimes it just feels like you only doing stuff without any real evolution or trajectory. I'm not sure how that can be resolved.



6 Jan 2011 - 12:33pm

Here's my problem with the site:  It's impossible to play the game.

The first page is a splash screen that tells me nothing about the site.  So I click on Play a Storyworld, which takes me to a page that tells me about Chris Crawford and vaguely attempts to describe what the site is about.  In the center is the name of something that appears to be a hyperlink to a game (I wasn't sure) that has a player rating, which presumably means that whatever it is, its good.  To the left there are a few globes that say "news" on them.  I click the hyperlink after looking everywhere for a "play the game" link, or description of how to get started.  This takes me to another screen that gives me a couple of buttons ("how to play" and "play me") and more ratings information.  I click "how to play" and go to a screen that literally has a screen shot telling me to click the "play me" button which triggers a java applet download that I need to accept. After that, it has 10-12 PARAGRAPHS on how to play the game.

In my opinion, this is an unacceptable amount of work.  Also, the use of java is totally unnecessary for a game like this. If it were my game, it would start with a splash screen that said "Storytron is online interactive fiction where you choose the the path of the story!"  and a button that says "Play Now".  Once you hit the button, it takes you to a page running on ajax that loaded options based on your choices, gave brief help the first time you did something, and showed you all the choices you made so far going down the page until you were done.  To see the story now you have to click the "storybook" button. Also, the relationships and background info could easily be shown contextually and in some kind of floating div that can be moved, minimized or closed.  At the top, you have some nav buttons for News, About Storytron, About Chris, etc.

The game, once you start playing, is simple and could be fun.  I just don't think anyone was thinking about how a user would interact with it when they made it.

Sorry for the hard criticism. I've written a couple of simple games and years ago wrote a pen and paper RPG, so I can definitely see the potential in a story telling game.  I also ran a mud, so I understand some of the challenges of interactive text games. I have a passion for this kind of thing, so I want to see it succeed.

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