Dr. Dobb's Portal had a sitdown with Chris Crawford and chatted Storytron with him (via /.). Oddly, even though interactive fiction is one of my
follies causes - I honestly don't follow Chris much and nor do I really side with either camp that seems to be for or against his standing in the gamedev circles.
This is partially because I keep drifting away from the concept of a storyworld as the saving grace of interactive literature (or more generically storytelling). But that's not to say that I don't find the idea intriguing and so generally wish well on those going after it - it's just not my cup of tea.
I do think the interviewer, Michael Swaine, gives Crawford a few passes where deeper questions would have been better ... for instance:
DDJ: SWAT is an acronym for...
CC: "Storyworld Authoring Tool." There are three programs. A storybuilder uses SWAT to create a storyworld. The second technology is the [Storytron] Engine, the third technology is Storyteller, which is the consumer program. Both Storyteller and SWAT access the Engine, Storyteller to play it, and SWAT to run Rehearsal, our testing feature.
DDJ: And Diekto?
CC: Diekto is the language.
Now ... one might think that would merit some follow up discussion. Something more than just "it's a language". Like, why would a storyworld need it's own language? How is it different from English ... and so on. Straying away from a natural language parser is one of the more controversial aspects of Storytron and while the interview doesn't need to critique it - it should at least be brought into the conversation ... but the interview never goes there.
Diekto is a "mini language", according to Crawford, which seems designed to state precisely what needs to be illustrated to an NPC. Now, here is Crawford in his own words (or at least his website's):
Distinctly this is where a construct like Storytron doesn't work for me. I'm not denying the complexity of natural language parser (that's why I removed it completely in Randolph Carter) ... but you can't tell another artist what's beautiful. This is the conflict I'm seeing with Storytron. Repeatedly, it's presumed to be for creating interactive works of art. That same page notes, "there are techniques by which a conversation can be "faked" using a library of prefab sentences, but these are too narrow and cumbersome for artistic purposes".
But enforcing a "mini language" isn't?
This fine line between technical complexity and artistic license is evident again when the interviewer starts talking about how Storytron is made for use by the everyman and while describing that it's not programmatic in nature and resistant to crashing, Crawford goes down this path:
DDJ: Of course ordinary arithmetic doesn't work with B-numbers.
CC: We have [developed] bounded arithmetic. Mathematically I can prove [the bounded B-number operators] are analogous to their linear counterparts.
For one thing, and I don't want to armchair code anything or whatnot, but Crawford's "bipolar number" just seems like a way of describing a signed integer with a range from -1 to 1. Be that as it may - we're now talking pretty technical stuff here and it's clearly at the core of what goes in within a Storytron storyworld. I'm not sure how this "eliminates scaling issues" so much as "we've defined you scaling issues for you" and hopefully the description of it won't put you to sleep while trying to be artistic.
And it ends on the note that I've harped on before ... it's a singular issue I have with certain storyworld concepts:
DDJ: No plots?
CC: Because of the interactivity. What happens is that the player explores a dramatic universe. A storyworld.
And again - the interviewer simply lets this pass along. I mean, it's a plotless dramatic universe where you speak in a mini language and your emotions are defined by bipolar numbers.
How could this not be art?
Don't get me wrong - I would love for Crawford to succeed at his goals. I think they are very, very worthy goals. I just haven't seen the conversation take place which makes think that this will be an artistic solution. Course, I don't really think you can "solve" art for artists. I think it's a mistake to assume that artists either aren't or can't be technical people. Take Piet Hein as an example ... a contempory of John Nash's who both wrote poety and designed games.
tagged: interactive fiction, gaming