The Challenge Of The Interactive Movie
Ernest W. Adams
1995 Computer Game Developers' Conference
This is an approximate transcript of the text of my lecture delivered on 23 April 1995 at the Computer Game Developers' Conference in Santa Clara, California. Unfortunately, it does not appear in the Proceedings. I present it in this form because the nature of the material does not lend itself to the traditional paper format. Also, because the lecture is informal and to some extent ad-libbed, this is not a verbatim document.
Important Note: I publish this lecture here as part of my curriculum vita. However, it is outdated and has been superseded by later work. It should not be used for teaching or cited as my current thinking.
[Lecture begins with the final five minutes of the film Casablanca. The movie ends, and Rick and Louis walk off into the fog.]
Thank you, that will be all. [Laughter] My name is Ernest Adams; this is "The Challenge of the Interactive Movie." Before I begin, I need to issue some ritual disclaimers. My lectures tend to take the form of sermons, and sermons are personal statements of belief to some extent -- full of warnings and exhortations, and filled, as Shakespeare would have said, with sound and fury and signifying nothing. But we'll hope it's a little bit better than that.
In any case, this is the gospel according to Saint Adams. What you're going to hear is not the opinion of my employers. It's not the opinion of the Computer Game Developer's Conference or the Computer Game Developers Association, domini, domini, etc.
Last year at this conference, I gave a lecture called "Celluloid to Silicon: A Sermon for the Newcomers From Hollywood." To some extent, this lecture is a continuation of last year's lecture. In that lecture, I examined the Hollywood metaphor from the developer's point of view: the computer game as movie. And I determined that it was pretty seriously flawed from the developer's point of view. The reason is that linear media -- books and movies -- do not require engineering, and interactive entertainment does require engineering. And engineering is awkward and unreliable. And unpredictable. And slow. And the linear media don't have to put up with nearly as much of that. Engineers' schedules are all guesswork, because engineering is problem-solving, and problem-solving knows no timetable. Software engineering is worse, because as a discipline it's only about 50 years old, and there are no standard ways of doing anything. And interactive entertainment software engineering is worst of all, because we have a Christmas deadline, and most other forms of engineering don't. Vice Presidents of Marketing and so on are constantly coming to us and telling us to pull the schedules in. These are a lot of things that the folks from the linear media, who are coming into our industry have to learn to deal with. If they don't know how to deal with them, they're going to learn their shirts. And more importantly, as far as I'm concerned, their employees are going to lose their jobs.
So this year, I wanted to kind of continue the investigation of the metaphor a little bit, but looking at it from the creative standpoint. I wanted to turn it around and look not at the computer game as movie, but at the movie as computer game, the interactive movie.
Now, "interactive movie" is one of those marketing terms that is just absolutely irresistible. Everybody knows what a movie is, and everybody knows that interactivity is way cool. Therefore, if you make an interactive movie, it must be a way cool, easily understandable thing -- except that it's not, really. And since we're constantly being asked to make interactive movies, I decided to try and think about what an interactive movie really is supposed to be. What are we doing when someone comes to us and says, "I want you to make an interactive movie"? How are we supposed to respond to that?
Well, the traditional way, the typical way to try to solve these sorts of problems is to look at examples out there in the field. See what's out there and see if you can learn what an interactive movie is from seeing things that have already been done.
I've got some here. Wing Commander! "The most complete interactive movie ever!" It says so right here on the box. As far as I can tell, this is a kind of space flight shoot-em-up, with little bits of video in between. OK, fair enough, that's an interactive movie.
And then we've got Voyeur! Now this doesn't actually say "interactive movie" on the box; what is says is "cinematic multimedia." But it's probably more or less the same thing. This looks to be lots of little bits of video going on at once; you watch the correct ones and you win the game. Spoiler warning ahead: you don't win the game by watching the sex scenes. They're entertaining, especially the ones with handcuffs, but they don't really advance the plot very much.
Night Trap! The much-maligned Night Trap. The thing that gives Congress fits. It's essentially in the same category -- lots of simultaneous video. Watch the video at the right time, you win the game.
Under a Killing Moon! Interactive movie. This appears to be primarily a graphic adventure. It has video in it as well, but it's move around through the world and talk to people and pick up stuff and do things.
And then -- this one's an oldie -- there's It Came From the Desert, a Cinemaware interactive movie. All kinds of stuff going on in here. Top-down scrolling and shooting and driving and a lot of different kinds of things.
And finally, we've got Critical Path. Critical Path is a one-pass-through sort of game; it's kind of like Dragon's Lair with live actors. Step off the path and you get killed -- what Chris Crawford calls "the game tree of death." And finally, of course, there's Mr. Payback, which is a movie in movie theatres, where there's actually buttons in the chair arm, and the audience votes on how they want the plot to go. I haven't seen it. The critics have not been kind, from what I've heard.
So here we've got all these great examples of interactive movies. And what can we learn from them? What do they have in common? Well, not a damn thing. You know, there's shoot-em-ups and driving games and graphic adventures and all different kinds of weird stuff here. If you go out and look at the interactive movie genre, you can't learn very much about what an interactive movie is supposed to be. So there isn't any canonical interactive movie, really. I mean, if someone came to me with a million bucks, and they said, "I want you to make the canonical interactive movie," I would have to say, "Well, gee, you know, I can't. I'm sorry, I can't take your money." Except this industry being what it is, I would take their money. [Laughter] And when I was done, I'd hand them whatever it was I'd made, and I'd say, "OK, this is the canonical interactive movie." And who's to say I'm wrong? There seems to be a lot of variety in the medium.
Let's approach it from the kind of abstract point of view. Interactive movie. What are people going to want from an interactive movie? What do our customers expect out of an interactive movie? Well, if you're saying "movie," one of the things that means to people is story. Our customers are going to want some kind of a story. How do you know when you're going to have a good story? I mean, we have a lot of talks at the conference, we've had them at different times, about story and about writing characters and so on -- and how you're supposed to have an A plot and a B plot, and they kind of go in inverse sine waves of one another and all that kind of thing. But we want good stories, so we have to learn about how to do good stories if we're gonna do stories. That's why we've had so many of those lectures here. But I think there's another way of judging stories, a more fundamental way.
When you read a book, you make a lot of judgments about the quality of the writing: you know, is it pedestrian? Does it flow well? Does it use words in a good way -- the way I'm not using them right now -- in a way that's going to really convey the scene to your mind? Is the dialogue believable? That kind of thing. When we judge movies, we also judge the acting, and whether the cinematography is imaginative, and so on. We make a lot of technical judgments about movies, about the makeup and lighting and sound. But there's a sort of fundamental judgment that we make about all these things, and that is: If you walk out of a movie, having seen it -- or if you put down a book, having read it -- and you say to yourself, "I don't think he would have done that" or "I don't think she would have reacted to that situation in that way," then we say that that story has a flaw. There's something wrong with it; it doesn't make sense. Essentially, what this means is that any story has got to be true to its own inner laws. It has to be coherent. It has to be credible. And at any point in the story, the conditions that obtain at that point in the story have got to be rationally derivable from everything that went beforehand. I don't mean to make it sound like this is a strictly logical deduction, but it's a question of it hanging together in a single coherent way.
Mysteries are an interesting example of this, because in a mystery, what happens is, you have a whole lot of different possible outcomes -- and right up until the detective gets everybody in the room at the end and reveals which one is the correct one, they've all got to be coherent. Except that they can't be coherent, because it has to be revealed to you at some point that none of them work but one. It's an incredibly difficult task to create four or five logically coherent possible outcomes which are all sort of intertangled in such a way that only one of them is really the correct one. Again, I don't want to suggest that this is pure logic, but I do think that it's a very powerful notion.
Casablanca is an excellent example. I don't know how many of you know about how Casablanca was filmed, but they weren't done writing it as they were filming it. They were filming along and filming along, and the writers, Julius and Philip Epstein, had gotten themselves into sort of a pickle, because they had these two men who both had very good emotional claims on this woman, and they didn't know who she was going to end up with. They didn't know what to do about it, and Ingrid Bergman was coming to them and saying, "Now look, I don't know how to play this character. I don't know who I'm going to end up with. What's going to happen?" And they said, "We don't know. Play her like a woman who doesn't know who she's going to end up with, because that's what she is." [Laughter] But in the meantime, you know, filming was going on, and time was running out, and money was running out, and they had to do something. And they were driving along Sunset Boulevard in an open convertible one day -- it was a beautiful day and they weren't paying any attention (there were beautiful days in Hollywood in 1943) -- and they'd been racking their brains about this for several days and worrying about it. All of a sudden, in one of those kind of amazing twin-telepathy things that happen sometimes, they turned and looked at each other and they simultaneously said, "Round up the usual suspects." And from that, they said, it just all fell into place.
Basically, once they had "round up the usual suspects," they could figure their way out of the whole rest of the mess, because stop and think about what's going to happen. A crime is going to be committed that is going to let Victor get away, or Victor and Ilse get away. Some crime. Well, what crime? Well, in a story of this magnitude, there really is only one crime, you know. It has to be murder; it's not going to be embezzlement or parking violations or something. [Laughter] Murder is the dramatic crime. OK, somebody's gonna get murdered, and Victor and Ilse are gonna get away. Who's gonna get murdered? Well, look around the cast. Who's got a really big target on his back? Major Strasser, nobody likes Major Strasser; besides, he's got lots of motive for keeping Victor and Ilse in town. So, OK, Major Strasser is gonna to get murdered; now who's gonna murder him? Well, there are actually several possibilities here.
Ilse could murder Major Strasser; she's got motive. But Ilse's really exhausted, she's emotionally wrung out. She's told Rick, "Look, you do the thinking for both of us. I can't deal with this anymore." So in order for Ilse to murder Major Strasser, you'd have to do a lot of setup in order to show that something has gotten her out of that state of emotional paralysis. That would take a lot of time and energy, and that was something that they didn't have. So weed out Ilse.
Victor could murder Major Strasser; he's got lots and lots of motive. The problem with Victor is, he's so damn noble. He's a war hero and a Resistance hero and so on, but look at the way he acts -- we're not even convinced he could bring himself to shoot a Nazi. So we'd have to set up more stuff for that, too.
Then there's Rick. Rick, who fled the United States under mysterious circumstances. Rick, tough, cynical Rick, who said, "I stick my neck out for nobody," but then rigged his own roulette wheel against himself in order to help a woman out of a jam. Rick is the obvious person to murder Major Strasser. Once that's done, of course, we still have the question of who Ilse is going to end up with, but at that point it's a little more straightforward. I mean, as Rick himself says, what kind of a life is she really going to have in Casablanca? Can we really imaging Ilse staying on with Rick and tending bar in his dive in Casablanca while her husband is continuing to do important Resistance work in London? That wouldn't end up really feeling right. And so, we decide that Ilse is going to go on with her husband, and Rick is going to go and join the French Foreign Legion, or whatever it was. It all kind of fits together, it makes sense. And it's not as if that's the only ending Casablanca could have. But it's an ending that derives naturally out of "round up the usual suspects" without doing a lot of extra work. It just fits, it's easy to create. Of course, I'm saying all this in hindsight, mind you. I mean, as you're watching the movie, you still don't know what's gonna happen. It's not as if the movie is predictable. But when it's done, the movie is satisfying. We agree that it makes sense. And that's the kind of thing I'm talking about with this business of internal coherency.
So what does all this have to do with interactivity? The answer is, nothing. Interactivity is about freedom. Interactivity is about giving your player things to do and letting your player do them. The whole point of interactive media is letting the player do something on his own. What that means is that a lot of times your player is gonna jump off the rails and go off and do completely weird, unanticipated stuff. That theory doesn't work very well with stories. I mean, let's take Superman. Now, Superman is a character who is congenitally incapable of ignoring a baby who's crying in a burning building. You know, if there's a baby crying in a burning building, Superman has got to go get that baby. He never says, "You know, I'm gonna let somebody else deal with this one this time." But what if my player is playing Superman? I'm being Superman in some sort of interactive game or an interactive movie. Here's the burning building. Do I run in and save the baby? Well, I have to if I'm Superman, but if I don't do it, then I've violated Superman's basic nature. There's this problem that arises, where the player may not be terribly interested in what you think is supposed to be your plot for them, or they may have something else that they want to do that doesn't fit. It's a tough one. How do you make sure that the player is going to do something that is coherent, that goes along with your plot, the thing that you have designed for them? That's something to think about. We'll leave it for the time being.
There's kind of another problem as well. I'll read you what I have in my notes. I kind of wrote these in a hurry. It says: "How to make sure everybody reaches climax at the same time?" [Laughter] What I actually mean by this is, remember in seventh grade English when they were teaching about stories, and they said there was an introduction and there was rising action and there was a climax and there was falling action and there was a conclusion and so on. Every story has a dramatic climax; you know, a moment when whatever it is that's gonna happen is gonna happen. In that story, everything that has got to be ready for that to happen, happens ahead of time. You have to put it all together and make sure that everything is ready there for it to take place. If you're the author, you know that that's gonna happen in the linear story because everybody's riding your train; they're all there, and you do whatever you want to do, so they get there and they do whatever it is that's going to happen.
But in the case of interactive media, there's somebody who's out of your control, and that's the player. How do you make sure that when the dramatic climax is ready to take place in your interactive story, your player is there and ready for it? Well, there are three traditional solutions to this problem in the interactive medium. A very simple one is, you just limit the interactivity. You say, "I'm sorry, you can't get off the rails." You either just cut down the interactivity so that they can't get off the rails, or you give them a lot of interactivity but it's all meaningless -- they're not able to get away from the plot, the interactivity doesn't really affect anything. The third thing is -- and this is how Critical Path works -- you kill 'em. The player does something that's not part of your plot, BAM! They're dead.
I don't think these are tremendously acceptable options. I mean, reduced to the sort of minimal example, the game turns into "hit ENTER to see next screen." Besides, reducing interactivity is not really what we're supposed to be about here, is it? Is that what people are going to want from an interactive movie -- very little interactivity?
The second classic solution is that you say, "Too bad. The player's not ready for the dramatic climax, tough." You know, the world goes on around them. And this makes for some really interesting adventure games, because in most of the adventure games, the world is kind of static, and it does things when the player does things, and that's all there is to it. But in some adventure games, the world goes on ahead. Night falls, and people come out of their shops and go home, and the muggers come out, and so on. It's interesting to watch things take place around you in one of these kinds of games. The difficulty with that is that you tend to lose a lot. Let's take the sort of absolutely canonical story, updated for California sensibilities, where the beautiful princess is going to go and rescue the handsome prince from the fearsome dragon. [Laughter] Here we've got the beautiful princess, and she's wandering around the castle. (Or, rather, I'm wandering around the castle; I'll just be the beautiful princess here.) I'm looking around, seeing what's in my castle. Why look, here's a suit of armor. How do you put these things on, anyway? Geez, there's a lot of stuff here -- you know, the gauntlets and greaves, the helm and breastplate, and so on and so forth. It's complicated. Up pops a message on the screen: BAM! Sorry, you lose, the dragon ate the prince. Oh, OK. Well, back to the game. I know my way around the castle now, so I'll run to the armor, and I'll put on the armor, and I'll go out into the yard, and there's my horse -- and how the hell do you get onto a horse while you're in a full suit of armor? OK, better look around the castle yard for a while to see what we've got here. Oh, there's a winch. Maybe I could use that to -- BAM! The dragon ate the prince. OK, back to the beginning. Run to the armor, into the armor, out to the yard, winch myself up onto the horse, out of the castle gates and head out into...the enchanted forest. OK, so here we are, we're going through the enchanted forest, and we're fighting off the evil trees and so on, looking for the magic sword, looking for the magic sword -- BAM! The dragon ate the prince. Back to the beginning. OK, into the armor, out to the yard, onto the horse, into the forest, out of the forest, head up into the mountains, gotta be a cave around here somewhere. BAM! The dragon ate the prince.
Gee. That's a lot of fun.
How many of you people, when you sit down to read a book, read page one; and then page one and page two; and then page one, page two, and page three? [Laughter and applause]
From the audience: Those of us who have small children!
There's a classic workaround to that problem, and it's called "save game." I talked about the process of appreciating and understanding a story. That process is a process of suspension of disbelief. For a brief period of time, I'm going to believe this pack of lies, this fiction. When something comes along that screws up your suspension of disbelief, you say that the story has a problem. Violations of its internal consistency, like I mentioned before, are a perfect example of that. So here I am, I'm fighting off the evil trees in the enchanted forest with my magic sword, and every five minutes I've got to stop and have a little interaction with my hard disk drive. Talk about destroying your suspension of disbelief. So I don't think that's really a terribly satisfactory answer either.
The third classic solution to this problem is the canonical adventure game solution, and that is that you make the plot advance with the player's advances. This absolutely guarantees that the player is gonna have everything they need when they get to the point at which the dramatic climax is gonna take place. They've got the magic sword and all the rest of it, they're there, they're ready. If they don't have the magic sword, there's no way they can get there; the plot simply doesn't go anywhere. It's easy. You just link up their actions to the advancement of the plot. The difficulty is that it's mechanistic. It turns the game into a series of puzzles to be solved, and once you've played two or three of these games, you can really see it. You know -- nothing seems to be happening; I must be doing something wrong. When I do something right, then interesting things happen. When you go down to the movie theater, do they stop the movie and say, "OK, now you all have to do the crossword on page three of the program before we'll show the next reel"? Is that really what people want from interactive movies? I'm not sure that it really is.
In fact, John Fowles, the author of The French Lieutenant's Woman, has written something very interesting and cogent about interactive entertainment in The French Lieutenant's Woman. It was written in 1968, and I doubt if he'd even seen a computer at the time, and he wasn't really talking about interactive entertainment. But he was writing along, and he got to chapter 13, and he got himself into sort of a mess because he had in his plans: "Chapter 13 -- unveiling of Sarah's true state of mind." And he got to chapter 13 and he realized, "My God, Sarah is not the kind of character who would simply do this. Sarah is very enigmatic, and I can't just do that, so I'm going to have to do something else." What he did was, he stopped, and he started writing all about novels. In chapter 13, he just takes time out to write about novels. But he says something in here that I think is very interesting. He says: "...we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than, the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine. We also know that a genuinely created world must be independent of its creator; a planned world (a world that fully reveals its planning) is a dead world. It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live." He goes on a little bit later and says, talking about the novelist as a god (and we can talk about ourselves as games designers as gods): "...what has changed is that we are no longer the gods of the Victorian image, omniscient and decreeing; but in the new theological image, with freedom our first principle, not authority." Now if that's true for novels, as he's writing about, then how much more true is it for us? That freedom is the basic underlying principle of interactive entertainment -- giving the player something to do. So there's kind of another problem, this mechanistic world, this planned world. That doesn't feel like a terribly good solution to the problem of how you get the player to the dramatic climax at the right time.
Then there's a third problem, which is simpler; I just call it the problem of amnesia. And that is that the characters in a story belong in their world. They know what's going on in their world, they're part of their world. They know what's in all the drawers in their apartment. They know what's in all the shops in their town. They don't get up and wander around their apartment opening all the drawers to see what's in them; they don't have to wander all over town to see what's there. And in particular, they don't pick up everything they see and stick it into their pockets. [Laughter] But that's not true of the player in interactive entertainment, is it? The player in interactive entertainment has no idea what is going on! They have amnesia. The first thing they have to do is do all this exploration. Various games have been written to actually take advantage of this kind of thing. There was a game called Amnesia, and it started off with a player who had amnesia. There was another game, based on a series by Roger Zelazny, The Chronicles of Amber. The books were about a person who started with amnesia, and they made a computer game that started the same way. It was a pretty decent computer game. But if you go down to the bookstore and you ask, "Show me all the books that start with a person who has amnesia," there aren't really a lot of them, you know; it's not a really big genre. I don't think that's really the way to do things. We've got a problem here with that. We've got this person who has no idea what's going on, and they spend all this time fooling around, trying to figure out what's going on, when the characters in real books and real movies just charge ahead into their adventures and do whatever it is that they're gonna do. There are two classic genres of books and movies where characters do start off not knowing what's going on: that is, mysteries and heroic quests, where a lot of the book is about finding things out and solving them. And surprise, surprise, what are the vast majority of adventure games? They're mysteries and heroic quests.
So here we've got these three problems. We've got this problem of logical consistency, or at least internal consistency. We've got this problem of narrative flow, of getting the player to the dramatic climax, all prepared for the dramatic climax. And we've got this problem of amnesia.
At this point, you're probably expecting me to offer you some solutions to these problems. But I'm not going to. I told you that this was a sermon, but I neglected to tell you that it is a heretical sermon. I don't think these problems have solutions. In fact, I don't think there is any such thing as an interactive movie. [Applause]
I think, in truth, interactivity and storytelling are in an inverse relationship to one another. I don't actually want to say that they're mutually exclusive, but I do think that the more you have of one, the less you're going to have of the other, and vice versa. Basically, what we've got here is a sort of a Heisenberg uncertainty situation going on. Also, I don't think these problems that I've described are problems to be solved. They're not challenges to be overcome. I think what I have described here are actually fundamental characteristics of the nature of the different media. Interactivity is one way; storytelling is another way; and that's just the way they are.
This might all kind of sound like abstract philosophizing -- you know, he's just sort of going off into the ozone; he's not really talking about how much the profit margin is and all the important things that go on in game development -- but I think it's important. I think we need to think about it. I think these problems are very serious problems, and they deserve very serious attention. And so I want to try to explain why I think we need to give it a lot of thought. And to do that, I want to talk about interactivity itself.
If you go to Berkeley, and you drive up past the University of California there, and you go up Strawberry Canyon, and on the left you pass the football stadium, and then you pass the big atom-smashers, where the berkelium and lawrencium and californium were discovered, and the road starts to narrow and starts to wind, and you go on up and up, and you pass the Botanic Gardens on your right, and it begins to get steep, and you're going up and up and up, and eventually you come out on a plateau where there's a spectacular view of the whole Bay Area from the top of the Berkeley Hills -- and there's a really ugly concrete building. And this is the Lawrence Hall of Science. Now, when I was 10 years old, I went to the Lawrence Hall of Science for the first time. I went in, and I looked around at all the exhibits, and I enjoyed myself. I had some extra time left, and I had noticed that there was this sign down at the admissions desk that said: "Computer Games: $2 an Hour." Well, "Computer Games: $2 an Hour," that sounded pretty interesting. I'd been given a book about computers by my parents when I was eight years old, and so I was pretty intrigued. But $2, man, that's two whole weeks' allowance. I'm not sure if this stuff is worth it. But, OK, I'll give it a try. So I paid my $2, and I went down into this little room, down in the basement of this ugly concrete building. And there were all these teletypes, ranged along the walls. It was fluorescent lighting overhead, and it was totally windowless, and there was linoleum on the floor. And I sat down at this teletype. You ever use a teletype? Let's see the hands.
All right! Looks like about 50%. Well, you remember, then. It's not really like an electric typewriter, is it? You know, it's got these big round buttons, and it stands up tall and goes bzzz bzzz bzzz when you push it, and there's this thing that goes along, chuga chuga chuga chuga chuga, and it comes to the end of a line, ching WHAM! It rattles and it vibrates and it smells like machine oil and ozone. So I sat down at this thing -- it's got the yellow roll paper and this little cylinder that prints all in upper-case letters at 110 baud. I typed in XEQ-$ LUNAR, and I pressed the return key.
Half an hour later, I had landed on the moon.
And I had fought the Klingons in a massive space battle, with phasers and photon torpedoes and shields.
And I'd built a dragster, and I'd raced it, and I'd redesigned it and I'd raced it again. And I'd governed ancient Sumeria. I'd watched my population thrive in good years and die in bad years, and I'd known the despair of losing my harvest to the rats. [Laughter] I'd done that in half an hour! Sitting there with my noisy, vibrating, smelly machine, in my windowless room with the fluorescent lighting overhead and the linoleum underfoot. And the power and the potential of this medium just shone out! This was the most amazing thing that I had ever seen, and I had to do it. And that's why I'm doing this. That's why this stuff is so important. It's because the power of the medium to take a person away to a wonderful place and let them do an amazing thing overcomes little obstacles like upper-case letters on yellow roll paper. Interactivity gives that power. Stories can take you away to a wonderful place, but they can't let you do an amazing thing. That's what makes this medium unique, and that's what makes it important.
There are a lot of people that don't really understand that. There was a guy who came to me a couple of years ago, and he was interested in developing some sort of computer game. This was when the Joseph Campbell documentary had recently aired, and there was a lot of interest in it and talk about it. He wanted to develop some sort of interactive entertainment or some sort of interactive experience based on that, the hero's journey and the power of myth. He had all this stuff written out about the kinds of things he wanted to explain and to show. We sat down and we talked about it, and he had lists of words, of concepts that he wanted to have in there. And I said, "Yes, but what is the player going to do?" And he took out his papers and said, "Oh, but I've got all this wonderful stuff, and it's going to be all about all this interesting stuff, and these are all these ideas that I want to express." And I said, "Yes, but what is the player going to do?" We eventually kind of had to give it up. He couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that the player is supposed do something, and that's where you start: thinking about what the player's going to do.
This is not an uncommon misconception. Last November, there was a television awards show on Turner called the Cybermania show. In the middle of the Cybermania show, which had various interesting things -- for example, Doom was in the same category as Myst -- there was about a two-and-a-half-minute thing about How Computer Games Are Made. It was one of those highly annoying quick-cut, flashy, MTV-style things for people with no more attention span than a gnat. And they had a list, a numeric list, of how a computer game gets made, and I want to read you the contents of this list. Number one: idea generation and brainstorming. Sounds good to start with. Number two: script writing. Number three: storyboarding. Number four: video shoot on blue screen. Number five: backgrounds get drawn. Number six: merger of video and backgrounds. Seventh and last: programming. "That," they found some moron to say, "is where they put the interactivity in." [Laughter]
NO!!! That is wrong! Interactivity is not something that you put in! It is not something that you tack on! Interactivity is what gives this medium its uniqueness and its power. Now, you can borrow a lot of things from the movies -- you can borrow character, and you can borrow setting, and theme and music and dialogue, to some extent -- but you cannot borrow plot. Plot is not yours to control. The plot is what the player is supposed to be doing. Your job is not to define what the player is going to see or hear; your job is to define what the player is going to do. And this is true not only from a philosophical standpoint, it's also true from an engineering standpoint. You can't shoot all the video and draw all the backgrounds first, and then do a little programming at the end and have it work. You have to design them at the same time, and you have to start the programming first.
We are standing on the threshold of a whole new era of human enrichment. We're standing in the footsteps of the Cro-Magnon person who picked up the red ocher and first drew the bison on the cave walls, or the Sumerian who decided that the marks on the clay tablets were going to mean something, or Jane Austen, who invented the novel, or Louis Daguerre and his photographs, or Thomas Edison with the kinescope. We stand in the footsteps of those people. We're basically doing the same kind of thing that they did. Don't you dare treat interactivity as some kind of an afterthought!
Now, I know that the folks in Hollywood have got a lot of content that they would like to make a few more bucks out of. And that's OK. But some of them think that they can come into this industry, and they can just slap on a little bit of interactivity, and that's gonna be all right, you know. And what's gonna end up happening is that they're going to turn out a lot of really crappy product. Interactivity is hard to do well. It requires thought and attention. If that's the best that you can do, go back to making TV movies-of-the-week. Don't come into our industry and turn out a lot of really crappy product. This industry was destroyed 12 years ago by a bunch of ignorant greed-heads who came in and decided, "We'll just crank out millions and millions of copies of garbage, and everyone will buy it and be happy." And there was a huge crash, and a lot of people lost their jobs. I don't want to see that happen again. Don't do that again!
What is the challenge of the interactive movie? The challenge of the interactive movie is not to solve all those problems. The challenge of the interactive movie is not to be fooled, not to be led astray, not to waste huge quantities of time and energy and money worrying about what an interactive movie is supposed to be. The challenge of the interactive movie is to make fabulous entertainment in spite of the fact that the marketing department is going to stick the "interactive movie" label on whatever it is that you make.
Your job is not to tell stories; your job is to build worlds in which stories can happen.
Your job is to create playgrounds… for the mind.
Here endeth the lesson.