Cinema and television are traditional electronic storytelling media, drawing much of their emotional power from characters and story. For that reason, storytelling in the interactive electronic media should introduce interactive characters and interactive stories to offer users engaging and rewarding experiences. Interactive characters Created as representation of a human being, an interactive character has her own mood, personality and deep character. If we use interactivity to provide a two-way conversation between the user and the characters, a real life relationship can be simulated. This interactive relationship can be stimulated by giving the user different opportunities for interaction, where he or she has the chance to explore the character’s personality and give input which could influence the character’s behaviour in the story. There are certain aspects of the character’s personality which cannot be changed with the user’s input. However, as in real life, her mood could be influenced: opinions given by the user towards further actions in the story are very welcome. The more input the user gives, the greater will be the rewards on the development of the story and on the establishment of a “friendship” with the character. The result of conflicts could be a reward for user loyalty; constant interaction with characters can reveal their personality and maybe change her attitudes through the story. Interactive story structures To allow the simulation of real life situations and give users the appropriate rewards for a direct interaction with characters, an interactive story structure must be carefully designed. There is a number of narrative structures commonly used in platform games. Some combine linear chunks of story with puzzles, others branch in different directions to foldback to a same linear story. Yet none of them gives a real story payoff based on the user’s input. Looking at the traditional media techniques, it is known that a good screenplay must contain elements of surprise and suspense to engage the viewer. On an interactive environment, if the user is given the chance to control the narrative development on a certain point in the story there is a high risk of failure in the delivery of an engaging story. The user is not supposed to be the writer of the story – let’s leave that to the experts. I am creating models of narrative structures which give time-limited opportunities for interaction, where the user has the choice of interaction with the characters and the choice of not to interact, simply watching a linear film. The narrative flow never stops, and the development of the story will reflect the user’s interaction. The “tree of nuances” is part of an innovative interactive storytelling structure I have developed. The diagram below illustrates the way it works: During scene 2 there’s a “window of opportunity” for the user to interact. If the user chooses not to interact, the story continues linearly, to scene 3. The opportunity is to interact with a character, on a simulation of a two-way conversation. On the first node, the character will ask a question to the user, who can reply with a positive or negative answer by pressing buttons on a joystick. The following scene depends on this reply. There is a scene with a character’s answer for “yes” and another for “no” on each node, and a linear default scene if there is no interaction. Depending on each answer, the character might reveal details of her personality or knowledge of the story, e.g.. feelings about other characters. Note that answering “no” doesn’t mean being negative to the character. For example, the character might ask “do you think I’m stupid?”, and if the user responds “no” it’s obviously a good choice if he or she wants to be “friends” with that character. This way, if the user responds according to the character’s expectation, the “tree” can be explored in deeper layers where the character will ask more questions and progressively reveal more about her personality. Prototype demonstration Mixed Emotions is a Macintosh working prototype for an interactive film exploring the concepts of interactive characters and the interactive narrative structure described above. It uses full motion digital video with real actors and real backgrounds. The experience takes between 7 and 15 minutes, depending on each viewer’s choices of interaction.
- Rosa Freitag