Interactive storytelling

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For the adventure game genres, see Interactive fiction and Visual novel.

Interactive storytelling (IS) is a form of digital entertainment in which the storyline is not predetermined. The self-generated narrative, and its evolution, can be influenced in real-time by the actions of users,[1] either by issuing commands to the story's protagonist, or acting as a general director of events in the narrative. Since the user does not choose the order of predetermined events nor choose from a pre-existing selection of possibilities, Interactive storytelling relies on software that is capable of intelligent behaviour, known as artificial intelligence (AI), to create their own storylines.

Unlike interactive fiction, there is an open debate about nature of the relationship between interactive storytelling with computer games. Game designer Chris Crawford states that "Interactive storytelling systems are not "Games with Stories",[2] whereas much research in the community focuses on applications to computer games. There are several key issues in interactive storytelling, for example: how to generate stories which are both interesting and coherent; and how to allow the user to intervene in the story, without violating any rules of the genre.[3]

Like many closely related AI research areas, interactive storytelling has largely failed to deliver on its promises over its forty-year history.[4] By the early 2010s, most research efforts in this area had failed, stalled, or been abandoned, including Chris Crawford's own Storytron project.[5]


Early attempts to understand interactive storytelling date back to the 1970s with such efforts as Roger Schank's research at Northwestern University and the experimental program TaleSpin.[6] In the early 1980s Michael Liebowitz developed "Universe", a conceptual system for a kind of interactive storytelling. In 1986, Brenda Laurel published her PhD dissertation, "Toward the Design of a Computer-Based Interactive Fantasy System".[7] During the 1990s, a number of research projects began to appear, such as the Oz Project led by Dr. Joseph Bates and Carnegie-Mellon University, the Software Agents group at MIT, the Improv Project led by Ken Perlin at New York University, and the Virtual Theater group at Stanford, led by Dr. Barbara Hayes-Roth.

There were also a number of conferences touching upon these subjects, such as the Workshop on Interactive Fiction & Synthetic Realities in 1990; Interactive Story Systems: Plot & Character at Stanford in 1995; the AAAI Workshop on AI and Entertainment, 1996; Lifelike Computer Characters, Snowbird, Utah, October 1996; the First International Conference on Autonomous Agents at Marina del Rey, CA. February 5–8, 1997. The first conference to directly address the research area was the 1st International Conference on Technologies for Interactive Digital Storytelling and Entertainment, which took place in March 2003 and focussed specifically on concepts and first prototypes for automated storytelling and autonomous characters, including modelling of emotions and the user experience.[8] The concepts were developed by Chris Crawford, in his 2004 book.[9]

The 2000s saw a growth in work on interactive storytelling and related topics, presented at events which including the alternating bi-yearly conferences, TIDSE ICVS (International Conference on Virtual Storytelling) and hosted in German and France, respectively. TIDSE and ICVS were superseded by ICIDS (International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling),[10] a yearly event established in 2008.

The first published interactive storytelling software that was widely recognized as the "real thing" was Façade, created by Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern. The system was publicly released in 2006,[11] and was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Slamdance Independent Games Festival.[12]


Crawford discusses three potential strategies for developing interactive storytelling systems. Firstly, environmental approaches are those which take an interactive system, such as a computer game, and encourage the actions of a user in such a way as to form a coherent plot. With a sufficiently complex system, emergent behavior may form story-like behavior regardless of the user's actions.

Secondly, data-driven strategies have a library of "story components" which are sufficiently general that they can be combined smoothly in response to a user's actions (or lack thereof). This approach has the advantage of being more general that the directed environmental approach, at the cost of a much larger initial investment.

Finally, language-based approaches require that the user and system share some, very limited, domain-specific language so that they can react to each other and the system can 'understand' a greater proportion of the users actions, Crawford suggests approaches that only use, for example, pictorial languages or restricted versions of English.[13]

From the background of a multimedia author, media director and designer Eku Wand describes further strategies which are related to structure, space, time and perspective.[14]


The Oz Project[edit]

The Oz Project was an attempt in the early 1990s to use intelligent agent technology to attack the challenges in IS. Its architecture included a simulated physical world, several characters, an interactor, a theory of presentation, and a drama manager.[15] Users communicated with the system using either a text based or graphical interface.[16][17]


Main article: Façade

Façade is an artificial-intelligence-based approach created by Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern. It was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Slamdance Independent Games Festival and is recognised as the first true interactive storytelling software. It is text based and uses natural language processing and other artificial intelligence routines to direct the action.[9][11]


The Hybrid Evolutionary-Fuzzy Time-based Interactive (HEFTI) storytelling system was produced at the University of Texas at Austin and uses genetic algorithms to recombine and evaluate story components generated from a set of story templates.[18] Although Crawford described it as the "wrong approach to development systems [...] incomprehensible to the kind of creative talent needed for storytelling.",[9] it continues to be discussed as a research and approach and genetic algorithm continue to be considered a potential tool for use in the area.

Library of story traces[edit]

Figa and Tarau have used WordNet to build technologies useful to interactive storytelling.[19] This approach defines 'story traces' as an abstract reduction (or skeleton) of a story, and 'story projection' as a fragment of a story that can be treated as a single dramatic building block. This work seeks to build up large repositories of narrative forms in such a way that these forms can later be combined.[9]

Interactive narrative design[edit]

As defined by Stephen Dinehart, Interactive narrative design combines ludology, narratology and game design to form interactive entertainment development methodologies. Interactive entertainment experiences allow the player to witness data as navigable, participatory, and dramatic in real-time:[20] “a narratological craft which focuses on the structuralist, or literary semiotic creation of stories." Interactive Narrative design seeks to accomplish this via viewer/user/player (VUP) navigated dataspaces.[21]

Interactive narrative design focuses on creating meaningful participatory story experiences with interactive systems. The aim is to transport the player through play into the videogame (dataspace) using their visual and auditory senses.[22] When interactive narrative design is successful, the VUP (viewer/user/player) believes that they are experiencing a story.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ J. Porteous, M. Cavazza and F. Charles (2010) Applying planning to interactive storytelling: Narrative control using state constraints
  2. ^ Chris Crawford (2005). Chris Crawford on interactive storytelling. New Riders. ISBN 978-0-321-27890-6. Retrieved 8 April 2011. ,p46-48
  3. ^ B. Karlsson, A. Ciarlini, B. Feijo ́, and A. Furtado. Applying a Plan-Recognition/Plan-Generation Paradigm to Interactive Storytelling. In ICAPS Workshop on AI Planning for Computer Games and Synthetic Characters, 2006.
  4. ^ "Interactive Storytelling is our Project Xanadu". Art History of Games Conference. 2010-02-06. Retrieved 2015-04-26. 
  5. ^ "What Went Wrong". Chris Crawford. Retrieved 2015-04-26. 
  6. ^ James R. Meehan, TALE-SPIN, An Interactive Program that Writes Stories, In Proceedings of the Fifth International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, 1977.
  7. ^ Laurel, B.K. (1986) Toward The Design Of A Computer-Based Interactive Fantasy System (PhD dissertation). Department of Theater, Ohio State University.
  8. ^ Stefan Göbel, Proceedings of the 2nd Technologies for Interactive Digital Storytelling and Entertainment Second International Conference, TIDSE 2004, Darmstadt, Germany, June 24–26, 2004, Preface
  9. ^ a b c d Chris Crawford (2005). Chris Crawford on interactive storytelling. New Riders. ISBN 978-0-321-27890-6. Retrieved 8 April 2011. 
  10. ^ "ICIDS - Interactive Storytelling, International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling". 
  11. ^ a b Stern, Andrew.Façade: An experiment in building a fully realized interactive drama, Game Developers Conference, Game Design track, 2003
  12. ^ "CoC Professor Wins Slamdance Gamemaker Competition". College of Computing. Georgia Institute of Technology. 2006-02-14. Retrieved 2014-09-24. 
  13. ^ Chris Crawford (2005). Chris Crawford on interactive storytelling. New Riders. ISBN 978-0-321-27890-6. Retrieved 8 April 2011. ,Chapters 8 to 10
  14. ^ Eku Wand (2002). Interactive Storytelling: The Renaissance of Narration. In: Martin Rieser, Andrea Zapp (2002). New Screen Media. British Film Institute / ZKM. ISBN 978-0-85170-864-5. Retrieved 2 May 2011. , Part One: Chapter 4, pp. 163–178, incl. DVD-ROM
  15. ^ Oz Project Home Page, Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science
  16. ^ Mateas, Michael. An Oz-Centric Review of Interactive Drama and Believable Agents. Pittsburgh, Pa: Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science, 1997. OCLC 38553264
  17. ^ Kelso, M., Weyhrauch, P., and Bates, J. "Dramatic Presence". Presence: Teleoperators & Virtual Environments, Vol 2, No 1. Excerpt. MIT Press. OCLC 27404326
  18. ^ A genetic algorithm approach to interactive narrative generation, JJ Leggett and T. J. Ong - Proceedings of the fifteenth ACM conference, 2004
  19. ^ WordNet,, retrieved April 2011
  20. ^ a b Dinehart, Stephen E. "What is Interactive Narrative Design? | The Narrative Design Explorer". Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  21. ^ Dinehart, Stephen E. "Defining Interactive Narrative Design 2 – The Narrative Design Exploratorium". Retrieved 2010-09-02. 
  22. ^ "Features - Dramatic Play". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2010-09-02. 

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