Headline:Quantumn Theory and Game Design
Date:Sunday, February 16, 2020
Posted By:Plaid Hatter Games

In Conservation of Detail I was discussing how to limit the level of detail in a game, to keep the problem down to a computable size. But that got me to thinking about how the concept could be applied to storytelling.

And, if you know anything about me, you would know that would inevitable lead to binge watching PBS channels on Youtube to try to prize out any trick that the folks who use Quantum mechanics for a living use to sort out Universes.

Now you may be thinking "Holy crap, Sean, you have REALLY gone off the deep end." To which I would reply "and you are just now noticing?" But at least in this case there is a method to my madness. The problem that the Copenhagen Interpretation and the Many-worlds Interpretation try to solve is: how to manage unmade choices.

I'll leave the pros to explain the science end of this conundrum. I'm here to explain the game design implications.

In designing a story with player choice, I have to maintain a singular "state" of the game universe. And actually, if I had my way, there are multiple characters making choices, not just the player. Now for we humans, dealing with uncertainty is a sort of a superpower. At least compared to the tools I have at my disposal with computer logic. Certain genres, trillers, mysteries, and love stories, all depend on maintaining a level of uncertainty. For thrillers we have to believe a character could die, or not die, at any point in the story. For mysteries, we have to be questioning ambiguous clues, right up until the great reveal. For love stories, if there isn't a moment of doubt about whether he and she (or he and he, or she and she) finally get together, there is nothing that is causing you to keep turning the pages. Or... at least so I'm told.

What I am trying to do is provide something that most games utterly lack: player agency. In a choose your own adventure story, you have to select from a finite number of option. Usually between 2 and 4. The choices just simply route you between pre-written chunks of story. You are essentially reading a bunch of short stories connected together like Lego.

Not besmirching Choose-Your-Own adventures. Putting those sorts of stories together is an art form.

As a matter of fact, many of their writing guides are a good deal more helpful to me. This one in particular.

Ok, ok, yes, I probably should have started there first.

In the parlance of the Interactive Fiction community, I was working on an Open Map style game. With elements of a Quest style game. The problem is that the two, are diametrically opposite styles of game.

This would normally be a problem, because the layout of the story is normally the layout of the state machine for the game. My stage engine is coroutine based, so I don't have to be as deterministic at every step. The object representing the player's role in the story can service, or be serviced by, several coroutines at once.

Which leaves me... well... talking a big game. But until I write something people can actually play with, it's just that. Talk. In my defense, if I can pull this off this has the makings of a new and different kind of storytelling. But dang is it hard to bootstrap an entire technology AND develop creative content at the same time.