Grassfields and Highways

Ever since I read his interview on Rock, Paper, Shotgun; I’ve had my eye out for anything on Eskil Steenberg‘s MMO, Love. It’s a fascinating project demanding ambition enough that I have instant respect for the guy taking it on alone. He says on his blog that he’s gotten offers for help but turned them down:

Lately I have gotten a bunch of Emails from people who want to help me and as grateful as I am, I don’t really know what to do with them since I know i can do the job myself.


Taking on the world, now that’s a lifestyle. And doing it as an auteur too. He says the game is called Love because that’s why he’s making it. It’s not about money, just the love of the game. Seems to be a major theme he has going. Not a bad one.

I wish we saw more of this to show that the team mentality of the industry is not the only path to game production. Committees are good for one thing, slowing down processes and making results more bland. That’s why countries have Congresses and Parliaments; a single leader could make bold, passionate, radical moves, but a Congress of hundreds of individuals would be slow and mild tempered.

For a nation that needs stability, a bureaucracy has its place, but art needs bold, passionate, radical moves. Art by committee only renders bad art and inefficiently. Try to stabilize the artistic environment and you get an XBLA filled with crappy games that were sure to sound “risk free” to some group of investors. Of course, not everyone has a choice. When you specialize in only one aspect of the process, you better find some help.

Steenberg is aiming to make the game entirely procedural, specifically the story. I’ve seen his beautiful visuals and assume the animations and sound are working out. It’s not hard to imagine how those are functioning, but story is another thing altogether. I’ve put a lot of thought into that possibility myself, but the difficulties that language introduces are huge (assuming dialog is procedural). I’d really love to hear how he plans to overcome that, but as of now it sounds like Steenberg’s procedural storytelling is still very much in development. In his RPS interview he describes manipulating a narrative’s key points:

If you think: “I’m going to make a computer that can write Shakespeare”, you are going to loose your mind. You just cant get that done. But then you start breaking it down: Let’s take something like Star Wars. You’ve got this droid, that has the plans for the Deathstar. That is in essence a simple door key, problem that you have in Doom and million other games. You need object A to destroy Object B. Simple. Then you say why do we need to destroy B? Well, we’ve got to make B really dangerous, so we make it destroy something the player cares about, say his aunt and uncle. Each of these links are very simple cause and effect links, that strung together can create a story like Star Wars. So you create x, number of keys, and x number of bad things that can destroy x number of good things and you start getting a lot of variation. Obviously if the player fails to find the key making it impossible to destroy the Deathstar we let the game throw in a few different keys, while the players have to deal with the fact that the Empire destroys a lot of things wile they figure out how to stop them. Now imagine you create very many of these links, and the string them together in very long chains, and then dress them up very differently visually, you get a very complex story that just keeps going and going.

It sounds simplistic. Yeah, it’d still be great to see the progress, but I think Steenberg’s sights are set rather low as far as story is concerned. A system like this would definitely provide a story, but would that story be any good? Not that I mean to criticize him. It’s a very new direction and biting off more than you can chew can lead straight to madness. His concept is solid, and it will definitely pave the way for further development. But Steenberg said it himself, “If you think: ‘I’m going to make a computer that can write Shakespeare’, you are going to loose your mind,” so will his NPCs all speak like idiots? Honestly, that’s an option I’d be considering if I were him.

The MMO aspect of the game promises a lot of possibilities. It appears to me that in an MMO environment, stories tend to emerge as a result of human interaction, but the AI presence described by Steenberg (in which NPCs become friends and enemies) is quite an undertaking.

Finally, I insist you read this post on the place of games in reality.

-Christopher J. Rock

About the author:
Christopher J. Rock (http://)
Film student at California State, Long Beach. I want to make the gaming world a better place.