CS 148/248: Interactive Narrative

Instructor: Michael Mateas
Email: michaelm at cs.ucsc.edu
Office: E2 373
Office hours: By appointment

Lecture: TTh 2:00-3:45 in Physical Sciences 140


Interactive Narrative combines the pleasures of crafted story experiences, such as novels, cinema, TV shows, and plays, with the pleasures of interactivity, most evident in the contemporary scene in the popularity of video games. On the face of it, stories and interactive experiences seem at odds with each other; stories are commonly taken to require highly crafted, fixed sequences of events, while interaction is commonly taken to require allowing the player to do what they want, when they want. In this course we'll examine theoretical perspectives on both story and interactivity, with an eye towards developing a framework for integrating the two. We'll explore how story is incorporated into contemporary game designs. Students will have the opportunity to create their own interactive story using the Inform interactive fiction engine. Finally, we will examine AI systems that can generate and dynamically manage stories, with an eye towards how such systems can be used to create more richly interactive story experiences.


5 assignments: 30%

Inform storyworld: 20%

Midterm: 25%

Final: 25%

Additionally grad students are required to write weekly responses to the readings (approximately one page). Failure to turn in writeups will result in a letter grade drop or a drop from Sat to Unsat. The weekly writeup should be about a page long and should be a reflection over the readings that week. Perhaps you strongly agreed or disagreed with one of the readings, and want to argue why. Perhaps the readings struck a chord with your own research, and you'd like to describe how the work relates to your work. Perhaps there's a strength or weakness of the approaches described in the reading that you'd like to explore. Or perhaps you'd just like to summarize the readings. Writeups are due, by email, by the next class session after a topic has been covered.


Readings will consist of research papers and book excerpts. Code and additional course materials are available here.


This will be updated as we move along.

April 3: Class Introduction

For this week read:

Virtual Reality, Art and Entertainment. Joe Bates. In Presence: The Journal of Telepoerators and Virtual Environments, 1(1):133-138, MIT Press, Winter 1992.

Lord Burleigh's Kiss. Hamlet on the Holodeck. Janet Murray. Chapter 1, pp. 13-26.

Lecture 1

April 5: No Class

April 10: What is Narrative?

Before we can figure out what interactive narrative is, we need to know what narrative is.

The Structure Spectrum. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and The Principles of Screenwriting. James McKee. Part of Chapter 1, pp. 31-47.

The Substance of Story. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and The Principles of Screenwriting. James McKee. Chapter 7, pp. 135-180.

Narrative, Media, and Modes. Avatars of Story. Marie-Laure Ryan. Chapter 1, pp. 3-30.

Lecture 2

April 12: What is Interactivity?

Before we can figure out what interactive narrative is, we need to know what interactivity is.

Interactivity. Chris Crawford on Game Design. Chris Crawford. Chapter 6, pp. 71-92.

A Preliminary Poetics for Interactive Drama and Games. Michael Mateas. In First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Edited by Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin.

Lecture 3

April 17: Finish discussion of interactivity

Assignment 1: Pick one of the games (Indigo Prophecy, Half-Life, Sims II, Prince Of Persia: Sands of Time, Grim Fandango) and play it for at least 6 hours. Games as available on course reserve in the science and engineering library. Write a 2 page short paper on how the game functions as narrative (to the extent that it does), and how player interaction is (or isn't) integrated with the narrative. What elements work with and against a narrative interpretation? How are these game experiences situated within the ludology/narratology debate? Your response should make use of concepts from the readings on narrative, interactivity and the ludology/narratology debate.

April 19: The Interactive Story Conundrum

Introduction to the tension between interactivity and narrative. In academic circles, this tension manifested as the ludology vs. narratology debate.

Genre Trouble. Espen Aarseth. In First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game. Edited by Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Read the responses as well.

Towards Computer Game Studies. Markku Eskelinen. In First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game. Edited by Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Read the responses as well.

Simulation versus Narrative: Introduction to Ludology. Gonzalo Frasca. In Video Game Theory. Edited by Mark J.P. Wolff and Bernard Peron.

Lecture 4

April 24: Continue Discussion of the Interactive Story Conundrum

Assignment 2: Play 4 IF works (Zork I, Photopia, Galatea and Savoir Faire and write a 3 page short paper comparing the works with each other and with the game you played for assignment 1. Use the concepts and terminology from the readings (all the narrative, interaction and ludology/narratology readings). For Zork I, play for two hours (it's a big game - you probably won't finish in two hours). Photopia and Galatea are short - both should playable to (an) ending. Savoir Faire is a bit of a longer piece - again play for 2 hours (I've found comments online indicating that it can take 10 hours to complete). For all the games you can find walkthroughs and hint guides online. Each of these IF pieces is an example of a different approach to IF (and, more generally, interactive narrative design). Playing a bit of Zork I provides a baseline for what early IF was like. If you are new to playing IF, this guide might be useful.

Downloads for IF

Download Zork. 1. The Win95 and Mac versions are stand-alone versions of Zork. The ZIP version is a Z-machine file that is interpreted by a Z-Machine interpreter.

Zork 1 clues

Z-machine Interpreters. A Z-machine is a virtual machine (analogous to the Java VM) that Inforcom developed for their interactive fiction products. Much of contemporary IF runs on the Z-machine (written using languages such as Inform that target the Z-machine) - all of the pieces we're looking at run on the Z-machine. On the PC, WinFrotz is a popular choice. On the Mac, Zip Infinity is a popular choice.



Savoir Faire

Recent interview of Emily Short in Gamasutra


Game Design as Narrative Architecture. Henry Jenkins. In First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game. Edited by Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Read the responses as well.

Build It to Understand It: Ludology Meets Narratology in Game Design Space. Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern. In Proceedings of the Digital Interactive Games Research Association Conference (DiGRA 2005), Vancouver B.C., June, 2005.

Beyond Myth and Metaphor - The Case of Narrative in Digital Media. Marie-Laure Ryan. Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research, Volume 1, Issue 1, July 2001.

Lecture 5

April 26: Interactive Fiction

Assignment 1 due.

Project 1: Create an interactive story using Inform 7. The Inform development environment can be downloaded here.

Lecture 6

May 1: No Class

May 3: No Class: Takehome midterm handed out

Midterm. The midterm will be takehome and will be made available from the syllabus.

Assignment 2 due.

May 8: Presentations of design of Inform storyworlds

Presentations and feedback on Inform storyworld designs.

May 10: Introduction to AI Story Systems and Story Grammars

Assignment 3: Pick a genre serial story (e.g. H.P. Lovecraft horror stories, King of the Hill, Battlestar Galactica) and develop a paper-and-penicl grammar (morphemes plus rules) that generates new stories in the genre. Demonstrate your grammar by presenting three different stories generated by the grammar.

Narrative Intelligence. Narrative Intelligence, Michael Mateas and Phoebe Sengers (Ed.). 2003.

A Declarative Model for Simple Narratives. Narrative Intelligence, Michael Mateas and Phoebe Sengers (Ed.). 2003.

Lecture 7

May 15: Project 1 Presentations

Michael is out of town, but class will still be held.

Presentations of intermediate project checkpoint

May 17: No Class

May 22: Author Modeling

Assignment 3 due.

Story Telling as Planning and Learning. Lebowitz, M. Poetics 14, pp. 483-502. 1985.

Lecture 8

May 24: Author Modelling Continued

Interactive fiction project due

Assignment 4: Use the Universe-based story authoring tool to create a story-plan representation of the same serial story you picked for your story grammar analysis.

The Creative Process. Scott R. Turner. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994. Chapter 2.

The Creative Process. Scott R. Turner. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994. Chapter 3.

Lecture 9

May 29: World and Character Modeling

Tale Spin. James Meehan. Chapter 9 of Inside Commputer Understanding: Five Programs Plus Miniatures. R.C. Shank and C.K. Riesbeck (Eds.). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 1981.

Planning Characters' Behavior in Interactive Storytelling. Marc Cavazza and Charles Mead. The Journal of Visualization and Computer Animation. 13: pp. 121-131. 2002.

Lecture 10

A micro implementation of Tale-Spin in Lisp

May 31: Interactive Drama: Facade

Facade: An Experiment in Building a Fully-Realized Interactive Drama. Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern. Game Developers Conference. Game Design Track. 2003.

A Behavior Language: Joint Action and Behavioral Idioms. Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern. In Life-like Characters: Tools, Affective Functions and Applications. H. Prendinger and M Ishizuka (Eds.). 2004.

Lecture 11

June 5: Class Review

Assignment 4 due.

Assignment 5: Write a 3 page design document describing how one or more of the AI story approaches we've discussed in class could have been used in the context of your interactive fiction project. How could an AI-based approach to narrative modeling enable a richer interactive story experience?

June 7: No Class

Final During Final's Week