Virtual storyteller: reader takes charge of story

June 11, 2010 by Rianne Wanders, University of Twente

( -- It's a wonderful thing to be carried away in a story, but will you as the reader soon be able to determine how the story unfolds? With the Virtual Storyteller, developed by Ivo Swartjes at the Centre for Telematics and Information Technology of the University of Twente, the Netherlands, the reader will soon be able to take an active role. What he or she does determines how the story progresses. The key to making this possible is to devise intelligent software, so that the 'storyteller' is also prepared for unexpected situations.

The 'Virtual Storyteller', developed by Ivo Swartjes of the University of Twente, is a computer-controlled system that generates stories automatically. Soon it will be possible for you as a player to take on the role of a character and 'step inside' the story, which then unfolds on the basis of what you as a player do. In the gaming world there are already 'branching storylines' in which the gamer can influence the development of a story, but Swartjes' new system goes a step further. The world of the story is populated with various virtual figures, each with their own emotions, plans and goals. 'Rules' drawn up in advance determine the characters' behaviour, and the story comes about as the different characters interact. In developing the 'Virtual Storyteller', Swartjes began by investigating whether people enjoyed playing a part in this type of story, before going on to research the conditions and rules for the software.

Improvised theatre

The PhD student drew inspiration from improvised theatre to find out whether people enjoyed playing in an improvised story. Using a specially developed chat programme, he created a fictional world inhabited by two improvising actors and a test subject. The subject knew nothing in advance of what would happen, while the actors only knew that a story had to be created. These experiments showed that the test subjects very much enjoyed participating in the story. They especially liked the collaboration, and taking decisions on the spot.


How can you then translate this way of working into rules that determine the behaviour of the characters, so that 'natural' interaction is generated and with it a story is created? The 'Virtual Storyteller' can work with a number of scenarios, but there will still always be surprise events. To take account of these unpredictable scenes, the developers have to constantly seek out additional rules of behaviour. The author therefore does not write the stories, but devises the rules that determine what happens within them.

From games to bringing bad news

Virtual storytellers can make computer games even more advanced: the gamer has even more influence on how the game progresses than is now the case. But Swartjes also sees applications outside of the entertainment industry. The technology could also be used in management training, for example, or in rehearsing difficult situations such as bringing bad news. Swartjes expects that in five years time the new concept will be applied in a wide range of situations.

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1 / 5 (1) Jun 11, 2010
Can't help it, but I'm unenchanted. Back in the very late '70s, we used to play Dungeons and Dragons. That was widely touted (especially by non-IT newspaper reporters) as reading a book and truly participating in the storyline (i.e. where things went). As players, we simply felt we played just another computer game.

Sure, as the developer, you can bust your back bringing in Artificial Intelligence, Stochastic Variables, Heuristic Methods, and the like. But hey, the player still only feels he's simply interacting with the computer. He's only interested in whether doing this or that makes a difference between dying now or soon.

This is about as smart as claiming that a move-storing tic-tac-toe program is Artificial Intelligence, just because it may react differently the next time.
not rated yet Jun 11, 2010
I believe your lack of enchantment or fun in roleplaying is only to be blamed on the lack of imagination in your group of friends..I really cant understand how you felt the same as playing a computer game,because what baldurs gate gives you the freedom and capability of imporovising a human narrator does?There's only one computer game that has a freedom and atmosphere that has submerged me as much playing as with humans and thats Vampires 2:Bloodlines.Awesome atmosphere!
What is being proposed here is the enhancement of your visual imagination through software.
But to do this the program would have to undestand everything you say and respond! Inst this crazy?
They only could if the software related the actions and words of the players with a certain purpose,or the lack of it,and adapt the story they are telling.

I believe this would mean a radical change in human machine interfaces,but how do you create a software with imagination?
not rated yet Jun 11, 2010
Now that I think of it.Isnt there a game for Nintendo Ds that draws the objects you write down?And then you can USE that stuff, to solve problems in most various ways.Well,if that could be done...
not rated yet Jun 12, 2010
I think this will be fantastic. Honestly, my first thought was of the "Star Trek: TNG" holodeck scenario. True, no holograms here (yet), but the concept is the same.

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