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Peter Jackson on the Future of Storytelling

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the man-he's-lost-some-weight dept.


Via VoodooExtreme, an article on Team Xbox covering a panel at X06 on the future of storytelling in games. Along with Mr. Jackson, industry veterans Peter Molyneux and Greg Zeschuck weigh in on this issue. The meat of the article is a video of the presentation, which is regrettably in .wmv format. The Escapist has some highlights of the conversation up in their news section. "'I've got to the stage now where I just end up catching something on DVD and I'm more excited about games coming out in the next 2-3 months than films,' said Peter Jackson, director of Lord of The Rings and founder of Wingnut Interactive, an offshoot of his movie studio. 'That created an awareness in me of the shift in entertainment options out there, and if I'm feeling that others are too.'"

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Time (3, Insightful)

EMeta (860558) | more than 7 years ago | (#16236525)

Even though I'm not much of a gamer anymore, I totally see what Jackson is saying here. I could maybe invest 9 hours of my life into a typical 90 minute movie (though there are only a handful of these), while I imagine FF VI alone has lasted me 90 hours in its replaying over the years. One of these things is just not like the other.

Re:Time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16236951)

It takes you 2 hours to watch 60 minutes too.

Re:Time (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16237097)

I generally agree that with good games, created by people who know how to write for games, are as good (or better than) any other medium for producing a good story. The problem as I see it is that most games are witten by absolutely terrible writers who look for "the hook" rather than focus on creating a decent story.

One of my friends "thought" that he could be a videogame writer and nearly every story he wrote was focused on how his characters could be the "Uber-Leetest" characters ever; his incohearant storylines involved "Lesbian-Vampire Demon-Slayers" and other X-treme ideas. Personally, most of the greatest game stories I have seen are usually very simple in plot, characters and story-progression and the depth of the story comes out in exploring the world. Having someone find a journal, complete a side quest, or listen to how the NPCs talk can have a greater impact on the player than a cut-scene where you find out that you're the son of a Lesbian-Vampire Demon-Slayer who was Raped by the King of the Warlocks.

Calling all English majors (4, Insightful)

Amalas (949415) | more than 7 years ago | (#16236621)

This is exactly why one of my friends is double majoring in CompSci and English: to write good stories.

Any good writing class should teach you about developing characters, rising action, falling action, keeping readers interested, etc. That's the sort of stuff that needs to be applied to gaming, not graphics.

Writers underrated? (2, Insightful)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 7 years ago | (#16237191)

Is it hard to get into the game industry as a writer, or do you have to be a programmer and a writer?

I know mod makers can get in really easy, but we have such an abysmal dearth of well written games that it suggests that good writers (and there are a lot out there) simply can't submit an idea and get a developer audience to chew on it.

Once the writers start getting as much respect as the coders, and actual story lines start weighing in more heavily, we'll see a major shift in the way games are made.

Re:Writers underrated? (2, Insightful)

ectal (949842) | more than 7 years ago | (#16237597)

I don't think there's really much of a job market for writing for games by itself. The closest would be to come in as a game designer, but from what I've heard, most designers start off in software dev, level design, or maybe production then move to game design once they establish a reputation. One possible foot in the door track that's been mentioned is to climb up from QA, but that assumes an endurance for low wages and an ability to wow everyone (as they're trying to ignore you) at every turn.

I'm sure this will change over time, but what won't change is the fierce competition to get into the industry in any capacity. So it'll always be hard to come in as a writer (or designer... or anything). Might even be easier to sell a novel. Maybe one based on a video game!

Re:Writers underrated? (1)

Garrett Fox (970174) | more than 7 years ago | (#16252383)

As a writer and gamer, I'd love to write for games. But I've been told that game companies figure they don't need writers, and that they can just have the designers or other non-specialists do the word stuff. The closest thing I've seen to an opportunity for writers is the contest BioWare held months ago, asking for people to create interactive stories through the Neverwinter Nights editor. There the rules said not to worry about programming or graphics, just storytelling, but entering still required learning their editor program, and its particular way of making characters move and talk.

Re:Writers underrated? (1)

Psychochild (64124) | more than 7 years ago | (#16253195)

Well, there was some discussion about storytelling [] on a few game developers' blogs. I came out in defense of storytelling, because I think it can be a powerful force. In defense of the people I refer to in the linked blog entry above, they aren't 100% against story; I think they're mostly reacting to the poor state of storytelling in games.

I have degrees in Computer Science and Spanish (with a focus on literature and linguistics). I enjoy writing as a hobby, and have done a bit of writing in my own game [] . I'm still learning how to apply my writing ability into the interactive medium during the past eight years. It's harder than it first appears.

One thing in the post above I want to address:
There [sic] the rules said not to worry about programming or graphics, just storytelling, but entering still required learning their editor program, and its particular way of making characters move and talk.

This is one of the problems with writing for games. You can't just take traditional writing and slap it in and expect it to work without specialized knowledge. The whole interactivity thing is alien to most writers who have learned to write in traditional (non-interactive) forms. And the novel writer who complained that he didn't want to learn how to type would not get very much sympathy from book publishers.

But, this is also true in other media as well. I recently watched the special features for the movie The Dark Crystal. In the feature, they talk about having to create several versions of the storyboards in order to accommodate the restrictions placed upon them due to the nature of the puppets. If you wanted to write a story like The Dark Crystal, you would have to take the nature of the puppets into consideration. Similarly, you have to understand the nature of the game medium and be prepared to present your writing in a format suitable for the work. It's important to understand how you make the characters move and talk in order to write appropriate prose.

Some thoughts from a game developer.

parent post underrated? (1)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 7 years ago | (#16256405)

Wow. Good stuff. The limitations of the game engine definitely limit the depth and breadth of the story itself. It's impossible to do a major Chronicles of Narnia battle in a day and age (thankfully long past) where you have the average computing power of the Commodore VIC-20 (though I'm not thankful the VIC-20 is long past).

I have blueprints for full scale personality matrices that I'd love to patent, but the computing power simply is not there; this is all too evident when too many sims are present at one time in a Sims 2 game. Also, stopping to load levels is a huge ding on suspension of belief. Characters having extensive and complex memories - and the ability to react uniquely based on them - is a big hard drive, cpu and memory hog. I even have pseudo code for responding to "canned" stimuli from the environment. Again, cpu, memory and HD space restrictions, make all this impossible. For now.

But think about this - your iPod has more computing power than the world had a few decades ago. If Moore's law holds up, we'll have more power in our little Vox (you heard it here, it's my name for a future uber iPod!) than we have in today's Cray. Then the real story lines will come out to play.

Re:parent post underrated? (1)

Garrett Fox (970174) | more than 7 years ago | (#16256763)

I've done some hobbyist work on AI, and would be interested in seeing anything you've posted on this topic.

Re:Calling all English majors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16240011)

Games are about the player creating the story as they explore interactivity. As long as folks from the film industry continue to enter the games market and push their own stories on us we will continue to fail at reaching the full potential of games.

Narrative is background and not nearly as important, *Designers* are the writers of the interactive medium.

Re:Calling all English majors (1)

AcidLacedPenguiN (835552) | more than 7 years ago | (#16243355)

Yeah, because the Final Fantasy series is only on its 14th iteration, Squenix must really love to lose money!

feelings, woah, woah, woah, feelings... (3, Funny)

rodentia (102779) | more than 7 years ago | (#16236635)

That created an awareness in me of the shift in entertainment options out there, and if I'm feeling that others are too.

I'm feeling, Peter, that you're feeling influential enough to generate feelings among the hoi-polloi, the better to feel your wingnut investment a bit heavier on the hip.

Just a feeling.

Re:feelings, woah, woah, woah, feelings... (1)

bunions (970377) | more than 7 years ago | (#16237135)

Oh please. The fact that he stands to make money off it doesn't make it any less true. The video game industry apparently generates more revenue than hollywood, and has for some time. PJ (we're close, so I can call him PJ) is really just stating the obvious.

Re:feelings, woah, woah, woah, feelings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16239087)

Dude, Hollywood KILLS the worldwide game industry for one simple reason: secondary markets. The entire video game industry generates only slightly more than Hollywood does -- at the BOX OFFICE. You're forgetting about broadcast, cable, rental, DVD, and vast licensing possibilities. When you throw in "foreign" films (consider that India makes more movies than Hollywood), game industry revenue is microscopic by comparison. Games don't have much in the way of secondary markets; six weeks at retail and it's dead forever. If I want to watch a 60 year old classic film on my fancy new DVD player, I just go to the video store. If I want to play a 20 year old classic game on my fancy new computer, I have to break the law.

To the grandparent, Peter Jackson is an avid gamer and has been for a long time.

Re:feelings, woah, woah, woah, feelings... (1)

bunions (970377) | more than 7 years ago | (#16239193)

I know. The numbers I found were 10bn game totals vs 180bn for hollywood totals. Still, for an entertainment industry as young as the video game industry, beating total hollywood box office reciepts is pretty damn good and is a good indicator of where the market's going.

Moving stories. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16236669)

"Peter Jackson on the Future of Storytelling"

Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed...

Well, what about asynchronous story telling media? (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#16236857)

In other words words.

I'm not saying books are better than games or movies, but I do feel you live with them differently. Movies and games are an outward journey into somebody else's imagination, and books are an inward journey into your own.

Quoth TFA:

I've got to the stage now where I just end up catching something on DVD and I'm more excited about games coming out in the next 2-3 months than film

I can truthfully say that although I enjoy films, and I do play an occaional game, I have not been excited about any upcoming films since, oh, the first time Return of the Jedi came out. But there are magazines for which I eagerly await each issue, and there are authors from whom I am constantly awaiting a new book.

All I can say is thank God for Terry Pratchett and Elizabeth Peters. If an author is good, then he or she should have the decency to be prolific.

Re:Well, what about asynchronous story telling med (1)

LainTouko (926420) | more than 7 years ago | (#16239467)

Most good game stories actually have plenty of words. They're not frequently called 'visual novels' for nothing.

Re:Well, what about asynchronous story telling med (1)

grumbel (592662) | more than 7 years ago | (#16241497)

Movies and games are an outward journey into somebody else's imagination, and books are an inward journey into your own.

How do you come to that conclusion? Books are every bit as predefined as movies, your only term of interaction consists of page-turning, every word is prewritten by somebody elses imagination. Games, while often also heavily limited, at least offer you to interact with the world that is presented and not just consume it in a passive way.

Now I am not saying that books are bad, they have some nice advantages as being very cheap to produce, being producable by a single person and limited for most part only by the imagination of the author, not by the budget for special effects. But for most part its really more a cost and marketing issue than, then any deeper philosophical one, I could after all have a black screen with narator simply read me the book after all, not very easy to sell to the cinemas, but very doable. The main throuble with book to movie adoption is simply that they have to squish a 10 hour book into a 2 hour movie, so no supprise that some stuff gets lost in the translation.

The future of games... (1)

Drooling Iguana (61479) | more than 7 years ago | (#16236927)

So, in the future, games will consist almost entirely of gratuitous superrr sloow-mooo to create completely artificial drama and any character development will consist of said characters sitting on a rock and talking into the camera?

Personally, I'd be far more interested in hearing about the future of storytelling from someone who actually knows how to tell a story.

Like Cowboys and Indians? (1)

63N1U5 (840190) | more than 7 years ago | (#16237051)

I grew up watching westerns, as did many of the kids I grew up around, and I can remember countless hours playing cowboys and indians with our cap-loaded six shooters. It was just fun to be a part of the story, as much as you could in your pretend games.

Games could bring together both of those experiences, the depth of a meaningful story and the experience of becoming part of that story by playing the role of the main character. In my opinion, the best single player games were those that built upon that dynamic.

When I was playing through Halo, I can't tell you how many times the repetitive gameplay frustrated me (what! another room with suggestive arrows on the floor. what! I have to go back through those same rooms again!), but the story that was being played out engaged me enough to push me through to the next mission. I hope that games get even better at storytelling, while at the same time improving on the visuals and the gameplay to add to the immersion.

Right... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16237211)

I want to hear opinions on story telling from a man who directed a completely butchered LOTR and even managed to turn-in a butchered King Kong. I mean King fucking Kong, how can you butcher something that bad?

Not content with being a terrible film director, Jackson is now banging on the gates of Mordorsoft offering to churn out games? Thank Ilúvatar this fools games won't be availiable for linux!

Who wouldn't be more interested in games? (2, Insightful)

kinglink (195330) | more than 7 years ago | (#16237237)

I remember when interactive fiction was the best thing ever. You could tell the computer what you wanted to do and it would do it. Now instead of going to a film that I basically watch for 2 hours and forget I now have the option of playing a game with similar graphics, more interactive story, and a feeling of accomplishment, rather then being force fed a story with nothing to do but watch.

We have big screen TVs, we have voice chat over game consoles, we have the world at our fingertips for the internet The world has moved on, movies and theatres are just dying. Except for the teenagers who want to make out, but then enjoy the extra privacy they have.

I go to 1-2 movie a year for a reason (this year it was superman returns) because when I can play xenosaga get over 2 hours of movie, 60 hours of interactive story and action, and actually have characters that grow rather then have a life span of 2 hours, what use is a movie?

That's not to say every game is better than movies But let's factor in TV as TV does play a part too. Alias, Lost, 24, all captivate my attention and last twice as long as even the director's cut of all three lord of the rings for just 1 season. When they have 6 seasons of these shows all with character development what use is a 10 dollar 2 hour movie when for 40 bucks I can buy 24 hours of entertainment and have a chance to "preview" the whole dvd at home as it's broadcast there first!

DVR to allow us to watch them when ever we want? Why go to a movie theatre when you get TV on your schedule now.

Movies were good for a period but it was a step on evolution of entertainment, it's time to expand the movie to a series, or make them more interactive. Because that's where our attention is going.

Re:Who wouldn't be more interested in games? (2, Funny)

amliebsch (724858) | more than 7 years ago | (#16238105)

I remember when interactive fiction was the best thing ever. You could tell the computer what you wanted to do and it would do it.

Pheh. You kids! Back in my day, "interactive fiction" meant you jumped to the bottom of the page, where it read something like, "To stay to help the gnome, turn to page 21. To run away, turn to page 16."

And we liked it that way!

Re:Who wouldn't be more interested in games? (1)

kinglink (195330) | more than 7 years ago | (#16238307)

Remember when you had Zork, the choose your own adventure. Or other choose your own adventure. And you found a way to make it last FOREVER because there was an infinite loop. One was the a time machine adventure where you could keep leaving and returning to the Dinosaur age as much as you wanted and as long as you didn't do something stupid you would never die!

Actually one of my favorites was a secret agent book where you got items or keys and passwords.

And there was a couple RPGish choose your adventures where you got actual stats and spells!

But of course we're both dating ourselves now.

Re:Who wouldn't be more interested in games? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16241673)

I hear most slashdotters aren't even dating... much less dating themselves :p

jackson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16237547)

The only thing he knows about storytelling is how to take a good story and fuck it up.

Adventure Games or Interactive Movies? (1)

Coco Lopez (886067) | more than 7 years ago | (#16237631)

If it's adventure games we're talking about, it's about damn time somebody realized that there's an entire segment of gamers that have been left with nothing to do since Lucas Arts switched to Star Wars only.

If we're talking about interactive movies --- no thanks. I don't have the patience to sit through half the cutscenes on FPS Xbox titles nowadays, so if we're talking about a choose your own adventure style Lord of the Rings title, Tom Bombadil or no Tom Bombadil, forget it.

Sorry, but.. (1)

PhakeDC (932887) | more than 7 years ago | (#16238081)

I don't want a Hollywood director to preach about interactivity because that's a spell for disaster. A conventional film director knows zilch about interactivity, except bossing people around apparently. Of course we need more creative types to join the gaming industry, but without companies like the old Sega and Nintendo to take chances and invest in new concepts, we're going to see the same sequels in Kaz Hirai's hilarious presentation over and over again, each time drawn in more polygons and using better textures. The industry is in a very sorry state, creatively speaking. Just look at the Japanese and American charts. Simply pathetic.

King Kong (1)

xplenumx (703804) | more than 7 years ago | (#16239017)

Peter Jackson was heavily involved with the making of King Kong [] . I'd say he knows at least a little bit about the gaming industry - definitely a more than me. I'm willing to listen.

ape shit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16238511)

Peter Jacksons' version of LOTR was utter rubbish - how fucking dare this monkey re-write the ending!!! unbelievable
all i can remember of it was loads of slow motion and that fat sam git pleading with frodo. PISS OFF jackson you cock.

that said, nothing prepared me for KING KONG
skull island looked like it was made from bits of scenery left over from mordor, the ape looked crap and just about everything else about the movie was a disgrace. JACK BLACK hang your head in shame- ok the lines were bad but why didn't you try acting, or else walk off the set FFS?

so at last peter jackson wises up to the fact he can't make good films and decides to try something else.

of course the truth is that there are more than enough thickies out there that reckon he did a good job with his fuck-awful movies - these tards will buy anything with his foul name on it and keep the scumbag in business, whatever he does

Re:ape shit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16242651)

Sony fanboys in full damage control mode! Love it!

What's so great about peter jackson? (1)

EvilPickles (943600) | more than 7 years ago | (#16238715)

Really, what is so great about this guy? He did zilch to make Lord of the Rings a great movie. Did he write the story line? No. Did he change the story line? No. Did he design the characters? No. No, all he did was capitolize on someone elses IP. I feel that The Lord of the Rings would have been great if any other director had made the movie. I realise that hollywood is remaking old IP now because they are easier to make money off of, have an established fan base, and they have a proven popular story. Also, holywood cannot make a decent plot for a movie. I hate TV, I hate movies, TV makes me feel horrible, as do movies, because they btoh have something in common: Cliches, and stereotypes (stereotypes being the most common thing on TV). People praise these directors like they are some big thing, jurrassic park, Terminator, whatever, none of these things really did anything for me. I remember a movie (forget its name BTW) about 3 guys who decide to rob a bank in a town in new jersey. The catch was, they returned the money to the bank. I could tell just from the plot devices that it was a budget title. I'm not sure they could even afford nice outfits because they had a famous actor wearing pretty old common junky clothes all the time. I don't know his name, but he wore this ridiculously huge fur cap, that made him look ridiculous. The story telling was not all that great in this movie. The actors were acting cartoonish, with wild pointless gestures. One scene at the bank when they returned the money, they were actually pointing fingers at each other.

Limited perspectives (1)

LainTouko (926420) | more than 7 years ago | (#16239429)

So yet again, we have someone talking about interactive storytelling in games as if he's the one inventing the concept, seemingly unaware that the Japanese figured it all out several years ago. I bet he's never even heard of the milestones like 'Kanon'. If you want a story which couldn't have been done in "conventional" media, you can go and get 'Ever 17' right now, you don't need to sit around waiting for whatever faltering first steps he's going to be taking.

Re:Limited perspectives (1)

grumbel (592662) | more than 7 years ago | (#16242069)

If you want a story which couldn't have been done in "conventional" media, you can go and get 'Ever 17' right now, you don't need to sit around waiting for whatever faltering first steps he's going to be taking.

Could you explain a bit more about what makes those games/visual novel special in terms of storytelling? Since I, and probally many other slashdotters as well, havn't heard about them, which given that some don't even have an english translation isn't a big suprise.

Re:Limited perspectives (1)

Moogy0 (916753) | more than 7 years ago | (#16245027)

Visual novels are not strictly games; the gameplay is usually limited to occasional decision-making and clicking through hour after hour of test. The entire content is story-based; if the story wasn't good, there would be no reason to play it. Having completed Ever17 very recently myself, I would urge anyone looking for a "game with a story" to play it. It is pretty much the only commercially localized visual novel that doesn't completely suck. In fact, it is fairly incredible, to be honest. Something like 75% of PC games released in Japan are visual novels (also called ADV, or adventure games). It's a shame that there's no real market for them in the United States. But yes, story-based games do exist, and yes, they rival actual books in the quality and depth of their stories. I must say that Ever17 is far better than the vast majority of books that I have read. For more of a handle on the subject, check out []

Re:Limited perspectives (1)

Moogy0 (916753) | more than 7 years ago | (#16245117)

text, not test, oops

Visual Novels (1)

Garrett Fox (970174) | more than 7 years ago | (#16252533)

Note that there's the Blade Engine [] and Ren'Py [] for those who want to make these things.

I'm struggling to figure out how important the graphics and interactivity are, having played a few of these things and having writing but not artistic skill. The most visually impressive "VN" game I saw ("Ori, Ochi, Onoe," sic) had me clicking hundreds of times to advance the text and making only a few, apparently trivial decisions. How can we set the audience's expectations so that they don't think they're playing an FPS game and get frustrated, but still not have the gameplay consist of clicking the equivalent of "next line of dialogue please" over and over?

Re:Limited perspectives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16273195)

Well a select few makes guys cry at the sad stories. Also, many anime now are being made based off of them. Of course, the linear nature of TV series does take away from the original storylines.

Meet the Feebles (up close and personal)? (1)

scalpod (666558) | more than 7 years ago | (#16241095)

Or how about an interactive version of Bad Taste?

I'd love to roam about the house in space as psycho Derek wielding a chainsaw, searching for that head alien so I could drop on him from above, come out his rectum and utter, "I'm born again!"

If more fans of LOTR and King Kong had any f*cking clue about the movies he used to make do you think they'd give him nearly as much credence? Personally, I'd prefer if he took about ten-thousand steps backward and returned to the kind of story telling he used to engage in before he had hundreds of millions and an army of CGI goons. The kind where a middle-aged momma's boy's momma gets bitten by a disease ridden monkey, dies, doesn't realize it and ends up commanding a zombie horde while her son tries to get a date. Pfft!

"I'm a Derek. Dereks don't run."

Endorsement (1)

AeonOfReason (757301) | more than 7 years ago | (#16244553)

I don't think that videogames are a stable enough medium for companies to be willing to risk sizable profit margins on 'originality' yet. Probably the big draw of these movie producers (like Jackson) is that his creativity makes money. Like it or not, money is the primary motivation for these videogame companies; if it takes big name movie producers to try to encourage the big companies to be creative, than I'm all for it.
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