Books, Movies, and Fledgeling

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My dad is a salesman, and works from home fairly frequently. When we were little, he used to walk by while we were watching movies, on his way to or from his home office. We had a fairly small library of shows, so we re-watched them with fair regularity. I recall him asking with alacrity, “How’s it going to end this time?” It became a running joke.

Because, of course, it always ended the same way.

Books and movies both follow a common story presentation, that is, they both have a fixed narrative that they follow. Once they are made, they are set, rigid, and can not change. Once they are experienced, the only added knowledge to be found is in greater depth of understanding, not a greater breadth of exploration. There is nothing to be found before the beginning, and nothing after the end, and nothing further down, and nothing off to the side. A fixed narrative, like a book or a movie, is a single thread (or, in the most complex stories, a set of threads) woven through the void, with ignorance all around.

But games need not be like this, and Fledgeling will change everything.

Imagine, if you will (and if you won’t… why not?), watching a movie. As of now, if you want to watch a movie there’s no way to sum up or elaborate. That is to say, if you want to watch the movie, you have to watch the whole thing. Sure, you could fast-forward through parts that you don’t like, but you don’t get a synopsis to fill you in. Likewise you could freeze frame scenes you especially enjoy, but there isn’t any extra detail in there.

Because of the nature of Fledgeling, the ability to do both of these is built in. If the movie was written in the Fledgeling engine, you could easily spend an hour watching the scene where the protagonists talk in the cafe, while someone else could skip all of that with a ten second summary and feast on bullet time battle sequences. The ability to infer and interpolate also means that there could be details that the author never explicitly included. While this has disadvantages (possible pollution of canon as well as many others) I am confident the finely tuned user experience will be far worth it.

But what if you want to go a step further? What if shouting advice to the protagonist actually worked? Fledgeling is a game engine after all. It will be trivially easy to step in and alter the decisions that the in-story agents settle on. It is at this point that “How did it end this time?” becomes something more than a joke. Of course, it also becomes more difficult to distinguish authorial intent when “viewers” are participating like this. The more drastically the story changes, the more the viewer takes on the mantle of a creator in the story process. Since most people are not very good storytellers, I suspect this will actually have a negative impact on the overall quality of stories people experience.

And, once you can alter the story, why not simply take it in a different direction entirely? Re-center the story on a minor character! Explore off the beaten path and see what is behind those doors that no one opens on-screen. Override flashbacks, or make your own. This is the movement from static story to truly interactive entertainment.

Thruought this process the nominal “author” of the stories becomes more and more a world-building agent, crafting a setting in which interesting things may happen, instead of crafting a single specific line, a thread or limited tree, of events. No doubt many “official” stories will still be made, but these will occur in the context of the broader world-space that the “audience” members will experience, explore, alter, appropriate, and generally mess with at their whim.

This kind of thing is already happening on the wavelengths of fan-fiction, fan-films, and other fan works. Expect more and more, both in quantity and integration with the “original” media. Fledgeling is the future.

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