Spotlight on Storybricks

Storybricks

I recently spent over an hour chatting with Brian “Psychochild” Green about his latest project, Storybricks. I had to be honest with him and explained that I just did not give Storybricks the time it deserved. I took a glance at it, didn’t “get” it, and moved on. Therefore, I wanted to give him a chance to help me understand just what exactly are they trying to do. I feel their biggest problem is that people are trying to relate it to anything else currently out there and falling short. It is easy to explain something by saying “It’s sort of like this.” but there is nothing sort of like this. Truth be told, they really have something new and interesting on their hands and it would be a terrible shame if this project failed due to nothing more than people not understanding it.

Let me take you way back, let’s call it 10 years, to the days of my very first MMO, Asheron’s Call. At first I thought it was some stupid game my brother played until he dragged me online kicking and screaming. Shortly after that, I was blown away. Just imagine and the things that can happen. Worlds change, big bad dragons are slain and disappear. Entire cities are destroyed and left in ruin. I couldn’t wait to see what the future held. Jump forward to World of Warcraft. Static world, static story, individuals have very little impact on the world. That said, huge success. Some tried to innovate and failed, which only leads investors to point at WoW and say we need more of that, just put it in a different setting. To that I say BORING!

Here we have a group of folks daring to do something different. Creating a storytelling system to allow everyone to tell a story. Allow everyone to live your story. Create your own NPCs and breathe life into them. Or death. It’s up to you. Don’t feel like creating? Just play! Permanent changes are possible. Individual players CAN have an impact on the game. Storybricks is the first thing to come along since I began dreaming of what could be possible in the MMO industry that matches up with my expectations. The problem was simply that I didn’t get it. I had grown so used to having story be the part of the game that you skipped over because you just wanted to find out the quest objective, reward, and how quickly you can finish it and move on.

When I look back on my MMO gaming history, certain events stick out in my memory. They all were situations where the players decided they needed something more to happen in the game. Where players took it upon themselves to become the Evil Wizard that the new guild applicant needed to convince to give away his staff in order to become a full fledged member of the guild in Asheron’s Call. Or where two players role-played racing spaceship thieves that bragged about their heist in general chat only to have other players become involved in the ship recovery in Eve Online. Or where over 50 players banded together to help a lost child find their mother in Anarchy Online. All events role-played by real people. All events that I’ve never forgotten about.

Imagine what you could do if you could create your own NPCs to fill those roles. Imagine what you could do with a group of people and an entire city filled with your own custom designed NPCs that react in various ways depending on how the players interact with them. Some players might get rewarded. Some might get tossed in jail. It’s really up to you. The only limit is your imagination.

So now I am asking you to do what I’ve done. Give Storybricks a little more time. Dig in, let it sink in. Try to understand just what might be possible. Create and share a story, win prizes. The truth is, every time something “different” like this fails, it just leads to more of the same. It would be a damned shame if we looked back in 5 years and wondered what if. Keep Storybricks alive. The game industry needs things like this to succeed.

– Ethic

13 thoughts on “Spotlight on Storybricks

  1. Tesh

    Agreed. I need to make more time to play with the alpha toolset. This really does strike me as the proper inheritor of the tabletop RPG mantle in digital space.

  2. Cyndre

    I was in an early Alpha and liked the concept. I had planned to pimp the Kickstarter page after getting an email from Brian this week, but I am glad you got to it first.

    I am going to hit them at the $15same level, because I believe in what they are trying to do, and I have the means to do so. I hope everyone can find even $1 to add to keep them moving forward.

    Think of your dollar (or many dollars) as a vote FOR taking chances in gaming. Don’t get caught up in the questions about whether its worth it or not, just cast your vote in support of bold ideas and bold people trying chance the industry that we all cherish.

  3. bhagpuss

    I’ve been following Storybricks for a while and I’ve played around briefly with the current alpha demo, although I’ve not had time to create a story of my own yet.

    On a first look it seems to be primarily a creative toolset. It reminds me very strongly of The Quill, Gilsoft’s 1980s text adventure creator (marketed in the U.S. as AdventureWriter, I believe). It also reminds me of Neverwinter Nights.

    I bought and used both of those. I wrote precisely one full text adventure, which took me weeks, and one NW scenario, which took me months. I thoroughly enjoyed both but it was really hard work. It wasn’t play at all. Having successfully completed each of those projects I put the toolsets away and never used them again.

    The marketing push so far has tried to make it sound a lot like a game but I’m not sure it is a game, as such. And no matter how simple and intuitive Storybricks can be made to be, I wonder if it won’t still feel more like work than play. There’s very definitely a need for an RPG/MMO toolset and I hope it succeeds, but I think it may need a clearer definition of exactly what it is and who it’s for before it gains the momentum that seems to be eluding it so far.

  4. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    First, thanks for the great chat, Ethic. It was nice to talk to someone who shared our opinions about how current MMO games are really not living up to the potential we once saw. It’s unfortunate that the dynamic world of Asheron’s Call didn’t inspire more games.

    bhagpuss wrote:
    And no matter how simple and intuitive Storybricks can be made to be, I wonder if it won’t still feel more like work than play.

    Creation is always work. I’ve lost track of the number of times someone came to me, eager to help out with a game project only to drop out and never speak to me again once the real work started.

    But, let’s use tabletop gaming as an example: you usually have 1 GM and multiple players. It only takes one creative person to share stories with a group of people. We see the same thing with Storybricks: not everyone is going to be in there editing NPCs, but everyone can get in there and enjoy the stories that other players (and that the Storybricks designers) have written.

    We’ve focused on making the tool as good as we can, which means that any sort of “game” elements are sorely lacking in the current alpha version. That won’t be the case as we develop out the world more. But, since we’re not a huge company we must take baby steps toward our goal. Hopefully people will be able to see our vision and see beyond the current state to what could truly change MMOs forever.

    1. Silvanis

      I think this highlights the biggest issues with using Kickstarter to fundraise this project. Only the GMs are going to be interested in putting money into this project ahead of time. So only 1 in 5 (assuming a somewhat typical gaming group with 1 GM and 4 players) of people willing to fund Kickstarter projects is going to be contributing to yours. Sadly, taking an abstract concept (already likely to be niche) and then cutting your audience by 80% is going to make it nearly impossible to fund.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love Storybricks and the potential behind it, but it’s a project that screams for angel investing (yes, I know that’s like winning the lottery). I don’t see how crowdfunding can work in this scenario.

      1. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

        Well, we already raised angel investment. We went to crowdfunding to give players a greater say. Once you take a lot of money from investors, they start having a lot of control. In our wildest dreams, we would have blown past the minimum and raised a lot.

        We had also hoped, to keep the tabletop RPG metaphor going, that the players would realize that even though we’re showcasing a tool for GMs, without funding the GMs won’t get that tool and they won’t get to play the game.

        Finally, it’s a question of if you trust us to make a cool game. Supporting us now makes it more likely that we’ll be able to make an original game later. Again, taking outside investment increases the chance that they want us to make something “safe”.

        Hope that gives you a bit more insight.

  5. gwj

    My thoughts after only reading this post and watching the video on the main page of the site:

    It seems more like a campaign creator for DnD than a revolutionary game. Like an RPG maker with multiplayer. It’s not a game that’s creating a living, breathing world in and of itself, so it feels like a strange misstep to skip that and still think they know how to make a tool that allows everyone to do it.

    The other problem I have with it is that I’m not seeing any depth to combat. I understand it’s in alpha and the interactions are clearly the emphasis, but I would rather have more options for fighting than what essentially amounts to text input.

    For now I’m filing this under “neat tool” rather than “what should be the next big thing”, but I’ll be very impressed and pleased if I’m wrong. I’ll try it out sometime and see how it goes.

  6. Bernard

    Could I run a Storybricks instance which my friends could log into?

    E.g:

    I make a village but some characters in, you log in, throw some more characters in and we watch as they interact with each other.

    Dwarf Fortress meets The Sims meets Minecraft meets ???

    1. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

      Currently? No. That’s something we’ve talked about for the future. But, it’s also a question of priorities. Is it better to do personal instances like that, or to do something that behaves more like a traditional MMO game?

      Currently we’re planning the latter, but we’re listening to feedback.

  7. Brise Bonbons

    Very interesting indeed. I like the fact that combat is mostly ignored in favor of almost puzzle-like interpersonal exchanges, personally, but that’s just me; I’m tired of solving every problem by stabs to the face (except in Crusader Kings 2, where every problem is best solved through face stabbing, of course – especially those problems related to children and other family members).

    One thing I didn’t get from the pitch is whether creation is a collaborative thing or not. I.e. does everyone get to build their own intertwining parts of the big world, or do you just work in a private world (that you could give friends access to, I’m sure).

    I hope this gets funded as it seems like a great tool for people who are interested in building a world as a communal act (which we see quite a bit in Minecraft, albeit in a different way), or for exploring gameplay which deals with emotions rather than purely physical conflict. But after reading the Kickstarter I still feel a bit lost on what I’m funding, and what I’ll be able to do with it afterwards. Am I funding the tool, which I’ll be able to use to make game worlds for my friends? An MMO I can play but can’t build/modify/expand with the tool? All of the above?

    Sorry for being dense, and best of luck with the project!

    1. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

      You’re not dense so much as it’s not an easy concept to understand. We’re trying to do something radically different than anyone has done before. So, we have to explain this alien concept, explain why it’s cool, explain our plans, etc. Attentions only last so long, so we have to balance what we can pack in there. Something’s bound to get left out.

      To answer your first question, we are looking at collaboration. We want to scale up the number of players in a world and the number of storytellers. Eventually we want stories from different storytellers to interact, too, hence the MMO angle.

      Our immediate goal is to finish what you see in the alpha version at http://play.storybricks.com/ We want to add more content, more emotions, map editing, multiplayer, multiple story tellers, etc. Possibly even “live” editing of stories, which would allow a GM type to run stories for players.

      Our next step would be to create something that acts a bit more like a typical MMO, but then have the Storybricks system as the foundation. We’d let people adjust NPCs using the Storybricks editor, have the emotional AI and relationship model be meaningful additions to gameplay. Instead of faction just being a bar to fill up, your actions carry weight and will affect NPC reactions. And, as you point out, this leads to situations where the way to resolve a problem isn’t to just stab everything in the face! (Novel concept, I know. :)

      Hopefully that clarifies a bit.

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