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The Grail Framework: Making Stories Playable on Three Levels in CRPGs


Computer role-playing games (CRPGs) have strong narratives, but in general lack interesting and meaningful choices for the player within the story. As a result, the stories are not playable. This breakdown happens at four different levels within storytelling: the player, quest, game and world story levels. The world story level is the structure and setting of the world that the game inhabits and is generally static. The game story level describes the over-arching story which is at best minimally branching in most CRPGs. The quest story level is the level in which players are given a series of tasks to complete, with little choice in the outcome. Finally, the player story level of storytelling within CRPGs is defined by a sequence of moment-to-moment decisions a player makes within the constraints of the game mechanics, which the player feels is worth re-telling. The Grail Framework was created to address playability at three of the levels: the game, quest, and player story levels.

This dissertation presents the Grail Framework and its use in creating more playable stories. It first describes CiF-RPG and how social mechanics give rise to a new set of player stories. It then moves on to discuss GrailGM which uses content selection methods to create dynamic quest and game stories. From there, the discussion turns to the tools, Brainstormer and Social Mechanics Design Tool, created to ease the authorial burden of creating content for dynamic systems, followed by the playable experiences, EMPath and Mismanor, designed and built to explore the possibilities of playable story. Finally, it ends with evaluating the expressive range of the systems.

By constructing the Grail Framework and Mismanor, we have created an existence proof for a new approach to story in role-playing games -- one with power and flexibility that addresses known problems in the game genre and allows it to move toward experiences that have proven impractical with today's technical and design approaches.

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