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PAX - Storybricks Brings Back the RPG

Interviews By Carolyn Koh on September 17, 2011

PAX - Storybricks Brings Back the RPG

How would you like to have the building blocks to create your own quests in a favorite game? A game that’s shipped with modding tools that create more than environments and selections and placement of NPCs but the tools that will create cause and effect, affecting relationships between players, NPCs and perhaps even the environment? That is one of the ultimate goals of Namaste Entertainment.


I met up with Kelly Heckman, Namaste’s Community Manager at PAX for a many-times interrupted demo of Storybricks as Con attendees wandered up to the booth and were drawn in by the possibilities of Storybricks. In short, Storybricks is a toolset that allows the designer as well as the layman to build a more meaningful game world. A world where relationships matter and can be as simple or complex as the designer deems it to be.

“Storybricks was born out of boredom,” said Heckman, “from running out of things to do in an MMO, from the lack of meaningful relationships with NPCs, and wondering what happened to the ‘roleplay’ in MMORPGs.”

Storybricks is about creating story and meaningful relationships between characters so that there is actual interaction, not just reaction when a player interacts with them. Of course the relationships can be as simple or as complex as the designer or the tool-set user wants them to be.

But more than just providing middle-ware, Namaste wants to draw attention to the technology behind Storybricks. Much like Lego building blocks, Storybricks is about building and extending. A designer can assign different actions, reactions, emotions, drives and values to different bricks and what you end up with is basically a visual programming language where each color or shape of brick or even connector, when joined together, builds drives, relationships and even background and faction. Characters will be able to have, you know? Character.  Traits and desires. Motivation or lack thereof. It is actually easier to demonstrate then to explain so we have some examples.

In Screenshot 1 (below), we see how NPC actions can change your relationships to other characters when you get involved in their lives. The player may have been a willing accomplice or not, but the guard will hate him anyway if he causes the distraction that causes the crown to be stolen. The guard can change his mind if the player brings back the crown.

In Screenshot 2 (below), we set up a character at a turning point. He works dutifully for a noble who, unbeknownst to him, has killed his friend. He wants revenge but, when confronted with the truth, will struggle between his drive for revenge and his belief in duty. Honor vs. Duty, classical stuff!

The player’s actions can tip the balance either way, by either putting the character in a position in which is sense of duty is increased (say, protecting the noble against a plot) or his sense of honor (bringing up the friend’s name in a honor-colored/solemn conversation).

The further we go along using Storybricks to build up scenarios, the easier it is to see how easily it is to give characters more complex emotions and drives, all which can be ranked. A character’s drives could further be ranked For example a gate guard which normally protects players has his drives ranked as Love, Duty, Friendship such that if a player killed that character’s friend, he would feel hostile towards the player but still protect the player from attacking mobs.  If the player kills the guard’s daughter, however, he would be attacked.  This isn’t a matter of gaining or losing faction with the city guard, which could also affect reactions, but a close and personal relationship between the player and the guard.

At this time, Storybricks is only a few months in development but has garnered a lot of interest and excitement from the player community who are excited about the ability to create the own stories in a favorite game world, in an easy manner.  Namaste is also building a public version of the tool and seeking gamers to help test their tool to obtain as much feedback as possible from the lay person unused to programming or modding.

Their goal is to create depth.  For artificial intelligence to be able to build relationships between characters. If relationships are in place between characters, then the AI can be used to give characters needs, wants, desires and drives with these in place, players will actually be able to interact with characters, not merely have them react.

There currently already are games that ship with modding tools that allow players to create maps by putting pieces of environment together, specifying the number and type of monsters and their placement. Games like City of Heroes have player created quests with their Quest Architect system. Imagine now, if players could create content that contained story to go along with the combat and questing. Is it a far-fetched dream or is the reality closer than we think?

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn has been writing for since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.