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StoryBricks Q&A

By William Murphy on August 20, 2011 | Interviews | Comments

StoryBricks Q&A
MMORPG.com:

Could you start by telling us a little bit about Namaste as a company? Your goals as developers and gamers, that sort of thing.

Brian Green
Kelly Heckman:

Namaste was started by Rodolfo Rosini, a tech entrepreneur who had a passion for storytelling and MMOs. He had grown dissatisfied with his MMO experience and, being an entrepreneur, he went out and found some of the best game developers in their fields and convinced us to join him to create something innovative.

The one area we identified as needing innovation was storytelling. How could we let people tell stories and share them with others, especially within the context of an MMO?

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MMORPG.com:

Your first big project is Storybricks, which is sort of being billed as the ultimate content creation platform. How'd you guys arrive at this name and this idea?

Brian Green
Kelly Heckman:

We were inspired by the visual programming language from MIT called Scratch.  We thought that the metaphor of construction bricks was appropriate, and how you put them together to form interesting creations.  In Storybricks, each brick is an element of the story you put together.

It’s important to see Storybricks for what it is – a tool. This tool is being designed to allow content creation by the players but in addition to the persistent world the players inhabit. It can be thought of as a kind of “fan fiction” creation tool.

Only once this tool is ready for player use will we be ready to move forward on the larger project. This is a tool we will use to create content so it is important that it be robust enough for our own developers yet simple enough for the player.

MMORPG.com:

It seems like the genre of MMORPG has been having some growing pains lately. One of the many things players have been requesting for years to get it out of the "funk" is player-created content. Obviously, you guys are big proponents. Can you tell us how the Storybricks system will drive this part of the industry?

Brian Green
Kelly Heckman:

At the core, we really just want to let people tell their own stories and share them with others.  Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green posted on his blog previously about how too many companies tried to use user created content as a way to get around having to pay hundreds of employee content creators.  That’s not what we want to do.

The goal is that players should be able to take the Storybricks tool and create their own story.  Maybe  there’s an NPC you like that you think could have a more interesting backstory, like Mankrik from World of Warcraft.  Instead of waiting around for the developers to write that story, you can write it yourself.  Give the character more depth.

Depth is just as important to the project as ease-of-use. This is where using emotive artificial intelligence to build relationships between characters becomes important. Once these relationships are in place we can use the AI to give our NPCs wants, needs, and most importantly desires. With these in mind, NPCs will interact with players rather than react. And we want players to be able to create the same depth.

MMORPG.com:

It's reminiscent of the old PnP days of gaming, before MMORPGs became about theme-park this or sandbox this. There were just characters, the world, and the stories. Are you drawing your inspirations from those long gone days where the dice was king?

Brian Green
Kelly Heckman:

Oh, absolutely. We were just at Gen Con, the biggest tabletop RPG convention, to show off the tool. We hope to get people who feel left behind by modern combat-focused MMOs and to build a critical mass of people who already enjoy crafting their own stories. But, we think that current MMO players would appreciate having more depth to the world to explore as well.

MMORPG.com:

So basically, Story Bricks is a set of tools, but is there a game coming along with it in the "far flung future" too?

Brian Green
Kelly Heckman:

Yes! We're still game developers, so we want to create a game that uses this tool as well. We are still discussing what form this will take, as there are a lot of possibilities and it will depend on the feedback we get from interested users.

MMORPG.com:

The "History of MMOs" video and graphic are nothing short of awesome. But we get the feeling they're leading up to something more. Are we right?

Brian Green
Kelly Heckman:

Yes and no. Our community manager, Kelly "Ophelea" Heckman and Graphic Artist John Harman, originally created the graphic for two reasons: the first was to "see" what games had attempted user generated content and whether the games were still in existence (these are the games highlighted in yellow); the second reason was to give our CEO something with impact, something memorable for his presentations. It succeeded in both regards.

At the same time, this developed into an awesome super-graphic that was just begging to be shared. But it is enormous. So, Kelly developed the idea of using it to chart a mini-history of MMOs. At the moment, there is only the one video which engenders a lot of contention as to what games should have been included. But the goal now is to make a few more that will satisfy those who felt too many games were originally left off.

MMORPG.com:

Now that you've showed the demos at GenCon, what's next for Namaste and Storybricks?

Brian Green
Kelly Heckman:

We want to build a public version of the tool to let players get their hands on it and build some stories in a very simple world. Again, we want to get as much feedback as possible to make sure we're developing a useful tool.

On the tech side, we're porting our early prototype work to Unity to allow the tool to run on multiple platforms, including browser and iDevices.

MMORPG.com:

Lastly, is there any one thing you want to tell our readers about your project? One major detail you want them to be sure to glean from this interview?

Brian Green
Kelly Heckman:

We're still very early in the development cycle. We've only been working on the tool for about 3 months now. We really do want to get this out in front of people to get useful feedback. We hope that people will be able to look past the placeholder assets and rough edges to see the eventual goal of telling stories and sharing them with others in a multiplayer environment.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.