Summary: Kane Simms of the V.U.X. World podcast recently interviewed Oren Jacob of Pullstring. The conversation extended to the topic of interactive voice first fiction and the skills required to craft compelling audio drama.
Most of our favorite books and stories are filled with lines of dialogue, where characters talk to one another in sentences between quotation marks. Jacob points out that the style and manner in which characters speak to one another in books, is much different than how conversation takes place in films.
Jacob cites an example of dialogue in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The same scene in the book (involving the wreck of a car) plays out much differently on paper than on the screen. Lines of dialogue that are very effective when read, would come across as completely unnatural if they were actually spoken by actors.
A special skill is required to craft “audio dialogue” (dialogue transmitted to the listener via audio output). Perhaps we need to re-learn the techniques of the radio dramas from a bygone era?
About 40 minutes into the podcast, Kane Simms remarks on the complexity of designing WestWorld: The Maze Alexa skill. Simms points out that while typical screenplays are around 120 pages in length, the script for WestWorld: The Maze skill was around 250 pages (and 11,000 lines of dialogue).
Why does a “simple” interactive voice “game” require so much more work writing work than a high budget full-feature film?
Jacob points out that WestWorld Maze represents “interactive art,” whereas a film is a linear artform. Interactive audio fiction has more in common with video games than movies. In an immersive video game, a player expects her choices to have an impact on the outcome of the story. Video games are boring or disappointing if the player’s choices are meaningless.
In films, the writer/director is always in control of where the audience goes. The audience isn’t a player. The audience is a passive participant in a linear experience that simply flows along.
In the interactive voice first experience of Westworld: The Maze, designers had to anticipate and design for a huge variety of potential player choices. The requirement to build many believable paths, results in dialogue and scene bloat (when compared to a standard linear drama).
Jacob also points out that for a high production game such as WestWorld Maze, there’s an overlapping soundtrack to worry about. The soundtrack and background music have to mesh with scenes selected by the player. Soundtrack changes must occur in real-time as the player progresses through scenes of his choosing.
Designing interactive voice first drama is a complex undertaking.
I’m assuming that tools such as Pullstring, the company led by Oren Jacob, help writers and designers create and manage their work, without having to worry about technical underpinnings.
But the creative process is still just that: a process. As we saw in my last post on findings about the effectiveness of BBC R&D’s Inspection Chamber, it seems the hard work is warranted. People enjoy interactive experiences. Let the building continue!