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The Experience Is the Story, says Tim Willits

Tom Willits, Creative Director at id Software, provides insight in his talk about the gaming industry.

Tim WillitsKaila Colbin reports from AnimfxNZ.

Tim Willits is the Creative Director at id Software, where he's been since 1995. One of the interesting things in the gaming industry is how so many of their issues predate identical issues in other arenas.

One example is the current UGC / open source / community ownership explosion online, which is having a dramatic impact on music, film, and television. id has always allowed people to modify their games, which has the added benefit of allowing them to identify skilled and passionate talent. All of the designers they've got in software now are from the community; young people out of college with no experience can download games, make changes, add levels, create new art, and use that for their resumes to get into the industry.

id Software has made some incredible contributions to gaming and the broader world of technology. Their game Doom legitimized the shareware / demo model, where a portion of a game gets distributed for free and then people have to pay to get more involved. Quake was the first 3D action game and the first server model game: the precursor to online social communities.

More...Tim's focus now is on video game storytelling, and the story in a video game, if done correctly, can be as great as any novel or movie.

Take Doom, for example. Yeah, there's a 'story' about demons, saving the Universe, blah blah blah. But if somebody with a bit of skill wrote down the experience — the adrenaline, the wonderment of discovering new worlds, the fear, the thrill of the battle — you'd have a truly compelling story.

The fact is the narrative is only part of the story. It's all the stuff in the middle that makes the difference: the immersion, the feelings, the memories.

So experiences are at the cornerstone of id Software game design. They concentrate on what the experience is like for the gamer, using lighting, music, effects, design and immersion to show a story rather than tell it.

The narrative is then wrapped around those experiences. They look for a solid, straightforward plot that people can 'get' immediately, which is why Good vs. Evil works so well. They look for a dynamic story, which allows for the inevitable evolutions, adaptations, and budget fluctuations that arise.

Most importantly, they don't commit everything to the narrative. After all, there's nothing worse then a boring game with a great story. Kaila Colbin, the founder of Missing Link, is a frequent contributor to a variety of magazines.