Book Review: Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling, Second Edition

Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling

I recently finished reading the second edition of Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling, by, well, Chris Crawford. It was very good, and I thought it made a lot of improvements over the first edition which was published way back in 2005. The second edition brings updates which discuss Storytron, the successor to Erasmatron. Chris also dedicates more page space to discussing other forms of interactive media, such as Interactive Fiction, Role-Playing games, and video games in general.

He talks a great deal about the different methods of interactive storytelling, but spends most of the time talking about the best methods in his “Arrogant Opinion.” His words, not mine. He talks about personality models, where he presents a model which is slimmed down from the one presented in the first edition.

This edition cleaned up a lot of the slower parts of the first edition, and organized the chapters in a more coherent manner. It is a good introduction to interactive storytelling for anyone who is interested, but doesn’t really know what it’s all about. I would highly recommend it if you’re interested in this sort of thing.

Chris Crawford is a fantastic writer. I love his cynical, grumpy old man style, which I think is a lot how he is in real life, although I’ve never met him…yet. Sometimes he can go off on a ranting tangent, but most of the time he has control of himself, or his editor made him tone it down a bit. He mentions this in the introduction. If you want the uncensored Chris Crawford experience, just check out his website: http://www.erasmatazz.com/

He also tells a lot of entertaining stories which make the book more enjoyable, and he uses very helpful and informative examples. Mostly they are from movies such as The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, but at least most readers would have seen one or both of these and understand the examples.

What I most liked about this book was that he simplified a lot of the ideas that were a little too complex in the first edition. And of course this edition is updated to include his most recent foray into interactive storytelling: Storytron. It doesn’t explain how it was a failure; for that, check out storytron.com. But it does explain how it was supposed to work, and he does that quite well.

He doesn’t spend nearly as much time talking about practical methods to pursue interactive storytelling; probably because there really are none. He encourages experimentation, although some could argue he doesn’t encourage it enough. Some times he will say that one way is the only way and all other ways are stupid, but then later he will say that he couldn’t get that way to work. It can be a little confusing, but my suggestion is to just ignore those comments and get what you can out of the book.

He also updated the section on existing Interactive Storytelling technologies, removing some of the older, dead projects, and including some newer active projects. He discusses Comme il Faut and Prom Week, and also mentions the IRIS project. He talks about how he thinks these projects succeed, but also how they fall short. He talks down about a lot of things, but he always has good reasons to back himself up. If he doesn’t, he apologizes for it, but beats it down anyway.

Because of the cleaner organization and the updated information, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who either bought the first book already and has read it, or hasn’t read it but is interested in interactive storytelling. Chris Crawford’s book is a great introduction to the subject, and it is a fun read as well.

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