Archive: June 10th, 2008

Adapting a fictional domain

[Research] (06.10.08, 6:20 pm)

Let’s look at the adaptation problem again in context of all of this modeling business. If our goal is to adapt a work from a narrative medium into a computational medium there are a number of implications. The first is that because in order to build a model of a narrative, one must first take an interpretive position on it. Forming the model is a creative act in the first place. However, this is not quite good enough. The model of the story, including its setting, logic, tropes, character types, characters, events, etcetera, still remains a descriptive model, not a generative one. A human author could take this model and say, write a in-setting continuation of the book’s events, but that model is not sufficient for a computer program to emulate it. What is required here is a second process, which is to build a procedural model from the descriptive model.

To make a procedural model from a descriptive one, information in the model must be formalized, the model’s rules must be converted to algorithms, and the fundamental ambiguity present in the model must be made concrete and unambiguous. This step has the greatest destructive capacity in any adaptation. But, is the most important in terms of making creative decisions. Many descriptive models simply cannot be made into generative ones, so this can lead to various problematic situations. In games, where these sorts of adaptations are abundant (at least for certain types of source narratives), there is an existing repertoire of procedural models that work well as games, so the underlying source model becomes destroyed or forced into this new shape. Successful adaptations necessarily do not have this failing, but identifying successful adaptations and their models is a difficult task (though it will be an important one).

However, some degree of conventions and tropes from the target domain will be necessary. It would be impossible for the resulting artifact to be recognized as a game if it lacked means of input. Regardless of the model underneath, there would be impositions from the source domain in terms of what the model is allowed to do.

Creating an adaptation will also require a representational model of the source text. How do elements appear and how are they described? If the adaptation is visual, then it requires some sort of visual representation of the characters, spaces, objects, etcetera. A visual design strategy and scheme must be chosen, and this would need to resemble the source text in some way. This process requires another set of decisions. Like adapting a written narrative to a film, there are many aesthetic choices available and necessary, and these must be consistent too with the descriptive model formed of the source in question.

Ultimately, what form will the adapted artifact have? If we are assuming it to be a game, it will necessarily be interactive, and would be a simulation of the procedural model built. That means that the resulting work could be played in many different ways, allowing a great deal of creativity and exploration of the model being simulated.

However, there is another degree of freedom introduced through this process. Because procedural rules are concrete and unambiguous, they may be disputed or challenged. It is possible but futile to challenge the motives or actions of a character in a narrative, but if an adaptation has been made, the user can challenge the interpretation made by the adaptor. Originals have a certain inherent authority, but adaptations can always be made and remade. Forming an adaptation means making decisions on a variety of levels, and the existence of an adaptation implicitly states that it is possible to make an adaptation in the first place. As a result, the existence of the adaptation, and the formalized nature of its rules makes it a target for criticism, analysis, and modification. A procedural adaptation of a narrative opens up the model of that narrative.