Quality-Based Narrative (2010)


In the same blog post defining storylet, Failbetter Games (2010) also describes the use of qualities as something that "tell storylets what to do" (para. 4; original emphasis). In this definition, qualities exist as a form of conditional statements. For example, the player may need 4 Jade and to be at a location named Edge City to access a storylet. The condition >= 4 Jade AND location = ‘Edge City' exists as a combination quality for a particular storylet.

A quality-based narrative (QBN) is one where storylet selection is based based on its qualities (prerequisites).

Historical Usage

King of Dragon Pass (1999) has been cited by Failbetter Games (2011) as an inspiration for Fallen London (2009).

Every other turn or so, you are confronted by an event like this: a slice of story and a set of responses, like an Echo Bazaar storylet. The art is beautiful. The text is clean and urgent, deftly distilling conflict into a single gripping decision. Each choice has its consequences and can trigger follow-up events, with some stories unfolding over decades of play.

Echo Bazaar Inspirations: King of Dragon Pass. Failbetter Games (2011), Para 4.

In King of Dragon Pass (1999), play proceeds across different decision points. Presented as small vignettes, the player must pick from a small set of choices affecting different in-world plot events and the current resources of a tribe. These vignettes are selected based on a combination of three factors: previous decisions made by the player, the current resources of their tribe, and a degree of randomness. Within the game, there is a pool of hundreds of possible vignettes, making every trip through the game unique.

In developing King of Dragon Pass (1999), A Sharp, created a scripting language called Opal Scripting Language (OSL). In this language, different vignettes were locked behind certain conditions like dragonAttitude='positive' (OSL Sample, 2020). These act as its qualities as shown below:

text: <he/she> gives away clan wealth to those fiendish talking lizards.
[n AND dragonAttitude= 'positive] text: Despite <his/her> assurance, <he/she> has done little to help our case with the dragonewts.
[n AND dragonAttitude= 'neutral] text: <he/she> wastes time thinking about talking lizards, instead of clan concerns.
[a] text: <he/she> sends our weaponthanes into the woods on pointless hunts for the plant-folk.

Alternative Terms

While many people have embraced the term quality-based narrative based on Failbetter Games and Emily Short’s work, Kennedy (2017), co-creator of the term, has proposed "resource narratives" or resource-based narrative (RBN) as alternatives because of the issue around a potential misunderstanding of "quality" applying not to measurements of a storylet’s prerequisite but its content (para. 3). As the term "resource" is used in StoryNexus’ documentation to discuss qualities as currency, such a usage has gained some interest (Storychoices, 2012).

The term salience-based narrative (SBN) has also been proposed by Short (2016) to describe a system using a drama manager like used in Façade (2005) to use salience to limit the current options or choices of the player (Mateas and Stern, 2005). Kreminski and Wardrip-Fruin (2018) have also proposed weights for storylets or the use of a system to manage storylet tracking.


Failbetter Games. (2010). Echo Bazaar Narrative Structures, part two. Retrieved from http://www.failbettergames.com/echo-bazaar-narrative-structures-part-two/

Failbetter Games. (2011). Echo Bazaar Inspirations: King of Dragon Pass. Retrieved from https://www.failbettergames.com/echo-bazaar-inspirations-king-of-dragon-pass/

Façade (2005). Procedural Arts.

Fallen London. (2009). Failbetter Games.

Kennedy, A. (2017). I’ve stopped talking about quality-based narrative, I’ve started talking about resource narrative. Weather Factory. Retrieved from https://weatherfactory.biz/qbn-to-resource-narratives/

King of Dragon Pass (1999). A Sharp.

Kreminski, M., & Wardrip-Fruin, N. (2018). Sketching a Map of the Storylets Design Space. In R. Rouse, H. Koenitz, & M. Haahr (Eds.), Interactive Storytelling (Vol. 11318, pp. 160–164). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-04028-4_14

Mateas, M. & Stern, A. (2005). Structuring content in the Facade interactive drama architecture. Proceedings of the First AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment. pp. 93-98.

OSL Sample. (2020). A Sharp. Retrieved from http://a-sharp.com/kodp/osl.html

Short, E. (2016). Beyond Branching: Quality-Based, Salience-Based, and Waypoint Narrative Structures. Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling. Retrieved from https://emshort.blog/2016/04/12/beyond-branching-quality-based-and-salience-based-narrative-structures/

Short, E. (2019). Storylets: You Want Them. Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling. Retrieved from https://emshort.blog/2019/11/29/storylets-you-want-them/

Storychoices. (2012). Design before you write. Storychoices: Building stories with interactive narrative platforms. Retrieved from http://wiki.failbettergames.com/wiki:design-before-you-write

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