Walker Art Center


February 05, 2003


The Spaghetti program I am working on right now is intended as a tool to create interactive storyboards with. This could be storyboards for games. But it did not start out like that.

It started when I made some tree-based IF stories (‘Do you want to do this or do you want to do that?’) and saw too little potential in them for the simple reason they are very difficult to write and even harder to manage. Of course I ran into the program StorySpace, but this did not do for several reasons. The most important one was that in any IF, as in every other kind of story, only one choice is the best. No matter how hard we try. Another reason was that most IF-stories made with StorySpace could easily be compared to the inside of someone’s brain: very comfy for the person who wrote it but impossible to understand. So what I was looking for was a way to create another type of story.

I thought about the Larry/Space Quest type of games for a while, but decided not to go into that because I wanted a broader audience. People are lazy, they want to be entertained without having to do too much for it.

Instead I started thinking about a way to translate the South American family novel (Marquez, Allende) into an IF structure. These types of novels are more or less thematically ordered. Bringing the element of choice into it is therefore not that important. For action based adventures (D&D, detectives, etc) this is the way to go, but these types of stories need a different approach.

So I came up with a square, or a grid to be more precise. Think of every point on the grid as a tiny story, part of a bigger whole. Let’s call it a microstory (MIT first used that word). On a grid every point is connected to at least four other points and they also contain microstories. Imagine that the point you are on right now tells you about the cat Irma used to have and how she took the animal to bed with her ever since she was a little girl, and how the neighbor killed the cat because it ruined his flowerbeds. Let’s call the microstory you are on right now number 0, and the four grid points this story is connected to are numbered 1 to 4.

In my story, grid point number 1 could contain a story about the first time Irma met the cat, number two could be a description of Irma’s bedroom and some other things that happened there, number three could be about the neighbor and his flowerbeds, and number four could be the a description of what Irma did to the neighbor when she found out he killed her cat.

And so on.

In this way one can design a grid and move from one side to the other and experience a landscape of emotions, stories, events and descriptions that are all thematically linked to one another.

But: as in every other story, one has to take care of one tiny detail: does the reader have enough information to understand the next part of the story? In the case of a grid-based story, this is the same, but more complicated because anyone can arrive at any point from several directions. In theory these could be four (or eight when diagonal movements are allowed) but one could limit them to two if the reader can go top-down, right-left.

Okay, lets start making things even more complicated. Suppose the story we are telling the audience is based on a map of Irma’s bedroom. Every square contains an item that is connected to a story and all the items are thematically connected on a grid. Irma lived in that room from the time she was a little girl until the day she died. We are presenting this as a point and click story, that is: we walk through the room using different shots of that room and we can move from one shot to another by clicking in the desired direction. Every shot contains an item (or items) and every item tells us a microstory.

Microstory number one, the microstory we start with – probably the door to the room - is very important. This is the entrance point to the story and we have to tell the reader everything he or she needs to know about Irma in order to understand what is going on in the next microstories. That is what I call an information point.

There could be more information points than one inside Irma’s bedroom. Suppose the story – and therefore the bedroom – starts at the point where Irma is still a little girl of five years old. Several things happened in those days. Especially her father was very important to her then. And when he died everything changed. Her live changed, her mother changed. And of course: the story will change with it. The microstory that contains the story of her father’s death could be another information point. And it could lead us to another room, the room her father lived in. Or it could lead to the same room ten years later. This room also has a grid, maybe the same stuff is on it, maybe not, but Irma has grown older, and the stories that are connected to the items are different.

Instead of one square with a grid on it, we are now confronted with two squares connected at one point: the point where we learn that Irma’s father died. We could position those squares on top of each other, creating a cube filled with dots.

We can move on through her room, in a different time, and learn everything there is to know about Irma at the age of fifteen. Until we encounter a new information point.


Spaghetti is intended as a tool to manage structures like that. And more. (Timelines, conditions, messages, states, diagrams, storyboards for movie-fragments, maps, etc).

Posted by Jeroen Goulooze at February 5, 2003 05:48 AM

I find it extremely interesting...as a kid i loved reading those "what if" books... from space adventures with robots, clones and aliens... to indiana jones... i also enjoyed playing D&D (actually, every friday night a bunch of alcoholic roleplaying geeks have their sessions at my house, but i'm not part of that circle, it's my younger 23 year old brother's hobbie)... some videogames i really like as a similar form of narrative, but i guess more dinamic, i actualy love to watch people play videogames, 'cause you never know how it's going to end, every player makes a diferent "story" with the same game (of course, i'm talking of videogames where you are free to wonder arround, and have a nonlinear structure)... and then i look forward to the development of interactive cinema, see how it turns out... what i'm trying to say i guess is that i find your "Spaghetti" program very... i guess stimulating is the closest word... can't wait to see how is used by creators and artists...

un saludo

Posted by: Luis humberto Rosales on February 5, 2003 02:42 PM

a bit late to make an intelligent comment, but it sounds very cool.. have you ever checked the rhizome concept [Deleuze and Guattari], the one fran in on of his early posts was speculating whether it existed or not... i do have to make a comment on that at some moment.

i like the image too!

Your concept/system sounds also connected to what Howard Rheingold calls "sentient things". He discusses in his latest books how thing are soon going to be equipped with rfid [radio frequency ids: microchips] that will allow to connect information to them, - besides other functions... This way you might be walking in some natural park and point your 3g / gsm cell phone to some stone, and the phone would tell you the story of that stone... going from one object to another one thinks that you might get some kind of "pasta" narrative of /from the place... will see [rheingold, 2002, smart mobs]

Posted by: osfa on February 5, 2003 06:39 PM

Wow!, very interesting and intriguing...
It sounds like a lot of work to have a good and complete story...

And, as Luis and Osfa, I would be expecting for somebody to use your Spaguetti...


Posted by: Cindy Gabriela on February 6, 2003 12:07 AM

correction to previous comment:
it should say gps cell phones instead of gsm... can´t find how to edit the comment, sorry...

Posted by: osfa on February 6, 2003 06:24 AM

I do not talk about it much with people. But it is good to know that people see a value in the concept.

I am talking to two programmers to port it from the newton to other platforms. They are awaiting a presentation (they only know part of the concept). I havbe to finish it next week. hmm, better hurry, I'm only half way:-)

Posted by: Jeroen Goulooze on February 6, 2003 07:52 AM
Post a comment