getinthedamnbox: games, sounds, and other work by Matt Boyd-Surka

The Story of the World

Creator Commentary

Where can I listen to The Story of the World?


How many chapters does The Story of the World have?

There are currently 25 chapters.

Season One: Chapters 1-14
Season Two: Chapters 15-25

Does this creator commentary contain spoilers for The Story of the World?

Yes, it does.

Who helped you make The Story of the World?

Primarily these four humans: Cam Allen, Sabrina Boyd, Daniel Horowitz, and Tim O’Connor. If you want to hear me shower them (and a few extra people) with gratitude, listen to the credits at the end of The Story of the World.

What was it like to make The Story of the World?

Like this.

But if that’s not enough, I kept a diary during the final nine months:

Why did you call your production journal a "developer diary"? The Story of the World isn’t a video game.

Well... it’s a radio-drama adaptation of a tabletop game that was played through spreadsheets online. That’s kind of like a video game, right? Maybe?

Why is The Story of the World... the way it is?

I’ll explain what I was going for, but you’ll have to be the judge of whether or not I was successful.

My goal was to translate an adventure/role-playing game—with all its tropes and foibles—into a linear story that gets inside the heads of its characters. When I say “game,” I don’t mean a static piece of media—I mean a game that was actually played, with actual human players. As I was writing The Story of the World, I didn’t have control over the characters’ actions. All I could do was try to explain those actions with descriptions and dialogue.

Here’s how this happened:

In early 2011, I created a map of a place called “The World” in Microsoft Excel (yeah!), and I placed each of 8-10 friends somewhere on that map. Using Google Docs, I showed each friend the tiny piece of The World around them, provided a text description of the scene, and told them they could do anything they wanted. There were stats, items, dice rolls... I came up with the mechanics as I went along. Even with only three people playing, it was an insane amount of work. Eventually, one of my friends stopped playing, and soon afterward I, too, lost the energy to continue.

A couple of years later, I looked at everything I’d written for my friends while they’d inhabited The World. I felt it was a shame that their stories would never come together. Two of the characters had crossed paths just as the game was tapering off, and it ended before they could start talking and trying to make sense of what was going on.

So, in 2013, I chopped up Tim’s and Daniel’s stories, switched the prose to third-person perspective, and made it into a kind of novella. The Story of the World! I thought that much of the text’s coolness came from the fact that the stories synced up, and that almost everything the characters said or thought had actually been expressed by their human counterparts when they played my game back in 2011. Remember when Tim screams that weird line about the ooze monsters? He spent an action to do that in the game. Daniel’s running commentary about the beetles? Tim’s complaints about the cave scene? All pulled from what my friends said to me during the game.

But the characters have a lot of lines in Season Two. Did the players get really chatty as the game went on?

No. I started to take more liberties with the writing.

After recording Season One and having some time to reflect on it, I realized that its major problems include (a) the characters are usually alone and (b) the characters’ thoughts are almost always paraphrased rather than transcribed. As a result, characters’ motivations are expressed in just one way: by the narrator telling you what they are. I know, Chuck. I know.

To help solve these problems in Season Two, I decided to give myself far more leeway with writing the characters’ inner voices (and outer voices! whoa, dialogue!). My friends agreed to voice act for the project, which was an enormous help.

Were all of the scenes in The Story of the World played as a game before they were written into a radio drama?

Most, but not all. In Season One, the last scene that was played as a game is the one just before Tim and Daniel talk. Daniel’s opening lines to Tim were what he wrote during the game, and then no one took any more turns after that. I took full control of the story for the final three chapters of the season.

Cam played the game for a little longer, so the player-controlled part of Season Two lasts until just after the ooze horse runs past him the first time.

Do you ever think about what would’ve happened if your friends had made different decisions while playing The World?

Yes. For example, Tim could have stood his ground and been mobbed by ooze monsters at the very beginning. He might’ve survived that, but only if he’d gotten several good dice rolls in a row. And if he’d died? I would’ve been short one character, and I might never have decided to write The Story of the World—which means I might also never have become interested in sound design and production.

Why are all of the protagonists in The Story of the World men?

There are a couple of explanations for this, and I’m dissatisfied with both of them. This is a perfect example of how representational issues need to be considered from the very beginning of a project, or else they may come in too late to do any good.

When I first outlined the plot of The Story of the World, I’d planned to introduce the first woman protagonist in the third chapter. In my mind, the events leading up to Cam, Daniel, and Tim’s meeting constituted just two chapters of the story. When I converted my notes into readable prose, though, the men’s stories expanded far more than I’d anticipated.

Why did I introduce the men first? Well, The Story of the World is based on a game I ran in 2011, and the only three people who stuck with the game were men. Since my goal was to tell the untold story of the game, I felt like I needed to describe its events before I went off script. Out of respect for Cam, Daniel, and Tim—who graciously donated their identities and voices to this project—I decided to make the characters’ gender identities match those of their real-world counterparts. (Although at one point I did come very close to gender-swapping Cam.)

I’ve sorely regretted this problem for at least a year now, and I only hope I can make up for it in the third installment of The Story of the World. If I were starting this project today, I’d make diversity among characters a top priority. Unfortunately, back in 2011-2013, I hadn’t done my homework yet.

What are your inspirations?

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