I loved Left 4 Dead’s director system – it’ll be of absolutely no surprise to anyone who knows anything about the Director that Maestro is essentially a rip-off of the idea. For those who don’t know what the Director is, let me explain a bit.
The Director is something akin to a ‘drama generator’ in L4D – it generates what are hopefully ‘interesting’ game scenarios – the kind that you might tell as a story. It moves the game beyond simple scripted encounters, and even beyond simple random encounters. Instead, it works on more cinematic principles – finishing an epic battle with one bullet to spare, or finding bandages at just the right moment to heighten the tension. It’s a really clever, really engaging device.
Maestro is the Epitaph equivalent, and it does double duty as a tool for generating exciting gameplay (finding zombies instead of delicious chocolate in a search, or being attacked by zombies when you are scrabbling around for a torch) and also as a more generic random event generator. It gives us a way of applying ‘big picture’ behaviour to the game in an easy, modular way. If we want to permit random fires to break out in random houses, we can do that pretty easily by adding a maestro module. Some of these are directly influenced by your actions as a player, others are simply influenced by the game world or perhaps by nothing at all – just completely random events.
Maestro is one of my favourite features of Epitaph, because it brings with it the possibility of building a game on less formulaic grounds. It can be more than simply wandering around and shooting things – instead, it can hopefully generate narratives. Maestro handles things like zombie swarms (which is based, in part, on how noisy you are while playing), and flocking behaviour towards distant noise sources. It also handles things like occasionally throwing you an abandoned car potentially full of useful loot, or perhaps discreetly ensuring you find medicine right at the point you need it. On the other hand, it might wait until you are at your lowest health point and then spawn a zombie attack just to remind you that life in the grim darkness of the zombie apocalypse is nasty, brutish and short.
What I am looking for from Epitaph is, amongst other games, a more cinematic experience of play, and it’s my hope that Maestro permits us to accomplish that. Part of achieving that goal though is to know what people actually find to be exciting as they play these kind of games, and to simulate those experiences in code. I’d love to hear the stories that other people have of exciting gameplay incidents they remember.