We’ve started this sixth week with a discussion on narrative design with Jill Murray. We looked at stories, narration, the roles of narrative designers, and how to integrate narrative elements in our game worlds.
What is narrative design?
A quick internet search reveals a large number of definitions for narrative design. Although there are many variations, we can find some constants:
One of the most important distinctions between storytelling in books, movies and games is interactivity. In a game, the story progresses alongside the player’s interactions in the world.
What are the roles of a narrative designer?
In a game development team, narrative designers have several roles. Even though some games are not story-driven, all games have elements that fall under the broad spectrum of narrative design, such as ambiance, emotional impact, tone, item descriptions (even if these descriptions are only available to the development team), etc.
Narrative designers are responsible for creating the game world and its structure, and they become the vision holder, helping the team to follow a clear direction. They have an important communications rôle among the team, and sometimes need to act as diplomats.
As a narrative designer, you can use words, of course, but also several building blocks to tell stories and structure your games: cutscenes, dialogues, descriptions, environment, objects, references, background music, harmony between art and music, etc. Narrative design touches on all disciplines of game creation.
How to design narrative elements?
Here are some tips to get you started in narrative design:
- Define your narrative intention: what is your message? What mood and tone are most important in the experience you create? What impact do you want to have on the player?
- Develop a clear idea of the game world.
- Think of the story as a system. In this sense, the story is :
- Create a fiction that evolves as the player interacts in the game world.
- Get inspired by other creations, be it games, books, movies, lore, or any form of stories that you enjoy. Here are some great game examples:
What Remains of Edith Finch
The Return of Obra Dinn
Life is Strange
By now, you should have a pretty basic prototype of your game’s core concepts working. If you’re still having trouble with your prototype consider taking an hour’s break to switch gears and do something fun! If, after another cycle of “programming”, your prototype is still far away from being complete it’s time to consider several options:
- Break down the area you’re stuck on into a series of baby steps.
- Simplify. It’s easy to get excited about your game and try to do too much. Remember, that six to eight weeks isn’t a long time. In order to scale back, you should list the most important verbs/actions of your game. Decide whether each is really necessary for your game and do the most, important ones first. Prioritize. Place the secondary actions as stretch goals. You can always get to them later!
- Switch game tools, if needed. Are you trying to learn programming (say in Unity) AND how-to-make your game? Try switching to a more visual-based tool, or use an asset to help (ex: Fungus). There’s no shame in making your life easier.
- Go ahead. Copy and paste that piece of code ;) (You can always ask for information on that code later, if you are curious about what EXACTLY it is doing!)
- Continue working on your game prototype.
- List the elements you would like to test in your game and start creating your playtest questions.
- Build your game and figure out how you want to share it: itch.io, Drive, WeTransfer, etc.
Next week, we’ll talk about playtesting and quality assurance.
See you then and have fun making your game!