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  • Storytelling In Games: Theme And Mood

    - Robert Renke

  • Sometimes we can even embed narrative elements into minor features or unavoidable elements such as loading times. In GoodGame Empire, for example, the initial loading screen features a made-up progress bar with random texts regarding plot elements instead of a functional progress bar, such as "sharpening the swords" or "kidnapping princesses", making reference to a questline.

    Figure 12: GoodGame Empire. GoodGame Studios.

    Sometimes, however, a non-diegetic approach can be a better solution in terms of player feedback, as Horneman(2015) illustrates in his comparison between The Getaway and GTA V.

    Thanks to the convention of having on-screen non-diegetic cues, suspension of disbelief can happen despite a lower fidelity.

    Figure 13: Horneman, J., (2015). The Design in Narrative Design. Game Developers Conference.

    On a similar note, Remo(2019) explains how the decision-making system in Firewatch was iterated, from initially using button input to later taking advantage of the existing mechanics.

    In his example, he talks about a choice of picking up just enough food for oneself or ignoring the request and picking up more. Initially, the interaction held place by pressing one of two buttons, however, this mechanic was redundant since the game already had the mechanics for picking up objects, and by using that game mechanic it could become more immersive.

    Hudson(2011) emphasizes this use of resources as well, drawing an inverse relation between fidelity and agency due to the cost of development.

    Figure 14: Hudson, K., (2011). Player-Driven Stories: How Do We Get There?. Game Developers Conference.

    As an example of how agency rather than fidelity can convey strong emotion, Hudson mentions the experimental game Passage.

    Hudson's notion of fidelity against agency stands in parallel to Briscoe's(2013) GDC talk on Dear Esther, where the speaker emphasizes immersion as opposed to realism. To create the environment art, he drew inspiration from impressionist painting, discussing, in particular, the light and atmosphere, constrained color palette, and evoking emotion over reality. "it's not the fidelity of the content that matters, but the emotion and experience". He describes how he conveyed the story in small details and used subtle symbolism to represent the protagonist's journey, such as a barely noticeable heart shape and blue tones on entering the cave, which represents the protagonist's psyche, and a more noticeable eye shape on exiting it.

    Figure 15: Briscoe, R., (2013). The Art of Dear Esther - Building an Environment to tell a Story. Game Developers Conference.

    Story and mechanics should not depend on one another. As Mehrafrooz puts it, "Building a game around a story tends to trap you in a variety of ways". Instead, all aspects should work in cooperation to form the final experience.


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