Introduction to Game Development

1.4.1 Writing a Game Narrative with Flow

In this section, we're going to explore what makes a narrative for a game distinctive from other narrative types and six steps we can follow to create our own unique stories for our games.

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What is a game narrative?

A game narrative is a series of connected events that distinguishes itself from other narrative types by placing a player into the story. Game narratives can provide the following for the player:

  • An experience that makes them an active participant
  • Impact over the way the story is told
  • Influence over how the story may end

The Six Steps to Writing a Game Narrative

Brainstorming

To start forming some ideas for a game story it’s best to define an overall theme. Consider the lessons and feelings to impart to the player as well as any games or media that can act as inspiration.

Once a theme is chosen play word association to create a list of words and build on the ideas for the game.

Picking a Narrative Type

Then a game narrative type should be chosen. Now, there are multiple narrative types and the one used for our project may change as the story is defined. However, starting the narrative making process by considering how much control our player will have will help us in future steps.

Linear Narrative

Games that follow a linear narrative progression are akin to a movie or book. While the game may make the player part of the story the player also has little influence over how the story will unfold; instead they’re simply along for the ride.

Games of this style involve the player progressing from objective to objective and possess a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. Examples of games with this narrative type include Ratchet and Clank, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, and A Short Hike.

String of Pearl Narrative

A string of pearl narrative, also referred to as the quest narrative, is similar to a linear narrative but it breaks up the linear progression of the story by providing the player with some limited freedoms.

This narrative type presents a clear objective for the player, but then takes the player away from that objective with distractions. However, these distractions don’t contribute to the overall progression of the story; rather they could be removed without impacting the narrative.

Any game that with side quests that don’t impact the story can fall under the string of pearl narrative type.

Branching Narrative

The branching narrative is one of the most popular and complicated narrative types to implement. Game narratives with this type give the player a lot of control; they can inflence the way the story progresses, how other characters may interact with the player, and even the ending of the story.

Popular games with a branching narrative include The Stanley Parable, Chrono Trigger, and Undertale.

Defining the Beginning and End

Now we can start defining the start and ending for the game. Even when games will have multiple endings this is the time to determine the one “true” or default ending.

The beginning of the story can be defined with an initial action for the player or some dialogue that can come from the player, another character, or a narrator. While the ending of the story should define how the game will conclude; this is usually the result of a player reaching their final objective.

Setting Goals for the Player

Once a beginning and an ending is established we can create goals for the player. These goals will help construct the rest of the story and act as objectives for the player to reach so the game can progress.

A unique element that must also be considered when creating a game narrative is how the game will act in response when a player doesn’t reach a certain objective.

When creating a game we as writers are in a unique position where we have to consider a player’s choices before they make them and weigh the consequences of their choices.

Fleshing Out the World

With the narrative taking shape it’s now time to flesh out the world and our player with a bit more detail.

Determine who the player is within the game world. Are they the hero predestined to save the world? Or did they just happen to stumble into the story? Consider the player’s goals from the previous step and start using those to flesh out some details. Answer these questions regarding the player:

  • What’s their name?
  • What’s their role within the world?
  • What’s their backstory?

Once we understand who our player is we can define the world they exist within. Determine how realistic or fantasy-like the world will be; a good way to help with this process is to create a map. The starting point on the map is where the game begins, then consider where every new objective will take the player, and finally the ending of the game will take our player to the final location.

Creating a Flowchart

A flowchart is a visual that shows the steps a player will take in order to get to their objective and ultimately the end of their journey. Flow charts utilize different shapes to represent different steps within the process and arrows to define the flow from one step to the next.

Shapes

  • Pill - Defines the start or ending point of an interaction. Within this shape we’ll typically put the words “Start” or “End”.
  • Rectangle - Defines a single or grouped set of steps the player will take.
  • Diamond - Defines a decision the player will make. These diamonds will help create the diverging paths the player can take to reach their goal.
  • Arrows - Connect the shapes together to show how one step or decision flows to the next.

USAEL curriculum example flow chart

Game Narrative: a spoken or written account of some connected events; a game’s story

Narrative Theme: defines what the narrative will be about and influences every element of the story

Word Association: a game that involves listing out associated words; this game can be done as a creative tool to generate unique ideas

Narrative Progression: defines how the player will interact with the story and how much influence they will have

Linear Narrative: a narrative type where events are presented in a chronological order with little to no influence from the player

String of Pearl Narrative: a narrative type where the player is given the freedom to complete some actions outside the main story objective but the results of these actions do not impact the progression of the main narrative

Branching Narrative: a complicated narrative type where individual player actions, or inactions, can result in a unique story and possibly distictive game endings

Flowchart: a visual diagram that depicts a player’s actions possible actions and the result of those actions

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