Video Game Narrative Development and Outsource

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Video Game Narrative Creation and Outsourcing

Video Game Narrative is very blurred subject. In general, narrative is all about the game story that players will learn through dialogues, art and boring notes. We define game narrative as “what the players think they do in a game“. For example, they are fighting bad guys, killing dangerous monsters for money, revenging someone’s death or something else. Without a narrative the games are just numbers and formulas, but the narrative makes them look alive.

monster hunter narrative

Game narration is a challenging task: it’s easy to create a generic game world, but hard to make it interesting and worth paying for. There is even narrative designer profession — to make sure that the players will feel strong emotions. You can hire a narrative designer to do things in-house or outsource the game narrative design. If you are interested — read further.

What is the main element of a game narrative

The main element of narrative is a story. We usually see the story as all events that are connected with the main character. No, the narrative is not only about the character, but everything the player can see or hear in the game.

For example, in ancient Ukrainian game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. about Chernobyl Disaster there is an abandoned building of Agricultural Research Facility. While getting closer to the building the player may hear a cat meowing lamentably. But there are no cats in game, only bandits, mutants and anomalies. If the player try to find that cat, he will eventually get in one of those dangerous anomalies. The only explanation to this is that the Zone and mutants lure careless stalkers into traps.

post apocalypse game narrative

From the narrative’s point of view, the story have to explain everything the players can find in the game. Except bugs and easter eggs, of course.

What is the main character in the game narration

No matter how good the surroundings are, the player will mostly care about the main character. In terms of game design, the main character may be anything the player may control. If there’s nothing the player is connected with, then the main character is the player himself.

For example, in Civilization games the player controls a whole empire and leads it to world domination. He is emotionally connected with the fate of his country and will be sad, if some barbarians burn down even a smallest village.

civilization v game

But in many mobile games the players control nothing: they move colored candies, play with words and numbers or just click the button to get a coin. In this case the main character is the one who plays the game. “Game over” or “Try again” screens will make this person sad, so it’s always the story about the player getting better and better.

How to pick a narrative type

A game story is nothing like a book or movie script. First, the players may be in charge of making decisions and doing where they like to. Second, they may take a different path and change part of the story. These facts lead us to 4 types of game narrative:

  • A linear narrative or a string—the player is going through specific set of events. He can’t go back, skip some part of the story or say “I don’t want to do it!”. Literally, the game feels like a rollercoaster ride;
  • A string with knots—the story is still linear, but the player can stop, do some side quests and make some decisions. Still, there is only one ending;
  • A braided rope—the player can make decisions and change the story. For example, the player can help one character, betray the other, skip half of side quests, get the bad ending and try again;
  • A ball of wool—the player has a bunch of main and side quests and can complete them in any order.

Narrative design of one game may contain a few types of narrative. For example, in Skyrim you can go and do whenever side quest you like—it’s the ball of wool type. But the main story is made as a braided rope—you can’t meet Paarthurnax without visiting the High Hrothgar.

skyrim story design

Often the game is linear, but the player may pick a good or bad ending in the final levels. It’s not bad: by that time the player will know most of the details and be able to make a decision that suits his feelings.

So, what type of narrative you need to use? It depends on the story you want to tell. Beware of the braided rope type: it needs a gigantic budget to shoot many cutscenes, write and voice dialogues, take every player’s decision into account and make it interesting. Also, in this case the player will see less than 70% of content you made, because it is hidden in different braids or story routes. 

For example, in NieR: Automata the player must beat the game 3 times to find the whole story and unlock all weapons and costumes. Is it worth it? 79% of players says “No!”. Look at the picture below, it’s from third playthrough. We bet you never saw it, but it isn’t a secret ending or easter egg—it’s part of the main story of NieR: Automata.

nier automata story explained

How to write a game narrative

Now you know, that the narrative means more than just a main character’s story. It’s more about convincing the player that the game is happening in almost real world. 

To write a narrative you need to describe the world’s history first. The players must know what is going on, why it is happening and what motivates the main forces. Without backstory the war between Imperial Legion and Stormcloacks from Skyrim is just a fight between NPCs wearing colored rags.

stormcloacks vs imperial

Don’t turn a game into encyclopedia

You don’t need to write a historical treatise if you are making a short mobile game. For example, in “Where’s my water?” the narrative tells us that a poor crocodile Swampy lives underground and likes to take a bath—it is enough to make an interesting game.

mobile game narrative design outsource

If you want to develop a big game with dozens of characters and gray morale you may need to write a real tractate to explain everything. You need to do so the players can make an own decision who deserves their help.

When the world’s story is done, it’s time to write a main character storyline:

  • Linear type—you need to write complete story from prologue to epilogue;
  • String with knots—write a complete story and side quests;
  • Braided rope—write a few stories with joint prologue, add a few important decisions which will split the story into Route A and Route B. If you have time and budget — you can later split main routes into smaller ones;
  • Ball of wool—write a few complete stories, which may happen independently at the same time.

Feel free to combine these types to create what you want, but don’t forget: the game must give emotions.

Examples of different types of game narrative design

The best example of linear story is The Last of Us. Everything is scripted, the only decision the player may take is to skip some cutscenes and dialogues by not finding the interactive objects. This game has great backstory: zombie-fungus, death of the protagonist’s daughter, NPCs that live in the described world and act by its laws.

Good example of string with knots type is Assassin’s Creed 2. The game throws the player into a closed location and makes him free. The player may choose what to do next: complete a main quest or hunt some feathers. Still, the player can’t progress further until he finishes main missions.

Braided rope is the most complicated type of narrative, but these games are the most loved ones. The Witcher series, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, The Elder Scrolls series and many others RPGs have braided story. For example, in The Witcher 2 the player must choose between Rhedania or Scoia’tael. Based on this choice, the second act will be happening in completely different locations, with different quests and rewards.

witcher 2 story chart

Ball of wool type isn’t as common as others. The best example may be Cyberpunk 2077: there are 5 NPCs with separate quest lines, which affect the main story, and many more characters with 2-3 side-quests braided with each other. The player may complete them all and get a secret good ending or just sell V’s soul to the devil.

cyberpunk narrative

There’s a reason why there are many linear games and much less of braided ones. That’s because creating an alternate storyline requires a talent, time and money. From the business’s point of view, it isn’t as profitable as making linear games. Because of the player’s ability to take decisions they won’t see all the content the developers have made, won’t get satisfied and won’t recommend others to play the game. Yes, The Witcher and Mass Effect are great, but they have exceptional stories. A nonlinear story in the name of nonlinearity won’t make the game good.

What tools to use to write game narrative

Writing a game narrative requires not only talent, but the experience and software too. Scriptwriters often use specialized software, just like 3D-modellers, artists and programmers. This software allows writers to sort everything about world, characters and events so nothing be forgotten in the process.

For example, our writers in Kreonit Studio love to use Twine: text editor to write branched stories, combine parallel storylines and separate them later. Twine is good for understanding how player’s decision will affect the storyline, how to build the timeline and drive the story forward.

game narrative creation software

If we want to write a simple linear story, even default Windows Notepad will do this job. Basically, specialized text editors are just useful tools, and they won’t write a narrative without a writers and narrative designers.

Also, modern game engines like Unreal Engine 4 and Unity3D have special modules to work with dialogues, quests, cutscenes, text notes, descriptions and other game narrative elements. Our designers know how to use it and fill the game with story content fast.

To write a narrative in house or to use game studio outsourcing: that is the question

So, you want to develop a game with a deep heart touching story. You may study classic playwriting, books about writing a movie script, create a beautiful world in your head and picture it on paper with words. On every step further you’ll stagger with the questions like “How do I solve this? Why have I missed it?”. That’s not because you are a bad narrative designer, but only because of lack of experience.

To make things easier you may hire us to write narrative for your game. You’ll work with our writers and narrative designer, learn how to do it right and effective, and you’ll get full narrative made by professionals. Want to try it? Just fill the brief.

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