Alderthe: The Card Game – Vivisection I

This is not a Post Mortem. In my spare time, I design and develop my personal card game project called Alderthe. That’s why I’m calling this series of articles a Vivisection: cutting into a living organism to see how (well) it functions.

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Please don’t do an image search for ‘vivisection’ – Photo by Shane Aldendorff via Pexels.com

In this first entry of the series, I’m going to give some background concerning the setting. It has very little to do with the game mechanics or any of the design, but I suppose it does serve as some context for the rest of the series. For those among you who appreciate mythology or fantasy lore, you may find it interesting. Just don’t expect any strong narrative design insights from this text.

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Carving the Writer’s Block

I’ve been in the industry for a little while now. One of the concepts that appears to be ubiquitously linked to the notion of professional writing is that of the dreaded writer’s block. Aren’t we all too familiar with the picture of a spectacled (wo)man in a study, seated in front of a computer screen, gazing out the window while looking for something to inspire them?

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And coffee is somehow important as well. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I found a way to save myself from this affliction. In fact, it’s a different way to view the craft that allows me to avoid halting my writing progress altogether. A little secret perhaps, that I want to share with you. Are you ready?

You’re picturing writer’s block wrong.

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Comics, Mythology, and Games

Myths and legends of old are stories that were created at some point in time, whether they contain a kernel of truth or not. They are usually intended to convey some moral or life lesson to the audience. Be loyal to your king. Respect nature. Don’t cry wolf. Stuff like that.

They originate in times of oral traditions, meaning that the stories were passed down diachronically (from generation to generation) or synchronically (from storyteller to storyteller).

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Jason and the Argonauts are basically the Avengers (picture source)

I know I’m not the first one to state this, but comic book heroes are our modern-day mythology.

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The Talos Identification

**SPOILERS!** This article is a discussion of plot elements in a specific game, meaning that it contains major **SPOILERS!**

The Talos Principle, created by Croteam and released in 2014, had two writers on board: Tom Jubert and Jonas Kyratzes. The game is described as a first person philosophical puzzle game, and is often compared to Valve’s 2007 hit game Portal.

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First of all, I think the game is amazing. I experienced a feeling –  a sense of wonder and excitement, but also of contemplation and serenity – throughout the playing sessions that I only rarely get. It’s the kind of game I’d love to help create myself one day. And it’s the game I want to discuss this day. No, I don’t want to talk about the philosophy behind the game. This has been done plenty enough already. I want to break down how you as a player are guided through the narrative, and explain the craftsmanship that has gone into the way this is achieved.

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Functions of Game Stories

This is an abstract of the talk I did at the Indie Gameleon festival on September 15, 2015; supplemented by material from a lecture I give to students.

When you’re building your game, of course you’re going to want to have a story included, right? You know how much people love game stories – not to mention all the memorable stories you personally enjoyed in your favourite game. So let’s add some story to your game!

Actually, let’s not.

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Plants vs. Zombies has a story, but does anyone care?

You might not expect to hear this coming from a guy who writes stories for games, but I don’t want developers to blindly implement stories in their games. What I desire, is that we produce smarter stories, not more.

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Game-specific Story Structures

I sometimes get the feeling that we are on the verge of breaking into new kinds of narrative structures, specifically created for games. For a long time, we’ve borrowed literary, theatrical or cinematic structures, copying their story experiences and ways of progression. It’s not uncommon to find a game story script that looks exactly like a movie script. But more and more games seem to pursue narrative structures that create innovative story experiences that work best in games. As you can read elsewhere on my website, I’m a proponent of innovation in story creation, which is why I want to shed my views on this phenomenon.

order 1866

Is The Order 1866 really a game or a movie in disguise? Continue reading

Emergent narratives in games

Games have imitated traditional media in many ways. Some genres borrow the visuals and directing qualities from movies, others use story structures and character development from literature, and some others apply art styles from all kinds of historical art movements.

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Up to extremely historical (image from Alientrap’s Apotheon)

On the other hand, games distance themselves from traditional media. An example is player agency, or how you can influence the flow or outcome of a narration. But there is one narrative form that games excel at: the emergent narrative.

In an emergent narrative, the story is not designed by developers. It is constructed by the player, through his (inter)actions and explorations, while often influenced by any number of (game-specific) random factors that each game features. As the name suggests, the narrative will emerge as the player continues to play. Sounds abstract, doesn’t it? Yet, I’m almost certain that most of you have benefited from this form of storytelling.

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Why should we interpret a game?

**SPOILERS!** This article is a discussion of plot elements in games, meaning that it contains many minor **SPOILERS!**

The title of this article is a question, with good reason. It may be a question some of you ask when confronted with someone who claims to know what a game is really about. Or maybe you ask the question when discussing what the value is of adding meaning to a game, or interpreting it. In any case, the word ‘game’ can easily be replaced by ‘film’, ‘book’ or ‘painting’. Why is adding meaning to a work of art needed? Can’t we all just keep our own interpretations to ourselves?

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