Nowadays, fresh IPs for not just games but also movies and series are pretty much expected to take place in story worlds, showing multiple narratives from diverse characters – often morally grey and complex – to yield more entertainment and effect from the investment in developing that IP. I would argue that since the early 2000’s, but especially in the past decade during which games like Dungeons and Dragons have become more popular than ever, worldbuilding has become a serious pastime of professionals and amateurs alike. Worlds that belong to the Assassin’s Creed series and Warcraft continuously expand, so that players can consume them endlessly.
This is the first article of a four-part series that shows how networks and sociology (and more specifically, theories on the sociology of art) can be applied as a worldbuilding method that yields meaningful and dynamic worlds. These articles support my GDC2021 talk ‘Connected Worlds: Building Dynamic Storyworlds Using Network Theory‘ by offering more details, substantiation and calculations behind the mechanisms.
**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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.