The Narrative Design Exploratorium™: Editorials: May 2008 Archives

Editorials: May 2008 Archives

Epiphany’s are strange and exciting and such was a moment I had yesterday while on a conference call with THQ’s studio BigHuge Games. I was interviewing with 6 individuals for a Narrative Designer position, 3 of which hold the title of narrative designer. On the surface that seems simple, but when I realized the all occupied positions I had in part created, my heart skipped a beat. By no means intending to make subjective personal judgments, I truly felt like I was on the other side of the looking glass.

I wrote the “Narrative Designer” job description for the purposes of self employment, for THQ worldwide, before I took the position with Relic Entertainment in 2006. Having crafted it with a future vision for the potential of narrative design in interactive entertainment, it was bizarre to realize that my efforts at creating the position made a ripple effect in reality. After the recent THQ layoffs I found myself on the outside. There I was on a conference call trying to convince the talented people at BigHuge that I deserved to get back in (Ah, the ironic agony of it all lol). The original Job description for the Narrative Designer position was first recognized by THQ in September 2006, here we are less than two years later and the field is really taking off! That alone makes me pretty happy. No word on the job, but it’s about the journey, right?

Since the beginning of the video game industry story, or narrative, has always seemed to be given the backseat in development. Elements of games like repetitive combative play mechanics, audio and ever improving visual graphics are given priority over story except in rare production environments. The industry continually strives to incorporate cinematic like interactive storytelling, but for the most part seems to miss the mark, bringing writers in at the end of production to make sense of the mess, leaving a lot of games looking as undeveloped derivatives.

This is changing, evidence of that fact is abound; maturing next generation gaming audiences are demanding more rich narrative experiences through better-crafted game and story play; not simply a repetitive set of mechanics with over embellished cut-scenes. Some pioneers have brought the medium and the craft forward, but now is a time which demands more than iterative product development we need a restructuring of the business as a whole to reflect the importance of story in video games.

Most current video game production models treat story as a misnomer at most, given small budget allotments as a disposable commodity. Writers are contracted for brief periods, usually off-site, and rarely have the chance to work with a team to define the direction of a game. It would be as if the ever-famous PIXAR Studios began production by animating for a year, or more, to figure out what the movie and animation is, then after a long period of development, and looming deadlines, scrapping together some contracted talent to make some sense out of the omni-directional chaos with a written script.

The video game industry has subscribed to a model that does just that. For sake of players, game-makers and purse holders all, a model akin to traditional media production where the preproduction planning of a product by professionally trained interactive storytellers, narrative designers, through written documentation which acts as reference for a team during agile development, must be implemented.

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About this NDE Archive

This page is a archive of articles in the Editorials category from May 2008.

Editorials: April 2008 is the previous archive.

Editorials: June 2008 is the next archive.

Welcome to the Narrative Design Exploratorium. Please feel free to browse and comment.

Author Stephen E. Dinehart is a producer, designer, writer, and artist. You can find out more about him on his self-titled website.

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