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Interactive Narrative Design is a craft which focuses on creating meaningful participatory story experiences with interactive systems. Just like as a designer of artificial intelligence crafts systems to give a viewer/user/player (VUP) the perception of intelligence in virtual beings. So too a narrative designer, working in a interactive medium, seeks to craft systems which deliver narremes to a VUP in such a fashion that the VUP may craft a story cognitively based on their navigation within said system. When narrative design is successful the VUP believes that they are experiencing a story within a navigated dataspace, or played videogame.

“After
the novel..the computer age introduces
its correlate – database.” Manovich [1] As Manovich defines the database the fiction form of our age, I too argue that a videogame is a database of multidimensional arrays containing audio, visual, and gameplay elements which when experienced in a concinnity via narrative systems creates a believable storyspace in the mind of the VUP. The then living dataspace has a depth of content which often relates to the depth of the experience as rendered linear to the VUP when navigating said dataspace with gameplay systems.

Similar to my definition of Narrative Design, “a narratological craft which focuses on the structuralist, or literary semiotic creation of stories. Narremes, or story elements, are formulated into a cohesive narrative structure in such a way as to create a metanarrative or archnarrative…” Dinehart [2]. Interactive Narrative design seeks to accomplish this via VUP navigated databases.

There seems to be people out in cyberspace that think the Narrative
Designer position in games is simply a mislabeled writer. This
assumption is entirely false.


Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts ScreenplayThe play is a literary form that comes down to us from Ancient Greece intended for performance. Used as a production tool to create a perceived story space on stage, it consists of characters, dialog, action, and setting. It is a form that was adapted for motion pictures then called the “screenplay”. While not particularly different than its stage play ancestor, the screenplay is intended for use on linear theatrical productions such as film and television. I chose to adapt it to games for purposes of strengthening game story. While games have their design documentation, often a ‘bible’ of information or a presentation intended to communicate a cohesive vision, the screenplay acts as a method to create a common story vision among widely disparate development pipelines within game development, with the aim of creating a better user experience. While not a concept I claim to originate. It is a form that I have forged wholly on my own, with attention to what makes a game screenplay unique.

Part 1: Cinematics

Linear cinematic segments, while potentially
altered by the player, or selected in a meaningful non-linear fashion
via gameplay, are no different than traditional screenplays. As the
first screenplays did not veer too far from stage plays, with minimal
sets, and high caliber, sometimes over-the-top, characters. So to the
game screenplay is still akin to the screenplays of film. Example 1
(below) is from my first game screenplay for “Company of Heroes:
Opposing Fronts”.

Example 1: Game Screenplay Cinematic Sequences
Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts Cinematic Sequence

αβ³δ¹A¹B¹C↑H¹-I¹K4↓w° “(1)

The formula shown above is for a Russian Folktale as described by Vladimir Propp in his book Morphology of the Folktale, the formula reads “A tsar, three daughters (α). The daughters go walking (β³),
overstay in the garden (δ¹). A dragon kidnaps them (A¹). A call for aid
(B¹). Quest of three heroes (C↑). Three battles with the dragon
(H¹-I¹), rescue of the maidens (K4). Return (↓), reward (w°).” (1)
While Proop’s semiotics may seem too formulaic for free souls, in practical application his truth stands firm as Aristotle’s Poetics. His structuralist approach to classical
literary design easily adapts to interactive experiences, and clearly points to the exponential narratological complexity associated with non-linear experiences. In order to maintain narrative integrity throughout an interactive experience a rigid structure must be adhered to, narrative design was born into the world to bring classical structure back into modern storytelling.

Narrative design is a narratological craft which focuses on the structuralist, or literary semiotic creation of stories. Narremes, or story elements, are formulated into a cohesive narrative structure in such a way as to create a metanarrative or archnarrative for the reader/viewer/user/player.
The term “narrative design” was described by Madison Smartt Bell as
“[the] form or structure of…final importance to any work of
fiction…”Bell (2) Believable narrative structures are created from well designed narremes. These elements rest within a greater narrative structure, think
of the mushroom in Mario or the sword in the stone. Narrative design is
the structuralist architecture of literary semiotics that together form
a work of fiction. Creative adherence to a well designed narrative structure will result in greater entertainment value and thematic communication.

Entertainment
is an umbrella of a term which has grown even wider in today’s web 2.0
world; our span of fiction’s have begun to take on many forms. “After
the novel, and subsequently cinema privileged narrative as the key form
of cultural expression of the modern age, the computer age introduces
its correlate – database.”Manovich (3) Design of the story related
elements, or narremes, of this database and their causal relationship
as a metanarrative within said database
is narrative design. Digital games are interactive database narratives.
Database narrative refers to narratives whose structure exposes the
dual processes of selection and combination that lie at the heart of
all stories, particular data – characters, images, sounds, events – are
selected from a series of databases or paradigms, which are then
combined by the player, through action and thought, to generate
specific stories.(4)

Game mechanics give a player
navigational functionality within the ‘data-space’ of multimedia
narrative (game). “Choices about the design and organization
of game spaces have narratological
consequences”Jenkins (5). Media theorist Henry Jenkins, continues to
describe the crafting of fiction within games as narrative
architecture. Crafting more believable interactive fiction requires
coherent narrative design to ensure maximum entertainment value. When executed with skill, a narrative design
strategy innately provides the reader/viewer/user/player/ with a wider cognitive
palette from which they can self-author more emotive and visceral
interactive fiction experiences.
 

1. Vladimir Propp. Morphology of the Folktale. via Wikipedia 1928
2. Madison Smartt Bell. Narrative Design: A Writer’s Guide to Structure. W. W. Norton & Company.1997
3. Lev Manovich. Database as symbolic Form. Cambridge:
MIT Press, 2001.

4. Stephen Erin Dinehart. RTS as Database Narrative. Narrative Design Exploratorium. 2007
5. Henry Jenkins. Game Design as Narrative Architecture. MIT Press. 200? 

Transmedial Play, A Stephen Erin Dinehart Concept
In a transmedial work the viewer/user/player (VUP) transforms the story via his or her own natural cognitive psychological abilities, and enables the Artwork to surpass medium. It is in transmedial play that the ultimate story agency, and decentralized authorship can be realized. Thus the VUP becomes the true producer of the Artwork. The Artist authored transmedia elements act a story guide for the inherently narratological nature of the human mind (see illustration) to become thought, both conscious and subconscious, in the imagination of the VUP.

Narrative Designers are storytellers whom live alongside a game as it develops through the production process. As the project grows and alters over the course of production, they are there to make sure the story maintains continuity throughout the experience. They are managers, writers, game designers, artists, and more. The pillar of their primary tenant must be founded on a transparent blend between narratological and ludological tendencies within interactive experience design. Simply put the balance of play and story.

Narrative Design demands understanding of the whole product. Like any good Hollywood Director they need to know the entire production pipeline. It is only through this understanding of the implementation of said narremes (narrative elements) that one can truly craft an interactive story. From characters to color scripts, shape scripts and even dialogue, it’s up to the Narrative Designer to create compelling documentation for the whole team. It is through this classical approach that best stories can happen, and the craft can refine to a unique form of high design. That said it’s a new field, it’s ripe for exploration and definition.

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About this NDE Archive

This page is a archive of recent articles in the Narrative Design Definitions category.

Narrative Analysis is the previous category.

Narrative Design Theory is the next category.

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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