Death of three-act structure AGDC08 – The Narrative Design Exploratorium™

Death of three-act structure AGDC08

Andrew Walsh presented the session posed on the question
‘Are game writers witnessing the death of three act structure?  Mr. Walsh was alive, full of passionate
self-reflexive humor.  His talk was a great postmortem on how layered
interactive storytelling can further game experiences while maintaining their
classical roots.  Clearly defending the form forged by Aristotle, he went on
to explain how he used the form in Prince of Persia and how it lent to creating
a next-generation interactive story experience.

Andrew Walsh AGDC08

In creating his
installment in the Prince of Persia series he had set some clear markers for
successful storytelling:

  • A strong identifiable story.
  • A simple playing experience.
  • A deep
    story world.
  • Allow the player choice and control.
  • Making the characters feel alive.
  • Providing a next generation experience.

What is his conceptual tool?  “Ondemend storytelling”  Just
what is it?  Andrew went on to explain, “Ondemand storytelling is a story design that allows the player to
choose when to access the story and how much of it they want to
experience.”   It is a layer of
interactive depth that is available to the player at the designers discretion
to give the story hungry player additional content.  The Ondemand elements are
not required to forward gameplay, they exist to provide depth to the player, in
that they allow the player to customize their own experiences.  Anyone who has
played Gears of War will be familiar with such systems.  By holding a button (Y)
on a console controller a player can shift focus, shift control, to the game
makers, so they (writers/designers) may direct their focus to story points of

Like the tapes in Bioshock
which are available for the player to listen to anywhere, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the
segments are “carpeted” or as Andy refers to it “story carpeted” so that
segments of story are available in certain rooms, missions or levels.


Andy sees story as a thing of words, dialog, and cut-scenes,
while I appreciate his perspective, he is clearly missing, perhaps purposefully, the importance in our craft of visual storytelling.  As a writer
it’s understandable, but as a Narrative Designer, it would be expected one
would emphasize the use of embedded story within the
environment via art and non-dialog driven sound.  Environments were touched up briefly, but
I believe he could have placed more emphasis on the ability of setting to drive
stories.  He mentioned the use of the car-radio
within GTA as a way to paste story on top of gameplay without requiring the
player to directly engage with the story element, but again it is a story
element that is driven by voice-over (VO).

In the end, the answer to his question is no. According to Mr. Walsh, the 3-act
structure is not dead, it’s alive with a new depth previously unseen in linear
media experiences.  Andrew was clearly successful in his aim.  Prince of Persia has a
strong, deep, player driven story.  It’s a next generation play experience which
brings characters and worlds alive.

“If you use a cutscene you are not a leper.” -Andrew Walsh

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About this NDE Article

This page contains a single article by Stephen E. Dinehart published on September 16, 2008 12:52 PM.

Moving From Games to Interactive Storytelling AGDC08 was the previous entry in this blog.

The Future of Interactive Entertainment AGDC08 is the next entry in this blog.

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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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