Masters of Narrative Design™ 4: Louis Castle – The Narrative Design Exploratorium™

Masters of Narrative Design™ 4: Louis Castle

Louis CastleThis is an ongoing NDE series featuring interviews with Masters of Narrative Design™. While a seemingly new term, the design of story experiences is nothing new. As game developers are increasingly looking to create meaningful virtual narrative experiences, looking at the lessons learned by these masters becomes increasingly valuable. Today’s master is game creator and producer Louis Castle. Beyond being behind some of the most ground-breaking titles of recent years, Lou is a visionary and one of the leading game producers in the world. His work in games is one of the reasons many industry professionals find themselves making games today. I’m hoping to see what we can learn from his wealth of experience.

Stephen Erin Dinehart: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, I know you are a very busy man. Your career has lead you to be VP at EALA and Executive Producer at EA‘s Blueprint, can you explain what you do there?

Louis Castle
: My role in the studio is to engage with all the teams and bring my experience into today’s development. I help cultivate talent, consult and test their design ideas and become more clear on their vision. I also work with external partners to see how we can find more ways to work together. It is the best job in the world!

Louis Castle's adaptation Blade RunnerSED: What is “story” to you and what purpose does that “story” serve in games?

LC: “Story” in a game is the setting and events that serve to drive the fiction in the game world.  It may consist of dialog or plot lines or it could simply be a very rich, detailed world that the game activities exist within.  Since all games are interactive, the extent to which players choices affect others in the world is the extent to which the player can be participant rather than viewer of the fiction.  I believe that difference allows our medium to have the best emotional tie between the consumer and the story among all the narrative mediums.

SED: As a gamemaker how does well-crafted gamestory affect your work and vision?

LC: The crafting of the setting, events and characters in a game’s story make the difference between a software toy and a true interactive experience.  I think a game story, as defined above, is critical to the game and franchise’s long-term success.

Louis Castle and Steven Spielberg collaborating on BOOM BLOXSED: Being on the cusp of the collaboration between the film and game industry, how do you see game development changing to meet the growing expectations of today’s audiences?

LC: As the devices that we use to deliver our entertainment improve in power and scale we continue to drive toward the elusive goal of a fully interactive world in which a dramatic story of the player’s choosing unfolds.  Although technology has been the largest inhibitor to date we are now at a point where the creative decision of how much interaction can be allowed has become the major issue to resolve.  I believe this is the biggest change ahead of the industry over the next few years.  Every genre is moving beyond the base mechanics and into the realm of how much interaction the player should have within their respective game worlds.

SED: As games increasingly diversify to meet the needs of
mass-market and niche audiences do you see a viable future for mature
video game content?

LC: Of course; we already show
clear market segmentation on the issues of violence and I expect the
same to be true for drama, comedy and sexual content.  Our rating
system is set up to specifically address that issue and I’m hopeful we
will continue to see efforts in enforcing the ratings at retail.

Disney's The Lion King Game Posters, adapted by Louis CastleDisney's The Lion King Game Posters, adapted by Louis CastleSED: Having
adapted some top-tier properties from film and literature to games,
Dune, Blade Runner, The Lion King, The Lord of the Rings, to name a
few, how do you translate these ‘traditional’ stories into games?

The first step for me in adapting any existing IP into a game is to
become the biggest fan possible of that IP.  It is only through the
lens of a deeply devoted fan that I can hope to expand the IP into the
interactive world in a way that is respectful and complementary.  I try
not to focus on what types of games have been made but instead focus on
what type of interactive experience would be right for the IP.

SED: Is gameplay capable of creating the same kind of emotions experienced when consuming a well-crafted film or novel?

Yes, and even more so.  Since the choices of a player in interactive
entertainment drive the story there is a much closer emotional
connection.  The UI of games interferes with the basic concept of
engaging the player into the world.  As UI issues get resolved the
worlds become even more compelling.

SED: For your most recent collaboration with Steven Spielberg, BOOM BLOX, you are quoted in various articles talking about the use of “consistent themes”, can you elaborate on this concept?

had so many ideas built upon the core ability of manipulating the Wii
Remote that we had to collect them into play patterns that were similar
to give the player context.  With well over 300 levels in the game it
was critical that there be some underlying thematic tie to keep players
learning and growing toward mastery of a certain type of play.

SED: How do themes help you create a better game?

They offer context for the player, our designers and even our
engineers.  Having context helps direct and focus our efforts so we can
offer a more fully actualized version of a game idea.

I’ve heard you refer to yourself as a “kid in a candy store” when it
comes to games, are there any particular flavor fantasies you are
craving that games industry is not currently providing? What are they
and why?

LC: Tons!  Without giving dozens of specific
examples I would have to say it boils down to more effectively executed
genres of entertainment.  I wish I could “play” dramas, comedies, love
stories and other rich emotional experiences instead of FPS, RTS or RPG.

SED:  Without revealing any secrets, what is your vision for the next 20 years of interactive entertainment?

LOL I wish I knew!  I have a hard enough time articulating what I want
to see in the products we are releasing next year!  My vision has been,
and continues to be to have the best time with the greatest talent I
can find to make products I love to play and am proud to give to my
friends to play.  I’ll keep doing my best as long as people keep
enjoying the things my teams and me create.

SED: I know I sure have, and look forward to playing your future creations. Thanks for your time.

is a great man; he always seems to have a smile on his face despite the
heavy workload and responsibility he carries. It is refreshing to hear
someone of his stature truly believe in the future of dramatic games
and experiences that push the boundaries of the modern convention that
is video game types like FPS, RTS, MMO. I hope you found his words and
thoughts as inspirational as I do. For the NDE this is Stephen Erin

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This page contains a single article by Stephen E. Dinehart published on August 22, 2008 6:00 AM.

Creating a Universal Open-source Game Writing Tool was the previous entry in this blog.

Masters of Narrative Design™ 5: Scott Miller is the next entry in this blog.

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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