Narrative Roles in Game Development

Me noodling on an idea

Forgive me for this indulgence but it is a rite of passage for any person talking about narrative in game dev. It needs to be done. I need to talk about what exactly a narrative designer is! Also, narrative roles in general because there is still an element of confusion around all of them.

The mixed ideas around what narrative roles there are and should be stem from a few things. Mainly the organic way these roles started appearing in the games industry. Then how they spread to various studios and teams. The result of which is that every panel on narrative for games has to take up a chunk of time defining what it is we do.

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(Some) Tools of the Trade

A fun and frustrating part of narrative design and video game writing are that the tools we rely on haven’t yet been standardised to the same extent as other disciplines. There are some mainstays but at the same time, there are a lot of options. If you’re just getting started in game narrative here are a few of my go-to options. I’ve used the following in various ways on multiple projects and would recommend getting to grips with them based on what takes your fancy and level of comfort with the soft-programming side of game writing. 

This is just high level details I may do full breakdowns of how I use them in future posts.

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Narrative Design Analysis

One of the best ways to learn about narrative design is to simply play games and experience the stories they tell first hand. EASY PEASY! However there is a difference between playing something and looking deeply at how it tells its story. This is where the Narrative Design Analysis template I use comes in handy.

I starting doing game design analysis notes years ago based on an old Gamasutra article I can no longer find. (Sorry to the person who inspired this, I want to give you credit!) Then as my work focus shifted from game design to narrative design I altered the template to be more useful to me.

Just have the template set up in your notes app of choice. Then copy and fill it out when you’ve either finished a game’s story or decided to stop playing it. For lots of games I keep it fairly high level but for a few I will go super in depth and break things down accordingly. Some of the prompts require more detail than others to fully answer but the whole thing usually takes me around 10-20mins to fill out.

The Narrative Design prompts are the main focus with the General Notes serving as mini review/context for the narrative notes.

Things to remember:

  • Bullet points are your friend and will keep things concise!
  • This is for you so use whatever personal short hand you prefer.
  • Re-read the notes you’ve made every once in a while.
  • You will miss things and that’s fine, the methods and ideas that jump out to you are key.

Anyway here is the template followed by a filled out example:

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