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Collaborative Writing and Vast Narratives

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Title: Collaborative Writing and Vast Narratives


1
Collaborative Writing and Vast Narratives
  • Principles, Processes, and Genteel Truculence

2
Who Are We?
  • Ken Rolston
  • Designer Paranoia, RuneQuest, ADD, WFRP, Tales
    of the Arabian Nights
  • Lead Designer Morrowind, Oblivion, Big Huge RPG
  • Mark Nelson
  • Lead Designer Shivering Isles
  • Lead Narrative Designer Big Huge RPG

We Create Vast Narratives.
3
We Disagree About What Makes Vast Narratives Work…
  • …and were both right.

4
What Ken Believes In
  • Setting
  • Exploration, Pilgrims, and Tourists
  • Theme
  • Faction, Loose Narrative Threads

5
What Mark Believes In
  • Story
  • Plot, Pacing, and Revelation
  • Character
  • Dialogue and Voice

6
Setting and Theme Are Incredibly Important…
  • Coherence
  • Ownership
  • Immersion
  • IP

7
…Except For the Horrible Problems
  • High Overhead
  • Static
  • Less Memorable

8
Setting and Theme Done Right
  • Bioshock
  • Fallout
  • Myth

9
Setting and Theme Done Right
  • Morrowind
  • Detailed Faction Gameplay
  • Early Focus on Consistency of Theme

10
Setting and Theme Done (Not So) Right
  • Oblivion
  • Too Massive
  • Too Generic
  • Cautionary Tale
  • Of Ashurnibibi and Nchuleftingth

11
VERY IMPORTANT RULE
  • Setting and Theme must be the Designers primary
    focus, as they are the building blocks of vast
    narratives without them, players are left
    without any narrative touchstones.

12
Story and Character Are Incredibly Important…
  • Dynamic Elements
  • Player Attachment
  • Low Overhead
  • IP Retention

13
…Except For the Horrible Problems
  • Difficult to Maintain Consistent Voice
  • Story Demands Exposition
  • Games Rarely Do Story Well

14
Story and Character Done Right
  • Chronicles of Riddick
  • Half Life 2
  • Eternal Darkness

15
Story and Character Done Right
  • Shivering Isles
  • Focus on Individual Characters
  • Simple, Fast-Paced Story

16
Story and Character Done (Not So) Right
  • Oblivion
  • Again, Too Massive
  • Too Many Cooks
  • Cautionary Tale
  • Of Jack Bauer and the Search for the Da Vinci
    Code

17
VERY IMPORTANT RULE
  • Story and Character must be the Designers
    primary focus, as they are the engines by which
    we drive players to continue to play our games.

18
So…Whats a Designer to Do?
  • Focus on Story?
  • Focus on Setting?
  • Focus on Both?
  • Yes
  • …and No.

19
Early DesignFocus on Setting and Themes
  • Create Simple Themes
  • Ex., East vs. West
  • Make a Map
  • Major Geographical Features, Unique Topography
  • Establish Factions
  • Built-In Motivations and Conflicts

20
…and When Ken Isnt Looking
  • Create Keystone Characters
  • Listen to the Voices in Your Head
  • Imagine Big Events
  • Discover the Scenes You Really Want to Write

21
VERY IMPORTANT RULE
  • Early focus on Setting and Theme is imperative,
    as all good stories and characters are derived
    from their associated environments.

22
Late DesignFocus on Story and Character
  • Write Character Bios
  • Backstory, Common Archetypes, Reference Images,
    Sample Dialogue
  • Draft Your Plot
  • Act Structure, Key Moments, Narrative Reversals

23
…and When Mark Isnt Looking
  • Integrate Faction Conflict
  • Find Places Where Theme Has Accidentally
    Appeared, and Expand on It
  • Look for Unexploited Hooks
  • Tug On Loose Narrative Threads

24
VERY IMPORTANT RULE
  • Later focus on Story and Character is necessary,
    as settings devoid of conflict and resolution are
    unable to sustain player interest.

25
Approaches Weve Taken to Manage The Process
  • The Black Box
  • The Evil Overlord
  • The Combo Platter

26
The Black Box
  • Individual Designers on Individual Storylines
  • Internal Consistency
  • Scalable
  • No Interaction
  • Insular

27
The Evil Overlord
  • Shared Design With One Vision-Holder
  • Consistency of Voice
  • Variety of Style
  • Bottlenecking
  • Seagulling

28
The Combo Platter
  • Early Overlord/Late Black Box
  • Tone Established Early
  • Increased Individual Ownership
  • Greater Accountability

29
VERY IMPORTANT RULE
  • Large teams are necessary to create vast
    narrativesmanaging these large teams requires
    strict oversight.

30
So…What Have We Learned?
  • There are many VERY IMPORTANT RULES for designing
    vast narratives.
  • These rules must never be broken.
  • These VERY IMPORTANT RULES should be understood.
  • These rules should be broken whenever necessary,
    convenient, or perversely enjoyable.

WRONG!
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