IF – Planning your Narrative Game

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The goal of this tutorial is to create a narrative game based on your own museum. The finished version can either be played online or it could be installed on a display in a public gallery

When creating a new narrative game there are many areas to consider (often in parallel). Here are some guidelines to start you on the right path:

  1. Decide on the venue for where this story takes place.
  2. Think of some kind of overarching story / goal?
  3. Who is the protagonist?
  4. What is the obstacle that is blocking them from reaching their goal?
  5. What actions can the player carry out on route?

Venue

Firstly think of the venue that you’re going to set your narrative game in. This is probably a museum (or other public space) that you know very well. You might even be lucky enough to have access to a floor plan. Decide which of the locations are interesting enough to make it into your game.

Story, Protagonist & Obstacles

Perhaps you already have stories connected with your museum that you’ll want to base your game around. If you’re struggling for an idea here’s a few prompts to get you started. Generally these stories have a mystery element to them and there is something for the player to investigate:

  • A new object has appeared in the gallery – but no one knows why and what it is for.
  • You recognise yourself in a painting that is over 400 years old.
  • Three different art thieves are all trying to steal the same object on the same night.
  • There is a police investigation going on within the museum but no one has told you why.

 

You could go with more human stories:

  • It’s your first day working at a new museum and your boss has already got it in for you!
  • You’re trying to find someone to take to the museum annual ball.
  • A museum curator is retiring and you’re giving a speech about their life.

 

The real advantage for Interactive Fiction is that the games can be as broad as any novel and even focus in on a tiny story element. For example, it could be that you’re standing in a queue at the museum shop and just overhearing conversations from the people around you.

The Hero’s Journey

So what is the player doing? The usual format is that there is some kind of status-quo in the world before the player is presented with a call-to-adventure. There is a standard structure for this known as ‘The Hero’s Journey’. You can research this further if you want to follow a traditional format.

Actions

What distinguishes games from stories is that games are about what you ‘do’. Players should be presented with different choices and selecting from them should be an interesting process.

  • Collect a number of items that you find around the museum (these could be parts of a larger object)
  • Take an item to somebody (known as a delivery or FedEx quest) or just generally running errands for other people.
  • Find items that allow you to do things (e.g. a key to open a door)
  • Find information that allows you to answer a question (or a combination to a lock)

 

As this is a game we would usually have some resource limitation that prevents the player from being able to successfully finish the game every time e.g. limit of the number of moves, limit the money that you can buy things with. You can ignore the resource limitation in your game design.

Remember this is a narrative game – so lots of the enjoyment will come from learning about the world and its people. How well you can share this information with the player is essential to their enjoyment.

Other Tips:

  • Does the player know who their character is? Are they introduced to them, e.g. Bill the security guard. Or is the player assumed to be the real person – so all references to them in the game are somewhat vague. You can often use a gender neutral name like Sam to allow the player to identify with them (or even no name at all!).
  • Related to this is the issue of role playing a character who you know nothing about. It’s a strange premise to suddenly be thrust into a new person without any of their experiences or memories. That’s why we often find plot devices such amnesia used in video games.
  • At the beginning of the story let the player’s imagination do the work. It’s best to suggest things rather than to state everything out-right.
  • When the player is faced with decisions – it’s not always best to give them obvious good / bad options but instead much like real life present them with trade-offs and dilemmas.
  • It’s often good to let players make choices even when they don’t have any real meaning. Perhaps we meet a character and no matter what the conversation choices are the outcome is still that the player is given a particular object. It gives the player the illusion of choice.
  • In addition we want to give the illusion of freedom – so even when it doesn’t really matter it helps our player to buy into the world. Perhaps choosing the name of a pet early on in the game. We can continue to reference that pet’s name later on creating a more immersive experience as the player feels they have caused an effect in the game universe.
  • Can you combine the story with the real world? Perhaps by examining a real museum object in the gallery you are able to figure out a code to use in the game.
  • Twist: maybe your character isn’t the most important person in the world. But perhaps they can still influence the story?