When we, as game designers, create a concept we are heavily influenced by other design cultures such as software engineering and cinema. This means that we are affected by methodologies that are not primarily adapted for game design. Film dramaturgy narrows our mindset to a single storyline with little user interaction. Software engineering practises, such as agile forms, are made to capture user need and meet customer requirements, and can lead to convoluted narrative outcomes. The problem with film-based dramaturgy is that it is not interactive. The problems with software engineering methods are that they are created to help define an agreement between customer and developer, as to what the software should do. Adding the first to the second does not create a solution for interactive games.
CIN’s prime focus is to aid game developers to fully integrate the narrative design element of interactive fiction, within the game development process. CIN’s innovative approach achieves a new synergy of narrative and interaction by introducing unique methods for creating the motivational drive for a player to interact with a fictional world, thus bridging the gap between narrative design and game development.
Narrative Bridging as a Method
Narrative Bridging is a method developed by CIN that merges the process of creating a narrative driven game concept with the implementation of this into code. It is primarily a method for pre-production, and is to be used in the design phase with the purpose to aid a designer in the creation of narrative elements; controlling relationships and dependencies. The results will enable the player to form patterns of interaction and strategies; feeling as a part of the game world.
Narrative Bridging is a non-intrusive method that can easily be used within existing working processes. It is a process that will help both experienced and inexperienced designers to focus their creativity where it is needed. Narrative Bridging will help to produce coherent narratives faster, and the process is easy for anyone to look into, enabling transparency for the rest of the team and a common language to discuss the narrative elements. Narrative Bridging integrates the narrative with the rest of the systems, such as game play and game mechanics, and helps to balance different parts of the game in an easy manner by showing what parts are over worked, and what parts lack explanation.
Narrative Bridging in Practice
Piecing together an interactive narrative that holds together is hard work. To do this a designer will go through the material many times, in an iterative process, adding and subtracting, changing and adjusting. Narrative Bridging aids this complex work by splitting the design phase into a process of three non-consecutive, but iterative, phases. The first phase aids the organisation of the material that the designer has at hand, this results in a conclusive overview. The second phase creates depth to the narrative by organising the elements and generating conflicts of interests. It creates logic and coherent relations and enhances the game world, thus improving the game play. If the created material does not generate satisfying game play, or coherent model for interaction, the method will guide the designer in the revision, backtracking to previous phases to look for inconsistencies. If everything is satisfactory, the designer can move on to the third phase and complete a design document with the game play, as well as receive data models for implementation, and write a story web.
Results of the Method
The design documents are in effect user stories or, if really detailed, use cases. They can be used as a base for story, game play and game mechanics as well as other in game variations, and for planning and design. The process will bring forth the dependencies and correlations between different entities. The domain model can be extracted from the documents to build a common foundation upon which more specific requirements for each use case can be adopted.
For creative design the process will guide through the creative process from idea to manuscript, without imposing on creativity, and clearly outlining which parts need more work and lends itself well to feedback from peer review.
For project management the process will deliver the core elements of the game. These can be time boxed and prioritized. The process is transparent so it is easy to see how far the creative work has come.
For developing work the process will help to extract the domain model giving the fundamental data structure of the game. The Interactions between different entities in the game will show what controllers and views are needed. Since the process extracts the core of the game mechanics it ensures that what is implemented is actually what is needed in the end product.
For level design the process will deliver the key elements of the game that the level designer can use to design more intricate stories, adding depth and complexity to the overall game experience.
For graphic design the process will deliver what graphical elements that needs to be created.
For scriptwriting the process will deliver results that enable the elaboration of a story, characters and dialogues.
For testing the process explains where and when events should happen and how the player is supposed to interact with these events. This will simplify testing and feedback to the development team.
For marketing, sales and stakeholders the game concept is delivered as a whole. This can be used for a go/no go decision to start prototyping.
Narrative Bridging will deliver these benefits to a team without the need to change current developing practices, adding extra meetings or unneeded documentation. Narrative Bridging is a process for narrative design that makes the narrative more consistent and coherent by guiding the designer through the necessary steps to create a comprehensive game world.
© CIN and Katarina Borg Gyllenbäck 2009-2010