I've been making games for years but haven't released one in like 5. I'm done university now so I guess there's no excuse anymore. I actually know how to code now, so that's a plus :P
So there's been a recent trend of live narration in video games and I have to say that I'm a big fan. The two most obvious examples to me would be Bastion and The Stanley Parable. By including a narrator to direct the storyline of your game, you can eliminate the need of interrupting gameplay in order to tell a story. I've said before in my blog posts that I'm not a big fan of intrusive story segments (Metal Gear Solid, I'm looking at you) and I have a large interest in developing games that tell a story without disrupting gameplay. So obviously, I decided that I should follow suit and put my own spin on the idea of a live narrative.
Yah... I quickly learned that some of the intricacies of creating a narrator can go over the head of someone who has never thought about the finer details before. To design a game where each artistic aspect reinforces each other, deciding the character of the narrator first is key. The narrator has to not only mesh well with the music, but also the art design and gameplay as well. Imagine playing Sonic with the narrator from Bastion, doesn't exactly sync well together do they? That doesn't even take into account the possibility of the narrator having some sort of impact on the storyline itself. In The Stanley Parable, the narrator is somewhat disconnected from the story itself as he speaks as more of a godlike figure. Compare that to Bastion, where the narrator is one of the few characters in the game, Rucks. He obviously has a personality and his narration comes from his perspective of the situation.
One key thing that I noticed from playing Bastion was that despite the fact that the narrator clearly had his own personality, his character had little weight on the plot and he could have easily been swapped out with a different character. While this isn't that big of a deal, I do think that having a narrator can be used in more extensive and thought-provoking ways. Throughout Bastion we get a decent idea of what the character of the narrator is, without dwelling too much on his personality and his motives. The focus of the story is still on the main character, the Kid, and the desolite world that they live in.
So what if we put a large focus of the story on the actual character of the narrator himself? One of the most complex things about creating stories is the motives and personalities of the characters. Anyone can design an outline for an interesting story, hell I'm sure most people probably made a few back in kindergarten. Creating interesting, believable and relatable characters that drive the story is the hard part. By using a narrator we have the ability to fully explore and develop a single character. Even if in comparison the other characters in the game are bland, we can take a very in-depth look at that single individual. If we set it up so that one person is the driving force behind the plot of the game, we can ignore the fact that the other characters aren't as fleshed out. Developing a story focused around a single character is difficult but not impossible, just look at Cast Away or I Am Legend.
But now here comes the hard part. To construct a storyline that is so heavily dependant on a single character, you have to plan ahead, a lot. You need to know exactly why this character is the way that they are, they need to have a obvious motive behind everything that they do. If you focus heavily on a single character, people will notice any sort of flaw that exists in that character if you screw up. This can cause a significant amount of overhead when creating a game because whereas some games might have a storyline that evolves during development, in this case the narrator's personality will need to be clearly defined to start. If the character of the narrator starts changing during development, a lot of additional work will need to be redone to make sure the narration is consistent throughout the game. Also mix that with the fact that the narrator should match the gameplay/art/music to get the most out of the experience, you may end up getting yourself in some tricky situations as a designer.
Once it works though, it is incomparable. There aren't really any games that can match the storytime atmosphere given off by Bastion, or the somewhat peaceful but still uneasy narration delivered in The Stanley Parable. It gives your game a very specific type of attitude which can't easily be recreated or copied. While I would love to show off what kind of narrative we have in progress, at this point it would only take away from the final product. We're still too busy finalizing the personality of our narrator, so I wouldn't want to jump the gun. Let's just say that 2015 will be a very progressive year for our development and I can't wait to see the way things turn out.
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