There’s a recurring design flaw in games that really bugs me. Non player characters that I meet, start to get to know, and never see again.
They’re a storytelling one night stand!
Here’s the sort of thing I mean. I’m playing an MMO. A ‘No Name’ Guard runs into the room to tell me that the city is being destroyed and that I need to go to the train station. He runs out again and I never seen him again.
No phone call…not even text.
Nearby is a beautifully rendered radio that tells me exactly what No Name Guard did, in a quarter of the words, with funky, old-school static and reverb.
Redundancy galore. My precious game time is being wasted here. So what’s the solution?
Disintegrate the No Name Guard and keep the Story Glyph. The Radio.
Non-player Characters are there to build relationships, to connect the player with the virtual community of the game. Story Glyphs deliver info and lore, quickly and efficiently.
What is a Story Glyph?
‘Glyph’ meaning a symbol that represents a much larger concept.
A Story Glyph uses imagery and words to convey story, back story, lore, and any other piece of narrative gold with which you can enrich your game.
Like the diaries in Resident Evil 1 that shows a scientists symptoms and decaying mental state as he plunges into zombification.
The Siren in Silent Hill signals the change between the Mist Dimension and the Hell Dimension.
Graffiti on the wall.
A fragment of a captain’s logbook.
A dedication inscribed on an ornate pistol.
So my way of thinking is this. Video Games are a visual medium so the bulk of the storytelling should be done Visually, not Verbally. With that in mind, Story Glyphs can be used to replace No Name NPCs and all of their dead-end dialogue.
But Aren’t I doing myself out of a job here? Isn’t that what I do? Write dialogue?
I recently talked to a scriptwriter friend of mine, Tony Etchells, who wrote for The Bill and Midsomer Murders. He told me that scriptwriting is about pouring a lake into a thimble without spilling a single drop.
I think it’s the same with Fiction Engineering. The most epic story can be told in a smattering of words and a scattering of Story Glyphs. And it takes a writer to do it. To write that Epic as a source document then mercilessly edit it, eviscerating it like a black market organ dealer would a lost backpacker.
The key is to then strategically place these concentrated pieces of story into the game world, giving our game the weight of meaning without sinking it in words.
Then it’s up to the player to put those pieces together, to rebuild the Epic in their own minds.
To me, that’s the essence of Fiction Engineering. It’s not about using narrative to simply to give context to the game play, a fictional meaning to all that grinding. It’s about giving the player yet another opportunity to interact with our game. Another opportunity to Play.
So here’s my take home message…
Talk at the player as little as possible. NPCs are there to create connections, not give lectures.
Use Story Glyphs to deliver the Epic Narrative, piece by piece.
Then stand back and let the player put it all together for themselves.