The latest entry in our Day in the Life series brings us to the world of narrative design through the lens of Senior Narrative Designer Allan Stellakis. Allan’s work is indispensable to the story-rich worlds we create at Magic Media, where his skills help us create captivating stories and compelling, relatable characters.
The work of a Narrative Designer is one of collaboration and necessitates working closely with other teams to craft a cohesive narrative that ties together the game’s gameplay and visuals. As Allan says, his work pendulums between fashioning multiverses and the fall of empires, and no day is the same as the last!
Narrative Design Pipeline
Every game project is different, as is the narrative design process. Allan says the process generally begins by drafting several high-concept stories that can serve as inspiration to the art and design teams, or vice versa, where the other teams will have ideas and art that will inspire him. These story treatments aim to push boundaries as much as possible in terms of scope without becoming unmanageable for the team to work with.
What follows is a period of feedback and iteration to refine the story into what will be used as the basis for the game. Changes are made depending on feedback from other teams and the project’s leadership, with the iterative process repeated as much as it’s needed to be. In collaboration with other departments, the game world’s lore is established, character motivations formed, and important character bios are developed during this period of iteration.
It’s common in the modern gaming industry for games to feature non-linear narratives. These stories present themselves as having multiple choices for players, different endings, and multiple possible quest outcomes. Allan says that on a technical level, there are no unique challenges as such when it comes to non-linear storytelling. Non-linear narratives are often linear at their core, and the bells and whistles of choice are quite often illusory.
Though games might present multiple choices, every story has a beginning, middle, and end, it’s just a matter of how players are guided through their three-act journey. A player could be presented with options A, B, or C for resolving a quest, but ultimately, the quest will be resolved regardless of their choice. Non-linear narratives can give players a myriad of options for finishing the game’s story. Though games will generally adhere to the three-act structure, it’s the effects on the world and characters through decisions that help players feel as though their journeys are unique.
Crafting Compelling Characters
Allan believes that when it comes to crafting characters, the best ones, whether they’re heroes, villains, or anything in between, are relatable. For characters to be compelling, regardless of their role in the game’s narrative, the players have to be able to relate to them in some way. As Allan recounts, an Aristotle quote sums up his outlook perfectly; ‘To write well, express yourself like the common people, but think like a wise man.’
Narrative design requires the ability to write engaging stories, no matter the background, whether those skills are gained through creative writing, script writing, or anything else. It necessitates understanding the work of artists and designers, every team a Narrative Designer collaborates with, to gain the best understanding possible of your narrative work. How do characters fit into this overall process? Allan says it’s important to remember that more often than not, you’re creating a story for the protagonist and not the other way around. You work to create an engaging story that envelopes your lead character, someone who players can relate to.
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