Tag Archives: Development Notes

Craft work.

There’s a craft to storytelling.

The storyteller does not invent story; the storyteller utilized craft to invoke story. Images, music, vocabulary, style are all in the service of imparting ideas, emotions and characters in their audience’s mind.

There are tons on books on the craft of screenwriting, easily as many essays and thoughts on the process of novel writing. Poetry, song, painting have had years of studies devoted to the –ology of their particular type of storytelling.

Yet there is no similar craft for the kind of stories games can tell.

Early games borrowed a lot from traditional pen and paper RPGs, with tons of texts and the occasional image to prop them up. Later on, it borrowed the language of cinema, and brought it with it the cinematic experience, but also the unskippable cutscene.


Also include deep ruminations on the nature of war.

Also includes deep ruminations on the nature of war.

These days, both styles are wielded with immense skill and experience to give us the rollercoaster thrill ride of the Call of Duty series, the expansive, the lore filled text heavy Skyrim, or a deft combination of the two in Mass Effect. Yet these are all examples of games still appropriating other storytelling techniques in service to the story that the designers want to tell. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fantastic, and highly enjoyable but I don’t think they are all great examples of just how different game stories can be told.

It’s in the player experience; that should be key to the story that the game is trying to tell.

I'm a survivor!

I’m a survivor!

Games are interactive, the actions the player takes, the decisions that they have to make, the situation that the game places them in; these are tools in which games can invoke a kind of story to the player, making the experience a part of the greater story.

But we have no craft for that.

We do have terminology; phrases and concepts unique to the problem of telling stories in games. The most popular being “ludonarrative dissonance.” We’re throwing buzzwords like “player-authored”, or story generation around more as well, to achieve the holy grail of “procedural storytelling”. Granted, some of these are useful, but only up to a point of arguing about the merits of particular design.

More often than not though, we’re still in service of the game being fun, and the story of the game being secondary to that fun, that trying to tell a meaningful story with those mechanics is a lot like the story paragraph game: Entertaining,, but ultimately meaningless.

Obviously, I’m stumbling my way to some sort of a point here, in that I’d like to understand more about the kind of craft that games can employ in order to tell the kind of stories in can tell. What vocabulary can games employ in their use of mechanics, systems and other tools it has at its disposal to craft the kind of story for their players that resonate.

I have some ideas.

Let’s see if I actually manage to write them.


One of them has my bank code!



This is a triumph.

No… not really.

Portal requires a ton of lateral thinking in creating the levels and the puzzle. I gotta say it was incredibly challenging and fun to try and dream up one. Not only that, the established aesthetic style allows for a lot less thinking in terms of trying to give the place a decent look. But man, what started as somewhat cool and difficult puzzles get incredibly streamlined through play-testing.

I like my first room a lot better than my second room. It feels a lot more portal like in the use of the basic puzzles and some lateral thinking that might get some people on initial play throughs. It’s not entirely difficult just a little different. Interestingly, this room I manage to cobble together in about a night, sans all the polishing and decals. A couple more days for some changes to the playtest. For instance, that window in the center wasn’t there previously, but players didn’t know what the 2nd level button (not pictured) did. So I moved it around and showed that the button lowered a block on the ceiling. Added indicator lights to make the point. If anything, the window makes the room look nicer.

The room originally started with the idea of playing around with the physics of the boxes. This particular room is inspired by map that can be found on myaperturelabs, Boxytricky to be exact. It took some work to get the drop right. A note on playing with physics in source; it almost always doesn’t work out like you imagine it to be. Sometimes it does, and you get to fling boxes with a satisfying tinkle through glass.

Like this puzzle. But when the physics doesn’t work the way you want it, you get this.

It took me the better part of a week just to get the numbers of the pulley weight system right. No wait… scratch that. I never got it right. Had to jury-rigged a solution based on an excellent suggestion by Kian Boon. Man, if I know to do that earlier, I possibly could have spent more time working on making a bigger level, or coming up with more puzzles. But after messing around with the physics, I got seriously fatigued. Before this, I was also using spheres, because they had a smaller footprint. But those are incredibly unpredictable in their bounce and control. It was tedious, even after a whole mess of practice.

I’ll probably try to make more portal levels later, especially once Portal 2 comes out.

It’s Hammer Time!!

I started out with this image in mind.

A lakeside mountain retreat is kinda inviting no? A getaway from the rat race of congested urban life. Go inside, relax by the fire.

Kick off your shoes, pick up a paper, a cup of coffee. Even the kitchen is pretty cool with a nice marble open top concept and great view of the lake. However, since the assignment is a slow transition to creepy, several clues should lead you to the waterfall pictured in the first image. (Way back in the right part of the level). A misplaced box of ammo lying on the kitchen counter, several blood spots leading from the back stairs and into where a group of seagulls are milling about. They will fly off towards the waterfall, where if you trudge your way there, you’ll discover a cave hidden behind.

The rest of the cave system is best explored rather than described. I’m hoped to have more time to design more scenarios and events before reaching the end of the cave system, but the major lesson that this assignment taught me is that displacement is a bitch and cave systems are hard. I’ll revisit caves at a later date now that I know more tricks about it, but dear lord, I spent a lot of time fixing leaks and misaligned walls. The ether was bleeding through. Ultimately though, the end of the cave should reach this.

Creepy? A bit too reminiscent of 300, but I didn’t really have the scope for a more nightmarish scenario. My original idea was to somehow model a variation of  Apokolips, with towering furnaces, scorched metallic landscape, strewn charred corpses, and the wreckage of a elder god invasion. But scoping and technological issues got in the way, I mean, I didn’t really have the time to pull something like that off. Burning hanging corpses on a dead tree in an underground cavern will have to do. Just don’t stare at them too long. They might attack.

The final overview of the entire map.

With all its displacement, misaligned textures, spammed trees, and assorted skybox cards in play.