In this new Day in the Life series entry, we dive into the world of narrative design through the lens of Senior Narrative Designer at Magic Media, Allan Stellakis. His work is critical to the fantastic worlds Magic Media creates and essential to our memorable characters and unforgettable stories.
Being a narrative designer necessitates collaboration with many different teams and a deep understanding of game development projects overall to create stories and characters that not only resonate with players but are cohesive with gameplay and visuals. Every day brings something new for Allan, whether he is writing grandiose epic storylines, helping to establish multiverses or the fall of formidable empires.
Though every game has different narrative requirements and, therefore, a slightly different process, Allan says that the process begins by crafting several high-concept story outlines. These serve as inspiration for the art and design teams, or the art and narrative designers will have artwork that will inspire Allan to craft a narrative based on that. Allan’s initial story concepts strive to balance the line between ambitious and realistic for the team to achieve.
Following drafting initial story treatments and deciding on the overarching narrative, the story is refined through an iterative process into what will ultimately be used for the game. Changes are often made based on team feedback and leadership, with the iterative refinement process being repeated until everyone is satisfied with the final result. Working with other departments, characters and their motivations are fleshed out, as is the game world’s lore.
Non-linear narratives are commonplace in the modern gaming industry. They present players with multiple options for solving quests and proceeding through the narrative. Allan says that at their core, surprisingly, there are no unique challenges posed by non-linear narratives, that they’re fundamentally linear when you break them down to their basic components. The element of choice is often illusory, and there to help players feel as though their narrative experience is unique.
Whether it’s presented linearly or non-linearly, games generally have a three-act structure. A beginning, middle, and end. Though players might be presented with several options to resolve the final quest of the first act, the narrative will proceed to the second act regardless of the choice made and its consequences. Games tend to follow the three-act structure but it’s the choices within and how they affect the game world that helps players feel as though their play-through is unique.
Allan says that when it comes to crafting compelling characters, whether they’re heroes, villains, or something in-between, players need to be able to relate to them. Regardless of a character’s role in a game, they need to have qualities that players can identify with on some level.
Being a high-quality narrative designer requires a deep understanding of what makes characters compelling and how stories engage players. It requires understanding the broader process of game development, the work of artists, designers, and developers – the grand scheme of a game – to help the narrative work. With characters being an essential part of game narratives, Allan says it’s important to remember that more often than not, you’re crafting stories for the protagonist, and you’re not creating a protagonist to fit your story. It’s an engaging story that needs to be devised that works for the relatable protagonist and not the other way around.
At Magic Media we are veterans of the film, tv, gaming and entertainment industries, offering comprehensive VFX services for in-game, cinematics, and more, as well as level design, game design, animation and full art services! Our main goal is to provide a one-stop solution for any project, and we are honoured to have worked on projects such as Blankos Block Party and Remnant 2. We love nothing more than collaborating with creative minds, so drop us a line and let’s create magic!