Narrative Spaces

What is Narrative Spaces?

A fully featured set of Narrative Tools for game development. These tools separate narrative structure from game mechanics to allow meaningful, in Editor narrative design to begin right at the start of a new project.
Narrative Tools are building blocks of game story and design. They include things like Character, Prop, and Plot. The purpose of the tools is to separate these aspects of game design into their own developmental and mechanical level. This allows developers to begin adding narrative content to their games from the first day of development, without the games mechanics being influenced, or vice versa. Each Narrative Object is defined using common sense terms and functions. For example, Characters form Relationships. These relationships can be made with any other narrative object, not just other characters, but props, locations, or even plots. On a functional level, this translates into common sense functions such as StartRelationship, EndRelationship, etc.. Narrative objects are not directly tied to game objects or scenes. They are not directly involved with input, gameplay, or mechanics. They represent the purely narrative aspects of things like Characters.
Many aspects of storytelling have just as much importance when they DON'T exist as when they do. They can also take many forms that are not easily represented in game logic. Consider the following two cases: 1. A Superhero and a Secret Identity. In the game's hierarchy and assets, it would likely make the most sense to have one root GameObject for the player, with mesh and texture changes for swapping between personas. But on a narrative level, it would make more sense to have two characters. One for the Hero and one for the Secret Identity. This allows other characters to have very different opinions about, and relationships with, both the Hero and Secret Identity. 2. The MacGuffin. On a narrative level, Props can exist in very important ways, without ever being physically present, or within anyone's grasp. The Holy Grail, a briefcase holding something the enigmatically glows with a golden light, even more conceptual props like Revenge. These things can all exist in the narrative, and have real, meaningful impacts on the game, without ever needing a model, a GameObject, or a Scene to be in.

Why did I make Narrative Spaces?

Because there's a lot of talk about the importance of story within games. Ranging from extreme views of "Every game is a story" to "Story is entirely unimportant in games." I don't think the talk is all that important. For some games, story is everything. For others, it's a throw-away. And that's as it should be. Games are experiences. They SHOULD cover the whole scale of possibilities.
But, while there's a lot of talk, there's not a lot of action. As games move forward, I believe that we need to take every aspect of game design equally seriously. And that means having tools in our toolbox that everyone on the team can use.
After I started, though, that's when the really cool stuff started happening...

Why is it cool?

Oh, I'm so glad you asked!

Resource Cost

The whole thing is very light weight. Particularly in large, open worlds, this means that narrative actions can be taking place across the whole of the game, even when only a small, immediate area and its characters are loaded.

Asset Creation

Narrative Objects are created, in the Editor, as assets. They use their own referencing system so that they can also be packaged up - including any references to other Narrative Objects. They can be bundled, reused, copied, whatever your needs may be.

Living Narrative

Procedural, malleable, fluid, and reactive stories! This one is where my own personal excitement lives. Narrative Objects all come together to form stories. But they can be either Literal - a Character named Tamara Phillips - or Symbolic - a Role, such as Main Protagonist.
Symbolic elements have a literal counterpart. In the previous example, we could set Tamara Phillips as our Main Protagonist. Any references, throughout the other narrative elements to the Main Protagonist would, after that point, be referencing Tamara Phillips. Should that character leave the game for any reason - moving to another city, death, abduction by fish people - another character can be chosen to fill the Main Protagonist at any point.
Narratives have a set of tools for filling symbolic elements with literal ones. They work by finding the "best fit" for a given symbolic element. This involves comparing literal elements with the symbolic element in question. The closest match - that is, whichever is most similar to the symbolic element - is selected as the best fit.
This is amazingly cool! You can create a plot line of any size, from one small sub plot, up through a whole game's worth of narrative, entirely out of Symbolic elements. Then, any collection of Literal elements - say, characters in an open world game - can be assigned to take on roles within this story!
I absolutely cannot wait to see what people can do with them!

What ideas have I had for Narrative Spaces?

Taking narrative concepts literally!
  • In a reactive manner, if a narrative event says that the Old Woman has told your character not to go in her yard a hundred times, this would literally require the Old Woman to have told your character not to go in her yard one hundred times before the event would have happened in the narrative sense.
  • In a proactive manner, if a narrative event happens, and specifies that "All the world's a stage", then the whole of the game world would be transformed, at least for that portion of the narrative, into a stage.
Or, how about to create dynamic and personalized stories in open worlds? Since so many aspects of a narrative can be made in purely symbolic terms, two players could play through the same story, with entirely different locations, circumstances, and characters:
  • Your hand crafted village has 10 villagers, one of them is a blacksmith, and you're low on iron. Since these conditions are met, the "Iron Famine" narrative begins. It finds the Blacksmith and assigns them to key roles in the various plots, finds the best fit among the other villagers for a few other roles, and sets the stage for a few of the events within the story to happen, such as temporarily changing any undiscovered deposits of iron into other materials and generating a group of iron-starved bandits that are on a collision course with the village.
  • You chose to side with Techno Grand Wizard Hudson, at the Battle of Two Modems, but in the rest of this game, you have worked against Hudson at every turn. Because these conditions are met, the "Wizard's Rage" narrative begins. Hudson will persue your Closest Friend, attempting to capture or, failing that, kill them. In either case, if successful, Hudson will use your Closest Friend to threaten any of the following relationships you have made: Romantic Interest, Family, Mentor, Partner. Threatened Relationships will periodically contact your character to let them know of threats you must deal with, until you find, and stop Hudson. If you find Hudson, or manage to save your Closest Friend before Hudson can abduct them, you engage Hudson in a final battle.
Finally, I have a short list of narrative locations that I really want to see represented in a game.
  • La La Land. We've all spent time there. Since it's just as valid a narrative location as any other, I really want to see games that try to encompass day dreaming as a part of their stories.
  • Denial. For when a character is somewhere that they just can't acknowledge
  • Nowhere. Characters and props can have an enormous impact on a story - by not being there. Since nowhere is now somewhere that things can be, things can not only impact, but be impacted by, other things that are still somewhere. I don't know how many ways that could be awesome. A bunch.
Matthew Munsinger
Eternal Dreamer - Programmer