News | 2010 | Guest Lecture

I just had a rather interesting weekend--Maureen Medved from UBC got in touch with me last week and asked if I'd give a guest lecture on writing for video games to her Introduction to Writing for New Media class today. Specifically, she wanted me to talk about branching narratives and how to implement them. Of course I said yes--I like Maureen--but, for a couple of reasons I knew I'd end up doing more than just a quick chat about game story theory.

Reason One: I don't believe branching narratives are the whole picture in game story design. I believe there are six different approaches development houses use to construct game stories, and a knowledge of each will only help writers in designing their own games. By the way, the six approaches as I understand them are: linear traditional narratives, branching narratives, parallel paths, threaded narratives, dynamic narratives, and implied narratives (thanks to Chris Bateman, editor of Beyond Game Design: Nine Steps Towards Better Videogames, for the terminology).

Reason Two: I'm a whole-hearted convert to the principles of participatory learning and learner-centric teaching models. In short, rather than passively sitting through a lecture, I thought it would be more effective for people to actually see how these different narrative approaches can be put together. And I figured the best way to show this to people would be to have them play games in class (and then show them the underlying code that makes it work).

Which is where the "rather interesting weekend" part came in--I spent the last three days hunched over my computer, coding in six different mini-games, one each highlighting a different approach. I used the Aurora Toolset with the Neverwinter Nights I game engine, and hopefully, I've got six little examples which aren't too buggy (read three days to code = not enough play testing) which people can learn from and enjoy. If you'd like to see the mini-games, I've included zipped files of the modules as well as two player characters for you to download. Please note, to play these games, you'll need the Neverwinter Nights I game (patch 1.69), with both the Hordes of the Underdark and the Shadows of Undrentide expansion packs installed.

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