Be the producer of your story

Video games are quite possibly the toughest form of entertainment to create. It combines all of the production concerns of film and TV, then adds a technology engine, loads of mechanics, and the big wildcard: the Player. On top of that, the content requirements are almost unheard of in other media; most games create large amounts of content that a single player will never see.

Unless you are that wunderkind who can code, draw, 3D model, design, compose, craft story, handle lighting, do voices, quality check, and promote your game, you are going to need help. Truthfully, even if you think you are that person who can do it all, you’re likely wrong, and your game will be better if you wrangle some other talented people to help in various areas. Therefore, the ability to collaborate is essential to every game developer.

As mentioned in the previous post, The invisible storyteller, folks crafting game story need to think about weaving story into all aspects of the game. That requires collaboration. But so many times in games, I’ve seen people and teams who think they are collaborating, but in actuality they are only sharing ideas. When this happens, the desired impact on the project is rarely achieved and folks often wind up feeling let down by their colleagues, and even worse, start pointing fingers.

So for instance, the narrative team on a game may meet with the art team to discuss their vision for the end boss, and call out characteristics that they would like to have in its visual design. They may even meet with gameplay designers to talk about the type of skills they would like that boss to have that are in line with its character.  These steps are appropriate and feel highly collaborative. However, they are only good first steps.

True collaboration is a long term effort. Each team has limits on its resources, their own vision for elements of the game, and if the production is large enough, their own pipeline and timetables. After these initial meetings, disciplines will group up, prioritize their deliverables, and set plans in action. Without the right follow-up, the requirements of game development may take people who once seemed on the same path and send them in significantly different directions. When the game starts to come together, one team is often very surprised to find that a deliverable from another team doesn’t seem to match up at all with what they expected. This is usually due to a lack of commitment to true, long-term collaboration.

If you want to craft great game story, you not only need to think about all the disciplines, but you have to produce the story through those pipelines. You are ultimately the champion for those deliverables, and need to employ some basic producing skills. When something needs to be delivered that is outside of your control (and really, in a game production of any appreciable size, that is the vast majority of things), here are some best practices:

  • Identify the areas where other disciplines, developers, and even other storytellers will be helpful to you.
  • Meet and discuss this with them. This should be a discussion, not a mandate or an ask. Remember, they likely know their area better than you do, so if you frame the problem or the opportunity, they may have the best solution. Repeat discussions as necessary.
  • After you get to an agreement on a plan, put it in writing. Send an email to everyone involved, and put some dates to deliverables.
  • Check in with the other folks regularly. Part of this is to ensure that they are on track to deliver on their piece of the narrative, but another concern is that team directions change. Your own story ideas may evolve, and keeping collaborators in the loop on that is critical so they don’t do unnecessary work.
  • Be a good coworker and show appreciation for the part they are playing in telling the story. This isn’t about false praise or lip service. They are genuinely making you look better, so let them know that you understand that.

Game story professionals who know how to truly collaborate with other people are vastly more powerful than ones who treat game story craft as a solo venture. You need to be comfortable, or at least willing, to approach others, listen to them, and see how your work fits in the bigger picture. If you are more of a solo animal, game story may not be your calling. But if you understand and embrace the fact that others will make your work better, you have a mark in your favor when it comes to making your game narrative career a reality.


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