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Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs To Know about Narrative Techniques

Some gamers claim that they don't care about story in their games; they just want to jump into the action and play. While they might not care much for cutscenes and dialogue trees, storytelling goes way beyond that. As Evan Skolnick illustrates in his book, Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs To Know about Narrative Techniques, Narrative should be a consideration in every aspect of a videogame, to help to reinforce the believability of the reality being presented. As he explains, every developer should be aware of what the Narrative is, in order to ensure that the decisions they make and the work that they do supports the Narrative.

Video Game Storytelling starts with a couple of chapters that introduce some of the principles of Western storytelling, including the three part structure and the monomyth, in order to lay a common foundation for the reader to build on as they read further. Then, there are several chapters that specifically address the different types of developers, such as programmers, audio engineers, writers, tool developers, artists, and others, showing how each facet of the development process can contribute to (or potentially derail) the development of a rich Narrative through their approach to their work. Throughout the book, Skolnick refers to some design documents that help to keep the various types of developers literally on the same page. At the back of the book, he provides an example of a Character Description Document (in this case, on Peter Parker / Spider-Man) and a short and simple sample Environment Description Document (in this case, on the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars).

Evan Skolnick has over 20 years of story and game development, having worked on several videogame projects, including (the sadly ill-fated and never published) Star Wars: 1313, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, The Godfather: Five Families, Over the Hedge, Spider-Man 3 and Spy Muppets, among others. To share his knowledge gained through his experiences in the videogame industry, he has given talks at the Game Developers Conference, covering how all developers can contribute to the creation of Narrative in videogames. Skolnick wrote Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs To Know about Narrative Techniques to further share this information with those who can't attend his talks, in the hopes that game developers will do their part to improve and support the stories in videogames - if for no other reason, so that he can better enjoy the videogames he plays.

Having read the book, I found it to be both interesting and entertaining, using real-life examples taken from very popular movies and games that most people will be readily familiar with. I feel that Evan Skolnick has a lot to share and I really wish I had the opportunity to attend one of his talks. However, I found that I had trouble, at times, parsing his writing. His writing is grammatically correct, but has a tendency toward somewhat ambiguous sentence structure. These sentences would be easily understandable if spoken, but without the support of inflection, can be a bit clunky when read from the page. As I said above, the information is great, as are the examples, but I would have to occasionally re-read a sentence or a paragraph to comprehend his meaning. Many may not have as much of an issue with this, but it really slowed me down.

I would recommend Video Game Storytelling to anyone involved in the game development process - or anyone hoping to get into game development. Anyone who, like me, finds the book to be a bit of a tough read at times could start by reading the first part on Western storytelling and then just the specific chapter targeting their chosen craft, to start, then could read the other chapters at their leisure, for completion. Further, if this book becomes available as an audiobook, that would be even better; the writing in the book is fine when read with the correct inflections.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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