Assignment: Spatial Narrative / Environmental Storytelling

Make a game or a virtual space with elements of environmental storytelling and some simple interaction.

– Stick to the basic elements we covered in class: movements in space, spatial triggers, collisions, making objects appear or disappear. They can be the basis for a variety of first-person exploration-based, puzzles, physics-based, or platforming games.

– Avoid animated characters, AIs, cutscenes, dialogues, and gameplays that don’t employ a first person view.

– The storytelling doesn’t have to be literary or cinematic, it doesn’t necessarily have to use words: it can be abstract, object based, experimental, as long as there is a coherent theme.

– It must have some kind of audio.

Tuesday 20 – Work in progress: post the general concept (one paragraph), script (if any), and a general map of the space, and bring a work in progress with some key assets.

Tuesday 27 – due date.

Environmental Storytelling

How do you tell a story using environments and object? How do you set a mood?

“In retrospect, it’s easy easy to blame old games like Doom and Duke Nukem for stimulating the fantasy of male adolescent power. But that choice was made less deliberately at the time. Real-time 3-D worlds are harder to create than it seems, especially on the relatively low-powered computers that first ran games like Doom in the early 1990s. It helped to empty them out as much as possible, with surfaces detailed by simple textures and objects kept to a minimum. In other words, the first 3-D games were designed to be empty so that they would run.

An empty space is most easily interpreted as one in which something went terribly wrong. Add a few monsters that a powerful player-dude can vanquish, and the first-person shooter is born.”
Video games are better without stories by Ian Bogost

The overuse of environmental storytelling in dystopian games where something went terribly wrong became a cliche’ and a in-joke within the game industry


More recent independent games removed the shooting aspect of FPS to focus on environments that are compelling to explore


Some things to consider:

Desert world trope: autonomous agents, NPCs, AIs, and dynamic environments are just too hard to implement. Figure out a narrative “excuse” for an environment without other humans and consider turning it into the main plot/mystery device.
E.g.: it’s a dream, rapture happened, parents are on vacation, desert island, only person in a space station, everybody died, metaphysical space, you are lost, etc.

Indirect storytelling: how can you tell a story (presumably the story of the people who aren’t there because they are too hard to implement) without linear exposition?
E.g.: objects, recorded sound bits, written notes, interior monologues, object-related flashbacks, etc.

Invisible Walls: you won’t have the time to create huge environments. Consider a world that is inherently self contained, whose boundaries are narratively reasonable.
E.g.: island, ship, moon base, prison, a camp in Antartica, metaphysical/surreal, house in the woods during a storm.

Style: how can you make something beautiful and unique without the budget, time, and experience of a game company? How can you make your style work with your game narrative/world?
e.g.: low-poly, 2.5D, voxels, no textures, minimalist environments, etc.

The Witness, Proteus, Dear Esther, islands are great
The Witness, Proteus, Dear Esther, islands are great
Call of Duty 4 – communicating jumpable and non jumpable barriers
In the first levels of Journey the invisible walls are strong winds nudging the player toward the goal.