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“Three beers” – Writing the story

By Sebastien Renard – Narrative designer & Writer

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Every professional needs tools, a writer is no exception! Good beer, 8%, 9% or stronger. The beer is followed by aperitif biscuits, peanuts, and a creative director. The beer paces the pre-production meeting that comes next: it will take three bottles, to help fuel the birth of a new world, one such as White Night.

During the first beer, Ronan, the Creative Director aka the Great cool Demiurge, presents the game design with homemade sketches for clarity.  Ronan clearly felt this was necessary for the strange creature before him that is the scriptwriter. As with any (good) Creative Director, he knows where he wants to go and has a passionate vision to share with his team at each step of the production.

At this juncture, the writer’s attention is paramount. Unlike cinema, his work doesn’t prevail on the final product. Ronan, whilst detailing his vision opens a tool box – which isn’t a subtle metaphor about his teeth. For the project duration, the writer will be using the modules within this tool box to build the story.

The nature of dramatic elements is common to many media’s, but how they are utilized on a videogame is something that is solely unique to the medium. It will be a story put into motion by the player, a chaos generating creature that remains the constant focus of the developers throughout the entire production. For this reason it is better to begin with the game design and wrap it in a narrative layer afterwards.

As the meeting concluded, Ronan was left with a sheet covered in sketches, arrows and essential information the writer has contributed. With the first draft of the manor set, the map was already beginning to tell a story.

“So, want a new beer?”

“Sure!”

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The second beer fuels the creative stage of the writer’s process. Nourished by the Creative directors intentions, his role is to place poetry into the plans – and when I say ‘poetry’ I’m speaking about this thing we don’t really understand even though we know it’s important: emotion.

The first step is to write with the beer filled gut! As I grow older, the more I try to think with my gut the better the narrative fit with the gameplay. The challenge for narrative designers is to embrace the project as a whole. From the macro design, to the style, the games spirit and to combine everyone’s work whilst infusing the project with my own sense of creativity.

Working without constraint, conversing with the Creative Director I was able to build and iterate his vision with classic and modern movie references, novels, series, comics…and of course my own personal desire. When it’s all packed, bursting at the seams, Ronan will have to use his creative sieve on the soup of ideas.

Knowing your Creative Director can be a huge benefit to any writer. Make sure he’s happy and lively. In the case of Ronan, an idea has many chances to die if it doesn’t fit with the core game design. A good idea is realistic, feasible whilst attainable within the means of the project. If presented within these constraints, it will make him react on the spot and the following few creative minutes have the idea expand and blossom into something exciting.

The writer is the guardian of our poetry, of the symbolic nature, the emotion, the very matter that will dress every puzzle, game mechanic and enigma in the game. Providing a rich world is essential to making the game mechanics shine! This is why narration is born of game design because the mechanics provide the very foundation upon which the creative layers are built.

Like with every game, making White Night saw many themes converge to the same point. The Noir art style, the historic background, the tense atmospheric sound, all brings the inhabitants of the mansion to life. Characters are born from the combination of multiple disciplines.

After the beer induced creative session concludes we have something that we are both passionate about. Through the combination of different points of view, team work and iteration we have arrived at a more polished, complete version of the initial idea. With a pause, Ronan asked for the next steps, which for me meant another beer.

As for the next steps, my pen rests on my notebook, a blank sheet of paper, a canvas for which I will paint, filled with that feeling of independence, of freedom and the chance to script creative expression. If you’ve ever had the chance, which we were afforded, to meet fantastic professionals, great individuals who you spend time with both socially and professionally, then you too will have reached this beer.

As I sit, sipping my beer looking around the room, sampling the people around me, chatting, socializing and enjoying their time, I ponder the moment White Night was born. My beer had never tasted so good…