Storytelling and games

Recently I have been investigating different fields and uses for illustration and design. I was reading about interactive design because I wanted to expand my contextual understanding of it. I liked the problem solving aspects of making interactive websites and was interested in the possibility of applying more art to the equation now that I was free to do so. It is experiences created through narrative and emotional connections that interest me in particular. I thought that a good way to do this interactively was through computer games, although this can be applied to other aspects of interactive design as well, I have played computer games from an early age so that was the thing that most resonated with me. In fact many other aspects of interactive design such as websites, mobile devices and touch screens take inspiration from computer game design to “gamify” a users experience and increase “stickyness”. I decided to start with the basics in my investigation. Some of the first computer games were interactive text adventures and I wondered about how to go about making one myself.

I am old enough to remember some text based games. I was always reading for pleasure as a child, yet I was introduced to computer games as a young child and so I tried a few text adventures as well as visual games. I have begun to read and write for pleasure again, it really gets your imagination going. I have stopped playing computer games for about a year and a half now to focus on my art, writing and reading. Don’t get me wrong, computer games can also be a rich source of interesting ideas, narratives and beautiful images and they are designed to be entertaining and a distraction from everyday worries. I don’t see this distraction as a good thing all of the time though, only in moderation. Facing your problems is ultimately the best thing to do.

At their best and when not just a distraction, computer games can make you look at the world differently, challenge and inspire you just like any other form of entertainment. I theorised that idea generation, creative writing skills, problem solving and game planning skills were particularly useful things to start with in devising the sort of game I would like to make. I have no experience in making computer games, and before I did this investigation I had limited knowledge of the process. I wondered about the possibility of making an interactive text adventure game or a text multiple choice game so I started to look into ways of doing that.

There are two types of text adventures, there are the ones that present you with multiple choice options and hence multiple endings (usually death or start again until you choose the right option), and there are the interactive ones that provide you with rooms to move around the game world in, non playable characters to interact with (dialogue) and an inventory to help you solve puzzles. Both may give the illusion of choice, but are carefully planned to end in a particular resolution or alternative resolutions depending on your actions. I found some software freely available on line that can be used to do this, such as: Adrift; Tads; Inform; Squiffy; Quest and Twine. The history of how these games developed is quite intriguing as well. It reminded me of the Fighting Fantasy “Choose your adventure” books. I had a few of these books as a child. “Caverns of the Snow Witch” was a good one and a great story and the Illustrations were great. I loved looking at all the intricate details. The first of these books was “Warlock of Firetop Mountain” published in 1982. In order to finish the book the player or reader had to complete a multiple choice quest based on chance. The reader had a skill, stamina and luck score and had to use a six sided die to resolve combat against enemies, and test their success in certain resolve combat against enemies, and test their success in certain situations. Text adventure computer games were sort of like an evolution of this premise. I realised that although they look simple they require a lot of thought and planning. You have to have a good story or scenario with an objective or goal for the player to reach. Whether or not the player knows what this objective is when they start is up to the narrative and how much you want to reveal about the world (although I think having clear goals for the player is a good idea to avoid frustration and boredom). The world or map that the player will move in has to be “designed” as a guide for writing it and how obstacles will play out within it, where items are, enemies etc. In text adventures all the words a player might refer to objects or things in your world must be thought of. The things a player might think of doing with an object have to be set up with verbs. The ways they might type a command have to be set up and the different words they might use for the same things. In a sense everything in the world has to be visualised and developed in the process of making a text adventure game: the environment, characters, items, puzzles, enemies etc., and I personally would go about this making artwork to help inform my writing, problem solving and understanding of the game. Another thing I noted about making text adventures is that knowledge of Javascript and HTML5 comes in handy for implementing more complicated or interesting features. I found out that you can insert images and media files into “modern” text adventures which sounds pretty interesting and a way to get some art into the “front end” of the game as well.

For me all of this research made me realise that I am very interested in visual storytelling and creative writing, and that is what I am currently focusing on. This is why I think it would be an interesting, fun and educational exercise to make a text adventure, especially one that incorporates art into it as well, although making “concept art” is part of the visual development process (in my mind anyway). So now I am learning all I can about the different aspects of “visual development art” and working on my writing. Where all this will take me I have no idea, but that’s all part of the fun…

Author: Christine Garner

I'm an Illustrator from the UK working in digital and traditional mediums with a focus on character design.

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