The fact that I’ve somehow overlooked Hannah Nicklin’s prescriptive techniques on world building and storytelling… well I’m embarrassed. But to think of the time I could have saved throughout the process of dragging, assimilating, and developing worlds by applying her techniques.

A colleague recently introduced me to her book “Writing for Games: Theory and Practice,” and I’m excited to now share with you my key takeaways and initial response to the book. I’m sure my impression will shift overtime as I develop my own book on technique and storytelling — focused more on world-building and the diegetic process — but for now, I want to scratch out my initial impressions after pounding this book in a 72-hour sprint.

Hannah Nicklin, Storytelling, and Video Games

As a video game developer, narrative designer, and comparative mythologist, I cannot recommend Hannah Nicklin’s Writing for Games: Theory and Practice enough. This book is an absolute game-changer (pun intended) for anyone who wants to understand the art of storytelling in video games.

Nicklin’s approach to game writing is comprehensive, thoughtful, and engaging. She deftly navigates the complexities of crafting narratives that are both interactive and emotionally resonant. Her insights on topics such as player agency, character development, and worldbuilding are invaluable, and her practical advice on writing dialogue and designing quests is top-notch.

As a narrative designer, I appreciate Nicklin’s emphasis on the importance of collaboration in game development. She recognizes that game writing is a team effort, and she offers strategies for working effectively with other members of a game development team. Her tips on how to communicate with designers, artists, and programmers are especially helpful.

But perhaps what I love most about this book is Nicklin’s focus on the power of myth and storytelling. As a comparative mythologist, I am fascinated by the ways that stories shape our understanding of the world and ourselves. Nicklin’s exploration of how games can tap into this fundamental human need for narrative is inspiring. Her use of examples from literature, film, and other media to illustrate her points is insightful and engaging.

In short, Writing for Games: Theory and Practice is a must-read for anyone who wants to create compelling, immersive, and emotionally resonant games. Whether you are a seasoned game developer or just starting out, this book will provide you with the tools and insights you need to succeed. Bravo, Hannah Nicklin, and thank you for this incredible resource!

Essential takeaways from the book

  1. Collaborative work is key in game development, particularly in narrative design.
  2. Interactive storytelling requires a careful balance between player agency and a well-crafted narrative structure.
  3. Game writers must be mindful of the potential impact their writing can have on players and the broader culture.
  4. Strong character development is essential for creating immersive and emotionally resonant game experiences.
  5. Understanding the unique challenges of writing for games, such as designing quests and writing dialogue, is crucial for success.
  6. The use of myths and archetypes can add depth and meaning to game narratives.
  7. Paying attention to player feedback and engagement is essential for crafting successful game narratives.
  8. The use of diverse perspectives and inclusive storytelling can enhance the overall quality and impact of game narratives.
  9. Strong writing skills, including attention to detail and effective communication, are essential for success in game writing.
  10. Game writers must be willing to experiment, take risks, and be open to feedback in order to continually improve their craft.

On the position and techniques of narrative design

Narrative design is the process of crafting a cohesive and engaging story that guides players through a game’s mechanics, world, and characters. It is a crucial component of game development, as it plays a significant role in creating a game’s overall player experience.

One of the primary techniques used in narrative design is the creation of a strong protagonist or set of characters. Characters must be well-defined, complex, and relatable, with motivations that drive the story forward. The narrative designer must carefully consider each character’s backstory, relationships, and personality traits to create a convincing and engaging cast.

Another important aspect of narrative design is the use of worldbuilding. This involves creating a detailed and immersive game world that is rich with history, culture, and lore. Worldbuilding is essential for creating a sense of place and atmosphere that draws players into the game’s story and mechanics.

Player agency is another important aspect of narrative design. In many games, players are given the ability to make choices that affect the outcome of the story. The narrative designer must carefully balance player agency with a well-crafted story structure, ensuring that player choices feel meaningful and have real consequences.

Dialogue writing is also a crucial technique used in narrative design. Dialogue must be well-written, engaging, and authentic to each character’s personality and motivations. It is important to strike a balance between naturalistic dialogue and clear communication of information essential to the game’s story.

In addition to these techniques, narrative designers must also be able to work effectively with other members of the game development team. Effective communication and collaboration with artists, programmers, and designers are crucial for ensuring that the game’s narrative is seamlessly integrated with its mechanics and visual design.

Overall, narrative design is a complex and multifaceted process that requires a combination of strong writing skills, an understanding of game mechanics, and a willingness to experiment and take risks. A skilled narrative designer can create a game experience that is emotionally resonant, immersive, and unforgettable.

Applying Hannah Nicklin’s Tevhniques

One example of Hannah Nicklin’s techniques in action can be seen in the narrative design of the game “Life is Strange” developed by Dontnod Entertainment. The game is a narrative-driven adventure that tells the story of a teenage girl named Max who discovers she has the ability to rewind time. The player must navigate Max’s relationships with her friends, solve puzzles, and make difficult choices that ultimately affect the outcome of the story.

Nicklin’s emphasis on strong character development is evident in “Life is Strange”. Max is a well-defined protagonist with a complex backstory, distinct personality traits, and a clear motivation – to use her powers to save her friend Chloe. The other characters in the game are also well-developed, each with their own motivations and relationships with Max.

The game’s worldbuilding is also a strong example of Nicklin’s techniques. The game is set in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, which is filled with unique locations, characters, and lore. The town is fleshed out with details about its history, geography, and culture, which all contribute to the game’s immersive atmosphere.

The use of player agency is another example of Nicklin’s techniques in “Life is Strange”. The player’s choices throughout the game have real consequences, affecting not only the outcome of the story but also Max’s relationships with the other characters. The narrative designer must carefully balance player agency with a well-crafted story structure, ensuring that player choices feel meaningful and have real consequences.

Finally, the game’s dialogue is a strong example of Nicklin’s techniques. The dialogue is well-written, engaging, and authentic to each character’s personality and motivations. The dialogue is also naturalistic, allowing for a more immersive and believable experience.

Overall, “Life is Strange” is a strong example of the techniques discussed in Nicklin’s book. The game’s strong character development, worldbuilding, use of player agency, and well-written dialogue all contribute to an emotionally resonant and immersive game experience.


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