Narrative Without Words

An insight on how a fighting game with no words took home the Best Narrative award at Orlando iX.


     1. a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.

I've been working on a little fighting game part time for the past 4 months called Suburban Scavengers. It takes an unconventional approach to fighting games by removing health bars and making the position of an object the deciding factor of who wins or loses. When you push or pull the object, you are vulnerable and move slower. When you are not pushing or pulling the object, you are nimble and mobile. There is a risk/reward system with attacks in the game. The strongest attack, an elbow drop, will knock the opponent down for around 2 seconds. If you miss the elbow drop, you are knocked down for around 1.5 seconds. Punches can be blocked and your character is vulnerable during their punch animation. There is also a slide with a cooldown that will knock the opponent down briefly if you collide with them. All characters have symmetrical abilities.

So, where does the narrative come in? Fighting games aren't well know for their stories. Does this game have some sort of deep interactive story that sets it apart from other games? The simple answer Suburban Scavengers actually has no story or dialogue at all. What you see is what you get. The characters don't talk, and there's no text on the screen that represents speech. The only words in the game are "Battle for the Couch" "Take it Home" & "Fight!" That's not much of a narrative at all. I kind of just borrowed the idea from Guilty Gear.

Why bring up narrative with this fighting game at all? Well, I recently took Suburban Scavengers to Orlando iX, a games and technology convention in Orlando. There was an awards ceremony at the end which had only 4 awards available for non VR/AR related games and Suburban Scavengers won for Best Narrative.

This award was given to a fighting game?!

I was just as puzzled as everybody else when they called out, "The award for best narrative goes to..... Doombrowski." What?! I think I actually said that out loud. "What?!" I definitely wasn't complaining about receiving an award for my game, I just didn't understand why it was for narrative. There were full blown RPGs at this convention. Many of the games that I stopped to play had legitimate stories written into the game. My game had no story. The judges must have noticed something that I didn't.

As the night progressed, my booth buddies and I were discussing the narrative award and figured that it was most likely not for the game's narrative directly, but for the stories that the people playing were coming up with. 

When you start a match, you are placed onto a neighborhood block with a few houses, garages, mailboxes, trees; normal suburban stuff. There is a male character on the left, a female character on the right, and a couch in the middle. The level starts, words fly into the screen, and the battle begins. 

But who are these people? The guy looks like a run-of-the-mill hipster stereotype and the girl seems pretty generic as well with a ponytail, some sandals, and a tank top. I heard people say that they were a couple that just broke up that was fighting for custody of the couch. There were the college students that had no money that needed a couch for their empty house. People were making parallels with their own lives saying that they've been through this same experience. I remember a guy saying that I should add an XBox to the game because he was fighting over his XBox with somebody. I suppose, since there was a bit of realism within the situation, people could easily relate and quickly come up with their own representations of why the things in this game were happening.

At 0:21 you can hear the lady in the back say "You have the kids, I'm taking the couch." XD

What I took away from this experience is that narrative doesn't have to be an intricately thought out dialogue or story. Your environment and what's within it can captivate peoples' imaginations and allow them to create their own narrative. Something as simple as a small scenario where two people are trying to push a couch into their houses can branch out into tons of possible stories. The fact that something is so open ended and unexplained can sometimes be amazing.

Until next time.


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