Orkward Devlog #4: Narrativ' Stuff

In this week's devlog for Orkward, the space ork dating game, I'll be joined by Warboss Skullkrusha for a chat about narrative design.

Hello, I'm Joe and I'm making Orkward, the space ork dating game. I'll be cross-posting this devlog from its original home on to share my development journey with the Gamasutra community. Orkward is totally free to play on right now.

This fourth devlog was originally written back in December 2020 and has been very lightly edited here.

I'm joined by Skullkrusha, the friendly local ork warboss and star of the game, for a chat about narrative design.

A screenshot from the game introducing Skullkrusha

Right, listen up you grots. I'm Skullkrusha and I'm da boss here. Dat means you listen to me, geddit? Ya gotta listen to dis humie too.

Dis brainy pinkskin's gonna be tellin' us about arrah, eh, nannadiv, er-

Narrative design.

Dat's what I said! Arradiff deesahn!

Close enough.

Shaddap, I didn't ask ya for no lip. Right. Yous better tell da boyz out there about nannaniv nezine.

Thanks Skullkrusha. Well, as you know, narrative design is just the process of working out how a game's story and gameplay relate and inform each other-


It's about how you tell a story in a game.

Dat's easy init. You just 'av a few words before da shooty bitz.

Well, yes, that's certainly one approach. But a game like Orkward doesn't really have shooty bits.

Whaddaya mean? I fort you sed dis was a puta game.

Yes, but it's a text-based game. There's a couple of pictures but really all the gameplay happens through words.

Sounds ded borin'.

Ah but it's not - actually you can do a lot with words. For example, in Orkward there's a drinking contest, a tense termagant hunt, a waargh!-


-that's right - several grisly death scenes, and soon there will be a mysterious artifact, too. It would cost a fortune to create graphics for all those things. And sometimes your imagination can do more with less, so that a game with just words can be more real and emotional than a VR experience.

Rubbish. Anyway, if you've only got wordz, whaddaya need design fer?

Well yes, that's very insightful.


It's true that in interactive fiction, game design and narrative design are very closely related. Usually the story is just there to enable, justify and enhance gameplay. But in interactive fiction, story and gameplay are almost the same.

But games are supposed ta be fun. And words. Ain't. Fun.

Games can be fun, yes, but they can also be curious, provocative, melancholic, expressive - all sorts really.

And you can still have gameplay within interactive fiction. I mean you can implement a whole RPG with just text. The first RPGs were only text - way before home computing.

Yeh whatever. Wot about dis fing yer making? And 'urry up, I'm gettin' an urge to smash some stuff.

In Orkward, narrative design is a battle for the game's soul. I have to work out whether each ork is just a simple linear story with no choices (or perhaps false choices), or whether progress is made by solving an elaborate set of puzzles. You know, get the keycard form one character so that another one lets you through to speak to a third.

Which izzit? A puzzle or a story?

It's a bit of both, and the balance keeps changing throughout development. I want the player to have some level of control and volition within the story, but I also don't want to create a really obtuse puzzle game. No rubber chickens, no pulleys.

Where does datin' fit in? I don't like the idea of anyone chattin' up my boyz. They've got work ta do!

The dating thing is really just a structure to tell a story and make the game sound more interesting than it really is. I don't lean too hard into it. Mostly you just speak to the orks, learn their stories and try not to die.

But within that structure, there are several stories that can emerge. As you speak to the orks, manipulating them and gathering information, new paths through the game emerge. The idea is that as you reach the end of those paths, you unlock an ending which retroactively explains the whole game.

Argh! Wot's dat sposed ta mean? Why you gotta make everyfin sound so complicated?

Ok, so for example, let's say one storyline is to deliver a letter (it's not!). Maybe first you have to find the letter, which opens up the storyline, then you have to find the right ork to deliver it to.

Once you deliver the letter to the ork who needs it, your job as space post person is completed and you can leave the planet to deliver your next letter. Roll credits, game over.

This storyline retrospectively justifies your actions and motivations through the game: you were speaking to the orks to try and find out which one the letter was addressed to. But if you took a different path you'd reach a different ending, and so looking back the whole story would be different.

Sounds sneaky. I don't like sneaky stuff.

I know, Skullkrusha. Don't worry, you'll get plenty of chances to smash stuff.

Yeah! Now you're talking! I love smashing stuff!

Right. I guess I should leave you too it.

I'm gonna smash THIS and I'm gonna smash THAT and I'm gonna krush-

I'll see myself out.

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