The series "Don´t show, involve" builds upon the narrative as a cognitive process and how to go from a thought to the plotting of an involving experience. In this second part of the series, we will follow Jenova Chen´s plotting of the online game "Journey" with the help of the thought-based method Narrative bridging. The article “The journey to create Journey – the quest for emotion”, which this hands-on plotting builds upon, can be found here at Gamasutra as well as the first part of "Don´t show, involve" where I paired up the writer Vincent Gilligan (the creator of the television series "Breaking Bad") and Jenova Chen as to show the narrative as a cognitive process in creation of a goal/premise.
To use Forest Gump´s words about his love for Jenny, I would say that the narrative and the gameplay go "together like peas and carrots” in the same way as a narrative goes together with a story. As what the narrative can do for the story it can also do for the gameplay by aiding the constructor in creating a form that assists the stylistic elements of the medium. But if we look at the narrative as a chain of events, we get a chain of events. But if we look at the narrative as a cognitive process to meet the propelling behavior of inputs and outputs between a player and a system that appeals to the cognitive activities, the narrative is ready to play.
If thinking of the narrative as an assisting cognitive propellor, the act of the plotting is a little bit like gameplay where the constructor makes choices to set the rules, behaviors and goals of a play where the parts will create a meaningful form and effect on the involvement. The act of plotting is very reminiscent of a child´s play when preparing for an adult life of playing when telling the toys which role they have, what they can do or not do. As I think we all have the experience from playing where we negotiate and agree upon the rules together with others, and afterward we remember it as a nice time, but when trying to repeat the play the good feeling will simply not appear. What was it we did last time that doesn´t happen this time? The interesting thing is how our feelings and emotions work on our memory, which also applies to when a constructor tries to remember the initial thought of an idea/feeling.
As the initial phase of propelling the thoughts towards a goal/vision is often overlooked as a minor matter as anyone can have an idea when the game designer Fumito Ueda created the game “The Last Guardian” the most difficult part of the process was when moving from the idea towards the production as the further he got into development of the game the more he forgot the original impulse to the idea and the emotional relation that was built up between the player and the beast. In an interview Ueda says about the problem to remember:
“Ueda: I don’t use any special techniques. Basically I go back to my old notes [and] my old sketches from the very beginning of development. Reading over those, looking over those, tends to make it pretty easy for me to remember what I was going for.”
How Fumito Ueda was tracking the original feeling and emotion by going back to his old notes it is also something that can be seen in Jenova Chen´s process that started from a negative feeling of playing the online game World of Warcraft, which made him start searching for the opposite feeling to be created in an online game. Because of this Chen´s first formulation of a goal/premise when directing his thoughts towards a form came to be based on an emotion that he wanted the player to feel, which he kept returning to during the process in the same way as Fumito Ueda.
By taking perspective, Jenova Chen directs his thoughts towards a goal/vision as follows:
1. Not like World of Warcraft where people compete and feel lonely.
2. A feeling of accomplishment and empowerment that will make players care about each other.
3. A feeling of awe, of catharsis, in an online world.
Since Chen directs the goal/vision (1, 2 and 3) towards a specific medium by mentioning “online world” (3) he also makes the stylistic elements of medium available to be part of the overall goal to reach gameplay.
By defining an online game (3) as a goal/vision, Chen makes the mechanics of digital media available to “propel”.
As there are no parts/elements for the mechanics to propel in order to create a play, except the principles of an online game, Chen continues towards the research of the context and the possibilities to reach the goal/vision (1, 2 and 3) to create an emotion of accomplishment, empowerment and awe of catharsis in an online world.
CONTEXT/SPACE OF POSSIBILITIES
As the narrative, gameplay and style need a form in order to exist Chen continues to direct his thoughts towards the context and the space of possibilities. Within game development one uses to call the action to scope whereby the formulation of the possibilities, which also includes overlooking the constraints (e.g. recourses), Chen formulates his thoughts guided by the goal/vision and style (1, 2 and 3) as follows:
4. Get rid of power
5. Get rid of noisy stuff that distracts player's from each other.
6. Remove HUD so players get closer to each other
7. No ID (no nameplate)
8. No lobby
9. No guns
10. Get rid of players and make them two so they can focus on each other
By saying what the form shouldn´t consist of (4 – 10), Chen moves towards the goal and let the style assist him in the process to get to the point where he will be able to start making choices in order to do the plotting of a pattern that will create a form that leads towards the goal/vision.
CREATING MEANING/NARRATIVES and FORM
What it means from a narrative perspective to plot a pattern to create a form is that one lets the narrative assist the style and the goal to reach a form that gives, in this case, the gameplay a meaning. As we could see in the previous phase (the orange part) how the goal and the style assisted Chen in scoping the concept when the plotting starts the narrative is ready to assist all the parts to give them meaning, a form, as to reach the goal. Below you can see how the new elements of form, creating meaning and narratives are added to Narrative bridging.
But before we start the plotting, I would like to add a few things...
When the plotting of a meaning/form starts, it is also here the premise uses to reach a more elaborated meaning/form.
“An identified subject(s) and a condition(s) that puts propellors on a process in relation to what the receiver should experience or feel”.
As Chen´s premise has so far consisted of an emotion that he would like the player to feel, during this phase, Chen will come to identify the parts of a form and style that creates gameplay.
Within the game development, the act of making the parts come together to reach unity (meaning) is called merging. But for you who have read the previous part of “Don´t show, involve” you also remember how Chen, who had an emotion as a goal, ended up in a situation where he had to merge the narrative with the gameplay. By choosing a structured pattern called Hero´s Journey, which is an advising concept that stems from “the telling” of myths, what happens when a form meant for another style (“a telling or a showing media”) is applied to an “involving medium” (a game) the so-called merging needs to go through a few extra steps by first releasing the form (the dramatic arc) from one style (the telling) to be reconstructed to meet another style (a game). And just to give you an example from a completely different context what it means to direct the narrative construction towards one medium (style) and then move the form to a medium that provides other stylistic elements, if an artist is making a painting where you can sense the materiality from the canvas, smell the paint and see the brush strokes and then you take the painting and publish it on Instagram, something from the original form and style will be lost. That is also how the narrative works. If adopted and applied to one medium and then moving the same form to another medium, the form needs to be reconsidered as to give the new form a meaning. This is also what we see Chen doing when elaborating his premise of an emotion towards the goal by making the form of the Hero´s Journey to meet the style of a game to become a part of the gameplay.
As Chen doesn´t mention the stylistic elements of audio and animation in the article and how it adds to the overall form (which I´m sure he does in another article) I would like to say a few words about it. When Chen expresses in 5 and 6 (orange part) to get rid of the noisy stuff and remove the HUD so that players get closer to each other, it´s an indication to the stylistic elements of sound and animation but also to the narrative to assist the style. As there is a misconception about the narrative to be related to forms created for the stylistic elements of the ancestors of media (film, literature, theatre, etc.), a narrative constructor in a production of a so-called story-driven game often gets to assist the stylistic element of text, cinematic, dialogue, ambient conversations, AI barks, etc. But if one likes the narrative to work at its full capacity to create a meaningful experience the narrative constructor should basically sit in the lap of all the stylistic elements as to make the most out of the narrative possibilities to “speak” through the control devices (example of this can be seen in the game “Brothers” made by Josef Fares), the pacing, interface, animations, movements, etc., as well as “speaking” through the sound from an environment of a wind, etc., just as it does in “Journey”.
As a more detailed plotting of the narrative pattern that assists the stylistic elements needs a post of its own, I will return to it later. But as Chen describes in the article how he merges Hero´s Journey by making it into “the life cycle of a human” that “charted as wave graph” and that the team used in creation when giving meaning to “ the general topography of the world.” Chen's describes how he let the narrative create meaning to the level design and the stylistic elements.
Since it´s hard to tell what comes first, the chicken or the egg, the numbers are shown with the help of Narrative bridging cannot depict precisely in what order the parts are merged. But by knowing the principles behind plotting to have the narrative, the creation of meaning, to assist the style to reach the goal/premise as to give the gameplay a meaning, Chen´s process can be depicted as follows:
11. Life cycle journey through; graveyard, waterfall, desert, canyon, cave, ruin, mountain, the summit
12. Resources are re-usable and dropped after being used by another player.
13. By being close players get extra power to complete a task together
WHAT HAPPENED WITH NUMBER 3?
Since the goal with the plotting is to make the form and style merge into gameplay as to meet the goal/vision, to show how the process moves forward, I have removed number 3 from style/form and replaced it with 14, 15 and 16 (see picture above). Why I have not removed number 3 from the goal/vision is that the feeling of an accomplishment, empowerment and awe of catharsis has not been reached yet. But as the stylistic elements of an online game have got its mechanism alongside with the plotting of a topography, which creates a world (11), and where the positioning and the collaborative activities between the players have been set (12 and 13), the game is ready to be played.
As the game can be played, it can also be tested. What is shown in testing of the game is that the players think the “game sucks”.
“It's easy to get musicians and artists to communicate emotional levels, he says, but it's very difficult in interactivity. And in the first year, the game sucked. They didn't actually get the emotional intensity they wanted. “People hated it,” he said. “They would say the end is terrible. This game sucks.”
“But the final summit was still on rails, with no option to stray from the path. “What happened is that even though the game looks epic, it doesn't play epic,” he says. “There's no freedom on the summit when you're confined to a rail.”
In other words, the goal/vision to meet the feeling of accomplishment, empowerment and awe of catharsis has not been reached (1, 2 and 3). What can also be seen is an inconsistency in the merging of a form for “telling” to become an “involving” form that meets the stylistic elements of interactivity (the mechanics), which makes the experience to lose its meaning. The feeling of not finding meaning is shown by the player´s feelings of going on a “rail” at the end of the world (11). This also shows how a style of a medium causes expectations by offering a behavior according to its properties and where the emotional reactions from the tests show how our memory is tightly connected to our emotions and feelings for an expected feeling to appear. But it´s also here one can see in the article how Chen and his team keep returning to the “original impulse” of an emotion that they like the player to feel.
The realization from the tests also led to another problem for Chen and the team regarding the resources:
“At this point he realized they had the option to ship the game like this, or spend another year to fix the ending, to create this catharsis. They were lucky enough that Sony allowed them to take that extra year. ”
If gathering the inconsistencies that were found when doing the test as to show it with the help of Narrative bridging it could be depicted as follows:
17. The players think the game sucks (the goal/vision is not reached).
18. The end of the game feels like a rail – no control for the player (the meaning/form not reached).
19. Lack of resources to meet the goal (17) requires a re-evaluation of the possibilities and constraints.
20. The team returns to the form and style to make it reach the goal/vision (17) by fixing (18).
How Chen and the team managed to make the form and style meet (20) in order to reach the goal/vision (17), Chen explains:
“So what we did was open up the rail. Players can go anywhere. We also added the surfing back,” he added. “We make sure everything before you reach the final end is completely playable, including the final walk toward the light. We give them freedom until the very end.”
When the plotting reaches the goal/vision by making the form and style merge into gameplay, the Narrative bridging will no longer exist and will look like this:
In the third part of “Don’t show, involve”, based on the plotting of "Journey", I will talk about the narrative as a cognitive process and how to think regarding involving the receivers´ interpretation and emotions by propelling the core cognitive activities.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask them.
Next Part 3 Don´t show, involve (at Narrative construction)
Back Part 1, Don´t show, involve (at Narrative construction) or read at (Gamasutra)
PS If we had created a story instead of gameplay, the completion of the plotting in Narrative bridging would have looked like this: