Sponsored By

Featured Blog | This community-written post highlights the best of what the game industry has to offer. Read more like it on the Game Developer Blogs.

Putting into play - The hidden art of pacing 3 (3)

How narrative systems bridge the gap between writers and designers, assisting in translating movies to games, merging story- and gameplay structures, and capturing the core rhythm of engaging and motivating forces to be embedded into mechanics.

Katarina Gyllenback, Blogger

September 14, 2020

33 Min Read

“Putting into play” originates from the site Narrative Construction, whose goal is to offer a hands-on approach to the design of an engaging and dynamic game system from a narrative and cognitive perspective. The series illuminates how our thinking, learning, and emotions interplay when the designer proceeds from scratch to reach the desired goal of a meaningful and motivating experience.

To enhance the reading experience, I suggest you start with the first part if you haven´t done so already.

As a result of the stripping of the dramatic story structure, and the removal of its standard features (acts, turning-points, rising and falling actions), the previous part revealed a learning curve. The flow-state of the learning curve (illustrated below) shows the motivating engine by how the receiver gradually builds experiences and feelings on the path towards the goal.

Balancing the pacing of the engaging and motivating forces to reach a more persistent mood, the control value of the learning curve´s flow-state is based on how you are making sense of the causal, spatial, and temporal links in regard to the receiver´s understanding and learning. Your control value of harmony (see the previous part) is where the receivers ask: What? Who? Where? When? Why? How? not because they are confused but because they are curious. It is then the access to the flow-state of the motivating forces rouses a rhythm, which enables you to deepen the emotional effect over time. To avoid dissonance, which decreases flow, the formula to harmony is achieved…

...when cause and effect are elaborated by the constructor towards a set premise and adapted to the media at hand, and when the effect of the composition supports the set goals for the receiver.

With the model's help, we can finally look into the details of how you capture the engaging and dynamic forces behind the rhythm of flow and turn the motions into a mood. These motivating forces by how the player creates meaning are interesting as they can be transferred to mechanics. An example of a mood being transferred and embedded into a mechanic was presented in the first part. The forces concerned the relationship between the player and the horse in the game Shadow of the Colossus, whose core of mood from the player´s building of experiences and feelings was transferred to the mechanics of The Last Guardian.


Instead of breaking down story structures in search of verbs and motivating elements using a top-down perspective, the model assists a bottom-up approach to the building of a structure from the perspective of the receiver´s thinking and feelings. To access the curiosity-driven approach to the design of engaging and motivating experiences, the narrative principles and systems can help us clarify what media-specific elements identify video games with respect to the player’s learning.

Several aspects of the narrative systems become visible when observing from a bottom-up perspective on gameplay structuring from the player’s position. Since it is easy to mix up your perspective and position as a constructor with the receiver´s perspective and position, the narrative systems facilitate the possibility to differentiate between the roles. Keeping track of the changes between the perspectives and positions of the receiver´s interpretation of meanings provided by you as a constructor, I introduced two groups in the previous parts that assist the change of perspective. When you get to the more advanced techniques of foreshadowing, meaning you set the player´s hypothesizing about the goal into motion, the control of the perspectives and positions will be a great asset.

Regarding the bridging of the gap between writers and designers, it is worth noting how the narrative systems of plot and style unite the team constructors.

Navigating the structuring of gameplay with the help of the narrative principles of logic, space, and time by how the style mobilizes the game's components and techniques. To meet the receiver's interpretation of the plot's causal, spatial and temporal networks, games amplify:

  • time by how the plot and style pick up the presence of the receiver

  • logic by how the plot and style convey causal links between outputs and inputs (interaction)

  • space by how the plot and style regard the position of the receiver

By connecting the activities of the receiver´s thinking and learning to the space of activities you can access how plot and style motivate and engage the receiver's sense- and meaning making. The interaction from the exchange of meanings that you present before the receiver's senses to engage the receiver's building of experiences are depicted below.


To meet the game's style to be interactive, you can see how the activities of exchanging meanings work as a loop. Making the loop meeting the goal-states of learning, the logic of cause and effect representing the minimum of data to trigger the cognitive activities can be turned into outputs and inputs:

By adding the receiver’s position and the causal exchange of outputs and inputs to the engagement and duration axis, we will get a base to a flow model that captures the core to the conditions that enable the motivating engine of learning to propel.

The illustration of the flow model helps envision, from your perspective as a constructor, how each meaning presented before the receiver's senses triggers the receiver's meaning making, which gradually deepens the experiences along the duration axis.

The receiver/player's position determines how you approach the space of activities when obtaining the rhythm of providing and withholding meanings in relation to the player’s understanding and learning. Accessing the player's position helps you navigate through the space of activities from a curiosity-driven perspective. To show how you proceed from the curiosity-driven perspective in the setting of the causal, spatial, and temporal links that trigger the player´s building of experiences and feelings, I will start by showing a classical example of what action- and competency focused design looks like using the flow model.

Returning to The Lord of Rings (see previous part) we can observe how its conflict-ridden world leads to the development of combat and survival systems in games, in order to encourage players to act. The flow-state of actions in regard to the player's objective (goal) generates the causal contrast of going from weak to strong.

The experience of empowerment is a common expression of a player´s agency in a competence- and action-focused design.

In making the online game Journey, the game designer Jenova Chen explicitly expressed that he wanted the player to feel awe from experiencing the empowerment of caring about each other (link to the article). This initiated the removal of standard features related to competition and combat in online games (the lobby, player ID, HUD, weapons, invites, etc.). The example gives you an idea of how the change of experiences and feelings alters the core gameplay. But how you resolve the causal contrasts of going from weak to strong, to meet the experience of awe, is often a process left to the designer's intuition to handle. It is often here the canonic story offers a framework to organize plot patterns. In the case of Journey, Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey's pattern generated a life journey gameplay structure.

But if we try to capture the motivating and engaging forces and how they are processed by the game's mechanics and systems from a curiosity-driven perspective. It is through plot and style you can see how

- the contrasts, as a drive-state to engage the player's curiosity, are triggered by the mechanic.

And in regard to the player's learning and the goal, it is

- cause and effect of the contrasts of awareness and unawareness that release the mechanic's rules and behaviors to propel the overall rhythm to the motivating forces of flow in the building of experiences and feelings.

By setting the core to the overall rhythm of the flow provided by the contrasts and cause and effect, you are also setting the rules and behaviors of how the mechanic provides and withholds meanings in regard to the receiver’s building of experiences and feelings.

Tracing the core to the overall rhythm of flow

To trace the core of rhythm from a curiosity-driven perspective, we will stay with The Lord of the Rings and look into how the dynamic and motivating forces of rhythm from a story (movie) can be transferred to a game mechanic.

To convert the flow of the causal contrasts from the movie The Lord of the Rings to a video game, you need to discern the core rhythm loop to what makes Gandalf or other components into vital parts in regard to the receiver’s sense and meaning making.

The harmony in The Lord of the Rings comes from adding Gandalf to help even the Hobbits’ odds in defeating Mordor. Hold on, aren't there other races involved in defense of Middle Earth? Absolutely. But as we go, you will see how the relationship between Gandalf and the hobbits flows through every single element, including the receiver, forming the core of the overall rhythm.

Since the trigger of the receiver's engagement is based on how you provide and withhold the contrasts of the receiver's awareness regarding the conflict in relation to the Hobbits’ unawareness (see the pace and balance from the first and second parts), it is Gandalf's awareness and power that brings hope to an otherwise hopeless situation.

Your considerations concerning the style in relation to the goal of what the receiver should experience and feel are always taken from the receiver's position. Since the receiver can't act on their knowledge due to the movie's style, it would be tough to keep the receiver seated if The Lord of the Rings was an abyss of utter despair and where the hobbits' unawareness was a direct road to their destruction. To avoid the receiver perishing from frustration by how you present the hobbits as helpless, you unburden the receiver from being omniscient while deprived of the possibility to at least warn the hobbits. Gandalf plays a crucial part in easing up the tense by having the qualifications needed to undertake the responsibility to look after the hobbits.

Gandalf is also the component who inconspicuously creates a bond between the receiver and the hobbits (and the fellowship) through the shared belief in Gandalf's qualifications to solve the conflict, deepening the receiver's feeling of engagement (see also Part 6 on building bond/trust).

The contrasts of the awareness and unawareness concern how you provide and withhold the information to balance the receiver's engagement. What settles the core to the overall rhythm is the relief found in Gandalf's presence in contrast to his absence.

Since the beliefs and expectations are directed at seeing Gandalf solve the conflict. When he turns up, the feeling of relief increases among the hobbits and in the receiver. When Gandalf disappears, the challenges presented in his absence deepens the bond and intensifies the receiver’s engagement and motivation from the experiences built over time.

Seen from the receiver's position in regard to the goal to see the dark forces of Mordor defeated, the dynamic changes between the contrasts overtime show how the experiences turn into expectations and desires along the duration axis.

Referring to the earlier parts when I stripped the dramatic story structure down: with the flow model's help, you can see from the sequencing of the contrasts of presence and absence how you treat the end (goal) along the duration axis by not fueling the engagement. By letting Gandalf return (from being dead) and remain present following the story climax (marked with a curly bracer), you leave the task to the hobbits and Gandalf to defeat Mordor and put an end to the movie.

If we were to translate the overall rhythm of presence and absence to video games, to meet the mechanic style, which has no end but goal-states, the behavior by which the mechanic triggers and propels the causal contrasts of absence and presence could be depicted as follow:

The flow model depicts a loop of a never-ending dynamic change between Gandalf’s presence and absence. The dynamics form an overarching rhythm loop, which shifts between the feelings of relief and despair when Gandalf disappears and returns increase and deepens the receiver’s experiences along the duration axis.

Assume we would position the receiver/player in the role of a hobbit. By proceeding from the contrasts of awareness and unawareness, increasing the engagement and motivation would mean the hobbit (the player) learns from Gandalf. However, in regard to the goal of defeating the forces of Mordor, you could amplify the engagement by creating a surprise, i.e., you could change the state of the experiences and expectations.

Based on the contrasts between Gandalf’s greatness and the hobbits’ insignificance, you can make Gandalf learn from the hobbits/receiver. This is also what happens in the movie when Gandalf needs help from the hobbits. The dynamic change of state is also what the dramatic story structure's turning points refer to when the expectations from the experiences are changed to a dependency, which deepens the causal network of the overall rhythm between presence and absence.

As we have proceeded from a bottom-up perspective by looking from the position of the receiver’s sense and meaning making, we have a core loop propelling the dynamic forces of the receiver’s thinking and learning. This is the core rhythm loop that you can translate to a game.

Translating a core rhythm loop to games

If we return to the causal contrasts of the boy and Trico in The Last Guardian (see first part), you can see how the same dynamic forces that settle the core to the overall rhythm of flow in The Lord of the Rings also settle the core to the mechanics between the boy and Trico in The Last Guardian.

When the core rhythm loop, conveyed by the mechanic in the Last Guardian is put into play, it is

  • the dependency between the boy and Trico constituting the core of the gameplay and

  • the dynamic changes of state between presence and absence propelling the building of experiences and feelings in the exchange of inputs and outputs between the player and Trico.

The Last Guardian starts with the boy (the player) and Trico trapped in a cave. It is here the goal state of the mechanic to build a sense of dependency is initiated.

The dependency dynamics emerge with the plot and style conveying the contrasts of:

- the stature, behavior, and movements between the boy and Trico,


- the space of activities of being trapped: a closed cave and Trico confined by a chain and pierced with spears, illuminating the incentive (goal) on liberty.

With the player's position set on trapped, the goal on liberty, and the experiences settled on the construction of dependency, the condition of a core structure to an overall rhythm comes forth.

By sequencing the space of activities according to the pattern of "lock and unlock" (which contrasts were used in the previous part to illustrate the structuring of the game's space in regard to the player's learning), each sequence (level) meets the goal of liberty, which allows the mechanic to build the experiences and feelings of dependency between the player and Trico.

The feeling of presence and absence is generated by how the plot and style make sense of the causal contrast between a little boy's statures and the tall feathered creature Trico. 

Along the duration axis, each sequence (level) unfolds the space ofan environment requiring a small person to pass through narrow passages and find levers only pullable by the boy (the player).

Each level represents a new goal-state capturing the core of the rhythm loop, which generates actions to reach liberty, and each step deepens the experience and feeling of dependency when the boy (the player) needs to leave Trico to solve certain puzzles in order to "unlock" the next part of the level.

The contrasts of absence and presence are reflected in the puzzle by how it separates and unites, thus amplifying and deepening the feeling of engagement when returning/reuniting with Trico.

Keeping track on the dynamic changes of the rhythm loop

The states of the dynamic rhythm loop change along the engagement and duration axis when the player learns (interact). How the mechanic's balancing and pacing provide and withhold the information is controlled by a world system that organizes the components of subsystems, defining the core of the gameplay.

The game's systems provide an overlook of the space of activities by arranging, through plot and style, the causal, spatial, and temporal links of the interdependency between the boy and Trico.

From the meta-perspective of the constructor (1), you can see how the overall world system's goal is set on liberty (2). The components of the boy (the player's position) and Trico form two subsystems, whose goals are building experiences/feelings of dependency (3 and 4). The subsystem forms the rules and behaviors of the mechanic (5 and 6) to be directed at the goal of the world system to reach liberty (2) (the completion of the game).

With the systems’ help, it is easier to keep track of states' dynamic changes by how the mechanics propel the core rhythm loop (uniting/separating) in relation to the receiver’s building of experiences/feelings.

As the harmony of the Last Guardian is already paced and balanced, I will return to the blueprint of the premise (see Putting into play, Part 4, and Part 6) and show how the plot and style meet the core of the overall rhythm. By capturing the minimum data needed to trigger the narrative vehicle of the player´s meaning making, we can see how the following core elements of the premise are captured:

An identified subject(s) and a condition(s) that propels a process forward in relation to what the receiver should experience or feel.  

  • Subjects - The boy and Trico

  • Condition - Trapped, which

  • Propels process at liberty, to build

  • Experience/Feeling of Dependency

How to pace and balance mechanics and systems 

Looking back at Bateman's suggestion (see first part) to "think of story as one more game system." The Last Guardian is an interesting example because the game is considered to be a narrative-driven game. Within the context of game development, it means the structure conveys a canonical story format (exposition, complication, outcome). To conclude the tracing of the Hidden art of pacing, we will look into the balancing and pacing of The Last Guardian to see what we can learn from merging story and game structures from how a curiosity-driven approach inconspicuously motivate the feeling of competence and encourage actions. 

To illuminate the nuances of how the systems assist the mechanic in providing and withholding meanings in regard to the player's meaning making, I will pick up the music term used earlier in the first part when pacing the contrasts which generated the stature, behavior, and movements of the hobbits and Gandalf and the boy and Trico.

- Forte - loud/strong

- Piano - soft

I will also add the tempo of

- Fast

- Slow

Into the cave...


Known as the tutorial-level where the player learns how to play the game, the initial sequence (level) (illustrated below) is where the drive-state to curiosity is triggered by the mechanic, capturing the causal contrasts between the boy (the player) and Trico that will build the player´s experience/feeling of dependency.

The illustration below depicts the mechanic's initiation by the style of animation/graphics, showing the boy and Trico trapped in a cave.

The mechanic's output, which goal-state is on the building of dependency, creates a forte (1) through how the plot and style convey the causal conditions of the confinement through the visualization (2), thus creating an incentive to attain the overall goal of liberty.

Seen from the perspective of how the player processes the causal, spatial, and temporal links, the output triggers the player's curiosity by withholding information regarding the cause of the pair's confinement, which generates the question.

Who or what brought them there at the beginning, and why?

To visualize the strength/forte by which the mechanic (1) and the visualization (2) trigger the player's meaning making, the space of activities from the sequence can be depicted with the help of a cognitive "block-out." Block-outs are used to outline levels, but you can also use them to describe how cognitive activities unfold (in a future post, I will show how you can use the cognitive-wheels to mockup the pace and balance of an environment).


The cognitive block out illuminates the mind's activities and how the effect (call) from the output (1, mechanic, and 2, visualization) increases the intensity and tempo of the player's interpretation of plot and style.

Since thinking without moving doesn't necessarily mean the player isn't engaged and the reverse doesn't mean the player learns, the duration between the output (1 and 2) and the player's input could be anything from an instant response to an input that never occurs. The separation between the mind's activities and how the meaning-making generates physical actions gives you an idea of how to balance and pace the systems to pick up inputs of behavior and movements from the player's understanding and learning.

As the common technique within game development to control if the player understands and learns is focusing on competence and the physical actions to confirm the player's comprehension, it can easily lead to over-explanation to ensure the player knows what to do. This over-explanation can, in turn, lead to a counterforce which "turns off" the activities of the player's sense and meaning making, where its effect is illustrated below.


In film writing, the effect of over-explaining has given rise to the phrase "show, don't tell" to allow for the receiver's meaning-making to come forth. I have tailored the expression to suit games by saying: "don't show, involve" (see also the series Don't show, involve).

There is a fine line between how much you should tell or involve while still leaving room for the player's sense- and meaning making. To allow for a curiosity-driven design, you can add meaning-making to the space of activities by simply asking: how much of the player's sense and meaning making can flourish? To involve, you can also think of yourself as a teacher who keeps up the curiosity by making the player figure out the: How? Why? When? Where? Who? What?

Since the gameplay structures focus on the space surrounding the competence of the player. Letting the player's sense and meaning-making come forth places the emergent and progression structures in a new light through structures applied to the craft of utilizing the player's drive (motivation) to understand and learn.

The Last Guardian illuminates this craft of employing the player's drive to understand/learn through shifting between progression and emergent structures using the causal contrast of absence/presence to separate and unite the player and Trico. The causal contrast of being separated and united is handled by systems through balancing and pacing the mechanics. By switching between prompting the player to move (leave Trico) towards the goal (liberty), which then allows for the player to explore the relation with Trico after the (sequence) level is "unlocked," the experience and feeling of dependency are gradually built along the duration axis.

Keeping track of learning, behavior, and movements

To illuminate the switch between systems, I will show examples of two components of style, which systems track the player's behavior and movements in regard to the understanding and learning driven by curiosity.

The first system is a visual controller prompt (3), showing the controller's functions as the player goes.

The controller prompt (3) is presented with a soft piano further along the duration axis, as a response to the player's inputs caused by the outputs from the mechanic (1) and the visualization (2). This shows how you consider the forte (strength) from the output (1 and 2) as a trigger to the drive-state of curiosity to build experiences and feelings of dependency.

Since the experiences and feelings constitute the motivating forces, as to avoid suppressing the building of experiences/feelings of dependency, the controller prompt (3) picks up the player's behavior and movement with a minimalist soft style when informing the player which button to press to walk, jump, grab, and throw.

The dynamics from the fortepiano (strong/soft) allows for the mechanic (1) to trigger curiosity, which increases the player's awareness (attention) regarding the conditions in the cave, and the soft conveyance of the controller's tutorial is in harmony. Meaning, the actions to obtain liberty make sense and don't lower the motivating drive to build dependency.

The soft and slow tempo of the controller prompt (3) appears more clearly compared to the other system of style brought by a voice, in which audio cue embodies a male narrator (4).

In contrast to the soft piano and slow tempo of the controller prompt (3), the narrator (4) is engaged with a forte. Together with the mechanic (1) and the visualization (2), the narrator strengthens the initial output. However, the voice acting is soft (piano) and slow, balancing the collected intensity from the outputs (1, 2, and 4) on the receiver's meaning making.

The narrator has two different functions. One is the voice of the male narrator who speaks from a position in the future. The other one supports the game's progression by prompting the player to act on the outputs (1, 2, 3, and 4).

1. The narrator as a storyteller

Most techniques involving story structures have evolved from the ancestors of media. One of the methods is foreshadowing. In a competency-driven design of engagement, the technique is used to inform the player about the objective. The ambition is to motivate the player to advance through space towards the goal. Regarding how our mind is processing causal, spatial, and temporal links, from a curiosity-driven perspective, foreshadowing is a method to encourage the receiver to imagine a future from the present position.

When the narrator (4) is put into play, the technique of foreshadowing is applied. As the narrator communicates with the player from a position further along the game's timeline, the narrator lets the player know that he or she is playing as the narrator but as a young boy. But the narrator is also giving the player a hint about the future.

Along the duration axis, the causal and spatial links to the narrator's storytelling are provided by the visualization (2) of being trapped with Trico in a cave. As the narrator speaks from a future position, there is a sense of ease as the player knows reaching the goal of liberty will be achieved. But the means of attaining liberty remains withheld from the player, thus triggering curiosity. This "how" intensifies the drive and overall tempo of the player's meaning making, causing the player to speculate about the goal from his or her position in the cave, wondering how Trico will play a part in reaching the goal. Here, the player's bond to Trico inconspicuously starts to build by how the plot and style convey the overall rhythm of flow, which will gradually turn into a mood.

By shifting perspective to the player (and changing color to purple), based on the outputs (2 and 4), the illustration below shows how the future goal on liberty is imagined from the player´s position on the timeline. The image also visualizes how the player´s processing of causal, spatial, and temporal links doesn't have to generate inputs from physical movements even though the engagement is high (see the example from the last part regarding The Long Dark). 



2. The narrator as a prompter

The second function of the narrator concerns the prompting of the player's actions. This illuminates how the conventional story technique is made a part of the learning and progression systems.

The differences between controller-prompt-outputs (3) and the narrator's outputs (4) can be seen from the duration axis's volume and frequency. Compared to the soft and slow-paced controller prompt (3), the narrator's prompting (4) does not consider the emergent aspect of letting the player's learning and meaning-making come forth before the narrator's voice tells the player that the beast is chained, hungry, wounded and in need of help.

What is interesting is how the narrator's prompting basically goes against the mantra of not telling as it communicates with the player about things already observable to the player.

Since the constructor's primary goal is the building of a mood through crafting a bond between the player and Trico. The strength and frequency by which the narrator reminds the player to tend to Trico's wounds until the feeding and freeing inputs are coming into play is a key trigger that kick-starts the gameplay's core rhythm loop.

Reminding how the pacing flows through the player's behavior and movements by how the style mobilizes the plot. The narrator's output is utilized to establish the rhythm of the causal contrasts of absence and presence, which core unfolds the gameplay of solving puzzles (unlocking sequences). By triggering the player's actions that separate and unite the player and Trico, building a bond and a mood is initiated.

The illustration below shows from the player's perspective and position how the rhythm, tempo, and intensity from the pace and balance of meanings are transmitted to the player's meaning-making and inciting actions.

From the player's position and perspective (defined by the purple color), the forte from the narrator's prompting (5) increases the tempo of the player's learning of the controls (6) when acting on feeding and freeing Trico (7).

Hidden to the player is the motivating engine of learning that encourages the flow-state of curiosity to build a feeling of competence from learning while moving towards liberty (8) and dependency (9). Underneath the structure, the bond between the player and Trico gradually builds.

Harmony and dissonance

According to the harmony and the control value of flow, it isn't the narrator's prompts, telling the player that Trico is chained, wounded, and hungry, which creates dissonance.

Following the narrative principles connected to the receiver's navigation and understanding, an inconsistency becomes evident in the canonic story's logic and the narrator's position in time and space. Since the narrator systems have two functions

- to foreshadowing the player by telling the story and

- to keep track of the player's behavior and movements

Whether or not the inconsistency experienced by the player, in the form of dissonance in relation to the causal, spatial, and temporal links, makes sense depends on if it is possible to interpret the narrator's location in space and time.

Is the narrator from the future, or is he in the cave?

Whether or not the dissonance causes a significant disturbance depends on if the plot and style convey the premise. Since the mechanic (1) and the visualization (2) have already triggered the receiver's curiosity, it begs the question:

Who or what brought them there in the first place, and why?

The trigger of the drive-state to curiosity is enough to make the player disregard any inconsistencies with the caveat that it doesn't stand in the way of finding out how Trico will play a part in reaching the goal.

Rounding up

Seen through the lens of the narrative systems, you can't remove the narrative as a meaning making mechanism as the narrative is already a part of the process of giving meaning to the game. What you could remove are the excessive segments blocking the motivating engine of the receiver's meaning-making to come forth, i.e., the "over-explanation."

To sum up how a bottom-up perspective on the hands-on process can assist your design in creating engaging and motivating forces. By tracing back to where the core of engagement and motivation reside, we can see how two causality-creating elements create triggers for the narrative vehicle of meaning making to generate new patterns.

An example based on the contrasts of absence and presence, which generates a behavior of avoidance, is Red Dead Redemption 2. The core rhythm loop is based on the presence and absence of an agent. When the agent is absent, the player feels safe, and when the agent turns up, the insecurity prompts the player and his gang to leave their camp and flee to another one. With a simple switch, the mechanic's state is changed from the experience of dependency to independence and the feelings of being unsafe and safe.

The example above also displays the basics behind changing the state of the mechanic when creating a surprise. Those changes (spoilers) can be seen in The Last Guardian, where building a bond/trust is the surprise's objective from which condition you can infuse uncertainty. The new state offers a unique perspective on the conditions from which the player learns more about Trico by having to reconsider the hypothesis.

General tips for setting (or checking) the core to the drive-states of your game concept's causal contrasts to meet the minimum data of a premise that trigger the player's meaning making, you can ask the following questions:

  • What is the condition from which the player proceeds, and how does the state relate to the goal?
    Ex, weak/strong, trapped/liberty, dependency/independency.

  • What would you like the player to experience or feel when proceeding from the initial condition towards the goal?
    Ex. absence/presence, relief/despair, safe/unsafe, certainty/uncertainty

When identifying the subjects and objects from which the conditions proceed, make sure these are from the player´s position and perspective when outlining/sequencing the space of activities.

If you would like to find examples where the narrative systems can be discerned within the development of game concepts, you should listen to those who tried to do something different from others.

If someone says the story came later in the game design process, which the game programmer Seth Coster did in his talk about Crashlands' production, it likely began with two contrasting elements that would come to unfold a story structure (see link). Fumito Ueda has expressed something similar regarding canonic story formats and where he mentions how he approaches story endings in games in this interview held by a game managing director, which makes it even more interesting to read as it illuminates how one views the story in game development. The narrative systems can also be determined by listening to those who prefer to create experiences distinguishable from combat and survival systems; For instance, Jenova Chen in the making of Journey (see link), and Tracy Fullerton in the making of Walden. In a GDC talk from 2019, Fullerton reveals how the progression- and story structures work to a certain point but where a bottom-up perspective is needed to access the core to the engaging and motivating forces. Further, check this inspiring talk with Fullerton on learning, thinking, and pace in game design.

Since it isn't easy to access or explain the narrative as a meaning making process, I'd like to extend my gratitude to those of you who have stuck with me and shared your reflections over the course of this lengthy trip. I hope the journey has been inspiring as much as it inspired me, making it.

I can't say for certain when I will be returning with the final part of Putting into play. As of right now, I'm in search of a world to pace. But never hesitate to contact me if you feel like sharing your thoughts or having any questions. If something is unclear, I'm always ready to revise to reach harmony.

Lastly, I will share a link to YouTube that I received from a reader (thank you!), where the Lead Quest Designer Pawel Sasko speaks about pacing from the perspective of making the player hypothesize (and cry) in Witcher 3, which I feel will wrap up this nicely.

Until next time, stay safe and curious,


Illustrations by Linnea Österberg

Return to:
Putting into play - The Hidden Art of Pacing (1) 3
Putting into play - The Hidden Art of Pacing (2) 3

Or visit Narrative Construction and read the entire series:

Part 1 Putting into play - A model of causal cognition on game design.
Part 2, Putting into play - On narrative from a cognitive perspective I
Part 3, Putting into play - On narrative from a cognitive perspective II
Part 4, Putting into play - How to trigger the narrative vehicle
Part 5, Putting into play - On organizing thoughts and feelings
Part 6, Putting into play - On organizing engaging and dynamic forces
Part 7, Putting into play - The Hidden Art of Pacing 1 (3)
Part 8, Putting into play - The Hidden Art of Pacing 2 (3)
Part 9, Putting into play - The Hidden Art of Pacing 3 (3)

A short guide to the 7-grade model of reasoning

An introduction to Narrative bridging


Boman, M., Gyllenbäck, K.,  (2010). Narrative bridging. Design Computing and Cognition ’10. Edited by John S Gero. SpringerLink. pp 525-544

Bordwell David (1985). Narration in the fiction film. Methuen.

Gärdenfors, P., Lombard, M., (2017). Tracking the evolution of causal cognition in humans. In the Journal of Anthropological Sciences 95. p.219-234

Read more about:

Featured Blogs
Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like