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To write better games, Chris Avellone takes lessons from Dr. Who

"Throw the players into an environment with a lot of visual mysteries," veteran game designer Chris Avellone told Glixel. "Then you let them explore the environment, & try and solve those mysteries."

Alex Wawro

March 24, 2017

2 Min Read

"I found a Dr. Who method of storytelling that actually works pretty well. You throw the players into an environment with a lot of visual mysteries, where they're like, 'I'm not sure what's going on here.' Then you let them explore the environment, and try and solve those mysteries."

- Veteran game designer Chris Avellone, speaking to Glixel about narrative techniques in game design.

A year and change after leaving Obsidian (a studio he helped cofound) to go freelance, game designer Chris Avellone is putting in work on everything from Subset Games' Into the Breach to Arkane's Prey to Night Dive Studios' upcoming System Shock remake.

It's a broad project list for someone best known for working on prose-laden RPGs, and in a conversation with Glixel Avellone opens up about why he went freelance ("I wanted to go see what else was out there") and how he learned to tell effective stories in games -- even when they aren't narrative-driven, text-heavy RPGs.

"I found a Dr. Who method of storytelling that actually works pretty well. You throw the players into an environment with a lot of visual mysteries, where they're like, 'I'm not sure what's going on here.' Then you let them explore the environment, and try and solve those mysteries," Avellone told Glixel. 

"That curiosity leads them on. I found some of the best adventures, either pen and paper or computer games, involved presenting that question to players. They're so curious about it that it actually motivates them to go and find the answer. I think that ends up being better than, 'You must go to point B, and then go to point C. Then at point D, you'll achieve your resolution.'"

The full Glixel interview with Avellone is well worth reading, as he goes on to share some notable lessons learned in the over two decades he's spent designing and writing (and playing) games.

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