Back 4 Blood developer Turtle Rock Studios is announcing that the studio is bulking up its narrative muscle. Starting today, former Riot Games principle narrative writer Jared Rosen is joining the Lake Forest, CA-based company to serve as the studio's narrative director. Rosen's first task will be "constructing and directing" narrative architecture for the studio's next game.
Before working at Riot, Rosen was the creator of YouTube channel Hot Pepper Gaming, where he infamously tasked former Game Developer publisher and editor-in-chief Kris Graft with reviewing Broforce after eating a whole ghost pepper.
(This actually isn't relevant to Rosen's hiring, it's just a video that we frequently post on our internal text channels).
Rosen took some time to chat with us about Turtle Rock's narrative future, and shared his thoughts on how developers can make better use of storytelling in games of any genre.
Good game narrative connects players to "all the moving parts of a game"
First, the most important details. When we quizzed Rosen about his hot pepper-fueled interrogation of our former colleague, he said it would be appropriate for Kris to "take [his] revenge."
In all seriousness, Rosen's journey from "spicy little hairball" (his words) running a YouTube channel to narrative director shines a spotlight on the strange journeys that many major video game figures of my generation have taken. He called out that many early guests (Matthew Mercer! Apex Legends and Halo Infinite voice actor Erika Ishi!) on his channel have gone on to bigger and better careers.
That doesn't necessarily mean there was a magical "hot pepper touch," that Rosen had, but it definitely speaks to the creative energy he and other guests have brought to the world of games.
If you're familiar with Turtle Rock's games you might be vaguely aware that game narrative has not been a central pillar in its most famous titles. Evolve and Back 4 Blood take place in different science fiction settings, but devote more focus on making sure players are having fun co-op experiences and crafting creative ways to kill hordes of monsters.
Rosen's hire as narrative director indicates that the studio's focus on narrative is shifting. Rosen himself pointed out that players are growing "increasingly wise" to developers only using story to make "rote market product" or as a tool to "establish IP."
"I know it sounds like very dated advice when it comes to 'shaking things up,' but a story that writers are excited about, that comes from the heart and is allowed to be itself...these are the kinds of experiences people will always gravitate towards and advocate for," he said.
When we asked how Rosen and his colleagues could craft more story experiences for the type of co-op games Turtle Rock has become known for, he pointed back to his work on League of Legends, saying that he answered this kind of question "every day."
"It's all about staging and execution," he said. "Does the world feel interesting? Does it provide an exciting and unique backdrop for what [the player] is doing? Is the character chatter both game-centric and pulling me into the fantasy without fatiguing my ear?"
It takes more than two to make a trend, but it's interesting to see studios more studios making these kinds of games hiring dedicated narrative directors. In late 2022, Saber Interactive hired its own chief narrative officer, who discussed how developers can maximize storytelling in games that aren't focused on linear narratives.
Rosen had one final piece of advice for other game studios looking to build out their narrative teams: "be nice to your narrative designers," he quipped. "They are very tired."