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  • Cindi Knapton

Voice Prints, Cinematic Essentials, & Location Landmarks

With my passion for learning new narrative tools and networking with my comrades in games, I joined Into Games three-week Sprint Course "Advanced Narrative Design" led by the amazing Narrative Director Kim MacAskill.

In those three weeks, with step-by-step guidance from Kim, we each created narrative documentation for our own game concept. Mine is Botz, Bugz n' Bytes (BBB) -- an all ages sci-fi comedy, single player strategy game. In BBB, nervous cyborg Marshall, a trainee in time & space management, must work with their mortal enemy Giant Bugz to reconstruct the Universe.

The sprint deliverables included: Character Biography with Opening Scene & Inciting Incident, Dialogue Triggers, Dialogue Systems, Cinematic Scene, and Location Biography. It was a lot of work with fast deadlines, but... that kept me from dawdling and over thinking.

In this scope of work, three things truly enlightened me: Voice Print Guides, Cinematic Essentials, & Location Landmarks for Player Interaction.

Voice Print Guide

My creativity exploded because of the the new tools that Kim shared. The first that blew my mind was the "Voice Print Guide" tool as part of the Character Bio. It's critical in game development where many writers may create a character's actions and dialogue. Over the years it takes to develop a game, a character's voice and actions must remain consistent and distinct.

With the Voice Print Guide as a starting point, I created the distinctive voices of nervous cyborg Marshall (they/them) and their enemy Giant Bug -- a droll, buzzing, (possibly French) data bug. From there I developed their sidekicks. The sidekicks sound like they are in the respective squads of Marshall and Giant Bug, but each have their own personalities.

Next we developed our dialogue into multi-page spreadsheet systems that can be utilized by other members of the game development team including designers, artist, coders, actors, etc. As someone who has coached actors, being able to put context and emotions into the spreadsheet gave me a feeling of calm and order. I love being able to convey organic creative information in an orderly manner.

Cinematic Essentials

And then we created our Cinematic Scenes. This was challenging for me. Coming from years of screenwriting I have a lot of rules in my head. Cinematics in games are different than scenes in film & TV. They serve a different purpose.

I've noticed two main reasons for cinematics in games. The first as a reward -- as I've previously blogged about in Alan Wake II, after a difficult boss battle. Or more frequently to deliver to the player decision-critical information in an efficient way.

Our sprint work focused on the later -- in five pages or less, deliver new information that the player must act on when the cinematic ends. Kim gave us the specific brief below. We were allowed to modify it to suit our game:

"Your character wakes up in a room and has no idea how they got there. There is at least one other character in the room, and they are not friends. Yet, they must use their strengths and weaknesses to escape this strange place."

The hardest part for me was keeping it simple and figuring out how to use the characters weaknesses to escape. I decided to put Marshall and their mortal enemy Giant Bug into the pitch dark stranglehold of an unknown material. Because I chose to write an all ages games -- I used barf as Giant Bug's weaknesses. It is technicolor barf and it lights the way out of the darkness.

The key piece of information for the player is... you and your enemy Giant Bug are both being attacked by the Data Stringz. Data Stringz are the real enemy. When the two characters emerge into the Act One Boss Battle, their squads are lined up ready to fight each other. Will Marshall convince their squad to work with their mortal enemy and fight the Data Stringz?

Location Landmarks for Player Interaction

Finally, the last sprint task was Location Biography. If you know me, you know that I bill myself as a Science Fiction World Builder. I am here to say that there is always more to learn. One thing that I learned is super obvious and I can't believe that I have missed it in my previous game bibles -- Landmarks for Player Interaction.

As the narrative designer, I need to spell out my intentions of where in this location I expect the player to "play". Say it, write it, make it clear to the team!

Another tip that I got from Kim is to provide real life references for the look, feel, and social construct of this location. I sometimes forget to spell it out! Make my intentions clear!

Kim MacAskill was an amazing, enthusiastic, knowledgable, and patient teacher. Her willingness and ability to convey real life experience in a variety of studios is a precious resource. Into Games is offering the course again in July and I highly recommend it. There were seven spaces left as I wrote this blog.

The support team at Into Games is amazing. Our coordinator Nathan Charterton was always available, helpful, and cheerful,

Finally I would like to thank my huddle: Emma Chipperfield, Paolo Gambardella, Tom Gerbicz, and Craig Atkinson. We met every weekday of the course and provided supportive actionable feedback for each other. And we had a lot of fun! One of Kim's exercises was to perform improv scenes demonstrating "Non-Violent Conflict Resolution." I really got into it and felt it!

If you want to see the full size pieces of my work for this sprint, here's a link:

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