What is a Narrative Designer?

    Stephen E. Dinehart IV in the THQ dba Relic Entertainment Story Room, June 17, 2007
    Stephen E. Dinehart IV in the THQ dba Relic Entertainment Story Room, June 17, 2007

    Narrative Designer is a role in contemporary video game development first seen in 2006 when the video game publisher THQ began hiring for the position I wrote based on talks with THQ Canada dba Relic Entertainment.  While the strict definition may vary from team to team, and production to production, the core of this role is to champion story, craft compelling narrative elements, and define the systems through which they will be delivered to the player.  Interactive Narrative Design is a new craft waiting to be further defined and explored.

    While writers to some extent have been engaging in narrative design for linear storytelling arguably since Aristotle, it is wholly new to the field of interactive entertainment.  Since working with the team at THQ to create the “Narrative Designer” position in 2006, the industry has seemed to watch the development of this new role with a skeptical eye.  Many writers have falsely taken on the self-appointed title of ‘Narrative Designer’ and as a result there has been a watering down of the term and a general sense that the role is for nothing more than an relabeled game writer. This assumption is false. Narrative Designers are a new breed of hybrid talent for interactive entertainment industry, specifically the AAA-games sector.

    I recieved a good head check from Mary DeMarle, Lead Game Writer at Eidos Montreal. Apprarently she first heard the term at the Austin GDC in 2004, supposedly the contreversy began then (I look forward to hearing the complete story)!

    When I wrote the job description (JD) for THQ Global I hadn’t heard the term. You can see the JD I wrote below prior to taking the role in 2006, followed by a 2009 version by Monolith, and the most recent JD posted by Microsoft (2011). One can see clearly that, even in these first attempts to define the role, it is wholly different from other roles in interactive entertainment.

    Narrative Designer (THQ JD 2006)

    Job Description:
    Relic Entertainment is looking for a Narrative Designer. The Narrative Designer will focus on ensuring that the key elements of the player experience associated with story and story telling devices, script and speech are dynamic, exciting and  compelling. Working collaboratively with other design oriented team members, the Narrative Designer will be the primary contact with external writing resources for the duration of a production, and will be responsible in ensuring we get the most  out of those external resources.

    Responsibilities:

    • Act as the champion of the story, script and speech for the product
    • Act as the central resource for all things narrative related, as well as write content and edit copy
    • Apply and adapt externally written materials, as a representative of that writer’s story vision, as it applies to the game
    • Understand story requirements and deliver on ultimate story/script goals
    • Manage own schedule to accommodate the deliverables of each project and propose solutions for conflicts that arise
    • Edit, compile and develop outlines, narrative synopses, treatments and script content and be responsible for revision and approval submission
    • Assembles and edits prototype story components such as storyboard animatics, ripomatics, sound and music
    • Conduct research to obtain factual background information relevant to story/design goals
    • Work with external writing resources to help translate their material to become game relevant, as well as translate game
    • concepts to external writers
    • Work with the sound department on emotional tone of the sound design, including music selection
    • Articulate industry trends, innovative solutions and cutting edge styles that meet the goals of each project
    • Support/assist Producer and Design team in other duties, as required

    Requirements:

    • Proven ability to provide content across a full array of interactive media platforms including PC and mobile
    • Understanding of the balance between narratological and ludological theory in computer games and proven ability in the integration of story and game play into finished software product
    • Exceptional writing ability and ability to develop visual theory into production-ready concepts as well as logical and physical specifications for interactive media software products
    • Understanding of the theory of, and experience in, game design including the use of sound, animation, graphics and special effects software to maximize game play experience
    • Comprehensive production experience in the development of interactive media software products and web sites
    • Good knowledge of standard software and hardware used to create, edit, animate, display game sequences, including, but not limited to Flash, Photoshop, Studio Max and Finalcut Pro
    • Excellent communication skills, both verbal and written
    • Proven ability at successful multi-tasking under great pressure
    • At least 3-6 years of previous experience as a game industry
    • Art Director, Story Designer, Narrative Designer or otherwise similarly tasked position
    • A terminal degree in interactive media, either a MFA or PhD
    • Previous cinematics and script writing for film on a formalized basis an asset
    • An avid game player with a deep interest in creatively advancing the story medium

    Narrative Designer (Monolith JD 2009)

    Summary

    Reporting to the Lead Designer, the Narrative Designer is responsible for creation and implementation of the game story. The Narrative Designer will also be relied upon to collaborate with other designers to assist in design and implementation of game world systems and mission/quest design, using game editors and scripting systems as part of the iterative process to maximize player immersion within the game play experience.

    Job Responsibilities

    • Under supervision of Lead Designer, design and document interactive narrative systems to facilitate story and emotional delivery to player.
    • Collaborate with other designers to assist in design and implementation of game world systems and mission/quest design, using game editors and scripting systems.
    • Collaborate with design team and external talent to create and maintain game dialogue documentation, NPC character information, world back story, and cinematic direction.
    • Assist when needed with actor voice direction.
    • Collaborate with art team to develop fully fleshed-out characters and locales.

    Work Experience

    • Three years game writing, game design, and cinematic experience.
    • Preferably shipped at least two titles.

    Education, Professional Training, Technical Training or Certification

    • B.A. degree preferred, or equivalent game writing and design experience.

    Knowledge/Skills

    • Superior writing ability
    • Understand techniques to elicit player emotion.
    • Familiarity with concept art creation and storyboarding.
    • Knowledge of cinematic creation tools.
    • Experience working with art team on cinematic development.
    • Strong understanding of fostering a community and fan base for our games.

    Other Requirements

    • Strong interest in computer and video games.
    • Ability to work well under pressure and with deadlines.
    • Excellent communication, interpersonal, and organizational skills.
    • Passion for action games.
    • Excellent Communication and Collaboration skills
    • Experience with game editors and scripting systems
    • Excellent Organizational skills; self motivated
    • In-depth knowledge of industry trends in interactive storytelling
      Passion for games and gaming

    Narrative Designer (Microsoft JD 2011)

    Summary:
    Reporting to the Creative Director, the Narrative Designer is responsible for the implementation of the game story; his/her role is to enforce the notion that the most important story in any game is the story that the player can actually play and can determine the course of through low, mid, and high-level actions and choices.

    The Narrative Designer will be relied upon to collaborate with other designers to assist in design and implementation of game world systems and mission design to maximize player immersion within the game play experience. The core of this role is to champion story, craft compelling narrative elements, and define the systems through which they will be delivered to the player.

    Responsibilites: 

    • Under supervision of Creative Director, design and document interactive narrative systems to facilitate story and emotional delivery to player
    • Act as a champion of the story, script and speech across the game and game team
    • Collaborate with other designers to execute on narrative goals within the design and implementation of game world systems and mission design – this may include working in the game editor and script system
    • Collaborate with the cinematics team and story team to create and maintain game dialogue documentation, NPC character information, world back story, and cinematic development plans
    • Act as a central resource for all things narrative related
    • Work with the story team to ensure narrative synopses, treatments and script content and story blend seamlessly with cinematic and design directions and be responsible for revision and approval submission
    • Work with the sound department on emotional tone of the sound design, including music selection; may assist with actor voice direction as needed
    • Manage own schedule to accommodate the narrative deliverables of the project and propose solutions for conflicts that arise

    Requirments:

    • Ability to develop visual theory into production-ready concepts as well as written and physical specifications for game narrative implementation
    • Understand techniques to elicit player emotion
    • At least 3-6 years of previous experience as an Art Director, Story Designer, Narrative Designer or other similarly tasked position in the game industry
    • In-depth knowledge of industry trends in interactive storytelling with a deep interest in creatively advancing the story medium
    • Excellent communication, collaboration, interpersonal, and organizational skills
    • Proven ability at successful multi-tasking under great pressure
    • Experience with game editors and scripting systems.

    4 thoughts on “What is a Narrative Designer?”

    1. What’s the best way to create samples for a narrative designer? What do they want to see? Fiction stories? Are their particular formats?

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