Downloads, Game Development Lectures, GDC

GDC 2010: “What Happened Here? – Environmental Storytelling”

This lecture, which I presented together with Harvey Smith at the GDC 2010, examines the game environment as a narrative device, with a focus on further involving the player in interpreting (or pulling) information, in opposition to traditional fictional exposition. Harvey and I provide an analysis of how and why some games in particular create higher levels of immersion and consistency, and we propose ways in which dynamic game systems can be used to expand upon these techniques. The lecture presents the techniques for environmental storytelling, the key to the creation of game spaces with an inherent sense of history; game spaces that invite the player’s mind to piece together implied events and to infer additional layers of depth and meaning. In addition to commonly-used environmental storytelling tools (such as props, scripted events, texturing, lighting and scene composition), we present ideas for using game systems to convey narrative through environmental reaction. Environmental storytelling engages the player as an active participant in narrative; game systems that reflect the player’s agency can do the same. The lecture will analyze existing cases and provide a framework for dynamic environmental storytelling in games. 

GDC 2010 Downloads
Slides + Notes (Adobe Acrobat .pdf, 7.5MB)
Slides + Notes, Compressed (Adobe Acrobat .pdf, 2MB)
Slides Only, Compressed (Adobe Acrobat .pdf, 6MB)
Speaker Notes (text file)


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  2. I just listened to this, and got a lot out of it! Thanks for putting it together.

    Thought I’d come check out the “Director’s Cut” slides, etc.

    I’m especially interested in the DYNAMIC HISTORY MAKING, and in my own current project SECRET KEEP, I’m keen to have the player’s choices and actions really change the path through the game, so your talk started sparking off lots of ideas. Thank you!

  3. Thanks! Unfortunately we never actually released the directors cut :-/ But the talk as presented still has tons of the information we wanted to give, anyway.

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