lördag 10 februari 2018

The use of supplemental materials in creating a video-game narrative

Although not that many of us can reasonably create huge amounts of supplemental material for our games it can still be worthwhile to study how it can be used, as well as the unique storytelling problems that writing for an ongoing videogame series provides. For the discussion I have choosen two games, Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch. My reason for choosing these two games is beacause Team Fortress 2 was one of the first games to use supplemental materials to add narrative to the game itself. Sure, games before may had a story in the manual, or even some sort of official comic or animated series. But these were not part of the official canon, or influenced the games in any way. Furthermore the era of Team Fortress 2 comics and videos can be divided into five clear and very different eras:

The promotional Era
2 Pastich of an era
3 Update comics
4 Searching for purpose
5 The ongoing story

Comparing the supplemental material of Team Fortress to Overwatch´s may seem a little bit unfair, since it has not been out for quite so long but in my opinion it is remarkable how the comics/animations of Overwatch corresponds to the different eras of Team Fortress´s material. Indeed, the year and a half that Overwatch has been out is almost like seeing the history of Team Fortress in extreme fast forward.

In addition I will discuss the game I am working on right now (just as I did about my last-non maker specific tutorial about the use of the narrative curve in videogames). It too has supplemental material insofar as I have written out a full story set in the same world the game takes place in and I will post chapters as new versions of the game are put on my website.

Let us begin the first installment of this series by looking how the three games handle the promotional era.

Team Fortress 2

Nine mercenaries have come together for a job. It's the middle-ish part of a century a lot like the one we just had. A simpler time. There are three TV stations, one phone company, and two holding corporations that secretly control every government on the planet. Each corporation administers its half of the world with a multi-disciplined army of paper pushers. For any problem lacking an obvious bureaucratic solution, mercenaries like these are contracted to address the situation through a massive application of force. Now's your chance to Meet the Team.

As it started out Team Fortress had nothing but the above excuse plot meant to give a minmum of context to the maps the players fought over. As the developement changed from a fairly realistic shooter to a cartoony shooter with greater emphasis on the characters, the "Meet the Team" shorts were created. These short cartoons have no plot, just showing the characters in their natural habitat with a broad somewhat darkly comical sort of humor.

There is also a promotional video, showing the ability of all classes. Note that while some weapons and abilities were changed the character relationships were already pretty set in stone. The game was released after nine years in development without any kind of open beta (this not yet being a way to promote a game yet).


The cinematic trailer of Overwatch establishes a bright and colorful world with the terrorist group Talon pitted against the two faces of Overwatch (Tracer and Winston) for the ownership of the infamous Doomfist´s gauntlet. Although it talks about the history of Overwatch the storyline set to run concurrent with the game has not yet started up. It feels more like the prototype of a map more than anything else. The focus is on the world, not the characters as a result of Blizzard focus on storytelling. There is also a gameplay trailer that is remarkably similar to the Team Fortress one, character abilities are showcased and a character “who beats who” is established.  

While Team Fortress undoubtely wanted to be worth the wait after nine years and make the game lasting, Blizzard immediately had their eyes set on the e-game scene. That meant that the open beta was almost only open to streamers. Blizzard also stated that the comis and animations are not canon or will influence the game in any way.

Alex and Adva/ I´ve heard Norse (my game)

My own game takes place in a Viking-esque called Bjarmaland with a written story taking place in the afterlife of the same. I currently have a prototype done with three main goals:
1 Show the initial storyline and setting with a prologue
2 Show the main gameplay by having the characters climb a mountain and use their abilities to traverse it.
3 Showing specialized gameplay by having characters traverse a platforming section with some hidden areas and a boss

The story has similar goals:
1 Establish the setting and characters
2 Showcasing the main theme of the story (the duty of the privileged to help those in need)
3 Have a first “episode” of the main characters life in the underworld

As you can see, the three points complement each other.

Just like Blizzard I do not want the story to influence the game too much, but I do want the two to be canon to each other. Just like early Team Fortress updates (“Bidwells big Plan” being concurrent with the addition of the in-game store for example) I want the story and game to intersect at key points. A example is when a early sort of train built by dwarves crashes into the mountain, opening a hole to the underworld. The player now has to deal with a demon infestation and the souls of the dead (in the story) has to deal with rocks falling down from below to crush their dwellings.

End notes on the promotional era

As we can see Team Fortress and Overwatch, although both begins with promotional material sort of starts at opposite ends. Team fortress had no story except for the above excuse-plot, comics and media eventuelly swelling into an ongoing story. Overwatch immediately got a narrative, but the developers have stated that it will never influence the game at all. In the next part of this tutorial we are going to start and take a look at how the games finds their feet and refines the setting in what I call the pastisch era.

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