Game Development Reference
before cannons. A hidden brothel indicates strict social mores which are
World narrative can leverage cultural symbols to communicate by as-
sociation. Roman-style architecture brings up associations of gladiators,
empires, conquest, and wealth. The dark, neo-Gothic look of Mordor in the
Lord of the Rings films makes us think of evil magic and fantasy monsters.
And we have countless environmental associations like this. What kind
of person do you think of when you picture graffiti on brick walls? Or an
igloo? Or a tiny monastery atop a mountain?
We can tell of the more recent past by arranging the leftovers of spe-
cific events. This is called mise-en-scène , from the theater term meaning
“placing on stage.” A line of corpses with hands bound, slumped against
a pockmarked wall indicates that there was an execution. If the bodies are
emaciated and clothed in rags, there may have been a genocide. If they are
dressed in royal garb, there may have been a revolution.
World narrative can also be expressed through documents. For ex-
ample, the world of Deus Ex was scattered with PDAs, each containing a
small chunk of text, left by people going about their lives. One particularly
interesting set of PDAs follows the life of a new recruit in a terrorist orga-
nization as he travels through the world one step ahead of the player char-
acter, on the other side of the law. As the player finds each PDA seemingly
minutes or hours after it was left, he comes to know the young terrorist
recruit without ever interacting with him.
Audio logs do the same thing, but with voice instead of text. Voice
is powerful because it allows us to hear characters' emotions. It can also
record things that text cannot, such as conversations among characters or
recordings of natural events, as with the New Year's Eve terrorist attack in
BioShock . And hearing characters' voices gets us ready to recognize them
when we finally encounter them in person.
Video logs take the concept one obvious step further. Video recordings
might be left running in a loop, or sitting in a film projector ready to be
played. They open up the field of content even more than audio. We can
tell stories with leftover television programs, news broadcasts, propaganda
films, home videos, and security camera footage.
Some narrative tools straddle the divide between world and scripted
story. A news broadcast being transmitted over loudspeakers, a propa-
ganda pamphlet being dropped by a passerby, or a town crier can bring
news of narrative events from near and far. A car radio can spout the news,
we could see a stock ticker on the side of a building, or hear civilians dis-
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