Friday, February 06, 2004

5-day workshop on Designing Interactive Narrative for Sagas

Karlsruhe, Germany

I just got back from giving a five-day game design workshop on the theme of narrative in games for Sagas, a media training program sponsored by the EU. Among other delights I got to meet Ragnar Tørnquist, Creative Director at Funcom and designer of The Longest Journey, one of the best adventure games ever made. (, I had suggested him as a co-teacher to Sagas, and he came for one extremely intense day. (He was afraid that he only had a couple of hours' worth of material, but with the students -- and me! -- pressing him for more information and insights, it stretched into a full day.) Best news of all: Funcom has started production on a sequel to The Longest Journey.

After Ragnar left we got started on some serious game design. I used lectures and worksheets to teach them about plot, character, theme, user interface, mechanics, dialog trees, and so on. Despite repeated warnings that narrative games are Not Easy, the class of 12 persisted in creating wildly innovative stuff. All three teams chose storylines that included darkness and danger, but avoided violence as a method of resolution. Emotion and character growth were central issues for all of them, and their games included such fascinating concepts as "Emoogles" (emotional goggles), a film noir detective fighting against the incarnated character flaws of a dead poet, and a branching storyline based on a moral quandary: facing a repressive government, should a man with a family fight or flee?

The work was exhausting, even for me who was mostly a mentor and facilitator, but by the end I felt exhilarated and inspired. It didn't hurt that we had a wonderfully imaginative group of people who all got along well. I've already promised to give another workshop if they want me to. Some of the ideas are discussed in a recent Designer's Notebook column.