We had the pleasure to meet Katharine Neil, a narrative designer and writer, at AdventureX in London. We talked to her about narrative design in AAA and indie games, and why there are only a small number of comedy games.
Read on or watch the video to see what we found out!
Articy: Hi Katharine, thank you for joining us today, for the audience who is not very familiar with your work could you briefly introduce yourself?
Katharine: I’m Katharine, I’m a freelance narrative designer and writer and I’ve been in games for a while but I’ve changed roles several times sound design, programming, sound design, but mainly I’m narrative design these days.
Articy: Throughout your career you’ve had a lot of opportunities to work on both AAA and indie projects. When it comes to narrative design is the approach essentially different depending on the type of project and if so what is your favorite and why?
Katharine: I think that’s one of the major issues for people working with story in games actually because there are standard formats for TV and Film right, but between each project even if it’s on the same platform, even if it’s a mobile game for example, each change in genre requires a completely different structure almost. The requirements really change from game to game so I would say like the game I recently worked on which is a very narrative driven project called Astrologaster, it really was so heavy in script and dialogue that it let me do quite a lot so I quite enjoyed that cuz it gave me a lot of freedom and I didn’t have to fit around the gameplay in a really tight way, it gave us a lot of space to let characters talk to each other and for the dynamics to evolve.
Articy: What inspired you to pursue comedy in games?
Katharine: Well actually years ago I was making a tech demo so I learned this new piece of technology and I thought I’ll make a demo, I thought it might as well be a game, right, and it ended up being a humorous comedy game. Then someone, a friend of a friend, she was making a game called Budha Finger which is a kung fu comedy game and she said your little game that you made was really funy, can you do the narrative design and writing for Budha Finger so then I did that and then it led to Astrologaster. But also to step back a bit when I was a game designer I worked on a pony franchise called Pony Friends and I decided as the game designer we needed quiz quest system and then I said ok, you can have a quest system but you have to write the quest, you have to write the dialogue and the characters and all and so I did and I quite enjoyed that and I introduced comedy into it even though I’m not sure it was supposed to be comedy.
Articy: Would you say that comedy in the gaming landscape is less prominent than in other areas of the entertainment industry? And if so, why do you think that is?
Katharine: Yes, I would say that’s definitely the case and I’m going to talk more about that tomorrow at Adventure X actually. I think some of that is definitely changes in genre and technology as well as cultural and sort of market changes. When people are nostalgic about comedy games they think about The Curse of Monkey Island or LucasArts games from the 90s or they go back to the 80s and think of some of the adventure games they played in the 80s where humor is a big thing. I think when 3D graphics and realism and violence in games became more of a thing with action games, the chit chat stopped a bit in games and it became less of a thing. But I would say also these cultural reasons, I think comedy isn’t as valued in games as in TV and Film and I think there’s a bit of cultural cringe in games where we’re trying to prove that we can do serious important work as well. We’re trying to prove that we’re growing up so we can make games as adults so pure comedy games aren’t, I don’t know actually – that’s a really good question to think about more – why don’t we have romantic comedies, why don’t we have sitcom style games.
Articy: If you were to offer one single piece of advice to someone who’s just now starting their career as a narrative designer, what would that be?
Katharine: So my advice would be to think beyond the writing and really do your research of what narrative design is and then acquire those skills.