Valentina is currently the Studio Narrative Designer at King Berlin, working on the Candy Crush Saga franchise. She worked on PC and Console titles before and made the transition to mobile one year ago when she effectively adapted the way she works to fit with the new environment and the way players consume mobile game content. We had a great chat about the challenges of narrative design in the mobile games environment and got a lot of tips on storytelling.
Read on or watch the video to see what we found out!
Articy: Valentina, thank you for joining us today, for the audience who doesn’t know you, could you briefly introduce yourself?
Valentina: My name is Valentina Tamer, I’m a narrative and game designer, right now I’m employed at King in Berlin working with the Candy Crush franchise. Prior to that I worked with Daedalic entertainment who are known for their Adventure games which is also what I worked on. I worked on Pillars of the Earth, an episodic adventure and “The Night of the Rabbits”, a more classic point and click adventure.
Articy: So you’ve been with the industry for 4 years now which in gaming makes you a veteran, what do you feel are the changes in the last years in how games approach interactive storytelling
Valentina: I feel like there’s more awareness of story as a valid player motivation and the awareness of story having other opportunities in games than other media. This applies both to indie games which do a lot of experimental work now, telling unusual stories that are far from the beaten path and try to find new ways to tell stories, but also AAA games are starting to get a little more experimental and try to tell stories that have more player agency, but also go beyond the typical “Save the princess” storyline.
You’ve started working with King around one year ago. How hard was it to make this transition from PC/Console Games to the Mobile environment.
I feel like the transition wasn’t hard personally, but it was a big change. There is a huge difference between doing narrative design for mobile games, especially point and click adventures who are very story driven games, so it was a learning experience. But I had good mentors, and it was a good fast learning experience, so I never felt like it was too great a challenge, it was just something new and exciting.
Articy: You mentioned a big difference between doing narrative design for games for PC and Console and Mobile. What are the bigger changes that you’ve noticed going in between these two environments?
Valentina: They have very different dominant story telling methods. Mobile games have players that can’t really pay that much attention to it, just due to the nature of the medium. You take out your phone whenever you have a break, maybe in a crowded space: on the train, while you walk somewhere or in a cafeteria and you just play for a really short time and you don’t really have that much attention to spare. You just wanna go right in, play a few rounds of something, go right out and you don’t want anything that costs a lot of attention and time so you have to cater to this way of how they play which means that you have to say a lot with very few words, using all the aspects of a game and not only text or dramatic plot. You have to be aware of symbolism, the visuals, creative direction in general, how to say something without actually saying it, through player action, through what they see, something they can understand at first glance but which still manages to give them the motivation and context that they need.
Articy: There used to be this perception a few years back that mobile games don’t really need a story, but as the industry progressed, we started to gradually disprove this belief. What’s your take on it having worked in both mediums. Was this perception real, was it accurate?
Valentina: I don’t think it was ever real. I think it was just not consciously chosen early on so that people considered not consciously choosing a story as not having a story. But even if you don’t have words, don’t have themed visuals and just very abstract game mechanics, you still tell a story through what the player does so you cannot escape storytelling in games, you should rather consciously shape the story that you want to tell. For example in chess, you could say chess doesn’t have a story but it very much does, it’s two kingdoms fighting against each other and you have dramatic scenes there that build up where a weak, a pawn suddenly beats the queen and everybody is surprised. It’s exactly like that, every game needs to have a basic narrative because it will always have it so you should shape it, and players derive their motivation and their emotions from the context given to them depending on whether something is set to this background, or that background will deeply shape the way you experience your own actions, it influences them totally. So as a game designer or game developer, you should always be aware of what kind of emotional background setting and what kind of motivations you give the player with the story and that applies to all games, mobile as well.
Articy: We have a lot of people in our audience asking this one question: “How do I get into the games industry”. What kind of advice would you give to someone who’s looking to become a game author or narrative designer in the industry. How could they go about getting a job here?
Valentina: On the one hand you need to be a storyteller and we all are in a way, we all tell anecdotes to people, tell them how our day has been, but you need to be a craftsman of story so to say, so that is an important aspect you should probably train – write short stories or scripts, think of settings and characters. But this is only one half of what writing for games is, and the other half is the games so it’s crucial to have an understanding of the other aspects of the game development as well. If you’re only a screenwriter for movies for example, unless you consciously learned about it, you wouldn’t understand the interactive part for example and how player action can tell a story, and how player agency, the interactive part, actually influences how much power you have over this. There is this thing that players deeply influence how they themselves see the story and you can’t author it completely linear, you always have to think about “how would the player act in this scene and can I author something around this that would still give them the experience that I want to give them. So just an understanding of game design and creative direction in games and player experience and player journey is just as crucial as knowing how to tell a good story.