Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Episode 104: Procedural Narrative Design

This is episode 104 of Roguelike Radio, where we discuss Procedural Narrative Design with Darren Grey, Mark Johnson, Tanya Short and David Dunham.

You can download the mp3 of the podcast, play it in the embedded player below, or you can follow us on iTunes.

Topics Discussed:
  • Basic/minimal narrative of Rogue and many roguelikes
  • David's classic game King of Dragon Pass, with its evolving scenario-driven narrative set in the world of Glorantha
  • Good writing in games, and the need for economic and evocative writing
  • "The shadow of Tolkien" - designers badly trying to emulate novel writing in games
  • Scenario/encounter design and the need for massive parallel writing and alternate text output
  • Integrating narrative and gameplay, which narrative being informed by and interacting with the underlying mechanics
  • David's plans for Six Ages, a spiritual successor to King of Dragon Pass
  • Tanya's currently in-development game Moon Hunters, with procedural world and character-driven narrative
  • The problems with random narrative output not making a lot of sense, relying on the player to read their own narrative like in Dwarf Fortress
  • Mark's attempts to have procedural semantic meanings in Ultima Ratio Regum's myths, linking in with procedural histories and impacts on the game world
  • Interactive procedural narrative when re-writing history in URR
  • Creating background story through events, with FTL as an example, in particular using vague exposition to build the idea of a world in the player's mind
  • Having large exposition text to give the player's a lore reference for the game, à la Tales of Maj'Eyal
  • Free background settings to use - Lovecraft, Conan, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, old myths like Norse, Greek, Roman
  • The role of the player, in particular avoiding the usual narrative of player as hero or having a destiny as these don't suit roguelike gameplay
  • Human response to character-driven stories and engaging personalities, with the examples of Broken Bottle and The Curious Expedition
  • Avoiding text and exposition and using environmental storytelling to build a picture of the world, and in particular using the mechanics of the game to communicate a narrative, such as corruption in ADOM
  • Narrative direction in open worlds
  • Remembering player's previous characters as stories

Join us next time for a discussion of an upcoming new book about roguelikes!


  1. Quite a good, and sprawling, episode---which I guess is rather appropriate considering. It would've been an even better episode in an at least slightly more interesting alternate universe where the Ars Magica Kickstarter had actually made it against all odds...or I suppose if something like Cults & Daggers on Steam that wouldn't likely exist if not for KoDP and/or a bit of Dominions was a fair chunk further down the path to being completely realized. More the merrier in this realm where the surface has only been sliced a bit here and there with ample room for wholly different approaches! Easily high hopes for Moon Hunters and Six Ages

  2. Great episode, and very timely as I've been thinking for the past week that I wanted to try playing KoDP again. In my past attempts I've found it too opaque in several areas. First, I don't have a good sense of scale/size for gifts and sacrifices. I always felt like I was pulling numbers out of thin air and the game never gave me feedback on what kind of impact the quantities would have. When you pair that with the random chance of failure, I felt like I was shooting in the dark.

    There were also many turns where I felt like I should just 'pass'. I just needed to wait to farm more food, let a trading mission go and hopefully bring back cows, etc.

    I've just started playing an new round of it on my phone, so we'll see how that goes.