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Game Narrative Summit: AAA-TYPICAL: Character and Story Arcs in Open Gameplay Structures

Brendan Hennessy  (Narrative Designer, Ubisoft Toronto)

Heli Kennedy  (Lead Writer, Ubisoft Toronto)

Location: Room 2006, West Hall

Date: Tuesday, March 21

Time: 9:30 am - 10:30 am

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Summits Pass

Topic: Game Narrative

Format: Lecture

Vault Recording: Video

Audience Level: All

If you've struggled to marry gameplay and narrative: you're not alone. Writing AAA open world games can make you question everything you know about basic storytelling techniques:

How do you write a compelling protagonist when you don't know their identity or backstory?

How do you write an epic that the player can experience in any order?

How do you write a relationship arc when you don't know what your characters will be doing at any given time?

Lead Writer Heli Kennedy and Narrative Designer Brendan Hennessy have spent six years crafting strange and surprising answers to questions like these on the Far Cry and Watch Dogs IPs. In this talk, they will share practical tools and strategies for building compelling characters and story arcs around gameplay constraints. They'll examine case studies of atypical challenges they faced, including an innovative "play-as-anyone" mechanic, an expansive open world map with dozens of hours of content, and a replayable story structure.


Attendees will learn how to build narrative to support open gameplay, frame their narrative mindset, find satisfaction in constraints, make smart use of large casts and world story, and position the writing team to adaptively deliver complex AAA-scale stories.

Intended Audience

This is for anyone on a team of any size who touches gameplay and narrative. Those working on open worlds, procedural content, and large-scale games will find the concrete techniques discussed especially relevant. Attendees need not be writers or work in AAA.