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Ken Levine joins GDC 2014 speaker lineup to talk about 'Narrative Legos'
Ken Levine joins GDC 2014 speaker lineup to talk about 'Narrative Legos'
February 6, 2014 | By GDC Staff

February 6, 2014 | By GDC Staff
More: Console/PC, Design, Production, GDC

Irrational Games co-founder Ken Levine is coming to GDC 2014 to give a talk about how we can and should be building non-linear, replayable game sequences that can be combined like "narrative Legos."

Levine, known most recently for the Bioshock franchise, has spent some time thinking about how narrative in games can be designed to draw on the strengths of interactive media -- notably, dynamic content and the ability of the player to participate in the story.

Games afford players the freedom to experience content in different ways across multiple playthroughs, and Levine will be giving a talk at GDC this year about how we might break down a game's narrative into smaller chunks, and allow the player to mix and remix those chunks however they see fit.

Levine's talk, titled simply Narrative Legos, will explore these ideas in earnest and exhort attendees to stop looking at their games as something like the Death Star playset -- a beautiful, single-purpose toy -- and more like a humble box of Legos that the player can use to create their own unique experience.

More essential GDC details

Earlier GDC 2014 announcements include a Zork postmortem from progenitor Dave Lebling, the return of the popular #1reasontobe panel, and a roundtable discussion about how best to employ more women in games. Developers on Destiny, Robotron 2084, and The Sims 4 will also be giving talks.

All of the announced talks are now available in the online GDC 2014 Session Scheduler, where you can begin to build your conference week and later export it to the up-to-the-minute GDC Mobile App, coming soon.

GDC 2014 itself will take place March 17-21, 2014 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. You can register for the event by visiting the info page on the official GDC 2014 website. Early Bird pricing, with discounts up to 30 percent, will remain in effect until January 31st. Some passes have limited amounts, and with the Independent Games Summit pass already sold out, interested parties should register now.

For more information on GDC 2014, visit the show's official website, or subscribe to regular updates via Facebook, Twitter, or RSS.

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Gal Kfir
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Wish I could have been there to hear it.

Alex Covic
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Read more closely? This is an upcoming event.

I am certainly interested in Ken's views, since his recent games have these rather static narrative set-pieces, forcing the player to watch them, unable to interact or break out of it.

"Look over here! Now, look over here!" kind of non-dynamic 'narrative'?

Gal Kfir
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*I wish i could (Be) there is what I meant since I can't attend.

And as far as criticizing his recent games, by which I will assume you mean the Bioshock series, for being "non-dynamic" and moving the player from one "set-piece" to another is a point you could make I guess, but I feel it's undeserving.

You're dealing with a first person shooter camera, in a world where important plot points will occur. The designer can build the level in a way so that the player will always look at what he's supposed to, but sometimes you have to point the camera at a certain direction for 5 seconds because you could be looking around for ammo while something quite major occurred in the background.

I personally don't agree to mark it as "Restrictive or non-dynamic".
It's all a matter of correct execution I suppose because being moved from one "set-piece" to another is a feeling I only get from Call of Duty, Battlefield and other modern military shooters. For some reason it feels much more forced there. I think it's because there's a certain element of exploration and world interaction to be found in the Bioshock franchise which is severely missing in the former games.

Have you played the Witcher? specifically the second one? I believe that to be a very good example for a more "open" approach to narrative design. Or perhaps the best example would be Bastion?

Though it depends on your definition of "Dynamic"
-Do you mean dynamic in a sense that the player affects the outcome of the story because it can change as a result of his direct actions?

-Do you mean dynamic in a sense that the player is never taken out of control and will never miss a piece of the story because of cleaver and none visual narrative driving tools like GLaDOS or the narrator from Bastion?

-Or Dynamic in a sense that the world is your playground and the story will only progress once the player goes down the path that he knows will trigger "story missions"?

Deep subject, definitely not for a comment section :)
Oh and I'll take a "Look over here! Now, look over here!" for just 5 seconds during actual gameplay any day over Hideo Kojima's 25 minute cut-scenes. But I know that's what MGS players like so there's no reason to complain, like I said before: it's a matter of taste.

Bob Johnson
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Ken has probably been playing lots of Minecraft.

Michael Thornberg
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'Narrative lego'... this is what we have always done. There isn't anything written out there that cannot trace similar plots etc.. throughout history.