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Screen/Play: Narrative Postpartum
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Screen/Play: Narrative Postpartum

March 5, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

[Veteran game writer Rafael Chandler (Cipher Complex, MAG: Massive Action Game) continues his Screen/Play series by introducing a new concept, the Narrative Postpartum. Designed to help development teams evaluate the success of their storytelling in games and improve it moving forward, the postpartum resembles a postmortem -- but with its own important nuances.]


Finally, your game has shipped. All the hard work has paid off. You've confronted obstacles, resolved them, established lines of communication with your fellow developers, hit your milestones, and put in the long hours. Soon, your game will be available for purchase. Your creation will join the ranks of all the games that entertained and delighted you over the years.

Naturally, you want to compare your a game to a corpse that awaits dissection.

Wait, what?

The postmortem can be defined as the analysis which follows the conclusion of a process; in our case, it refers to the discussion of a shipped title. The term is obviously quite ghoulish, drawing a connection between the evaluation of your development process and the examination of dead body to determine the cause of death.

However, the term isn't really appropriate. After all, we're collaborating to bring an experience into the world. Our creations live on, frequently surviving the very companies that brought them into being. Consequently, it's more logical to use the term postpartum -- which refers to the first few weeks following birth.

1. Overview

The narrative postpartum is a discussion which involves all members of the team who contributed to the creation of a game's story design. The meeting can include writers, designers, creative directors, audio team, producers, programmers, and artists. Anyone involved with the production of cinematics, dialogue, casting/directing voice actors, or mission/scenario design should attend.

Like all productive meetings, the narrative postpartum should be led by one person, armed with a specific agenda and a list of discussion topics. Ideally, this should take place after the game has been released.

At this point, it's understandable that developers will want to focus on the next project, but a successful postpartum can result in dramatic improvements in your process -- improvements that will remove many obstacles from your team's path.

The discussion topics should be approached objectively. It's not necessary to point the finger of blame, or to praise individuals.

The point of the discussion is to establish facts and data, and it's therefore recommended that you focus on roles instead of personnel. It's a good idea to phrase commentary in the passive voice.

Instead of pointing out that "certain artists weren't able to finish their single-player maps on time, resulting in changes to the story," it's better to say that "the single-player maps weren't completed in time, resulting in changes to the story." This removes the sting of accusation, and makes it easier to just lay facts on the table and move forward, rather than debating the party at fault.

The postpartum should commence with an analysis of the game itself, using empirical evidence (such as reviews, articles, and user comments) whenever possible. Next, the team should examine the development process, with a focus on team interaction. Finally, a list of action items should be drafted.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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