Building Worlds and Stories in Games – Lecture by Kalina Panayotova and Yasen Stoynev

Storytelling and worldbuilding in video games was the topic of a lecture that ARC Academy teachers Kalina Panayotova and Yasen Stoynev gave jointly to the students of the Game Dev Fundamentals program.

When we talk about storytelling, whether in books, movies, or video games, conflict is undoubted of utmost importance.

There are different types of conflict – between two heroes, between the hero and nature, between the hero and a superpower, between the hero and technology; between the hero and society.

According to Panayotova, when it comes to storytelling in video games, it’s best to build the game world first, and then decide which stories that come out of it are worth telling and in what form. The speaker pointed out that the characters and the world are in constant interaction – playing a game, we see how the character changes as the world changes.

“When I write stories, I can live hundreds of lives – being single, a man, an alien, a mermaid, a drunkard living on the streets,” Kalina said of her motivations as a storyteller.

She advised students to always think about structure first when starting work on a creative project, as it is very important to build a story.

Yasen Stoynev, who spoke in more detail about narrative design, said, “Every person who develops games is a storyteller.”

According to him, the best stories in games are told through all the possible tools available to the developer. The biggest advantage of games over movies and books is that they provide an opportunity for interaction, and this opportunity must be used skillfully.

Every member of the team developing a given title should be involved in the narrative, as games that tell stories through gameplay have a stronger impact on players, Stoynev believes. According to him, cutscenes should be used sparingly, especially for the moments when we want to show the emotion of the character.

He advised the students to turn narrative into gameplay and gameplay into the narrative, respectively.

The speaker pointed out that narrative designers should work closely with game designers and level designers to get a good final product.