Embrace the constraints!
Hand in hand with graphic design, game narration is another key feature for player engagement that ScienceAtHome is focused on right now. Mette Jakobsen joined the game development team in September 2017 and she’s been showcasing her various talents since as a programmer, narrative designer and also applying a pinch of art to all this. Most definitely, she is the perfect addition to our multidisciplinary group.
Mette has a fascinating study path, starting with a high school education specializing in math, then art school and finally putting the cherry on the top with a masters degree in Medialogy from Aalborg University. ”People say they don’t exist, but I was one of those ‘weird’ kids who liked both art and math”—says Mette, reawakening old memories. “As a kid, I wanted to be a writer but I was told that I needed to get a serious job. Now I’m writing stories for video games. A lesson learned: student counselors are not always right. After I got into Medialogy at Aalborg University, I discovered more and more about video games and then narrative design which felt like fulfilling my childhood dream: writing! I tweaked all my education around that.”
This meandering path led to her first professional job at ScienceAtHome. Apart from a few shorter tasks, she was mostly working on the new version of our Skill Lab: Science Detective game which has been the main focus for the development team in the last few months. “Actually I was the one opening the project on Git! That was exciting as a brand-new colleague in the team”.
There’s no game without narratives! The common language might interpret our games being without narratives, but that’s not true. All games have narratives, just some might be less obviously expressed, rather abstract. For example, Quantum Moves: there is a sci-fi setting of some weird fluid with unusual sloshing movement, which alludes to a story of some alien science experiment. Even the task itself, to carefully move an object from one point to another, says something about a story universe that values sharp precision. A good narrative can raise the motivation and engage the players. With the help of narration, a game can evolve into a comic- or storybook which guides the players through mysteries and introduces them to characters. That’s the more didascalic kind of narrative which we’re designing for in our new game with Mette as a key member: “My work is a lot of writing and even more flow charts. I’m considering and planning all the possible actions and effects in the game and mapping those options on flowcharts.”
Narrative design is also programming to some extent. It requires flawless logical thinking to plan what certain characters say at a particular point or action. There are special, tools available for this kind of programming, rather than having to hard code everything that provide an intuitive interface to work with, rather like moving blocks around.
A beautiful constraint
Generally, Mette is sharing her time equally between narrative design and programming, based on current project-needs. Last year from September it was mostly programming and a greater need for narration came at the beginning of this year. Our new game had a special process regarding how it grew. “Usually, you have a very good idea at the beginning about what are you going to do but this game has very much overgrown those initial ideas and expectations. It is especially interesting, that in this case the narrative is designed to encompass something that had already been built. It’s a very interesting task to build a narrative around plot holes. I really like the challenge because of the popular phrase: creativity is born out of restrictions!” ScienceAtHome is a great fertilizer of creativity since the initial ideas of our games are usually set in stone by the scientists and designed around their specific requirements to help research. Mette and our graphic artist , Tonni Tingholm, are doing a great job at respecting certain features and creatively building up an engaging and motivating storyline for the players.
Girls’ power in programming
Programming and coding are tasks very often associated with guys. Mette was also one of the few girls at the Medialogy education and she is alone representing women in our game developer department. However, that has never bothered her. “I’ve never been treated differently. I once talked with a programmer from MoviestarPlanet who told me that programming, by default, is a logical way of solving problems. There is no logical reason why women should be less good at it. So if a programmer is good, he or she will assume that there is no difference between men and women regarding the ability to programme, therefore won’t treat you any differently. I can confirm that there are good programmers at ScienceAtHome!”
Stay tuned and keep an eye open for our new game coming at the beginning of May!