This article links to an interview from 2007 with Stephen Dinehart by Gamasutra. Dinehart is a noted Narrative Designer and alumni of companies such as Relic, EA, Blizzard and others. Leaving his LinkedIn profile aside for a second, he also founded the Narrative Designer’s Network which, to quote the site directly, “was created to support creative professionals within the game making and video game industry that find themselves between the blurred line of interactive entertainment, writing and design.” http://narrativedesign.org/about-ndn/). Describing himself as a “Chief Wizard” at his current company NarrWare, he comes across either as a good sport or a pleasant eccentric depending on your level of cynicism. Whilst it would be fascinating to speak with him today, this four year old interview gives an insight, not only into the work he did on Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts, but also on how he views and approaches storytelling in games.
Of particular interest is the answer Dinehart gives to the fifth question on page two of the interview. When discussing the creation of Cloud (a game Dinehart helped create with Jenova Chen – http://www.jenovachen.com/flowingames/cloud.htm) he says that if the team “capture one emotion we would be successful” and looked at children’s books for inspiration. With so many shooters/action games etc being released with such dark and violent themes, it is exciting to think that designers are out there exploring non-violent games, and that the fruits of that labour are coming to bear in games like flOw, Flower and the forthcoming Journey (http://thatgamecompany.com/games/). It is concrete evidence that storytellers in the video game industry have a broader storytelling palette than just military shooters and violent action games (though, ironically, Dinehart was working on a military game at the time). If a market for these games can solidify, then hopefully publishers will be more willing to financially back games that don’t require looking down gun sites.
Dinehart’s answer to question two on page three of the interview is also very revealing. When discussing the representation of violent themes and story points in Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts (specifically the holocaust) he rejects the idea of covering them directly, stating “I hardly think 3rd Gen RTS would be the place for handling such heavy issues.” This, in itself, is hardly ground breaking, but the suffix that Dinehart adds really is; “Maybe 4th Gen will.” I believe that when reviewing games/films/music and most modern media you have to take the aspiration of the creator and judge it against that. The Expendables was never going to win an Oscar, but it never wanted to. It just wanted to be a simple action film, full of explosions and famous faces. It did that job.
Stephen Dinehart clearly has aspirations for narrative in the video game medium. It would appear that, in 2007, he was a man unhappy with the state and maturity of storytelling in the industry. I’m sure he is not the only one, and that is a very motivating and exciting thought. It would be interesting to see what he thinks today.
Here is the original interview: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1530/narrative_design_for_company_of_.php