“Game designers need to become more effective storytellers,” says Visceral’s Bagwell

Saturday, 29th January 2011 21:20 GMT By Stephany Nunneley


Wright Bagwell, creative director at Visceral, believes that one of the biggest problems currently facing game development, is the lack of effective storytelling.

Speaking in a Q&A over on MTV, Bagwell said designers need to prefect the art of storytelling in a game without looking to Hollywood for inspiration.

“There’s no question that game designers need to become more effective storytellers, and that doesn’t mean we need more cut scenes in our games,” he said. “For years, game designers have looked to Hollywood and tried to copy the formulas that filmmakers use for storytelling. That can work to some degree, but it’s imperative that we game designers perfect the craft of storytelling within games, while keeping players in control.”

Bagwell’s advice on how to help do this, is just to “keep it simple.”

“A good game designer needs to be able to distinguish between depth and complication in both gameplay and story writing,” he offered. “You want people to start having fun the moment they begin playing your game, so it’s important to not overwhelm people with complicated tutorials or complicated, irrelevant backstory.”

Visceral’s latest game, Dead Space 2, was released this week. Get rounded up on the reviews here.



  1. Dannybuoy

    christ, if I had a pound for every time I’ve read this kind of opinion (i’d probably have about £27)

    #1 4 years ago
  2. KAP

    Just want to take this opportunity to say dead space 2 has one of the best endings ever.
    I even had goosebumps at the very last scene. Wow epic stuff.

    #2 4 years ago
  3. Amaterasu

    The man’s right… so right! To me, Shadow of the Colossus is one prime example that just gets storytelling in a game right. A lot of the “story” (if that’s what you want to call it) the game tells is based around the empathy you develop for the Colossi, which, in turn, is a direct result of your player actions. That’s where we need to be – make interactivity relevant. And note the minimal presence of cutscenes in that game.

    Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with adopting (and especially adapting) certain aspects of cinematography, editing, mise-en-scène etc. But interactivity is the most unique element to video games, and so far many developers have failed to make this specific element relevant to the central meaning of their games.

    And don’t get me wrong. When I say “story” I’m including the brilliant “narratives” (again, controversial term) conveyed by games like Rez, Braid, and even certain Mario games. The Princess is in another castle? Now that’s storytelling that matches the purpose in the gameplay –> getting to the next level.

    #3 4 years ago
  4. DSB

    It sounds to me like he isn’t even talking about story, but rather a premise, which makes more sense in a game context to me.

    Unless you’re willing to add copious ammounts of dialogue, which is going to end you up in a cutscene or a “pick a line” conversation, then you’re not talking about story, you’re talking about a setting and a justification of events that’s so awesome that it draws people in.

    That’s a bit like how I feel about Inception. The things they did in that movie were so outrageously awesome, but it was just so horribly written. I actually saw Michael Caine tell Leonardo DiCaprio that he was his father twice in the same conversation. Christ.

    #4 4 years ago
  5. walkingfiend


    couldn’t agree more, SotC, excluding the ending, literally had no words exchanged during, yet the heartbreaking story was sensationally told

    I’m currently playing Epic Mickey, and this type of story telling is there too, you shape some of the story by your actions and it makes you feel that you are actually part of the game world too which in turn make you feel more connected to it and everything in it

    #5 4 years ago
  6. YoungZer0

    @3: Braid? Seriously? You do remember that the story was just told through a bunch of text that you could easily ignore. That’s a bad example.

    #6 4 years ago
  7. Michael O’Connor


    Actually, it’s one of the best. Google some research on the story and you’ll see why.

    #7 4 years ago
  8. Meghterb

    I find it funny that such a developer who made one of the worst horror stories talks about “making a good story”.

    They really need to learn how to make good storylines. I have played the original Dead Space and I gotta say the story was really bad. All I did was receiving orders from that girl and do them until the end of the game. You call that a story?

    #8 4 years ago
  9. sickgamer

    @Meghterb .. u really tell whats on my mind .. i remember playing dead space and there was no story .. only activate the train .. activate the stick .. activate the dick lol it was good in graphics and gameplay but no story ..

    #9 4 years ago
  10. Angry Norm

    @Michael O’Connor – if you have to Google the meaning, it’s definitively not good storytelling

    #10 4 years ago
  11. OrbitMonkey

    @8&9 The story was revealed during the gameplay & through exploration. Were you guys expecting a cutscene or something?

    #11 4 years ago
  12. Keivz

    Agreed that storytelling needs improvement in games. The actual stories are surprisingly good (like RE 5)when you sit down and analyze what’s been going on, and maybe read a summary or some backstory on the internet.

    But I’d prefer if those stories were told in-game in a way that better integrates them with the gameplay. There are many ways to do this… one can be creative like in Prince of Persia, simple like in SotC, or even deliberate and thorough like in Mafia or The Witcher. For now though storytelling is one of the weakest parts of videogames.

    #12 4 years ago
  13. DaMan

    DS had a story? they did a great job with the atmosphere, but the plot was a generic predictable dull fest featuring one dimensional characters. still light years ahead of what RE5 has offered.

    #13 4 years ago
  14. Erthazus

    Dead Space 2 story is dull. I’m on the 9th chapter right now and game feels the same like the first game.

    Yes, it’s a good game no doubt, but it’s just the same with few little fixes that didn’t bothered me much in the first game,
    the first game had much more interesting stuff going on, then in the second.

    + after watching DS:Aftermath and DS:Downfall + playing Exraction you give a SHIT about the story because you know everything what will happen in the future.

    + after so much lore… Game does not even trying to explain the universe we live in. We just trying to survive with 2-3 dumb characters that we don’t see much in the Unitology church and few copy pasted laboratories.

    #14 4 years ago
  15. OrbitMonkey

    @4 “I actually saw Michael Caine tell Leonardo DiCaprio that he was his father twice in the same conversation”. O_o
    Just saw Inception again & that doesn’t happen… Ever. Caine tells Leo his kids need a father & Leo tells Caine he’s doing the job so his grandkids can have their father back.

    Maybe you were watching a different movie?

    #15 4 years ago
  16. Blerk

    I think he’s bang on. Some of the stories are great, but often the way of telling them is terrible – cut-scenes really need to go the way of the dodo in this day and age.

    Nice to see Ico and SotC getting a shout here, I’ll also add Bioshock. All games with great stories which don’t feel the need to continually interrupt you with ten minutes of non-interactive waffle.

    #16 4 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.