Swedish studio Avalanche Games’ lead designer Emil Kraftling delivered a talk about narrative design in open world games, including Avalanche’s hits Mad Max and the Just Cause series.
“How do we go about creating these sandbox narratives? What we do is we provide the player with tools that are systemic rather than scripted, so they have more than one use. Then we let the player out in the world which is systemic and not scripted and we give them the freedom to be creative with those systemic tools in order to create experiences that are more than the sum of their parts”
Using the grappling hook as an example, Kraftling showed footage of players using the grapple to tether enemies to gas canisters, windmills, cars and other objects.
Giving players freedom also has unexpected consequences, demonstrated by the fact some players used the grappling hook to attach multiple civilians to the flagpole of the town they had just “liberated”
Kraftling also discussed the difficulties encountered when making these games, such as triggering dialogue. An example of this going wrong is the dialogue added when Just Cause’s protagonist Rico recovers from a prone state. Kraftling decided the line “sheesh” fitted the role perfectly. What followed was a collection of youtube clips where Rico brushes off ridiculous amounts of damage with the line.
Another contextual line is Rico humming “Rise of the Valkyries” when the fire button is held down for more than five seconds while in a helicopter. This addition seems to have worked as Kraftling was contacted by a fan who was playing “Rise of the Valkyries” while wreaking havoc in a helicopter and was astonished when Rico started humming along.