LudoNarraCon recap: a feast for narrative game fans

Feature article

Last weekend Fellow Traveller hosted the first ever edition of LudoNarraCon, a digital narrative gaming convention on Steam. The convention took place entirely online and featured panels, developers exhibiting their games, and exclusive demo content of several Fellow Traveller titles. The digital event also went hand-in-hand with a Steam sale offering many of the exhibited games at a discounted price, giving fans the opportunity to try out any games they discovered during the streamed convention panels.

Fellow Traveller logo

This week, the Fellow Traveller uploaded all the LudoNarraCon panels to their YouTube channel. If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch any of them, we’ve recapped them with links for you below!

Panel 1: My Favourite Stories

First up was a talk on My Favourite Stories, which saw Kim Belair (writer of Neo Cab), Greg Kasavin (of Supergiant Games), and Script Lock hosts Max and Nick Folkman discussing their favourite stories from games they played growing up. Discussions covered games ranging from childhood MMOs with dinosaurs, to the Tekken series, to Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, and more. The discussion was a good starting point to delve into how story in games has evolved over the years and was a great way to segue into the more detailed panels to follow.

Panel 2: Writing for Short Games

Writing for Short Games featured Ben Wander (who worked on Dragon Age; Inquisition and Battlefield: Hardline), Bruno Dias (who worked on Fellow Traveller’s Neo Cab), and Ryan and Amy Green (who both created the critically acclaimed That Dragon, Cancer). All panellists brought up some interesting points regarding the perks and constraints of designing shorter games, with most panellists praising shorter games as a suitable medium to experiment with story and game mechanics. Bruno Dias mentioned how the biggest threat in gaming development is often scope and how, by creating short games, creators can avoid getting tangled up in an overly complex narrative. This sparked a discussion about shorter games as a medium, and how each project’s scope had influenced each speaker’s way of working. This panel was a great way to learn about the creators’ approach to their work.

Panel 3: Death in Games

Death in Games included speakers Alexis Kennedy and Lottie Bevan (who created Cultist Simulator), Coyan Cardenas (who created The Stillness of the Wind), and Will O’Neill (CEO of WZO Games). The panellists discussed questions like: in a game where you respawn, how can death still be meaningful to players? How can we make sure the death of NPCs feels significant? And what factors are at play when death is a narrative element in your game?

Panel 4: Romance in Games

The Romance in Games panel included Nina Freeman (who is currently a game designer at Fullbright), Kate Gray (who is a gaming journalist), and Tanya X. Short (who runs Kitfox Games). This panel sparked discussions about how creators can introduce romance in a way that captures different players’ preferences, while also not presenting romance as an endgame goal. The discussion covered questions like: how can you introduce realistic romance into game mechanics? How do you capture a bond of trust between two in-game characters while having to complete dungeons? And how can you give NPCs romantic agency? If you like playing dating sims this game will give you a insightful look behind the scenes of creators tackling the challenges of different romance narratives.

Panel 5: Storytelling in Games

Storytelling in Games explored games as a medium for storytelling with Patrick Ewing (who is the creative director on Neo Cab), Cassandra Khaw (who works as a scriptwriter for Ubisoft), and Strix (who is the CEO of Hidden Path). The trio explored emotional game mechanics and design, creating emotional experiences through interactive games, using cipher or non-cipher characters to explore story, and more.

Panel 6: Procedural Generation and Storytelling

The Procedural Generation and Storytelling panel explored storytelling through games with automatically generated content. Speakers included Tanya X. Short, Tarn Adams (co-creator of Dwarf Fortress), Richard Rouse III (director on The Church in The Darkness), and Bekah Saltzman (who is currently working on Overland). Together they tackled questions like: how can you give players agency in generated games? How can you create game content through patterns without making it feel repetitive to players? And how do you regulate dialogue if it’s auto-generated?

In a recent Twitter thread, Fellow Traveller Chris Wright mentioned that 160k people had visited the convention’s Steam page after the panels went live, and peak viewership of the panels during the live period was a little over 5,000 concurrents. These numbers are very promising, and I felt like the first edition of LudoNarraCon was engaging, easily accessible, and interesting. I’m excited to see what will come next for the event.

If you’re interested in LudoNarraCon and are keen to find out more about either the convention or Fellow Traveller, check out the LudoNarraCon website.