Deep Dive Plan and Annotated Bibliography – Systems For Emergent Narratives In Games

Treatment Focus:

The interactive medium of games affords new opportunities for narrative design, and interactive design within narratives. Currently, a new direction in the future of game narratives appears to be in the construction of narrative systems, such as the nemesis system in games such as Shadow of Mordor. Through analysis of past and potential future examples of such design, I will be conducting a case study on the development of narrative systems in games, and seeking to analyze their potential and the direction that this aspect of game design is taking. The intent of this research is to develop my own understanding of the narrative and technical design of such systems, and how I can position myself as an expert in this aspect of the field of narrative design from both a story and technical angle, to make myself a highly valued asset to their development from both a narrative and technical angle.


Annotated Bibliography

Graft, K. (2015, February 4). Designing Shadow of Mordor ‘s Nemesis system. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from

This article provides a brief overview and summary of the of Shadow of Mordor’s ‘Nemesis System,’ along with insights from Michael De Plater – the game director, into the design choices, objectives, and outcomes of the system. These elements include Self-Determination Theory, Player Experience of Need Satisfaction, and GNS Theory. The article elaborates on how traditional narrative was allowed to slide in order to facilitate the emergent.  The article includes insights on how aspects of sports, and allowing the player to construe the greater stories and fill in the blanks were used to the design’s benefit. In concluding, it presents recommendations on how the lessons learned can help designers to create more engaging player-driven narratives in the future.

This serves as an important resource, providing some firsthand advice and insights from the designer of one of the most potentially influential emergent narrative systems of recent years, as well as providing information on other theories such as the aforementioned Need Satisfaction and GNS, which can provide a further research topic to develop understanding as to what needs narrative/game experiences fulfill, and how these influence the design of their underlying narrative systems.


KL, T. (2014, April 29). 4-Layers, a Narrative Design Approach. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from

This article, published on Frictional Games’ Official Blog, presents an alternative approach to game and narrative design, deemed the 4-Layer approach, which maintains that story and gameplay must entwine and support each other in order for a game to present a well-rounded narrative experience. Through addressing four layers of design – Gameplay – that is, ensuring that gameplay supports story, and that they are congruent; Narrative Goal – providing short-lived narrative reasons for short-term goals, tying the player’s motivation more closely to the story;  Narrative Background – designing narrative, such that the player’s actions make it appear, tying narrative and gameplay even more closely together, to that they are aligned in beats, etc.; and finally Mental Modeling – which outlines how the designer can consider the player’s mental model of the game, and how this can extend into the activity of play, and help expand the experience beyond what is onscreen, the article makes a case for the model’s value in that it incorporates considerations of story directly into game design, making it an essential part of the process.

This is a valuable perspective to consider, as it presents a unique view of narrative design, and how game designers can work to more closely entwine narratives and gameplay. In turn, this can be used to gain insight into how one can design systems that more effectively draw in the player, and create more valuable experiences through emergent narratives that stem from gameplay, through tying the two more closely to one another. The article also provides clarifications as to where the approach’s weaknesses are, giving quantifying information for consideration.


Riedl, M. O., & Bulitko, V. (2013, March 22). Interactive Narrative: An Intelligent Systems Approach. AI Magazine, 34(1), 67-78. Retrieved From:

This article concerns the development of interactive narrative systems throughout the past 20 years or so, and some of the questions it still poses, with particular note being given to the concepts of authorial intent – that is, the elements of narrative designed by human minds; Virtual Character Autonomy – how characters in the game can perform independently, thus developing emergent narratives without the need for specific authorial intent; and Player Modeling – which relates to how interactive systems can change their experience and direction based on the player’s preferred method of play, e.g., a player with a more aggressive playstyle will be given more challenges/plot points that require fighting to solve. The article closes by posing questions related to the furthering of interactive narratives, and intelligent systems, and reviewing the progress that had been made at the time of its publishing, and asserting the value of this direction for the field of narrative design, and as a mode of entertainment and its value to human nature.

This article is useful as it takes a look at different approaches to narrative design, and how designers can blend and use them to generate differing experiences. However, it is less recent than the others, and presents a somewhat different approach to narrative design. For this reason, it will need to be weighed against the information in the other articles, and supplemented with the knowledge that has been gained since its publishing.


Ryan, J. O., Mateas, M., & Wardrip-Fruin, N. (2015, December). Open Design Challenges for Interactive Emergent Narrative. Interactive Storytelling Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 14-26. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-27036-4_2 Retreived from

This paper, from the Center for Games and Playable Media at the University of California, proposes a number of research questions through which to approach the design challenges for emergent narrative systems. These challenges include the means for creation for modular content; representational strategies for said content; means of enabling the systems created to recognize their story elements; and story support, pertaining to the decisions a system makes on how to deploy and utilize story-like series of events that it has generated. In each case, the article provides a breakdown of the challenge, and suggestions as to how designers can approach and attempt to overcome it, in order to direct research and hopefully aid in the creation of solutions to these design challenges. There is also thorough reference to numerous other research undertakings and games that have made strides towards addressing these challenges, presented as supporting evidence for its claims. The article concludes by summarizing these elements and posing potential directions to guide to those seeking to develop emergent narratives in the future.

This source is particularly important, not only for the questions it asks, and its own assertions with regards to the considerations in designing narrative systems, but also for the wealth corroborating evidence and sources it offers. With 90+ citations from other supporting and related resources, the paper provides an excellent central source, from which many others can be obtained, and used to support the direction of the deep dive and elaborate further on the development of emergent narrative systems and their development/design.


Kroon, J. (2016). Nemesis Narratives: The relationship between embedded and emergent narrative in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Retrieved October 07, 2016, from

This paper, written as the thesis of a MA student, concerns the interplay between embedded and emergent narrative within the game Shadow of Mordor, and what this design means for narrative design in games as a whole. The author supports this thesis through thorough analysis of narrative structures within and without games, and references to theories of narrative design within games, such as Celia Pearce’s Six Narrative Operators, among others. The first three chapters are used to establish cause, and the author’s stance on theories of narrative design within games, leading up to the fourth, wherein he analyses the game based on his parameters, explaining its context, and the fifth, where he draws his conclusion, and proposes that the game marks a key point in the development of game narratives, and potentially represents the beginning of a new direction for game stories overall.

This source is valuable for its thorough analysis of the intricacies of Shadow of Mordor’s emergent narrative systems, and its situation of them amongst the larger theories on game narrative as a whole. At the same time, this is the work of another student, and while it is developed in a scholarly manner, it is worth cross-referencing with other sources, and its own sources, to corroborate and ensure the validity and factual soundness of the information and opinions presented.







Deep Dive Plan and Annotated Bibliography – Systems For Emergent Narratives In Games

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