Echo Bazaar Narrative Structures, part two

By Alexis Kennedy, March 3, 2010 · Tagged with

Being the second installment of our dry, technical and somewhat diagram-infested discussion of storytelling within the casual browser game format. Part one is here.

So, where were we? Ah yes. Storylets: the basic building block of EB. here they are:

If you’ve played the game at all, you’ve come across these. They tend to be discrete chunks of narrative that can be played in any order, as many times as you like. Storylets are unlocked and controlled by…

Qualities! Or stats, if you want to get all beardy about it. However, qualities don’t just relate to your stealth, watchfulness, persuasiveness and, um, dangerosity. Every object in EB is a quality. If you have 4 Jade, your Jade quality is 4, and there are many others besides. The really important thing here is that qualities tell storylets what to do. For example:

This is a storylet from the tomb colonies. Qualities are on the right. Very straightforward: the first branch is controlled by the quality “Connected: The Church”, the second by “Connected: Society”. As we can see, the player has enough of the Chruch quality to play the first branch, but not enough of the Society quality to play the second, which remains locked. Both branches reduce a third quality, Scandal. Qualities also control…


I should point out here that Questicles is very much Alexis’s word. We had to gang up on him and sit on his head until he agreed to change the in-game version to “ventures”.

AK: They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother. When they said that man could fly.

Ventures is arguably less interesting, but it does have the advantage of not sounding like an heroic warrior gonad.

What is a Questicle? Simple: a series of connected storylets controlled by a quality. Chances are you’ve played these too. In the example above, Watchful unlocks the Questicle, and the player gains a new quality called Investigating. Playing the middle storylet gradually increases this quality to 5, at which point the conclusion unlocks, and succeeding there gives you another quality, in this case Cryptic Secrets.

Questicles give the player more of a sense of continuing narrative: they have the fundamental aspects of stories: a beginning, a middle and an end. But they’re still pretty limited. We wanted more complex structures, moral branches, social stories, and so on, so we had to find new ways for storylets and qualities to interact.

Right now, there are around sixty different kinds of narrative structure in EB. Let’s look at three of them.

AK: I am very, very sorry. I take full responsibility. I’ll understand if I’m never allowed near a keyboard again.

You have to remember, this was the first pass, before we understood the awesome power of cool-sounding names. Let’s try again…

Right, that’s more like it. These, incidentally, are not the best names we have. The best ones we have are “Kittens Triple Fork”, “Blood Gamble” and “On The Horns of Faust’s Ham and Eggs”. Perhaps we’ll get into those at a later date. For now though, let’s look at THE MARK OF CAIN…

Incidentally, I discovered while putting these slides together that if you add the words “Mark of Cain” to Titian’s Cain & Abel, the result looks an awful lot like a 1970s heavy metal album cover.


Anyway, what is the Mark of Cain? Essentially, it is an exile quality. The Comtessa storyline, for those who have played it, is a Mark of Cain story. Once you’ve finished it, you get a specific quality (I can’t tell you what it’s called ‘cos of teh spoilerz). All the Comtessa storylines recognise this Mark of Cain, and if you’ve got it, they won’t appear. The upshot of this is that you can only play the Comtessa storyline once, and then it’s gone forever…

…and that’s all we have time for. In the next and possibly final installment, we discover the secret of the Midnight Starcase, and round off with a crock of tree-huggin’ hippy stuff about symbolism and dreams.


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Echo Bazaar Narrative Structures, part three · Failbetter Games May 15, 10:39am

[…] one is frankly unlikely to make any sense unless you’ve already checked out parts one and two. Onwards! Next up, we have Faust’s Tea Party, a social narrative concept which I have illustrated […]

Echo Bazaar Narrative Structures, part one · Failbetter Games May 15, 10:32am

[…] I’ll get into what those mean in part two. Tune in next time […]

faqqa Jun 4, 2:58pm

if my narrative structure teacher were as fun as this text, i would actually go to class instead of wasting my days doing sinister rituals for ancient and forgotten gods.

Susan Mar 10, 2:07am

Aaaaand I laughed so much at the album cover that my co-worker wanted to know what was up. I very much enjoyed truthfully telling him that I was reading a post on narrative structure and watching him tilt his head like a dog hearing a high-pitched noise. And I'm not sure who told you this stuff was dry or boring, because it's actually quite fascinating. Keep it coming, please.

iskandra Mar 3, 7:25pm

Dear god, I don't think I have ever laughed and snorted out loud at a blog entry on narrative structures before. What I find really interesting, apart from the structural discussion, is the emphasis on Cool Names. And for better sellability, I'd add some heavy metal umlauts. The Märk öf Cäin looks good! Alexandra