Narrative Design Feed

A Major Studio Milestone: 35 Titles, and Counting!

Released Games Collage

This fall, Brunette Games reached an exciting milestone of 35 released games featuring our narrative work. Read on for insights from all five of our full-time employees and two of our contract voice-over actors on what accomplishments stand out to them and how story can make a difference in mobile games!

First, let’s check in with Lisa Brunette, owner and chief creative officer.

What key differences have you noticed in the mobile game space since the inception of Brunette Games in 2016? 

Lisa Brunette: It’s a radically different landscape here in 2022 compared to six years ago! My first project as an indie back then was Matchington Mansion, and the folks at Magic Tavern and I were basically teaching puzzle players how to enjoy a story along with their gameplay. What I brought to that project––a strong storyline, a relatable lead character, a diverse character cast overall, and puzzle pieces thematically tied to the storyline––these elements are commonplace now, but they were huge innovations in 2016, innovations that paid off.

How have these affected the way you and your team approach your work?

Lisa Brunette: We evolve as the industry evolves, and that’s the key to our success. While we carved out a niche for ourselves with story-driven games in the match-3/decorating genre, our expertise also encompasses interactive novels, idle battle games, city builders, jigsaw, solitaire, merge, of course, and more. Right now we’re deep into NFT/blockchain, web3, and the subscription model.

If you could give mobile game developers one piece of advice, what would it be?

Lisa Brunette: Taking a cue from the success of my own studio, I would say innovation and change are two things to always embrace. We’re constantly approached by studios who see a new hit on the scene and want to copy it. But that hit didn’t become a hit by copying something else! It’s a hit due to its own innovation, the change of pace it gave players.

And now, a word from our VP:

What would you like to see more of in mobile games?

Anthony Valterra: Lately I’ve been enjoying quieter games. I think the frenetic pace of many games has become tiring. I am enjoying the relaxed pace of Jigsaw Puzzle Villa and would like to see more games with that sort of tone.

What’s a stand-out moment in your time spent as part of Brunette Games?

Anthony Valterra: One moment I will always remember was getting to insert a cartoon version of my grandfather in a game. His odd accent and speech mannerisms were hilarious and perfect for a quirky side character.

Let’s see what our Writer | Designer team has to say:

What do you enjoy most about writing for games? 

Dexter Woltman: I enjoy creating original characters. Whether they’re the relatable heroine, scheming villain, or comedic best friend, it’s always fun to craft a new personality from the ground up. Between writing their backstories, deciding their relationships, and giving them a unique voice, there’s a lot of ways to make each character feel special.

Jenna Hume:  Integrating story and gameplay. This is always a challenge, but one that’s fun to take on. From creating tutorials to consulting on artwork, it’s exciting to see the story and gameplay come together in ways that are unique to each game.

Sara Hardin: I like the challenge of crafting an impactful story within a mobile game’s limited space for text. I often find myself thinking from the players’ perspective when I’m drafting a game script, considering what would be the most satisfying development for players who are invested in the game’s narrative. Maybe I’m biased, because I’m a gamer who’s a sucker for a game with a good story!

What do you enjoy most as a player?

Dexter Woltman: Is winning too basic of an answer? I enjoy achieving my gameplay goals and reaching the end of a level or game. When I see “level cleared” flash across the screen, it fills me with pride and excitement. I’m also very structured and organized in my own life, so crossing a finished game off my list—or crossing a task off a literal in-game list—is always satisfying.

Jenna Hume: I’ve always loved puzzles, so my favorite games are those that make me think just a little bit. Recently, I’ve enjoyed merge games a lot. Trying to figure out which items to merge to get the items you need is always a fun, rewarding challenge.

Sara Hardin: Aside from story, I live for the unique satisfaction of winning something I’ve been working toward for countless hours. Whether it’s a particularly difficult level in a mobile game or the final boss in my favorite rougelike (Supergiant’s Hades, by the way), nothing beats the euphoria of chipping away at a goal until I’m finally victorious. I named my betta fish Zagreus after the PC in Hades, if that’s any indication.

And last but not least, some insight from two of our über-talented voice-over actors:

Imagine you've been cast to record voice-over for your dream role in a mobile game. Who's the character?

Andy Mack: If I could record for a "dream" mobile game, it would probably be for either something like Disney Mirrorverse/Sorcerer's Arena or Marvel Strike Force. Having family ties to Disney and being a former cast member, the brand and characters are near and dear to me. The Mad Hatter is my favorite character and I've been lucky enough to do him for the DL Weekly (Disneyland podcast) promos, but it would be awesome to do it in an actual game format. As for MSF, that is my long-running mobile addiction, so it would be great to be a part of that cast and pretend I have superpowers or muscles, ha, ha.

Nicole Perez: My dream role in a mobile game is a hammy, witchy villain! A role I can really sink my teeth into—perhaps a villain with a “soft side,” someone that we eventually sympathize with, who never felt quite “understood.” This villain cackles, hollers, and has a sarcastic flair. 

Can you share a fond memory you have of recording VO for Brunette Games?

Andy Mack: I've had many fond memories over the years with doing VO for Brunette Games. The one that makes me laugh the most was doing the dog, Marlowe, for Ava's Manor. It was a challenge trying to convey various types of emotions nonverbally while trying to remain lovable/sympathetic for players. However, I knew I was on the right track when my own dog started barking at what I was recording. If I could fool him, I was doing something right!

Nicole Perez: I loved recording Lucy Hill [from an in-development game by Uken Games] because she is this over-the-top, ooey-gooey-sweet neighborly woman with this peculiar country charm and sweet Southern drawl. The process is to record three takes per line. I enjoyed this process because it allowed me to explore the character deeply; I made three distinctly different possible acting choices for how this character would come alive. 


3 Tips for Writing Genuine Emotions in Mobile Games

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From the intro cutscene for Cash Journey’s seventh chapter.

By Jenna Hume

Writing in the casual game space presents a unique challenge because of the limited word count available for dialogue. It can be difficult to convey even fun, humorous moments in a few lines of speech, but writing serious, emotional moments can be even more difficult. At Brunette Games, we believe in three pillars of game storytelling: conflict, mystery, and connection. While we covered all three in our GDC talk on the subject, here I'd like to take a deeper dive on the third: connection. 

Connection is all about getting players to relate to a game’s story and characters. A great way to get players to connect with your game is by having the game’s characters experience relatable situations and emotions—the tricky part is getting these emotions to come off as authentic instead of manufactured or convenient. Here are some tricks for how to avoid this problem in your writing:

1. Create Emotionally-Complex Characters

When characters experience sudden emotional turmoil after hours of happy, wholesome gameplay, players can feel a bit cheated. What happened to the upbeat character(s) they loved? Are the game designers throwing in conflict just for advertising shock value? To avoid this problem, if you’re going to eventually draft emotional conflict in your game, you need to include emotionally-complex characters from the game’s conception. 

For example, in our new release Cash Journey with Jumbo Technology and Funtopia Ltd., we knew creating emotionally-stunted characters wasn’t an option. The narrative we crafted focused on three adult friends reuniting to search for a missing friend.

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Centering a story around a missing person is no easy feat, because you have to get players to care about a character they either haven’t met at all or haven’t seen much of. To pull off this story in Cash Journey, we had to characterize the missing character Skye through her friends and their memories of her. 

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The above example characterizes Skye as a peacekeeper—someone who keeps a group together. This is a common theme throughout Cash Journey, as the others have to learn to work as a team without Skye. From Cash Journey’s first chapter, we show Alice, Edmund, and Jack trying to find Skye while they cope with their emotions surrounding her disappearance. By including these emotions at the game's beginning, players aren’t surprised later when the characters deal with regret, guilt, and worry. This is just one way to make emotions come across as truly genuine. 

2. Allow the Text to Work in Tandem with the Visuals

While writing scripts, it can be easy to forget that the final game will feature copious amounts of artwork and graphics. Without the art being visible at the script stage, you can rely too heavily on text to explain emotions rather than using the text and eventual art. That’s why it’s so important to collaborate with artists while working on a script to determine needed character expressions as well as possible visuals to support the text. 

In our work on Puzzle Villa with ZiMAD, we had a great level of collaboration between our writing team and their artists and designers. 

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In the above example, we used both the text and character expressions to portray Valentina’s complex emotions over her deceased husband. The text by itself expresses anger, as Valentina suggests Carlos “rest in agony” instead of in peace. But her expression is sad, so it’s clear she’s still upset over his death despite her anger toward him. Character expressions may seem simple, but we at Brunette Games pick each one carefully; they're helpful for displaying complex emotions, such as the example above. 

In Puzzle Villa, we were also able to create flashback scenes with the aid of ZiMAD’s artists and designers. When possible, a change of art can catch players’ attention and help them focus on the scene. 

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In the above example, the setting is abruptly different from the library Justine was just in. The change can help refocus the player for a big moment, like Justine reflecting on her divorce and how it led to her passion for jigsaw puzzles. By letting the art do half the work, there’s less pressure to include a bunch of text to overexplain how Justine felt. Which leads to our next point…

3. Don't Overexplain

When dealing with complex emotions and situations, it can be tempting to explain everything in detail to the player. But this easily falls into “telling” instead of “showing,” which isn’t encouraged—you don’t want to tell players how to feel about an aspect of the story.

It's important to remember to give your players some credit—they can understand complex emotions without us needing to overexplain. Spelling out emotions isn’t necessary because players experience complex emotions themselves. A prime example of this can be found in City Escape, a title we worked on with Sparkling Society.

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In City Escape, the Filburn family moves from the city to the country to start their own homestead. While the parents are excited about this move, things don’t go quite as smoothly as they hoped. In the above examples, we don’t have Melanie specifically state she’s overwhelmed and frustrated. The text subtly implies this instead, often in humorous ways. 

Summary

With so many games in the mobile market, it’s important to provide players with a genuine experience—they can sniff out an inauthentic one a mile away. Beyond our three tips above, the key to writing genuine emotions in mobile games is to be intentional:

  1. Create emotionally-complex characters at your game’s conception.
  2. Work with your art team to allow the text and art to help convey emotion.
  3. Give your players some credit, and don’t overexplain.

If you’re considering how to make emotions in your game a genuine experience for players, you’re already way ahead of the game.


New Release! Explore Las Vegas and Its Mysteries Now in ‘Cash Journey’

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By Jenna Hume

Are you ready for a treasure hunt? Along with Jumbo Technology and Funtopia Ltd., Brunette Games is excited to announce the release of Cash Journey! Cash Journey is an innovative slots game with diverse gameplay and exciting story elements. The game’s story feature is called Alice’s Journey: a tale of adventure, mystery, and friendship. It was a true joy for the whole team to collaborate with Jumbo and Funtopia on this title. 

In Cash Journey, play slots to earn coins and find clues. Collecting clues will unlock new scenes and chapters of Alice’s Journey. Follow Alice, Jack, and Edmund as they explore Las Vegas, search for their missing friend, and track down the elusive Vegas Plunder treasure. You’ve never seen Las Vegas like this before!

Official Description

Embark on an adventurous journey full of mystery, drama, and romance. Start spinning the hottest casino slots to win huge jackpots and unveil clues that will help you find the mysterious hidden treasure of Las Vegas! Hop in for a road trip around the world and collect Journey Stamps along the way! Download Cash Journey now to claim your Welcome Bonus 3,000,000 FREE COINS!

Play classic slot machines and pokies just like those in real casinos for free! Even better yet, you get to play the newest and most innovative slot games that you won’t find in casinos and are only available exclusively on Cash Journey!

🔎 SOLVE THE MYSTERY TO FIND THE TREASURE 🔎

▶ Play slots to unveil clues and unlock new story chapters.

▶ Uncover hidden secrets and mysteries.

▶ Collect rewarding prizes on your journey.

▶ Are you ready to help Alice save her best friend?

▶ Do you have what it takes to find the hidden treasure of Vegas?

Cash Journey is available to play today on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

App Store

Play Store