Loraine Gauteul is the Narrative Lead of My Neighbor Alice, an engaging & curious personality who is deeply involved with the team’s culture. Learn more about her love story with Alice & the intricacies of her role!
Hi Loraine, could you please introduce yourself.
Hello, I’m Loraine and I work on the project My Neighbor Alice as a narrative lead & culture manager. I’ve been on the project since the beginning so that was around two years ago. I entered the gaming industry directly after my communication studies, that would be 3 to 4 years now.
How has your experience with the My Neighbor Alice Team been?
Ah! There’s quite a lot to say here because, you see, it’s both a project and a team growing at the same time. Of course, there are different stages that are important and you always start with a concept that tends to feel both vague and precise at the same time. You sort of know where you’re heading, the kind of style of game that you want… as you go you realize that there are different constraints, different challenges and that’s usually when you hire more people. We had to do it quite quickly and increase the number of people in the team. Of course there were some pain points at the time as always with such rapidly growing teams. Now I feel that we are in quite a good shape and it’s about producing the game and understanding more & more the features that we are creating. Whether it’s art, story or sound, we understand how the world should feel and who the characters who inhabit it are. That part of our work has been wonderful and I should say that it’s because we have a team full of creative, flexible and frankly very fun people!
In the gaming industry, you can wait a long time before seeing your game into the hands of actual players. Did releasing the Alpha Season help?
You do have testing phases of course, but now we have to do it very early on, much earlier than in traditional gaming. We are testing concepts basically. And it does help a lot because although it’s a lot of work for a smaller experience, you are testing everything about it. You’re testing the gameplay, the mechanics, the arts, the sound, the narrative. Those snippets really help you understand what you’re making as a developer or game designer. It also helps the community understand where you are trying to get to. For a developer, understanding what your community wants out of it, being able to confirm or infirm the hypothesis that you have is priceless. Let’s say you do a farming game and people keep telling you they really really want to farm vegetables. Now you have confirmed that this is at the core of your farming experience. Actually, a better example would be Avatar customization. It’s something we know we wanted to have in the future and we got such powerful feedback that we now know it needed to be a core feature of the My Neighbor Alice experience.
And what does your role as a narrative lead look like?
The narrative lead gives directions over how the narrative should fit into the world. Story is part of narrative but narrative is more than just story. I think that when people hear about narrative in games nowadays they imagine AAA games where it’s very Hollywood-like, where you have all these choices and decisions to make. These are one type of narrative. In every game, you have narrative in order to justify the design. You need to show a universe that is coherent with what you do. Narrative will tackle all this. I’ll take Animal Crossing as an example: let’s say you want player 1 to go visit player 2. Technically you only need to transfer P1 avatar to where P2 is, but for this to make sense you need to add a narrative justification — you will need to lead the player through an airport and they are going to take a plane and the whole visit becomes an experience. This is what narrative does: It considers the constraint of game design and turns them into experiences through story. Narrative tackles a lot of different areas as you need narrative in Marketing for instance.
Building upon this, what is the most exciting narrative work you’ve done for My Neighbor Alice?
Everything is to be built, you know. What’s exciting then is having an idea sprout, look into it, examine it, reflect upon it and ultimately find ways to take care of the idea and make it grow. Then you ask people for their opinion. What do they think about that? At that moment you get an inkling of what makes sense and what doesn’t. You see then that the world is coming alive through narrative and that’s super exciting. You see the concepts coming in, whether it’s stories, art, sound etc. and you can see what fits, what doesn’t… you can decide whether the narrative needs more of this or that emotion and grow the game incrementally.
Would you say the role of narrative lead differs when it comes to blockchain gaming?
Designing narrative means that you have to understand some parts of Game Design really well. The blockchain will have a different percentage of influence over different fields. There is definitely a difference but some fields won’t need to know too much about the blockchain like, say, art. Whether it’s an NFT using Chromia Originals or any other art element, they won’t need to get into the nitty gritty of the blockchain but will still be impacted by the style of production. Releasing Alpha Seasons and constantly sharing what we do with the game makes it de facto different. Design is highly affected because there are constraints such as stopping bots from exploiting your game as we have a real game economy with real money to be earned. Narrative will meet some of those constraints but the main burden remains on design. Another good example is that sometimes you need blockchain transactions in the game. It’s something that you then need to justify on the narrative level by having the players buy candy for instance. The gamification of an otherwise boring technical process adds to the magic of the game by hiding the trick. Instead of having a cold blockchain transaction, you get a narrative interaction that makes it seamlessly become a part of the game.
Now what can you tell us about the characters? Do you have a favorite?
Hard question as they are still in development. We are spending extra time crafting their personalities because we really want a world that is authentic and that comes from the characters you are going to encounter, the way they talk and feel. I should mention that one of the pillars of narrative for us is community: we want players to connect with other players, we want players to connect with the universe and its characters. We want our NPCs to become an integral part of the community. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I can tell you a bit more about Alice for instance. We can say that she is a happy character, she’s helpful and likes to be surrounded by people etc. but we also want to bring in other elements that I won’t say are ‘negative’ but are the quirks that make a person authentic & interesting as opposed to generic & boring. We want this attention to detail to be felt throughout our characters. Now do I have a favorite character? I like Alice’s little brother Jose because he’s a funny lad who knows a lot about the islands. He’s playful and frankly a bit cheeky at times, that’s why I like him.
What are the big narrative differences between the islands?
That’s something we are exploring but people have already seen that there is Nature’s Rest, Medieval Plains, Snowflake Island etc. Each island has its own identity and playing on Medieval Plains or Nature’s Rest will have a totally different feel. Nature’s Rest is more meditative, more whimsical and brings a feeling of being in an almost spiritual world. We are approaching Medieval Plains like stone. It’s inspired by Gotland initially with a more orange, tarnished color which also gives it a different seasonality. Many of the creatures living on those islands will be different too, as they would be in the real world. Many people think of ‘Medieval’ as violence, battles, people killing each other but we want to bring out the romantic aspect of medieval that you find in Gotland or in the South of France, the South of Italy and parts of Spain. We are blending all those different shores into one island that will have its own identity.
What can you tell me about the other islands?
Submerged Island is a bit of a challenge at present because we want to bring forth the watery aspect of it but this has proven to be quite the technical challenge. We have this strong idea of it being like Vietnam with lots of mangroves, blueish and aquamarine tones but it’s a challenge… that’s why narrative isn’t just story.
To conclude, what narrative aspect should players pay close attention to when playing the Alpha Season II?
I like to think that we are bringing some more quirkiness to the game. Alice is a fictional world in which many elements are easily recognizable but seem fantastical at the same time. For instance, we are making resources by way of farming and this is of course inspired by real-life farming and nature… with a fantasy twist. So it’s grounded in reality but whimsical and quirky. I think players will start to see interesting developments and will be able to test many of the fun interactions we have been planning.
We hope you enjoyed getting to know Loraine! It’s crazy to think the team grew sevenfold since she joined the project and there is no telling how big it will be next time we interview her.
See you in the neighborhood !
About My Neighbor Alice
My Neighbor Alice is a social online game with focus on resource gathering, crafting and creative expression. Players build their own virtual lands, interact with neighbors, perform exciting daily activities and earn rewards along the way.