This interview is part of a series of developer discussions that share details on the upcoming collectible RPG Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall, to be released on iOS and Android later this year.
If you’ve missed our first developer discussion, you can read it here. (hyperlink)
This week, we continue our talk with Justin Jones – the project’s Creative Director – to find out more about the game’s original narrative.
Tell us how the Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall story begins.
Justin: The story begins just after Lord Commander Brynden Rivers, also known as Bloodraven, has disappeared from the Night’s Watch while ranging beyond the Wall. Original characters First Ranger Alvar Spyre and Dramon Blackwood lead a search party following Bloodraven’s trail into the Haunted Forest. Their journey is the foundation for the game’s Story Mode.
Without spoiling the game, where can the player expect the story to take them?
Justin: In my opinion, the North and the region beyond the Wall are some of the most fascinating in The Known World. They are among the few places in the Game of Thrones universe where magic may still openly exist. That is something the story definitely explores. Following Bloodraven’s trail is both a classic detective mystery and a character story.
Players can expect to range through the Haunted Forest, the Frozen Shore, the Frostfang Mountains, the Fist of the First Men, and other iconic locations they know from the show. They will also explore lesser known places like the Bridge of Skulls.
How does the game’s Story Mode fit into the overall experience?
Justin: For most players, the Story Mode will probably be used to measure their overall game progress since people instinctively look to story completion for a sense of where they are in the world. We expect that it will take some time for players to work their way through all 3 story acts across 7 chapters, and so the story beats are paced accordingly.
Tell us about some of the original characters.
Justin: Alvar is First Ranger of the Night’s Watch and the story is mostly told from his point of view. He’s a no-nonsense, practical leader but there is a part of him that’s always been fascinated by the mysteries beyond the Wall. Dramon is a sardonic sidekick but he can also be the voice of reason. He has a history with Bloodraven, having fought by his side decades ago, which gives him a unique perspective on the quest to find his long-time commander.
There are other voices of riddles and reason that the Night’s Watch encounters along the way, but I’ll let players work their way through the mystery of Bloodraven.
How did you make sure this felt like a Game of Thrones story?
Justin: The Game of Thrones world has strong themes of justice, power, faith, cunning, loyalty, violence, and lineage. Some of those are more difficult to bring forth in a story about the Night’s Watch which has no sigils and wears no crowns. So, we doubled down on northern themes and history: the oath of The Black, warging, Bloodraven, and the ancient magic north of The Wall among others. The Night’s Watch is mostly guarded by men who look alike, so we also worked within the story and collection gameplay to highlight the particular identities of the Seven Kingdoms while remaining authentic to the Watch.
What can you share about the writing process?
Justin: My process is a blend of organic, freestyle thinking and more traditional screenwriting techniques like sequencing for act structure and using index cards to map out character beats, etc. For dialogue, I try to get deep in the mind of the characters and then step through the story beats from their perspectives. Many plot starting points are set by working backwards from a strong visual or emotion.
And, I always use music – I’ll often listen to the same minimal track for hours on end to find a certain flow. I consider writing to be more art than science overall, but absolutely both at the end of the day.
Worldbuilding is also very much a part of the writing process, but since Game of Thrones already has such well-developed lore, in this case, we focused on capturing what is special about the North and region beyond the Wall. I use presentation software to map out the places of power in a world and then the stories that happen there. It helps to first tell myself the full story of everything that is happening and then shape those many threads into the one story that players experience.
And after the script was finished?
Justin: After the script was finished and approved by HBO, the art director and I spent several days breaking it all down into game scenes with Production – some marked for full cinematic treatment and others for more traditional dialogue delivery. I wrote the scenes in parallel with the game’s missions, so it then became a question of how to best align everything before or after battles, and with the player lifecycle.
Once that was planned out, we iterated on the blocking and emotion inside the scenes. Obviously, we had the help of some incredibly talented artists to bring all of this to life.
Does this story directly connect to the TV show?
Justin: Not really, and that is intentional. From the beginning, we wanted this game and its story to be an original story about the character of Bloodraven rather than a prequel to the show. However, there are numerous references and homages to the TV show. For example since our story takes place decades before the show you may encounter a younger version of a familiar character, but don’t expect anything plot-related.
What are some of the challenges of telling a story as part of a mobile game experience?
Justin: I see mobile games as a new frontier for longform storytelling. For the creator and storyteller, it’s an uphill battle against the current mindset and entertainment consumption habits on the platform: no audio, app-switching, attention spans, small screens and text, etc. Yet, there is something alluring in its ubiquity that I want to keep working toward mastering.