<foreword>Hello dear #AltDev community. Thank you for including me into this community and hopefully your trust will not be misplaced in allowing me to submit my contributions to this blog. My name is Tino and I write from the perspective of a co-founder and creative at a young independent game development studio called SassyBot Studio. What you can read below is a look back on the narrative experience ‘Fragments of Him’, a well received Ludum Dare game that is currently in development to be a full title. Hopefully, the contents of this blog will be valuable to you.</foreword>

A little over nine months ago, Elwin (lead programmer) and I put our faith in Mata Haggis as he proposed that we should make a narrative game for the, back then, upcoming Ludum Dare game jam challenge. Ludum Dare is an online game jam event where developers around the world create a game, either alone (48 hour time limit) or in a small team (72 hour time limit), under great time pressure. These games are encouraged to follow a theme that is announced at the start of the event.

The game that Mata had in mind was to be a narrative game. With the little game jam experience we had back then, we knew the scope had to be manageable if we were to finish the game at all. Mata explained we needed 3D characters, fully decorated indoor and outdoor scenes, several written and voiced dialogue lines for multiple playthroughs, and shader magic for some of the interactions. As you can imagine, we told him he was mad.

As with any mad doctor, he convinced us that this could be done and we were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In retrospect, the faith has not been misplaced. As of this writing, Fragments of Him has been played over 28.000 times on Fragments of Him funded it might be a good idea to reflect on how the initial prototype came to be.


Fragments of Him (Work in progress)

We are still very early in development and we do not want to reveal too much. What we can share is the complete post-mortem of Dr. Mata Haggis (@MataHaggis) , written roughly a week after the game jam. It takes you through the process that Mata used to create the prototype that is the foundation for the upcoming full version.

All text onwards is written by Dr. Mata Haggis.



My name is Dr. Mata Haggis and I was the narrative & game designer/producer on Fragments of Him, our entry to Ludum Dare 26.

I had never done a game jam before, so this was a new experience for me. I was fortunate enough to have two talented developers ask me to join their team. Between us we created a narrative game experience with one programmer, one artist (and his 3D modeller girlfriend for an evening), and myself in only 72 hours.

The game jam that enabled us to conceive Fragments of Him

Below you will find out what a narrative designer does on a game jam, what a producer can do, and a little more about the decisions that I made when creating the title.

Before we go any further you should play the game:

Play Fragments of Him on Kongregate

Seriously. I mean it. This post will have a lot of spoilers very soon, so go play the game now and come back in ten minutes.

Done that?


Okay, let’s talk about the process.



The theme was minimalism, and I wanted to do a game with a very prominent story in it. I worked on several ideas in my head, but the one that stuck was investigating why a person would choose to live in a minimalist style in their house. The result of this was the idea that the lead character had lost their partner and couldn’t stand to be reminded of the loss.


Gameplay of the Fragments of Him prototype

In narrative terminology, the loss of the partner would be referred to as ‘the inciting incident’. The process of creating minimalist spaces gave me a gameplay mechanic too.

I pitched the concept to the team – one artist and one programmer – and I was fortunate that they were enthusiastic about it. There were several key decisions that are worth examining here:



The theme was going to need a lot of art. Specifically, the world was going to need a lot of models in it. I immediately said that the world was going to be stylised and colour coded: the protagonist (the ‘hero’ of the story) would be blue, and yellow would be used to indicate the dead partner, along with objects related to that partner. Everything else in the game was going to be white – this would allow the artist to focus on building the space and objects without worrying about texturing any of it.

In terms of showing figures in the environment, again I needed to keep a close eye on the scope of the project. I asked the artist to create one generic character model which would be used for both the protagonist and the dead partner. In every scene, these figures would be posed in a tableau (a static pose that suggests narrative action). In this way we could give a powerful idea of character relationships without the difficulty of animating figures.

For the programmer, there were a few challenges that I had to consider. The audio and subtitles would need to be displayed, there would need to be highlighting and signposting of affordances, and the most difficult task was probably going to be the final scenes where the gameplay mechanic (clicking to remove objects) is reversed. By keeping these interactions very simple, I could limit the complexity of the task that I was giving to the programmer.



I voiced the lead character of the game, and I am male. In the game, the character talks about his dead boyfriend. I felt that the story would work perfectly with either a male or female partner character, but I also feel that non-heterosexual relationships are under-represented in gaming, and so I had a preference for making both characters male.

I described the outline of the story to the team and they had no feelings either way on the gender of the partner, and so we ended up with a story about coping with grief, where the lead characters happen to both be male.

When stories are told about the death of a non-heterosexual man (it is not defined if he was gay or bisexual), they often focus on stereotypical perceptions of gay lifestyle choices: drugs, promiscuity, clubbing, and of course HIV/AIDS. I didn’t want to tell a gay love story; I just wanted to tell a love story.


The reminders hurt too much.

I know that the audience for any story will be predominantly heterosexual, with then lower proportions of gay, bisexual, transgender, and other queer-identifying players. Part of my goal was to ignore the non-heterosexual elements and to write a story that anyone could relate to; in doing this, I wanted to completely normalise the lives of the men. To do this, I choose to focus on the small and relatable things in people’s lives.

I suspect that anyone who has had a break-up, especially after living with a partner, can relate to the quiet sadness of removing one towel from the bathroom.  I think that feeling of sorrow is a universal experience that has nothing to do with sexual preferences, and that is what I wanted to convey in this game. In doing this, the sexuality of the characters became irrelevant in the sea of everyday memories.

As a side-benefit to the choice of going for a homosexual relationship, the artist only needed to make one body and animation rig, saving him a lot of time in the game jam time constraints!


How to write a good story quickly

I’ve been writing for several years and have cobbled together a system which works well for me. I’ve based it on several sources, but the main ones are ‘Will Write for Shoes’ by Cathy Yardley.

Neither of these are high-brow books on how to create your epic masterpiece, but they are very focussed on creating a tight, enjoyable story.

I put ideas from the books together and now here’s what I use whenever I start writing:

Before the inciting incident: ‘Save The Cat’

Show the life of the character before life goes wrong. The character does something that makes you like them (‘save the cat’).

5% Inciting incident

 Something changes that forces the protagonist to act.

25% Plot point one: state the external motivation

What forces the protagonist to make this clear statement of their objective?

50% Plot point two: the low mid-point

It appears impossible to complete the external motivation, protagonist loses hope

75% Plot point three: Hope

The protagonist is given hope that they can fulfil their external motivation goal, but only if they truly dedicate themselves to it.

90 – 95% “The Black Moment”

The external motivation appears impossible to fulfil.

95% – 100% Resolution

The story concludes in a satisfying manner – this may be successful completion of the external and internal motivations (a happy ending), it may be a failure on external motivation but a success in the internal motivation (common in comedies, romance, or tales of self-discovery), success of external motivation but failure of internal motivation (common in tragedy and tales of self-discovery). It is not typical for a story to end with failure of both external and internal motivation – this is the total failure of the character to grow or succeed and makes an audience wonder why they spent their time with the character.

I use this whenever I write and it’s working out pretty well for me so far!

In the case of Fragments of Him, as with other stories I write, I began from a feeling and worked back to an inciting incident. The feeling was a person clearing away all of their belongings to create a minimalist living space – why would they do this? This question led back to the inciting incident – the objects were related to grief at the sudden death of a partner.

From there I worked through the template, filling in the gaps. For Fragments of him, it looks like this:

Before the inciting incident: ‘Save The Cat’

Scene – Park. Feeding ducks, narrator talks about how good life is.Two characters – protagonist is blue, the ex is yellow. All other objects are yellow too.The player clicks on objects (or parts of objects) in the scene, they turn transparent.

5% Inciting incident

End of first level – the player has been removing the polygons, when everything is transparent except for the main character – the partner dies.

25% Plot point one: state the external motivation

Scene – House. Protagonist wants to remove all traces of the ex from his life.

50% Plot point two: the low mid-point

Scene – Street . It appears impossible to remove everything – everywhere he goes there are reminders. He doesn’t want to go outside.

75% Plot point three: Hope

Scene – Office. If he can remove everything from his interior spaces he feels like he might be able to cope.

90 – 95% “The Black Moment”

Scene – back in the empty House. Protagonist is sitting on the floor. Ex appears behind… The protagonist feels like he will never be free of the memories, even when everything is gone.

95% – 100% Resolution

As the player clicks to remove the ex from the House scene, the protagonist’s colour changes, blending the two into green – the ex has become part of the protagonist. The player clicks through the scenes, where the transparent objects are back. As the player clicks on the transparent objects they turn green too. This goes much faster than the removal.The protagonist understands that the ex is part of him. Things are different, but life will go on in a new way.

As you can see, I’ve used the basic structure from the template to create a narrative arc that is satisfying and also that integrates with the gameplay – at each step I have made sure the interaction with the game adds to the plot.

I chose locations where it would be viable to have few characters in the scene because of the limitations on the art scope.


The park scene of Fragments of Him



There are three variations of most of the instances of dialogue in the game. These are chosen randomly during each play through, giving a slightly different experience for each time.

The dialogue was written with three key events in mind:

  • The start of a level
  • Removing a particular object or a percentage of objects
  • The end of a level

The start and end triggers would give the main plot points, and the objects would trigger smaller memories.

I recorded the audio in a make-shift audio booth constructed from a pair of curtains and a clothes rack on a €100 digital microphone. It’s not ideal, but it did the trick. I then edited the sound files into one or two sentence chunks with some antiquated software. This was very laborious and time consuming for me, but sometimes design requires this kind of repetitive grunt work to get the project done.


Other audio

Ambient audio and music is absolutely essential in selling any emotional experience: I believed this going into this project and now I am utterly convinced of this. In every scene there are several audio triggers built into the environment that work in a very subtle way to make the spaces feel more believable.

I have a suspicion that the audio space of a game may be more important than the visual style when it comes to creating emotional resonance. Most of this work will never be noticed by the player on a conscious level, but that it exists in the mix is important. In the apartment, did you hear the muffled footsteps of a neighbour going down the hall? Or in the office, did you notice the sound of typing outside the room, or the noise of a plane flying past overheard? Probably not, but they’re there, and they help you feel that the space you are in is alive.

For the music, I found a wonderful website of free music: Fragments_of_Him-4

Everything makes me think of Him