Sneaky Storytelling with a Chair

We had a new adventure release today!

I am a lead artist at Wildworks where we make a game called Animal Jam. I am responsible for a great deal of the content for the Adventures. Hence why I am excited for the Adventures release.

I don’t create the characters. I’ve been working with everything else but them in the adventures. Homes, trees, hidden treasure. Environment work. The sneaky storytelling.

llama and post office

You say, Rose, are you sure you aren’t a llama?

Yes, I am sure. I am actually an owl

llama and post office2

(I have a particular fondness for this adventure if you can’t tell.)

I love the Adventures because it has story. There isn’t much written story in the adventures. There are cue cards: NPC’s who tell the players what to do. (Like the wise owl above.)

But a lot of our audience doesn’t read, or doesn’t want to. The players just hurriedly click through. So where’s the story? How do we lead the players? How on earth are they supposed to know what to do? How to feel? If there’s no text,

Where’s the story?

It’s the door. Or the other “stuff” in the game. The environment. In the Adventures, the environment is one of the only things we have control over. The hero of the story is the player, and they get to do whatever they want. Their job is to explore. Our job is to lead them.

bunny burrough

Come right this way. Come to this adorable, friendly door.

That prop becomes pretty important.

The environment should say everything without saying anything at all.

In games, the environment should give most every bit of information. What’s happening. Where to go. Is this dangerous? Playful? Important? The heart of your game is set in those environments. The shape. The color. The light.

Here’s a great example from AnthonyE using the light of the environment to create different moods.


Environments can be undervalued. Big mistake.

The environment is the perfect way to parallel and bring out the themes, the atmosphere, and tell us about the characters and plot.

There are so much symbolism and subtlety to use. Get those descriptive items in there to help the mood. Meeting the boss? Describe his desk. The type of chair. In the animated film The Incredibles this is brilliantly done when you meet Mr Par’s boss.


Perfectly aligned pencils on his desk.The four clocks on the wall with the same time. The boss’ chair is way too big for him and the slant of the back is an extension of his angry eyebrows. Confining. Precise. Bob is way bigger than his chair. Uncomfortable. Cramped.


By the end of this scene, you can feel Bob nearly bursting from the seams with this job that is just far too small for him. 
When he does finally burst, smashing through several walls, you understand why. And it feels really good.

Choose your environment wisely. The old but charming truck for an old but charming farmer. Two characters are divided by class and have dinner with a long table between them. Underplay a scary villain with large, playful shapes to get a laugh. Loose, flowing curtains with white natural light in an ethereal scene.

Your visuals are going to frame your characters.

Either because they fit well or because of contrast.

To finish, Tony Zhou uses this specific item to explains this concept in a beautiful way. This is a fantastic short.

Of course, Miyazaki

When posting a clip like this, it goes without saying that I enjoy Miyazaki films. If you aren’t familiar with his work and are feeling adventurous, give Spirited Away a try. But be ready for something <em>different</em>. Loves me some crazy films.

The reason I am posting this video isn’t just because I love Miyazaki’s work – I enjoy this clip because of how the author, Lewis Bond, described Miyazaki’s directing style. He talks about specific tools and techniques that Miyazaki used to focus emotion and visuals. Some fantastic food for thought that I’m still thinking about months later.


I’ve been seeing a lot of quotes lately about becoming someone. Now that I am all old and thirty, I feel like I’ve done that. I feel like I’ve become someone.


I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be an artist and a writer. I received my calling. I pulled the sword from the stone and read my life’s purpose on the blade.

That’s all it takes, right?

There is the thought that once one knows what they were meant to be that it should be all good from there. I should become good at this simply because I know this is my calling. Because I have this sword, I deserve to slay dragons, and with ease. I deserve to be good at this. I know what I am meant to be, after all.

How often do we work on that inspired thing, work and work and worked only to have it fail? But why? Why are we so bad? I’ve pulled the stinking sword out. I know what I should be doing. Then why am I so bad at this?

rose and the dragon 2

A few years back, I was watching a friend dance at a ballroom competition. Her dancing was beautiful and ethereal, as were the other competitors. They floated around the floor. Effortless. A young woman sighed next to me. “I’d give anything to dance like that.”

Give anything?

I thought of what my friend gave to dance like that. Knowing her well, I had a bit of an insight into what she’d given to dance. Countless red eye mornings before classes to practice, the not so glamorous monotony of drilling the specifics. For hours and hours. For years. You aren’t trading some magical token; you are giving something far more precious. Your time.

The effortless appearance of the dancing is a dangerous lie. It might make it seem if you aren’t able to just get up and float you’ll never be able to. Your talent or calling will make itself known through brilliant skill, and if it doesn’t come easy it must not be your calling. But you can work to learn to dance. You have to work to learn to dance.

The purpose of reading the message on the sword, of knowing your purpose, isn’t in deserving that talent. That isn’t the purpose of the message of your calling. The purpose of knowing your calling is giving you the energy it takes to try. The passion to make it through failures over and over. To make it through the not so glamorous of the every day.

It is both discouraging and wildly liberating. You were meant to fail. You were meant to work hard to become something better. That is what you were meant for. You were meant to take action and determine what you become.

An old work friend posted this.

“George Bernard Shaw said: ‘Life isnt about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.'”

         “That is true. I think of it this way: There are those who see themselves on this earth as simply growing uphelpless in a way. They eat, they sleep, and they live their lives. They watch themselves get taller and older. They let the world mold them and allow their circumstances to dictate their future. It is as if they are watching the wind swirl around a block of sandstone. The years go by until, finally, one day a shape is created. Or we can decide the kind of person we want to become, grip the chisel, and go to work. The sculpture being created is now of our creation. “
Rosemary M. Wixom