Roll Call Interview Series - Lizz Lunney (Narrative Designer on OlliOlli World)
Name: Lizz Lunney
Time with Roll7: 2 Years
Job Title: Narrative Designer
Fav classic game: Monkey Island
Any pets: Several imaginary cats.
This is fun because it’s the first Roll Call I’ve written since I became a Writer here at Roll7, and it’s with you, our Narrative Designer on OlliOlli World!
Yeah, it's great to have you on board as a writer now too! We've had the chance to work more closely together recently which is nice.
It is (audience aside: Lizz is super cool, I’m a huge fan). So - tell me a bit about what narrative design is, and what your job involves here.
Well it’s a pretty varied role - it changes from studio to studio I imagine. But here my job involves a range of things - everything from creating character ideas, developing their personalities, and working with art and design to realize them in-game, to writing dialogue for levels. Also doing a lot of research into skating and skate culture in this case! On OOW I worked closely with the creative director and the game designer to make sure the world, characters and story blend well with the game play as well as having input on background narrative throughout the levels and adding as many jokes as possible.
For the sake of this interview, I’m going to pretend that was all totally new information to me even though we work together on a lot of this! Next question: what got you interested in writing?
I really don’t remember the moment I ‘got into writing’ because I’ve always been writing for… well, as long as I’ve been able to. As a kid I filled hundreds of notebooks with characters and stories, and from there I pretty quickly got into comics. I'm still just doing the same things I was doing as a ten year old basically, just with more bills and stress.
Interesting! Yeah, your background in comics I think definitely makes a lot of sense with the sort of comic-book art style and sensibilities of OlliOlli World. What got you interested in games?
My first console was a Game Boy - I played a lot of Kirby and stuff, and mostly those were games that didn’t really have much of a narrative but there was definitely character content there. I think the first narrative games I played must have been Lucas Arts games and Disney games on the Mega Drive in the 90s. Me and my brother spent hours playing Aladdin, The Lion King and movie spin offs like Home Alone. I’ve been playing games ever since - right now I have a Switch and an old PS2, so I can keep one foot in the future and one in the past.
So, OlliOlli World is your first venture into the world of game narrative - how did that happen?
Yeah - I’d been interested in writing comics with branching narratives, which wasn’t really something I’d seen a lot of in comics. I did an exhibition at Comicfestival Hamburg in 2019 where I turned a gallery into a multiple-choice adventure comic, which in retrospect was very game-like. John got in contact with me after that and it felt like a natural transition into writing for games.
I wish I’d been able to see that exhibition! I loved the interactive advent comic you did last month on Instagram. When it comes to your work before Roll7, you did everything from graphic design to writing jokes for greetings cards. How different does that feel to working from home with us? Writing as part of a team must feel quite different to writing solo - how has that been?
I’ve been working from home for years now, so in a way not a lot has changed. Obviously with the pandemic I’ve not been able to do events or go to conventions or anything like that, which is sort of isolating. That’s why it’s really nice to have the ability to chat to people on Slack with video calls here at Roll7. Writing as part of a team definitely cuts into the time you have to concentrate purely on what you’re working on - meetings and communication make time management a much bigger deal. The payoff is that it’s really rewarding to collaborate with everyone else creatively. When you work alone, the only feedback you get is right at the end of the project when consumers see it or on social media, so it’s really nice to be able to hear thoughts from the team all the way through the creative process. In essentials I'm still a hermit though!
It must have been helpful to have so many skaters on the team, too!
For sure! I listened to podcasts and watched videos and read magazines, but being able to talk to actual people on the team who are super immersed in skate culture was incredibly helpful. I already had some knowledge, but I quickly realized that it was important for me to be learn a lot more about skate culture to write the narrative and the characters with the authenticity they deserved. I ended up taking up skating myself - I totally suck at it, but it's something that has already taught me a lot about being able to enjoy something even if you have no skills whatsoever, there is a great freedom in that. It's also really good for mental health to run outside with a board and lie around on the floor of an empty car park laughing/crying.
And one last question - who is your fav character to write?
Oh boy, it's gotta be Jackal-Man! - you have to go to a weird dark strange place in your brain to write his dialogue and I like it there.