Art & narrative

Francesco Abbonizio
Creative & Art Director, Chieti

Francesco Abbonizio

Francesco Abbonizio is an experienced art director and technical environment artist who has worked at numerous games companies including CD Projekt Red and Ubisoft.

You’ve probably heard the old saying that the first rule of storytelling is “show, don’t tell”. And there’s arguably no better medium for observing this concept than video games. 

So, we were delighted to welcome Francesco Abbonizio – experienced art and creative director – to the Tentacle Zone for a talk exploring different techniques for conveying narrative in games without resorting to NPC dialogue and text heavy exposition. 

Defining your game’s story, lore and worldbuilding are key starting points for most projects. But how do you make your players care about the narrative you’ve carefully crafted? As Francesco explained, it’s not realistic to ask players to read vast amounts of text to get them interested. Instead we should make use of three main tools:


  • Passive storytelling
  • Environmental storytelling
  • Gameplay storytelling

Francesco took us in-depth through each of these tools, with plenty of examples of their use in various games. Passive storytelling involves telling your story through worldbuilding. The example cited in the talk was Tales of Arise, a JRPG which successfully conveyed its theme of overcoming differences through a clever worldbuilding technique which we won’t spoil here!


Environmental storytelling, on the other hand, is the art of telling players a story through the subtle placement of objects or other elements. Francesco pointed to Dragon Quest XI as an example of a game that does this well. Towns in DQXI are all fortified. Why? Because monsters roam the world and, if you placed yourself in this situation, you’d live in a fortified town too. It makes sense and tells players something about the game’s narrative.


Finally, gameplay storytelling, simply put, involves use of game mechanics to explain different narrative elements. Here, Francesco gave us the example of BioShock, a game in which players can choose to harvest a genetic substance called ADAM from children in order to make their own character more powerful. The other option is to spare the children but accept that your character will be less effective in combat etc. It’s a moral choice with real gameplay implications that tells you a lot about the game and its universe without spelling it out explicitly.


Our thanks to Francesco for sharing his thoughts on art and narrative in games with our residents. Hopefully we’ve given you a little taste of how valuable his insights were. Our weekly virtual talks are just one of the perks of being part of the Tentacle Zone workspace. We can also offer you free parking (in central London!), opportunities to network with fellow devs and access to our meeting rooms.

If you work in games and you’re looking for either a permanent home or the occasional hot desk, then swing by our workspace page to find out more. If you have questions or need a bit more info then get in touch