At GDC 2013, Award-winning ZombiU writers Gabrielle Shrager (story design director, Ubisoft Montpellier) and Antony Johnston (New York Times best-selling graphic novelist and games writer) retraced the steps that led from 'just another zombie shooter' to a game rich with mythology, backstory, and narrative. The session discussed how various design decisions affected the use of narrative in the game.
The Main Character
The survivor notebook was used to 'carry the torch' of information to each new player.
Permadeath allows for the narrative to go straight to the player, effectively cutting out the middleman. Let the experiences of the player mold the experiences of the story, and allow general events to lead them along.
The player is both the actor AND witness.
Narrative was simplfied into three aspects:
Man vs Nature - The character fighting the undead.
Man vs Man - The character fighting other living humans.
Man vs Himself - The character fighting hopelessness.
"An Englishmen thinks a hundred miles is a long way, An American thinks a hundred years is a long time." - Diana Gabaldon, Drums of Autumn.
Tie the story into History. Began with the idea to end the game with the city being firebombed. The Great Fire of London 1666 was an immediate parallel. Then, there is The Great Plague of 1665. The fire was a mixed blessing, halted a massive outbreak of plague. London is strongly associated with secret organizations, and this lead to the backdrop of prophecy.
Once the setting was decided, the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse was formed on the basis of incorporating the history of the city. Create a new secret society based on real-life components, The Ravens of D, utilize the real life predictions of John Dee to provide a realistic backdrop. This avoids the Zombie-Medical virus, a commonly used trope.
Not about "If" you survive, it's "how long" you survive
This element is unique to the game's property, consider the game as a 'beat your own score". A unique solo experience that creates a benefit of interaction through the online message leaving system. The fight to do better, the creation of a deadly relay race.
Focus the fight of surviving longer than the previous time, or with less resources. This provides a persistance in storytelling, that is directly tied to the elements of gameplay.