Lisa Brunette has been a story designer in the video-game industry since 2008, with credits in hundreds of bestselling games played by worldwide audiences in the millions. It all started with a contract gig in Nintendo's legendary Treehouse, where she wrote dialogue for a fashion journalist character in the hit game StyleSavvy. Soon she was recruited to Cat Daddy Games, a Take-Two Interactive studio, where she wrote for the AAA Carnival Games franchise.
Two years later, she was recruited away from that gig to Big Fish, where she stayed for five years. While there she amassed credits as a narrative designer in hundreds of bestselling games, built a team of game story experts, and established herself as a key figure in the casual game industry, with a headlining conference presentation covered by Gamasutra, references to her work in academia, and an appearance in the documentary Boys' Toys:
Now independent, Brunette writes and designs for a growing list of clients, including Daily Magic Productions, Babeltime (Magic Tavern), G5 Entertainment, and Pixelberry. She has also presented widely on narrative design best practices throughout her career; industry people still comment on her 2012 Game Development Conference talk, which you can watch in its entirety through the GDC Vault. In 2016, she presented on game storytelling and served on an entrepreneurship panel at University of Florida's Digital Worlds Institute, where she also guest-taught courses in narrative design, and she's presented at Seattle University three times in the past three years. For the 2017-18 school year, she is visiting assistant professor of game design at Webster University.
Pixelberry Studios: Unannounced Project
Brunette is currently writing an interactive novel for Pixelberry Studios, publishers of the Choices brand of episodic novels.
Sender Unknown: The Woods
Brunette wrote and co-designed this interactive novel, produced by Daily Magic Productions. On release, the game was featured in the App Store under "New Games We Love," and in its first week, it climbed to #6 in the Free Adventure category, beating out Minecraft: Story Mode for the spot. It's at 4 stars on 572 App Store ratings.
The story: You log onto an anonymous chat app for the first time, and an "unknown sender" reaches out to you--with a life-and-death appeal for help. Alone and lost in the woods, your new chat buddy must escape a broken-down RV surrounded by ravenous wolves. And that's just problem number one.
Your texter's friends and insulin supply are missing, and it seems whoever took them wants to play games through the radio. This psycho geneticist has a thing for riddles and traps--human traps, that is.
Can you beat him at his own game--without sacrificing anyone? Will you help Unknown Sender uncover the mystery that still haunts these dark woods?
Survivors: The Quest
Brunette has designed three levels for this blockbuster game from G5 Entertainment: Location 7: A Return to the Beach, Location 8: The Rainforest, and Location 9: UFO Crash!
Brunette consulted on the narrative, assisted with character design, and wrote most of the in-game text for this Match-3 title released this year by Firecraft Studios.
Brunette wrote the core narrative text for the 2016 iOS game Smash Squad. Here's a screenshot from the tutorial:
For a behind-the-scenes look at her writing process on this title, check out this blog post.
Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure (HOPA) Games for Big Fish
Brunette built the Narrative Design Team at Big Fish, growing from one to a team of four FT narrative designers, a strategy guide editor, and a crew of freelancers in just five years. As manager, she developed the skills and efficiency of her team, which played a key role in raising the quality bar on storylines across Big Fish's premium collector's edition games. She and her team reviewed, critiqued, and sometimes rewrote story design docs, and they rewrote and/or edited every word of text in most of Big Fish's titles.
She had the pleasure of working on Big Fish's flagship Mystery Case Files series, including the highly successful game Dire Grove, Sacred Grove.
When Elephant Games was looking for a new brand concept, Brunette suggested they create a Christmas-themed game. Since they're located in Russia, she thought a Nutcracker story would be a natural. Nutcracker turned out to be the bestselling third-party game in Big Fish history, and the series is still going strong.
She had a lot of fun with the villain's characterization in this surprise bestseller.
She was instrumental in helping Big Fish developers understand what makes a real mystery tick. The Final Cut series is one example, and she worked on every game in this series.
She also had the privilege of working on a Smithsonian game themed on one of her favorite myths, that of the Hope Diamond.
She worked very closely with Elephant Games on the Surface series, designated for greater risk and experimentation with plots and themes.
Early in her work with Big Fish, she engaged in some deep narrative redesign on a few memorable games.
A player compared her writing on this game to Ian Fleming's.
She remembers staying late a few Friday nights to thoroughly rewrite Shaolin Mystery.
This one taught her how to make a game on a relatively risky theme work for the player audience. A lot of sweat equity went into Chinese Healer.
For more, check out any of the Collector's Editions Hidden-Object Puzzle Adventure (HOPA) games on the Big Fish site. She's also had a hand in some of the free-to-play games.
Big Fish awarded Lisa Brunette the "Unsung Hero" Award in 2014 for her work to build the Narrative Design team and contribute to the overall success and quality of the company's HOPA games.
Prior to her work in the hidden-object adventure game genre for Big Fish, she wrote for a few AAA console titles - games you can play on the Nintendo Wii and DS, the Sony PlayStation, and Microsoft Kinect. Here's a sampling of those.
She was the sole story designer for New Carnival Games, responsible for every string of text and VO in the game. Here's one of her favorite parts, a mystic she named "Zamzeer."
She had the same role on Carnival Games Kinect: Monkey See, Monkey Do.
She got her start in games as a lead writer on the Style Savvy team at Nintendo. It was an aspirational, sophisticated fashion game that was No. 1 in Japan and sold like gangbusters in the States.
The Society for the Preservation of Adventure Games (SPAG) published her piece "Evolving Storytelling in Hidden-Object Games" in Issue 64 of the SPAG Mag.
At Big Fish, she frequently wrote about her narrative design team's work for the company blog.
Argot Magazine published Brunette's short fictional piece with a game theme, "This Action Cannot Be Undone."
Interactive Exhibit Text
In 1999, the St. Louis Science Center hired Brunette to research and write text for a new computer-themed exhibition gallery called Cyberville. It had 44 stations of interactive exhibits and told the history of information technology and computer graphics.
Virtual Fish Tank
You can walk through the entire gallery here.