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Posts Tagged ‘Writing for Computer Games’

Computer Games, Academics and the Unquantifiable!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on August 25, 2010

The Little Sister from Bio Shock 2.

Here’s a New Scientist article on how Games Developers are using academic research :

‘Using data mining to study how gamers play existing titles, though, can give developers instant rewards, such as identifying points in a game where players are likely to become frustrated or bored. The insights could help to tailor future releases to make them more satisfying.’

Wouldn’t it be great if we could analyse why some books grab the imagination of a generation? Twilight, Lord of the Rings, Dune.

What makes a book memorable? Why do some book resonate with readers?

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Posted in Genre Writing, Publishers, Research, Sales, Writing Craft, Writing for Computer Games | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Beginner’s Guide to Writing for Games – Part Two

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on August 2, 2010

Meet Leanne C Taylor, games writer and lecturer on interactive narrative.

This is Part Two part on writing for computer games. The second part appeared before the post on YA. Part One covered Pre-production and Production.

Dialogue in Games

Once you’ve finally gotten to the stage of actually writing a game, you’ll quickly find out that, in addition to 90% of your time being spent editing, 90% of your time will be spent writing dialogue.  The game mentioned above is the only one I’ve worked on that was written in generic script formatting.  All of the others have been written in Excel, line under line, with direction to the sides.  How you write a game also depends on the target market and target console – is it for the Nintendo Dual Screen, and a demographic of boys aged 5-11 years?  Or is it for the PlayStation 3, and aimed at girls aged 12-18 years?  Will the dialogue be spoken, or text-only?  Herein lies another challenge : deciding which dialogue falls into which category.

Written dialogue must be short, uncomplicated, and fit within a set space.  For example, one of the games I wrote had a character limit of 60 characters per speech bubble.  That meant every line either had to be 60 characters long, or have an understandable break somewhere around the 60 character mark.  Spoken dialogue can be a little longer, and a little more complicated, but you have to avoid the repetition of important words or phrases, as they’re much easier to pick up when heard rather than seen.  Imagine you’re reading a book.  Every time, after someone speaks and it says, “she said”, you gloss over it.  It becomes invisible.  Compare this to a movie where someone says the same word several times in the same sentence, and it’s an entirely different set of feelings – what should be invisible becomes obvious, and irritating.  When I’m writing for games that will have VO (voice over), I spend a lot of time talking to myself.

So you’re writing dialogue – what for?  In small games, such as those for the Nintendo DS, sometimes a cutscene – slightly different to a cinematic, but essentially the same thing – can be between 1 and 8 lines long.  That means you have between 1 and 8 lines to explain to the player who they’re taking to, what’s going on, what’s coming up, and what they’re expected to do.  Couple that with the 60 character limit, and you’re not looking at much text.  In games for the PlayStation, with full VO, there might be dialogue options for the player to choose from, which means making sure that every line makes sense out of context so they all make sense in context.  Multi-path dialogue trees are my favourites to write, but sometimes they can do your head in.

Then you have the mission structure.  What is the player doing?  Why might they be doing it?  How can you motivate them to want to undertake the mission?  Sometimes an in-game reward, like a new gun, unit or unlockable item, will be enough.  Sometimes you have to entice the player to go the extra mile and click ‘Accept’ when they really ought to be going to bed or cooking dinner.  Every player is different, which is what makes writing for games such a challenge, and so much fun.

Game Experience

And, finally, you have something – an experience for the player to walk away with.  This is the wonder of the genre, the reason I love it, and the reason people keep playing.  In books or movies you might bond with a character, really feel for them, watch them fight for their life, and wish for a good outcome.  In a game, you’re fighting for your own life, wishing for your own good outcome.  You may do things you never thought you could do.  In Heavy Rain, I shot a man by accident, and I cried.  In Bioshock 2 I let a man live as a monster, though he begged me to kill him, because I thought it was a just punishment for the cruelty he had shown.  In Planescape: Torment I watched myself lead a woman who loved me to her death, and I was powerless to stop her.

Good game writing isn’t about how many characters can be on the screen at once, or how exciting the missions might seem.  It’s not about tricking the player into keeping on playing.  It’s about tricking the player into a world where they are the character, and these events are happening to them.  It’s about showing the player what life would be like from a different angle and, sometimes, even what they might be capable of, if the world was a different place.

Movies, books and games all let us share revelations.  They allow us to describe the world as we see it, and the changes that can take place.  Pointing a gun at the screen or at another character can’t compare to putting that gun in the player’s hands.  Games are about choices, and writing for games is like creating your own series of multiverses, each containing a single, perfect moment, with each moment unique to each player.  The ambiguity of an emotional experience is exponential when you do something for yourself, rather than reading about it or watching it.  Players bring their own meaning to each experience.  And, like a conductor concealed in the orchestra pit below the stage, if all of the elements are right and the plot is in harmony, the audience will be left breathless.

For more of Leanne see her blog.

See her Game Design Aspect of the Month Article in the ‘ International Game Developer’s Association Perspectives Newsletter’ Page 9.

Posted in Characterisation, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Writing Craft, Writing for Computer Games | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

A Beginner’s Guide to Writing for Games

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on July 31, 2010

Meet Leanne C Taylor, games writer and lecturer on interactive narrative.

This is Part One of a two part piece on writing for computer games. The second part will be posted on Tuesday.

A beginner’s guide to writing for games

Writing for computer games is my preferred way of making a living.  There, I said it.  I teach, to improve computer game stories when I’m eventually brought onto a project, because cultivating future co-workers with a strong understanding of story is always a good first step.  I don’t have the patience to write novels, nor the interest in writing screenplays.  What I do have an interest in, is working in a team, and in allowing someone else to take my ideas and run with them to new and wonderful places.  This is why I love computer games.

Working on a game, you have to liaise with the game and level designers, to understand the mission structure and overall story outline.  You may also have to work with the modellers, animators, texture artists and programmers if you want to request specific features – once those features have made it from the bottom to the top of the ‘things we’d like to include’ list.  Because, really, that’s what writing is in games : something we’d like to include.

Pre-production Cycle

Let me start at the beginning.  Many games come from a simple idea.  That simple idea can be “What story are we following?” or it could be “This mechanic I created is really fun – how can we use it?”  Neither of these is the wrong way to start a game.  There are no wrong ways to begin.  What’s important is that the game has begun the pre-production cycle.  You’re on your way.

This is when all the planning takes place.  Ideally, the designers and writers would be working together at this stage to flesh out the main story arc, so level environments are easier to pin down, e.g. if someone wants to make an ice planet, how does it fit into the grand scheme of things?  Should it be level 2 or level 16?  How does it fit with the player’s motivation?

This is an important element to remember about writing for games : motivation is not just about the characters within the story.  You have to motivate the player, too.  Ideally, game mechanics being fun and level design drawing the player onward, they should want to continue anyway, but putting what they’re doing into perspective is the writer’s job.  Making them want to kill person X instead of person Y, or making them feel bad (or good!) for having to choose, are all tasks of the writer.  This means you have an invisible character, one that always needs motivating.  How you do that is something I’ll get to in a moment.

Production Cycle

After the pre-production cycle comes the production cycle (surprise!), when the game actually starts to take shape.  The coders, animators, designers et al will be working their butts off to make a playable prototype – essentially a very simple version of the game that’s usually made up of white boxes moving around inside another white box.  Unsurprisingly, this is called ‘white-boxing’.  Meanwhile, the writer may be working away with the designers to plan out the cinematics – the small movies that play during important moments of the game – and come up with ideas for the main missions.

Toward the end of the production cycle – usually about one to one and a half years of solid work – is where the writer comes back in.  Some companies have writers on-staff who stick with one game through the game’s entire lifecycle.  Smaller companies simply can’t afford the expense, which is why some games writers credit themselves as ‘Writer/Designer’ or, as in my case, only work freelance.  The last 3-6 months of the game are crucial in terms of adding dialogue and sorting out mission motivations.  If the main cinematics have been outsourced, they’re usually done by now, and set in stone, so it’s the writer’s job to make the cinematics make sense in context with the game.

Yes, you read that right.  In the year or so since writing the cinematics and agreeing on the overall storyline, many things will have changed.  The mechanics of what the player does, the level order, or even the entire tone of the game itself could have undergone a massive overhaul.  That’s fine.  As an example, one of the projects I worked on had a complete script, from start to end.  It was in the final draft stages and, I thought, almost a wrap.  Then the production schedule took a hit, and half of the levels had to be cut.  This meant that I now had to take my complete story, truncate it, move pieces around, try to salvage my favourite parts, and make something new and just as exciting from the pieces of the old that had already been finalised.  I didn’t mind.  It was a challenge, and it certainly wasn’t anyone’s fault.  90% of writing is rewriting, and nowhere is that more true than in writing for games.

Tuesday: Dialogue in Games and Game Experience

For more of Leanne see her blog.

See her Game Design Aspect of the Month Article in the ‘ International Game Developer’s Association Perspectives Newsletter’ Page 9.

Posted in Writing for Computer Games | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »