Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Upcoming Workshop: Writing for Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Game Worlds


Hi! I'm pleased to announce a writing workshop I'm leading in conjunction with Playcrafting NYC. If you're interested in science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror and want to populate your game world with monsters, creatures, aliens, fantastical beasts, and otherworldly cultures, you can benefit from this participatory workshop.  It's next week, July 6th, details here.

I've written about the workshops I've attended to learn more about my own writing. I want this workshop to be about improving your work. I'll provide the framework but you will be the ones writing or developing your game world during the class.  Above all, let's have fun!

My background is a mixture of theatre, film, journalism, economics, and writing.  I received a S.B. in Writing and Humanistic Studies (now the major of Comparative Media Studies) at MIT, where I took classes on everything to do with science and writing, including science fiction.  My first game design doc was within science fiction; my first game writing gig, the space combat RPG Terminus, was science fiction.  Afterwards, I worked on the episodic fantasy series Siege of Avalon, MMO Wizard101, and the dark fantasy RPG, The Witcher.  As you might surmise, if you love genre fiction, then there may be opportunities waiting for you in the video game industry.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

IGDA Webinar: Designing for F2P From Day One

In this video, game monetization consultant Ethan Levy discusses how the free-to-play business model impacts game design decisions.





Unfortunately, the IGDA Webinar series has gone on hiatus while the initiative is re-evaluated.  Please give us feedback.

Ethan Levy is an 12 year veteran game designer and producer who has contributed to over 50 shipped games across every genre and platform. He has worked at companies including Pandemic Studios, EA, BioWare and Playfirst. In 2012, Levy founded FamousAspect to serve as a monetization design consultant with a focus on free-to-play games for PC, console, mobile, tablet and web.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Zombies as a Force of Nature

In this article, game designer Sande Chen explains why zombies are a force of nature.

I hate zombies.  In general.  Despite origins in Haitian folklore, our perception of the undead as shuffling, brain-eating, animated corpses is shaped by films.  Zombies are a horror archetype, which means there are variations on a theme.  There could be speedy zombies, vegan zombies, even sentient ones, but for the most part, they aren't.  Zombie attacks are usually portrayed as a never-ending nightmare.  If you saw the latest episode of Game of Thrones, "Hardhome," then you saw wave after wave of unrelenting zombies scratching their way through barriers to kill humans.

Here's the thing:  If zombies aren't sentient, then they aren't villains in the sense that vampires can be.  Sure, zombies have a goal and motivation to do what they're doing, but these kinds of zombies are not sentient enough to be pining over lost loves or plotting nefarious schemes to kill the king.  Zombies are a force of nature, like a disastrous typhoon, shark attacks, swarming bees, a stampeding herd of buffalo, a downpour of frogs, or attacking birds as in Hitchcock's movie The Birds

Jon Snow battles the White Walker
In "Hardhome," the zombies are controlled by the White Walker, who are using them as a weapon of choice.  It's like Percy Jackson controlling ocean waves.  If you think of zombies as a force of nature and pattern their actions based on real-world phenomena, what would you come up with as a system?  There's a lot of interesting animal behavior that can be used for inspiration.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.




Saturday, May 30, 2015

Writing for Horror Video Games Panel in NYC

The WGAE Video Game Writers Caucus Presents

WRITING FOR HORROR VIDEO GAMES

RSVP
Wednesday, June 17, 6:30pm

Writers Guild of America, East
250 Hudson Street, Suite 700, NYC

Join us for a lively discussion on what makes horror games so compelling in the interactive realm.  Our panel of game writers will explore how to fit story elements into a game to produce a spooky and immersive experience. Discover the writer’s role in developing horror games and learn how the player’s interactions make an impact in the process.

What writing techniques transfer well from film to games?  How do we create memorable scary moments?  Our panel will offer insights and lessons learned from working on horror games such as BIOSHOCK and DEAD SPACE.

BIOS
Matthew Weise (Moderator) is a game designer and writer. Currently an independent developer, he has created experimental games in academia as well as big-budget commercial games (AAA). He worked at Harmonix Music Systems as narrative designer on FANTASIA: MUSIC EVOLVED; more recently has freelanced as co-producer/designer on TRANSCENDENCE: ORIGINS FOR THE ALCHEMISTS / Warner Bros. Before that, he was Game Design Director of Singapore-MIT’s GAMBIT Game Lab. His experimental art game, THE SNOWFIELD, received a nomination for the 2012 Independent Games Festival. He is currently working on an unannounced independent narrative game project.

Justin Pappas is the founder of an indie game studio in Boston called Ape Law that exists to explore and experiment with games as the next great storytelling medium. He has worked as a level designer on games like BIOSHOCK: INFINITE and TOMB RAIDER  and moved onto the indie scene in 2011 as the level design lead on CHIVALRY: MEDIEVAL WARFARE, He is now the creative director/level builder/writer/designer for Ape Law's first game, ALBINO LULLABY, a horror adventure with zero jump scares and no gore.

Chuck Beaver is the Narrative Director for EA’s DICE LA studio, working on an unannounced AAA.  He’s been in the games industry for 13 years, and recently came off CALL OF DUTY: ADVANCED WARFARE as their Cinematics Producer. As the Story Producer for the DEAD SPACE franchise, he co-wrote and oversaw the entire  franchise lore: concepting, authoring, editing and policing of storylines across the console and iOS games as well as the transmedia properties, which include the animated movies, novels, graphic novels and comics. He was also heavily involved with the scriptwriting, Motion Capture sessions and voiceover work.

Alex Toplansky has been building interactive products since 2005 in roles ranging from development to production on a number of AAA and Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game franchises. Before beginning his current role as a Senior Writer for Deep Silver Volition, the studio behind award-winning franchises like SAINTS ROW and RED FACTION, Alex was the Senior Narrative Producer at Deep Silver, Volition’s parent and publisher. Alex holds a BA in Anthropology from Brandeis University and a 3d Animation Certificate from Boston University.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Leading by Emotion

In this article, game designer Sande Chen wonders about the role of emotions in designing a game.

One particular way of teaching creative writing is to ask students to explore the essence of emotion and thus, I attended a Meditation and Writing Retreat last December to reach back into my memory and recall the sensations associated with the emotion at the time.  How did this emotion manifest in the body?  Did it cause dry mouth, sniffling, a tightness in the chest, or blank eyes?  Writing about emotion was an instant connection to my creative fury. 

While emotions are an accepted starting point for creative writing, I realize emotions aren't the genesis for most games.  A tech demo is an accepted starting point.  In fact, most genres of games are defined by gameplay rather than the feelings elicited by the game.  The only exception might be horror games, which follow traditional genre fiction categorization.  It's for this very reason that I organized a panel to explore the nature of horror games.  (Stay tuned for more info!)  

But what if emotions played a more important role in game creation?  After all, according to American author James Gunn, people look to fiction to engage in an emotional experience.  Why shouldn't it be the same for games?  And I'm not strictly talking about "making the player cry," but simply about connecting on an emotional level. As game designer Reid Kimball says in Breaking the Vicious Cycle, let's inspire players and go beyond grinding.
 
For many people, Jenova Chen's games are inspirational.  In preparation for my article, Towards More Meaningful Games: A Multidisciplinary Approach, I talked to Jenova Chen about preproduction.  He showed me this Emotional Intensity Graph he made during the conception phase.  What's interesting is that this isn't a map of a character's emotions, but of the player's intended emotions.


Filmmakers and authors need to carefully craft an audience's emotional expectations.  I assume that game designers should do the same.  Should we expect anything less?

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Reward Me, Demotivate Me


In this article, game designer Sande Chen reflects on the nature of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and how it relates to games.

I know extrinsic motivators can lead to surprisingly, the complete opposite effect, demotivation, but I have never experienced it myself until I became an avid player of the hidden object mobile game, Secret Passages.  Games, of course, have loads of extrinsic motivators like enthusiastic praise, achievement badges, and quest rewards.  Could it be that the very same mechanics used to hook initial players can lead to waning interest in the long run?

Psychologists know that extrinsic motivators can decrease intrinsic motivation, i.e. whatever held your interest in the first place.  Displaying intrinsic motivation, a student practices violin to get better at playing violin.  Some might call this doing something for the love of it.  It's also called DIY learning and self-directed learning.  Paying $10 to a student to practice violin would be an example of extrinsic motivation.  Soon, the student begins practicing for the $10 rather than for the joy of it and won't practice without that incentive.  Sure, extrinsic motivators have their uses, but you can bet that student won't make it to Carnegie Hall without a desire to excel at violin playing.

Likewise, players can have a burning desire to master a game and they don't need a bribe. Granted, that can be hard to do with a game that's more like a game service, incomplete and ongoing rather than a finite product, but a player can still race through all the content that does exist.  I've seen players finish in a day what took content developers a couple months to implement.  That's why some content may seem grindy because it's designed to keep players at bay, away from the finishing line.

Secret Passages did have its repetitive moments.  I like hidden object games, though I wouldn't say I love them.  Hidden object games supposedly do well because our short-term memory fades and we can redo the same puzzle over without it boring us to tears.  I played Secret Passages incessantly not only to explore the content and level up, but also to analyze its design.  Since Secret Passages was an ongoing work-in-progress, some things didn't make sense until the features arrived.  There was one feature, though, that had no gameplay advantage and thus, I ignored it.  This feature disappeared some time later, perhaps due to analytic data.  I never did level everything up completely, but I did unlock all the puzzles, at least the ones where I didn't have to gamble or pay. 

In fact, even when the quest told me to gamble, I had the strength to simply abandon the quest.  I think for some people, this is harder than you would think.  People have this innate desire for completion.  There's satisfaction in completing a quest and getting the rewards.  As game designers, the quest feature sounds good because it gives a reason for players to come back to the game. We're designing for retention.

Before, I was self-directed, pursuing my own goals, and even though I had to wait for my energy to replenish, I came back to the game.  With the daily quests, I did come back to the game, but I soon realized that I was only playing for about 15-20 minutes a day whereas before, I was playing for couple hours spread out throughout the day.  Each morning, I would look at the daily quests, complete them, and then never look at the game until the next day.  At first, I thought of those 15 minutes as my break time, but then I started to think of it as a waste of time.  There's other games to play, after all!  So, one day, despite my accumulation of various in-game currencies, badges, and so forth, I deleted the game.

A few months later, I reflected upon this action and realized that playing the game for quest rewards had turned into my demotivation.  Had I simply been turned off because I had exhausted the content?  What do you think?  Is this an example of extrinsic motivation decreasing intrinsic motivation?



Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Friday, May 8, 2015

IGDA Webinar: The Evolution of the RPG

In this video, producer Patrick Holleman delves into the game design implications that occurred as role-playing games evolved from table-top games to the video game space.



Slides from this presentation can be found here. Game design Webinars from the IGDA are held on every third Wednesday of the month.