Monday, September 26, 2016

The Many Functions of Game Writing

In this article, game designer Sande Chen compares writing for VR to game writing and explains how game writing fulfills a bigger role in the game than just providing story and plot.
Imagine you are immersed in a VR setting.  Would you stay rooted in the same place, as if you were watching a 3D movie?  Most likely, no.  You'd want to get up close, see the details, walk around and explore, and if you can, pick up objects and interact.  Instead of a viewer, you'd be a player, or at the least, an user.  As Hollywood embraces more and more VR narratives, its writers need to learn about agency because viewers will no longer be passive participants. 
Photo Credit: StoryForward NYC, Adorama

As I mentioned in my StoryForward NYC lecture last week, many of the challenges in writing for VR have already been explored in game writing.  Video games have rich, immersive worlds that allow for player interaction.  What does player agency mean for the writer?

First of all, the writer needs to surrender some control.  If there's a story, the player may experience the story in his or her own time.  The player may leave the game experience for a couple days and return.  This means that besides advancing the story, game writing has other functions, such as dishing out a reminder, or a redirect.  While this doesn't occur in films as much, recaps are a familiar part of the television experience.

How else does player agency affect game writing?

As with the game's sound effects and music, game writing very importantly helps to guide the player and give feedback.  Sometimes, sound effects aren't enough and more precise instruction is needed to let the player know how to progress through the story or use the controls.  There's a big virtual world out there and as creators, we need to guide the player towards the content.  Feedback is especially important during tutorials.

Game writing also provides contextual information on the player's progress in relationship to other players, even in a single-player game.  Achievements, badges, or titles are the signposts of progress that are shared across social communities.  In multiplayer games, these honors would be seen by everyone in the game and might be a source of bragging rights.

And that immersive world?  Game writing provides many of those details, not only with journals, mission logs, found objects, audiotapes, books of lore, etc., but also with descriptions of objects, powers, weapons, vehicles, factions, and everything else.  Many of these worlds bloomed when a game writer began the process of world building.  Players walk through cities and terrain, interacting with non-player characters, flora and fauna, and objects.  The level of detail can be astounding.

Writing for VR narratives probably has fewer requirements than game writing because generally, there aren't gameplay elements (as there would be in a VR game), but the issue of agency is still important.

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.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Upcoming! Breaking Out Panel and Game Writing Intro

Whoa!  September 2016 is turning out to be a busy month.  Next week, I will be moderating a panel for IGDA NYC called Breaking Out of the Industry, focusing on the freelance life and those starting a new game business.  I've assembled a panel of top-notch professionals who have worked at well-known companies and then forged ahead to start their own businesses.

Please note that space is limited!  If you RSVP'ed and you can't make it, please cancel through EventBrite so that a person on the Waiting List may be notified.

Breaking Out of the Industry Panel
Thursday, September 15, 2016
6:00 - 8:00 PM
42 W 18th Street, NY, NY

Ever wanted to run your own game company or work for yourself? You can! Representing programmers, producers, designers, and writers, our panel of accomplished game developers have gone from working for established companies to becoming founders, consultants, entrepreneurs, and/or freelancers. Listen to advice on business and legal matters and learn what it takes to launch a business in game development.

The following Sunday, I've been invited by StoryForward NYC, a group dedicated to promoting the future of storytelling and entertainment, to give an introduction to the field of game writing.

Introduction to Game Writing with Sande Chen
Sunday, September 18, 2016 
11:00 AM - 1:00 PM
42 W 18th Street, NY, NY

How is story expressed in a video game? Due to the importance of mechanics or gameplay, player choice, and non-linear play patterns, writing for video games presents unique challenges unseen in film and other media. How do you write for a player who wants his or her own personal story in the game?

Join us for an informative talk about game writing with Sande Chen, who was nominated for a WGA Award in Videogame Writing for 2007's PC RPG of the Year, The Witcher.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer with over 15 years of experience in the game industry. Her writing credits include 1999 Independent Games Festival winner Terminus, MMO Hall of Fame inductee Wizard101, and the 2007 PC RPG of the Year, The Witcher, for which she was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Videogame Writing. She has spoken at conferences around the globe, including the Game Developers Conference, SXSW Interactive, New York ComicCon, PAX East, and Screenwriters World Conference West.