Friday, May 26, 2017

Childhood Game Creations

In this article, game designer Sande Chen reflects on her childhood game creations and how they aided in her career.

The advice I often give to aspiring game designers is to join a game jam like Global Game Jam to meet other like-minded individuals and make a game.  Game designers aren't solo "idea people" who direct the game development process. Aspiring writers are urged to write, not to get others to write for them, and aspiring game makers should try to make games.

But if there aren't game jams near you, you can certainly learn on your own. There are many game creation tools out there, even ones directed at children. I have seen Scratch games that mimic the mechanics of high-end AAA games.

One of my childhood doodles.
For a recent feature on Polygon, "Veteran Game Developers Reveal Their Childhood Creations," I was asked to reflect on my childhood games and how the process of making them aided me in my career.  I have often spoke about making text-based adventure games at panels and interviews.  Prior to the text-based adventure games, I had programmed spelling, grammar, and vocab quizzes. I was familiar with computer programming so it presented no problems when I decided to make the games.

To me, the text-based adventure games felt like a natural extension of my creative writing pursuits.  The interactivity and branching narrative of text-based adventure games didn't seem foreign to me because of the games I played and the Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks I was reading.

Besides digital games, I was fond of drawing elaborate mazes, writing crossword puzzles, and modifying multiplayer tabletop games like mahjong.

While I didn't expect to working in game development after college, I can see how my early interest in games led me to where I am now.  Fresh out of film school, I wanted to be where the frontiers were in new media and writing.  I had grown up with these interactive and non-linear stories and I had created my own.  I decided that I wanted a career in game development.

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 20, 2017

In 2 Days! Designing Games For Impact

My class, Designing Games For Impact, continues on Monday, May 22.  In the previous classes, we have concentrated on emotional impact and persuasive techniques.  As I alluded to in recent articles, "VR: The Ultimate Empathy Machine?" and "Issues About Impact," we'll be discussing the quality of empathy and impact we are trying to achieve.  For us to even think about measuring impact, we need to first agree what it is we want! You'd be surprised how often goals can get mixed up and target audiences can be overlooked.

Whether you are an entertainment developer who wants to add another layer to gameplay and story or an activist or educator who wants to reach out through video games, together we'll discuss different methodologies to achieve your goals.

As always, Playcrafting NYC, which offers classes and events related to game development, offers Early Bird tickets, but if they sell out (and they have in the past), you'll have to pay full price. 

The details!
Designing Games For Impact
Date:  Monday, May 22, 2017
Time: 6:30-8:30 PM

About Me 

Sande Chen is the co-author of Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform. As a serious games consultant, she helps companies harness the power of video games for non-entertainment purposes. Her career as a writer, producer, and game designer has spanned over 15 years in the game industry. Her game 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, Game Education Summit, SXSW Interactive, Serious Play Conference, and the Serious Games Summit D.C.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

When It's Not Punny Anymore

In this article, game writer Sande Chen explains why puns, cultural references, and jokes in games are not always appreciated.

[Warning:  This article contains spoilers for The Secret of Monkey Island and Game of Thrones.]

As writers, we love our wordplay, our rosy-fingered dawns, our puns, alliterations, similes, and metaphors.  They can breathe life into an otherwise dull descriptive passage.  However, culturalization experts in games know that localizing these efforts can be a difficult process.  A lot can get lost in translation, especially if a game's solution hinges upon this wordplay.  A very famous example comes from The Secret of Monkey Island, which not only had to be altered to avoid offending Japanese dairy farmers, but also stumped Brits who had no idea what were monkey wrenches. (They are called gas grips there.)

Professor Clara Fern├índez-Vara points out in her article, "The Secret of Monkey Island: Playing Between Cultures," that the phrase "red herring" has no added meaning in Spanish as it does in English.  In another passage, she explains why the "root beer float" joke falls flat because there is no root beer in Spain.  Understanding these cultural references would have aided in her gameplay.  Unfortunately, the cleverness of the wordplay was not able to be conveyed through literal translation.

Recently, in my Game Writing Primer class, we discussed the character Hodor and the circumstances of his Hodor-ing that came to light in the Game of Thrones episode, "The Door."  It's certainly an a-ha moment when heard in English, but how did the other languages fare? Some translators had it easy.  "Hold the door" sounded like Hodor in their languages.  Others were able to find similar Hodor sounds but for different phrases such as "Block the horde" or "Don't let them go outside!"  But in some countries, like Japan, the wordplay was simply too difficult a task and was not included in the translation.

Although books, movies, and TV shows are routinely translated and subtitled, it's different in a game when a narrative puzzle can depend on a pun the player does not understand.  Even when it's not gameplay sensitive, I still tell my students to carefully consider localization efforts when writing a game.

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.