Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Viability of Spec Game Scripts

In this article, game writer Sande Chen weighs the primacy of gameplay inspiration over story, and story inspiration over gameplay, to opine on whether or not the game industry would ever accept spec game scripts.

While the game industry may share some terminology with Hollywood, its business practices for story development are not that similar.  Therefore, when I've been asked on occasion if game companies routinely accept spec scripts or game ideas, I usually remark that if that happened, it would be very rare.  In a recent article, "Could there be a speculative script industry for narrative games?" writer Hannah Woods explored the possibility that this might change for interactive story games.

In general, I have found that most game companies start with tech or gameplay or a theme, but I've also seen games that very obviously were created story first, gameplay later.  In those cases, the game may seem like a collection of ideally related mini-games made to support the story.  For example, in Missing, a game about the tragedy of human trafficking, the gameplay goes in very short order from choosing branching narrative to an action mini-game and onward to resource management.  Cynically, I thought that even though the game appeared to have a way to escape the traffickers, I knew in deference to the story that the player-character would not be allowed to go free because otherwise, the full story of what happens to girls forced into prostitution would not be revealed.

Even when the basic gameplay is of primary concern, this does not necessarily mean that the story has been ignored.  Game designers often think about verbs associated with activities, so it may very well mean that the story elements have been the inspiration behind gameplay actions.  When the gameplay can become more interesting and complex in progression while also dovetailing with an exciting story, then the chances of ludonarrative dissonance are lower.  Our challenge is to have gameplay and story development working in concert.  My best experiences as a game writer have been when I've been treated as part of the team, leading to gameplay inspirations from the story, and vice versa.

Many game writers have complained that the gameplay first, story later methodology presents issues and as I pointed out above, going story first, gameplay later faces similar challenges.  Moreover, video games can be very different in their gameplay.  For this reason, how one approaches writing one game versus writing another game may be radically different. Therefore, for most games, especially the AAA games that most aspiring game writers would like to write, a spec game script would not make sense. But what about narrative-driven games?

Even within the umbrella of narrative games, there are different engines and different gameplay.  A text-based Twine game won't have the running and shooting actions that Mass Effect has. The only way I see spec game scripts working is if there's specificity for a particular engine and particular type of game.  That's how it is right now with companies like Choice of Games but if a writer wrote an entire spec game in ChoiceScript, I doubt another company would want it as is.

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, July 11, 2017

Upcoming: 2017 Serious Play Conference July 18-20

I've been collecting my thoughts on social impact games in blog posts such as "Issues About Impact" and exploring the nature of persuasion, empathy, and emotional hooks in my Designing Games For Impact classes.  Just as I had done with my research into educational games, I wanted to look at social impact games from different angles.  I learned about storytelling, as defined by marketers, and with my knowledge of cinematography, began to analyze commercials and PSAs.  Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform had briefly covered social commentary games or op-ed games and I was interested enough to revisit the subject and take a deep dive.

Next week, I will be presenting at the 2017 Serious Play Conference, a leadership conference for both those who create serious games/simulations and those who implement game-based learning programs.  Specifically, I will be talking about issues surrounding designing games for social impact and will be looking at techniques used in games and other media to further impact and persuade without preaching or browbeating.

It’s become apparent that it’s not so easy to convince others of a different viewpoint or to generate empathy for a cause. Within our social media bubbles, beliefs are constantly reinforced and entrenched. So how can social impact games break down these barriers? How can they go beyond preaching to the choir?

This year, the Serious Play Conference will be at George Mason University, on July 18-20, 2017.  Passes, including student tickets, can be purchased here.

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 10 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. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Diverse Character Design and Representation GDoC Expo

In this video from Game Devs of Color Expo, panelists Amaryah Shaye Armstrong, Sande Chen, Yussef Cole, Tanya DePass, and Dina Abou Karam provide an in-depth look into the issue of diverse character design and representation.

Did you miss the Game Devs of Color panel, Diverse Character Design and Representation in Games?

We had a lively conversation about the portrayal of minorities in games, the lack of minority characters especially in fantasy settings, and how assuming the default character is white affects game development processes.  As a call to action, the panelists urged audience members to support minority game projects through Kickstarter or Patreon, to consider hiring a diversity consultant, and to look more closely at company hiring practices.

Diverse Character Design and Representation in Games 
Game Devs of Color Expo
, June 24, 2017

Five games industry professionals will further the case for diversity in character design during this panel. Topics to be discussed will include the portrayal of dark skin in games, representation of Arabs in video games, queer people of color in games, whitewashing, and cultural appropriation.

Amaryah Shaye Armstrong 
Sande Chen [Writer and Designer]
Yussef Cole [Writer and Visual Artist]
Tanya DePass [Director, I Need Diverse Games]
Dina Abou Karam [Artist/Game Designer]

Check out the video below: