Innovative Games at GDC 2010

I just noticed that I was included in a list of MIT alumni, in Even More Groundbreaking Alumni-Developed Video Games.   What an honor to be mentioned alongside Looking Glass Studios, and games like Defender, Ms. Pac-Man, and Asheron’s Call. I should mention that Cogs is a Finalist  in the 12th Annual Independent Games Festival in the category of Excellence in Design.  I attended my very first GDC with 1999’s IGF winner Terminus and it’s wonderful to see how the IGF has grown over the past years.

Speaking of innovative games, I will be leading the IGDA Game Design session at GDC 2010.  We plan to have some interesting paper prototypes from professional and student designers alike for you to play, so please come and join in the fun!

IGDA: Game Design SIG
Speaker: Sande Chen (Writer and Game Designer, Freelance)
Date/Time: Friday (March 12, 2010)   3:00pm — 4:00pm
Location (room): Room 228, East Mezzanine
Track: Game Design
Format: 60-minute Roundtable
Experience Level: All

See you at GDC 2010!

Posted by Sande.

Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 9:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Writers Cabal, Farewell

You may have noticed that for several months, Writers Cabal Blog was not updated.  In fact, in March 2009, we parted ways without deciding the fate of Writers Cabal Blog.

Because we still have our games, like Wizard 101, and books (Professional Techniques for Videogame Writing and Writing for Video Game Genres) out there, we have decided to keep the blog up and we may update it from time to time.

We hope that you have enjoyed our many posts on games and game writing.  Farewell 2009.

This post brought to you by Writers Cabal. We write games!

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Published in: on December 30, 2009 at 11:36 pm  Comments (7)  

Do we need a game vernacular?

Over the summer, I had the pleasure of participating in the Gamer Confab on Michael Abbott’s blog, The Brainy Gamer.  Along with Justin Keverne, who writes Groping the Elephant, and Roger Travis from Living Epic blog, we discussed social games, game vernacular, Denis Dyack, Wizard 101, game pricing, auteurs, narrative design, and game genres on this episode of The Brainy Gamer podcast.

Posted by Sande for Writers Cabal.  We write games!

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Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 6:04 pm  Comments (1)  

Story in MMOs – Beckett Massive Online Gamer

Are writers the unsung heroes of MMOs? The Sept/Oct 2009 print edition of Beckett Massive Online Gamer features an article with a number of MMO writers, including two faces that you might know quite well. The article covers the frustrations of writing for MMOs and what the future has in store for story.  Why are we bringing it up so late?  We didn’t know about it until someone recognized our pictures!

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Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 11:34 am  Comments (1)  

Writing for Video Game Genres Book Review

If you haven’t yet picked up the IGDA Writers SIG book Writing for Video Game Genres and want to know the full scoop, check out this recent book review from Slashdot.

Here are some other editorial comments:

A must-have for the bookshelf of any game writer, no matter what genre they’re working in. It was equally fascinating and useful for me to read the chapters about genres I’m experienced in and the chapters about genres I’ve never worked in. –Steve Meretzky, VP of Game Design, You Plus

For those of us swimming in the murky waters of games storytelling and narrative design, Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG is not only a life raft, it’s one with a treasure trove on top. Seldom do we erstwhile swimmers get this lucky. Read, learn, and build the rafts of the future. –Rhianna Pratchett, Writer and co-narrative designer on Heavenly Sword, Mirror’s Edge, and Overlord

The Writer’s SIG has assembled an impressive group of experts who deliver spot-on advice for tackling gaming’s many genres. I wish I had read this 20 years ago. –Bob Bates, Veteran game designer, writer

You can purchase Writing for Video Game Genres from the publisher, AK Peters, or on Amazon.

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Published in: on November 25, 2009 at 9:25 am  Comments (2)  

Get Social, Get Writing, Get Educated

Since GDC09, we’ve been busy with appearances and projects.  Anne recently spoke at Digital L.A.‘s Games Go Social panel in May and discussed the social aspects of games and how successful social games, iPhone games, and casual MMOs are bringing games to the mainstream.  Meanwhile, I analyzed the current crop of social games and offered design ideals for the next generation of social games in an article for Gamasutra, called “The Social Game Boom.”

Next week, I’ll be at CMU for the 2009 Game Education Summit, on June 16-17, 2009.  I’ll be on a panel with noted game writers and academics Lee Sheldon, Richard Dansky, Drew Davidson, and Elisabeth Nonas addressing last year’s hullabaloo on how game writers don’t belong in the game industry.  We’ll also be discussing narrative design and writing for ARGs and non-AAA games.

Additionally, I’ll be co-presenting with Ricardo Rademacher, CEO of Futur-E-Scape, in a session entitled “Creativity, Constraints, and Compromises.” Ricardo Rademacher recently presented his educational theory of MMOGs at the Independent MMO Game Developers Conference in Las Vegas last April.  We’ll be discussing how his educational theory meshed with narrative design to develop a fantasy MMORPG that also teaches physics.  In fact, this game was a case study in our chapter for the book, Writing for Video Game Genres.

Next, I’ll be moderating a panel on educational MMOs and virtual worlds at State of Play VI, on June 19-20, 2009 at New York Law School.  In this panel discussion, leading researchers and creators of educational virtual worlds will discuss the challenges of aligning curriculum and learning with fun. A central theme to the discussion will be to try and establish some best practices for the integration of theory and curriculum into educational virtual worlds.

Attending any of these conferences?  Let me know!

Posted by Sande for Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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Published in: on June 8, 2009 at 1:10 pm  Comments (1)  

#1 mistake in game development

Gamasutra rather ingeniously decided to examine all its game postmortems over the past 3 years and actually look for common denominators. Thank goodness, since I wouldn’t have had the stamina to do it. Their study resulted in a list of 10 problems that repeatedly tripped up developers in making great games on time and on budget. What was problem number 1? You guessed it: content added too late.

We have repeatedly brought up the positive impact of bringing in writers early, and highlighted the importance of giving writers the chance to polish (problem #8).  You can say we’re biased.  I’m going to posit that Gamasutra isn’t.  Here’s a quote from Alyssa Finley, talking about the successful Bioshock:

“We had many drafts of the story over the course of development, but the final draft turned out to be an almost complete rewrite.”

“Competing demands for time and resources meant that, unfortunately, some of the important narrative details of the game weren’t created until the final rewrite, and therefore required quite a bit of work to retrofit into an existing game.”

If a successful game with strong developer and publisher backing is wishing it had more time to write, chances are every other story-driven game experiences this problem in spades.

The impact is obvious and pervasive: “Getting story and features right is difficult at the best of times, but when that content comes in just under the wire, not only does that content suffer, every element of the game that relies on that content suffers.”  Thanks, Gamasutra — we couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

Did you read the article?  What did you think of the other mistakes in game development?

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Published in: on April 28, 2009 at 8:40 am  Comments (4)  

System-level Thinking Needed For Narrative Too

In the book, Changing the Game, by David Edery and Ethan Mollick, the authors give several examples where business failed to understand system dynamics.  Basically, retailers didn’t talk to wholesalers or salespeople didn’t communicate with upper management about the circumstances on the street.  So, when the salespeople had a sale to move a slow-moving widget, upper management only got the message that there was an increased demand in widgets.  Thinking they’re onto something big, upper management puts in more orders to buy the parts needed to make more widgets.  The factories churn out more widgets and the salespeople end up with a glut of a product that nobody really wanted in the first place.  As you can see, when businesses fail to have system-level thinking, they can find themselves in a self-defeating spiral.

Designing systems, of course, is a part of game design.  And game development itself also has systems and feedback loops.  For a while now, we, like other writers, have advocated including the writer early on in the development cycle.  This is so the story can go through iterations just like any other aspect of game development, but also because the narrative should not be confined to a vacuum.  It is, in fact, part of the system and should be integrated into the system.  If you don’t know your story, how can you give a really good reason as to why your player is fighting that enemy and why the world looks that way?  Or maybe the story is out of sync with the gameplay, thus making the game world illogical.

What do you think?  Do you have other examples of system breakdown or self-defeating cycles in game development?

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Published in: on April 7, 2009 at 7:01 am  Comments (6)  
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