Writers Cabal, GDC, and game writing: Year One

One year ago today, two intrepid writers started out on a grand adventure — officially forming a game writing partnership and beginning this blog. Our first post discussed our fervent hope to help developers work with writers and writing and improve the quality of game writing over all. One year later, we look back at all we’ve accomplished with pride.

And a party.

Tonight Writers Cabal will celebrate it’s one year anniversary/blogiversary at GDC. Join us if you’re in town!
Sugar Cafe
679 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94102 US
Monday, February 18, 9:30PM

Celebrate the successful first year of the Writers Cabal and hear an exciting announcement about what’s in store for our future! Join us for an intimate gathering of friends new and old — you bring the smiles and we’ll bring the cake!

With a lovely fireplace, the Sugar Cafe has been recognized in three “Best of” categories by Citysearch. More importantly, it’s conveniently located near the Cellar, where Telltale will be holding its party that evening.

You will have to show up yourself to answer the question you’ve been asking yourself since you started reading this blog entry: Is the cake a lie? See you there!

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Published in: on February 18, 2008 at 8:40 am  Comments (1)  

SXSW preview: Game story and gameplay

You didn’t think we were done yet, did you? We posted two weeks ago about game story and art direction in preparation for our Core Conversation at South by Southwest (SxSW). But since we’re all about a multidisciplinary approach, we’re not stopping there — we’ll be discussing a few techniques in the weeks to come. But first, if you want to create passion and meaningful games through story, you will need to master the greatest tool in your arsenal: gameplay.

I often hear new developers asking this question: “Which is more important in a game, story or gameplay?” If I ruled the nation of games, I would flog anyone who dared ask this question! It is based on a faulty premise, that story and gameplay are discrete elements in a game. If you suffer from this misconception, I highly recommend you repeat this mantra to yourself several times a day, perhaps clicking your heels together as you do:

The story is in the gameplay.

The story is in the gameplay.

As you may already know, one of the first rules of storytelling is “Show, don’t tell.” In games, it’s “Do, don’t show or tell.” In short, your players experience the story first by what they do in the game. The path ahead for the game industry is to develop innovative gameplay that is not only fun, but that more thoroughly embeds story and meaning into the game.

I often refer to PRINCE OF PERSIA as a great example of using gameplay to convey story and meaning. SPOILERS AHEAD! Why can you rewind combat and travel backward in time? The theme of the game centers around this very issue. The gameplay itself foreshadows the end, where you ultimately travel back in time before the inciting event of the game. The story supports the gameplay, and the gameplay supports the story.

Ready to share your own examples of gameplay that delivers story, or hear about new ones? Join the conversation March 10th at SxSW in Austin! In the meantime, stay tuned for more SxSW preview as we tackle another discipline you need to master to create passion and meaning in games!

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Published in: on February 14, 2008 at 4:20 pm  Comments (1)  

Congratulations, WGA winner for videogame writing!

While much ado has been made about the impending end to the Writers Guild strike, something momentous has slipped past most people’s notice.  On Saturday night, at an informal — verrrry informal — gathering of writers in NYC, the Writers Guild awarded its first ever award for videogame writing.  Both the game industry itself and the WGA should pay attention to the outcome.

Reactions to the announcement of the new award were mixed, to say the least.  Some in the game community have dismissed the awards due to a few omissions from the nominee list — where’s Bioshock? Where’s Mass Effect? Never mind that they probably never entered the competition. One blogger even wondered where WoW was.  Really?  I know there are 10 million subscribers, but is the writing really that fabulous?  Some argued the nominations were filled with washed-up film/TV writers “slumming” it, who didn’t really care about or “get” games.    Others lauded the move, saying that game writing tends to be better than film/TV writing anyway.  Would either side prove to be right?

After enduring these strong and sometimes virulent opinions, we nominees gathered at the WGA event to hear the outcome.  Somewhere after Richard Belzer’s lewd acts with his dog — don’t ask — they announced the winner of the first annual WGA Award for Videogame Writing.  Was a washed up screenwriter the winner?  Was it some hoity toity Hollywood denizen who couldn’t care less about our industry? 

No, I’m happy to say it wasn’t.  It was a game designer, a 15-year veteran of the game industry who lives in North Carolina.  He had to fight a bit within his company to get to write the dialog, but he certainly enjoyed it.  And, perhaps for the first time, he has been recognized not for his achievements in game sales or design, but for his writing.  Both the WGA and the game community should be proud to see this nominee win.  I know I am.

While we would have loved to win for our work on the Witcher, we couldn’t think of a finer representative of the game industry for the first WGA award.  Congratulations, writers Dave Ellis and Adam Cogan!   

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Published in: on February 11, 2008 at 1:49 pm  Comments (8)  

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year! If you don’t celebrate it, all the better. Learning about different cultures may turn out to be quite helpful on your next game. While we’re celebrating, you get to view a little treat… our fine photo in traditional dress.

Anne and Sande in traditional Chinese dress

Published in: on February 7, 2008 at 6:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Top 3 problems plaguing game production: the writer solution

Our buddy over at Gameproducer.net asked readers to volunteer their biggest problems in game production.  So far, the comments center around these three issues:  time, money, and the team itself.  We thought we’d offer up a few solutions for dealing with these issues when working with game writing and story.   

TIME
When you’re racing to meet milestones to make your hard and fast ship date (do those exist?), writing sometimes comes in last.

  • Hire writers.  Many developers write content for their games and rely on a number of excuses not to hire writers.  when crunch time hits, it’s better to focus on your core strengths.  A producer should spend his/her time producing; a designer should focus on designing.  The only thing worse than someone spending too much time on tasks they’re not suited for is having to spend even more time to fix the resulting work.
  • Hire outside writers.  By doing so, you will take a lot of pressure off of your core team, so they can focus on key tasks.  The outside writers can help prevent burn-out, which itself can cause production delays. 

MONEY
I know what you’re thinking: “You just told me to hire writers, but my main issue is money!”  When it comes to managing money, people most often stumble not because they have too little money, but because they don’t wisely use the money they have.

  • Use your writers to save money.  If you have a story-based game, writers can help you reduce scope without sacrificing story quality, thus cutting down on your costs.  Opposed to programming, art, and music, you’ll also notice that simple text takes less time and is actually pretty cheap.  If you’re going super-low budget, you may in fact only need text and programming to make a game. 
  • Use your writers, not your team.  You do not want your $250,000-a-year creative director spending his time writing “Good job!” “Excellent!”  You will save money by hiring writers at a reasonable rate and letting your team do what it does best. 
  • Hire outside writers instead of internal writers.  If you expect intermittent need for a writer, like many developers, an outsourced writer can save you money.  As long as you stipulate it in the contract, you will not have to pay for the downtime when you have nothing for the writers to work on. 

YOUR TEAM
One of the commenters on Gameproducer.net pointed out that if a producer has a bad team, the producer is 50% at fault.  Whether that’s true or not, here’s a few tips on how to make sure that, at least, you’re managing a great writing team.

  • Go with experienced writers.  Writers with some experience working in games will be a lot easier to manage.  This fact almost goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. 
  • Help your writers “get it. If you’re working with experienced game writers, they should already get the game medium, but you need to go the extra step and help them “get” your project. 

Of course, finding writers who share your vision and work values will also make your team function better, but this idea doesn’t only apply to writers.   

What do you think?  Do you experience other production issues related to writing?  We’d love to hear about it! 

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Published in: on February 5, 2008 at 5:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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