Kiddification

Some concerned rumbling over at Terra Nova and elsewhere about the kiddification of MMOs.  I know for my part I will never be able to watch a My Little Pony commercial without thinking of the WoW guild name My Little Pwny.  Ah, fun puns.  They were forced to change the name, but the problem remains: designing for the youngest common denominator. 

I’m going to go against the grain and say this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Animation has been dealing with this problem for quite some time, and you’d be surprised what you can pull off for a young demographic.  Furthermore, changing guild names to be more pre-teen friendly is benign compared to some of the kiddification animation writers have had to deal with.  How about attacking a spaceship without lasers

Worse case scenarios, here’s some possible design changes to make WoW even more kid-friendly:

Feign death –> Feign sleep.  Enemies are too nice to wake you up.
Backstab –> Nunny nunny boo boo. You tap your opponent on the back then disappear, doing annoying damage.
Sheeping –> Sheeping.  But you can’t attack a sheep cuz they’re soooo cute!

Got us started — anyone else want to try their hand kiddifying WoW powers or quests?

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Published in: on March 28, 2007 at 3:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

…but perhaps you feel like an animator?

It’s apparently “See what the other guy is doing” week on the Writers Cabal blog.  Recently, an animators’ comment on the poor quality of animation scripts naturally riled up some animation writers.  A particular bone of contention was having to extensively revise a writer’s script so that it could, you know, actually be produced.  The animator’s point reminded me of some developers’ complaints, and I have been among them, that some games writers just didn’t seem to understand the medium.  

Many of you have no doubt witnessed a battle between designers and engineers.  As developers outsource more and more, is the battle between writers and designers far behind? One 20-year veteran of the animation industry concluded that animators and writers would never get along, so let’s hope not.  And while we’re hoping, let’s prevent it from starting:

Helping the Writer Get It Part 1
Helping the Writer Get It Part 2
Helping the Writer Get It Part 3

Published in: on March 27, 2007 at 12:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Be glad you’re not a screenwriter

It may not be common knowledge, but screenwriters are often the red-headed stepchild of feature film production.  The fearless John August writes about the advent of writer co-ops, as screenwriters try to regain control over their words.  I wonder if it’s a glimpse of the game industry’s future.  If developers turn to the Hollywood model of production, will this be a good thing, or a bad thing?

Published in: on March 26, 2007 at 9:36 pm  Comments (2)  

4 Things Not To Do to help your writers “get it”

If you’ve read the first three parts of this series, then you already know the steps you can take to help your writer “get it,” whether it be your game, your story, or your company.  In addition, we have come across the following four methods that don’t work:

1.  Giving your writer a list of names to contact, leaving him/her unaware of who does what.  The writer will be left guessing who to contact about specific problems.

2.  Not making it clear how you want to receive questions and when.  Do you want to get phone calls once a week with all the questions?  Do you want three e-mails a day?  Is it okay to IM with questions as they come up?  Let the writer know.

3.  Not answering writers’ questions, ever (But you wouldn’t do that, would you?). 

4. Failing to give writers early feedback.  If your writer isn’t getting it, you need to act as guide to get back on track.  The sooner you do it, the more time you’ll save down the line — and, to repeat a cliche, time is money.

This list is probably not exhaustive.  Any brave souls out there care to share other Things Not To Do?  Feel free to post anonymously with your horror stories.

Published in: on March 22, 2007 at 6:26 pm  Comments (2)  

Helping the writer “get it:” Part 3

You, like the wise man, may have noticed that many of the ways to help the writer “get” systems also help the writer “get” story, or any other aspect of your game.  So here’s where we put it all together.  You’ve given your writer all the documentation, art, and prototypes you are able to.  They “get it.”  Now, how do you help your writers ask questions so they continue to get it? 

1.  Coordinator method

The writer speaks to one and only one person about his or questions.  This coordinator’s mission is to farm out the questions to the appropriate people and make sure they get answered in a timely manner.  Drawbacks: The relay race may cause slowdowns in getting the answers.  Furthermore, some questions may get lost in translation.

2.  The tag team method

You give the writer a list of names, each person with the ability, the responsibility, and most importantly, the authority to answer questions on a specific subject.  For example, Janie can answer questions about the quest system, while Joe can answer questions about the story background.  Drawbacks:  If questions are missed or dropped, you may hear about it too late.  Also, may be a bit of a juggle for the writer.

Now you, like the wise man, have writers who “get it.”  Right?  But wait!  Return tomorrow, where we conclude with Things Not To Do to help your writers get it.

Helping the writer “get it:” Part 1
Helping the writer “get it:” Part 2
4 Things Not To Do to help your writers “get it

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Published in: on March 21, 2007 at 7:41 pm  Comments (5)  

Helping the writer “get it:” Part 2

We follow, once again, the wise man’s saying that game developers want writers who “get it.”  You’ve seen how you can help writers get the game system.  But what if you have *gasp* a story as well?  Sorry to say that, despite the job title, not all writers will get it, so here are three methods to make sure they do.

 1.  Have your writer write it

I know, a shockingly obvious solution, but one which can be overlooked.  If you will be using writers at any point in the process, why not bring them in early, when you’re developing the story or world?  Even if you have a clear vision of the story you want, having a writer in early can ensure he or she is entirely up to speed when the bulk of the writing needs to be done.

2.  Have your writer read it

This is more than just a “send your writers the story document” point.  Send the story documents — send art.  A picture is worth a thousand words, after all.  Furthermore, if you’re one of the many game developers working with a licensed property, make sure your writers have access to the original IP, or point them in the right direction.  If they’re not taking great pains to get up to speed on your property, red flags should be going up. 

3. Have your writer ask questions of someone you designate

On every game, someone keeps the lore.  In some cases, someone on your team’s entire job is to make sure the game lines up with licensed IP, for example.  In other cases, the lorekeeper isn’t so obvious.  Could it be that level designer, who happens to have every episode of your license wired into her brain?  Regardless, this person should be someone who has time and would enjoy getting back to the writer with answers in a timely fashion.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Helping the writer “get it,” Part 3: Putting It all Together.  In the meantime, can you think of an instance in a game when the writer clearly didn’t “get it?”

Published in: on March 20, 2007 at 3:43 pm  Comments (4)  

Helping the writer “get it:” Part 1

A wise man once told me what game developers really want is writers who “get it.”  You don’t want to explain FPS, turn-based strategy, or what works and what doesn’t in games. However, unless you’re making the exact same game you’ve made before, you’ll have to let the writer know about your game’s system.  So, unless you have your writer sitting right next to the Lead System Designer, here are the top three ways to help your writers “get” your game system:

1. Give them a build or prototype
At South by Southwest, CME’s Zeb Cook supported this method as the way to get writers in tune with the game.  In our experience, actually playing your game answers many of the questions that might come up to a writer. Relying on a build or prototype solely, however, leads to questions when design features are added or removed.
Chances that the developer will give writers a build: Low to medium.

2. Give them relevant design documents
Don’t be afraid.  Unlike many programmers, writers generally like to read.  If you keep the design documents up to date, you will equip your writers with the added ability to recognize when design changes may affect story, dialog, and character.  Unfortunately, as Damion Schubert pointed out in his winning GDC talk, design docs aren’t always kept up to date, and thus may do more harm than good.
Chances of the developer giving the writer the design doc: Low

3. Give them a designer they can ask questions
You already have someone handling the writers — but is this person best equipped to answer system questions?  Consider assigning someone in your design department.  Note: this need not be the lead — simply any designer versed in systems who can take the time to writer questions.
Chances of developers giving writers a go-to person: High.  

Tomorrow, return for Part 2 — helping the writer “get” the story.  In the meantime, have you had other successes communicating systems to remote workers?

Helping the writer “get it:” Part 2
Helping the writer “get it:” Part 3
4 Things Not To Do to help your writers “get it

Published in: on March 19, 2007 at 2:28 pm  Comments (6)  

GDC Coverage at last

Now that everyone has settled in, recovered from GDC flu (mostly), and made plans for the weekend, we’d like to offer you a review of the Writers Cabal week at GDC on Gamedev.net.  From MMOs and narrative design to dancing with geeks, you’ll get our highlights of GDC.  You can also visit Gamedev for an in depth look at Sande’s panel Pirates of the Caribbean: Writing Across Game Platforms.

Now for some photos that didn’t make the cut:

Pirates of the Caribbean panel

Sande Chen, Matt Costello, Mike Goslin, Ted Elliott, and Jeff Gomez before it all went down at the Pirates panel.

Linden Lab party

Linden’s Jake Simpson, Anne Toole, and Bioware’s Damion Schubert in the dark after it all went down at the Linden Lab party.

Published in: on March 15, 2007 at 9:27 pm  Comments (3)