What’s your vision?

A new video series for Fable 2 on “love and emotion” got me thinking. Part of our mission at the Writers Cabal is to help you realize your vision. But how do you articulate your vision?

The clue lies in the answer to this question: How do you want your players to feel when playing the game? Now, of course you want your player to feel important, but delving deeper will help differentiate your game from, say, the 100 other RPGs out there. Do you want your player to feel heroic? How about “loved,” as in the case of Fable 2? Do you want your player to feel ambivalent, torn, conflicted, eager, certain, or some combination thereof? There’s no wrong answer, so long as you actually answer that question and articulate it to your team. Your vision will help everyone from programmers to, you guessed it, writers create a cohesive and compelling game.

What questions have you asked yourself to clarify the vision for your game?

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Published in: on May 29, 2007 at 10:41 pm  Comments (4)  

Share the wealth!

You like us, you really like us!  One of our clients recently sent an e-mail about our blog, saying “I’m catching up on your cabal blogs which are FULL of useful information.  Reading those blogs will help me tons once we get down to the nitty gritty…”  Thanks for the vote of confidence!

While we love our clients, our mission is to help developers create compelling games by working better with writers, whoever or wherever they may be.  So if you read a post that may be helpful to someone you know, pass it on!  We will now feature an email link at the bottom of our posts.   Read on, and rock on!

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Published in: on May 24, 2007 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Reading help

You’ve seen it. The plodding step of the programmers, the downturned eyes, the life seemingly sucked out of them — the telltale signs that mean only one thing: it’s time to read the design document. While writers naturally have an easier time of ploughing through copious documents, an e-mail I received from a repeat client reminded me that a little help can go a long way.

After indicating where to find the documentation, our client made a number of fabulous suggestions. While his suggestions may seem like additional reading for the weary, a few sentences more can make the difference between a smooth collaboration and a bumpy one.

1. Indicate what to read first. While reading from beginning to end may work for some people, it’s nice to know upfront a good starting point. It’s a good way to emphasize what is most important to you and your writer.

2. Suggest a natural work flow. While each person may work differently, suggesting an order for completing tasks helps the writer better understand your vision and helps him/her focus on what to read in the documentation.

3. Walk through the entire project. Sometimes neither the documentation or contract accurately delineate what the project entails. Furthermore, even when working with a repeat client or known colleague, a brief runthrough of the project and the supporting documentation is helpful to avoid unpleasant surprises. For example, if a writer is accustomed to working with a team on a project, he should know ASAP if he will now be working alone.

With these suggestions, your next contractor or colleague can attack documentation with a renewed purpose. What successes have you had in guiding others through your documentation?

Question Mark Chris Peterson’s favorite line of game dialog came from Mortal Kombat for the arcade. More Guess that Game Dialog to come!

Published in: on May 23, 2007 at 8:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Music, Meet Writing

The Writers Cabal headed out to New Jersey on Saturday to listen to producer Chris Peterson of Heavy Melody Music and Sound talk about voiceovers. His presentation immediately got us thinking about the times we wrote song lyrics for game characters without even knowing the music for the song. Chris, for his part, was challenged by the fact that most lyrics were already inside the game by the time he stepped in to record, so he was unable to give feedback to the writers on lyrics that just didn’t sing. Both sides of the equation felt somewhat frustrated by not being able to communicate with each other.

The solution seems obvious. When outsourcing writing and/or sound, introduce your writers and sound designers to each other. Most will welcome the opportunity to collaborate more closely or at least be a resource for each other. Doing so will help both your writers and your sound designers “get it.”

Question Mark Chris Peterson’s favorite line of game dialog: “Fatality.” Stay tuned to the next post to find out where it came from and for a new line!

Published in: on May 21, 2007 at 9:40 pm  Comments (1)  

How do you expect games to be written?

We’re in the midst of scoping out our next project and our developer has gone out of his way to read books to learn more about the writing process. Yet an article in Gamasutra unwittingly highlighted two divergent ways to go about writing a game. Different approaches can lead to confusion, especially when a writer’s style conflicts with a developer’s expectations of How It Should Be Done. We’re here to help you articulate those expectations so that your writer, however he/she prefers it done, can cater to your needs.

There are many more than two ways to write a game. Roberta Williams of the adventure series King’s Quest reportedly developed story by drawing a map of the world, the items, and the characters. Jane Jensen of the Gabriel Knight series began with a story outline. Now these two approaches may seem mutually exclusive, but they were able to combine their styles to create arguably the best of the King’s Quest series: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow. The take-home message? Whatever your expectations, you can work with a writer with a different approach from your own, as long as there’s good communication.

Even if this is your first game, you do have expectations or assumptions on how a game should be written. Here are just a few questions to get you thinking:

1. Characters. Do you expect the PC and NPCs to change over time? Where do you stand on the age-old debate: do players see their avatars as themselves, or do they accept them as characters they’re playing? There’s no right or wrong answer here — just know where you stand and express your opinions to your writer.

2. Story development. Are you a Roberta Williams or Jane Jenson? Do you expect a story outline first or are you more interested in incorporating gameplay mechanics/puzzles first? Do you prefer to start with a theme, like “Fire & Ice,” and work from there? When I spoke to Neal Baer of Law & Order: SVU last month, he helped his writers develop story structure first, then added depth in later iterations. Where do you stand?

Asking these questions will initiate conversations that will improve your working relationship with your writer. What questions do you think are an absolute necessity when working with a writer?

Question Mark The previous line of dialog came from the PS1 game “Resident Evil.”
Check back next week for a new line of game dialog!

Published in: on May 18, 2007 at 7:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Secret Cabal Meeting

As much as you may have been reading our blog, you may know very little about the inner workings of the Cabal. We thought we’d lift the veil of secrecy and give you a glimpse into a secret meeting that took place today in New York. To protect the anonymity of those who attended, we have hidden their faces. However, you will clearly see one of the perks of consorting with the Cabal: free green tea ice cream.

Cabalistic Ice Cream

Topics discussed included GDC, AGDC, OGDC, the number of GDCs there are, traveling, shoes, Hollywood writers, an upcoming IGDA panel in New York, and lines of game dialog. Speaking of which…
Question Mark The previous line of dialog came from the PS2 game “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.”
Today’s line: “Here a lock pick it might be handy if you the master of unlocking take it with you.” Check the next post to find out where it came from!

Published in: on May 15, 2007 at 4:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Next Generation of Game Writers

Last week’s article from Next Generation explored the poor quality of game writing. While we focused on misplaced blame for this trend, we didn’t address the other side of the equation. If the quality of game writing rests squarely on the shoulders of game writers, where will the next generation of quality game writers come from?

While the article suggests that game developers should turn to experienced Hollywood writers, many don’t understand the gaming medium. One developer from Bioware said at GDC they’d had problems with writers from Hollywood, who didn’t “get” interactivity. They had to develop an elaborate training process to weed out bad habits. They’re not along in feeling burned by writers from Hollywood.

How about the Hollywood writers themselves? “It’s like writing another language,” said one Hollywood denizen, who had nonetheless been hired to write a game. Larry Brody, a TV veteran who runs a program for aspiring media writers, consulted me about interactive writing for a new class on new media. After the first class, he reported that none of his students seemed interested in games — they all wanted to write original content for the likes of YouTube. He concluded that the next generation of game writers would not, in fact, be coming out of Hollywood, but would instead be coming out of the game schools.

With Hollywood writers who don’t “get it” or just don’t care, game developers may have to look deep inside to improve the quality of their writing. But is there a happy medium? Are there Hollywood writers who know, love, and understand games? We‘d like to think so. Let us know what you think. Would you work with Hollywood writers or only with game writers? Why?

Question Mark The previous line of dialog came from the PC RPG game “DragonWars.”
Today’s line: “Seriously though, you have been playing the game for a long time. Don’t you have anything else to do with your time?” Check the next post to find out where it came from!

Published in: on May 14, 2007 at 7:49 am  Comments (6)  

Entertain, Participate, Learn

In the May/June edition of Technology Review, Games and Their MIT Makers (in which Sande gets a mention) proposes that the best educational games are participatory ones. When you think of some educational software with its drill-and-memorize tendencies, that’s welcome relief! Spurred on by interest in serious games, educators are looking to video games as a new way to educate students of the millennium generation. The immersiveness and familiarity of video games motivates students to spend more time with the curriculum and most importantly, to interact with the material. Why read a history text when you can play with history in a strategy or role-playing game?

Steeped in the tradition of e-learning and the aforementioned “drill-and-memorize,” educational games could use the skills of game writers. While we understand the necessity of subject matter experts and would always work in concert with them, instructional designers should also realize that good interactive stories serve players best. If players enjoy the story, they’re more likely to delve into the subject matter and the game. Above all, if they’re engrossed in the story, the education bits won’t seem force-fed but rather, information needed to advance in the game.

Do you recall any good storytelling in educational or serious games? If so, share!

Question Mark The previous line of dialog came from the PC game “Birthright.”
Today’s line: “Weep for Tars” Can you guess what game it’s from? You have all weekend to figure it out!

Published in: on May 10, 2007 at 7:24 pm  Comments (3)