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!

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

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  1. As a “Hollywood” writer who’s also a published author and an experienced technical writer, I think I have a unique perspective on the unstable interface between games and Hollywood writers.

    But let’s back up just a step or two. A good friend – a director and producer who literally grew up in the film industry and is one of the most knowledgeable people I know about film making and the movie business – once told me that very few Hollywood screenwriters have any idea how to write a screenplay.

    When he told me this it didn’t really sink in. I was too busy worrying if he had been referring to me. I have, however, come to understand what he meant, and he was right.

    The film and television media employ all the classic storytelling rules and tools, but they also require an understanding of them as intensely visual media. The most important storytelling tools in Hollywood are those that tell a story visually. Few would-be screenwriters really grasp what this means or how to tell a story visually.

    Games have something in common with film and TV – they have their own specific rules and techniques and strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. If you, as writer, don’t understand those unique traits of the medium, you’ll fail no matter how successful you have been in other media.

    The real question is not “where will the game writers come from?” It is “which path is shorter but still arrives at a fully equipped game writer – Hollywood screenwriters who learn about games, or game developers who learn how to write?

    The obvious answer is the latter – but the obvious answer isn’t necessarily the correct one. Hollywood teaches us everyday that many people think they can write when they can’t – and probably can’t learn to write, either. The WGA registers 95,000 scripts a year, most of which are just awful. Is it rally easier to learn to write – really write at a very high level – or is it easier to take fully developed writing skills and learn the ins and outs of a new medium?

    I think the best – and probably shortest – path to creating truly great game writers is to teach someone who already has a solid writing foundation about games. It might take a long time for the game companies to accept this. It might take a long time for game developers to accept that they might not be great writers. (I’ve run across a number of game companies where “everybody here is a writer, so we don’t need your services”.)

    My overly long two cents …

  2. Thanks for posting! We certainly hope that developers continue to appreciate the experience that some Hollywood writers bring to the table. However, while it’s true that many game developers are not great writers, you yourself point out that not all Hollywood writers are great writers either. It’s hard to say if you learn to write better while PAing on a feature or while you’re level designing a game… at the end of the day, the best writer will be the one with the most passion and dedication.

    I like to draw a distinction between Hollywood writers who write for games, and Hollywood writers with a passion for games. My big fear is that in five years (or five months if the WGA strikes), games will see an influx of unemployed feature/TV writers who would love to be working on anything else, but need games to pay the rent. Ultimately it comes down to who developers want to work with — would you rather work with writers who’ve learned “just the facts” about game development, or with writers who love games? You can teach the craft of writing. You can even teach the rules of game development. But you can’t teach passion.

  3. […] previous line of dialog came from the PS2 game “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.” Today’s line: “Here a lock […]

  4. Where will the next generation of game writers come from? From published novelists who love gaming – like me. I’ve just been “contracted” to write a game. Gaming is a combination of a novel/screenplay/game with the emphasis on the game part of the equation. A storyline must enhance the gameplay or it’s wasted time for the gamer.

    As a gamer, I can see the flaws in storylines that inhibit game play. As a novelist, I can see how games are enhanced by a storyline that captivates the player.

    Diana

  5. Considering the high caliber of writing that often accompanies a Japanese game, I would say good new game writers will come out of Japan — and out of video gamers influenced by Japan.

  6. Yes, games and manga from Japan have influenced many of us writers (perhaps I should only speak for myself). Clearly, the Japanese writers would come out of game schools or from a game design background, much like developers in the US and Europe. Realistically, though, Japan couldn’t be the sole provider of game entertainment throughout the world. Hollywood writers with an understanding of games would provide a professional and exciting alternative — perhaps even in partnership with Japanese developers.


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