Event Wrap-Up: Writing for Fantasy Game Worlds

With over 100 RSVP’s to the event, we’re pleased the Writing for Fantasy Game Worlds panel got so much interest! Panelists Daniel Greenberg, Jeff Gomez, and Steve Balzac captivated the audience’s attention with anecdotes, advice, and frank discussion. While the purpose of the panel was to delve into the writing and design of fantasy game worlds, it also highlighted the need for writers in game development.

Tracing the roots of computer RPGs back to live-action and pen’n’paper RPGs, the panelists stressed the importance of storytelling in audience enjoyment. While computer games often do not live up to its predecessors in terms of storytelling, fantasy titles can still retain a mythic quality. It’s not just the narrative elements of orcs and elves, said Greenberg, but the story itself must resonate with the audience. To do this, Gomez advocated building a story bible that included the mythos and a deep analysis of the themes integral to the property. Greenberg noted that for all the games he worked on that were connected to The Lord of the Rings, he wanted to portray the theme of fellowship.

Balzac talked about magic systems and how the story material itself led to the magic system. When he set a game in the world created by H.P. Lovecraft, he ended up writing the Necronomicom with its dark arcane magic. Magic would not be a simple zap in this world. Players would have to read through tomes of secret knowledge to learn spells.

The panelists were hopeful that game developers would pay more attention to storytelling in the future. This would involve more interesting choices, rather than a set “good” path and a “bad” path. Stories need to be better than just backdrops. In addition, aspiring game writers were told to be cognizant of game design and level design disciplines.

Writing for Fantasy Game Worlds panel

When it was all over, people wanted more. One question was about conducting future workshops on game design and writing. We’re still mulling it over. But we’ll let you know.

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Published in: on June 28, 2007 at 10:54 am  Comments (2)  

Thanks, game developers! We’re growing — what do you want to read?

Woohoo! This blog was recognized as one of the top 100 growing blogs. That’s us, just narrowly edging out a woman named Miruna, writing a novel in Romanian, apparently. That said, we couldn’t have gotten this far without you, dear reader, so we throw ourselves at your mercy. Are you getting what you want out of this blog? As a developer, do you want to read more or less of the following, or something else entirely?

* collaboration between writers and developers of all stripes

* intersection of game design and narrative design

* navigating licensed IP

* tips for localization/writing for translation

* analysis/case studies of existing games’ stories and dialog

* tips from other media, such as television and animation

E-mail us or drop us a comment. If you’re a developer, we’ll send you some swag in thanks. We’ll even take requests to stop reading so much Gamasutra!

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Published in: on June 26, 2007 at 12:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

San Francisco in Jell-O

The landmarks of San Francisco are very beautiful, especially when made in Jell-O.

What landmarks do you recognize?

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Published in: on June 25, 2007 at 4:20 pm  Comments (2)  

IGDA and Writers Cabal present… tonight!

New Yorkers! Tonight, Thursday, is the night!  Be there or feel left out 😉

Writers Cabal is pleased to announce the following panel, “Writing for Fantasy Game Worlds.”

Moderated by Sande Chen, the panel will explore the overwhelming appeal of fantasy computer games and the importance of writing and story development in world building and player immersion. From pitch to production, from pen-and-paper and live-action to massively multiplayer game worlds, the panelists discuss the process of fantasy world building for original concepts or licensed properties. Furthermore, they elaborate on how story development can affect game system design, character design, and environments.

Panelists include:

  • Daniel Greenberg – Free-lance Writer/Game Designer, Story/Tolkien Consultant, Lord of the Rings Online (among others)
  • Jeff Gomez – CEO, Starlight Runner Entertainment; Story/World Design, Magic: The Gathering (among others)
  • Steve Balzac – LARP Writer/Game Designer, Founder, Society for Interactive Literature; Founder, MIT Assassin’s Guild (one of the earliest LARP groups in USA)
  • Possible surprise guest!

The Scoop:

Presented by the NYC Chapter of the IGDA and Writers Cabal

Panel: Writing for Fantasy Game Worlds

When: Thursday, June 21, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM

Where: Wollman Hall, The New School University
65 West 11th St, 5th Floor
New York City, New York

RSVP: http://www.largeanimal.com/igda/chapter-2007_06_21/

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Published in: on June 20, 2007 at 9:11 pm  Comments (5)  

Gender unknown: writing for French translation

We’re writing for a project with a unique mandate: make it easy to translate into French. This is a challenge because we do not know which gender the player will choose to play. This problem must be unique to game writing, so we thought we’d write up a little cheat sheet for people writing in English who may not know what problems the French translators may encounter.

1. Avoid simple past tense and future perfect with gendered pronouns as direct objects. For example “You killed me!” or “I hope you won’t have killed me by then” would have different spellings in French depending on the gender of “me.” Ok: “You killed Adriane!” “I hope you won’t have killed Adriane by then.”

2. Avoid “etre” verbs in the simple past tense and future perfect when the subject is gender unknown. Fortunately, there are only 16, but they’re pretty major: to come, to arrive, to enter, to climb, to stay, to return, to turn back, to be born, to go, to depart, to leave, to get down, to fall, to come back, to become, to die. Click here to find out more about verbs that take etre.

3. Avoid reflexive verbs in simple past or future perfect with the subject an unknown gender. So what are reflexive verbs? These types of verbs inherently reflect back on the subject, ie “I hurt myself,” “I washed myself.” Less obviously: “To amuse oneself,” “to have fun,” and “to be interested” also fall into this category.

4. Avoid adjectives describing your unknown gender. “You’re smart!” “I’m stupid!” — these and most other adjectives in French have different spellings based on the gender of the person described. That said, many exceptions exist, like “orange.” Rather than sharing an exhaustive list, try to avoid them. Ok: “That was a smart thing you did.”

5. Watch for plural subjects with one gender unknown. The above rules dealt mostly with singular masculine or feminine. However, you may find an instance where the unknown gendered person is referred to in a group. If this group consists entirely of males, or males and females, then you can proceed with impunity. However if the group may consist entirely of females, or may not depending on user choice, you will have to follow the guidelines above.

Next week: gender unknown for Yemeni Arabic. Just kidding! You don’t want to know about the duals. Do you find these guidelines similar for other romance languages, such as Spanish? Would you find it helpful to learn about other languages’ issues?

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Published in: on June 20, 2007 at 11:32 am  Comments (13)  

Outsourcing increases speed and value

Today’s Gamasutra blog pointed out what we’ve been talking about all along — outsourcing has almost always been common for game writers, but soon this process may be standard for all creatives.  Studios may have teams “no bigger than a dozen directors and producers  […] content companies can master their art, offer speed, value and specialisation that a bespoke development team might not be capable of.”

What do you foresee as the benefits and drawbacks of this trend?

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Published in: on June 18, 2007 at 10:43 am  Comments (3)  

Father’s Day and Games: Sande

My father’s company has to do with the manufacturing of computers and my mother was a computer programmer. Hence, my earliest memories have to do with computers and games. There’s even a magazine photograph of my father carrying out a big Apple II box out of a computer store, with my brother and me in tow. We were treated to the likes of Flight Simulator, Castle Wolfenstein, and other early Apple II games. Sadly, the Apple II died when I took it apart and couldn’t make it work again.

When we got PC’s, there was Wizardry, which led to my love affair with fantasy titles. I struggled through The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But with my rudimentary knowledge of programming and IF… THEN clauses, I started writing my own text adventures with sci fi/fantasy themes, ones that I could win 😉 On the Atari 2600 system, my brother always trounced me at Mission Command, so my father would play with me on easy mode. Most of all, though, I loved playing with my Nintendo handhelds, the Game & Watch games from Japan. At the arcades, I always found time for Centipede, Space Invaders, and Ms. Pac-Man.

One of my earliest triumphs is wiring a 8-bit memory with relays and la, la, la…..it worked!

Eventually, my brother went off to M.I.T. to study Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Although I followed suit, I did not major in computer programming, but I had a solid background, thanks to my father. All through childhood, I was surrounded by the latest technology and the knowledge of technology. I learned about hardware, software, and the scientific method. I played with punch cards when little and programmed spelling quizzes in middle school.

In computer games, I’ve merged an understanding of computer programming and the visual arts. I’m glad that nobody ever told me that girls couldn’t or shouldn’t be techy. And I love working in this industry.

Thanks, Dad, for your love and support.

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Published in: on June 16, 2007 at 8:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Father’s Day and Games: Anne

Erik Van Pelt wrote a rather sweet feature in Gamasutra on how games improved his relationship with his father. It may come as a surprise to you, but girls have fathers too 😉 I started thinking about how games have influenced my relationship with my father — and vice versa.

I’ve always been a big fan of playing games, not surprisingly. While my mother would rarely play, if I asked, my father would usually say yes. He taught me chess, checkers, poker, and gin. I especially wanted to learn poker and gin, because I often saw my dad playing them with his father. With more than a few years on me, my father usually roundly kicked my ass.

My father is part of the pre-war generation. Computers kind of took him by surprise, and I think they still do. The PC and the console came early to my household, however, and I quickly found an arena where my father couldn’t beat me — in fact, he never played. My sister, with four years on me, usually could take me on, but that’s another story — for sister’s day.

I never realized to what extent my father was condoning my interest in computer games until I became an adult and was playing them as much as, if not more than, ever. He began to get on my case about it, saying games were a “waste of time.” Ironic, since he had by then found the perfect use for his computer — solitaire. He dramatically changed his tune when I began earning a living writing for games. I’ve got to say, it felt a little like victory.

Does my dad still worry about me? Sure, he wishes I’d get a “real” job as a backup — the plight of all writers, I’m sure. In the meantime, we’re content to play gin together when we get the chance. Now, I sometimes beat him 🙂

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Published in: on June 15, 2007 at 9:48 am  Leave a Comment