Improve your quality of life and your bottom line: hire game writers!

The current issue of Game Developer has the one-two punch of discussing improvements in quality of life for game developers and the trials and tribulations of paying for overtime. Outsourcing to game writers helps with both.

First of all, you know how much you’re going to pay upfront, and you need never worry about overtime unless the project itself stretches beyond the original parameters. You can also improve your personal quality of life by leaving the writing to professionals who will stay up late to get it done on your behalf. In the QoL article, one developer is quoted saying, “You are looking at an industry that needs to move fast, produce more.” Game writers help you do that so that you can focus on what’s most important to you. What would you do at work or at home if you had less to worry about on the job?

Question Mark Guess that game dialog! Last week’s line of dialog came from Duke Nukem. Check back for more Guess that game dialog!

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Published in: on June 13, 2007 at 12:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

So you’ve got an idea for a fantasy story…

Now how do you develop your story and build a world immersive enough for people to believe in it?

Writers Cabal is pleased to announce the following panel, “Writing for Fantasy Game Worlds,” which will answer this question and more.

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)

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


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Published in: on June 9, 2007 at 9:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Motivating with story, part 2

Just when you thought it was safe… let’s return to designer David Ghozland’s discussion of designing for motivation on Gamasutra. I wrote yesterday about how a well-developed story adds motivation that game design does not. However, I didn’t disagree with David’s basic thesis. Today, I’m going to disagree!

David posits that games create needs — through story, genre, and design — that they then fulfill. In so doing, he ignores the different players who bring their own needs and motivations to the table: the architects, the explorers, the socializers, etc. Not all gamers are min/maxers all the time. For example, in Civilization II, I loved earning wonders of the world, not because it added to my score, but because I loved the mini-movies and music that came with each one (except for one, which had really lame music). David would call these a parallel system of motivation which would be subject to the same simple formula: motivation = challenge x need x reward.

But of course, a typical game can’t be all things to all people. Inevitably, some type of player, say the explorer, is left out of game design in order to manage scope. In City of Heroes/Villains, explorers are rewarded with badges, but the level of difficulty (challenge) rarely varies, and the reward remains (as far as I know) essentially the same: a few XP and yet another badge. However, this simple system continues to motivate players up to level 50. Clearly, different player types don’t always draw their motivation from game design.

Story and writing likewise provides an excellent opportunity to motivate players above and beyond the motivation built into the game system. In Final Fantasy VII, which would be of more value to you, the Sword of Bad-Assness, or Sephiroth’s Sword of Bad-Assness? Giving items story relevance adds to their reward value without unbalancing game systems, following David’s formula. However, if the game design doesn’t support gameplay for certain types of players, like, for example, the estimated 25% of MMO players who read every line of text, writing and story offers a great way to reach them. Although writing is not just about text, it’s quite possibly the cheapest thing to add to an overburdened game system that quickly and easily addresses underserved, but motivated, gamer types.

Okay, now it’s safe. If you feel motivated, comment on times you’ve felt motivated to play when the game system didn’t address your particular gamer type.

Question Mark Guess that game dialog! Today’s line: “Hmm… don’t have time to play with myself.” Check next week to find out what game it came from!

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Published in: on June 8, 2007 at 4:43 pm  Comments (5)  

Motivating with story

Designer David Ghozland writes today about designing for motivation on Gamasutra.  Altogether a great article, it nonetheless brings to light many biases about the role of dialog and writing in games.  For many games, writing offers motivation in a game in a way that game design alone cannot.

Ghozland starts off by saying the needs of the player:

are artificially created by the game design according to the tacit agreement with the player.  This silent agreement takes the form of a promise stated by the game design at the time of the presentation of the game’s universe and the game itself. For example, a RPG promises character growth combined with a measure of empowerment.

It’s curious that he insists on this silent agreement.  Many an RPG game has begun with dialog such as “You are destined for great things.”  Dialog acts as the motivator for the player, so he knows where to go next and what he will get in return: “Save the princess and I’ll give you the Sword of Bad-Assness.” 

But, you say, dialog then merely acts as a way to deliver the game design.  I agree, because dialog and gameplay work in conjunction to deliver another major aspect of game design: the story.  As the designer who is also a writer well knows, motivation to save the princess may only come after the princess has become a fully fleshed out character.  Ultimately, the story and game design work hand in hand to create motivation on many levels. 

What games have you played where story motivated you as much as getting to the next big thing?

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Published in: on June 7, 2007 at 10:29 am  Comments (3)  

When gameplay doesn’t come first

If you’re wondering where we’ve been, we just finished another project (Woohoo!). Just in time to read about an interesting approach to game development that, let’s just say, isn’t all that widespread.

Many hold up gameplay as the most important part of making a game. A recent interview with American McGee turns that idea on its head. He states “Our areas of focus, in order, are: art, narrative, gameplay.” I hope that, translated, it means art inspires the narrative which informs the gameplay. In any event, it proves that there is more than one way to design a game, and narrative isn’t always an afterthought. What other unique approaches to game design have you come across?

Question Mark Daryl Pitts’ favorite game moment came from Final Fantasy VII for PS1. Stay tuned for more Guess that Game Dialog!

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Published in: on June 5, 2007 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Greg Berlanti: Collaborating in television, part 2

A breakfast with TV showrunner Greg Berlanti yesterday highlighted the many different ways to collaborate with writers. We’ve heard on occasion how game companies run their writing staff like a television show. Having worked on many different shows, I always wondered which show they were referring to. Here are but two approaches to television collaboration that have worked quite well.

Neal Baer of LAW & ORDER: SVU runs his staff by working on a one-on-one basis with his writers. He helps them with the plot and structure phase of writing first. Afterwards, they collaborate to deepen the story by developing characters and their points of view. Neal’s method provides lots of room for long-distance collaboration.

Greg Berlanti, the man behind EVERWOOD, as well as ABC’s BROTHERS & SISTERS, ELI STONE, and DIRTY, SEXY MONEY, offered another perspective yesterday. Greg’s duty is to be the “mother hen, with a knife” to guard and guide ideas through the development process, so that the original inspiration doesn’t get lost. When developing story, Greg does his homework by creating the sign posts for a season arc. Once he has those guideposts down, he throws the rest out to his writers in the room. They work together to bang out the details. This method would work well with staff writers, or outsourced writers who worked on-site during the key story development process.

No matter how you work with your writing team, you may well find a precedent in television. What methods have worked for you in collaborating with other writers?

Question Mark Guess that Game Dialog! No dialog this week, but President of JGI Entertainment Daryl Pitts favorite moment of game writing is: the death of Aeris. Do you know which game it happened in?

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Published in: on June 1, 2007 at 9:59 am  Comments (2)