Comic con: games and comics and geeks, oh my!

I survived an event so massive, it bears but one name: Comic-con.  If you haven’t been to the San Diego comic-con before, over the past several years it has become much more than a place for comics.  It has become a gathering for all the popular media, as well as a one-stop shop for intellectual property.  It should then come as no surprise that the game industry has descended in force, not just to market to players, but also to share best practices and to hunt for IP.

The con started off with a panel led by developers from Telltale Games and Hothead Games.  Although the panel ostensibly focused on the episodic business model, one other theme emerged: capturing the spirit of the IP by designing a good story.  Both companies work closely with their IP-holders, Steve Purcell (Sam & Max) and Gabe and Tycho (Penny Arcade).  All agreed the goal behind their games was to tell a good story.  In the case of Hothead, Gabe and Tycho do all the writing for the game.  That said, because Penny Arcade’s strip format is “anti-continuity,” Hothead brought in a narrative designer to ensure a fun and larger story would emerge.  As for Telltale, their designers design the story as well as write it.  In the future, they plan to focus on organizing the entire season, that is, designing a season arc.  With a second season of Sam & Max on the way and Penny Arcade soon to launch, they may well be on to something. 

Even though Hollywood and games have taken over parts of comic-con, geeks of all stripes will still find a home.  In addition to gaming goodies, I attended a brief history of manga lecture by Jason Thompson; learned that just about everyone is going to be publishing comics online; realized that the paranormal romance genre owes more to Laurell K. Hamilton than Joss Whedon; watched TV pilots; wondered at a live action version of Ben 10 for Cartoon Network; was regaled on more than one occasion with the wonders of the new Flash Gordon series; and set my eyes on many projects that could well be next year’s hot IPs.  Of course, not all of it was fun and games.  I have to live forever with this picture:

Anne waxing on and on to Jordan

That’s Anne discussing something high-falutin’ no doubt with Jordan Mechner.  Please note: Hopefully Anne only looks that way when under the influence of rooftop parties.

After four and a half days of walking the aisles, attending panels, crashing parties, and losing my voice, I managed to return home armed with knowledge and swag.  If you attended the event, what did you come home with?

Question Mark Guess that game dialog! Today’s line: “I have nothing to sell, but I’m shouting nonetheless!

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Towards a Game Vernacular

In film, the screenplay is often thought of as the blueprint for the production. Very often, the screenwriter has nothing to do with the actual production. The director will comb through the script, thinking about different angles and shots. The producers may say sadly: We can’t afford that helicopter shot or those special effects. All the while, the script gets changed according to budget, time, and circumstances.

Sometimes, it’s more collaborative. The director is also writing and producing or they’re a team that has worked together before. They already know the limitations of the budget and time. The screenplay is written with forethought of these issues.

While the first scenario may bring to mind the way a game design document functions in game development, it certainly isn’t the standard for game writing. Much as it might delight me to see the story document reign supreme in game development, I would have to say the second scenario, while not an exact match, is closest to how writing is used in games.

Naturally, we hope that the writing will support the gameplay and that the gameplay will support the story. A game writer should understand interactivity just like we’d expect a screenwriter to understand the visual language of film. And since cinematics are in games, a game writer should have those screenwriting skills as well. If I were to pick the ideal situation, I’d want a writer who knew not to write beyond the limitations of the engine, i.e. I’d want a writer who understood game design issues. I’d want a writer with foresight to think about production in its entirety, about issues like localization and staying true to IP.

Only then will we make strides towards a game vernacular.

What do you think?

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Published in: on July 27, 2007 at 1:40 pm  Comments (1)  

Q & A from Writing for Fantasy Game Worlds

More from the Writing For Fantasy Game Worlds panel, presented by Writers Cabal and IGDA NYC:

Part 1: Player Death in RPGs
MMO death/consequences, earned death, computer vs. human rules

Part 2: Moral Choices in RPGs
Moral choices, breaking into industry as a game writer, teaching moral ethics

Part 3: Future of Story-Driven Games

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What’s Important in Fantasy Storytelling and Game Design?

More from the Writing For Fantasy Game Worlds panel, presented by Writers Cabal and IGDA NYC:

How do you build a believable fantasy world? How do you approach a cherished property like The Lord of the Rings?

More importantly, how do you avoid telling the same old fantasy story?

Question Mark Last week’s game dialog was from the game Myst.

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Published in: on July 23, 2007 at 5:59 am  Comments (2)  

What is Lacking in Fantasy Computer RPGs?

More from the Writing For Fantasy Game Worlds panel, presented by Writers Cabal and IGDA NYC:

How do we engage audiences on a visceral and psychological level? What lessons can we take from storytelling in pen’n’paper RPGs and LARPs? How can we use the strengths of the computer and overcome its weaknesses?

Ultimately, is it the computer or banal game design that’s hindering our experience?

Why do we need compelling stories in computer games?

Question Mark Guess that game dialog! Today’s line: “Perhaps the ending has not yet been written…

Check back next week to find out what game it came from!

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Why does Fantasy Resonate with Modern Audiences?

More from the Writing For Fantasy Game Worlds panel, presented by Writers Cabal and IGDA NYC:

Why does fantasy appeal to audiences? Why do we love fantasy? And ultimately, how can we create better fantasy titles?

Listen and find out!

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Published in: on July 17, 2007 at 6:25 am  Comments (1)  

Writing for Fantasy Game Worlds — the movie!

The Writers Cabal and the IGDA NYC presented a wonderful panel on writing for fantasy game worlds last month. Here’s the introduction to the panel and soon, we’ll show the video highlights!

Of course, you can also read our own write-up.

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Emotion vs. story in games

Shadow of the Colossus for PS2: spoilers ahead! Apparently people are calling this the pinnacle of game story-telling. The player must fight against colossi and horsemen to save a girl. Although a rather simple premise, apparently it’s quite the tear-jerker, especially since the hero is doomed to fail. However, one critic says that while emotionally manipulative, the game fails to convey a real story.

I found this very interesting since many claim that games fail to make players emotionally involved. One game writer posited that games and movies convey different emotions — he had never cried at a video game, but then he’d never felt like throwing his controller at a movie, either. Anyone who has ever played a game has felt emotions, however. Nicole Lazzaro of Xeodesign has presented at several conferences on this subject. She has pointed out seven emotions, from fear to fiero, that a player experiences without the benefit of developer-generated story.

Emotions clearly already exist in games, however a story gives context to those emotions, helping to create meaning. Shadow of Colossus, while successful in creating emotions, for one reviewer failed to give adequate context. From a game perspective, it may also have failed to give choice not only to the player, but also to the main character, and choices are the hallmark of a good game and good story. Tears do not a story make.

Have you played it? Did you think it had a story, or simply a manipulative emotional experience? Did you have fun?

Question Mark This week’s game dialog was spoken by Manny Calavera in “Grim Fandango!” Check next week for more Guess that Game Dialog!

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Published in: on July 13, 2007 at 10:59 am  Comments (4)