Zombies!! And other Halloween in-game events

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a bit nerdy when it comes to in-game events in MMOs.  Halloween and Christmas happen to be my favorite, but we saw some fun April Fools jokes earlier this year.   raises the question — does content make a good game event, or does execution?

Zombies!!

It’s been clinically proven that zombies are good fun.*  As such, zombies have made their presence known in both WoW and COX.  In WoW, the zombies herald the coming Lich King expansion.  I give kudos to any event that ties in to telling a larger story, except the execution leaves something to be desired.  Zombies at the auction house?  PvP on every server?  Check out Scott Jennings take on the WoW zombies, which have caused consternation to players and developers alike.  A for story, C for execution

In CoX, the zombies are coming out as a true Halloween event.  I don’t know if there’s a story reason for these zombies, but it almost doesn’t matter.  Players can also run around and get costumes, which presumably they can wear.  If you’re really gung ho, apparently two NPCs will tell you about old enemies returning… but somehow, if they’re not selling the story behind it in your promotion, chances are it’s not too integral to your game story.  A for execution, C for story (or lower!)

Keep up to date on Halloween events in MMOs here.  Have you played any Halloween events?  Which ones were good?  Which ones told a story?

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* not really

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Published in: on October 30, 2008 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ready for a new leash on life?

Now’s your chance!  Our newest game, PET PALS: NEW LEASH ON LIFE just became available on line for PC.  You can save animals and give them a happier, healthier future not only in the game, but also in real life!

“A portion of the game’s sales has been donated to the Humane Society of the United States. In Pet Pals: New Leash on Life players will get the opportunity to see what it’s like to be a vet, have fun and at the same time feel good about supporting a great animal protection organization.”

Try it for free, or buy it right away.  While you’re at it, why not also pick up PET PALS: ANIMAL DOCTOR for a mere 99 cents?  Hurry — that offer won’t be around forever!

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Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 1:10 pm  Comments (2)  

A limited time Halloween treat and question

It’s almost the 31st — that wonderful day when I enjoy the largest Halloween gathering in the US right in my backyard.  In honor of Halloween, AK Peters is offering 31% off all its books until the 31st.  AK Peters published Professional Techniques for Video Game Writing, with our chapter “Writing in a Team,” as well as Game Design: From Blue Sky to Green Light by Deborah Todd, who was on the WGA panel with me last weekend.  Now’s your chance to own them at a nice discount if you order before the end of the month.

Discount code: “newbooks”

And now for a more serious matter.  We’ve been a bit announce-y lately, so I thought we could use some levity.  I am considering my Halloween costume.  It’s a toss-up between zombie Sarah Palin and steampunk pirate.  Which do you think would be better, and how should I put the look together?  Who will you be for Halloween?

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Published in: on October 23, 2008 at 11:34 am  Comments (4)  

Writers Cabal hits the A list!

This past weekend, I spoke at a day-long event about writing, story, and trends in the game industry.   I heard Dave Ellis, WGA Award winner for Dead Head Fred talk about how he was able to fight to keep a game story in one piece.  I wish more designers were willing to fight for quality in that way.  I also learned a lot about “fringe” game opportunities, such as a game crowds of people can play while waiting in line at Disney World. If you’ve been there and played it, let me know!

But enough about the panel, let’s get to the fame part.  In preparation for the event, a reporter from NBC came to interview the panelists, and we ended up in the nightly news.  Check out the video and see if you can pick me out (hint: I’m the only woman they interviewed):

Video Games To Incorporate A-List Storytellers

What do you think?  Did I represent our industry well?

Since the interview, one girl who went to high school with me for one year tracked me down on Facebook and wanted to make sure I was the same person she remembered.  Now I can die happy 😉

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Published in: on October 21, 2008 at 12:51 pm  Comments (3)  
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Obama should have said: play those video games!

Them’s fighting words!  In the last US presidential debate tonight, Obama threw down the gauntlet against video games, saying parents need to turn their kids away from games and instead get them to focus on studying.  Unfortunately, his statement perpetuates the misconception that games have no redeeming value. We’d like to go on record that well-written serious games, which educate as well as entertain, can teach children just as well as studying, especially when story is involved.  Furthermore, even entertainment games can benefit young and old alike.

How can we be so sure games can educate children? We recently finished work on a serious game aimed at students and received the first testing report.  The players not only enjoyed the gameplay, they quickly began to identify with the characters, to explore their relationships, and to understand the complex issues the character were supposed to represent.  Based on this test, the developers were confident the game achieved their educational goals. And how did the students react to learning through a game? One student said “This is like the best day I’ve ever had in this class.” Now what’s so wrong with making learning fun?

Besides the serious games genre, games in general have the opportunity to provide “serious” fun. Games, such as Brain Spa, can help the elderly “exercise” their brains, keeping them sharp. Some games also provide a meditative effect, creating calm and a way to recharge, according to Nicole Lazzaro. Games may have even more unexplored benefits. Could games like THE WITCHER help players explore and identify their own sense of ethics in a safe environment?

Clearly games have more to offer than a few hours of mindless entertainment. I’m sure Obama didn’t realize these benefits when he spoke today, but we hope he will next time. Who knows, maybe the next presidential candidates will offer games on their sites to educate voters on their position. What do you think?

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Published in: on October 15, 2008 at 7:33 pm  Comments (7)  
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Writers Cabal speaks on getting into the game

Writers Cabal, specifically Anne, will be speaking this Saturday for a day-long Writers Guild Foundation event on writing for games, called GETTING INTO THE GAME.  If you’re in the Los Angeles area and want to say hello, you know where I will be!  I am also hoping it will be the last speaking event for the year for me, so get in your ya-yas while you can.

But there’s more!  VCN (Virtual Channel Network) and the WRITERS GUILD FOUNDATION is teaming up to offer FREE tickets to the upcoming seminar: GETTING INTO THE GAME, a day long event about writing for the video game industry.  Two VCN viewers will receive free tickets, valued at $110.00 each.

Panelists for the event include executives and writers from Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Imagineering, G4 TV and more.

To enter the raffle, just email your name and contact number to: ahuss <at> wga.org   Make sure to put ‘VCN raffle’ in the subject line.  All entries must be emailed by: Thursday, October 16th, 2008 at noon.  Please note I am not involved in this raffle, so if you are having problems, maybe VCN is the one to contact.

The all-day event is being held Saturday, Oct. 18th, 2008 at the Writers Guild of America in Los Angeles.

Writers Guild Foundation
7000 W Third St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
10:30am – 7:00pm

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Published in: on October 14, 2008 at 11:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Is game outsourcing the new Hollywood model?

The rise of game outsourcing and the debate about unions all balance on issues of quality of life for developers and the time we need to develop games.  Check out the latest articles on outsourcing and see where you stand on the debate.

Not Everyone Feels The Crunch

Several companies have taken steps to avoid crunch altogether, pointing out it’s a management issue more than a time issue and emphasizing a culture of getting work done rather than play.  Would outsourcing save crunch companies?  No — bad management can happen anywhere — even when outsourcing.

Babel’s Leinfellner, Williams Talk The Rise Of Outsourcing

This article explores the idea that outsourcing will allow quality episodic content in games, just like Hollywood’s outsourcing has.  However, an anonymous comment points out that outsourcing helps with scale, but it doesn’t necessarily yield skilled help.

Monkey Island‘s Gilbert: Industry Must Unionize To Move Forward

Another vote for the Hollywood model.  Gilbert thinks you won’t be able to grab freelancers floating around with nothing in between jobs, although he doesn’t address the trend of outsourcing companies that support their talent in between gigs.  Of course, not all outsourcers work that way – such as writers (present company excepted) and composers.  The biggest issue with unions — they don’t make it any easier to get jobs.

Ultizen’s Lan Haiwen Discusses the Latest Gaming Industry Developments

But wait, everyone’s doing it!  Ultizen develops its own games, but also provides outsourcing work.  Will this trend mean no need for unions?

An Examination of Outsourcing: The Developer Angle

Developers turn to outsourcing so they won’t have to fire 75 people after every game project is finished. However, the debate about outsourcing, offshoring, and unions continues on unabated in the comments section of this article.

The Hidden Costs of Offshore Outsourcing

So what about offshoring?  Think sending work to India or China is cheaper?  This article plays on the idea that you may end up spending just as much whether domestic or offshore.  However, if you’re outsourcing writing to India, well, good luck with that.

An Examination of Outsourcing Part 2: The Contractor Angle

Maybe, outsourcing ultimately is about quality of life for the developers on staff.  “Developers who outsource are doing it to get more on the screen, to spend money appropriately to make the game the best they can possibly make it, and to take some of the pressure off of their core team’s functionality.”

Ease Of Development Rules, Outsourcing On Rise

Love it or hate it; it’s here to stay.  Forty percent of game developers will outsource in 2009.  Maybe it’s time for you to consider outsourcing your writing.

What’s your take on game outsourcing?  Does it improve the quality of life of developers?  Or is it a way to reap profits?

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Published in: on October 9, 2008 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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The ABCs of Metacritic

We as an industry spend a lot of time worrying about Metacritic scores.  If you don’t believe me, check out Keith Boesky’s critique of Metacritic love and statistics on how high scores mean high sales.  If you are concerned about your next game’s Metacritic score, read on to learn the ABCs of how a game writer can help you reach your goals.  No, not that type of game writer!  A game writer or narrative designer can help you earn the highest reviews.

A is for Add writers early

While people have different points of view on what Metacritic actually measures, ideally Metacritic measures game quality.  Some of the best games of the past several years have included great story and writing.  As 1Up recently wrote, “while not every well-written game becomes commercially successful, quality writing has increasingly become part of that elusive formula for blockbuster magic.”  If you want a chance at higher Metacritic ratings, the first step is simple: add writers early.

B is for Break it down

Several months ago, I spoke on a panel with Lance Powell of Electronic Arts.  He described their technique for getting high Metacritic scores.  First, they would go through the game design and rate each sequence or level A, B, or C.  An “A” equals what would earn a 90 or above through Metacritic, “B” 80 and above, etc.  Now in theory anyone on your development team can spot the A, B, C moments, but writers brought in early can best make sure the best story moments coincide with the A moments.  Better yet, they can write the A moments.

C is for Cut

Once rated, EA would go through and cut the C’s and judiciously cut the B’s, making sure there were as many A moments as possible.  How horrible would it be if you cut a C moment only to find that it was an integral part of your game story?  A game writer can help prevent such a scenario.  On the other hand, if you have inadvertently cut a major story moment, a writer brought in late should be able to salvage your story.  Game writers, unfortunately, are quite familiar with taking existing game pieces and making lemonade.

When looking to up the quality of your game and earn high Metacritic scores, Add writers early, Break down your game, then Cut whatever doesn’t earn you a high score.  There you have the ABCs of mastering Metacritic with a game writer in your corner.

So what’s your take on Metacritic?  Do you think it reflects quality, or do you think it reflects what’s popular?  Or do you think they’re one and the same?

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Published in: on October 7, 2008 at 11:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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