Do we need a game vernacular?

Over the summer, I had the pleasure of participating in the Gamer Confab on Michael Abbott’s blog, The Brainy Gamer.  Along with Justin Keverne, who writes Groping the Elephant, and Roger Travis from Living Epic blog, we discussed social games, game vernacular, Denis Dyack, Wizard 101, game pricing, auteurs, narrative design, and game genres on this episode of The Brainy Gamer podcast.

http://cdn4.libsyn.com/brainygamer/bgpodcast25-03.mp3?nvb=20091218234701&nva=20091219235701&t=00b1916d3b75225a96e53

Posted by Sande for Writers Cabal.  We write games!

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Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 6:04 pm  Comments (1)  

#1 mistake in game development

Gamasutra rather ingeniously decided to examine all its game postmortems over the past 3 years and actually look for common denominators. Thank goodness, since I wouldn’t have had the stamina to do it. Their study resulted in a list of 10 problems that repeatedly tripped up developers in making great games on time and on budget. What was problem number 1? You guessed it: content added too late.

We have repeatedly brought up the positive impact of bringing in writers early, and highlighted the importance of giving writers the chance to polish (problem #8).  You can say we’re biased.  I’m going to posit that Gamasutra isn’t.  Here’s a quote from Alyssa Finley, talking about the successful Bioshock:

“We had many drafts of the story over the course of development, but the final draft turned out to be an almost complete rewrite.”

“Competing demands for time and resources meant that, unfortunately, some of the important narrative details of the game weren’t created until the final rewrite, and therefore required quite a bit of work to retrofit into an existing game.”

If a successful game with strong developer and publisher backing is wishing it had more time to write, chances are every other story-driven game experiences this problem in spades.

The impact is obvious and pervasive: “Getting story and features right is difficult at the best of times, but when that content comes in just under the wire, not only does that content suffer, every element of the game that relies on that content suffers.”  Thanks, Gamasutra — we couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

Did you read the article?  What did you think of the other mistakes in game development?

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Published in: on April 28, 2009 at 8:40 am  Comments (4)  

Game Console Photo Spread

Think you know game consoles?  Then take a walk down memory lane with Sande’s presentation at the IGDA NYC’s Pecha Kucha night!

For Pecha Kucha night, each slide lasts 20 seconds.  There are 20 slides in all.  Are you ready? Here we go!

Did you manage to guess any names or dates?

This post brought to you by Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 4:39 pm  Comments (2)  

Are more game developers hiring contractors?

After a day full of CNBC’s documentaries on the subprime mortgage crisis and various Ponzi schemes on Monday, it’s clear the economy is on everyone’s mind. The game industry appears to be no different. CNN recently pointed out that businesses are hiring more independent contractors. Is this true for the game industry?

One of the biggest motivations for working with contractors instead of staff involves a changing business model. According to the CNN article, as businesses move to a project-based model, contractors make more sense.  While many game companies efficiently move workers from one project to the next, not all of them are quite so organized.  Contractors are a great alternative, especially when funding runs low, projects are canceled, or even when you successfully ship your game.  From CNN:

There are also big economic incentives to hire freelancers, he said. Businesses cut the costs of benefits and payroll taxes and often don’t have to buy new equipment or find work space for a freelancer.

Not to mention you don’t have to lay off a contractor.  But you still have to pay them 😉

If you are looking to hire game designers or game writers, feel free to contact Writers Cabal via our website.  Of course, if you’re looking for other kinds of game contractors, we can point you in the right direction as well.

In the meantime, which game companies do you think will weather this economic crisis the best?  Which the least?

This post brought to you by Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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Published in: on February 17, 2009 at 9:59 am  Leave a Comment  

Inaugurating game writers: A scramble for power or respect?

Happy Inauguration Day!  As the TV news waxes on about the shift in power, my thoughts shifted to power in game development.  Those of you who work in development may have witnessed power struggles between designers and programmers, or between producers and everyone else.  It could be that you, as a developer, aren’t concerned about whether story and writing is relevant in games or not.  Your concern may be with what writers really want — is it respect or power?

Respect
Many developers, writers and otherwise, believe that if developers respected writers more and gave them the same amount of time to work as other departments, then the quality would improve.  Therefore, respect for the craft must come before the craft can prove itself as a necessary component of game development.

On the other hand, bringing in writers early won’t make a great deal of difference if you don’t bring in the right writers or work with them effectively.  In this sense, respect must be earned, not given.  Fortunately, you have this blog to master some of these hurdles already.   Do you think respect comes first for writers, or that writers must first earn it?

Power
What is the real price of bringing in writers early and integrating them more fully into the development process?  Some executive producers and creative directors prefer to create the story, and view writers as a potential enemy that could lampoon their stories.  In this sense, writers are seen as a threat to their power and their ability to effect their creative vision.

On the other hand, developers who bring on writers to improve their stories find they have the power of choice.  If you don’t like the writers’ work, you can ignore it.  If you like it, you are in a position to take the credit for bringing on good writers.  Writers are rarely in a position to usurp your position.  In this sense, writers can actually boost your power within the company.  How do you view writers’ power at your company?

Quality
“Narrative designers” like us seek to weave story and theme throughout every aspect of the game.  It may sound like we’re trying to take over your game!  But are we really after power?  Certainly, there may be a few writers out there who really want to be in control.  However, I would say the majority of narrative designers and writers want the same thing the artist and programmer want — an opportunity to perform at the height of our ability and use what we do best to improve the game for the player.  Power, respect, what-have-you are just means to this very important end.

Are you ready to inaugurate writers into your development team? What do you think the biggest stumbling block is to making a place for writers and narrative designers in games — lack of power and respect, or something else entirely?

This post brought to you by Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.
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Published in: on January 20, 2009 at 4:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Where to find stories on story in games

With all the excitment of the new year, you may have missed some of these articles on writing in games.  Integrated storytelling, story structure, story and theme as a basis for game concepts, and the awesomeness of good characters have preoccupied the minds of developers in the past two months.  Check out the results:

Hey Game Developers, Learn How To Use Your Game Writers!
I do not think this link is what you think it means. A familiar refrain, this article summarizes a Develop article on incorporating writers into the development process. Of greater interest, however, are the comments at the end, which include players love of story and distaste for poorly delivered story. See, it’s not just us!  Add your two cents to the conversation there or here…

Analysis: Storyteller And Game Narrative
Emily Short explores whether letting your players in on story structure makes it more or less fun for them.

Idea Origins
This article explores different ways games are conceived. Oddly enough, it discusses theme with story, but doesn’t use the more literary definition of theme, which usually is some comment on mankind. Instead, theme is just the story or setting which pervades the game. What’s your take on it?

The GLaDOS Effect — Can Antagonists Rule The World?
Is this article about how much fun it is to play a villain, or is it about how a well-written and engaging character, villain or protagonist, can carry a game? You decide.

What’s your take on these articles?  See you next week for more sin!

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Published in: on January 15, 2009 at 2:25 pm  Comments (1)  
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Are companies the enemy of narrative design?

When our latest exploration of narrative design on Gamasutra, “Towards More Meaningful Games: A Multidisciplinary Approach”, went live, one reader commented, “So in one word, ‘holism.’  [. . .]  I’d have thought this mentality was so obviously sensible as to be accepted wisdom. Though when I consider some recent games I’ve played I can see that it clearly isn’t.”  If the multidisciplinary approach is so sensible, why isn’t it commonplace?  Is narrative design or holism just too hard to do?  Or is it something in this industry’s makeup that makes it extra challenging?  Based on a recent reading of The Seven Cultures of Capitalism, by Charles Hampden-Turner and Alfons Trompenaars, the answer might surprise you.

Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars explore different approaches to capitalism in seven different countries.  They posit that in the US, which pioneered many innovations in capitalism, created the assembly-line mentality.  The production process is broken down into the most minute steps, and farmed out to workers who repeat the same step over and over.  The reason for this, they claim, was because the US was a nation of immigrants, and many could not talk to each other.  Instead of expecting workers to collaborate, managers assumed they would not be able to.  This practice, the authors claim, influences the US economy and countries with similar practices even today, where our jobs are kept separate and planned out by managers who are not in the thick of it.

This “mechanism” thinking breaks down everything into parts.  Countries who don’t follow this mode instead look at the whole of the organization as if it were an organism.  “Organism” thinking “generates higher levels of meaning, purpose, and direction which transcend its parts.”  In short, it’s the holism narrative design seeks to create.

Certainly game development is a long way from the assembly-line mentality, right?  Many developers can move effortlessly between different jobs — producer, programmer, artist — thought usually not all at one time.  One-man bands have created created some pretty great titles.  At Epicenter Studios, boasting 20 whole developers on staff, Chief Creative Officer Bryan Jury says:

“Since we’re small enough, everyone often ends up wearing multiple hats. This means I’ve got art and tech adding significantly to the design, for example. We made sure to hire people who are comfortable in that environment.

And through that semi-organic layout, things do tend to happen more naturally. The lead artist and lead designer might be talking about some upcoming event they need to create, and an animator overhears that conversation and offers up a much better solution. That kind of stuff happens on a near daily basis, and I love it.  I do think if/when we get bigger, this type of layout will have to be revised. But for the size we’re at now, it really seems to be working well.”

As games get bigger, the companies that make them get bigger as well.  PODS, which team together one person from each department, might be a step in the right direction.  However, if they are not involved in the bigger picture, such as the overarching narrative, they may also fall victim to the mechanism mentality, making PODS just one more cog in the machine.

What’s your take on Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars’ view of mechanism vs. organism?  Do you think it applies to the game industry, or just certain companies?

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Published in: on December 11, 2008 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Forget Black Friday — get autographed game items online!

For those of you not in the US, Black Friday refers to the first day of the Christmas shopping season.  People line up for hours on the day after Thanksgiving to get cut-rate discounts on items to give to family, friends, or themselves(unless you’re me, in which case you spend the day learning about early ancient history on TV).  People who don’t have the stomach for grinding to get presents, however, instead elect to do their shopping online.  Fortunately for you, there’s still time to get autographed game items through the WIGI auction.  Some auctions end tonight, so click on this eBay link to get your bid in!

I’ve done a bit of investigating, and the current high-price leader is a Revolution Lincoln poster signed by Sid Meier — that’s at $76 and the bidding ends Saturday evening.  Coming up next is the bid for THE WITCHER, written, in part, by yours truly 😉 and signed by the dev team.  At $36 it’s a steal!  A bunch of hats, a messenger bag, and t-shirts for various games will be off the market by the end of the day today, Friday, so you better check out the eBay link before it’s too late!

So go bid, then come back and tell us what you won.  What’s on your Christmas list?

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Published in: on November 28, 2008 at 11:57 am  Comments (2)  
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