Innovative Games at GDC 2010

I just noticed that I was included in a list of MIT alumni, in Even More Groundbreaking Alumni-Developed Video Games.   What an honor to be mentioned alongside Looking Glass Studios, and games like Defender, Ms. Pac-Man, and Asheron’s Call. I should mention that Cogs is a Finalist  in the 12th Annual Independent Games Festival in the category of Excellence in Design.  I attended my very first GDC with 1999’s IGF winner Terminus and it’s wonderful to see how the IGF has grown over the past years.

Speaking of innovative games, I will be leading the IGDA Game Design session at GDC 2010.  We plan to have some interesting paper prototypes from professional and student designers alike for you to play, so please come and join in the fun!

IGDA: Game Design SIG
Speaker: Sande Chen (Writer and Game Designer, Freelance)
Date/Time: Friday (March 12, 2010)   3:00pm — 4:00pm
Location (room): Room 228, East Mezzanine
Track: Game Design
Format: 60-minute Roundtable
Experience Level: All

See you at GDC 2010!

Posted by Sande.

Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 9:13 am  Leave a Comment  

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.

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)  

Story in MMOs – Beckett Massive Online Gamer

Are writers the unsung heroes of MMOs? The Sept/Oct 2009 print edition of Beckett Massive Online Gamer features an article with a number of MMO writers, including two faces that you might know quite well. The article covers the frustrations of writing for MMOs and what the future has in store for story.  Why are we bringing it up so late?  We didn’t know about it until someone recognized our pictures!

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

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Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 11:34 am  Comments (1)  

Writing for Video Game Genres Book Review

If you haven’t yet picked up the IGDA Writers SIG book Writing for Video Game Genres and want to know the full scoop, check out this recent book review from Slashdot.

Here are some other editorial comments:

A must-have for the bookshelf of any game writer, no matter what genre they’re working in. It was equally fascinating and useful for me to read the chapters about genres I’m experienced in and the chapters about genres I’ve never worked in. –Steve Meretzky, VP of Game Design, You Plus

For those of us swimming in the murky waters of games storytelling and narrative design, Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG is not only a life raft, it’s one with a treasure trove on top. Seldom do we erstwhile swimmers get this lucky. Read, learn, and build the rafts of the future. –Rhianna Pratchett, Writer and co-narrative designer on Heavenly Sword, Mirror’s Edge, and Overlord

The Writer’s SIG has assembled an impressive group of experts who deliver spot-on advice for tackling gaming’s many genres. I wish I had read this 20 years ago. –Bob Bates, Veteran game designer, writer

You can purchase Writing for Video Game Genres from the publisher, AK Peters, or on Amazon.

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Published in: on November 25, 2009 at 9:25 am  Comments (2)  

Get Social, Get Writing, Get Educated

Since GDC09, we’ve been busy with appearances and projects.  Anne recently spoke at Digital L.A.‘s Games Go Social panel in May and discussed the social aspects of games and how successful social games, iPhone games, and casual MMOs are bringing games to the mainstream.  Meanwhile, I analyzed the current crop of social games and offered design ideals for the next generation of social games in an article for Gamasutra, called “The Social Game Boom.”

Next week, I’ll be at CMU for the 2009 Game Education Summit, on June 16-17, 2009.  I’ll be on a panel with noted game writers and academics Lee Sheldon, Richard Dansky, Drew Davidson, and Elisabeth Nonas addressing last year’s hullabaloo on how game writers don’t belong in the game industry.  We’ll also be discussing narrative design and writing for ARGs and non-AAA games.

Additionally, I’ll be co-presenting with Ricardo Rademacher, CEO of Futur-E-Scape, in a session entitled “Creativity, Constraints, and Compromises.” Ricardo Rademacher recently presented his educational theory of MMOGs at the Independent MMO Game Developers Conference in Las Vegas last April.  We’ll be discussing how his educational theory meshed with narrative design to develop a fantasy MMORPG that also teaches physics.  In fact, this game was a case study in our chapter for the book, Writing for Video Game Genres.

Next, I’ll be moderating a panel on educational MMOs and virtual worlds at State of Play VI, on June 19-20, 2009 at New York Law School.  In this panel discussion, leading researchers and creators of educational virtual worlds will discuss the challenges of aligning curriculum and learning with fun. A central theme to the discussion will be to try and establish some best practices for the integration of theory and curriculum into educational virtual worlds.

Attending any of these conferences?  Let me know!

Posted by Sande for Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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Published in: on June 8, 2009 at 1:10 pm  Comments (1)  

A Return to Storytelling

I’ve just returned from the Engage! Expo (formerly Virtual Worlds 2009), which focuses on virtual worlds rather than MMOs.  In the case of virtual worlds, sometimes developers have the Field of Dreams notion of “if you build it, they will come” and there’s nothing planned for activities or story other than “they’ll just do social stuff like mini-games and chat.”  For years, people have heralded emergent stories as the greatest thing ever, but if the realm of activities are mundane, the emergent story may be boring and uneventful.

In the first part of the hour devoted to narrative in the conference, Jesse Cleverly reminded us that stories exist to help people make sense of the world.  Therefore, stories have order.  If you look at a screenplay, you may realize that there is economy in words and action (“arrive late, exit early”) and that it’s nothing at all like slice-of-life vignettes.  Stories, in fact, are fashioned.  Emergent story is about taking what happened and fashioning it into a story.  It’s about storytelling.  If I just rattle off “I drove to Wal-Mart.  I bought toilet paper.  I came home.” —  Wow, that’s incredibly boring.  Obviously, there’s an art to storytelling.

Just as Jack Buser, who’s responsible for SCEA’s PlayStation Home, yearned for a missing social component in online play, Jesse Cleverly remarked that storytelling in interactive media is not a brave new frontier like people say.  Maybe we are yearning for a return to the storytelling of yore, those days when people listened to minstrels and poets.  They’d crowd around and yell comments.  Perhaps the poet would embellish or refine the story each time.  These storytellers traveled from town to town and eventually, these stories became myths.

When I did the panel on Writing for Fantasy Game Worlds, one question I asked was about how D&D compared to computer RPGs.  The panelists all had vivid memories of their campaigns in D&D.  The storytelling had reeled them in.  They remarked that computer RPGs were tremendously lacking in the level of interaction when compared to a D&D session.  The storyteller can modify the story at will, embellishing or altering the circumstances to heighten the drama.

So, what do you think?  Do you think computer games represent a desirable return to traditional storytelling or is it a divergence?

Posted by Sande for Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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Published in: on March 12, 2009 at 8:12 pm  Comments (4)  

Three case studies on story in MMOs

MMOs are becoming more story-driven.  This is an assertion backed by anecdotal evidence from developers, personal experience writing for MMOs such as WIZARD 101, as well as recent MMO expansions.  While that’s all fine and good, does story have an impact on the sales of MMOs?  Or does it just mean that to get in the MMO space today you better have a big story to back it up? I’ll be personally investigating the following three MMOs, but I would love your feedback!

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
Now the fastest selling PC game in history, Lich King brings more zone story to the table, as opposed to single character story.  Unfortunately, I can’t speak with authority on whether this is true or not.  Why?  Because I am still at 68% download on patch # umpteen for my WoW.  However, I will bravely go forward and investigate further once it finishes.  Have you played Lich King?  Do you find a greater emphasis on story, or do you feel it is more of the same?

For two years it’s been the most successful free-to-play MMORPG according to the Guinness Book of World Records.  What’s more, it’s the top video game search term of the year, even beating out Lindsay Lohan in the great search race.  I will bravely run around this free world as soon as WoW gets past 69% download.  In the meantime, what’s your take on the story in RuneScape, or is its main claim to fame “fun and free?”

Tabula Rasa
As you must have heard by now, Tabula Rasa is closing its doors very shortly.  While it took many years to make, it boasted at most 30,000 subscribers.  Before going down for good, however, Tabula Rasa will also be free to play starting in January 10th, at which time I will sneak in and take a look around since I forgot to do so during their beta.  What’s your take on why Tabula Rasa didn’t make it?

I will be exploring these three games for story and fun in the coming weeks and months.  That doesn’t mean you can’t weigh in — you can even post anonymously.  Does the story in these games help, hurt, or have no effect?

Of course, if you care to join me in my adventures, feel free to drop me a line at anne (at)

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Published in: on December 2, 2008 at 4:05 pm  Comments (6)  

What type of gamer is everyone else?

We often talk about writing and designing a game for each gamer type, especially Bartle’s Player Types.  Now’s your chance to find out where you lie.  GamerDNA has hit 500,000 tests today and offers visitors a way to learn about their playstyles.  What’s interesting is that the site offers a way to chart the aggregate of everyone’s tests.

So far, of Bartle’s original Four, explorers are the highest at 38.1% of players.  However, I think this result is skewed, because explorers might be twice as likely to explore taking such a test!  Socializers are the lowest.  I don’t know if you get an output you can easily share when you complete the test (the site is lagged due to Kotaku traffic), but if not, that could be why socializers are low.  Surprisingly, achievers come in second to last at 19.1%.  Perhaps the presence or emphasis on multiplayer FPS makes the survey skew toward “Killers” who come in second at 29%.

In addition to the Bartle’s Test, there’s also the “Decades of Influence,” and FPS and RTS multiplayer style tests.  Wait a day or so until they’ve got their servers back in order, then go over there and check out your style.  Learned anything surprising?  Share your results!

Next week: Stay tuned next week for a humorous look at game writers — our first collaborative post with writer Chris Avellone, who draws a mean stick figure.

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Published in: on September 19, 2008 at 1:42 pm  Comments (5)