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.

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

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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)  

System-level Thinking Needed For Narrative Too

In the book, Changing the Game, by David Edery and Ethan Mollick, the authors give several examples where business failed to understand system dynamics.  Basically, retailers didn’t talk to wholesalers or salespeople didn’t communicate with upper management about the circumstances on the street.  So, when the salespeople had a sale to move a slow-moving widget, upper management only got the message that there was an increased demand in widgets.  Thinking they’re onto something big, upper management puts in more orders to buy the parts needed to make more widgets.  The factories churn out more widgets and the salespeople end up with a glut of a product that nobody really wanted in the first place.  As you can see, when businesses fail to have system-level thinking, they can find themselves in a self-defeating spiral.

Designing systems, of course, is a part of game design.  And game development itself also has systems and feedback loops.  For a while now, we, like other writers, have advocated including the writer early on in the development cycle.  This is so the story can go through iterations just like any other aspect of game development, but also because the narrative should not be confined to a vacuum.  It is, in fact, part of the system and should be integrated into the system.  If you don’t know your story, how can you give a really good reason as to why your player is fighting that enemy and why the world looks that way?  Or maybe the story is out of sync with the gameplay, thus making the game world illogical.

What do you think?  Do you have other examples of system breakdown or self-defeating cycles in game development?

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Published in: on April 7, 2009 at 7:01 am  Comments (6)  

Five for Writing Interview

Short post, short interview up on Richard Dansky‘s personal site, Snowbird Gothic.

Each week, he gives five questions to writers of all kinds: game writers, comic book writers, novelists, etc.  This week, it’s me.

Also, if you’d like to vote on Game Design Aspect of the Month’s next topic, please go here.

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

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Published in: on March 16, 2009 at 8:34 am  Leave a Comment  

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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Get serious right now! Combining education and new media

For those serious games developers, now’s your chance to see what’s on the cutting edge of combining new media and tech with your educational goals. Fellow Nokia OpenLab attendee Steve Dembo and his compatriots at Discovery Education are presenting a streamathon right now. Topics covered include: “introduction to streaming media, tips and tricks for integrating digital media with popular Web 2.0 websites, and strategies for incorporating free movie making tools.”

If you’re looking to incorporate some social media or other functions of the web into your serious game, this series looks like a must!  It runs for 12 hours today, starting at 9am until 9pm Eastern.  It will take a few minutes to sign up and get in on the WebEx seminar.   Check out the schedule here.  We’re especially curious about this one:

6 PM (Joe Brennan)
Digital Storytelling Resources in DE streaming

Let us know what you think!

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Published in: on September 23, 2008 at 10:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Please, Developers, Don’t Make Boring Games!

Gamasutra recently published my Letter to the Editor, though the title (see above) got shortened. Recent features like “Why We Need More Boring Games” have made fun seem the evil stepsister. Why is fun anathema to education? Is there such a dichotomy? Why can’t we have serious games that are informative AND entertaining? There is no need to dub all serious games as boring games.

As game writers, we believe that good stories and dialog can only make your game better — even if it’s a serious game. Stories are part of the pull that allow players to suspend disbelief and enjoy the game. Designers and writers who acknowledge the importance of fun have learned how to take care of the so-called boring bits.

Consider exposition and back story. There’s always a bit of trickiness getting all that information out to the player, viewer, or reader. Still, writers and designers have learned ways to impart that information in ways that do not have to be boring, monotone lectures. It’s a choice. For certain, if this information is useful in progressing in the game, then the player will welcome this exposition. As a player, would you rather listen to a really long monologue or receive information (exposition) that helps you win the game?

Serious games perhaps have even a stronger call to be fun games since they must draw in non-gamers and reluctant players. Design and gameplay are of course important elements to fun, but so too are narrative and dialog.

What’s your take on the subject?

Question Mark Last Monday’s game dialog was spoken by a merchant from the game Dreamfall.

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Published in: on August 4, 2007 at 12:27 pm  Comments (1)  

Entertain, Participate, Learn

In the May/June edition of Technology Review, Games and Their MIT Makers (in which Sande gets a mention) proposes that the best educational games are participatory ones. When you think of some educational software with its drill-and-memorize tendencies, that’s welcome relief! Spurred on by interest in serious games, educators are looking to video games as a new way to educate students of the millennium generation. The immersiveness and familiarity of video games motivates students to spend more time with the curriculum and most importantly, to interact with the material. Why read a history text when you can play with history in a strategy or role-playing game?

Steeped in the tradition of e-learning and the aforementioned “drill-and-memorize,” educational games could use the skills of game writers. While we understand the necessity of subject matter experts and would always work in concert with them, instructional designers should also realize that good interactive stories serve players best. If players enjoy the story, they’re more likely to delve into the subject matter and the game. Above all, if they’re engrossed in the story, the education bits won’t seem force-fed but rather, information needed to advance in the game.

Do you recall any good storytelling in educational or serious games? If so, share!

Question Mark The previous line of dialog came from the PC game “Birthright.”
Today’s line: “Weep for Tars” Can you guess what game it’s from? You have all weekend to figure it out!

Published in: on May 10, 2007 at 7:24 pm  Comments (3)