FTI Writing for Games Course (Day 4)

Time to get down to the nitty-gritty practical stuff. The topic for Day 4 was, Tools and Processes.

We started by comparing two games, side by side – Gone Home and Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture. This was to compare the game’s engines Unity vs. Unreal 4. We saw that the Unity game – Gone Home, allowed for a lot more in-depth object interaction but required a constrained environment (a house). The Unreal 4 game was set in an open world with amazing graphics but didn’t allow for much object interaction at all. So, this means that the very game engine chosen will dictate much of a game’s design and therefore the method of telling the story.

Next we dove into the assets produced in a game and the tools used to create and manage text assets. The narrative designer’s bible is the story bible (that really is the correct terminology). This document is everything narrative including the story outline, characters profiles, plot points, story intensions, emotional hits, location descriptions, game synopsis, timeline of events, even down to marketing material. Anthony uses Scrivener to build this essential document which is produced in the pre-production phase.

The class went on to discuss the obvious importance of version control when numerous assets must be maintained, tracked and changed together. For example, a change to the story bible could require a change to the game design document, manuscript and the game strings already embedded in the game engine. While we are on the subject, the game design document is different to the story bible in that it is more about the implementation of the game. For example, the GDD describes how the game looks in scenes from a game play perspective.

We talked about tools to help “get our story into the game” with Twine being the top-tool, since we are already using it for our own game projects. Inform and Inkle were also called out as useful tools that can generate game strings from story or dialogue. In many cases, studios may just collect game strings in an Excel spreadsheet.

Anthony suggested that we would provide more value as narrative designers if we understood terminology, challenges and limitations of specific game engines. The best way to do this is to practice some level design using designers such as Shadowrun Returns, Minecraft or Super Mario maker! We were also encouraged to look at GameMaker Studio, RPG Maker, Adventure Game studios for making our own games.

The class closed with the inspirational (that’s right Anthony) story of how Anthony Sweet made his way as a narrative and game designer. It took planning and eight years of execution to achieve but in Perth’s tiny market, it is certainly something to be proud of. We need to make our own plans and identify what we can offer to studios, as well as what we can improve on. A narrative designer needs to do a lot more than just write the game story, they should also be able to contribute to or write:

  • Marketing material
  • Manuals
  • Wikis/Guides
  • Coms (Internal and External)
  • Style Guides – e.g. “this is the way you talk about your game” The language used. Buzz words.
  • Social Media
  • Comics
  • Novalisations
  • Character social media
  • Profiles and lore excerpts

So now I will go away and think about what I can do for a studio as well as watch the Double Fine Adventure documentary to get a better idea of what really goes on during game production.


FTI Writing for Games Course (Day 3)

The third session focused on characters.

Initially we looked at the features and attributes of a Player Character – PC  (as opposed to a Non Player Character  –NPC) and discussed “Player Verbs” and game mechanics. Player verbs determine HOW a story can be told. For example if a player can walk and collect things, the story can be delivered by exploring a scene and examining objects. Player verbs are supported by the game mechanics e.g. Press and hold X to do [player verb].

I found this very interesting article on Gamasutra but here is a short exert on the subject:

The lower the number of player verbs, the easier it is to control the variables and rein in scope. However, a low number of verbs can result in more and more onus being put on out-of-game narrative mechanisms to convey a story. For example, if all the player verbs in a game have to do with combat and none have to do with traversal movement, then how will you bridge from one combat context and location to another? With no option to provide the player an interactive journey from Point A to Point B, you will likely lean upon noninteractive storytelling techniques to establish a change of location and a new reason and context for the next battle. This can range from the simple, five-second panning of images in between Angry Birds worlds all the way up to the sumptuously rendered, ten-minute cutscenes from the Metal Gear Solid series. As you make the hard decisions about player verbs, keep in mind that the more narrow your focus in this area, the more you might be overburdening the noninteractive narrative tools at your disposal.

Another point to consider with regard to player verbs is that people and fictional characters are, in many ways, defined by the choices they make and what they do. In a game, a playable character ends up doing only the things the designers allow. Thus, the gameplay verbs that are available to a player character define, in a very basic way, who that character is. It’s important to realize that player verbs and the player’s character are inextricably interwoven, and should be concepted and developed concurrently.

Further, if you are using a pre-existing character as a (or the main) playable in your game, be aware that the character may come with baggage that includes a bevy of implied verbs. Spider-Man, for example, has inherent wall-crawling and web-swinging abilities that can cause waking nightmares for your level designers and camera designers/engineers. Other characters may imply other abilities.

We then went on to look at NPCs and relationship systems. The example of a relationship system Anthony used was an in-game shop, where if a player spends more than X dollars, the shopkeeper provides a 10% discount for future purchases. A cool game that includes a complex relationship system is  the teenage horror game, Until Dawn. Not only does the PC switch between NPCs but relationships are formed based on your interactions as the PC.

Square Heroes Release

Check out the latest release of Square Heroes – an AWESOME little arena shooter featuring Online, LAN, Co-op and local multi-player gameplay. I was lucky enough to write the in-game dialogue for this comical, yet addictive game so keep an eye out for my name in the credits!


Square Heroes Games Writer


Writing for Games

If you don’t put yourself out there, you can miss out on some amazing opportunities. I recently landed a fantastic writing gig by simply asking a small games company, who does your writing? The answer was, we are looking for a writer right now actually. Bingo!

I love gaming and I love writing and now an opportunity to combine both passions was dangling in front of me. Since I didn’t have any games writing experience to speak of, I offered to write some short bios for the foe AI in their latest game. They agreed that would be useful so I created some cheesy character histories based on a provided comic strip. To my delight, my contact reported that the bios were just the kind of thing they were looking for and that they, would like me to re-write the dialogue used in the game! Double Bingo!

I spent my recent holiday writing up the dialogue to describe each level objective while also moving the underlying game story along. I really enjoyed the process and certainly didn’t expect any mula for my efforts, but after handing in my work, I was offered some $$ AND my name in the credits. Wooot! I can’t wait for the new game release so I can see my character names, attitudes and dialogues in action.

game characters