An Evening with Andrew Walsh and Kim Blake
Being both Welsh and a student and most importantly a student in Wales I’m lucky enough to be a member of quite a large organisation Skillset Media Wales, they are an organisation targeted toward furthering the careers of all promising students in Wales within the various media industries (Film, Tv, Animation and Video Games), It was through Skillset Media Wales that the existence of GamesDev South Wales was brought to my attention, now bare with me here I hope I haven’t lost you just yet. But GamesDev South Wales work in-conjunction with companies such as Skillset Media Wales and other larger organisations like BAFTA Cymru to host events like the one I attended last night for the benefit of all those wishing to pursue a career within the games industry (like myself). To cut to the chase GamesDev South or a fantastic organisation and thanks to their existence I was able to (for free) attend an evening of lectures from industry professionals Andrew Walsh and Kim Blake.
Andrew Walsh is a writer, speech designer, scriptwriter, script consultant, narrative designer, narrative director, motion capture director, voice over director and other assorted titles, Andrew has worked for companies including 2K Marin, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Bungie, 2K China, Criterion, Traveller’s Tales, Creative Assembly, Codemasters and Koch on titles including Need for Speed:Most Wanted, Prince of Persia, Harry Potter, LEGO City:Undercover, Risen, Medieval II: Total War, and SOCOM. He has numerous credits in animation, theatre, television, radio and film, including the UK version of Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva. Kim Blake has worked in the games industry since 1993, for much of that time as a project manager at independent development studios such as Gremlin Interactive, Particle Systems and Argonaut Software. During her time at Blitz Games Studios, Kim played a major role in Blitz’s various educational activities, particularly the organisation of the Blitz Games Open Days which have been a huge success with both students and lecturers. She is a member of Industry Advisory Boards for the Scottish Centre for Excellence in Computer Games Education and the Informatics & Media board for Bradford University’s School of Computing, sits on Creative Skillset’s Video Games Skills Council and became a Fellow of the RSA in 2010.
So around 7pm on a windy evening in the Welsh Capital I found myself in the upstairs bar (of which no tills we weroking) of the central Cineworld mingling with Game developers of all walks students t0 industry veterans and games journalists and just avid gaming hobbyists eagerly anticipating to hear what such experienced heads in the industry had to say on their respective areas in gaming. So without anymore stalling here it is.
Kim Blake talked only briefly and about what she intended to do in her current position of ‘Next-Gen Talent Development Co-ordinator for Creative Skillset and UKIE’ andtopics that may be more focused upon the state of the UK games industry so apologies overseas readers. The main issue that Kim raised was highlighting a need for change in how we view careers within the games industry. How the key skills such as coding need to be introduced into our curriculum at an earlier age. She raised some interesting arguments that she intended to tackle in her current position, arguments such as:
- We need to allow the way that Games are made penetrate our culture, much in the same way that since the birth of the film industry over 100 years ago we all have some understanding of how Films are made, we all know it involves writing and cameras and editing and if we are going to increase the amount of young game developers and coders coming through the education system the same needs to happen to the games industry.
- No one knows where games are made. Developers such as Rocksteady, Rockstar North and Lionhead are practically unheard of within the public domain, people believe that all the big name titles are simply made over sea and that’s where the games industry is. So the UK games industry needs to publicise itself more.
- Careers in all creative mediums are still seen as soft options with no security, in particular in the case of the games industry. Many parents often discourage pursuing careers in such industries due to their lack of understanding that positions with salaries and staff jobs are now available in such industries and because of these aspiring games developers are only becoming available around age 18 this needs to be sooner!
- It has never been easier to become an Indie games developer, the technology available to all people has never been easier to use and the increase in size of audiences seeking more niche titles has never been greater (ask Notch) and this can bring you great success.
- It is important we use the current generation studying games at degree level to inspire the younger generations into pursuing similar careers.
All of the above arguments were areas that Kim intends to tackle from her position with UKIE and it was quite an illuminating talk on the current situation facing the UK games industry I’m sure you’ll agree and because of this I wish her the best of luck for the future in the hope we will have many more studios like doing work like that or RockSteady in the future.
Next to take the podium was Mr Andrew Walsh .
Andy Walsh came fully armed with a very detailed power point packed full of pictures to enforce his points titled ‘The Art of Game Writing’. His speech tackled the art of games writing in an arc discussing how writing in games has progressed over the last ten years. Here are some of the key points I took from his speech (my head at this point was buzzing he really did inspire me to pursue a career in videogames writing).
- The world of writers has only just started to adapt to writing for games, It’s been a slow progress over the space of ten years.
- Writers found the world of writing completely changed when entering the world of writing for games, where as in the past Film and TV had only advanced the writing format born out of theatre, gaming flipped it on Its head.
- The narrative of Games was often already pre-determined by the game play genre before the narrative genre eg: Shooter, Racer, Platformer and so the when determining the narrative of a game it had to fit the game play genre first in order to make it work (Call of Duty doesn’t always make the best of love stories) .
- Writing in games is necessary even when a narrative and 3 act structure is not. Lines of dialogue are always needed in order to convince the player that the world is real and not just one or two but literally thousands of lines of dialogue know in the business as ‘barks’ are used when the player is exploring the world. (That cop car chacing you feels all the more real when you can hear the cop driving it chatting to his squad mates over the radio about what car your driving)
- In the past games developers would often have to reach out to already established writers who would then in turn have to learn about games in order to adapt their writing to fit the format of games writing, which often doused the desire to get expert writing in your game, but freelance game writers are becoming more and more common within the industry and being able to call upon a writer who already knows well the world of games vastly improves the cost/speed and quality of the writing in the game.
- There is a hierarchy of writing when introducing it into the game, first comes the speech design (A.I interface, trigger design, testing) this is because it is vital above all else that the player understands what he has to do It’s no go engrossing them within the game world through exposition if they don’t know what to do when there. Secondly is the writing design this is where and when the writing is brought into the game how much of the story do you feed the developer when their busy shooting terrorists in the face? Or would it be better served in a 5 minute cut scene, finally comes the narrative design this is still important as it adds to the feeling of progression through the game but comes’ third as a narrative is the section of the game that comes in-bewteen the actual bit of games.
- The writer needs to be there from the beginning If you’re going to stand a chance of having a decent standard of writing in your game, there is no use in bringing a writer in 1 month before the launch of the game and (as Andy had many pictures to express this point) ‘polish a turd’ know at this point it’s too late and the best you can expect is a top hat... On a similar topic get a good writer! A writer should know where exposition is and Isn’t needed in a game, much of the narrative can be explained visually and therefore doesn’t need a line of dialogue a good writer should know this.
I was lucky enough to share a few words with Andy after his speech to get a few tips on how to break into the world of games writing, as with much advice aspiring writers get he told me to WRITE LOTS always an important point to enforce and I encourage you to do the same, but beyond this he recommend I try writing ‘barks’ and working on as many student projects I can in my current situation to make my portfolio appeal to games developers in particular. It was a fascinating discussion on games writing, one i fear this blog cannot do justice, but I urge you to seek out the work of Andy he seriously knows his stuff!
There were a few exciting announcements from the people at GamesDev South Wales themselves (prior to another attempt to see if the till at the bar was now working!) and although this may only be of interest to the people of South Wales I’m excited to report on it just the same. Firstly GamesDev South Wales will be hosting the Wales Games Development show 2013 on the 26/6/2013 in the Wales Millennium centre Cardiff and secondly BAFTA Cymru will be presenting the BAFTA Cymru Games Awards at the show on the 26th an exciting proposition for all aspiring game developers in Wales to gain recognistion for their talent! I can’t wait to get the chance to report on and play some of the winners and nominees.
Anyway that about sums up my evening at the event of what was a fascinating insight into the games industry and my first chance to try my hand at some real world games journalism, hopefully I’ve brought a little taste of Welsh games developer to all of you, once again thanks for reading!
This blog was also posted over at RedManGaming