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A Practical Guide to Game Writing

October 13, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[In this detailed Gamasutra feature, veteran game writer McDevitt (Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines, Where the Wild Things Are) outlines useful processes for collaboration between design, production and writing staff, from pre-production through production of a game.]

Video game writers are a frequently misunderstood sort. Even in the most ideal situations, we are often relegated to the status of mortar to the designers' bricks, slipping between the cracks to paste fun moments of gameplay together with a few lines of snappy, expository dialog.

Writers can be further marginalized by a lingering sense among our team members that we want nothing more than to stuff our games full of melodramatic, Metal Gear-sized cutscenes, burdened by a cast of dozens sputtering flowery lines from our 450 page script.

I'd like to steer us clear of this idea, one likely sustained by the apparent misconception that writing is fundamentally about arranging words into meaningful strings.

Clearly this isn't the case, but somehow a large contingent of the game industry has institutionalized this attitude anyway, and its effects can be found in an upsetting number of games released in the past few decades.

Just count the uneasy puns and strained moralizing spilling from your favorite avatar's mouth -- when a writer is hired to write a game, and is subsequently barred from having input into its pacing, its setting, the motivations of its characters, and its mood and tone, writers resort to the only weapons they have left: wry witticisms and declarative pop-philosophy.

The spirit of collaboration games are supposed to embody often seems well outside the writer's reach.

But the truth is, we don't want to hijack your game with pointless soliloquies, and we don't want to write a posturing Hollywood-style epic. Game writers simply want to help designers craft an immersive, interactive narrative experience. With or without dialog, with or without characters, we simply want the game to start somewhere interesting, climb its way over a few emotional peaks, and end somewhere even more interesting. We're good at that sort of thing too.

Not all games require a narrative arc, of course, but it's a rather common feature of quite a few mainstream console titles, and these days if an actual writer is going to pen the script of one of these games -- as opposed to the lead designer or the producer -- some Very Important People probably have a Very High Opinion of the property.

But this doesn't happen as frequently as you might think. Consider yourself blessed if you have actually seen a game writer in the wild, for they remain one of those elusive, added-expense luxuries that many game producers -- their eyes always on their margins -- believe they can do without. And in many cases, it humbles me to say, they're right.

The average game-playing public will suffer a deluge of poor storytelling if a game is knock-down, drag-out fun. But a great story with terrible gameplay will die a fast and lonely death on the shelf. I respect and support this pecking order. Gameplay must come first -- this is the golden rule.

However, if some form of narrative happens to play a design-critical role in your proposed game, it is vitally important to treat it exactly as you would any other design element, not as a separate discipline. So if your team has taken that bold extra step to build a narrative-driven game, there are a number of precautions you can take to accommodate the writer and prevent the story (and your writer) from getting buried beneath endless revisions of your GDD.

First and foremost among these is to make one simple conceptual change: treat your writer as an associate designer. Involve her in the design process from the outset. Even if she is not an experienced technical designer, a good writer can be instrumental in helping inspire unique moment-to-moment experiences that provide gameplay variety while integrating seamlessly into the narrative. Again, writing is not just about clever sentences -- it can also be about narrative shape, motivation, and pacing, i.e. what you do, why you do, and when you do.

Most of my favorite narrative-driven games contain very little dialog in them at all -- Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Flashback, Out of this World -- but even these titles are "written" in the sense that they have a clear set of emotional shifts, tonal changes, and meaningful moment-to-moment events that compound into emotional pay-offs.

When writers and designers band together and discuss a game's story, characters, dramatic set-pieces, and settings in parallel with ideas about the game mechanics and levels, the team will begin to find exciting and creative ways of conjoining the two disciplines into a more unified experience.

Unfortunately, this synergy can be difficult to find, especially in the trenches of third-party development where the average dev cycle is less than a year. When schedules are tight, producers and designers often maintain a slight distance from writers, imagining we are off "doing our thing" while they do theirs.

But our thing is their thing too. Writing is design. We are both building a world from scratch, after all. So if you empower a writer to absorb and occasionally contribute design ideas, she will carry on with a solid understanding of how the narrative elements contribute to (or detract from) the overall game experience.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Daniel Kinkaid
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Very good, well written article.

Alan Jack
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This is really fascinating - I've never encountered a game writer outside of a terrible experience with someone who was brought in as a consultant and didn't even play the game.

I'd love to know how you feel about the future of games, as we tend more towards emergent scenarios. I feel like the roles of a game's writer and designer seem so close as to almost be indistinguishable - the mention you give to designers running off to build worlds without consulting their writer feels, to me, like people who have learned nothing from the past five years of discussion about alternative storytelling methods in interactive environments. Where do you draw the boundaries between what you do and what a designer does? If a story is told through environment and gameplay, does that reduce your job to just working on dialog? How much input do you have with animators, in terms of the delivery of your dialog?

E Zachary Knight
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I always like to compare the roles of game designer and writer to that of director and script writer in the film industry.

The director controls the creative vision of the film. They are responsible for the costumes, sets, dialogue and acting to all fit the theme and setting of the film. But they are not the ones who create the costumes or write the scripts or build the sets. They have a final say in the decision of others, but the other people do the work.

Sure there are some great directors out there who have written films in the past, but more often than not, they get someone else to write the scripts for their films.

A good game designer should fill a similar role. They should be responsible for making sure all elements of the game, gameplay, art direction, writing, level design etc fit the theme and setting of the game. But they should not be the ones doing all that work. That is why we hire programmers, animators, level designers and writers.

A good game designer can double in just about any role in game development, but the less they have to do outside their design role, the better the project will go.

Darby McDevitt
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"the mention you give to designers running off to build worlds without consulting their writer feels, to me, like people who have learned nothing from the past five years of discussion about alternative storytelling methods in interactive environments."

This has more to do with time constraints, not ignorance or antipathy. The majority of game developers are not AAA studios with huge budgets and many years to burn, and yet this rare and precious minority of AAA titles dominates most of our discussions. We look at Shadow Of The Colossus and say "THIS is how it should be done..." forgetting the fact that this game was in development for 4 years and cost tens of millions of dollars. This is not a luxury most of us have.

Of the 20 or so games i have worked on since 2000, only a few exceeded one year of development. The rest, well below this. Designers working at this speed often have no choice but to start creating content during pre-production. Writers too. The purpose of my article was to help my brothers and sisters in these trenches through what can often be a painful, if brief, process.

And as far as how much input a writer should have in the process... really it depends on how much design experience the writer has. If none, then the designers should educate the writer and bring them into the fold, but not necessarily give them the keys to the BMW. No harm in learning. I started as a writer, then became a level designer, then returned to writing... and I have been an in-house writer for most of my career, so I may have a better understanding than many game writers. In the end, its about successful collaboration... so, a writer doesn't necessarily need to have the duties of a designer; rather, I think designers can simply benefit from understanding how best to harness the talents of of their writer.

And yes, I think the best designers of narrative video games are in fact writers as well, in the same way that David Lynch or Leos Carax are writers of their films. Both avoid producing scripts as much as possible, but they are nevertheless storytellers who have in some sense "written" the film you watch. I believe Fumeto Ueda has said on a number of occasions that he never really thought of himself as a game designer... obviously he IS, but his statement is emblematic of a man trying to fuse a number of artistic impulses into a seamless experience.

Corey Sharpe
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Well I would hope so, since the writer of the article has done work for scripts and the like.

Thom Friend
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I see this role becoming much more important as games move further and further into a story-emphasized environment. Since it is nearly impossible (not entirely impossible) to make a completely unique game, I see developers turning to the people who can hand them the unique twist that they are searching for (the writers) to set their game apart from the other clones.

Dan Felder
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To me, a claim that gameplay is more important than story is a little like saying that dialogue is more important than character. They're both parts of the overall experience. Stories can be told without a line of dialogue, hence the oft-quoted line, "every picture tells a story". If even still images can communicate stories, certainly the progression of positive and negative events in gameplay can.

I can see where people are coming from when they try to claim dominance of one over the other... But to me they seem utterly integral - like arguing whether the colors or the outline of a painting is the most important part. I'm sure an argument can be made, but it seems so silly to do so.

Also, from a business standpoint, writers are dirt cheap compared to other costs - and since not many games are trying to compete on engaging writing or narrative... Well it seems to be a very strong direction to go indeed. Low comparative costs plus a scarce market usually made my business professors smile.

Robert Boyd
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You can have a great game without a story. You can't have a great game without gameplay.

Or to put it another way, if the gameplay is awful, but the story is great, you'd be better off choosing a different medium like a movie, TV show, novel, or comic than a videogame to tell your story.

Dan Felder
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You miss my point. To me the elements of gameplay are core to the story, just as the elements of story are core to gameplay. Both turn in positive and negative events - and gameplay is a brilliant way of communicating story charges on a visceral level. Stories need not have words, and all games work on the core elements. Perhaps we have different definitions of story, but under my conception of its core workings as a writer in several mediums - I see much more similarities than differences. Separating the two just doesn't seem feasible from an artistic perspective.

Ryan Galletta
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If your game is Tetris the answer is yes. If your game has a story it can be ruined by a poor one.

Bart Stewart
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Beyond the excellent specific advice on how writing can contribute to each step of a game's production, there's a very interesting claim being made in this article.

Which is that "story" and "writing" aren't the same thing. And the corollary to this is that writers (maybe a better word for them is needed) can contribute to the story of a game, making that game better, even if they don't write a single word of dialogue or expository text.

That's a pretty profound assertion. It means that any game (whether you prefer a rigid or loose definition of what a "game" is) can be improved by a good writer. A writer who understands the craft of storytelling at a deep level can help all of the elements of a game -- the action, the places, the objects, the characters, the artwork, the world-physics -- come together in a way that communicates a specific sequence of emotionally meaningful events to the player, and to a degree that a non-writer probably can't.

If that's what Darby McDevitt is saying, it's a remarkable claim.

Suppose for a moment that it's true. Are game designers doing enough to include writers as a key member of the game design team? Are producers making sure that the lead writer has opportunities to help select and arrange the core gameplay elements so that they tell a good story?

David Fried
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Without the writer being in house, the hope of the gameplay narrative telling a good story is pretty much nil. But here's the thing. Most writers do not understand gameplay narrative. They only understand cinematic narrative. That's why when you bring in a "Hollywood" writer you often end up with long descriptive scenes that have no place in an interactive game.

Writers that understand (truly understand) gameplay narrative are extremely few and far between. The few I've known were game designers who also did writing for games. Not writers who came in to do writing for games.

Christopher Braithwaite
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I don't think there are such things as "gameplay narrative" and "cinematic narrative." Gameplay and cinema provide context for narrative, but I think of narrative as its own thing separate from the medium it's expressed in. I don't think what makes narrative work changes from movies to games, but the way to meet the requirements of strong narrative does change.

Ryan Galletta
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"Writers that understand (truly understand) gameplay narrative are extremely few and far between. "

This 'excuse' is getting so old. There are lots of writers out there who understand gameplay. And more of them would understand it even better if they were brought into the team rather than kept on the outside - 'in house' as you say. And more of them would deliver 'better' stories if they were brought on into the process at the beginning of the game development - that is, at the concept stage. Not after the demo is done, not after the characters are created, at the very beginning.

Does it make sense to bring in an Art Director after the tech support dude already did the modeling? Or the lead programmer after the artist built the code architecture? So why bring in a writer after the designer has created the story, characters, and world and expect something great? Letting the designer write it is more about the creative power struggle that happens than about actual good writing.

The reason companies bring in Hollywood names is because they have no idea how to make their story great and so throw money at a name so they have someone to blame when it sucks (yes, I'm being facetious...a little). But generally, even these writers aren't brought in early enough to actually help the story because the game structure is already dramatically flawed and unfixable without starting from scratch.

Some say this result means writers don't understand games. I say it demonstrates that producers and designers don't understand character and story structure. And the more reviews I read about a story being great 'because it was so cheesy and cliche on purpose which makes it really fun', the more I stand by my assertions.

"The few I've known were game designers who also did writing for games. Not writers who came in to do writing for games. "

When I've interviewed for writing jobs, I'm often astonished at the lack of knowledge on the other side of the table - most people seem to really have no idea how to evaluate whether or not a writer can deliver what they need.

It's either that or I'm clearly talking to someone who wants to keep their job and so is out to prove that no one else can do it. Typically, this is the designer or sometimes a low level producer.

Darby McDevitt
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Indeed, I am saying this, though I'm sure I'm not the first. Consider so-called "Reality Television". Who "writes" these stories? Certainly not a chap with a copy of Final Draft. In such cases, it is the film editor who shapes a story out of the available footage, much to the chagrin of the Writer's Guild. So in that sense the editor becomes a storyteller without being a writer.

Narrative-driven video games offer up their own set of challenges. The minute you create a few characters, put guns in their hands, and plop them down in a world, you have the potential to make it mean as much or as little as you like, simply by scripting the events that unfold around them. You don't have to, of course, but you can. It all depends on what sort of experience you'd like to offer. We often talk about the "freedom" games allow players, but this ignores the fact that many hundreds of hours of patient, careful scripting are responsible for much of what makes games of this type enjoyable. Our freedom as players is often severely bounded...

Way back in the day when I was a level designer on the GBA version of "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers", I tackled the design and scripting of each level as if I were blocking an action sequence in a film, and this helped me craft a diverse set of experiences from some pretty limited scripting tools. I think the approach succeeded, and led to level layouts and scripts that I might not have considered otherwise.

Of course, all of this advice is only applicable to games in which the narrative progression plays a critical role. You may have noticed that I continually qualify myself by referring to narrative-driven video games, rather than simply "video games"... it's my rather clumsy way of trying to get around the fact that the term "Video Game" is a rather poor catch-all for a broad category of interactive entertainment.

The difference between Tetris and Connect-Four is far smaller than the difference between Tetris and The Secret of Monkey Island. Naturally, we call Tetris and The Secret of Monkey Island "video games" because this is a description of the medium they inhabit, but it is not a description of their dominant "rhetorical mode", if I may adapt a term. Tetris is almost pure gameplay, Monkey Island leans more heavily on narrative. Obviously my article is intended for those who are working on video games that tend towards the latter sort.

I wouldn't go so far as saying that writers should be elevated to point where they are making final decisions about which game mechanics are viable ... it's still a collaborative medium after all. Ideally, I'd rather see more designers who understand that they are in fact "writers" themselves. Many of the best designers in the field know this already. But until this happens with greater frequency, I think there are a number of improvements we can make to the process already in place.

Josh Foreman
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I'm very happy about this article. It coincides with my blog perfectly. Especially the stuff about writers becoming integrated into the design, (and I would add art) team.

I'd love to hear your feedback on this, Darby.

Altug Isigan
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Altug Isigan
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"story" and "writing" aren't the same thing. And the corollary to this is that writers (maybe a better word for them is needed) can contribute to the story of a game, making that game better, even if they don't write a single word of dialogue or expository text."


I think it is this level of contribution that the term "narrative designer" tries to address. This is also the level on which Darby's sentence "writing is design" gains its true meaning. This is high-level writing, were you work on the overall structure of the story yet. The detailed writing (the part that most people think writing is) comes much later. Actually, noone really starts writing before they have designed the narrative in its broader lines. It's exactly for that reason that you need a writer early on in your game project. When the writer comes in too late and you ask him to save the story with some cool bits of writing, all you do is to admit that you have no idea of what writing is about:)

Jeffrey Ollendorf
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Yes, yes, yes, thank you. As someone who wants to game write for a living, this is an article that should be read. It may also help my case that I'm not a huge moviegoer. It's unfortunate that the industry has taken this stance.

Darby McDevitt
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Also, big props to my editor, Christian Nutt, for adding that link to "Soluble Fish". I looked briefly for a suitable sample myself, but got lazy, and forgot.

Michael Joseph
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The skill set required to be a really good game writer seems fairly extensive. The path to greatness almost requires being a level designer at some point???? After reading your article it almost seems like a writer should be the lead (or at least a co-lead) world/level designer. That would seem to be the ideal way to ensure the writer stays in the loop and that everyone remains on the same page. Otherwise the process seems too fragile with the writer constantly clamoring to stay relevant.

I can't help but wonder how comic book writers and artists collaborate. How much of the visuals of each panel (character poses, actions, setting) are described in detail by the writer versus how much is designed by the visual artist? Obviously there's a lot of narrative being conveyed in just the visuals of each panel. Perhaps it's different depending on who's involved but it seems as if it would help if the writer was good at drawing mock-ups/storyboards. Either way there must be a lot of trust between writer and visual artists to piece together a story. Are there parallels here with game writing and design? If a writer has no power in a game development situation, how do they go to the artists and say "these visuals are contrary to what I described and that's going to have a negative ripple effect in later parts of the game that you may not realize." And maybe the response is "Dude, but doesn't this just look so cool?!"

How do you deal with the "too many cooks" problem?

The process you describe sounds very difficult to get right on big productions if the producer doesn't fully appreciate the value of having a full time writer on board as an integral member of the team. And a writer who feels like a secondary team member might have reservations when it comes to rocking the boat or speaking out against a particular direction or decision made by the "primary" members of the project. And maybe then they just stop fighting for the integrity of the narrative and do what seems to make people happy... even if that means the final experience for the player is reduced.

Darby McDevitt
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In my experience a writer's skillset can vary quite a bit, so long as the Lead Designer pays close attention to the story. In the best of all possible worlds, the Lead Designer of a narrative driven game will have a firm grasp of ALL the elements that contributes directly to design (i.e. nearly everything) ... but too often the writing as treated as another domain... something akin to, say, texture art or music. Designers often think they're being merciful by taking a hands off approach to the writing, but this is actually counterproductive and leads to more problems than it solves.

Jonathan Lawn
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Your point about comic books is excellent, I think. How exactly do the great write/artist combinations work? They've been at this for decades. Do all teams work in the same way? Shame no one has been able to give us an answer!

Perhaps it's the same as songwriting though, which I suspect would mean that each team has it's own pattern. Or perhaps the method doesn't scale up to working for a half-dozen lead creatives. Maybe again, TV or film offers a better analogy:
ities_between_games_genres_and_other_media_formats.php. It'd be good to hear from anyone who's worked in all these fields - I've only got questions!

Ryan Galletta
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I'm actually going through this process right now. I'm writing a graphic novel and have hired an artist to illustrate it. The major publishers have script format templates to follow, but for the actual content I've attempted to find comic scripts to see exactly how writer and artist communicate.

There are a series of books - I'm not sure how many there are - that have comic scripts with commentary from writers and artists. The first two are called "Panel One: Comic Book Scripts By Top Writers" and the second "Panel Two: More Comic Scripts By Top Writers" edited by Nat Gertler. From what I've seen, there is no 'one way' to collaborate and it's pretty much up to the writer and artist to work it out themselves. Some comics also come with a script - though my guess is these are hard to find. The only one I've found is the director's cut issue of "Angel: After the Fall". (Though after I found the Panel books, I stopped looking).

Some writers are great artists themselves (like Scott McCloud) and give their artist pretty much exactly what they want. Some are poor artists an scribble nearly illegibly, but likely helpfully. And others simply lay out what they want in words - as detailed as they feel they need to be.

My dilemma is that I don't want to give the artist a drawing. I do have some artistic ability, but no recent practice and limited education, so I don't want to draw something and then have the artist believe that's exactly what I want. Firstly, my drawing is likely not very well composed and secondly, it's actually a good thing to see how someone else interprets my words into a visual.

Interesting note/tangent: While evaluating artists I had them do a test page. Here's an excerpt:

PANEL 1: Jack looks under the van at the bloody corpse of the woman - an explosion of blood and entrails. The front grill of the van drips blood and guts.

CAROL (Off Panel): Is she okay?

PANEL 2: Jack looks up at Carol. His expression: not so much.

I'd say 3 out of 4 artists drew panel two with Carol's face in frame looking down at Jack with his back to us. To me, the panel is about Jack's expression to Carol's question from Panel 1 (and is supposed to be humorous - clearly, the victim is not 'okay'). But I assume when the artists read the line 'Jack looks up *at* Carol' they assumed Carol was the subject when in fact, I'm just trying to indicate Jack's eyeline. So I added more description to make it more clear. However, in the end, the quality of the art from the artists who drew it as I saw it was just generally better than the others. Perhaps that says something.

Anyway, this is really hijacking the subject of Darby's post. Sorry! :/

Jonathan Lawn
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I think it's relevant! Thanks for the response. Just the sort of informed comment I was looking for.

And perhaps an indication that writers in games have to develop their role depending on their relationship with their designer. I haven't read much on how they work, but perhaps their close and lengthy relationship is a key advantage the Housers have at Rockstar.

Gareth Mensah
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A practical guide to an unpractical job, if anything I didn't know anything or even gave a thought about game writer, if this article showed one thing, it's how unappreciated they are and how little power game writers have to do anything about it anytime soon.

Dan Swerdlove
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Fantastic article. I am currently in film school, with an emphasis on screenwriting, but a career as a game writer would be a dream come true for me; the specifics of what that job really entails, however, have been pretty elusive. Thank you for breaking it down for us- after reading this, I feel like I have a much clearer picture of the skills I need to work on and develop.

Altug Isigan
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Writing *is* design.

I can't think of a shorter way to express how close writing and game design actually are.

Dan Felder
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Brian Linville
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Although I've been a published author for almost 15 years now, I only very recently transitioned to writing for games. I'm doing small, indie projects to get my foot in the industry door, and so far, I often work with artists and designers who aren't used to having an actual dedicated writer on the team.

I most certainly agree with this article about bringing a writer on in the very beginning. And I find it baffling that this isn't a no brainer to everyone else. I also agree that a good writer has to be a good world / character designer. Once that's done, the story can be written in novel, movie, or game form. As such, the writer can do a lot for the design of a game, even if he or she never ends up wordsmithing it out in any text visible by the player.

Matthew Anderson
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Well said Darby. It's remarkable how often people relegate writers to the status of typist or copyeditor. I think most writers are closer to film directors(and would probably be directors given the chance), they are not only the authors of a fictional narrative, but the auteurs of the fictional world in which it takes place. We think in images and tones as much as we think in words. The more we are allowed to into the creative process of game or film production the more the end product will make sense and be an effective, cohesive piece of fiction.

Bjorn Bednarek
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Great article Darby, a lot of common sense advice that I hope studio leads will learn from.

I'm a writer working as a designer, or maybe a designer waiting for a narrative project to write on, I'm never sure. But the biggest thing I have learned in writing the VO for our current game, that you haven't covered in your article, is to do a read through. Realising that words written and words read aloud are vastly different was a turning point for me, a discovery I made whilst in the recording studio with an actor falling all over the beautiful words I'd written. An on the fly rewrite fixed the immediate problems, but from then on I've used read-throughs to check that the written words sound authentic when read.

The other thing I'd like to comment on is the tools used by the writer. You mention moving stuff from Word or Final Draft into the game, but I'd advocate a more integrated approach. I'm lucky enough to be able to have designed my own dialog management tool and have it implemented for the current project, and this has helped me enormously in being able to quickly adapt when management ask for changes. It features a speech generator for rapidly prototyping timings, repetition and other factors, and allows me to edit my speech and within a 5 minute game rebuild hear the changes, see the pacing and beats and generally learn through doing. Giving the writer access to a tool that more closely links to the game can only enhance their understanding of where their writing will go and what it is intended to achieve at which points in the game.

Finally, integrating the writer into the design team is the thrust of this article, and I'd go one step further and say the writer should be up there at the same level as a department lead, reporting to the creative director. The idea of a 'narrative director' is really appealing, and surely by now there are enough cross skilled people who can understand the technical elements of making a game as well as the technical elements of crafting a narrative experience.

Darby McDevitt
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All great points, Bjorn.

Yes, a script read-through is crucial, and I would hope that any writer of a dramatic narrative would been keen on the practice. Since this article was aimed more at producers and designers, this bit of advice slipped my mind... but yes, its good for the writer to read his own script aloud. Or, if you have willing colleagues, grab a few and do a staged reading (this has the added benefit of educating your team about the story).

Working with a good dialog management tool is critical, of course. I used one myself for many years, and it had most of the features you mention -- VO generation, a quick integration pipeline, etc. But I was lucky enough to be an in-house writer with easy access to, and a familiar understanding of the tool. It's often more trouble than it's worth to educate outside writers to implement your tool. But it's a nice goal to shoot for.

Actually, I have a rather odd process of writing scripts: I typically wrote in Word, then transfered the script, by hand, line by line, into our text tool... very tedious indeed. But I found that this slow transfer actually counted as "draft 2"... I did a lot of good editing this way. Once the script was safely in the text DB, I did all future edits there. I don't recommend this method to anyone but the most dedicated masochist.

Side note: We're off the front page! Thanks for the comments everyone.

David Lindsay
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Very late to this party, but just wanted to add something many people have overlooked.

Often the design team is willing to give a set of very comprehensive tools to the writers in order to sculpt an interesting story that can lead players through levels. In essence, the content team receives quest tools and level tools among other things that allow them to craft a great story.

However, this often misleads the whole studio into thinking that they have satisfied the narrative requirements of the game. When the content team finds out that they still cannot influence the design or production of other systems or features in the game, many problems arise.

For example, the writers discover there is a feature that allows the character to summon a mount, but there is no way for the characters in the game to reasonably explain such a thing. Or, the character abilities have some contradiction to the way the story has portrayed the character (life leeching for the priest, or some such).

If narrative cannot be embraced by the lead designer, and be allowed to permeate the game's individual pieces, then the result will be a game with obvious fictional and narrative contradictions that immediately eject the player from the experience.

To sum up this point: I believe gameplay is ultimately more important than story in producing games BUT... If the lead designer is not able to craft, embrace, or modify his/her designs in any way to collaborate with the narrative, then any effort made to implement a good story will be continually undermined by the lack of this "story-design" handshake.