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A Practical Guide to Game Writing
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A Practical Guide to Game Writing

October 13, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

When Writing Begins

Once your game's foundation has been laid and the team is ready to start production, the actual writing can begin. This is the fun part. Writers love to write, but without constant contact with the design team, they run the risk of giving you more script than you need, or a script you don't need at all. This wastes everyone's time and makes the writer sad when you have to tell him, "as beautiful as they are, your 100 part limerick-cycle has no place in Chaz Dastard's Intergalactic Star Safari 2: Misremembered Legacy".

Nip your writer's graphomania in the bud by establishing clear boundaries. This should be simple if the writer has been involved in the design from the beginning, since all parties involved will understand the extent of the game's writing needs. Keep track of everything before it needs to be written, as it is being written, and after it has been written. A game writer without defined boundaries or direction -- especially an off-site, contracted writer -- runs the risk of writing something as sensible and useful to your game as Andre Breton's Soluble Fish.

Script, First Draft. Between the greenlight and first milestone, the writer should be busy as hell. On short projects, ideally she should have a finished first draft of the script by the first production milestone, as this will help the level design process move smoothly.

On longer projects, the writer and level designers will be working back and forth quite a bit to make sure neither one lets a detail slip, edging ever closer to a first draft.

Demand Story and Script Sign-Off, Again. Be crystal clear with your client: the script needs to be read and comments forthcoming as soon as possible. Of all the client-side headaches I have ever encountered, this is the most painful.

Many clients make the mistake of believing the script is the single most important aspect of their game, and therefore spend months and months poring over details that contribute very little to the final game experience. Delays of this sort can hold up level designers and cutscene artists in the most asinine ways imaginable, wasting time that cannot be easily recovered.

One little discussed benefit to hiring an experienced writer is the fact that, relative to coders and artists, good writers work incredibly fast. Text is cheap and takes very little time to edit and revise. But this advantage is of no use to anyone if writers aren't aware that anything needs revising.

I have lost count off the number of times a seemingly innocuous level design change or map layout has rendered a chunk of my dialog obsolete. When I have not been made aware of this chance, the resulting headache cannot be cured by earthly medicine.

Darby: Listen to this gem, guys: "Sally forth to yonder Black Forest, stalwart Wayfarer, for there you shall find a crystal dagger of such rare-"

Producer Person: Ah, Darby, sorry... the Black Forest was scrapped and replaced by a Walmart. We should have told you.

Darby: Ah... okay, hold on. Where's my pen?

Woe betide the team that discovers this incongruity only after the actors have recorded all of their dialog. Again, keep the writers and designers partnered at all times.

Into Production

Now you're well into production, and the heavy lifting has begun. If you have nailed all the earlier tasks, the rest of production should proceed smoothly, barring any client interference. This is supposed to happen only if you've been naughty, but the unfortunate truth is not so black and white. There are more than a few imposing clients out there who, for understandable if not always sensible reasons, believe the story can be endlessly revised up until Beta. So be wary, keep calm, and carry on.

At some point during production, the script will be finished and the writer will feel like she is nearing the finish line far before the rest of the team. Don't let this illusion persist. There is still a bit of work your writer can help you with:

Casting. If you are recording with actors (and who isn't, these days?) now is the time to figure out who will be making your characters speak. On small projects that don't have an official story director, the writer can be of immense help. It's crucial to get your casting done well in advance of your recording date. Actors have hectic schedules and you'll find all the best ones rather busy if you try to snag a few the week of your recording session.

Final Script. As difficult as it is, the writer will have to stop tweaking her dialog and settle on something. Of course, it's a good idea to encourage the writer to streamline what she can. The script may be laden with timely wit and wisdom, but it is still, above all else, a game script and if it tests a player's patience, that can be a problem. More to the point: the longer the script, the more time it will take the cinematics team to craft the cutscenes or scripted sequences. So when the writer buckles down and kills her darlings early, it keeps everyone from doing superfluous work.

Voice-Over Recording Sessions. Some writers make great VO directors; some don't. But all good ones should be able to re-write their dialog on-the-fly, so make sure your scrivener is available for the recording sessions. When she hears her dialog spoken aloud for the first time, she's probably going to want to change it. Allow some leeway, but don't let her get carried away. Try to limit changes only to what is egregious or erroneous.

Once you hit Alpha, the writer's job gets a lot easier. But there are still a number of good reasons to keep one around, locked in a cabinet somewhere, just in case.

Proofreading. Writers should never copyedit and proofread their own work, it's true. This is a fact that holds doubly true in the game industry where the volume of text written is often comparable to that of a novel. On the other hand, it's rare to find excellent proofreaders hiding in the QA department, so make sure as many eyes are on the text as possible, including the writer's.

Non-Dialog Text Revisions. It can take a long time to nail down all that tutorial, database, and menu text your game has accrued slowly but consistently over the span of the production. Lucky for you, text is cheap to implement and fix, and is quite safe to alter even up to the last minute (provided you're still proofreading).

And with that, your writer's job is finished and your game is nearly complete. Well done, folks. Take a breath and clean your white board. The whole process starts again in five... four... three... two... one...

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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