How do I break in as a writer: Games versionComplications Ensue
Complications Ensue:
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Sunday, October 02, 2016

Q. I've always had a strong interest in writing which is why I went on to pursue a degree in English. I would like very much to pursue know what it would take for me to become part of a team of creators. Is it better to have Master's degree as opposed to a Bachelor's? Would it be preferable to have degrees in different fields of study? Does Compulsion Games offer internships for individuals seeking experience and exposure?
We don't offer internships. We're a small team of 25 fairly experienced people. The company philosophy is that if you're good enough to work there, you're good enough to pay.

The game industry, like showbiz, is not particularly interested in whether you have a parchment in a frame with Praeses et Socii Universitatis on it. We're interested in whether you have skills, experience and talent. So if you're an artist, we don't care if you went to art school, we want to see your portfolio. Now obviously you learn a lot in art school, and you can put together a good portfolio there, so many games artists went to art school. But it's the portfolio, not the credential.

Same for programming. Show us what you've done, and we'll give you a programming test. Pass the programming test, and we'll interview you. You may very well have learned to program in a computer science department, but if you taught yourself online, or out of books, that's cool. The head of the company started working at 17 as a programmer. My first wife taught herself to program after finishing her Ph. D. in Folklore, and she's been a programmer ever since. (She figured that if she could learn 14 dead languages, computer languages couldn't be that hard. She was right, too.)

What schools do teach you is the tools. For example, Montreal's Cégep du Vieux Montréal will teach you Unreal. (For free, if you're a Québecer.) Level Designers and Environmental Artists make the world of our game in Unreal 4.

However, I don't know how you become a game writer. My path involved having written a hit comedy film and directed a bunch of shorts. I moved into games laterally. I did not have to convince anyone that I could write dialog, or tell a story. My first few game writing jobs did not involve any special software, or even much in the way of the elaborate spreadsheets we're using to track dialog in We Happy Few. So there were no software tools to know.

(Basically I now use Google Sheets, Google Docs, Final Draft and Pro Tools. Pro Tools is the only serious badass professional bit of software. It's for editing sound.)

I actually do have an MFA, but I think the most valuable part of my MFA was having an excuse to muck about with cameras for three years. I did learn a few things about directing actors and cutting audio, but I did not learn to write at UCLA, or Yale. I learned to write by writing, for free and then for money, for many, many years.

I don't have a terribly good idea how someone becomes a pro games writer.

You can attend game jams. There's good info in The Game Narrative Toolbox, which my friend Ann Lemay contributed to.

Better, you can teach yourself Twine (it's trivial to learn) and create an interactive HTML text narrative which someone can easily play.

Even better, you can learn how to make mods, and create story modules in various game engines, e.g. you could create your own Shadowrun story. There are some amazing mods out there, and modding communities full of volunteers that make them. If you can show us a mod you made, that ought to show us that you know how to make a video game narrative.

Game societies are good, e.g. the IGDA.

But there are no agents in game writing. In TV you write a spec and a spec pilot, get an agent, and get pitched to showrunners. I'm not sure what the equivalent is in games.

If anyone reading this has a better idea how to become a game writer, please write in!


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