Complications Ensue: The Crafty Game, TV and Screenwriting Blog
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty Screenwriting, TV and Game Writing Blog


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Saturday, February 27, 2016

I’ve been continuing to search for a voice for some revelatory audio. There’s a character in game who’s autistic. Good actors are hard enough to find; actors who can play autistic with emotional truthfulness are rarer still. And, the role has another characteristic I can’t tell you yet. Few people can handle a speech impediment without the impediment becoming the whole performance. And, we want charisma in our voices.

(My daughter is autistic, so autism is something I think about a lot. It’s nice to be able to put it in the game. And by “nice,” I mean that it’s going to take us to a seriously effed-up place.)

Meanwhile, I’m continuing to work on dialog for encounters. Writing encounter dialog is tricky because sound eats memory, and we need the game to be a reasonable size on your computer or console. So I need to suggest as much as possible in as little dialog as possible. Also, any time Arthur talks, that means our other player characters will eventually have to have something to say, too. On the other hand, we’re long past the point in video games where we can get away with throwing text on the screen. And a voice performance adds so much, anyway.

I’ve also been having a bash at tooltips. The designers have written very “gamey” tooltips, e.g. “does .2 shock damage + .4 blunt damage.” I feel that takes you out of the game, so the tooltip will now read something clever-ish like, “this weapon is really smashing, and a bit shocking too.” I changed the "sharpened stick" to a "pointy stick," and of course the tooltip is "much more effective than any tropical fruit."

And there’s the usual ongoing support. What brand gin do people drink? What do Wellies say after they are no longer distracted by Rick the Stunt Duck? What do Bobbies say? Each one of these is not a lot of work, but they add up, and there’s a fair amount of bookkeeping necessary as well, to make sure that everything gets recorded and shepherded into the game.

The rest of the team's update is here.



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Friday, February 26, 2016

My friend Richard Rouse III has a new game coming out! It's a top-down infiltration game. Looks pretty fun, and full of lovely irony.

Check out the teaser trailer! And his interview on IGN!


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Thursday, February 25, 2016

It occurs to me I should have been posting my We Happy Few Updates here, too. Here's February 12. You can find the rest using the handy We Happy Few tag.

The other day a narrative designer friend o’mine who works at a Big Studio tweeted, “Pro tip: if you design a narrative/audio heavy feature, loop them in early so they can spot potential problems before they happen”.

Compulsion is a strange beast - something in between a 4 person indie team and a 100-500 person AAA team.

What we get in return is that the team is small enough that everyone talks to everybody. At least, I talk to everybody.

I want this on a t-shirt, don't you?
For example, Mike is designing in-game tips. How do you pick up a body? How do you throw one? An in-game tip can throw you out of the game world if it’s written in gamer terminology; on the other hand, if it’s not clear, it’s useless as a tip. So I have to figure out how to rephrase the tip so that it sounds like our world.

Meanwhile, Valentino is building soundscapes for the introduction. There’s a critical flashback to a traumatic event. He’d like to know: what does that sound like? I’ve already recorded and edited the dialog, but what else do we hear? There’s a train. Do we hear steam building? A whistle? A bell? Crowd walla?

Meanwhile, there’s an encounter where you can find a note on a bobby describing you. Well, it takes a level designer two seconds to write that. It sends me down a rabbit hole. Who’s writing the note? What tone is it? Is it officious? Are they scared of you? Do they want the bobbies to follow normal procedure? What is it? Or do they want the bobbies to take care of you by any means necessary?

Meanwhile, David is working on combat buffs. I feel an urgency to rewrite the combat buffs into the voice of the game world, to strengthen your immersion in it. Oh, and, sometimes we want both the player character and the NPC’s to react when these buffs take effect. So those lines of dialog get added to my dialog list, and I start pestering our sound guys to set up another recording session.

And since I’m recording and editing all sorts of cutscene dialog and gameplay barks and encounter dialog... I have to keep after the sound guys to make sure none of it gets lost along the way.

And, there is a Very Important Article that you’ll read in-game that wasn’t clear enough. So I rewrote it, and that meant poor Whitney had to throw out her old painting and make a new one. And then the advertisements were wrong for the date, so we had to fix that. In this game, the advertisements look like throwaways, but they’re important lore, and they’ve got to not only be consistent with our lore, but be revelatory of it.

Oh, and, just now, one of our programmers complained that a Pythonesque object description I wrote turned out to be too long for the UI. It doesn’t take long to do each little thing; but they do all require thought.

In all this, of course, I’m piling up a bit of work for myself. Anything specific to Arthur I’ll have to redo, or replace, for Girl With Needle or the Mad Scotsman. They don’t just have different barks. Anywhere Arthur has a journal entry after an encounter, I’m going to have to rewrite the entry in the other PC’s voice.

This is an ambitious game for its narrative. It would be much easier for me to write generically. The more generic a bark (“Go go go!”), the more often the player can hear it without getting irritated. I’m writing distinctive barks. Hopefully we’ve got enough so they won’t get old. Let me know if they do get old.

And then, there are always the recording sessions and the cutscenes. I can’t tell you what amazing actor I recorded last Thursday, or what role she plays, because it’s all a Big Secret. But the animators are slowly chewing their way through several playthroughs worth of cutscenes. Tuesday and Wednesday I put together a cutscene for the Mad Scotsman’s playthrough; Vincent Schneider’s been storyboarding it since. I also spent a bit of time inserting new dialog in old cutscenes; sometimes there’s a line that doesn’t get recorded, or a brilliant idea that we have after the recording session, and I’ve got to wait until my next session to get it recorded. (Recording with union actors is crucial, but Not Cheap.)

It is a miracle to me that I haven’t fallen behind. Sometimes I wonder if it would be the end of the world if I, you know, left the text of the combat buffs alone; so what if they’re a bit gamey? But I count myself blessed to be in a team where I have the privilege of meddling like that.

Find the rest of the team's update on our Kickstarter page.
Here's the previous update.



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Thursday, February 18, 2016

This nifty little video explains some reasons why Donald Trump is crushing it in the Republican race. Short words, repetition, rearrange your sentences so you put the sharpest word at the end.

Donald Trump speaks at a Fourth Grade reading comprehension level. I bet an analysis of Bill Clinton's speaking style would show similar things. I've noticed that when Hillary talks, you have to think about what she said in order to parse it, while when Bill talks, you feel like you just totally got it. As Churchill said, "Short words are best. Short words when old are best of all."

(Don't like the guy or his politics, this is just a rhetorical analysis.)


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Sunday, February 14, 2016

I get this sort of question from time to time:

A 20something friend of mine is interested in getting an entry-level position in the gaming world (just about any aspect, I think).

Do companies have internships, like film companies, where you can prove your worth? Or do you just send queries to companies?

It’s not that easy to get in as “entry level — just about any aspect.” At our company we don’t have jobs for jes’ folks. We have jobs for programmers, and artists, and animators. We have two playtesters, known as Quality Assurance people. They're not entry level, either.

(QA is "playtesting," but it's more like "playing the game repeatedly and trying to break it in every conceivable way. I'm told it's a good niche for people on the autism spectrum, who don't mind a little repetition.)

There are quite a few university programs that teach specific skills: programming, environmental art, animation, etc. The Cégep du Vieux Montréal, for example, has a whole video game program (en français). The video game biz is growing, especially here in Montréal, so a talented and skilled graduate can get a job.

I think most people would tell you to go to game dev conferences and talk to people at companies. If you can't afford a ticket to a conference, you can volunteer, and attend the conference on your off hours. Volunteering is also a good way to meet people.

Personally, I find conferences incredibly daunting. I don't like to go to game dev conferences until I can nab a speaker slot. I have a touch of Asperger's myself. I do better when I have some context; and it's easier to meet people in the speaker's lounge than milling around. If you have deep knowledge in an outside field, you have a shot. E.g. if you are not only a gamer but a retired Special Ops commando, or a copyright lawyer, or a publicist, etc., you can probably think of something to say for half an hour. My ticket to the podium has generally been "lessons from screenwriting."

But, at a minimum, going to conferences give you something to talk about when you do get your foot in the door.

Note that there's a difference between game conventions and game dev conferences. PAX is a game convention. GDC is a game dev conference. The PAX conferences are mostly there so game companies can promote their games to customers. (Also so gamers can meet other gamers and play games on cardboard.) GDC is there so professionals can get learnings and then go out drinking with people they haven't seen since they were all fired.

You can talk to game devs at PAX. At PAX East last year we had the art director, a gameplay designer, an environmental artist, the studio head and the producer, among others. A lot of tiny teams send everybody. Bigger companies send mostly marketing people.

There are game industry sites, e.g. Kotaku and Gamasutra. They have job listings, too. But again, not many “I am an untrained smart person” jobs.

I don't think there are a lot of internships. Showbiz has a use for untrained people. Video game companies don't need anyone to drive the van or man the craft services table.

If any readers out there have better information than the above -- my own trajectory has been pretty idiosyncratic -- please post a reply!

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