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


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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

I'm not hiring a games writer. But some folks have been asking me how you become one. I think I have a different perspective than some people who give advice.

I believe the classic advice is to write some sort of conditional narrative -- a conversation that could go a bunch of different ways. One company asks you to use the Neverwinter Nights toolkit. You could also write something in Twine.

Another thought is to make a mod. Making a mod is a really cool idea. Some games (I think the Shadowrun games?) allow you to pretty much create your own complete scenario for a game, using the game assets, but changing the names, situation, plot and dialog.

That's what I might be looking for if I were hiring a ... level designer. (I am not even in charge of hiring level designers.)

If I were hiring a game writer, which I am not, I would not need an example of conditional narrative, or a mod. None of the narrative in We Happy Few is conditional. We just don't have the bandwidth to create big chunks of if/then/else.

What I would want someone to be able to do is create some characters who have their own inner life and motivations -- motivations that are at odds with each other. I want great dialog.

Great dialog is characters using their words to try to get things they want from each other, while revealing character.

Good dialog is, "does each character say only things that that character would say?" Great dialog is "does each character say things that only that character could say?"

The test for a great scene is:

a. Do the characters each want something?
b. Do they not get it until the end of the conversation?
c. Does each line flesh out the character?
d. Can I take off the character names and I never lose track of who's talking?
e. Even though the characters have their own distinct voices, is the conversation consistent with the tone and voice of the overall work?

In screenwriting, one tool is to go through the script once for each character, and think, "What would I have to do to this character's dialog so a major actor would want to play them?" Every person is the hero of their own story. If the janitor feels like he is the hero of his own story, if he feels like there's more to him than meets the eye, then you probably wrote good dialog.

Lisa's writing environmental narrative: lots of letters and poems and notes and graffiti and so forth. Each has been written by a specific fictional person, in their distinct voice. Each note of this kind has to satisfy the same criteria. We should get something from each note, and ideally, want to know more about the person that wrote it.

If I were hiring a writer, I would want to know: can you write dramatically, in different voices?

If you can do that, I can sit you down at a desk and within a week you can be adding value to the game.

Most people do not really know how to write dramatically, in different voices. That shouldn't be surprising. Just because you can dance at a party doesn't mean you can perform on Broadway as a dancer.

It should go without saying that a game writer has to play games. You have to have a sense of which sorts of things are easy to do in games, and which are hard. You have to have a sense of what verbs exist in the game you're writing. If you're going to write for, say, We Happy Few, then as you work with the level designers, you get an acute sense of the capabilities and limitations of our AI's.

TV writers watch lots of TV. They need to know instinctively what sorts of things TV does well and what sorts of things it does poorly.

But that's just exposure. If you are even a casual gamer, you can learn most of what you need to know about a game by playing it for, say, ten hours. Or even the better part of a day.

Really, it's all about the ability to create compelling characters through dialog. That's what I would be looking for if I were hiring a games writer.

Which I am not.


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Sunday, November 12, 2017

This week I’ve been mostly reviewing the game. I’ve been playing as Arthur. Anyone who’s wondering if there will be enough game, well, I’ve logged about 550 hours in the game, I know how the game works, and it’s still taking me the better part of the week to play through Arthur. That’s not blockers, although there are some places where progression is blocked; that’s stuff to do and places to go and weirdos to talk to and things to find out.

Probably the most fun part was when an elaborate, phantasmagorical encounter we’ve been working on for three years came to full fruition. It was hilarious. And weird. And yet, I think, at some level true.

“It never happened; yet it is still ture. What magic art is this?” says the Puck in Sandman 34, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” That’s the writing I aspire to.

We also spent a good bit of the week rejiggering the opening island, so that when the player comes out of the shelter for the first time, he is “onboarded” through a curated experience. Some new players were getting lost when they hit the open world – what do I do? how do I play? where am I supposed to go – and we’re hoping to fix that.



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