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Why a Game Writer is more important than the Programmer in a Team

Posted by Stormynature, 01 February 2013 · 849 views

Want to be a writer? Forget it mate! You are better off learning to program, now that's a useful skill.

I love these words. They remind me of the time I hit my head against the wall repeatedly as a small child. Don't ask me why I was doing that by the way, I suspect I may have knocked the reason for doing so right out of my head.

I am a writer.

Writing is a very simple skill. Anyone can do it. The reality is though most people do not, nor ever will write well. Yes, you can learn to write with every word grammatically correct in its place and without any flaw. That skill doesn't make you a good writer.

If you have been reading previous entries of mine in the Journal you will have realised I tend to have creative titles. This is deliberate. I want people to read the Journal, I want people exposed so to speak. For the record, I don't truly believe that any role in a team making a game stands above any other role, each member serves a function and the synthesis of those functions is why everyone is there . But for those who came in to rage at me for such a blatantly evil title I say the following: Welcome Posted Image You have fallen prey to my deceitful devices and are now sitting down reading these words. Allow me to introduce myself.

I am a writer. A weaver of words to create realities out of falsehoods, a communicator of ideas, a spreader of disinformation and generally an annoying sod who is arrogant with his words but would like to occasionally inspire the imagination of others. My task is simple. I am writing the story to Project Veritas. Writing for a game is very different from writing a novel, short story or even this post right here in one major respect. You cannot write in a vacuum, every step of the way through the game's development you need to be around and involved. Rewrites happen constantly for many reasons: ideas evolve, maps get changed, the pacing of story bogs down or speeds up too fast, budgetary constraints cut entire levels, new enemies are produced, the list never ends...until the game is done. At which point someone then points out a glaring omission in the story and you have to rewrite a section for a patch implementation.

A good story can make banal game play transcend into an enjoyable gaming experience. A poorly crafted story can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. Not all games require or need a story though, for example Tetris. I suspect sometimes that this is why game writing is seen as less valuable to the gaming experience than other skill sets. It is not essential to making a game...except I don't really like the way that is phrased as it is in my opinion constrained inappropriately. What is a more honest statement to my way of thinking would be: some games require a story to enhance the gaming experience and some don't.




Edit: I have no idea why this wasn't posted earlier - so it is about 6 months old. I must have intended more wisdom to be added to this post only to come face to face with the fact that I am not wise.




It is difficult with roles in game development. Yes, writers are important, especially in story driven games. The trouble begins when a game runs on low budget, in this case the roles get compressed on single team members, eventually only on a handful. The real trouble is, that you need more manpower in certain roles, e.g. often artists first, then programmer, then sound/design/writer.

 

As example, my hobby game project team consists of me (~80% of my sparetime) and a friend (~20% of his sparetime). Believe me, I'm working in a lot of roles and to be honest, I would be glad to surpase a lot of roles to others, because I see, that my skills are lacking in certain areas. But I have no budget to pay them accordingly. If I would have some budget, I would invest it in the most obviously shortcoming, which are graphics related when listening to the testers. Eventually the gamers themselves dictate what is most important in a game, and art seems to be the most important at the moment. Hopefully this will change in the future, when more indie-productions with less than AAA visuals get more momentum.

 

As writer, or game designer, I fear, that you need to skip the no/low budget indie productions and need to look for either studios or indie productions with some budget at hands. Best to work as freelancer for payment, build up some portfolio and try to get some payed jobs.

 

Wish you good luck.

I don't disagree with what you are saying Ashaman - It normally does comes down to budgetary constraints and what is essential to producing a game. But as I am not seeking to be employed in this field it has never bothered me to work on indie budget of zero dollars or maybe the offer of a 2 minute noodle :). Mostly my post was about the nature of the writer being a commodity of value within the industry of game development even if not necessarily perceived that way at times. As the tools that enable non-coders to create games become more and more powerful it will be interesting to see long-term how the relative values perceived on the different forms of contribution to a game will change.

"Want to be a writer? Forget it mate! You are better off learning to program, now that's a useful skill."

 

Who in the world says that? Now that is stupid.

Most people want to be an idea guy who tell other people how to make the game the idea guy wants. That is what is discouraged.

 

Writing is a valid skill. Game design game mechanic engineering is a valid skill. Puking out ideas for games that you expect other people to make for you is laziness.

 

People who invest in the real skill of understanding the mechanics and interactions of game systems are very important. People who just want to do the fun parts of every skillset without the labor-intensive parts need to be informed of how selfish (and self-crippling) that is, since they are obviously blind to it.

 

Example of a 'game idea'-type person vs a real game designer: 

  • "I just thought of a cool tune! I have no knowledge of the real science behind sound. Musician, go make my idea. It doesn't fit with any of the rest of the music, so change the rest of the music to fit my contributions."
  • "I just thought of a good idea for a character's appearance. I have no knowledge of the real science behind visual art. Artist, go sketch out my idea. It doesn't fit with the style of the game nor the writer's lore for the world."
  • "I just thought of a cool backplot for a character. I have no idea how to tie it in to the rest of the plot. Writer, go write my ideas and make sure it meshes into the rest of the story - change the story to fit my contributions, so I don't have to make mine fit."
  • "I just thought of a cool game feature. Programmer, go make it. It doesn't fit with the rest of the mechanics existing in the game (which I, as the idea guy, previously told you to add) but that doesn't matter, because I think it's cool and I liked it in a completely unrelated game that I played last year that was carefully crafted by real designers, and it seemed to work well for them."

 

The "idea guy" is someone who wants everyone else to bow to his genius, and to be the boss and manager of projects (despite no knowledge or skills in managing) thinking it's a free card to have others make his ideas for him. I'm taking it to the extremes, but there are obviously many shades of idea guys. The best thing that can happen to them is for them to be encouraged into learning at least one real skill (and writing definitely counts as a real skill - since this forum is mostly filled with programmers, that's what's recommended most because that's what most here know, not because we think it's better than the other real skills).

 

Creativity isn't a skill, it's something most people have and can be nurtured and grown, but also must be refined and distilled. Using that creativity to design something (whether art, music, plot, game mechanics, or whatever) is a real skill.

Design is the skillful application of creativity. Many people who have creative ideas but lack design skills think they are great 'designers' but really create horrible results because they don't know how to fit all their disparate ideas together in a reasonable, practical, and aesthetically pleasing, way.

 

But people who discourage writers? I've never saw that on GameDev before. Ofcourse, an idea guy might disguise himself as a "writer" without real skill and study and training in writing, and hide behind that category as a shield I suppose. No immediate examples spring to mind though.

 

There's also the habit of, "I did X, thus I'm an X-er". So, "I wrote a short story, thus I'm a writer", or "I once painted a picture, thus I'm an artist.", or (one I'm guilty of), "I just started programming sixth months ago, thus I'm a programmer.", without prefixing the huge asterisk of 'beginner' or 'learning to..." to their declaration (otherwise it's a false advertisement of their skill, instead of the intended expression of their interests). That's a bit of technical nitpicking though, and it depends alot of the attitude of the person saying it.

What do you think about this idea:

http://www.penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/how-to-start-your-game-narrative

 

Where they say that the game mechanics are the more important part early on.

This is why I should check on previous journal entries - My apologies SotL and Navy - I will provide responses soon.

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