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Averous

A few newbie questions on writing

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Hello I am a total newbie to the games industry who is quite interested in writing for games who ideally aspires to one day get an actual paying job working in the industry. My inspiration stems from the amount of cleche' crap I see mass published and I really believe a strong story is the backbone to any truly valuable game. So much focus of late is put into hardware/physics and overall 'How shiny can we make our game?' while ignoring/not even developing the story behind it so the industry has become saturated in b-grade rounded, underdeveloped stories, recylced cleche's that spawn franchises etc. rant off. I am currently studying my first year bachelors degree in creative writing and arts history I've been casually poking around the gamedev forums for quite some time (very useful place :D) and forgive my ignorance if my questions have been answered previously but I would just like a few clear responses if at all possible. -What format exactly does one write in for games? For example do the conventions follow straight prose to be elaborated on at a later date or does it work more like a film script? Or is there some other third mysterious option I am unaware of? If possible I would like answers from someone who has a bit of experience and/or could actually direct me to pieces/extracts of actual written pieces for games. -How does the writer work within the team situation? Simple question but im finding it difficult to get a picture of anything more than a writer handing over some relativly completed work then sort of sitting back and answering questions to the rest of the dev team. What about in teams with multiple writers? What is the writers core relationship within the dev team and primary responsibilities? If possible I would like examples/experiences from the newbie first solid dev project to a salary based employee (if such a person exists). -'Writing for games' is a broad statement- do people specialise in particular genre's and are there conventions you have to follow for certain genre's in the writing of your piece? If possible examples would be very helpful. -I would like to think I have a rough understanding of what 'not to do' but how does one actually break into the games writing buisness the doorways seem even more stealthy than other occupations. Ideally my next step would be to join a small project to get some experience as that is the key to the industry but as a writer most of the small projects on the forum either don't have any plan to utilise a writer (much to their loss!) or are well beyond that stage. I realise as a creative phase of the development project writing is one of the first parts of the project but the writer does not make the project alone. How do you become a game writer? Is it more like a first novel where you sell your soul for any price so that you can have the honour of claiming you were published and then things mystically become easier? -Many other occupations have the assumed portfolio of work to show when looking for work. What do game writers do? Is it a mix of your own writings, not just gaming stuff? Eg. Alot of the professional writers here appear to have published texts, not just game stuff (in fact finding actual proper, writing for games is perhaps one of my greatest queries). One avenue I am thinking of exploring in the near future is the Neverwinter Nights 2 custom toolset where I would like to hopefully write an interactive piece with a non-programmer friendly assitant to try and get some experience (I learned alot with the first game about what not to do, this time I think I'll try and make something worth submitting to the public). I think it was about a year ago Bio-ware and similarly Obsidian actually employed writers like many other occupations with the primary requirement being to showcase your writing skill within the toolset. I have also seen the creators of some of the A grade custom modules gain employment with Bioware, the numbers were tiny but the opportunity created itself based on their insanely good productions and public receptions. All levels of feed back appreciated here but I would really like to hear from a professional as to how they made their start in life and any future recomendations. Most especially links to actual writing in/on/for games. Thanks, a total newbie with delusions of grandeur shattered by the brutality of reality.

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Hi! [smile] First of all, cleche -> cliche. That aside, let me try to answer some of your questions. Getting a job writing for the game industry is very difficult to accomplish for precisely the reason you state: because the industry doesn't value quality writing. In the movie industry at least there's a competitive process where playwrights can submit their scripts to a mavie company which will buy and produce a few they think will make money. The game industry on the other hand does not accept unsolicited scripts or design documents. Established game design houses also do not hire staff writers, they either promote an in-house person into the position or, in rare cases, offer a freelance contract to a writer who has already been published in some other format. The only other way to get in is by participating in one of the (very rare) start-up projects which produces a successful game and goes professional.

Because the game industry does not accept manuscripts there isn't a standard format for them. Generally linear stories or story segments can be done in a movie or comic book script format, while non-linear story segments require some sort of flowchart, and documentation can be done in any of several standard formats which allow for art to be included: html, doc, pdf, etc.

The writer's relationship within the team also varies a lot. Often the writer doubles as a designer, concept artist, webmaster, and/or programmer. There are one-person indie teams where the same person does everything, two-person indie teams where one person does all the technical stuff and one does all the creative stuff, and almost any possible combination. In larger teams the writer is usually either the designer or a secretary who is responsible for all documentation and some communication with other staff members or both. Professional teams I think I've mentioned above have either one or more staff writers who work under the designer or a contract writer.

So yeah, brutal is an appropriate word for the system, becoming a writer in the game industry is probably more difficult than getting a novel published. Sorry, I kow that's not what you wanted to hear, it's not what I want to hear either. [sad]

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Heh well that's sort of what I inferred but was hoping for some magical oversight on my part to be revealed. Oh well.

I realise the industry is insanely hard to tap into as a writer so then out of curiosity any of the writers out there, would any of you oh wise and all powerful game writers who have mystically broken into this secret writing society care to share any of your experiences? For example working on a project and how you got there. I am really trying to figure out what life could be like. Writing is my dream job but it feels more like chasing a damn mirage at this point.

Also sunandshadow you mentioned comic book, the notion intrigues me but not coming from the US I have pretty much zero understanding of how one is created or written. In the mystical land of Aus the comic scene is pretty much 0. In my entire life I think I have bought every comic I have seen, so that amounts to about 8. Sure in my youth we had the animated versions of various hits in the US, ah X-men and Spiderman, good times - but I havent seen any in years, anime is the big 'in thing' at the moment, pokemon devoured the remnants of the old markets. If it comes from Japan, dubbed by terrible American voice actors it appears the public will devour nearlly anything. On the other hand I am a big fan of the recent emergence of graphic novel. Writing a comic, is it just like writing a story with very cheesy 1970's concepts embodying the show don't tell philosophy, stringing out plots over many languid issues to make money? I ask simply because comic coversions are the big 'in thing' at the moment what with Marvel and DC converting their vast archives to film and games, so surely there has to be an oppurtunity to be had in there (though probably not by me :D).

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Well when I say comics I am including both western comics and manga. I was talking about comic script format, which is pretty much the same as manga format, and quite similar to animated movie format. The difference between this kind of script and movie scripts is that there are more descriptions of what things should look like, and in the case of comics and manga that it is broken into panels. Panels are appropriate for games which use speech bubbles or subtitles instead of dubbing, and for those which use non-fmv character animations to illustrate scenes. It is standard to storyboard a videogame script before production, and a storyboard is almost a comic.

Working with an artist to produce a manga-style graphic novel is actually my main project at the moment. [smile]

You want to know what writing a comic or manga is like? Well there are two different traditions:

- The episodic tradition which is like a series of short cartoon episodes which return everything to normal at the end of the episode and don't have an overall plot arc or don't return everything to normal but meander aimlessly like a soap opera, and
- The movie/novel tradition where there is a strong overall plot arc with a definite ending, and there may not be episodes, or episodes may be more like play acts or novel chapters.
- Also, some series are a mix of the two, with strong episodicness but also an overall plot and an ending.

At any rate comics are a medium not a genre, there are a great veriety of stories told through comics and certainly not all of them are cheesy. As a visual medium they do us a lot of illustration and dialogue and little narration, but that too differs between stories, some have pages of fighting or sports or whatever where there's almost no dialogue, others average one long or two short sentences per panel, and a few present characters' introspective thoughts as much as real dialogue. So I would say the only absolute differences between a graphic novel and a regular novel is that everything you write must be illustratable somehow, and you have to limit your scope a bit - you can explre lots of different things in one novel such as a character who has strong internal conflict as well as external problems, but a graphic novel spreads the same amount of plot out over more pages so to keep it concise enough that it moves along and the reader doesn't get bored you usually want to focus on either externals or internals, not both.

Conversions are in because many game companies recently have been terrified to invest money in anything new and different, they only want to do something which has been proven to be successful, which meand sequels and conversions.

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Hello Averous,

I just got back from the Game Writers Conference in Austin. There I got to talk to many people who are currently writing for games.

From What they told me is that it is hard to find a job as a writer but it is possible. Many game companies do not value what a professional writer can bring to the project. But that is changing. More and more companies are hiring in house writers.

My advice to you is to complete your degree first. By the time you graduated the industry will have evolved and it will be easier to get a job. Next, write. Write any thing and everything. Get some work published whether it is a short story, novel or whatever. You are more likely to get hired if you have professional experience.

Finally produce a game or mod that shows off your writing skills. Neverwinter Nights toolset is the ideal environment for writers. Work with it get to know it and love it.

More advice is to find companies that produce games that have good stories and focus on them. Those are the companies that hire inhouse writers.

As for format, It is all used. Get to know the screenplay format and use Excel. Search for articles by Rafeal Chandler on Gamasutra.com and you will find information about other formats. His best is what he calls the "active format". Search for that specifically. IT is some great stuff.

Good luck and have fun.

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Thanks a heap guys :D some nice compact advice there.
Life looks like it will be difficult but the chance is there so I guess I should just keep chasing the dream for a few more more years at least.
So in short :
step 1. Learn how you write and refine.
step 2. Get yourself published!
step 3. Go write for some free/small project in the industry as a further showcase and worm your way up.

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Sadly as it has been said before game writer is more of mythical job then an actual one at present in the industry. The fast majority of the work is done by a combination of lead designer and the various level designers. As such your best bet into the job you want is to try and get a job as a level designer for company after graduation.

Fortunently those jobs are plentiful and realitivily easy to get. If you want to become a level designer, then pick a game you enjoy, and start become active in the modding and level designing community for that game. The greater the body of work you have to present to company the better your chances of joining them are. You may evan find they are playing some of your mods or levels themselves. Also if you pick a game that allows for your to show off your writing abilities all the better.

Remember to set realistic goals for yourself. Don't expect to get your dream job right after graduation prepare yourself to spend a few years working in the industry doing something else to prove to gain the experince needed to succeed in your dream job.

Lastly, As part of my job is interviewing graduates for developer roles. I can't stress that fact enough to encourage people to develop their social and networking skills, like they would anyother skill. Getting a job is often more to do with personality then technical ability.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
First of all, cleche -> cliche.

Actually, it's properly spelt cliché, although cliche is allowed too. The etymology of the word is quite funny too.

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Ok putting aside from the fact that I can't spell, (not a good characteristic for an aspiring writer I know but we all have our flaws) Technogoth you spoke of level designer, the notion intrigues me. I always thought of professional level designers as either an artistic job or a mathmatical position based on people developing software into workable tools or artists developing their material for a virtual environment. I hadn't really considered third party modding of an existing product an avenue, but on reflection it makes a lot of sense and one I could realistically work with. Level designer is really a vague sort of description for what appears such a simple position.
I understand the cut throat / radically unstable nature of the games industry and really don't expect to waltz right into my dream job, hell 90% of my writing degree is 'you are doing a creative writing degree, why? You won't make money, more than sixty percent of you will drop after first year, roughly one in eighty graduats will suceed ro be published and live an OK life as a medicore writer.'
Your degree won't earn you respect, only skills. Sort of depressing isnt it? So really my biggest question at the moment is how to actually break into the industry on some level so as to develop contacts etc. If there is a job to be had it won't come to me, I'll have to work hard to find the damn opportuntiy first then compete for it.
To start in the industry it probably won't be as a writer as that seems to be such a specialised position, they appear rather than apply. Could you expand on what is required/ what you would expect from an employable level designer?
There is also the aspect of relocation for me. I've accepted this because there is no oppurtunity in Wollongong, hell I don't know of any Australian developers or companies that would take in fresh talant. Any of the small time studios that were succesful have been snapped up like so many others by multi nationals. At the end of the world it will come down to EA vs. Vivendi

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There are still some cases where levels are built by artist but generally most companies will use a level editing tool that is either built by a third part company or in house. It all depends on the engine they are using. The reason for this is that there is a lot happening in any given level. You have placement of enemies, objects, triggers, cinematics, scripting, dialog, play balancing, not to mention the layout and graphical representation of the level itself, which is a lot of work to do without the aid of a tool and dedicated staff members.

The skills I would expect a candidate to have would be:
-Creativity
-The ability to build organic and aesthetically pleasing levels
-Experience using triggers and scripting.
-Experience using at least one of the level editing tools or toolkits.
-Knowledge of what makes a balanced and fun level.
-Able to work in a team.
-Able to keep good documentation
-And depending on genre able to create in game cinematics.

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