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The Actual Writing Process???

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For a while. now, I've had an extensive story, complex characters, and exciting gameplay for a game I've been imagining since I was eight years old. I often go back and revise every detail in my head to continually improve the game, and I constantly illustrate, take notes, and outline various aspects of my game.

However, I have a problem.

Basically, I don't have a problem making the story, but WRITING it, specifically the screenplay.

Are there two different screenplays that must be written? One for the cinematics, and another for the gameplay? Is it true that second person is used instead of first and third, and if this is true, what do I do if there are multiple playable characters, especially when it comes to the cinematics?

I hope someone can help me. I am familiar with movie/television screenplays, but game screenplays continue to escape my knowledge (if that's the right way of putting it).

Any general advice on the matter would also be incredibly helpful.

Thanks.

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Generally there are several documents involved in a game design:

You've got a concept document which is a very high-level document describing things like characters, settings, gameplay, target audience and platform. In a formal setting, this is the type of document used to pitch a game idea to the higher-ups -- think of it as the 'seed' from which the rest of the documents and, eventually, the game, spring from.

Then you've got your proper GDD, or Game Design Document, which goes into all the non-technical aspects. The concept document can serve as an outline, or even be incorporated into it as the introduction to each section. The GDD is much more detailed. This might include the cinematics in detail, or might just reference them in a separate document.

Then there's the TDD, or Technical Design Document, which goes into all the technical aspects. It's purpose it to lay out the technical requirements necessary to implement the game described in the GDD, though it is often fleshed out in parallel with it. I won't go into any great detail here since you seem more interested in game design than technical matters.


None of this is set in stone, and various studios will do things differently -- have different or more documents, call them different things, or might prefer more detailed documents (or conversely, looser ones). Do what works for you, but generally the above three documents exist in some form for every design which will be implemented by more than a handful of people. Generally, the fewer people involved, the more loose you can be.

In the case of cinematics, whether they appear in the GDD or a separate document (which likely depends on whether you've got a separate cinematics director,) I would lay them out precisely like a screen play -- ("enter stage left" and all of that) if you're communicating this to other people. If its something you're going to be scripting into the game later yourself, you might be afforded to be less formal. The design aspects of the game (characters, settings, gameplay) is a different beast entirely, it doesn't really fit into screenplay form.

Whenever I write, I always start with my Table of Contents -- I always end up adding to it or rearranging, but a good TOC will ensure you cover every base and keep you from wandering off on a tangent. Those two things are the key to finishing any document.

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Just use standard screenplay format, which means 3rd person. Some games use 2nd person for in-game text, but that's a design choice, you can choose not to. Treat each cinematic as a scene, and each conversation with an NPC as a scene. More complicated conversations may require inserting a flowchart to show the dialogue choices and any associated scoring. Gameplay where no one is talking does not go in the script, it's associated with the design document instead.

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What Ravyne wrote above is a very good overview of writing game designs. Please keep in mind that further discussion about the writing of game designs should ideally take place in the Game Design forum.

As for lor's question about writing the "screenplay" of the game, here are some additional pointers:

- Make sure you communicate not only those elements that are present in a normal screenplay but also make sure the reader can tell if a line of dialogue is part of a "cinematic" (also called a "cut scene") or a line delivered during gameplay.

- For lines delivered during gameplay, you have to indicate what triggers the line.

- When lines of dialogue prompt player action, you have to indicate what actions the player is given.

- And the same for onscreen text. And make sure the reader knows whether the line is displayed only visually, or as voice-over (V.O.) accompanying animation, or as V.O. only.

- Each piece of onscreen text and each discrete piece of audio dialogue is an "asset." It's very helpful for the development team if you identify each asset as a separate asset, identified by type and numbered.

- Make sure that somewhere in your "screenplay" you provide information needed by the V.O. actor, the mocap actor, and the animator (what emotion to express, what the character's motivation is, etc.)

- Make sure that somewhere in your GDD you provide information needed by the producer and V.O. director (what kind of voice you want for the part: age, gender, accent, etc.)

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