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Writing for Games

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I'm not completely sure if this belongs here or not... I was wondering about the difference between writing for games and, say, writing a novel. The reason is, I started writing a story about 10 years ago with the aim of one day turning it into a game. I was in middle school and had no idea how to write for different mediums. I've kept the story and have worked on it through the years, and I now have the chance to fulfill my dream of making it into a game. I know I need to change how the story is written, but I'm not sure how to go about it.

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Oh hm that’s a big question. The most basic answer I can think of is:Reading a book is a passive experience, the reader is told a story, whereas playing a game is an active experience, the player experiences the story firsthand. This means you need to take into account the protagonist of your story is now the player. This has a few knock on effects, e.g. no longer having full control over a readers experience, the player is now the one in control not you. I could go on but it’s been a while since I studied/had to even think about these sorts of differences (beyond very specific cases) and I risk not addressing your predicament. I'll just add this is the kind of question theses tackle so that may give you some idea of how big a question this actually is.

Now how to adapt your novel to a game? It all depends on the novel and what kind of game you wish to make really. A little more detail on the specifics on the novel and general idea for the game would go a long way in helping me give you some kind of definite answer.

To give some idea of what I'm getting at:

If it’s full blown novel then it will take a lot of time and effort to be able to mirror the events in a game.
If instead it is a set of events with some basic story to them and general information then it could be a lot easier to adapt it to a game.

As for the type of game you want to make:

In an RPG you get away with a lot of written text often supplied via character dialog but in an FPS you can’t afford to do that as much, instead relying on events themselves to tell the player the story.

On a side note there’s a lot of literature on the subject of writing for games if you’re serious about this it would be a good idea to hit up Google books and amazon for some stuff to read. They can almost certainly give you a better answer than I ever could :D . Tough I can of course point you at some books I have read if you need somewhere to start.

Sorry I couldn't be more help :unsure: .

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I just did this. Sort of. You need to understand the concept of roles.

In a novel, characters have all kinds of roles. Things you never think about. They're driving, talking, debating, thinking, working, jogging, etc. etc. etc. (The reader's role is to read.)

A player generally has a few roles. Common roles are shoot, maneuver, strategize, sort stored items, listen to story, ... Let's look at Final Fantasy VII. These are your main roles:

1) Explore. (Walk around, activate conversations, pick up items, etc.)
2) Fight.
3) Item, materia & equip management.
4) Listen to story and be entertained.

Cloud is also locked on the team so that the writers can write a 3rd-person-limited perspective and safely assume Cloud is present. But when you are fighting, managing or listening to the story, you are not Cloud. The player is the person with the controller.

In this arrangement there is a lot of freedom. They can have Cid relate an anecdote about how he saw a play called "Loveless". They can imply that everyone saw Cloud & Tifa "doing it". They can write pretty much anything.


For the player to participate in a hands-on way, the player-characters have to take actions that overlap with the first three roles. If there is a bad guy, the solution is probably to kill him, because one of your roles is "fight". When Cloud needs to sneak into that brothel, it happens to involve "walk around and talk to people". When the team needs to split up, the player arranges who's in what group. (Having budget for mini-games allowed players to participate in other roles, like snowboard.)

If you take any given novel or movie, even a very actiony one, you'll quickly find that it isn't adaptable straight over because far too much time is spent doing things that do not overlap with the player's role in the kind of game you want to adapt it to. Die Hard is a quick & easy study. There's a lot of non-fighting material and even action scenes do not consistently map to any particular kind of game.

Batman Returns for the SNES is a winning example of a conversion and what they did was basically make a Batman Returns themed beat 'em up rather than actually adapting it.

You will need to be prepared to "murder your darlings" if you want to transfer any portion of your story to the new format and structure because it won't fit perfectly. I recommend reworking it from the start with the concept of roles & format on your mind.

I can also talk about tactics but not without more information.

P.S. The game Braid is interesting and relevant because of the way it appears to wholly decouple the "listen to story" role from the "solve time puzzle" and "solve geometry puzzle" roles, then brings them together at the end in what I think's a pretty brilliant maneuver. It also reveals that the "listen to story" role is quite separable and is one of very few games to use opaque prose.

P.P.S. Reading must be treated as an active process to write entertainment.

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I agree with the above. Role is important, and the specifics depends on what your story is who your target player is.
I am just trying to give an additional comment:

I've kept the story and have worked on it through the years, and I now have the chance to fulfill my dream of making it into a game. I know I need to change how the story is written, but I'm not sure how to go about it.

The main characteristic that makes a story playable is the presence of choices and fail states.
Your story needs to be rewritten if it violates one of the following:

a) The choices aren't interesting to the player (i.e. the player doesn't like that type of gameplay)
b) The type of choices aren't consistent enough for the player
c) There are too few choices for the player (i.e. the game is too short)
d) There is no fail state (i.e. you have a toy instead of a game.)
e) The fail states are too random for the player to know if he is about to fail. (This is a problem only if it frustrates the player.)

From a summary of the story, you can list the choices the actors make and the possible fail states. Conceptually this gives your three columns:

o Actor - The character (or an entity) that is making a decision
o Decision - The decision or type of decision that is being made (This loosely includes interaction types such as combat, resource management, etc)
o Risk - The adverse effect of a bad decision

Here is the story about the Little Red Riding Hood:
LRRH's mom asks her to bring food to her sick grandma after warning her about the danger of talking to strangers. LRRH goes, gets distracted, and meets a wolf. LRRH was unable to remember what her mom told her and let the Wolf learn where she was going. The Wolf raced ahead, ate grandma, and waited for the LRRH. When LRRH arrived, she failed to recognize the Wolf and got eaten also.

This would be the table for each plot point:

0.1 - Mom asks LRRH to bring food
.. Actor = Mom
.. Decision = Warns her
.. Risk = LRRH's life

0.2 - LRRH skipping in the woods
.. Actor = LRRH
.. Decision = Path finding, collecting, who to meet
.. Risk = Natural dangers

0.3 - LRRH talks to the wolf
.. Actor = LRRH
.. Decision = What to disclose
.. Risk = Getting eaten right-away

0.4 - Wolf talks to LRRH
.. Actor = Wolf
.. Decision = What to say
.. Risk = LRRH screaming, or runs away

0.5 - Wolf eats grandma
.. Actor = Wolf
.. Decision = Whether to, or how to eat grandma and how to set the scene
.. Risk = Grandma door slam

0.6 - Grandma opens door for fake LRRH
.. Actor = Grandma
.. Decision = What to say, whether to open the door
.. Risk = Getting eaten.

0.7 - LRRH arrives at grandma
.. Actor = LRRH
.. Decision = Whether to listen to "grandma"
.. Risk = Getting eaten

0.8 - Wolf deceives LRRH
.. Actor = Wolf
.. Decision = What to say
.. Risk = LRRH getting away

When you decompose the plot like this, it shows you that the story can turn into a game in many ways. The player could take the perspective of any actor, a combination of them, none of them, or all of them. The decisions on how to turn it into a game depends on the target player. The point is to expand the gameplay the player wants and just show or tell the parts necessary for the flow of the story. If there isn't enough gameplay for the player then the story needs to be rewritten to address its deficient aspect. To me it makes sense if you could identify which aspect is lacking in your story. To tell the lacking aspect, I am suggesting you to break down the story as shown above. The reason of this extra step, is that when you read you own story, it probably sounds good but the player does not think in terms of the whole story, the player thinks in terms of decisions and the risks associated with them. It may also happen that when you list the gameplay content you see that you don't need to rewrite the story. But I think that it is this type of list that tells you whether you need to rewrite and the objective of rewriting.

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I personally regard game writing as being basically the same as writing a screenplay with an optional layer of interactivity above that. Games with choices are cool but it's also possible to have a great game story that is completely linear. So you could go looking for books or websites about screenwriting or interactive fiction.

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Thank you for all the helpful advice!

Since I was already planning on rewriting my story, I'm mostly going to work with the characters and the outline.
It is a fantasy story in which a party has to find some items (called heart stones) before the world is destroyed by magic/evil. I originally wanted it to be a Final Fantasy type RPG, but now I'm leaning more toward a Star Ocean type game. Specifically Star Ocean 2 where you can pick one of two characters to play as, and additional party members will be available based on certain decisions (going to a certain place during a certain part of the game, having a certain character in your party, etc.)

I feel silly that I never thought to look for books on writing for games. Suggested reading material is welcome!

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+1 for the pic :lol:.

So here's a short list of lit that has something to do with game writing:

[size="1"]Writing for video game genres: from FPS to RPG

Character development and storytelling for games

[size="1"]A brief note on games and narratives

Quests: design, theory, and history in games and narratives

Those are ones i have at least partly read. The following are ones I have noted but never got around to:

Writing for video games

Professional techniques for video game writing

Game writing: narrative skills for videogames

There's plenty more out there on the subject of writing. Like sunandshadow said looking outside the box somewhat, at say interactive fiction or even writing and storytelling theories, never hurts.

Never played Star Ocean 2 but JPRGs seem to be one of the easier genres to adapt a novel into; the forced inclusion of certain party members will make your life easier as well. As for the story, the basic premise is perfect for a game and has been done successfully many times before. I can't think of anything more to say that hasn't already been said, so good luck :D.

EDIT: Totally forgot to post this as well. Its just a news article but the developer brings up some interesting points even if its nothing revolutionary.

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