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Do you write different content for game stories vs. non game fiction?

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#1 sunandshadow   Members   


Posted 22 August 2011 - 12:24 PM

I was reflecting today on the fact that when I brainstorm for a game story I'm aiming for a completely different result than if I am brainstorming for a novel. Probably my subconscious expectations for both have been shaped by the fact that the average game story I've played through was trying to get T or lower rating, and was aimed an a mostly or half male audience. On the other hand the novels I read are rated T or higher and are aimed at a mostly female audience. Do you all have different content that you write about for games vs. other fiction? Do you think this is a good thing or a bad thing?

I'm not sure. Games are such a group project, and the people available as volunteer team members are maybe 75% male, it might be just uselessly unpopular to try to make a game that was basically an adult dating sim aimed at a female audience. The player audience for such a thing would be small too. And I don't really mind writing somewhat more standard science fiction or fantasy comic adventure which is a much easier sale to a dual-gendered development team and the average gamer. But on the other hand is that exactly the kind of thinking that keeps game writing in the sort of ghetto it's in? What are your thoughts?

I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.

#2 Robert Ortiz   Members   


Posted 22 August 2011 - 02:44 PM

I can certainly agree that my approach to writing a game design out vs. writing a short-story or novel are completely different, but that mostly rests in how I'll present the material -- for a novel I'll be, well, writing a novel but when I approach a game, I break it down into its core elements and make lots of lists; I'm often tempted to write about the game as if it were a story which is a habit I'm still trying to curb. As far as content goes, no I don't think my approaches differ too strongly; I try not to 'target' an audience and simply attempt to produce an experience that I want to share with others, one that I think will touch a variety of viewers. I think that can work for games and normal fiction.

Also, people tend to work on what interests them -- so just because you don't see anyone else trying to construct a romantic simulation, doesn't necessarily mean that others couldn't jive with that type of game. I can only work on projects that interest me or else I become bored quite easily. It also depends on how you approach a game-type. Rather than putting gender labels on games, find a way to make them appeal to a wider audience. I think Fable's inclusion of the whole sexual reproduction/family system gave some players a chance to participate in a certain type of gameplay that they wouldn't have, were it standalone -- it presented the aspect in an RPG, fantasy setting that seems to appeal to a wide audience. With that said, I don't see why we can't create games that compromise and present the player with uncommon activities that are presented in a familiar way.

I think for the most part, games are designed to satisfy a target audience and by that very process, they're obviously going to exclude some audiences. I can see creating games to fill a vacant niche market if you're really focused on creating something marketable, or trying to make something that can satsify a niche that has gone unattended. I hear a lot about "hardcore" and "casual" gamers now a days and that tends to break games into either FPS or family-friendly pickup games; there are of course other games that try to appeal to players who love a game with stories, or thought-provoking gameplay, but these games (at least in my opinion) almost supercede the hardcore/casual label since you could easily find people in either category who are more interested in experiencing a story as opposed to simple fire-fights or party games.

I think if you, or anyone, has a really interesting idea -- even if there doesn't seem like there would be an obvious market for it -- to just follow through with it and see what happens. People will buy almost anything and it's hard to accept that something can't have a target audience; they're out there, you just have to lure them out with something new.
Robert Ortiz - Writer & Game Developer

#3 JoeCooper   Members   


Posted 22 August 2011 - 06:30 PM

I've written a novel this year as a writing exercise, for two unpaid game projects and now for my first game with a budget. Then lots of essays and forum posts. It's absolutely different.

I strongly dislike speaking in terms of "genre" but there is absolutely a lot greater flexibility in character roles and actions when writing a novel because a game is a game.

Effective game designs have focused roles and the story has a lot of specifications and assumptions not present in writing a novel. I'll give an example from what I'm doing right now.

A while back I wrote a bunch of script for a comic called "Cultmonkey" and we produced the first 20 pages before I decided it wasn't for me. This is a comic script. I decided I instead prefer writing prose and started converting it to a novel. Expecting about 100 to 150 k words.

Then a game project game up. In the negotiations the funder wanted a "story". It's also a fighting game. I realized there's a snippet of the comic script I could convert to a game story. After talking it over with my reader \ co-writer, and a guy who will be arranging \ directing voice acting, and an artist for character models and the budget and so on, we came up with these specifications:

* Should be about 1.5 k words.
* Arranged into pre and post fight cutscenes.
* About 7 or 8 character models.
* "A fighting game is as good as its characters" (from my co-writer, Alan) Each stage should develop the opponent as a character.

I decided on these additional assumptions:

* Should pick one character and play with him through the story.
* A separate tournament mode will let one pick a character and fight all others in turn with no story.
* (Thus, the story is responsible for developing all these characters.)

So I got to it and discovered a lot of changes had to be made. In fact, I'll still write the novel adaptation and I assert that with a name change, it will be barely noticeable that they're related at all. Likely nobody will ever notice if I don't say anything.

For starts, because the first 20 pages or so of the comic script are too divorced from the role of the player (which is to fight!) they have to be cut. Multiple characters get thrown out. Because so much is cut, a lot of material in the section that is adapted also has to be thrown out. I tried to adapt the second protagonist too, but because of the word budget and focus on characterizing each opponent, she took up too much space. Enemies that in the story are groups become individuals so that you only fight them once and can be fully developed individuals.

So it becomes radically different; only a ghost of its former self is there.

On the other hand there are creative approaches that are similar. I realized while typing that I had a dead ghost who isn't enlightened trying to tell people how to achieve enlightenment, and I had a mentioned character who is a self help guru. I also had a conversation with my brother this week about who one takes advice from. Is that a theme? Smells like one. I'm trying to weave it in and out here and there.

Games are such a group project, and the people available as volunteer team members are maybe 75% male, it might be just uselessly unpopular to

Being a guy and knowing guys and having met the guys at the studio, I bet I could pull it off in terms of rallying the troops.

However the same issues as in my conversion show up. A novel that features someone falling in love or dating and whatnot has a lot of freedom to explore the many roles that an individual has in life. One goes to work and has friends and spends 8 hours a day doing lord knows what at a meat packing plant or a fashion design studio or a customer service call center or lord knows where. If I were writing a novel, I would milk that. There are so many opportunities and roles to explore to characterize someone or write a good joke. When it becomes a game, the role of the player becomes a factor and many aspects of a character's life become cruft.

Lastly there is something I mentioned above that I didn't go into; budget and the practical realities of execution.

In the novel I wrote earlier this year I had a character go into space and I wrote about weightlessness.

However filming in weightlessness is very expensive and constraining. You have to build a set into an aircraft (with limited space) and can only shoot in brief spurts while the jet is in free fall. You get, say, 30 seconds of weightlessness then the plane has to climb again.

A few movies get shot with wires. Ron Howard's Apollo 13 went ahead and filmed in weightlessness. But most, by a wide wide margin, say "oh they have artificial gravity or something". Problem solved!

#4 Telgin   Members   


Posted 23 August 2011 - 01:33 PM

Having only limited experience in the two sides of this coin, I'd say that yes, I do write differently for games and other types of fiction.

To me at least, the two are trying to satisfy completely different things and so naturally would target different stories. In games, the player has to make decisions and can choose to play a character against your original intention or do things you didn't intend. You do have ultimate say as the writer what the game's story will play out to, but you have to give the player some room to play. Books don't have that problem.

The original question seems to be more about genres and overarching stories than these details though, and still I'd say that I would target different stories for the two. An example of this would be a story I'm in the process of writing now, which is about the personal body guard of a country's queen who has the pleasure of experiencing what it would be like for a large asteroid to impact his planet during their equivalent of the 13th century. My plan is for him to mostly just do his job guarding the queen, which gets progressively more worrisome and difficult as widespread starvation and political turmoil causes civil unrest and even attempts on her life.

I don't know how I could possibly make a game out of that. The scene or two where he gets directly involved in any sort of action are short, and he doesn't do much if any investigating. It's more... domestic I suppose. Time spent reflecting on how society has fallen apart and how people would turn on each other for food. Or what he'll do if food runs out there and he can't provide for his family anymore. I haven't even finished outlining yet, so I may find that there's not enough story to even be had there, but I'd really be grasping at straws to make an engaging game out of it.

If I was planning on making a game in this world and setting, I'd probably choose to make either a simulator game like Sim City or Stronghold where you have to manage a country that is dealing with the aftermath of the asteroid's impact, or I would make an action game where you play as a soldier in one of said country's armies and go out and do typical chop up the bad guy type stuff. Completely different from the book idea.

Your example about the dating sim is probably more practical than you'd think though. Dating sims would bore me to death (as a male, perhaps, but they seem popular enough in Japan for men), but I'm sure there are people who would be interested. Probably more women than you'd think. The thing about that sort of game is that you won't know until you try. If nobody makes the first move, then it'll never happen. Getting a team together is going to be tough though. In a professional studio, people do what they're paid to. Volunteers are going to be pretty hard to come by though, I would think.

Yet, I would have thought it impossible for a single person to make a game of Dwarf Fortress' complexity, and he did. Perhaps if you started the trend with a simple version the idea might snowball and you could gather more volunteers that way?
Success requires no explanation. Failure allows none.

#5 sunandshadow   Members   


Posted 24 August 2011 - 12:17 PM

I think many genres get their valuable character from being an extreme; compromising them thus directly removes some of their value. Horror for example - if you compromise it by making it not too scary or gross, what's left? Romance in romance novels is defined by the fact that it is totally calibrated to be about content, characters, and themes that women are interested in and exclude what they aren't interested in. Male characters in romance would probably difficult for a male audience to identify with in the same way women don't generally identify with female characters in porn; they're intended to be wish-fulfillment, not true to life. So any compromise that would make the story more male friendly would probably directly make it less female-attuned. Most Japanese dating sims are utterly male attuned to the point where I have no interest in playing them. (Why on earth do I want to help this main character charm 8 women? Or even 1?) The only exceptions are the few dating sims where the gettable characters are half or all male.

On the other hand, I feel better about the subject after reading all your responses. :) It reminded me that dating sims always struck me as rather narrow games, and philosophically I'd rather be making a game that treats male and female players as equal. I just have to accept that if I want to design a game which has dating sim content as a side element I'm allowed to try to get a male writer to write the female characters, I don't have to write everything myself if there are bits I'm not suited by temperament or experience to write.

I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.

#6 JoeCooper   Members   


Posted 24 August 2011 - 02:17 PM

Hrmm, that's a whole different and somewhat complex discussion.

I just have to accept that if I want to design a game which has dating sim content as a side element I'm allowed to try to get a male writer to write the female characters

I don't think that's true. It's a complicated topic, and I'll skip a number of things but I just want to stand firm on two points:

1) There are a lot of female gamers in the market for something with resonance. If you want to write something that you think would fit well with women, I say go right ahead.

2) I also assert that it's OK in terms of rallying a team if that team happens to mostly be male.

At the studio where I work, the other two guys are making a game which has a kid who has to climb the stage and talk to some owl or something and so on and it's a paid project to be released with some children's book. The funder came in and said "let's do this, it seems like a good first project" and they got right on it. It's not necessarily a game they'd want to play but they're happy working on it and for one of them it's a big learning experience.

The rigors of production occupy the mind.

Personally this is my first game job and the past few years I've been working with a teacher who teaches reading at the Georgia School for the Deaf. We make a product for this purpose. I would never think to use it, but there's still a lot of joy in making it.

If you're dealing with serious people, the fact that it's necessarily something they'd play is not so much a problem. The actual work of it is just too far removed from the play for it to be a big deal and effective developers love seeing things come alive and work and be enjoyed by others.

(If you're dealing with internet volunteers, most likely nothing will get done no matter what the project is.)

#7 AJergenshoon   Members   


Posted 28 September 2011 - 02:17 PM

I don't think my writing for a game or for fiction (I do write fiction btw) would be all that different in overall concept, characterization, etc. but there are a lot of details that are different. For instance, in fiction you have to include a lot more description both static and dynamic than in a game, because the game depicts a lot of that graphically. Both need really good dialog, but in games just like in movies the dialog can't be as wordy. I've given a lot of thought to making some of my stories into games, though.

#8 allen_idaho   Members   


Posted 01 October 2011 - 06:49 AM

I tend to categorize writing styles into 3 categories.
- Novels
- Screenplays
- Games

With novels and short stories, you focus more on the characters and their inner thoughts and emotions. It's more indepth, connecting with the reader on a subconscious level.

With screenplays and games, it's all about what the player or viewer can see. The character's inner thoughts and emotions are less important because they mostly won't be transferred over into the finished work.

Games are full of variables and all about the action. If a game were written as nothing but hours of dialogue, you wouldn't have much of an experience for your end user.

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