Why It Worked: Saints Row IV and Living Exuberantly

A well-written comedy can get away with just about anything so long as it’s funny. Paper-thin plots, characters that vacillate between personalities, and a dearth of thematic meat are by no means a requirement of comedy writing, but they’re easily excused when the jokes are genuinely funny and the delivery is strong. For this reason, it’s easy to overlook when a comedy gets its fundamentals right–when its essential narrative building blocks are sturdy and cleverly deployed in ways applicable to any genre.

Saints Row IV WallpaperImage purloined from the official site.

Saints Row IV is clearly comedic, but its narrative also succeeds in ways rarely seen in modern big-budget games. It builds its emotional stakes, Player engagement, and yes, quite a few jokes on a fundamentally joyful core.

Let’s talk about why it works. Continue reading

Every Game Is Its Own Medium

In traditional media–films, television, novels, comics, etc.–a creator usually assumes a level of familiarity with his medium of choice on the part of the audience. As a filmmaker, you know your viewers expect a movie to run around two hours. That helps you pace your scenes, as the audience will have an instinctive sense of how far through the story is. If your protagonist appears to die ten minutes into the movie, you know your viewers will be wondering “how will she survive?” and “when will she come back?” rather than sitting confused, trying to figure out if the film is over already.

Similarly, a novelist needn’t worry about readers assuming each page is a self-contained unit, as if it were a scene in a play. Basic literacy comes with a knowledge of the existence of section and chapter breaks. Novels may vary dramatically in length, form, and viewpoint, but certain fundamentals remain the same. Continue reading

Branching Conversation Systems and the Working Writer, Part 5: Arts and Craft

This is the fifth part in a multi-part series on branching conversation systems (crossposted at Gamasutra.com). See the Introduction for context.

Last time, we went over high-level principles you should keep in mind when constructing a branching conversation scene. This time, we’re going to talk specifics–ideas to apply on a line-by-line level. Think of this as a toolbox, with specialized tools to be used in the correct circumstances. Continue reading

Branching Conversation Systems and the Working Writer, Part 4: Key Principles

This is the fourth part in a multi-part series on branching conversation systems (crossposted at Gamasutra.com). See the Introduction for context.

You have the tools. You know how to structure a conversation so you can work with and maintain it across a game’s full development cycle. Now… how do you make that conversation good?

This post attempts to summarize some key principles to keep in mind throughout the writing process. Some of these principles are obvious but nonetheless important–it’s surprisingly easy to lose sight of storytelling fundamentals when focusing on the complexities of branching. We’ll get into greater specifics next time, but the ideals below should suffuse everything you do. Continue reading

Branching Conversation Systems and the Working Writer, Part 3: Building a Conversation Tree

This is the third part in a multi-part series on branching conversation systems (crossposted at Gamasutra.com). See the Introduction for context.

I’ll promise you one thing: It won’t get less exciting than this. The good news is, we’re keeping it short.

This is the part in our series where we discuss not art, but craft–and only craft. I’m not going to give advice on writing sparkling dialogue or how to grab the Player’s attention. Today, we’re going to talk about how to build the sprawling nightmare that is a branching conversation while making it easy to understand, easy to edit, and easy to script.

I can’t emphasize enough how important this is–a brilliant conversation that looks like a tangled knot will drag your project down when your variables turn out to be buggy or a story element must change. Spending hours trying to untangle your own work (or expecting colleagues to do so) isn’t an efficient use of time, especially when it’s not necessary. Continue reading