Six Metrics for Better Game Narrative

Understanding your audience will make your writing better.

That’s not a statement that should need much explanation, but in brief: Storytelling is communication. It’s about reaching out to strangers and presenting ideas to them in a compelling, resonant fashion. You wouldn’t write a television show for 10-year-old American children the same way you would write for Japanese senior citizens. You likely wouldn’t refuse to revise your Broadway-style musical if most of the audience wandered out midway through your dry run.

Game metrics are nothing more or less than a way of increasing your understanding of your audience. They’re not a magical means of producing an engaging story–no one’s suggesting that if players respond positively to orcs and plot twists, every game should feature an orc Player Character and a major plot twist every 15 minutes–but they are a powerful means of understanding how players experience narrative.

Continue reading

Star Wars Roundup

I try to keep these blog posts focused more on content than self-promotion, but I figure I’m allowed the occasional lapse on my own site…

I’ve been doing a lot of writing for Star Wars projects recently. Or maybe I should say “a lot of Star Wars projects I’ve written for have been announced recently”–some of these have been in the pipeline longer than others. For those interested, let’s run down the list!

As previously mentioned, my novel Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company is scheduled to come out in November. It’s connected to the upcoming Star Wars: Battlefront video game, but it’s an original story and not a novelization. I’m told an excerpt may appear at the back of the upcoming novel Star Wars: Dark Disciple, though I haven’t seen it myself.

Star Wars: Uprising is a new free-to-play mobile action RPG from Kabam scheduled to be released sometime this fall. I helped develop the overall story with the project lead, Daniel Erickson (who I previously worked with on Star Wars: The Old Republic) and wrote the game’s script. Uprising takes place shortly after Return of the Jedi, but the trailer sets up the premise best:

Speaking of Star Wars: The Old Republic, its next expansion–entitled Knights of the Fallen Empire–arrives October 27th, bringing massive story changes to the setting. The first nine chapters of episodic story content will be released all at once, but I’m the writer for chapter ten, “Anarchy in Paradise” and one later chapter that will appear in 2016. While the larger storyline is in the capable hands of the BioWare Austin writing team, I’m grateful to BioWare for inviting me to play in a small section of the SWTOR sandbox once again.

For anyone interested in hearing me talk about my past Star Wars work and the art of writing in the franchise, I was interviewed for the ForceCast podcast a few weeks back by Justin Bolger. I very much enjoyed the experience and thought some interesting lines of discussion came up.

And that’s it! That’s all the Star Wars projects I’m involved with this fall and winter. All the secrets have been revealed.

(All those secrets, anyway.)

On a Lack of Originality in Science-Fiction and Fantasy Game Settings

Video games are frequently criticized for utilizing the same genres, tropes, and settings time and again. Space marines, Tolkien-derived medieval fantasy full of elves and dwarves, military techno-thrillers, post-apocalyptic zombie scenarios… oh, and don’t forget the actual licensed franchises! The repetitiveness of it all can make network television–with its hundred variations on police and medical precodurals–seem diverse and vibrant.

But there are reasons why most fantasy games look an awful lot like Lord of the Rings instead of drawing inspiration from, say, Michael Moorcock’s phantasmagorical Eternal Champion landscapes or the contemplative science fantasy of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy. There are reasons why few science-fiction games deal with a post-singularity world or meaningful cultural shifts. Continue reading

Yes, You Have To Write a Game Plot Summary; and Yes, It Has To Be Good

Some days we discuss high-level theory. Some days we get our hands dirty with realities of the business. If you’re working on an overall story document for your team’s game and you’re not sure how to approach it, here’s some advice.

No one likes writing plot summaries. If you have a story that can support a game–a story designed for a multi-hour, interactive experience–of course it’ll be painful to reduce it to a handful of pages. On top of that, a plot summary needs to be engaging to read, be clear and thorough enough not to logically fall apart on examination (so no handwaving how protagonists get from Point A to Point B), and–for most plot summaries in the video game world–contain enough meat to allow artists, cinematic designers, level designers, and so forth to intelligently respond with their own concerns and plans. Continue reading

Coming Up For Air

I haven’t been posting much lately. That will come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen the dates on my last several entries. The good news is, I haven’t been posting because I’ve been exceedingly busy. The bad news is, I can’t talk much about what I’ve actually been doing; I’ve been writing for several video games (yes, for companies you’ve heard of) and consulting on several others, but none of the particulars are ready to be announced.

One thing I can announce, however, is my first novel: Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company was unveiled at the Star Wars Celebration convention and is scheduled for release by Del Rey in November 2015. Continue reading