Writing Romance in (non-Romance) Games: Branching Romances

Here’s where it gets complicated. Or… well, more so.

This post is a companion to Writing Romance in (non-Romance Games): Linear Romances. You’ll find a number of assumptions about our overall topic outlined there; they still hold true, and I encourage folks to start with that post before jumping into this one. Here, we’ll cover three overall subjects: branching romance fundamentals, linear techniques in branching games (where we’ll revisit some of the approaches discussed in the previous post), and “casting” a variety of romantic interests in a branching game. Continue reading

Writing Romance in (non-Romance) Games: Linear Romances

Ah, romance.

Compelling romance subplots are tough to write at the best of times. Consider their place in linear media–how many otherwise strong films or novels suffer from an unconvincing, uncompelling, or tacked-on romantic element? Add in the complexities of interactive narrative and of course things often go badly.

But that’s no reason to eschew romantic storylines altogether. No one needs convincing that there’s a rich vein of material to be mined here. So what should we think about as game writers when we introduce romantic elements into our projects? What are the pitfalls to avoid and the game-specific challenges that need to be overcome? Continue reading

Comicpalooza Houston (and Twilight Company in Paperback)

Just a brief update this time around–life and work have been busy, and while I’ve got a few new game writing articles in various stages of production it may be a while before I have a chance to polish any up.

If you want to nag me in person about game writing or anything else, however, I’ll be attending Comicpalooza in Houston June 17th and 18th. (The convention is Friday through Sunday, but I’m departing Sunday morning.) I’ll be participating in a number of panels, as follows (full details, including locations and other panelists, at the official schedule):

Friday, June 17th

8:00pm: Monster Design 101. No roleplaying game is complete without some monsters. Find out what makes a truly effective monstrosity, and work with our panelists to brainstorm ideas for a cool original RPG monster.

Saturday, June 18th

12:00pm: Player Agency and Designer Authorship. In video games, especially when you’ve got a designer-authored experience rather than a purely emergent or procedural one, you’ve got to give the player a reasonable sense of agency over their experience and the feeling that the bad things that happen to them are fair and consistent–no one likes shooting through a room full of baddies only to be disarmed by one guy with a pistol in a cutscene, for instance.

2:00pm: What Makes a Good Villain? This panel takes a look at the characteristics of a good villain for your RPG campaign. Whether a tragic figure or a relentless force of nature, a memorable and compelling villain can add depth and vitality to any game. Come find out some tricks you can use to enhance your bad guys!

6:00pm: Cutscenes Within Video Games. Lots of people have strong feelings about them! What makes a cutscene good or bad? How can they be used well?

The rest of the time I’ll very likely be wandering around the con, so feel free to say “hi.” I’ll almost certainly show up at at least one of the roller derby exhibition bouts going on! If you can’t catch me at a panel but still want to chat, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter during the day and see if I’m in shouting distance.

On an unrelated note, the paperback edition of my novel Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company will be out June 28th. It’s the same as ever, but the paperback includes Janine K. Spendlove‘s short story “Inbrief” (previously published in Star Wars Magazine insider, starring Twilight Company’s resident bounty hunter Brand) as well. Bonus!

I won’t reiterate my pitch for the book here, but there’s more on the Bibliography page as well as a lengthy excerpt, synopsis, and blurbs over at the official Penguin Random House site.

In Defense of Didacticism

"What Right Have You to Judge Her" (from the New York Public Library Digital Collections)While watching reports and live-tweets come in from the recent East Coast Games Conference, I was intrigued to see a number of speakers independently touch on the same point. Warren Spector advised, during his keynote address, “Don’t judge the player. The player shouldn’t know your answers to the questions you’re posing”; while Steve Jaros, in a panel on “Writing For Mechanics Beyond Combat,” offered a concurring view: “Give your players options without attaching value judgments. Present them all sincerely.” (These quotes may be paraphrased.)

But acting as the player’s judge (and jury, and executioner) is in some respects the primary job of a game’s developers. Moreover, surely all art emerges from the artist’s own experiences and worldview to convey a particular set of ideas. How does all that square with avoiding being judgmental?

I want to dig into that question here, using the notions expressed by Spector and Jaros as a jumping-off point. This isn’t a rebuttal or a reiteration–rather, it’s a different framework for viewing many of the same challenges. We may even come to some of the same conclusions. Continue reading

“Story Engines” and Content Development

How do you deliver narrative to a player in a content-rich, nonlinear game?

This is neither a purely mechanical question (“non-player characters scattered through the open world will offer quests, highlighted by giant floating question marks over their heads”) nor a purely story-driven one (“the player is a one-man army, so he’s always getting orders and advice from military commanders”). It’s a question that needs consideration from the very beginning, and ties into everything from the most basic game mechanics to your choice of intellectual property.

Let’s talk about one particular way of thinking about this problem. Let’s talk about story engines. Continue reading