Character Differentiation in a Cast of Thousands

I’ve totally neglected my game writing posts, of late–I’ve got a number of articles half-composed, with titles like “Writing for Failure” and “Complex Stories and Atomic Narrative Theory.” Unfortunately, paying work has taken precedence over more complex pieces, so let’s do something simple: Back to writing fundamentals!

Games–especially open-world action-adventure games and role-playing games–tend to have extremely large casts. This is partly due to length (you can cram a lot of characters into a 40-hour game), but mostly due to mechanics: If every quest requires a unique quest-giver, or if every town needs to be populated with a dozen or more conversable NPCs, or if every item seller needs dialogue attached, you’re going to end up with vastly more characters than the narrative really warrants. When it comes to speaking roles, a game like Dragon Age: Inquisition makes the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy look intimate and focused by comparison.

Let’s forget mitigating this fundamental issue for now (and there are ways to design games to reduce this problem) and focus instead on how to handle all those characters. We’re not just dealing with a cast of thousands, but a cast of a thousand walk-ons–characters who appear for one scene, serve one purpose, and then may never be seen again. Continue reading

New York Comic Con (and Twilight Company preview)

Back to self-promotion for a spell. It’s been a busy few months and I haven’t had a lot of time to add new game writing articles, but I’ve got a few in various stages of completion. More soon, perhaps.

Meanwhile, I’ll be attending New York Comic Con this week! I’ll primarily be doing promotion for my novel Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company, which comes out November 3rd, but I’m happy to chat about writing, games, past projects, roller derby, or whatever else. Come by and say “hello!”

My schedule is as follows, though (of course) subject to change:

Friday, October 9th

11:00am – 12:00pm: Star Wars: A Galaxy of Fandom panel (Room 1A24)

2:00pm: Signing at Del Rey booth (#2205); free giveaway of Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company posters

Saturday, October 10th

11:00am: Signing at Del Rey booth (#2205); free giveaway of Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company posters

Sunday, October 11th

12:00pm – 1:00pm: Lucasfilm Presents: Star Wars: A Galactic Reader’s Theatre panel (Room 1A21)

2:00pm: Signing at Del Rey booth (#2205); free giveaway of Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company posters

Other Information

I may pop in briefly to the Star Wars: The Old Republic community event (and cosplay contest!) to say hello to old friends and colleagues, but I won’t be there in any official capacity or representing BioWare. Nonetheless, feel free to say “hi” if you spot me.

Twilight Company patches

In addition to the poster giveaways, the Del Rey team will be giving away nifty Twilight Company patches to anyone who swings by the booth and shows a pre-order confirmation for the book (just show an e-mail confirmation on your phone). You can get the patches at any time, not just during the signings.

I’ll sign anything I’ve worked on–if you want to bring one of the Dragon Age comics or whatever else, feel free.

Twilight Company Excerpt

Finally, there’s now a 70-page preview of Twilight Company up at the official site. If you’re interested but not completely sold or just want an early peek, go take a look.

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