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

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