Category Archives: Writing

On Cutscenes and Viewpoint Changes

Prince of Persia 2It’s been a while since your game’s scheming villain has actually shown up. There’s a good reason for that–you know the player will try to kill her as soon as she appears, and there’s only so many times you can place her beyond a uncrossable chasm or behind a force field. But you still want to remind the player she exists and show her behind-the-scenes plotting.

Or maybe your game adaptation of the Odyssey needs some Penelope scenes to reinforce that, yes–Penelope is pretty awesome and worth fighting monsters and gods to return to. You want to show how she’s handling her own troubles back home to inspire the player.

Or maybe you want to show Sidekick Guy getting murdered back at the base while the player is out on a mission. Or maybe you want to show the Great Dragon slowly awakening beneath the earth. Or maybe…

…well, you get the point. You want to switch away from the player’s point of view and use a cutscene to provide information or atmosphere you couldn’t otherwise get across. In a film, you wouldn’t think twice about it.

Here’s my advice: Think twice. That’s not to say you shouldn’t switch viewpoints for a cutscene in a video game. The advantages are obvious (and pretty much the same as they are in traditional, non-interactive media–thus, not worth discussing in great detail here) but there’s a lot to consider before you jump in. Continue reading

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

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