Tag Archives: Writing Fundamentals

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

Empathy and Responsibility in Writing

Generally speaking, I try to focus this blog on “how you might write” rather than “what you should be writing.” We’re about craft here, not art–not because one is more important than the other, but because there are a lot more places to talk about the latter than the former. This entry is an exception.

Let’s talk about empathy and the moral responsibility of the writer. Continue reading

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