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Monday, January 25, 2010

Games: Transferable skills for writers new to interactive



This post is for screenwriters (film, TV and other linear media) who are considering a move into games - either through interest or seeking extra sources of income. This is the blog post I wish I had to read before I started a recent gig doing just that. I could then have hit the ground running even faster.

The post is divided in two parts. The first part deals with transferable skills, things you can bring with you intact, ways of working that will continue to work. The second part looks at ways of working that you may not be so familiar with, perhaps things you may need to learn or certainly brush up on.

Transferable Skills

Story-telling: Generally saying interesting things, using your imagination to conceive of intriguing situations - that will always be the key skill. It is easy to forget that other people really struggle with this, so pack your suitcase full of cool stuff.

Wide range of influences: Writers are good at drawing in ideas from everywhere. Other people in the games industry sometimes get stuck in a certain genre or a way of working. They may repeat ideas or get stuck on a familiar set of tracks. Bringing in ideas from outside the genre is welcomed. Brush yourself up with story dust.

Rewriting and then rewriting again: Someone who doesn't mind going back through work for repeated drafts will be met with open arms. Pressure on a project can come from hardware restrictions, coding issues, graphics constraints, all sorts of directions - so you may need to keep reworking your drafts through no fault of your own. And not moan about it. We can all tick that one off.

Dialogue: We have all played games where the dialogue is awful - of a sub TV movie quality. That is because someone in the company did it who shouldn't have. Obviously, if you are hired it is because at least someone has recognised their weakness in this area. All your usual dialogue tricks and techniques will work here; people not saying exactly what they mean, using dialects, adding personal quirks etc etc. Use these as you have always done.

Curiosity: Again, an undervalued skill as we take it for granted. Why would someone do that? What kind of person says that? If I was like that, what would I do? Top stuff.

Thinking of the audience: Or in this case, the player. Will people be able to follow this? You may be surprised about how much of this you can bring and how little others may consider it. How many plots and characters can any one person follow?



Different Skills

New structures: All that guff about 3 act, 9 act or sequence structure doesn't really matter at all anymore. The structure may be set by the gameplay mechanics and you have to fit with in that. As an example, the game may be mission based. If a mission last x mins then that is how long it lasts. Fit around it. Remember, you do the same in film where you work around the length of an old film reel - it is just the technology has moved on since and the structural ideas haven't.

Living with the vague: In a film, as you know, there is all sorts of fun to be had by playing around with what the characters know, what the characters know that other characters know - and what the audience knows that the characters don't know. Jolly good fun. But if you are doing a non-linear game then that is all jettisoned. You don't know what the player knows. This may take some time to get used to. Consider for a start, you may not even know the sex of the player.

Technical nous: If you are the kind of writer who struggles with final draft and sending an email this may not be right for you. You will need to get into a bit of techie stuff just to make sure your work comes out okay. Being able to find your way around servers is taken as a given.

Grammar: Some of your work will be text based as well as dialogue based so brush up on your grammar and your spelling. As regular blog readers will no this isnt my strong, point. <-- joke.

Style of interaction: You will be collobarating closely with others rather than being an isolated writer. Even if you are a collabortaing kind of writer then the style of working together may be different. Table readings are out. Playtests are in - followed by discussion on a wiki. In my office there isn't a phone. But everyone uses instant messenger. Even people who are 10 foot away!

Industry Awareness: A small shift in behaviour this. But few want to talk about 'An Education', but they can pull apart why 'Uncharted 2' works. TV is out. iPlayer in.


Bonus Part - What is not required

You don't have to know any programming or coding skills. This is not expected.





In related news, the game I am working on (APB) was one of Wired magazine 20 Most anticipated games of 2010.

7 comments:

Neil said...

An excellent post, Tim! I've dabbled with the idea of writing for video games, usually after playing on that I really liked and thinking "huh....could have been better!"

I've never had any clue how to go about it though. Is there any chance you'll be doing a quick blog post on how to break into the industry - sites to look out, job applications etc? I'm definitely interested in seeing if it's something I'd like to pursue more.

Again, shiny post!
Neil.

Tim Clague said...

2 more posts to come. One on useful sources of info to FIND a job. The other on useful sources of info to use FOR the job.

Neil said...

Awesomes! Looking forward to them.

Brendan O'Neill said...

Thanks for that Tim. I have all the qualities listed - I just need the break so another post on how to get into writing for games is welcome!

On a related note I'm trying to find a collaboarator developer to create an iphone game which will in turn help fund by low budget comedy horror idea Hell Hall - a sort of very scary multiple murdering monsters version of Cluedo. Do you know of anyone else trying this approach?

Dim said...

Excellent post (and I loved the joke! A Grammar joke! Ha!) Very much looking forward to the next, especially since your elevation to the Top 50 people in the World to Listen to About Life and Stuff to Do with Filmmaking.

Tim Clague said...

Brendan - I don't know of anyone else trying exactly that approach. But it is unlikely it would earn you enough to make it worthwhile. Plus iPhone app programmers are currently in demand anyway.

Tim Clague said...

Dim - just movie making. Not life. I feel I could only write that blog after I have finished living it.