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December 20, 2014, 04:26:01 PM
TIGSource ForumsDeveloperCreativeWritingWhy write for games?
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SweetBro
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« Reply #20 on: February 03, 2013, 10:06:57 PM »

I think it depends on the game you're making. If you're trying to deliver a powerful plot-driven experience then writing is unnecessary for the same reason its needed in any other form of media (Such as Mass Effect). Likewise if your game's experience is based around introspection or say interaction with the game's mechanics (Such as Anti-Chamber) then writing would detract for the actual experience.
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« Reply #21 on: February 04, 2013, 03:13:07 PM »

Here is a new video talking about just this (Mostly about characters and the hero in the game)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=qEzNrjTzC-s#!

She says pretty interesting things about not why she writes for games but why players want a written game.
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« Reply #22 on: February 15, 2013, 06:05:19 AM »

I don't always put narrative in games,
but when I do, it's to tell a story...

This can be as simple as conveying a single series of events that mean something to me, and I want to share with the player.  For example, the story of a puzzle game can be quite linear: short blurbs or scripted events that relate some narrative to the level's solution and hint at the new obstacle or mechanic to employ.   Wik and the Fable of Souls employed this techinque, but they were a bit over wordy, IMO.  World of Goo's sign painter is a great example, and it has great writing -- The bare minimum game mechanics are fine, but with just a bit of story you can add a lot of interest.  With a weird universe like those I kind of wanted to know why I was swinging with my tongue, spitting honey at the beast, or why the goo was going into the pipe, why the world went digital all of a sudden...  Without a story these would have still been good games, but the weirdness would be nonsensical Just being weird for weird's sake is fine, but it's usually better received if there's some reason.

Humans seem good at picking up on the story that's embedded in events that they can (somewhat) understand.  You can understand why killing a child would cause the adults near-by to fight you to the death, but in more abstract or alien worlds narrative can serve to explain events that would otherwise be meaningless.

When I first started playing games they didn't have any graphics.  You had a dialog with the game itself, in text.  You could type "look door" to get a description of the door, or "hit monster" to fight something.  Walking around was usually something like "go west" and then you'd get an overview description of the surroundings you were now in.  You could even move in 3D in my favorite multi-player text-based games (see: MUDs, like Crossroads).

Now, lots of people seem to miss out on the important things that we learned back in the era of text based gaming, despite nearly all other games, from Adventure to puzzle, from RPG to MMORPG, being direct descendent's of the genre.

Firstly:  You can give the player narrative overload.  Say what's important.  The trick is to be clever and funny with the least amount of words, and not to be too repetitive / annoying -- Jokes get old FAST in games.  E.g., no matter how funny the 1st time, by the 3rd time hearing it I was sick of the Psychonauts voice actors, especially for needlessly lengthy explanations of inventory items you have to frequently and repeatedly purchase, "you take that psi-core there, and you put it together with... blah, blah, blah" I wanted to kill that old bastard more than any boss.

Secondly: Just like you can get lost in a book, narrative can actually be quite immersive, even if it's just text.  Story isn't just about the story arc.

Thirdly: In a text based game EVERYTHING is made of words, but there are many different ways to use words!  Words don't always mean "narrative".  The description of a Gun in a menu, can tie into the story, but it can just as well be part of the world's setting.  It's important to make the distinction between linear narrative, essential informative data, and world crafting.

It's easy as a writer to make the mistake of lumping all that together and overloading the main narrative with too many descriptions of things and explanations of stuff.   It's also easy to not include enough narrative and leave players feeling that there's no meaning to their actions.

Now that we have graphics we don't have to use words for everything, but the lessons of writing in these old non-graphical games still apply.  For instance in a text based game it's easy to tell a story using only world crafting:
------
You're at the edge of a small sunny clearing in the trees.  Dense forest surrounds you in every direction but east.
> go east
Many blackened tree stumps dot the lonely clearing of the surrounding canopy.
Charred earth crunches loudly beneath the young grass with each step.
The sun glints from a tiny spot on the ground nearby.
> look ground
You've uncovered the skeletal remains of a fallen warrior.
There is a round steel shield, iron sword, and skull on the ground.
> get shield
You pickup the round steel shield.  It reeks of brimstone.
------

These descriptions use world crafting techniques to tell the fateful story of a brave knight's last fight with a dragon.  Some would call this "telling a story with gameplay", but the gameplay had nothing to do with the story.  The player could have easily left the remains, or passed through the clearing without discovering the dead knight.  The game plays the same if there were just a sword and shield left in the middle of the forest.  The player may or may not discover similar clearings in the forest with signs of other battles: magical dragon scales, lost supplies, the knights dead horse. (>kick dead horse.  "You find this strangely satisfying.")  We can incorporate the writing into gameplay by having nearby townsfolk reward you if you give back the family shield, or send you on a quest to get revenge on the dragon.  We can just as easily leave the dead knight's story as is, just adding a bit of interesting historical detail to the world.

I write all sorts of little stories to flesh out the history of each part of a game world.  This adds richness and depth -- What makes the real world feel so real is all of the history behind everything you see...  To me a game's narrative is simply the top slice of the game world's history: what's happening "now".

I don't have to tell all of the story via direct narrative, and not all writing detracts from gameplay: "There was a fierce battle in this clearing between a knight and a dragon, blah blah blah" (ugh).  Much better to weave that little story into the world and let the player decide how much to experience of the game's narrative.

In a visual game these same world crafting techniques can be employed -- You would make the actual clearings and place the items, trigger the sound effects instead of describing them, but why the world looks the way it does IS a result of "writing" the history of that place.  Not all games need writing: Tetris doesn't need it -- However, Tetris Worlds does have writing, you beat levels to make worlds inhabitable for the Minos because their star is dying.  The settings and cute customizable cube characters add atmosphere to an otherwise very abstract game where completing different objectives with blocks changes the look of the world for some reason.  The sparse narrative in Tetris Worlds gives meaning to why the worlds start out desolate and end up lush (besides rewarding the player with visual interests).

There are many different ways to communicate events and weave a story.  The non-linear narrative of world crafting can be used to weave a thousand stories into the game, and give the player the freedom to go out into the world you've made and discover their own story.

-----

This is sort of an aside, but one thing I've noticed is that with the advent of graphics and sound and voice actors game assets got MUCH more expensive to make than in the old text-based game days.  As a result the worlds are typically more sparse, there is less world crafting, and every asset is sort of thrown in your face over the course of the game.  Thus, the games lose replay value, and feel less real.  For example, in that text based BBS MUD I even detailed the inside of the knight's skull's eye sockets.  It took me less than 30 seconds to do so, and I didn't care if the asset actually contributed to the story or gameplay, it was for atmosphere and a nice place to put a little non-intrusive comedic relief.

-----

I'm not saying that writing based games are better, just that we should reflect back on them because much like an old timer, these old games still have lots to teach about game design.  The next time you're pixel arting a wall do some writing and give it a bit of character -- You don't have to use words to tell the player the story of how that brick got cracked -- it doesn't matter whom the blood that now stains it belonged to; The world tells tiny tales of forgotten history to create character.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2013, 09:04:19 AM by VortexCortex » Logged

Alchiggins
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« Reply #23 on: February 15, 2013, 09:36:17 AM »

Well said, VortexCortex.
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Panurge
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« Reply #24 on: February 16, 2013, 12:42:06 AM »

Yes, thanks VortexCortex. A really thought-provoking post.

I think people who see text as being automatically inferior to graphics often forget that they are essentially saying that apples are way better than oranges. I can personally vouch for the fact that some people really do prefer to read. In terms of how much I enjoy and appreciate various art-forms, reading will always come first, then games, music and visual art on about a par, then film and TV. Of course, this will vary for everyone.

Text engages the brain in an entirely different way to other media. I never find myself reading a book and thinking 'Oh man, I wish they'd make this into a film,' and my favourite books are pretty unfilmable. Similarly, a lot of the games I play are text adventures and I really do think we're set for a renaissance in interactive fiction - games and books have already started to mate awkwardly on iPads and kindles (for anyone who hasn't already, by the way, check out Em Short's new Versu engine, released yesterday - it's very interesting). So even outside of the need for stories and characters, I think there will always be a call for the written word in games.
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mysteriosum
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« Reply #25 on: February 18, 2013, 08:24:29 AM »

I grew up on games, and I've studied Theatre for years; the more I think about it, the more those two media have in common.

Consider this: When a playwright writes a play, he has a story to tell. A kills B, and C needs to get revenge.

Since it's a play, though, there's only so much you can give to the actors. The dialogue is usually spoken word for word, and stage directions (He moves upstage or (Angrily):) are typically heeded. But, ultimately, it's up to the director and the actor, two outside bodies that the playwright doesn't know when he's writing them, to interpret the work. Laurence Olivier's Hamlet is much different from David Tennant's, for example. Then there's also the set designer, the costume designer, the lighting designer... all sorts of artists who come in and change the original project from being a play to being a production.

(Of course, there are occasions where the play is being written as the production is being established, and the playwright will accommodate the designers and actors, but after that in initial production, it's an open field. Unless it's Samuel Beckett.)

In video games, you have the original product, which is a game. But, like a play, it's just a shell. It needs another person or group of people to make it complete. Without players, what is a game?

Games are meant to be interpreted, and a player's interpretation is the way they play. When I played Mark of the Ninja, I made it my mission not to kill a single guard. I wanted to resist the corruption of the tattoos. It made the climax that much more heart breaking for me. Despite all I did to try and stop it... I can't change my destiny.

In this way, I consider the player as being an artist as much as the developers. Just as acting is a skill, so is gaming. In fact, the word 'player' used to refer specifically to what we know as actors today, playing a play.

So, why write for games?

I write plays. The joy in dramaturgy comes in knowing it's not finished. There's still interpretation to be done. Why does Hamlet say 'To be or not to be'? Is he contemplating suicide? Or is he trying to make the people spying on him think he's depressed, so they won't suspect him of plotting a murder?

I make games. The joy in gamedev comes in knowing it's not finished. There's still interpretation to be done. Why does the Kid smash those ashen figures of people he used to know? Is he mad? Is he paying his respects? Does he want to erase them from memory? Does he even smash them in the first place?

The difference is that I've consumed more games than any other medium. It's what I know, so it's what I'm going to make. 
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Evan Balster
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« Reply #26 on: February 18, 2013, 09:19:16 AM »

Very insightful comparison, mysteriosum.  Wisely spoken.  <3
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Alchiggins
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« Reply #27 on: February 18, 2013, 01:30:39 PM »

I don't have time to find it right now, but there's this great interview on Rock Paper Shotgun with one of the creators of Kentucky Route Zero about theatre's influences on the game. It might interest you.

EDIT: Okay, here it is.
Part 1:
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/01/22/interview-kentucky-route-zeros-mountain-of-meanings/
Part 2:
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/01/23/what-lies-ahead-for-kentucky-route-zero/
« Last Edit: February 18, 2013, 02:28:55 PM by Alchiggins » Logged

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« Reply #28 on: February 18, 2013, 01:40:16 PM »

I write games because it's more personally exciting for me to see the characters and story "come to life", and I have a background in visual art as well as writing.

Sure, if I could screenwrite a movie, I would, but this is the easiest way to me to do that and also see my work disseminated.

That's not to say that I like games that play like movies, far from it. I like giving a certain degree of interactivity, but I also like games that are story-heavy.
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« Reply #29 on: February 18, 2013, 04:28:35 PM »

It'd be cool to see IF make a comeback, but just as cool would be to see text parsers make a comeback. They had their problems but they had their strengths as well, and it was like instead of working through those problems everyone just gave up on them. The common complaint was the discrepancy between a player's expectations of what words the game should understand and what words the game actually could understand. Well, we have games today that can understand every noun you can find in a dictionary and even show you a relevant graphic for it. (Scribblenauts, I think?) Would a game that can understand every verb be impossible?
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Evan Balster
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« Reply #30 on: February 18, 2013, 05:41:31 PM »

The one text parser game I recall getting a lot of enjoyment out of was Trilby's Notes.  And that's a recent-ish (mid-00s?) one.

I notice an interesting divide in this thread between the discussion of text (literal "writing") in games and story (figurative "writing") in games -- the latter is the original topic and the former might be good material for a new thread if somebody wants to boot one up.
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« Reply #31 on: February 19, 2013, 07:30:44 AM »

I did something to that effect. I'll take any chance I can get to talk about my favourite Paper Mario moment.
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EDIT: had the wrong url, oops
« Last Edit: February 19, 2013, 08:04:27 AM by mysteriosum » Logged

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« Reply #32 on: February 26, 2013, 03:01:11 PM »

In response to the original post, I'd say you are completely correct, Evan. Some stories are better told through a game than through a movie or book. In a movie/book, you are watching a character experience the world around him. As a story writer for a game, you are saying "I have this world in my head. I don't want you to watch somebody experience my world, I want you to experience it for yourself."

Non-interactive media only lets you see what the narrator sees. Games let you go explore. And any fantasy/sci-fi writer will tell you that the setting is the most important part of the story.
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« Reply #33 on: March 02, 2013, 04:51:39 AM »

Feels like exploration is often talked about when people want to describe how they feel immersed in a game. And I think that leads to the essence of discovery, which is kind of present in both books and movies in the way that we don't know what is going to happen next.
I never read the summary for movies anymore since you then sit there for 30-45min and just wait to catch up with what you read. So, I think it is in the moments of suprise and understanding that we harvest the feeling of being immersed, which must be one of the most rewarding feedback a writer could get, to have the audience believing and feeling the story/setting/characters...

A good creative writer can most likely bring forth these moments in either medium. What I think games are doing wrong is that they cloud the story and the in-game world with things that doesn't give anything back to the story, like collecting coins or grind for experience points.
I also think that games could be better at giving their worlds a history. Most games have wonderful worlds that we don't really get to experience or understand something about. They just exist as eye candy for the player to run through.

I would like to see more games that focus on the whole experience and try to weave all aspects of the game together. Where story, visuals and game design can compliment eachother and exist without conflicting.
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« Reply #34 on: March 02, 2013, 04:07:42 PM »

Re-enforcing-mechanics are important. They should be everywhere. Coins are stupid, except in Mario, because they make sense there.

Like, spend a shit-ton of time figuring out what your environment is, then build mechanics that re-enforce that. Do not do anything else. Ugh. Games.
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« Reply #35 on: March 10, 2013, 03:11:09 AM »

Re-enforcing-mechanics are important. They should be everywhere. Coins are stupid, except in Mario, because they make sense there.

Like, spend a shit-ton of time figuring out what your environment is, then build mechanics that re-enforce that. Do not do anything else. Ugh. Games.

Is there a tat of irony in the Mario statement? Smiley Otherwise I would like to hear the argument for coins making sense in the Mario games. I have not really played any of the recent Mario games so the sense of coins might have been introduced in there somewhere. But from my view of the older games I see no context connected point to collecting coins. Especially not from a writers/story point of view.
Maybe if the Princess had violated some law and Mario was going to bail her out, that would have made some sense. Or if you would tie it to her being kidnapped and Mario needed money to pay the ransom.
Though, while playing a Mario game the actual story is not really in focus, at least not in the NES ones where the coins were introduced.

And I don't think you have to start with the environment and build mechanics around that. Me and a friend are creating a game where the mechanics were the interesting thing to begin with. So we rather spent a lot of time re-enforcing those mechanics when creating the environment and story. And that have been working really well so far. Re-enforcment I then think should go both ways. There is probably no blueprint for creating an immersive experience but paying attention to details and put thought in connecting all aspects of the game will most likey pay off in a good slightly more immersive way.
 
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« Reply #36 on: March 10, 2013, 03:30:39 AM »

I wasn't trying to say environments come before mechanics, just that they need to re-enforce each other. The order is up to the dev.

No irony in the Mario statement. Mario is huge for a reason.... The design is good. The coins make as much sense as the koopas. They are silly and fun to interact with. They link together with everything else thematically, aesthetically. Where does plot ever factor into Mario? How is plot relevant? (As you said).
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« Reply #37 on: March 10, 2013, 05:17:02 AM »

I agree with you Graham.
And you have a good point in that Mario makes sense in the way that nothing makes sense.

Haha, this made me want to watch that old live-action Bob Hoskins - Mario Bros. movie, it probably has some good answers to the themes of the Mario universe...
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« Reply #38 on: March 10, 2013, 05:28:44 AM »

That movie is awesome. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. It does explore a tangent on the themes though, awesome tangents.
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mysteriosum
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« Reply #39 on: March 11, 2013, 01:15:07 PM »

The focus of Mario is on the gameplay, and coins are a tool for the level designers to add pure gameplay dynamic to their art. If there were no coins in Mario, there would still be... let us call them 'encounters'; however, each encounter would either be reduced in complexity, or even, straight up, contain fewer challenges. Consider this encounter:



Without the coins, this encounter is pretty straight-forward. Choose to either swim under the plant or go over the plant. Even with the coins, the option is there to skip them entirely.

Important to note is that the plant spits four fire balls that fall through any collision. Looking at the image, you can see that one of those fire balls is perfectly positioned to go straight through the Yoshi coin. Swimming is already enough of a challenge in Mario, now you have to eke in there between fire-volleys in order to get the coin. Then the question arises: do you go for the little coins that don't matter?

This is a point where coins offer the player an opportunity for self-expression (which is sometimes toted as the most important aspect of game design). I would get those coins, heck yes the danger is worth it! I got the coins! It's sort of a compulsion. But I mean, it's a little silly. That's a difficult passage, and the coins' total value is 3/100 of one life. But I identify as the type of person who would go out of his way to get coins, because I like the challenge. Some people couldn't care less about coins, or think that the Yoshi coins are necessary but each other coin is pointless, as long as they're good enough and don't die often.

This is the beauty of the level design in Mario, and frankly, one of the reasons I'm interested in 'writing for games.' If we look at games as text (in the same way as a film or painting is text, each open to interpretation), levels are the chapters and these encounters are the paragraphs. There is a literacy involved, and level design has a whole bunch of tropes all on its own...
/rant
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