Writing for Games

Hello there,

I am a writer from a theatre/film background eager to get into game creation (I.e. creating the over arching stories, the lore, the game plots etc).

I am currently doing a course on game design covering the basics of code and Unity, and design. Just to get a feel for what making a game entails (At the end I should have created a functioning game). But, I want to know what else I can do/ look into/ or study to help me get to where I want to go.

Any help is appreciated!


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    Welcome! :)

    I think there are two big points I'd recommend you think about. The first is the interactivity. In a novel, or a movie script, a writer has a huge amount of control over narrative beats and timing, and what is shown to the reader at what time. Video games have much less control: we don't necessarily know when someone will arrive at a certain point, or whether they quit and resumed, whether they're looking at the thing that we want them to look at, or will make the decisions that we think are obvious. Many video games simply try to adapt movie-like scripts into video games, and while some of them make for spectacular experiences (like Uncharted), many of them can feel as if they really don't understand the medium. In writing, folks talk about "show, don't tell." In games, you might go farther with, "let us play, don't show." Some of the masterful uses of game writing then becomes about letting players write their own stories using the tools you provide them with, rather than using the game as a vehicle for telling the story (in which case it'd be much easier/cheaper just to write that novel/script than to deal with all of the complexities of game design). I think that a popular example is The Sims, where a game designer/writer may create situations from which interesting stories may arise, but where players aren't just following a script, but rather interacting with the game in ways that can produce countless different outcomes. At the very least, if it's a fairly linear story, the player should still feel some sense of agency; otherwise it might as well just be a movie or book, and you gain nothing from having spent much more time and money on making it a game.

    The other thing I think is worth remembering is more important if you're working in a team, and where your game isn't only text. In writing, it might be really powerful to introduce someone important to the plot just to kill them off soon afterwards. Or it might be great world-building to introduce planets, civilizations, cultures, and armies charging in at each other. These are so easy to write in words, but if you've got an art team that has to build any of these things, they're extremely expensive. You end up having to think much more about what new characters or environments you're introducing, and being very mindful about trying to create the same emotional impact or entertainment without just throwing more content (and expense) at the problem. When people think about writing for games, they often think really big, and as an artist/designer it's kind of terrifying. :P In terms of independent games, some of the most powerful or interesting narrative experiences show no characters at all (e.g. Firewatch), or additionally take place just in one house (e.g. Gone Home), etc.

    Which isn't to say that you shouldn't allow your creativity to fly. But being naive about how much it costs to add "just one more" character or environment is asking for a project to stall.

    I have very limited experience as a writer (so maybe take what I say with a grain of salt), but if I were to work with one, these are the two things that I think it's imperative for one to understand.

    In terms of further reading, I've really enjoyed reading some work by David Freeman (about "Emotioneering in games"), though I think he still approaches it from a fairly traditional writing-for-film perspective rather than necessarily embracing game writing for its game-specific strengths.
  • Thanks so much for the detailed reply!

    I get what you are saying 100% and the idea that writing for games is different from theatre/film is not lost on me. I see it very much in the same light as acting for stage is very different to acting for film. This is a element I want to focus on, the difference in style. Just the idea of a story changing with the player's choices is enticing, equally the challenge of telling a story while not "preaching" it appeals to me.

    In terms of keeping budgets in mind etc that is the main reason I am doing this course, so that I can can get even the slightest practical experience and feel for the time and effort (translated into billable hours) it takes to do even a simple game. I imagine a game designer/writer to work with a big team all chipping in and checking themselves so they don't go overboard, which is right up my alley. I love working in teams to create a product which is, once again, why I am so drawn to this career.

    I will give David Freeman a look, and thank you once again for the reply!
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