Jimmy Chattin - I make better games.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

PAX 15 - So You Want to be a Game Writer

Like many posts before this, I'd like to cover here both a talk from a major Game Industry gathering (PAX Prime) and a how-to for those looking at entering/maintaining their place in said industry.

On the last day of PAX, Toiya Finley, Qais Fulton, Anne Toole, Bobby Stein, Tom Abernathy, and Leah Miller laid out a lot of what they've experienced, both personally and professionally, to a packed room of aspiring, struggling, or plainly curious (me) writers.  Here's some of that content:

What do we need to know about writing in the Game Industry?

  • Know how to write a good, fleshed-out story.  Then write it shorter.  And shorter.  And shorter.
    • Level-up: Write someone else's story idea.  Then have them point out what parts to cut.
      • This is part of how a writer will never get their way (exceptions do exist).
  • Throw all rules for sequence, timing, and most of how to write for a page-flipping book out the window.
    • Games are non-linear, being for a player (not some fictional character) that can (and will) do anything at any time.
  • Have recent, presentable material about at all times.

OK - how do we define 'presentable' or 'portfolio' material?

  • Make a collection of stories show diversity in both genre and form (keep in mind length, too).
    • Genre: Horror, romance, sci-fi, western, etc.
    • Form: Novel, screenplay, dialogue, technical documentation, etc.
  • Hide any raw notes.
    • Think of dirty laundry - it shouldn't be left out if company is paying a visit.
  • Include art, audio, and any other medium to help communicate the feel of a story.
    • Don't steal!  Get permissions, in writing, of any copyrighted work.
  • Take no concept, phrase, history, or saying for granted.
    • Assume any- and everyone knows nothing.
  • If it's worthy of the portfolio, protect it.
    • PDFs, watermarks, and excerpts of material makes it harder for others to claim that content.
      • Consider applying these preventative steps on all work, even if it's merely an email to a friend.

Where do we go to make our game stories?

  • Twine.  Twine!
    • (With resounding enthusiasm, this is the number-one tool recommended by the panelists.)
    • Twine allows for branching narratives, easy use, and complex additions to any tale (not to mention being able to be published nearly everywhere).
  • Use a robust level editor.
    • This shows how scenes are laid out and some technical prowess.
  • Write a pen-and-paper RPG campaign.
    • Show-off tool versatility while keeping the barrier of entry incredibly low.

Now that we've covered all the basics of the craft itself, is there anything else?

  • Yes!  The type of employ is important:
    • Full-time staff jobs on a resume are good to be seen.
      • Versus having temporary contract work.
    • Freelancers cannot be writers first; they must be a sales-person and collections-agent foremost.
      • When lacking the support structure of an established company doing a lot of the labor, a freelance writer must set higher priorities on how to sustain themselves before dedicating work to the craft.
    • Again to freelancers, never give up rights to work until compensation has been paid in full.


Do you agree with the panelists on these points?  Would you add to it or offer a counter opinion?  In any case, both the panelists and I hope you could gleam something from this in how you go about your art into the future.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Question Etiquette

Going to conferences or conventions can be some of the best times of your life.  You see old acquaintances, make new friends, improve your network of connections, learn a lot, and hopefully come away with some sweet schwag.

When attending sessions, there's usually time for Q&A, which can be a great opportunity for being rude and embarrassing everyone in the room.  To save yourself, here are a few things that I've learned can make the most of your experience:

  • Turn off phones/other noise-makers.

    • Is a Facebook update or robo caller more important than where you're at right now?  Then leave.

  • Move to the middle.

    • Defragging, saving space, making friends, or merely moving to the middle of the row, save the chairs at the end of a row of seats for those that are coming in late to a presentation.  If you have to leave early, stand at the back (if allowed) and take the most unobtrusive place possible.

  • Use mics for questions.

    • If the room as a microphone or mic runner, use them (remember, walk, don't run) versus merely yelling from the seats.  When one's not available, standing and speaking in a clear, concise tone is the next best bet.

  • ... But only if you've thought through the question.  Twice.

    • Save the life-story for a biography.  Multiple questions?  Go to the back of the line to give someone else a chance.  Deliver these questions in 1-2 quick sentences (this is tough to do if you don't think about it first).

  • In the end, know the rules and respect those helping run the event.

    • Taking pictures/videos, necessary identification, restricted hours/places, and other caveats are usually outlined when you register for the conference/convention - breaking the rules could seriously harm a lot of people at worst, make you a jerk at best.  Additionally, if someone who's clearly marked as a volunteer for the event is asking for attention or is giving directions, following their lead will help ensure you have and help deliver the best time possible for everyone.
I'm sure other opinions are out there, so feel free to share.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Question: Keeping it Fresh

The question that starts the week is this: What can you do to keep players directed to the most recent version of a mod if older versions have been shared out?

I was contacted yesterday about getting access to an old version of a Risk mod from back in ’13.  It was found by a player looking for adding zombies to their Risk play on Google’s front page, but it was for a file long since moved to an unshared folder for old game design docs.

It was a simple matter to get a link for the player while also directing them to the newest version, but having to do this for the mod could definitely be optimized.  Any ideas?