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.

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