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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Writing Books VS Writing Video Games

Seeing as Abigayle is currently on a writer's conference trip with some writing comrades, she has asked me, her brother, to write up a guest post. My hobbies consist of designing and creating video games, and in this post we will explore the differences of writing a book vs writing a video game.


Video games tend to have very bad stories. I am being straight up honest. Part of this is because hardly any games begin development with a mostly baked story, or even simple idea for the story. There are many other development issues that could potentially cost too much money such as voice acting, hiring a writer, or many other things, but in my opinion that is not enough to excuse this problem.

One of the biggest issues with video game stories is that the developer hires a writer, but the writer does not know how to write for video games. Perhaps they are a book author, a movie script writer, or they make newspaper columns; even if they have had experience with any one of those, that does not mean they are ready to write video games. 

You do not write books the way you write movies because books have the responsibility to deliver every aspect of the experience through the writing alone, whereas  movies consist only of the vocal interaction between the characters and the actions they take. The point is that without a writer who knows how to write games, there will be no good storytelling in video games.

The first step of video game writing is to make sure you have an idea of what you want it to be before you begin development on the gameplay. When beginning to structure and craft a game, it is always necessary to know how your game is going to play first, but you always need to know what tone the story and world will have at the same time, otherwise it will waste some of its potential. But with a book, the entire experience is a story. Without a plot to your novel, it couldn't hardly be a book, so that is absolutely the place you need to start when writing a novel. 
                
There is a different art to telling a story in games than in books, and the main thing that game writers don’t understand is that the story isn’t supposed to be told completely through chat boxes and dialogue from the characters. The story has to be told through the gameplay, the mechanics, and the world just as much as the actual written narrative. This is why games have weak stories, because if the stories don’t begin production until after the world is created, there will be clash in-between the mechanics, gameplay, world and narrative so it will not create a convincing story or one that will be memorable.

So when a game developer hires a writer to craft their story, the writers are often impaired and unsure how to do it properly because they are not conveying any of the world or details, but merely the dialogue. This can be unnatural to the writer, and without the details of the world to make their characters convincing within, it becomes messy and often stereotypical.  

A good example of storytelling is the Uncharted games. You learn about Nathan Drake through running and jumping, because you see how it hurts him to fall from big drops, seeing as he is human. It doesn’t tell you through dialogue that he is great at wall climbing or that he isn’t an invincible hero, but you see that through the actions you choose to take through the games. The earlier Silent Hills games do this well also because through the mechanics of the game it instills that sense of fear your character has. Through doing a simple action like crawling, they do it frantically and are obviously scared. They don’t say “I am scared” like they might in a book, because it is much more effective to show it than say it in a video game.
                
Another way that storytelling is misused is through the dialogue itself. Far too many games do not script dialogue in a way that they won’t create throw-away lines. In video games, a large portion of character development needs to be told through the gameplay and not only the dialogue. So again, the writers can often be confused on what to write.  There are far too many throwaway lines that could have been told though the environment or through the gameplay. In the most simplistic of examples, you don’t need to have a side character say, “I feel like we should go right” when there could be a sign pointing to the right, or a pile of rubble blocking the left forcing you to go right. This is not a subtle example, but it can be as simple as having good level design to make the game flow well.
                
So how can you avoid throwaway lines and create good dialogue? There is some natural skill that has to come with that, but for the most part if you follow a simple set of rules you will be far better off than most games already. There are four different categories, and if a line you write does not fit into one of those categories then it is a throwaway line.

1.       What does this line tell you about the world?
2.       What does this line tell you about your character?
3.       What does this line tell you about other characters?
4.       Does this line move the plot forward?

One of the most common places for throwaway lines is traveling from one location to another. The developers toss dialogue in there to keep the player’s mind off the fact that they are just walking so they do not get bored. It is rare to see an example in a game where a throwaway line is not used in this situation. One of the rare successors of these moments is in the Witcher III when you are walking along a path talking to a man about whether he named his newborn son. This tells you about the world and is emotional in a way, and fills out some characters more. Even though it is not very significant, it brings real situations into the conversations to make it feel like a real living place.

Unless every line of dialogue falls under one of those four categories, or it is just so funny and classic, then it should not be in your script. 

One aspect of video game writing is that the writers should be involved in the creation of the game to make sure the environment and atmosphere fit all the things they are writing about to help them create a more real-feeling world.

If you were to go through your game script and find a throwaway line, think about your level design for that area and see how you can implement it into the gameplay or atmosphere instead of the dialogue. Because remember, the mechanics, gameplay, and world are just as important to the story as the narrative itself, because the world is also part of what makes good books, they are just told in a different manner. 

So if you ever have the chance to write for a video game, remember to take all of those details you would put into a book, and put them into the game world to make it a good world that the story will flow in and feel like an intertwining experience and not one where the story is at odds with the gameplay.     

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LOOPY BLUEPRINT BUILDING
As you can tell, I am interested in video games, and I am even creating a game design course that will be released through a blog and potentially a YouTube channel. There is currently a Kickstarter for it at this link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1053615018/loopyguy-game-design-course-and-integrated-game-re?ref=user_menu

Please check it out!

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I hope you all found this guest post interesting, and Abigayle will be returning to you this Tuesday! 
-Albert Lee