Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Do, Show, Tell

Develop, a British game development magazine with a frustrating layout, is running a writer’s roundtable with five of the UK’s top game writers. Rhianna Pratchett is probably the most recognizable of the five, having worked on Heavenly Sword, Overlord, and Mirror’s Edge. The other four participants are Maurice Suckling, Justin Villiers, Jim Swallow, and Tom Jubert.

In Part 1 of the roundtable, the group discusses the game writer’s role and their visions for its expansion. Of course, their biggest complaint is being relegated to dialogue. Villiers points to a key cause of this compartmentalizing: “…in a lot of situations there’ll be a producer or a lead animator and the game is almost like their baby…but when they get to the dialogue, and they think ‘let’s get a writer to do this.’ ”

It then moves on to a more nebulous position: the narrative designer. This can be anything from writing the scripts to influencing gameplay in early design meetings. Many of these writers, including Suckling, have done some narrative design, which always includes duties unique to each project. He goes on to make a wonderful distinction between writing for movies and writing for games: “If you’re writing a screenplay, the mantra is ‘Show, don’t tell.’ But if you’re working in games, maybe there’s a different hierarchy – maybe it’s do, then show, then tell.”

This article (with more installments to follow this week ) throws down a gauntlet at the feet of game developers: get your writers in the room early! Let them help you craft stories instead of making them write insipid and awful dialogue that will only ruin your game.