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Breaking Into Games Writing? 254

Posted by kdawson
from the ripping-good-yarn dept.
An anonymous reader writes "One of the biggest complaints I hear from 'discerning' gamers is how few and far between well-written games are. Titles like Mass Effect and the Black Isle series just appear far too rarely. Writing and storyboarding are aspects of the industry that have always appealed to me — I'm an enthusiastic hobby gamer with a real passion for well-developed games. But there's very little guidance out there on getting exposure as a writer in this world. I'm interested in working in the field, freelance/part time initially as I break in, then with an eye to professional employ after a time. My questions to you are: How can I get involved in writing for the game industry? Are there any game startups out there with good design but weak story that could use writing help from a college graduate? How do the big guys get people to write for them — am I just going to the wrong booths at the job fairs? What kind of degrees or relevant experience in the field are they looking for? Should I just put on my Planescape t-shirt and stand outside in the rain?"
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Breaking Into Games Writing?

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  • Bioware (Score:5, Informative)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew@gmai l . com> on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:06PM (#25880467) Homepage Journal

    Bioware has repeatedly had contests where they've asked the community to open up the NWN toolset, write some dialogue and send it to them. The proof is in the pudding.

    And it should be noted that writing typical fiction or exposition is different from writing threaded dialogue in a game, hence that is why they ask people to submit basic mods made in their toolset.

    • Do they hire contest winners?

      The cynic in me says maybe it is just a way to sell more games to wanna be writers... a come on, like "can you draw the pirate" on a matchbook.
    • by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @12:13AM (#25881491)
      I got multiple job offers after writing Dreamcatcher [adamandjamie.com], including Bioware. Valve also encourages people to develop mods, and have hired many of the more successful people.

      That being said, being published in other areas can help as well, though I still feel that writing for games is a very different skill set than typical writing.
      • by wisty (1335733)

        So how do the movie script writers get picked? Do they take acting lessons, get buff, play as an extra, learn to edit sound, shoot scenes, and generally learn the ropes; or is there another career path? (I'm not mentioning schmoozing or sexual favors, as I would assume that all the career paths in Hollywood would entail a mix of these).

        It seems that game writers are expected to learn everything about game writing, just to have the privilege of seeing their work on the liquid crystal screen. There are plenty

    • Re:Bioware (Score:4, Informative)

      by Simon Brooke (45012) <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @07:18AM (#25884203) Homepage Journal

      Bioware has repeatedly had contests where they've asked the community to open up the NWN toolset, write some dialogue and send it to them. The proof is in the pudding.

      CD Project Red (The Witcher [thewitcher.com]) are doing the same thing, and my team has won two out of four stages of the current contest [thewitcher.com], come second in one stage, and ducked out of one; we're probably favourites to be overall winners. I have to admit I got involved in this competition to build up a modding team towards doing a commercial independent game, but I think that it's at present extremely difficult to break into even the indie games market, let alone the 'big' games market.

      Also, writers are not the most sought-after talent. 3D modellers are probably that - but concept art is also important. So if you're good at storyboarding, work on your 2D art skills.

      Then, find a game which you enjoy which makes it's content creation toolkit available to the community (Bioware, Bethesda, CD Projekt Red - there's a lot of buzz at present about the new Bioware toolkit which will come with Dragon Age [bioware.com]), hang out in the forums, get a feel of which modding team has got its act most together, and talk to them.

      And it should be noted that writing typical fiction or exposition is different from writing threaded dialogue in a game, hence that is why they ask people to submit basic mods made in their toolset.

      This is absolutely true. Non-linear narratives which work for the reader/player/user/audience are very much harder to write well than linear narratives, and the more freedom you allow the player the harder it is to craft a satisfying narrative. This doesn't make it not worth doing - on the contrary, like the GPP, it is my ambition to produce a really excellent story-driven game.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The proof is in the pudding.

      I think you mean, The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:07PM (#25880475) Homepage

    Then buy a photocopier.

    Then buy one of those automatic card shuffling machines.

    Next, photocopy the cliche book and use the shuffling machine to introduce "originality" to your creations.

    Seriously, WTF? What writing is there for games that isn't complete (literary, not computer-y) hackery? You're not exactly competing with Dickens. You're not even competing with Dick.

    • by philspear (1142299) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:35PM (#25880725)

      You're not exactly competing with Dickens. You're not even competing with Dick.

      Unless he wants to work in the field of porn videogames, which also suffers from a lack of quality writing.

      • by shish (588640) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @01:27AM (#25882001) Homepage

        Unless he wants to work in the field of porn videogames, which also suffers from a lack of quality writing.

        Actually, you'd be surprised: In Japan, the genre of "interactive erotic novel" is vast and surprisingly high quality; many of the stories being good enough to be popular even when the "interactive" and "erotic" parts get stripped out for TV or other media~

        (Though I will concede that I have yet to see an original english language game that didn't suck :( )

        • by Itninja (937614) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:04AM (#25882231) Homepage
          Totally. I saw Grave of the Fireflies in its' original form. TOTAL PORNFEST.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ultranova (717540)

          Actually, you'd be surprised: In Japan, the genre of "interactive erotic novel" is vast and surprisingly high quality; many of the stories being good enough to be popular even when the "interactive" and "erotic" parts get stripped out for TV or other media~

          However, these are "interactive novels", "choose your own adventure" -books rather than video games - no, the ability to chose which guy/girl/alien you fuck midway through doesn't make them a video game. As such, they don't suffer from the problems real

      • by mqduck (232646)

        I'm willing to bet porn games actually pay much more attention to dialog than most other genres.

    • by Bieeanda (961632)
      What this guy said. The titles mentioned in the summary aren't exactly filled with deathless prose. Then again, when your audience thinks that the Wheel of Time and Snow Crash are high art, their expectations aren't exactly difficult to exceed.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by popmaker (570147)
      There IS however Sam'n'max. Not Dickens but a long way toward being Pratchett.

      And I still think Planescape Torment actually had some literary quality. Feel free to disagree.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Mr. DOS (1276020)

        I agree. I downloaded Sam & Max Episode 104: Abe Lincoln Must Die just to see what the fuss was about back when they released it for free, and I enjoyed the storyline/writing immensely. Not entirely /intelligent/, to be sure, but it was funny and well thought-out. Very obvious that they'd taken the time to consider (and then execute) what was appropriate dialog for that sort of game.

              --- Mr. DOS

    • Agreed. If you think Mass Effect was well-written, please do NOT try to break into games writing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      You seem to assume that Dickens is better than PKD. That's blasphemy in these parts. ;-)
    • Then buy a photocopier.

      Then buy one of those automatic card shuffling machines.

      Next, photocopy the cliche book and use the shuffling machine to introduce "originality" to your creations.

      Seriously, WTF? What writing is there for games that isn't complete (literary, not computer-y) hackery? You're not exactly competing with Dickens. You're not even competing with Dick.

      Is the wrong answer.

      Yes, 'computer games' (I personally prefer 'interactive fiction', but that may be pretentious) is a young artform. Yes, we're still struggling to learn how to create compelling interactive narratives. But unless you have an ambition not merely to compete with Dickens and Shakespeare, but to equal them don't even bother trying. The market for games is hard enough to break into anyway - there's no market at all for badly written games.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Golias (176380)

        Then buy a photocopier.

        Then buy one of those automatic card shuffling machines.

        Next, photocopy the cliche book and use the shuffling machine to introduce "originality" to your creations.

        Seriously, WTF? What writing is there for games that isn't complete (literary, not computer-y) hackery? You're not exactly competing with Dickens. You're not even competing with Dick.

        Is the wrong answer.

        Yes, 'computer games' (I personally prefer 'interactive fiction', but that may be pretentious) is a young artform. Yes, we're still struggling to learn how to create compelling interactive narratives. But unless you have an ambition not merely to compete with Dickens and Shakespeare, but to equal them don't even bother trying. The market for games is hard enough to break into anyway - there's no market at all for badly written games.

        Correction.

        There's no market at all for game writing.

        The most popular games out there: Deer Hunter, Guitar Hero, Flash-based puzzle games, Texas Hold 'Em sims for phones, the latest FPS... Pretty much no "writing" required at all.

        The closest you will get is writing "quests" for MMO games, and the demands there are shockingly light as well.

        Most people play computer games for the action (and/or to socialize with each other), not for the storytelling. If they want a story, they will turn to a story-telling m

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by KDR_11k (778916)

          There are some genres that try to tell a story (especially FPSes seem to want that now and of course the obligatory RPGs) but yeah, the real mass market that flash games, Deer Hunter, card games, the Wii, etc serve doesn't want a story, it wants something that's fun instantly rather than spending hours on buildup and whatnot. Mostly because to people who don't spend all their time gaming a videogame is something that passes a short amount of time between other activities.

    • by sesshomaru (173381) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @12:53PM (#25887669) Journal

      The ability to write a competant Space Opera is not "photocopy the cliche book and use the shuffling machine to introduce "originality" to your creations."

      Lot's of games are ruined by a poor sense of aesthetics, even if they are technically competant. Portal wouldn't have been Portal with out a well written GladOS, even if the puzzles were exactly the same. System Shock wouldn't have it's current reputation if the story had been a neglected after thought.

      One thing about me is I've read a lot of Dickens, a lot. Great writer. However, he was also writing popular, sentimental stuff for the masses. In fact, the format he was publishing in was the 19th century equivalent of the TV soap opera.

      People miss that fact constantly. Most of the people who we think of as great writers these days were writing for the masses and popular acclaim, not for ivory tower intellectuals. When people disdain "popular" trash, and like some modern literature that only appeals to a very small segment of the population, they are just being snobs. A lot of the popular stuff is poor quality, but so is a lot of the elitist stuff.

  • They don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FunkSoulBrother (140893) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:10PM (#25880497)

    I don't think the issue is so much that games companies can't find good writers, it's more they won't pay for it. So you get some designer/coder throwing shit together at the last minute.

    • Re:They don't (Score:5, Informative)

      by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:20PM (#25880603)

      And the people who do have good writing and aren't an RPG often outsource their writing to one of the many many many companies in LA which have staff writers for TV and Film.

      A few programs on Cartoon network for instance farm out their screenplays to script doctoring companies.

      If you want to write for games you probably will be working for a multi-purpose writing agency.

    • Re:They don't (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Neon Aardvark (967388) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:51PM (#25880855) Homepage

      Writing is an art, and with any art-form there are huge numbers of highly talented people willing to do it for free.

      And probably larger numbers who are shit and also want to do it for free.

      Ergo, it's not a question of payment, it's a question of the games companies sifting through a lot of writers to find good cheap ones (because I'd bet a lot of money there are many of these out there).

    • by SirSlud (67381)

      Let's be clear. They won't pay for it because story telling is not the main conceit of video games. I agree that a well written game can really enhance it, and in some cases, make it or break it if the game play isn't there, but games are games. You need competent writing, not brilliant writing, because the immersion is derived from the gameplay (for the most part, of course. Adventure games rely more heavily on good writing, blah blah blah.) See music in porn for an example of this dynamic. You need music.

  • Bioware (Score:3, Informative)

    by SIR_Taco (467460) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:11PM (#25880503) Homepage

    Bioware is one company that I always seem to see writing positions open for... now whether you take that as a good thing or a bad thing I guess depends on your perspective. They usually have a written component that you can submit (ie an original story set in genre X or based on Bioware game X) which, they say, can override any educational qualification.
    Austin, Texas [bioware.com]
    Edmonton, Alberta [bioware.com]
    Yes, believe it or not Bioware is actually a Canadian company.

  • It's a Job (Score:5, Insightful)

    by liquiddark (719647) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:11PM (#25880513)
    You get a job with a game company the same way you get any other job:

    First, you find companies that actually do what you're trying to get into doing. Don't apply to companies that aren't using writers for their games if you want to be a writer for games.

    Second, you put together your portfolio. In the case of games, you'll want to have some dynamic media - sketched storyboards (art shouldn't matter too much, so keep it simple), play or movie scripts, and/or, ideally, game mods that have your name in the writer: line.

    Third, you have to work hard, get lucky, make friends, and generally be very nice to people who often deserve it but sometimes do not.
    • by Dekortage (697532)
      %3
    • Re:It's a Job (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ryvar (122400) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:58PM (#25881389) Homepage

      Here's my experience:

      A year before Bioshock shipped, I applied for a QA position at Irrational Boston. After five years of unemployment, I still have no idea why they hired me, but I wasn't about to argue. Fast-forward three months in QA, some game balance analysis writeups I'd done caught Ken Levine's eye and gave him the impression I was quasi-literate. For my part, I simply didn't have the heart to correct him.

      A month later I was working fulltime on script proofing, then editing, story structure, helping direct voiceover recording sessions, and finally voiceover production (take selection & compositing).

      So, some tips:
      1) Get a QA position at a development studio where you are actually working hand in hand with the developers. Do NOT get a QA position at a publisher's degenerate nerd stockyard - busing tables or suicide would be preferable to that.

      2) Get your foot in the door any way you can, no matter how low or menial you have to start, and once you're inside show them what you're capable of. Without pissing off your manager.

      This is a young industry, there's a lot of movement potential if you've got the chops. Get out there and amaze people.

      --Ryvar

      • by Barkmullz (594479) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @01:01AM (#25881865)

        A year before Bioshock shipped...

        This must be some new designation for numbering years that I was not previously aware of.

      • >This is a young industry
        I've been playing computer games since about 1977. When does it stop being a young industry?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by zaxus (105404)

          >I've been playing computer games since about 1977. When does it stop being a young industry?

          Prostitution: Thousands of years old
          Printing books: Hundreds of years old
          Film: ~150 years old (~400 years old if you count camera obscura)
          Radio: ~100 years old
          Television: ~80 years old (commercially)
          Computer games: ~30 years old

          Computer gaming is still a young industry.

      • by Icarium (1109647)

        1) Get a QA position at a development studio where you are actually working hand in hand with the developers. Do NOT get a QA position at a publisher's degenerate nerd stockyard - busing tables or suicide would be preferable to that.

        I resent that! Nobody should ever need to resort to the option of bussing tables.

    • Don't apply to companies that aren't using writers for their games if you want to be a writer for games. ...unless you're capable of convincing them that they would make more money if they used professional writers, specifically you. If you can present a compelling case to the CEO that writing deficiencies are holding them back, you're in.

  • by azav (469988) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:13PM (#25880523) Homepage Journal

    There are a billion other kids who want to write games and chances are that they are better than you.

    It's like wanting to be a major sports figure. There are only 5000 people in major sports. The likelihood that you will be one of them out of the millions of other kids is slim and none.

    Are you really that good? If you think you're not. then well, you're not.

    • Re:No (Score:4, Informative)

      by nEoN nOoDlE (27594) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:27PM (#25880655) Homepage

      There aren't a billion other people who want to write games. The people who write games are usually freelance writers who are at the right place at the right time when a job opens up on Craigslist. Then they're given a crappy cliche sci-fi story that they have to fill in with dialog and they have a few weeks to do it. That's in the lucky occasion that they hire a writer at all, and not have the game designer throw some copy together over the weekend. Writing just isn't really on the radar in the games industry. There are a couple of companies where that's their bread and butter like Bioware or Bethesda, but other than that writing is tacked on as an afterthought. If there were a billion kids out there whose dream is to write for games, don't you think there would be better writing in games?

      • by mqduck (232646)

        And don't forget the Final Fantasy games.

        I'm not sure if I'm being sarcastic.

    • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Etrias (1121031) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:57PM (#25880909)
      Desire and drive will get you further than talent. That is a fact. If this guy has the desire to do this, who are you to say he can't...or shouldn't.

      More power to him, I say.
      • by azav (469988)

        Because I know enough people who are in the industry and own their own game development companies. That's why.

        Everyone has an idea and and everyone wants to pitch their idea so someone. It's glutted. If you want me to give advice to the kid to say "go ahead, burn yourself out and if you have a good idea, expect it to get ripped off, but SURE, go for it", then You and I would be doing that kid a disservice.

        Who are you to give advice that he should go into game development?

      • Desire and drive will get you further than talent.

        I've been working in the software industry for a while now and I believe that your statement is, sadly, very true. We constantly have to deal with the products of good intentions and furious labor absent any insight or ability.

  • Degrees? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:14PM (#25880533)

    Write. Write often. Then forget games and get into movies and television.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Planescape, while entertaining, isn't very highly regarded by many of my game-writing collegues.

    Games and writing in games has moved on a great bit since PS:T and the skills required from a game writer today are different from back then:

    - Ability to write in a short, very precise fashion while still maintaining character and flavor.

    - Ability to write in a fashion that includes the user and gives him the illusion of choice.

    - Ability to write scenarios that work for games, which means giving the user control

  • by JeanBaptiste (537955) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:21PM (#25880605)

    Now I do database programming. Better hours, better money. I use that money and free time to tinker with games.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by 91degrees (207121)
      How do you break out of games?

      I'd love a mundane job with no fscking crunch. Every time I send my CV out and apply for a job advertised on Planet Recruit or something, it ends up with an agent who only cares about games jobs.
  • by reSonans (732669)

    Some of the larger game publishers could learn a thing or two from Kingdom of Loathing [kingdomofloathing.com]. It's witty, engaging, and has a great development team who are constantly adding content. The best aspect, though, is that it's up to you whether you play casual or hardcore. I really appreciate that.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by chirishnique (1244956)
      Agreed. For those playing along at home... KoL (Kingdom of Loathing) is a satirical text-based, browser RPG in which players use an allocated number of "adventures" every day in order to complete quests given to them. There are many items which can be used to give players a greater number of "adventures" to use in a day. Many of these items, again, are food-centred parodies of several aspects of contemporary life. The many references to pop-culture, geek-humour and relatively constant introduction of ne
  • DANGER (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sigvatr (1207234) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:29PM (#25880677)
    Whatever you do, DO NOT join up with some "game design" course. They are a complete was of time and money. You will learn how to make a script for Spongebob Squarepants, not Bioshock.
    • Hey man, just take the Atlas Debugged class at Full Sail and you can make the next Bioshock!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      some "game design" course. They are a complete [waste] of time and money. You will learn how to make a script for Spongebob Squarepants, not Bioshock.

      Don't knock it; maybe there's more money in Spongebob because everyone else wants to do the "cool stuff".
             

  • I wish I knew. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Thrull (1200785) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:31PM (#25880691) Homepage
    Writing for games definitely seems to be the one place a lot of developers are willing to half-ass completely. They don't seem to realize how ONE semi-competent writer could basically go through and make every line at least better than cringe-worthy.

    Valve seems to get this. Look at Left 4 Dead, a game with a two word story (ZOMBIES! RUN!), and how much they actually focused on dialogue and characterization for these four random survivors. Portal, too. They hired a long time industry writer specifically for that game. They get it. A little good writing goes a long way.

    The problem, I think, is how little it takes to go that extra distance. Games are not novels, not most of them anyway. The fact that it only takes one good writer to work over a story for entertainment value and consistency means that, for most games, the writer's market is microscopic.

    However, I think one potential way to get involved in this aspect of the industry might be MMO quest design. MMOs generally rely on massive amounts of inordinately boring quests made interesting only by the addition of a few paragraphs of clever description. Here there's at least a demand for written content that will last beyond the game's first six hours. Bioware and Blizzard both had some promising quest-design job offerings in the past, although the postings usually vanish before I can read them.

    Just get used to the idea of never really owning your material. That's one of the big hitches that I see with writing in the gaming industry. Once you write it, it's no longer yours. With films, there's the script, which someone owns and gets royalties on. With network series, I'm not exactly sure who owns what, but the writers are at least entitled to royalties when their work is used. As the Writer's Guild fought for recently.

    I'm pretty sure the Writer's Guild hasn't touched the games industry. My understanding is that, with games, you don't own the writing unless your work existed before the game did and they pay you to use it, which is rare enough to be excluded to most non-bestselling authors.
    • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:01PM (#25880941) Homepage

      Writing for games definitely seems to be the one place a lot of developers are willing to half-ass completely. They don't seem to realize how ONE semi-competent writer could basically go through and make every line at least better than cringe-worthy.

      Or, they do realize it, decide right up front that they need to bring in at least one semi-competent writer, and then get stuck in a situation like this:

      [Cue the flashback music and effects]

      "Whatever happened to that writer guy, anyway? He was here for a few days last month, sat in Paul's office for a few hours and then disappeared. We have a deadline coming up next week and all I have is a handful of notes he left on a napkin and an auto-reply from his email saying that he's out of the office until last Tuesday."

      "Yeah, about that... He has been sitting in a hotel room down the street, which Paul was paying for, and writing. On his own, without letting anyone see it until he was done. Thing is, he's really a novelist and I don't think he quite understands what we needed. I showed him the tool set, some of the storyboards we had worked out early on, and all that, but what he sent me looks like a manuscript for a book. Paul still believes in him, but he took off for Brighton this morning and now I'm going to have to find someone who can turn this wreck into something we can use."

      "I'm someone, aren't I?"

      "Yup. It's either you or that guy in the art department who keeps trying to hide drawings of penises in all the stained glass windows."

      "Okay. I'll go get my shovel..."

      And the road to schlock is paved with good intentions.

    • Re:I wish I knew. (Score:5, Informative)

      by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:35PM (#25881199)

      You are right the Writer's Guild hasn't touched the games industry. Having shipped multiple titles with shitty dialogue (both written and spoken), dialogue just isn't a priority. Hell, I'd wish we'd just cut half the dialogue most of the time. We're making games here people, not a fucking book or movie. Somewhere along the way games got hi-jacked with all this narative bullshit.

      You know what the first mod for Wow was? Fast Quest Text, which became so popular that Blizzard made it that option officially supported. Most gamers (or us game devs) just don't care about dialogue, so your premise that dialogue is half-assed is correct.

      From the above it would seem, I'm against dialogue. I'm not. I'm just of the philosophy "Less is More". One reason GTA 3 worked so well, is that there was NO spoken dialogue. That was brilliant.

      I think part of the problem is that it's just too hard too tell the difference between crappy dialogue, and average dialogue. And more importantly, it just takes too long, and too much money for GOOD dialogue, when in the end it just doesn't matter unless you're going to make me sit through some lame cutscene I can't skip. I imagine comedian writers for TV sitcoms must struggle to come up with something fresh all the time, but in most games, dialogue just isn't that important to gameplay -- it is a secondary effect.

      The orginal submitter is in for a tough sell.

      • I hate your games. I mean they're fun. For like an hour. But then I start wondering why I should continue playing.

        What keeps me moving to the next room is the story and dialogue. I want to find out what happens next.

        The difference between a game I "play" and a game I finish is the game I finish had a story I wanted to find the ending to.

        So by all means continue polishing your AI. Meanwhile I'm going to realize your game only had 30 seconds of great gameplay repeated over and over and lose interest. I

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Z80xxc! (1111479)
      I'm glad you brought up Portal. It is truly a game which is a story. While I love the gameplay, physics and so on in the game, what really takes the cake (sorry, sorry) is the dialogue. With only one spoken character in the game, Portal has many literary elements. Just recently in English class we were actually discussing the literary aspects of Portal. It has a plot (not just random shooting at things), it has characters with developing personalities, foreshadowing (you will be baked, and there will be cak
  • Do a little research, see what the most popular/powerful end-user game toolset is right now (NWN2? Oblivion? Half Life?) and write a few mods.

    At the very least you'll have some practice and something to put on your resume. If you're good maybe you'll get some attention. If writing turns out to be less fun then you expected, better to find out early.

  • Mods (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DaftShadow (548731) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:35PM (#25880717)
    Try to find a Mod out there - one with a team who is actually building something - and pitch them a few missions, maybe a story vision.

    It's a little different writing well for a game, because you need to have you're fleshed out story-arc, which meshes with the gameplay, which can be brought in often enough that it moves the story forward, all without annoying the user. You're not writing a Novel, remember... :)

    You'll probably get turned down at first at a lot of places (lots of people want to help with mods, but can't code/model, so they try to be writers...), but if you're actually any good then you'll find a crew.

    Good Luck!
  • by sleeponthemic (1253494) on Monday November 24, 2008 @10:37PM (#25880731) Homepage

    Should I just put on my Planescape t-shirt and stand outside in the rain?"

    No, you should write your heart out and send it to as many people as possible. No degree in writing means anything if you can't prove you're what someone is looking for.

    I personally would not hire anybody for a creative job if the main focal point of their application was a degree. That basically sends the wrong message.

    The proof is in the pudding and like all games related jobs, see if you can get involved in open source projects first, so you have some direct prior work.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      I personally would not hire anybody for a creative job if the main focal point of their application was a degree. That basically sends the wrong message.

      will you please go and smack the HR department in the head for me then. Because for some reason they think a CS degree or certifications means the applicant is actually competent.

  • It's not that game developers don't want good writers...but they need writers who are willing to bend to all the quirks and problems of game development. Writing is easy compared to the work of creating art assets or programming. You'll find yourself having to revise and go off in different directions based on schedule restrictions and technical limitations. Your incredible plot point gets negated because it's deemed technically risky, and then you have to work around it without scrapping all the work th

  • Interactive Fiction (Score:4, Informative)

    by mattack2 (1165421) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:07PM (#25880985)

    Others have mentioned just writing.

    But for writing (and programming) a *game*, possibly writing a text adventure would be good practice. For example, using Inform (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inform [wikipedia.org]), you can write games that practically anybody with any computer/PDA/etc. ever made can play.

    I think there is still at least one yearly contest (with a relatively tiny prize) for the best interactive fiction game.

  • ...why don't you try writing some games?

    That's what writers do. Writers write. And then when they try to get jobs doing more writing, instead of just saying "I'm a good writer, honest! My mom thinks so!", they can say "Here are some samples of my work."

    You don't have to pull the next Bioshock out of your pants but it wouldn't hurt to rustle up some sort of tool kit which does all the hard and boring work for you, anything from NWN or HL2 to World Forge to FRUA or some cheezy flash-based RPG maker you

  • The problem is that the desire to do writing or design on games lives in just about every game developer out there. Some of them may be terrible at it, but they all want a chance to tell their story. So the opportunities to do this are all basically filled from within.

  • by Jimmy_B (129296) <slashdot AT jimrandomh DOT org> on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:37PM (#25881207) Homepage

    The problem is not the writers, it's the structure in which they work. Games make part of the story unpredictable, through the player's choices. That's actually not such a problem; letting the player choose what to say and do just means more writing. The problem is when the player can choose who to talk to and who comes with him.

    Game writers don't know which conversations will happen, when they'll happen, or which characters will be there when it does. NPCs that travel with the player can't say much because their lines have to be optional, and the player can't say much without it feeling forced. The people the player meets can say all they want, but they can only say it to the player, who is almost certainly a stranger to them. The result is a long series of monologues directed at the player, most of which will be skipped or skimmed. That sucks, even if the monologues themselves are top notch.

  • by Aeonite (263338) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:42PM (#25881261) Homepage

    As a writer and designer currently in the game industry, let me show you my pokemons.

    I started off writing and designing pen-and-paper role-playing games, and writing a column for RPG.net. This helped me build a portfolio and greatly expanded my contact list. When the time came to enter the video game industry as a writer, those samples and references helped me get in.

    In my spare time I did as much writing and design as possible, in whatever areas I could get my hands on: news writing, graphic design, web design, and the creation of a fake fast-food franchise run by ninja named Ninja Burger ( http://www.ninjaburger.com/ [ninjaburger.com] ). Again, when the time came to get into video games, all that experience helped immensely. Design is design; writing is writing. The more you do of each, the better you get at it. I wrote about games, I designed games... I even co-wrote and co-designed a MUD ( http://www.iconoclast.org/ [iconoclast.org] ), but my time spent designing church bulletins, editing news columns, writing copy for a comic book catalog and doing technical writing all helped me learn not just the ropes, but all the knots as well.

    In the end, breaking in for me came down to being in the right place at the right time. A friend of mine worked for a game company, and she got me the interview, but at that point it was up to me to close the deal, and my portfolio, references and samples were what did that.

    In short, you can't wait by the stream for the ship to come in. You need to build your own raft, and when the ship sails by, you need to paddle yourself out to it.

    Get ready by reading some books on game writing and design. I've reviewed a bunch of them for Slashdot over the years:

    http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/11/25/0046222 [slashdot.org]

    http://books.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/01/31/1445235 [slashdot.org]

    http://books.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/12/05/1420215 [slashdot.org]

    http://books.slashdot.org/books/06/02/27/1445214.shtml [slashdot.org]

    http://books.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/06/18/149246 [slashdot.org]

    http://books.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/09/09/0527214 [slashdot.org]

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday November 24, 2008 @11:49PM (#25881309) Homepage

    One of the biggest complaints I hear from 'discerning' gamers is how few and far between well-written games are. Titles like Mass Effect and the Black Isle series just appear far too rarely. Writing and storyboarding are aspects of the industry that have always appealed to me -- I'm an enthusiastic hobby gamer with a real passion for well-developed games. But there's very little guidance out there on getting exposure as a writer in this world. I'm interested in working in the field, freelance/part time initially as I break in, then with an eye to professional employ after a time. My questions to you are: How can I get involved in writing for the game industry? Are there any game startups out there with good design but weak story that could use writing help from a college graduate? How do the big guys get people to write for them -- am I just going to the wrong booths at the job fairs? What kind of degrees or relevant experience in the field are they looking for? Should I just put on my Planescape t-shirt and stand outside in the rain?"

    You don't write well enough. Go re-read Strunk. You should be writing at least this well:

    Well-written games are few and far between. Mass Effect and the Black Isle series do have good writing, but they're exceptions, not the rule.

    Writing and storyboarding appeal to me. I'm an hobby gamer with a passion for well-developed games. But there's little guidance on getting into the game world as a writer. I'm interested in freelance/part time work as I break in, then professional employ.

    How can I get into writing for the game industry? Are there game startups with good design but weak story? How do the big guys find writers? Am I going to the wrong booths at the job fairs? What degrees or experience are game companies looking for? Should I just put on my Planescape T-shirt and stand outside in the rain?

    You need a tough English teacher, or a tough editor, to make you tighten up your prose.

    • by melikamp (631205)

      Good grief, you are right, he has more things to worry about than the cutthroat industry. "Employ" is not even a noun.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You can't really critique someone's writing if you mistake "you're" for "your"...

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by wildebeest (48847)

      Wow, would Strunk & White teach me how to write like a pedantic jerk too?
      Lets think what literature/creative writing would be like if all authors followed The Elements of Style as closely as you do.
      Ulysses: Leopold Bloom goes to a funeral and then goes home to piss on his shrubbery.
      Moby-Dick: Ahab seeks revenge against a white whale and is rather unsuccessful.
      Lolita: A guy named Humbert Humbert really likes having sex with little girls.

      Man, my versions are better because they are more concise; who needs

      • You are the one being pedantic. While the GP's edits were unnecessarily (and I'm sure he'd quibble with my use of an adverb there, but I couldn't bear to cut it) drastic, his point was valid. The summary was poorly written.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Team503 (1198377)
      And Animats, while your writing may be technically more proper, it reads like a technical manual. It's boring, has no understanding of phrasing, and is entirely too staccato. While the OP's "prose" may not be "tight" enough for you, it's far more enjoyable than your rewrite. His post is a narrative - it defines subjects, conflict, and goals, and most especially creates a personal and emotional connection with him as a person more so than as a reporter. What you, and most "tough" English teachers miss,
    • by Triv (181010)

      And while we're at it, you need to learn when to treat words that begin with an "H" as if they begin with a vowel and when not to.

      "An honor" is correct. "An historic" is correct.

      "An hobby" is not.

    • Irony, thy name is Slashdot.

      Your writing. Possessive pronouns do not take an apostrophe: its, his, your, etc.

      • You Dumbass. This is slashdot, not Shakespeare & e.e.cummings Forum.
        Shove your prim & proper English usage up your as$ and concentrate on Simplified English.
        Didn't the Paperwork Reduction Act teach you anything? oh screw that. Didn't Churchill teach you anything?
        Simple words are the best.
        Go read "The River War" or the "My Early Life".
        I hate grammar nazis, especially when they think they have mastered the queen's language without knowing shit about it.
         

    • You're writing needs to improve.
      But there's little guidance on getting into the game world as a writer.

      There are two someones that need a tough English teacher.

      The first rule of slashdot grammar flaming is: You do not fuck up the grammar or spelling in your post.
      The second rule of slashdot grammar flaming is: You DO NOT fuck up the grammar or spelling in your post!
  • In the past studios have tried going the "professional writer" route, and got stung pretty badly so there's quite the stigma against hiring professional writers in most studios. Today the common attempt is to find somebody in house with a bit of writing talent, and hand off the job to them. Depending on the writers (often there's quite a few) method works more than hiring a professional writer, but not enough to say it actually works. At least you're budget isn't hurt. Writing for games is no easy task
  • by jafo (11982) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @12:24AM (#25881589) Homepage

    Every 6 months pyweek.org runs a game contest. Join forces with a team that has the programming side but needs someone for the story side of it.

    Seems like it would be the perfect way to show off and hone you skills.

    Sean

    • Translation: Try to find a group of people who believe they are smart enough to write code, but not smart enough to write an interesting story.

      For those reading who don't know any programmers and therefore don't get the joke: such people don't exist.
  • I'm in the minority who really digs a good plot but we are a sadly ignored lot. I should think the same thing holds true for movies and games -- make it good, make it funny, they will probably come. One of the early incarnations of Doom was going to have a huge amount of story, plotting, etc, and the disagreement with that dev was so strong he was booted from id. Now there are many who praise Doom as an amazing, ground-breaking shooter, even moreso than Wolf3D and it defined the genre, and this is true. But

  • "One of the biggest complaints I hear from 'discerning' gamers is how few and far between well-written games are.

    Look, Sturgeon's Law [wikipedia.org] applies to games writing as much as it does to Science Fiction. Perhaps even more so.

    If you're interested in in raising the level of writing in games, then you'll need to find a company to work for that's interested in that too.

    Just don't expect Sturgeon's Law to be violated any time soon.

  • by eulernet (1132389) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @05:31AM (#25883595)

    One of my game designer colleagues (now a successful comic writer) suggested to use programs for storyboarding.

    My colleague uses Dramatica http://www.dramatica.com/ [dramatica.com]
    but it seems Movie Magic Screenwriter is more suitable for movies/series http://www.screenplay.com/ [screenplay.com]
    There is also an open source alternative:
    http://celtx.com/ [celtx.com]

    These programs direct you in your writing, and are also able to suggest plots.

    He strongly recommends that you MUST follow rules to write a storyboard.
    These programs are perfect for forcing you to declare all interactions, and it also eases the addition of new characters.
    Of course, the programs won't write the storyboard for you.

    Find an appealing plot, then build some charismatic heroes.
    Good luck !

  • Seriously. The best games are cinematic because they borrow heavily from elements of cinema. Enroll in a film program. Learn to write, character development, storyboarding, and to shoot.

    Then find an opportunity to use the skills in a game. The rest will come.

  • First, you have to get rid of the idea that writing a great game has anything to do with any genre, graphics, etc.
    'Mass Effect' and 'the Black Isle' are decent, but they are not "great games". An example of a great game is Tetris. The income of Tetris and its various incarnations eclipse pretty much any other game, and yet its simplicity is one of its most appealing characteristics.

    Tetris has true mass appeal... and you only need to write one game with that attribute to be set for life, be it extremely co

  • Get in to writing for a Comic Publisher.... it's got everything you need to position yourself for Games, Movies, Novels, TV Series, Cartoons.. did I say Movies? Yeah those too.

    Comic books are full of short dialogue, they rely on storyboards (quite literally) to tell the other half of the story (just like movies and games) and yet each issue isn't a multi-million dollar undertaking so the barrier to entry should be much lower (they'll give you a chance many more times cause you won't be screwing up the big b

    • One more thing.... maybe start an online comic. It's cheap to do... doesn't require massive art skills and will get you 1000x more publicity than anything else you could imagine.

      • BTW, I'm an artist... I'd be interested in drawing a comic for a good writer. Email me at info at emenoh dot com.

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