As I dive more and more into transmedia and video game design, something has been bothering me. It started building my head when I was on the “Narrative Design” track at GDC Online, and has been growing ever since. In a nutshell, the problem is this:
“Writing” is only a small portion of what writers actually do these days.
Sure, I could get semantic on this point – technically what writers do nowadays is typing instead of writing manuscripts out by hand – but even the more liberal interpretation is becoming awkward. The idea of the professional who does nothing but sit at a typewriter or computer, churn out a manuscript or Word document, send it in, get paid, and move on to the next one is increasingly inaccurate. Now freelance writers need to know skills like blogging and marketing and networking, and that’s aside from other non-writing skills like research and editing that have been part of the craft for over a century now. It’s not uncommon for writers to have to learn things like HTML or audio recording or how to be interviewed in order to supplement their careers. But even then, while there might be a decreasing percentage of sitting at the computer and typing out stuff for people to read, it’s still a significant percentage for the purely prose writer.
Continue reading These Words Are Broken – We Need New Ones
During the start of my vacation, I got to do something I’ve been meaning to do for weeks – finish up “The Witcher.” I won’t go into a lengthy review – as always, there are plenty on the Internet – but the fact that I devoted over 41 hours to finishing the damn thing probably indicates that I enjoyed it on some level. I did learn a few things from it, which are things I do want to share.
A quick note – since this is an RPG, it’s hard to deconstruct some elements without skirting spoiler territory. I’ll try to keep it as vague as possible, but if you really hate spoilers, just bookmark this and come back after you’ve finished the main story.
Meaningful Choices Add To Replay. The Witcher is, in many ways, the best BioWare game that BioWare never made. It uses the Aurora toolkit as a basis, but even more than that, a lot of the tough, complex decision-making that I know from recent BioWare titles is present in this game. There were a number of times where I had to sit and think about what I wanted to do, either because I was engaged in the story or to decide what content I wanted to see. Plus, the advancement system is designed so that you can’t be awesome at everything – you have to make choices about what kind of character you want to be. So, while I don’t see myself investing another 41 hours into the game anytime soon, I currently plan to keep it on my hard drive, and possibly giving it another go at some point in the future because I want to see how the story evolves and how my play of the game changes when I make different choices.
Continue reading What I Learned From “The Witcher”
For those new to my blog, I occasionally do review of shit on my hard drive — weird files or programs that have made their way onto one of my computers that I’m currently messing around with. It’s been a while since I’ve done one, so I’ll do a bunch of mini-reviews.
I have been skeptical of the so-called “distraction-free” word processors for some time. It seemed to me to be a gimmick, yet another piece of software that tries to “trick” people into writing. But I kept seeing recommendations for Writemonkey on my feed, so I decided to give it a try. And for first drafts that are nothing but prose (like my episodes of Whitechapel), it’s really not bad. The export to MS Word is a bit wonky for me (at least, it looks wonky in OpenOffice), but that’s a minor quibble — for something like this, I expect to do rewriting and reformatting anyway. It really is that middle ground between Notepad and OpenOffice that I was looking for. Plus, it doesn’t install on your computer, so I can drop the folder into Dropbox and use it on any computer I have Dropbox on. (I could even drop it onto a USB if I needed to.) Oh, and instead of a bunch of “features” that are pointless, this one actually has features that are useful and contribute to my process. (Well, and a few that I don’t use.) Continue reading A Bunch of Shit
For a little over a week now, assassin dog robot Chuck Wendig has been trying to wrap his head around storytelling in games. He’s posted about it three times, in case you want to download his brainmeats:
Part I; Part II; Part III
This is something we’ve been talking about at work lately. While I’m certainly not going to say that I have the one true answer, I did write up a pretty lengthy email about my opinions on the matter, which I’ll paraphrase here. I should note that, in this case, I’m primarily talking about video games and balancing interactivity with a scripted narrative structure, but there might be some bits that might work for other interactive games (like those funny ones you kids play with the strange dice and the killing of orcs).
Continue reading Moving from Blob to Blob
I noticed something recently when I was playing in Ethan’s D&D game last week (which is a separate issue I will probably blog about at some point).
Whenever I’m playing a roleplaying game, I have the same ritual when I first sit down to play — I pull out my character sheet and I study it. For games with a lot of information like D&D, this is useful to help me reacquaint myself with what my character can do, but I do this even with games that have very few mechanics, like when we were playing Three Sixteen at the office. Even when I go to a Vampire LARP with a character I’ve played for years, I pull out the character sheet and reread it before I go into character. While refreshing my memory is clearly part of the ritual (and let’s face it — I have a shitty memory), there must be something more.
In thinking about it, I was reminded of my interview with Rich Thomas as I was applying for my job at White Wolf. We talked about the utility of character sheets, and the balance of utility and attractiveness in them. Why should a character sheet be attractive at all? During the conversation, I came up with the idea that character sheets are like a portal for the player into the game system.
Continue reading The character sheet as portal into the game
A few days ago, Justin posted about what he’s playing and what he’s learning from them. Like him, I play a lot of games for research as much as I do for enjoyment. I’ve been meaning to talk about this a bit, so I decided to post what I’ve been playing from the last few months, and what I’m learning from each game.
Assassin’s Creed II: I didn’t play Assassin’s Creed I, but I had heard so many positive reviews of the franchise that I played it soon after David was finished. I loved it so much that I went out and bought the first one after I finished it (which I didn’t like as much, I admit). I learned a lot about ways to introduce small snippets of background without being intrusive or taking total control from the player, as I find the historical elements and how the gameplay weaves around them to be utterly engaging.
Dragon Age – Origins: An interesting look back at BioWare‘s roots through the lens of modern console gaming. I personally think the game was a little too ambitious – the story gets pretty flat in the middle to accommodate all the story options, and I found the combat system to be irritating – but it was enjoyable, and I logged about 30 hours from start to finish. BioWare’s narrative structure is always worth studying, even if it wasn’t implemented as well as I would have liked.
Mass Effect 2: On the other hand, I found this to be a good balance between shooter and RPG. The story is a little more straightforward than the original Mass Effect, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Like the Assassin’s Creed franchise, this shows that you can change up your gameplay while staying on target with the core elements of your franchise.
Continue reading What I’m Playing (And What I’ve Learned)