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Breaking Into Games Writing?

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the ripping-good-yarn dept.

Games 254

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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254 comments

Bioware (5, Informative)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880467)

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.

Re:Bioware (1)

ryanscottjones (851460) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880739)

"Bioware has repeatedly had contests"

Not exactly a career...

Re:Bioware (2, Informative)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881143)

No, Bioware directly hires from these contests.

Re:Bioware (2)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880741)

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.

Re:Bioware (5, Informative)

whiplashx (837931) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880751)

They have in the past, yes. (Current employee talking)

Re:Bioware (-1)

MrAnnoyanceToYou (654053) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881615)

I would like to send a personal thank you to whomever came up with Cesparnar.

Can you say it? Hindoo's DOOOOOOOOOOOOMM.....

Mod me down, please.

Re:Bioware (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881603)

potentially but, you get credit for the game. If you get a few creds like that, you can throw them on your resume as experience.

Re:Bioware (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25880877)

pron to put you to sleep:

http://mrfriendly.freehostia.com/

Job offers came to me that way as well. (5, Interesting)

PIPBoy3000 (619296) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

First buy a book of sci fi cliches. (5, Funny)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880475)

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.

Re:First buy a book of sci fi cliches. (5, Funny)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:First buy a book of sci fi cliches. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881995)

And yet, they sell so well..

Re:First buy a book of sci fi cliches. (4, Interesting)

shish (588640) | more than 5 years ago | (#25882001)

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 :( )

Re:First buy a book of sci fi cliches. (1)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881121)

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:First buy a book of sci fi cliches. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881177)

Exactly. Don't read Philip Dick. If you're going to do a crappy job trying to write like somebody famous, at least read Borges, Rushdie, or Eco instead.

Re:First buy a book of sci fi cliches. (2, Informative)

Again (1351325) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881281)

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.

Wheel of Time is high art!

They don't (4, Insightful)

FunkSoulBrother (140893) | more than 5 years ago | (#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 (5, Informative)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 5 years ago | (#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 (4, Interesting)

Neon Aardvark (967388) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880855)

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).

Bioware (3, Informative)

SIR_Taco (467460) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880503)

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.

Re:Bioware (1)

SIR_Taco (467460) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880541)

Damn, I had first post and I blew my chance to be a dick... again the reason I didn't major in History [slashdot.org] .

Re:Bioware (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881843)

Damn, I had first post and I blew my chance to be a dick... again the reason I didn't major in History.

Don't worry Sparky, we all think you're a dick.

Re:Bioware (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25880583)

They are indeed. [penny-arcade.com]

Re:Bioware (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881147)

lol

Yes, believe it or not Bioware is actually a Canadian company.

and rim. and basketball was invented by a canadian. and the best hockey players come from up here.
 
and we have normal copyright laws.

It's a Job (5, Insightful)

liquiddark (719647) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:It's a Job (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25880595)

Don't apply to companies that aren't using writers for their games if you want to be a writer for games.

HOLY SHIT he's a fucking GENIUS! I'm glad we have someone like you to digest these advanced concepts and deliver them to all of the little people. I really don't know how anyone would have figured this one out on their own. Thank you for your valuable input. You're the man!

Re:It's a Job (1)

Dekortage (697532) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880633)

%3

Re:It's a Job (5, Informative)

Ryvar (122400) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881389)

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

Re:It's a Job (4, Funny)

Barkmullz (594479) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881865)

A year before Bioshock shipped...

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

This is easy (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25880519)

Step 1. Make a Slashdot post that contains the word "NIGGER".

Step 2. Watch moderators waste their points on your post instead of finding something good and modding it up. No, really, it's like insects to a bug-zapper. They just cannot resist. They will do what you planned on making them do, in spite of themselves, even though some of them know you planned to make them do it. Because we all know that getting in a self-righteous huff over a whole lot of nothing and wasting a limited resource on it is so much more important than rewarding something good. Isn't that right?

Step 3. ????

Step 4. Profit!!

Re:This is easy (-1, Flamebait)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880663)

Hahahah!

Man, I bet those punk bitches 'll waste a few on me too! Gimme your best shot, ladies, and I hope one of you is a Mac user!

Hey dumbass (4, Informative)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880713)

Watch moderators waste their points on your post

In case you haven't figured it out yet, Anonymous Cowards always post at 0. Since a post can only go down to -1, only one point is required to squish your post. And plenty of people are now getting 10 points in a single round of moderation, which makes it even easier.

But thanks for playing!

Re:Hey dumbass (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881113)

Watch moderators waste their points on your post

In case you haven't figured it out yet, Anonymous Cowards always post at 0. Since a post can only go down to -1, only one point is required to squish your post. And plenty of people are now getting 10 points in a single round of moderation, which makes it even easier. But thanks for playing!

At minimum that means 1 point out of either 5 or 10 points (20% or 10% of a mod's points) that could have been used to promote something good that might otherwise have been overlooked by many. Not because AC's post absurd shit, but because of both AC's posting absurd shit AND moderators who believe that modding them down is the best use of at least 10-20% of their points per post modded down, just because those posts contain certain keywords. This is, of course, assuming that the post is never modded up by a dissenting moderator and then modded down again, in which case at least 3 transactions have occurred. There are posts that have a great deal more back-and-forth than this simple example, such as the best trolls or the best "about time someone had the balls to say it" posts. So, 10-20% of a single moderator's points is the bare minimum, worst-case scenario. And you know with a near-absolute certainty that someone will mod it down and that it will probably happen quickly. So, for all practical purposes, that's a guaranteed minimum. Consider the fact that a single AC can post multiple times (with a delay) and the fact that there can be, and often is, more than one person independently making posts.

So, you're welcome, and playing was my pleasure. Thanks for responding to my original post!

Re:Hey dumbass (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881517)

So you're saying you wouldn't make those posts if it weren't for the moderation system? That seems hard to believe. And if not, then those points are not wasted at all.

Re:Hey dumbass (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881623)

I make those posts because people like you respond to them. The moderation system, or any discussion about it, is merely a means to that end. That you move from a bold "haha you're a dumbass" approach to posting as AC yourself in order to tiptoe towards another response amuses me even more.

Re:Hey dumbass (0, Offtopic)

Miseph (979059) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881805)

What a monumental waste of time? Is it even that fun?

Re:Hey dumbass (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881947)

Not as fun as yo mama.

Mod points (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881159)

> And plenty of people are now getting 10 points in a single round of moderation, which makes it even easier.

You can get 10 mod points!?

Ever since they raised the cap, I only ever get 15 at a time. When I'm logged in, of course.

Re:Hey dumbass (-1, Offtopic)

azav (469988) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881791)

Awesome sig.

No (2)

azav (469988) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880523)

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 (3, Informative)

nEoN nOoDlE (27594) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880655)

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?

Re:No (4, Insightful)

Etrias (1121031) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:No (1)

azav (469988) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881667)

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?

Degrees? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25880533)

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

Re:Degrees? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25880743)

Only don't do it now cause the strikes are about to kill off Hollywood!

Planescape, I don't think so (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25880547)

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 and freedom to express himself within the framework of the story.

- Ability to keep scenario complexity in check.

People who want to write grand, long winded stories or novels don't need to apply.

My tip: Don't mention PS:T.

Re:Planescape, I don't think so (1)

Thrull (1200785) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880767)

You don't think Planescape required any of that to write? I thought its style was incredibly specific to the game design field: very complex dialogue trees that tied multiple factors from the game world in while incorporating choices with actual ramifications. It may not have been succint in every aspect, but I would not call it a long winded novel.

Or are you saying that those things are the examples from the past we've moved on from? Because they sound pretty important.

Re:Planescape, I don't think so (1)

Indefinite, Ephemera (970817) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880835)

I'll grant that Planescape: Torment is notoriously verbose and that that doesn't suit every project, but 'giving the user control and freedom to express himself within the framework of the story' was pretty well its raison d'Ãtre; and when you're offering actual choices and branching narrative, 'the illusion of choice' is superfluous. So overall it's unclear to me what point you're trying to make.

Re:Planescape, I don't think so (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881305)

I don't necessarily disagree with you. For most games PS:T is not the style to follow. Games and books are separate media and should be treated as such.

As writings go, though, it's rivaled by few games. May I point out that, in that respect, your game-writing colleagues are not highly regarded by pretty much everyone who reads.

Keep dreaming, fatboy (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25880549)

Ha ha. And I wanna be an astronaut.

Submitter sounds like one of those people who moves to Hollywood wanting to become a star and end up whoring their asses to pay for snorting crank off of the sidewalk.

Re:Keep dreaming, fatboy (1)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880757)

Submitter sounds like one of those people who moves to Hollywood wanting to become a star and end up whoring their asses to pay for snorting crank off of the sidewalk.

Do many of those people have the insight (and bravery) to ask how to do it on a board frequented by people who actually work in the industry (and trolls)? Is the submitter saying he's going to move to, er, gaming town USA? Does he sound like he thinks writers, even on videogames, get paid more than bread and water?

Hmm... Sounds like an AC is bitter at his utterly wasted life and hates the idea of a kid pursuing his dream job...

gaming is how i got my start (4, Interesting)

JeanBaptiste (537955) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880605)

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

Re:gaming is how i got my start (1)

sbeckstead (555647) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880795)

I do Db programming and its boring but pays the bills, did I mention how boring it is. I teach C++ for game programming (used to anyway) and I write games, I wish I could make a living at it but it's very hard to break into the field. Though if one of the three games I've written ever get published (non disclosure prevents name calling) I have a chance. In the mean time I'll go back to working on Mods. Did I mention how mind numbingly boring DB programming is?

Insensitive... (0, Redundant)

polyomninym (648843) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880621)

I don't break into games writing. I lawfully gain access.

Kingdom of Loathing (2, Insightful)

reSonans (732669) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880629)

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:Kingdom of Loathing (2, Informative)

chirishnique (1244956) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880723)

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 new content attract a wide player base, which in turn has yielded a distinct and quite sociable game community. The game was/is developed and overseen by "Jick" and "Skully", who have used player contributions (in exchange for stat-enhancing "Mr Accessories") to maintain the game site- ad free and online. -------- (Wow, I sound like a product of their machine). Would I still pass the TT?

DANGER (5, Insightful)

Sigvatr (1207234) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:DANGER (1)

sbeckstead (555647) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880811)

Well I used to teach one of those "Game Design" courses and I can tell you we used state of the art game engines (at the time it was Unreal 3 or 4 I forget) and we also used the Torque engine. So do a little research before you slam us all ok!

Re:DANGER (1)

Sigvatr (1207234) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881083)

I TOOK one of these courses, and we are not talking about game engines at that.

Re:DANGER (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881375)

Well I used to teach one of those "Game Design" courses and I can tell you we used state of the art game engines (at the time it was Unreal 3 or 4 I forget) and we also used the Torque engine. So do a little research before you slam us all ok!

What a completely non-biased response!

Re:DANGER (1)

hansamurai (907719) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880883)

Hey man, just take the Atlas Debugged class at Full Sail and you can make the next Bioshock!

Re:DANGER (2, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881061)

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".
       

Re:DANGER (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881949)

What about a Degree in Game Design? Lots of Universities (Reputable and disreputable) where I am are offering it.

I wish I knew. (5, Interesting)

Thrull (1200785) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880691)

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.

Re:I wish I knew. (3, Funny)

Minwee (522556) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880941)

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. (1)

bluesatin (1350681) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881029)

The problem with the current generation of MMO players is that they don't care about the storyline or what the quest text is. I would happily play through reading all the text to quests and take in the area, but unfortunately all my friends will have overtaken and left me behind within a day. I offered to play the original NVN with a few of my friends as I didn't really fancy taking up World of Warcraft again on a different server, and as soon as I mentioned it having a proper storyline and having an impact in the world, one of them replied 'Oh is it all boring dialogue then?'. It seems that nowadays people want LESS storyline in there games, at least in the RPG genre. While FPS games are getting a bit of a storyline, probably the same amount that people want the RPG games dumbed down to.

Re:I wish I knew. (4, Informative)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:I wish I knew. (1)

Thrull (1200785) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881663)

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.

You know, you have a point. As much as I'd personally like to get a job writing quests, as much respect as I have for the unique story telling potential games have, I stopped reading quest descriptions in WoW sometime during the Burning Crusade.

I made it sound like the successful companies know the value of good writing, but, in actuality, it might just be that the successful companies are the only ones with the cash to throw around for luxuries like good writing. Like a little cherry on top of their game-cake.

Doesn't mean I would give up on the sub-industry, though. GTA III DID have spoken dialogue, just not by the main character. It was funny, it was gruesome (especially the radio jingles). It fit the game. The mute main character was kind of a Zelda style move it seemed, where you would "supply your own personality." But, you know, they threw that out the window with Vice and all the following games, and I think it lead to a much stronger experience.

Re:I wish I knew. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881635)

The WGA-West does have a video game sub-group, and Left 4 Dead/Portal were written by Erik and Chet from Old Man Murray.

Writing in games is much better than this thread, or this questioner, implies. However, writers, like game directors, etc. are not well known and thus usually ignored.

Re:I wish I knew. (2, Insightful)

Z80xxc! (1111479) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881783)

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 cake), a motif (the cake is a lie!), beginning middle and end, etc. I wish more games were like this - Portal is fun to play, but the story is what makes it the excellent game that it is.

do a mod, get your writing noticed (1)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880707)

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 (3, Insightful)

DaftShadow (548731) | more than 5 years ago | (#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!

I don't really know for sure.. (3, Insightful)

sleeponthemic (1253494) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880731)

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.

It's hard (1)

Junks Jerzey (54586) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880783)

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 that has been done so far.

In general, developers prefer to have decent writers who understand how games are made than to have amazing writers who have no clue.

Bioware's writers (1)

whiplashx (837931) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880793)

I work at Bioware. The writers I know here got experience writing in various fields, such as novels. One guy was a storyboard artist on film sets.

With this company, another option is to get your foot in the door with an entry job. Come on as an editor or a level designer, and if you do well you'll have the opportunity to move in the company.

I don't speak for the company, this is just what I've seen and experienced myself.

Re-write the following dialog in English (4, Funny)

syousef (465911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880845)

Re:Re-write the following dialog in English (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880901)

What humourless inbred moron modded that as troll?

Interactive Storytelling ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25880931)

Interactive storytelling could be a way to show you talents, without dealing with hard-core programming.

Check out Storytron [storytron.com] , a, interactive storytelling platform.

Re:Interactive Storytelling ... (0)

Laser Lou (230648) | more than 5 years ago | (#25880975)

Interactive storytelling could be a way to show you talents, without dealing with hard-core programming.

Check out Storytron [storytron.com] , and the free authoring tool there called SWAT [storytron.com] .

(I posted the parent anonymously by mistake)

Interactive Fiction (3, Informative)

mattack2 (1165421) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

This may seem a bit too obvious, but... (1)

Minwee (522556) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881041)

...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 found on a Korean web site one night while on a squishee bender, and just write something. Even if you think it sucks, just do it. That's how you get better.

everyone wants to write/design (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881069)

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.

The problem is structural (2, Interesting)

Jimmy_B (129296) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881207)

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.

Speaking from experience... (5, Informative)

Aeonite (263338) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881261)

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]

What you should really be aiming for... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881267)

is to be an excellent writer in general. Working for a game company should be an afterthought.
If you are really passionate about writing then you should have many examples of writing work that you have produced over the years. Perhaps you have written short stories or a few chapters of a novel? Perhaps you've written articles or technical documents? You will likely be somebody who reads a lot and gets inspired by great writing.
If you don't already have a general passion for writing then what are you really looking for? You are looking to work for a game company. That's all. You aren't looking to be a writer, you are looking to have the easiest job inside the most envied industry in the world.
Don't let me crush your dream. I hope you really do get a writing job at a game company, but thousands of people are in your position and most of them probably can't out-write a random programmer in a game company, let alone an experienced professional writer.

You're writing needs to improve. (3, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881309)

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.

Re:You're writing needs to improve. (1)

melikamp (631205) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881445)

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

Re:You're writing needs to improve. (1)

_Ludwig (86077) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881673)

It's a little archaic/British, but "employ" can be a noun, as in "Jeeves is no longer in our employ." But in context of the post it would have been better as "employment."

Re:You're writing needs to improve. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881925)


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.

I mean... "you're writing"? ...

Re:You're writing needs to improve. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881991)

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

Re:You're writing needs to improve. (2, Interesting)

wildebeest (48847) | more than 5 years ago | (#25882055)

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 adjectives? I wish all those authors were still alive so I could correct their bloated prose.

Few people know how to write for games. (2, Informative)

jrhawk42 (1028964) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881315)

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 and typical writers can't write for games. Too often they try to control the audience which will never work well in an interactive medium. There's also the problem of studio interference with ruins a project. Heads try to shape a project to their whimsical idea of what should happen yet they never stick around to actually hash out a complete idea then they come back 6 months later and wonder why everything is crap. I'm sure film has this same problem, but at least with film you can change things with relative ease. If you try changing something in a game all hell breaks loose. My advice is to break into the game industry, and after 7 or 8 months (or years) something might open up.

I've been trying to hire a good writer for months. (1)

dotNet (150641) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881513)

I make a simple web game and would love a good consistently funny writer. A writer who can write SHORT PUNCHY zingers, not the novelists referred to in comments above.

I keep posting on Craigslist, but can't find a writer who both "Gets it" and can constantly make me laugh. I've hired several people who send a wonderful sample, perfectly fitting my spec, but after that the quality tends to go downhill fast.

As a result, instead of a consistent style, the writing across my game is a patchwork of different writers edited together by me, the developer. (Yes, I require writers to surrender all rights and ownership of all writing I buy. Of course.)

I would love hire a good writer who can give me a few dozen lines of funny dialog every month or two. So far the best writing has come from my house-mate, free of charge, but he doesn't give me enough fresh content.

The game is www.brainchef.com
Anyone is encouraged to look at the format and then contact me in game (player #1, if you're a player of the game you'll find me easily).

This game is my hobby, so pay more like "pocket change" than "full time job" (again, see the comments above) but it's a great opportunity to get started as a professional game writer.

N7z

credible (1)

Dgawld (1251898) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881529)

If you are as good of a writer as you think, write a book, hopefully it sells a couple thousand copies; maybe you can get some kind of award for it. Use that as your credibility to writing and i am sure you will get somewhere.

Show off your chops via the pyweek contest. (2, Insightful)

jafo (11982) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881589)

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

most games have no plot nor do people care (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881755)

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 the very things that were left out of Doom were left out of Doom2 and all of the other knock-offs. I wasn't impressed by another shooter until Half-Life. Note that Half-Life 2 had no frickin' plot, or at least one worthy of the name. Half-Life 1 made you care if your Barneys survived, that's how good it was. Half-Life 2 made you with your squaddies dead because they got in the way and were a waste.

A personal fav of mine in the action world is Boondock Saints. Now there have been hundreds of violent crime movies out there, just movie after movie of forgettable crap. But that movie was great. The combination of great actors, great script, great pacing, it just made the whole thing enjoyable from start to finish. It's one of my all-time favs.

That being said, most movies get along just fine without a script. Transformers sprang fully formed from the ass of Michael Bay like some sort of scatological Minerva. It was the most god-awful combination of hackwork and derivative crap stealing from a dozen different movies, congealed and held fast only due to the compressive power of that fuckspat's colon. It's like a shit diamond. Not a whit of thought went into that movie and it yet it did extremely well at the box office.

If you don't have any connections to get you into the industry, the best thing you could probably do is start building your portfolio. The suggestion made above about making some dialog in the scripting tools the company provides is excellent. But more generically, start writing scripts in general. Put your ideas on paper, build worlds. If you can draw, put together some storyboards. If you can do computer modeling, any of the creative stuff they would need for the game, start creating examples there. People have been hired directly on account of the quality of work they've done with fan-mods. You get your foot in the door that way, then it's easier to say "hey, need any help with the script on this game?"

Just remember the following:

1) Odds are, you're not going to get hired.
2) If you get hired, this is an industry that chews up lives and shits out the remains.
3) If you think you're irreplaceable, check to see if your name is John Carmack. If it isn't, you're aren't. There's a thousand people in line begging for the chance to deal with the crap you're putting up with.
4) The games industry is a business and the bean-counters don't give a shit about art. You'll be shoving uninspired, insipid crap out the door because you have a ship date, nothing more. This is the sort of thing that makes you die by inches until there's nothing left.

So, good luck!

I completely agree (1)

keithburgun (1001684) | more than 5 years ago | (#25881759)

...Except that Black Isle isn't a series, it was a development studio. (BTW, Black Isle lead design Leonard Boyarsky is now working for Blizzard on Diablo 3... may be interesting.) I write frequently about this exact topic on my blog The Expensive Planetarium (www.expensiveplanetarium.com). There's so much focus on the quote "casual" gamer these days, and that word doesn't mean what it should to these people. Ideally, every game should be quick to learn, and difficult to master. Today it's "retarded to learn, retarded to master." Let Tetris DS prove this to anyone who doubts my claim. Even though Tetris was a "casual game" when it came out back in the 80's, it had incredible depth and is as much fun to play today. The latest incarnation, driven by the 'casual fury', 'Tetris DS' is seriously a goddamn joke. Not only do you have SIX count em SIX "Next" boxes, AND a little "reserve" box where you can swap out a piece that you don't like, but get this: you can perpetually spin the piece at the bottom and it will never lock as long as you keep hitting a button. I'm serious. So therefore, the speed of the level means nothing. Not only that but you cannot turn any of these features off.

why on earth...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25881891)

Feeling a little over-appreciated, over-paid, work too few hours and work conditions too good?

Sturgeon's Law Applies (1)

Maple Syrup (27770) | more than 5 years ago | (#25882069)

"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.

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