Monthly Archives: February 2007

Subscribe! Giveaway updates via Feedblitz

For those of you who have already subscribed to this blog with your feedreaders, I hope you’re enjoying the ride!  If RSS feeds bewilder you, however, you can now get e-mail updates via Feedblitz.  Simply click on the link below, enter your e-mail, and you will be getting info on game design, outsourcing, and writing delivered to your inbox.  It’s easy to subscribe and easier to unsubscribe.  Of course, the greatest benefit will be for those participating in the Writers Cabal Giveaway Conspiracy — you’ll receive all the information you need without having to remember to visit the site. 

Feel free to visit Feedblitz, or ask away if you have any questions here.  Subscribe now and get a preview of what you’ll receive via e-mail.

And stay tuned tomorrow for info on working with remote workers…

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Writers Cabal Giveaway Conspiracy!

As you may have noticed, we’ve announced on our website the Writers Cabal Giveaway Conspiracy!  The conspiracy will take place during the expo of GDC.  Each day, we will post on the website and in this blog where and when to find us to get shirts, caps, games and much much more!  Yes, I’ve always wanted to say that. 

Subscribe to this blog or contact us with your e-mail or mobile number for updates!  Already we’re the talk of the town, or at least of fellow game developer Josh Lee.

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Outsourcing gains popularity

Gamasutra reports today that Midway is forming an outsourcing hub in Austin.  We’re particularly pleased to see they aim to streamline the outsourcing process, so we’ll definitely keep an eye on them for any innovations or best practices.  They’ve already taken the first step in consolidating outsourcing for all their studios.

Apparently Screen Digest also predicted that outsourcing will account for 40% of game expenditures by 2010.  Do you think this trend in outsourcing is good or bad for the game industry?

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Lull Before the Storm

Some exciting things in the works for the Writers Cabal, so in the meantime I thought I’d point you over to Chris Bateman’s design document recently posted at http://gamasutra.com/features/20070220/bateman_01.shtml.  Neat to look at!

The game wasn’t designed to have a story, of course, but what if it did?  This is a great what if question.  If you had to rewrite this game document to include story, where would you put it?  If the company I worked for didn’t hold much stock in story, I might mention it in section 4.1 “Structure.”  I’d put it in section 1 if the company did! 

Anyone else venture to guess where the story section might be?

 Edited 2/28 for clarity — what was that I said about no more late night blogging?

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Filed under Game Design

Passing the torch on Character

Late night blogging not always the best idea, but we’ll give it a go.  I got an e-mail today from a prospective client about creating character voices, and by voices, I mean dialog.  I started thinking about what kind of instructions a developer can give as they pass on game characters to the writers.  And here it is, the most common rule of thumb I have heard from developers: “Make them sound different.”  Ahhh, an early night! Shortest post ever.

Okay… maybe it’s not always that easy.  Sure, it’s nice for the writer to have creative freedom, and if you trust and have worked with the writer before, you no doubt have found your groove.  However, perhaps your writer wants or you want to give a little more direction in dealing with the game you sacrificed your heart and soul to create.  What sort of information does the writer need to create character dialog that fulfills your vision?  There’s no hard and fast rule, but these few suggestions might help you in articulating just what you want the character to sound like:

1.  Accent/dialect — Is this person from Australia or the Old West?  Does this person drunkenly slur his speech?

2. Vocabulary/Education — Is this person Oxford-educated, using 10-dollar words, or did he drop out of school at age 6?  If he dropped out of school at age 6, did he teach himself medicine on his own, ending up with a huge medical vocabulary and little else?  Note of caution: Education does not necessarily equal intelligence, and vice versa. 

3. Laconic/Loquacious (sorry, I like using 10-dollar words 😉 — Does this person tend to talk too much, or too little?  Game writers often prefer to err on the side of the laconic, because few people want to read/listen through a ton of dialog.

4. Energy level — Is this person generally excitable, or does she tend to be low-key?

5. Personality strengths — Is he kind, compassionate, honorable, humorous?  Generally personality strengths encourage the player to admire the character.

6. Personality flaws — Is she obnoxious, flighty, secretive, mean-spirited, nosy?  Generally personality flaws serve to humanize characters, making them more relateable, and just might trigger the compassion/sympathy response in the player.  Or the player could just want to kill them. 

7. Casting the actor — This method is a common, viable shortcut.  Instead of listing all the traits of the character, simply mention the actor who would play the role, or the famous movie character who could play the role: “This role would be played by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack.”  Drawback with this method is, of course, we may have no idea who you’re talking about.

 All of these methods will come in handy as well when you come to casting voice actors and animation.  But I don’t have to tell you that — you’re a pro.  Have you found any other variables that proved particularly useful in communicating character concepts?

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Comic Relief

I was talking today with a contact at THQ about what the Writers Cabal can conjure up for its clients.  With delight, he said, “Oh, you can do comedy projects, too!”  This reaction got me thinking about whether distinctions between comedy and drama are neccessary or even desireable when creating a memorable game.  Tone and genre can have an impact on everything from game design to animation.

In television, shows often find themselves pigeonholed into either comedy or drama, and never the twain shall meet.  The necessities of timeslots, marketing, and, let’s face it, tradition place most shows into either category.  Except, of course, shows such as UGLY BETTY, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, and GILMORE GIRLS.   These “dramedies,” coincidentally targeted at a female audience, often have both sitcom and hourlong writers staffing it.   However, the idea that you only find comedy in sitcoms misses the mark.  Les Moonves, CEO of Viacom and former head of CBS, purportedly said “You can never have too much comedy in a drama.”  You often hear in shows from LAW & ORDER to HEROES comic asides that help to lighten the sometimes heavy load of drama. 

Games, naturally, don’t have the same restrictions as does television, except in marketing.  Yet 10, 50, or 200 hours of gameplay make it even more important to follow Les’ advice.  Unrelenting drama is, well, unrelenting.  Even Shakespeare (even?) knew to put comic relief in his dramas.  Games have the opportunity to play with genre in a way television can’t, and need only adhere to a genre or tone enough to satisfy the audience and the marketing department. 

Now before all you developers yawn and say “That’s just for writers,” in reality, the comedy can be conveyed in as many ways as you have departments.  Who can forget the final scene of Doom, a hard-core action shooter, where the peaceful little bunny is now impaled on a stick?  If that’s not comedy…  How about in Hexen, after the same stripe of Doom, which allowed you to turn your opponents into chickens and watch them cluck around. 

The comedy in games that might otherwise be a straight drama turn a game that is fun into a game that is memorable.  Don’t forget the comic relief!

I mentioned the first two funny (to me) moments I could think of.  It occurs to me I might occasionally have a sick sense of humor.  What are some great comic moments that you remember in an otherwise dramatic game?

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When is a deliverable not a deliverable?

In a milestone-driven business, deliverables are the backbone of an outsourcing contract.  When the company receives first draft of story, the first pass of concept art, the deliverable triggers payment.  Yet are there times when the deliverable-based contract actually works against the flexibility needed in the development process?

Experience shows that in a collaborative environment, deliverables don’t always deliver.  Once, a contract writer came in for a two-day meeting with the company.   We worked in collaboration to develop an initial story premise.  For all intents and purposes, his work was done.  However, since his contract required a deliverable, he was compelled to write out the story which we had already established, forcing him to act as a glorified secretary.  I won’t even mention the time he collaborated on a storyline we didn’t go forward with, through no fault of his own.  

Both situations could have been avoided with a contract not based solely on deliverables.   The company could have created a contract including a deliverable with an option for what is called “specific performance.”  Specific performance could include any service of value, such as attending meetings with designers.  If the meeting did not go forward, the deliverable method would kick in.  If the company elected, however, they could pay upon the specific performance of attending the meeting.  When working in a collaborative environment, flexibility is key.  This method would speed up the development process so no one is waiting for deliverables that are no longer relevant.   

When is a deliverable not a deliverable?  When you elect specific performance instead.  

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