Monthly Archives: April 2007

Gregory Noveck, DC Comics: How to work with licensed IP

Games based on licensed properties are notoriously awful. An informal survey about bad licensed games had people throwing out names like ET, the new TMNT game, Fight Club, “every Star Trek game ever made,” Matrix, “all the Fox stuff” and the list goes on. In all fairness, many such games have tight production schedules in order to take advantage of an IP launch (see Gamedev article for more on this). Even so, that excuse only goes so far.

Gregory Noveck is the Senior VP of Creative Affairs at DC Comics. In short, he calls himself an evangelical rights representative. His kind may be just what the game industry needs. You may think — just what we don’t want, more oversight by the IP owner. But because he refuses to rubber stamp scripts that are bad or just aren’t hitting the mark, mankind has been saved from seeing more Catwoman movies (By the way, the Watchmen script is reportedly great).

His focus is on the take, or story, of the property, and his genuine enthusiasm for the IP ensures no one is using the license simply to line their wallets. The movie Constantine, inspired by the Hellblazer comic, was a successful movie, making over 100 million. But since the movie didn’t really evoke the comic, like, say 300, Noveck wondered if the movie could have made even more. Once the first wave of movie-goers reported back that the movie was no Hellblazer, the film makers may have missed out on the second wave of fans who would have seen it had it been true to the IP.

Of course, executives like Noveck can’t save gameplay, but they can help you manage the expectations that are part and parcel of working with an IP. Some creators have even asked DC’s opinion on a take before presenting it to the studio funding their project. Beware the IP-owner who says they’ll support you 100 percent in whatever you do in your game — it’s a sign that they’re not quite backing you.

While there is such thing as too much oversight (we won’t name names), having an IP champion helping you and your writers can make the difference between an okay game and a great game that captures the spirit of your IP. After all, we could certainly use more Knights of the Old Republic.

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Filed under Licensing

Quality vs. Scope in game writing

Ever played a game with all the bells and whistles that was terribly unfun to play? We all have, with good reason. Jamie Fristrom suggests that in the balance between quality and scope, developers tend to choose to make a bigger game.

This tendency also impacts the writing in a game. We have seen some games make great strides with their story, but the player has to wade through blocks of text to even get to it. City of Heroes has some quite interesting storylines, but each mission in an arc could have paragraphs and paragraphs of text. It’s hard to find time to do all this reading when you have teammates to defend.

Instead of expanding the scope, improving the quality of game writing lessens scope. Much like when streamlining design features, clean writing could have a bottom line effect. We worked on a project where we reduced the word count significantly, which will at least have an impact on the voiceover budget. The reduction will also offer a hidden benefit. With fewer words, the players will be more inclined to read the quick blurbs of text as they hack away at their next task.

I think I’ll reduce the scope of this post right now with this conclusion:

Less is more.

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Filed under Game Design, Writing

The Writer in the Corner: Collaborating On-site

According to some, one of the key components of working with contractors is “visiting external studios for training or on-site meetings.”  Writers, however, boast an added benefit: they come to you, laptop and all.   Working with writers onsite overcomes many of the hurdles of outsourcing by helping the writer “get” your game.  

For some developers, however, having a contractor on-site may seem like a hassle with the added work of managing a new person and taking him/her to lunch or dinner.   It may seem like dealing with a new employee every time the writer comes.  But therein lies the secret to bringing a writer on-site: treat him or her like an employee. 

1.  When the writer first comes on-site, have someone in a different department introduce him/her around. 

2.  Encourage people from design or programming to take him/her to lunch.  On one project, we brought our contracted writer out to dinner with us — and the heads of the company.  While great networking for the writer (who’s still on the project), it didn’t really help the writer “get” the game.

3.  Include him/her in any informal gaming groups or formal company events.

In the end, the more often the writer comes on-site, the more the writer will begin to form, with your encouragement, his/her own informal networks, the kind that will help make the game its best.  Plus, you won’t have to worry so much about entertaining the writer.

Does your company have success with other new employee procedures?  If so, share!

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Filed under Outsourcing

Neal Baer: Collaborating in television

Game developers may feel they’re alone trying to collaborate with writers at great distances, but never fear.  Television productions also manage this problem, and who better to discuss it than Neal Baer, the showrunner for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit?” 

Neal, who essentially holds the titles of Head Writer, Creative Director, and Producer simultaneously, manages a show produced in New York City, but written in Los Angeles.  Of particular interest, the distance may actually help the process rather than hurt it.  Here are two policies he instituted to positive effect:

1. Relying on a strong go-between in New York.  When the cast and crew get the script, they have a read-through.  At this time, they critique the script, secure in the knowledge that the writer is not actually in the room.  Then the New York producer takes the best feedback on the script and relays it back to Neal.  This allows important notes to reach the writer, without the writer feeling attacked in a slam session. 
Variation:  Anne worked on “The Education of Max Bickford” for CBS, which was also shot in New York and, largely, written in Los Angeles.  Thanks to the wonders of teleconferencing, writers were able to watch the table read from LA.  Ideally, the critiquing could then proceed — off camera.

2.  Bringing together the writers and the actors for a group dinner twice a year.  This allows for the flow of ideas and good feelings between the designers (writers) and the implementers (actors).

Do you think these tips will work for you?  Have you tried others that worked better?

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Filed under Outsourcing

Role Models for the Next Generation of Gamers

Sande’s been profiled in another list, this time for fostering community and promoting games as a positive societal force. In addition to her writing on serious games, she has spoken on behalf of the WGA New Media Caucus and WIGI. Many thanks to Faith at Destructoid for noticing Sande’s work.

Read the article here: Role Models Needed for Future Gamer

We hope that the Writers Cabal will continue to contribute to the game community through our blog, our work, and our passion!

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Filed under Amusing diversions, Writers Cabal

Survey says — bring in writers, and early!

An article came out today featuring the Writers Cabal on writing in games.  After speaking with several game developers, including Radical Games, the reporter offered one take-home message: Hire good writers early in the project! 

Read the article here: Writing for video games branches out

From the viewpoint of a developer, do you think the article hits the mark? 

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Filed under Game Design, Outsourcing, Writers Cabal, Writing

Obviously never been to Turkey: Why Diversity Matters

Picture this: Middle-eastern sounding music playing in the background. A bustling souk crowded with kiosks and men wearing the traditional Fez and colored galabayas.  A wicker cage moves by, the cage squawking as it shudders on its owner’s shoulder.   A chyron reads: Istanbul, Turkey.

My only thought?  Obviously they’ve never been to Turkey. 

This show was an example of what can happen when you don’t strive for diverse points of view on your project.  You might excuse this walking cliche as a quick and easy way to communicate to the audience “Middle East,” but then why not simply rely on the chyron?  You might excuse it by saying it was somehow cheaper for the production to buy fezes and galabayas, but in truth, it would have been cheaper to buy the western wear many Turks wear.  Maybe they didn’t just didn’t feel like researching Turkey, but I can’t help but think that if they’d had lots of different voices involved in its making, this scene would have never aired. Whatever their reason, they ended up missing an opportunity to show something novel, and thus more memorable. 

Picture this: American rock music mixes with Turkish dance music in the background. A bustling souk boasts men wearing western clothes and women wearing quite fashionable western attire with paisley scarves covering their hair.  A kiosk offers the latest in DVDs, the one next to it bottled water and sodas, the one next to it prayer rugs and scarves.  An old man in a long beard pushes a cart before him, filled with cucumbers.  Someone stops him, and he salts the cucumber, handing it to his customer.  A chyron reads: Istanbul, Turkey.

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Filed under Game Design, Writing