Monthly Archives: August 2007

Top 5 excuses for not hiring a game writer

Melanie Strick, a business consultant, came up with five reasons businesses don’t hire people for their team, and I thought these excuses might be equally applicable in the game industry. See if you recognize yourself or someone you know.

1. You think you can write just as well as or better than someone else
Many game developers write their own story and dialog. This practice leads to expending a lot of energy on something you may not want to do. We’re working on a project right now because the producers got tired of doing the work of a writer and a producer. In the end, don’t do it because you can do it better. Outsource it, so you can do what you really want to do.

2. You don’t have enough time to find someone to do it
Just imagine how much time you’ll save by finding the right person to do the job all the way through.

3. You are afraid of losing control
You can train anyone to do your work according to your needs and specifications.

4. You believe you will not be able to manage people
You may very well have someone else in your company who’s able to manage your new team members. Furthermore, the people you hire may even be able to help you manage themselves.

5. You think you can’t afford it
You save money by outsourcing your weaknesses or low-payoff activities and focusing on your strengths. Would you rather spend your time sprucing up dialog or finding investors?

Any other excuses you can think of? Or do you think this list doesn’t apply to the game industry?

Question Mark Guess that game dialog! Today’s line: “Spare me the moral story and lead me to his throat.

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7 tips on outsourcing from GDC China

I am a prime believer in taking lessons from related disciplines.  Speakers at this week’s GDC China can help us avoid reinventing the wheel when it comes to outsourcing game writers.  Epic’s Paul Meegan and Midway’s Kristine Coco both spoke on outsourcing game development.  While not everything immediately applied to writing, several pointers stood out.

Per Meegan:

1.  Keep a tight, focused internal team focused on creating value.  This team should have the skills best suited for the project, not just the company.

2.  Outsource content production.

3.  Establish personal relationships between your outsourcing partners and your inhouse team.  Otherwise, outsourcing is a “relationship built on lies” (which wins best game line of the week in my book).

4.  Consider developing relationships with multiple outsourcing partners as backup.   

Per Coco:

5.  Plan out the project far in advance.  It’s not wise to hire outsourcers and expect the pipeline to be in place a week later.

6.  Give your outsourcers clear requirements (read: communicate!) .  Lots of detail at first means fewer problems down the road.

7.  Give feedback and perform reviews early and often.  This tip should be top of the list.  Feedback includes not only pointing out issues, but areas that are working well.

It’s nice to see that many of these tips this blog has brought up before.  Even the best laid plans, however, sometimes need a tweak now and then.  Do you have any horror stories where outsourcing didn’t go quite as well as planned?

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4 tips for game developers working with virtual teams

Many game developers have been working with contract or remote writers for years, but not everyone has caught on. Of course, we think it’s a fabulous idea, but don’t just take it from us. John Say of Say Design described his experience running a virtual development studio in the latest issue of Casual Connect Magazine. We’ve culled a few tips from his experience that will help you work with your contract writers.

1. Trust your team– by keeping them accountable. Ensure that you’ll get what you need by requiring regular updates and status reports, whether weekly or as often as you need. On our end, we appreciate setting clear expectations and welcome opportunities for feedback.

2. Maintain a common vision. A diversified, yet specialized team can create great results, as long as everyone stays on the same track.

3. Create as many opportunities for face-to-face interaction as possible. Not all meetings need to be at work either — consider informal gatherings at a home or fun outings. We’d like to add that fun, social interactions need not be limited to face-to-face interactions — telephone or Skype often work quite well.

4. Hire team members experienced with remote projects. You’ll definitely want someone who already is well-versed in online tools and can navigate communicating with remote co-workers.

Say’s suggestions grew from working on small projects to more complex ones, and we find they hold true on just about any game. How would you use these tips on your game?

Question Mark Last week’s game dialog came from Ryudo in Grandia II. More Guess that Game Dialog to come!

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Want Passionate Games? Vote for our 2008 SXSW Interactive sessions!

We’re thrilled to propose two sessions for next year’s 2008 South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Please visit the 2008 SXSW Interactive Panel Picker and vote for us if you’d like to attend these sessions next year.

Here’s our descriptions and takeaways:

CREATING PASSIONATE GAMES: A MULTIDISCIPLINARY APPROACH

Description:How do you incorporate passion into your games? Learn several techniques to heighten dramatic moments through gameplay, art direction, and narrative. We’ll help you articulate your passion and translate it into a game experience that is both fun and memorable for the player.

Takeaways:

  • Attendees will learn how to instill storytelling within game design decisions.
  • Attendees will learn how to use cinematographic techniques in producing cut scenes and in-game art.
  • Attendees will learn how writing techniques can capture the vision behind the game.

COULD YOUR FILM BE A GAME?

Description: Join two veterans of the game industry as they give you tips on navigating the game industry. Topics include major players in the industry, how a game gets made, the uses of games, and whether making a game is right for your project.

Takeaways:

  • Attendees will learn what components are needed to make a game.
  • Attendees will learn about game genres and their characteristics.
  • Attendees will learn about major players in the game industry.

Question Mark Guess that game dialog! Today’s line: “True power serves–it does not enslave.

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Filed under Game Design, Game Industry, Guess that game dialog!, Licensing, Writers Cabal, Writing

Unlikely heroes: relatable characters

While the idea of this blog is to post about what I learn about writing, often times it serves more as a reminder.  Here’s another instance.  I watched Stardust the other day. The movie follows a small-town boy who goes on a great adventure, overcomes evil, and wins everything you could imagine winning in a fantasy story. The story fits together tightly, like pieces in a puzzle, and everything pays off in the end. And, unfortunately, it all falls rather flat.

One of the biggest problems with this movie is the main character. He doesn’t struggle over great moral issues; he doesn’t make tough decisions. At the beginning, he’s a good man in poor circumstances. At the end, he’s a good man in rich circumstances. The only difference between the two extremes is that he has grown in competence. In short, he goes through some mid-movie grinding and levels up enough to win the game.

I’m sure we’ve all played games where the character we play is a badass and can easily handle any situation with a snappy comeback or a loaded rifle, like Solid Snake from METAL GEAR SOLID. Unlike Solid Snake, however, many of these characters change very little — either due to the linear story you’re playing or through lack of meaningful choices in an interactive narrative. These types of game characters are born from the logic that everyone wants to be a hero.

But a hero doesn’t have to be someone who gets everything right. A hero can also be someone you relate to. A couple weeks ago, Comic-con held a panel for the TV series Heroes. They introduced the cast one by one. The hot and badass actors were introduced to decent applause. But what really brought the house down was the appearance of Masi Oka, who portrays Hiro. Although Hiro is one of the few characters on the show to heed the mythic call to adventure, he is flawed in his lack of sophistication and somewhat geeky nature. However, these “flaws” actually make him one of the stronger characters on the show — people relate to him and he is their way in to the more fantastical aspects of the show. It is his flaws and his choices that make him relatable and bring the show to life.

Unfortunately, Stardust failed to make its perfect hero relatable. Now don’t get me wrong. Everyone wants to be James Bond every now and again, but sometimes you want to be a Hiro. What do you think? Is there room for flawed, relatable characters like Hiro?

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Filed under Film, Games, TV, Writing

What SIGGRAPH, sound design, and game writing have in common

A recent trip to SIGGRAPH and a party with a few sound designers confirmed what I already knew: art, sound, and writing have pretty much the same goal. We all want to make the world believable, but we also want to take the player or viewer on a bit of a ride… either virtually or emotionally. And based on my scientific research ;), we all get there the same way: a spoonful of realism and the fantasy will be bought.

At SIGGRAPH, I sat through a LucasArts presentation on matte art. What struck me was that artwork that was entirely fabricated looked fake,

Bad picture of Shipwreck Cove (Shipwreck Cove)

while the same technique when combined with realistic images makes you buy the whole picture.

The ship is gone

Everything in this picture is real, except they fabricated the tropical island in the background. This technique works even if there are no actors in the picture. Granted, games are a bit different, due to artistic and file size limitations, but putting real-world objects or scenes goes a long way to sell the fantasy.

Many sound designers follow the same principle. At a party this past weekend thrown by the (in?)famous Tommy Tallarico (Video Games Live), I had the opportunity to speak with composers and sound designers.

Tommy T’s party
(this has nothing to do with sound, but it’s from Tommy T’s party)

One designer particularly enjoyed going out and getting recordings of real sounds, however he acknowledged that many developers wanted the sound to heighten the emotional experience. We both concluded that if you gave listeners realistic sounds in the beginning, they’d be much more likely to follow you to the more heightened experiences at the end.

Thus we end up at writing. Like the first two, the best writing builds on what the player already knows or believes and takes it to the next level. Artificial situations with no basis in reality don’t sell the story. They jar people out of the game and leaving them wondering — why is the archvillain intent on destroying the world? Giving characters relatable motivations, believable dialog, and a reasonable plan of attack can transform even the most fantastic world and story into one that immerses players and compels them to finish. Good writing can make the difference between a game that falls flat and a game that flies.

Where have you seen a bit of realism in games, whether in art, sound, or writing, that totally sold the whole world to you? Or the opposite?

Question Mark Last week’s game dialog came from Sam & Max: Season 1, Episode 1. Stay tuned for more Guess that Game Dialog this week!

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Second Life Marketing Conference 2007

Sande’s presenting at the Second Life Marketing Conference 2007 on September 24 – 26, 2007 at the Millennium Broadway Hotel near Times Square, New York. She’ll be talking about how to design games or game-like experiences in virtual worlds.

If you are interested in attending the conference and would like a discount code, please send an inquiry via our contact page.

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