Hey, writer, get out of my system design!

So you’re not a level designer, and you’re not a content designer.  Don’t worry; we’re saving the best for last.  You’re an intrepid systems designer, and you’re in the enviable position of working with a writer.  Ever had a writer bring up a concept that would totally sink your game balance?  We feel your pain.  Here’s a few tips on how to work with a writer so that you both end up ahead.

First, I’m going to tell you a great secret, that not that many people in the game industry seem to be aware of: gameplay is a great way to tell story.  And by story, I don’t just mean player story, but the story a writer may want to put in your game.  You may on occasion work with a writer well aware of this fact, bearing many ideas for your game design.  Keep an open mind.  These writers are not, in theory, trying to tell you how to do your job; they are simply trying to do theirs.  Let them educate you on what they’re trying to express, and in return, educate them on your restraints in scope.  The result could surprise all of you.

Sometimes, however, the writer appears after most of the game design has been set in stone.  At this stage, it is important to let the writer know that gameplay decisions have already been made, and that the writer’s job from then on is to make those decisions as fun and entertaining as possible.  On one project I worked on, the systems team presented the game system to the writers.  One of the writers objected to part of the system, and when the systems team didn’t budge, he felt unheard.  This situation could have easily been avoided if he had known the system was pretty much set in stone.

In the end, the best plan for working with writers is to educate them about your needs and constraints.  Writers and systems designers are great sources of inspiration for each other, so do your best to get along.  After all, the real enemy is the programmers.  I’m kidding.  Mostly.

Question Mark Last week’s game dialog came from Fawful, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. More Guess that Game Dialog to come!

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Filed under Game Design, Guess that game dialog!, Writing

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