Monthly Archives: April 2009

#1 mistake in game development

Gamasutra rather ingeniously decided to examine all its game postmortems over the past 3 years and actually look for common denominators. Thank goodness, since I wouldn’t have had the stamina to do it. Their study resulted in a list of 10 problems that repeatedly tripped up developers in making great games on time and on budget. What was problem number 1? You guessed it: content added too late.

We have repeatedly brought up the positive impact of bringing in writers early, and highlighted the importance of giving writers the chance to polish (problem #8).  You can say we’re biased.  I’m going to posit that Gamasutra isn’t.  Here’s a quote from Alyssa Finley, talking about the successful Bioshock:

“We had many drafts of the story over the course of development, but the final draft turned out to be an almost complete rewrite.”

“Competing demands for time and resources meant that, unfortunately, some of the important narrative details of the game weren’t created until the final rewrite, and therefore required quite a bit of work to retrofit into an existing game.”

If a successful game with strong developer and publisher backing is wishing it had more time to write, chances are every other story-driven game experiences this problem in spades.

The impact is obvious and pervasive: “Getting story and features right is difficult at the best of times, but when that content comes in just under the wire, not only does that content suffer, every element of the game that relies on that content suffers.”  Thanks, Gamasutra — we couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

Did you read the article?  What did you think of the other mistakes in game development?

This post brought to you by Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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Filed under Game Design, Game Industry, Writing

System-level Thinking Needed For Narrative Too

In the book, Changing the Game, by David Edery and Ethan Mollick, the authors give several examples where business failed to understand system dynamics.  Basically, retailers didn’t talk to wholesalers or salespeople didn’t communicate with upper management about the circumstances on the street.  So, when the salespeople had a sale to move a slow-moving widget, upper management only got the message that there was an increased demand in widgets.  Thinking they’re onto something big, upper management puts in more orders to buy the parts needed to make more widgets.  The factories churn out more widgets and the salespeople end up with a glut of a product that nobody really wanted in the first place.  As you can see, when businesses fail to have system-level thinking, they can find themselves in a self-defeating spiral.

Designing systems, of course, is a part of game design.  And game development itself also has systems and feedback loops.  For a while now, we, like other writers, have advocated including the writer early on in the development cycle.  This is so the story can go through iterations just like any other aspect of game development, but also because the narrative should not be confined to a vacuum.  It is, in fact, part of the system and should be integrated into the system.  If you don’t know your story, how can you give a really good reason as to why your player is fighting that enemy and why the world looks that way?  Or maybe the story is out of sync with the gameplay, thus making the game world illogical.

What do you think?  Do you have other examples of system breakdown or self-defeating cycles in game development?

This post brought to you by Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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Filed under Collaboration, Game Design, Serious Games

Highlights from GDC 2009

Authors from Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG

Authors from Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG

If you were at the book signing for Writing For Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG at GDC 2009, thank you for coming!

As you can see from the photo, several of the authors were in attendance.  The interest was so high that the publishers even brought down the first IGDA Writers SIG book, Professional Techniques for Video Game Writing and sold those too.  In a rare instance, my co-author David Michael and I also signed our book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform.

For photo highlights, check out David Michael’s blog, Joe Indie.  (Quick, before he starts blogging about something else!)

I contributed to Edge Online‘s GDC 2009 coverage and will also be contributing session write-ups to GameDev‘s GDC 2009 coverage, including Patrick Redding’s talk on AI dialog systems.

In addition, I’m starting up my twitter channel, so if you would like to keep tabs on Game Design Aspect of the Month or my other blogs, please do visit or subscribe.

Posted by Sande for Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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