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Writing For Video Game Genres 85

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
Aeonite writes "The third book in a pseudo-trilogy, Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG, offers advice from 21 experts in the field of video game writing, pulled from the ranks of the IGDA's Game Writers Special Interest Group and wrangled together by editor Wendy Despain. It follows in the footsteps of Professional Techniques for Video Game Writing and Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames, and in keeping with the trend, offers the most specific, targeted advice for how to write for an assortment of game genres." Read below for the rest of Michael's review.
Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG
author Wendy Despain (editor), Sande Chen, Richard Dansky, et al
pages 300
publisher A.K. Peters Ltd
rating 10
reviewer Michael Fiegel
ISBN 978-1-56881-417-9
summary Genre-specific advice for game writers, from game writers
Depending on your particular poison, the authors of each chapter might be immediately recognizable or complete unknowns. Possibly most likely to be familiar to a general audience are Sande Chen (The Witcher) and Richard Dansky (Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, Far Cry), but Lee Sheldon (the Agatha Christie series), Andrew Walsh (Prince of Persia) and David Wessman (the Star Wars: X-Wing series) might also ring a bell.

The important thing here, however, is not who the writers are, so much as that they deftly cover a wide variety of terrain. As the subtitle suggests the book covers everything from FPS to RPG, from MMO to ARG, and the entirety of alphabet soup in-between. Each chapter covers the particular challenges of writing for one particular genre, and generally offers specific tips on how to overcome those challenges when writing for that genre. The chapter on MMOs, for example, discusses the fact that MMOs have stories that never end, worlds with millions of chosen ones, and a complete inability to control pacing or quest flow. "Writing for Platform Games" emphasizes the need to provide a coherent narrative even while the player is generally busy trying to complete the next jumping puzzle. Other familiar genres covered along the way include Adventure games, Sports games, Flight Simulators and Driving games.

Several of the chapters also venture outside of what traditionally constitutes a "game genre." For example, Richard Dansky and Chris Klug respectively cover Horror and Sci-Fi/Fantasy, themes that are based on the shape of the narrative rather than any particular gameplay format. Later chapters also explore Sandbox games (which author Ahmad Saad indicates can include everything from Grand Theft Auto III to SimCity), Serious games (being "games that do not have entertainment as a primary purpose"), and Casual games. Chapters are also devoted to specific platforms: Evan Skolnick covers Handheld games, and Graeme Davis explores Mobile Phone games. The fact that some of these categories necessarily include games that might also fall into genres covered earlier is never a problem here, however; each chapter offers specific advice relevant to its particular subject, and there is little if any "what he said" repetition to be found, and certainly nothing like outright contradictory advice from different authors.

While a single numbered outline format is followed throughout the book, each author writes in a slightly different fashion. This means that some authors (such as Andrew Walsh, in his coverage of Platformers) present swaths of dense copy within each numbered section, whereas others break up their chapter with numerous subheads, a single short paragraph beneath each point (as with Daniel Erickson's chapter on RPGs). Further, while the format of the book's bulleted lists is consistent throughout, their prevalence is somewhat uneven; Lee Sheldon's chapter on Adventure games is chock full of bullets, while Dansky's chapter on Horror games nearly dispenses with them altogether (but for one single list of five items). Certain chapters contain many charts, tables and/or screenshots, while others lack them altogether. One particular design feature — a boxed "Special Note" that intrudes into the margin — is used only a scant handful of times in the entire book, which makes each sudden instance more of a "Hey! Over Here!!" than the "Psst, by the way..." which I think was intended.

None of this is in any way bad: in fact, Despain's Preface encourages skipping around, and specifically addresses the issue of inconsistency by saying that the chapters are "written as personal essays with the individual style of each author intact." However, it is a notable feature of the book and worth a mention; this is not a book you read from cover to cover in one sitting.

The larger consideration for the purposes of review is this: should you buy a copy? The book's intended audience is — as with the earlier books in the "trilogy" — geared towards professionals already working in the game industry. Quotes on the back cover specifically mention "those of us swimming in the murky waters of games storytelling," and the book's closing chapter (J. Robinson Wheeler's "Writing For Interactive Fiction") dispenses with any illusion altogether, saying "If you're reading this book, you're a writer..." Even the Preface says "we" more than "you" when addressing the reader. The assumption is that you're already "one of us," and while that's a warm embrace for me (since I am indeed "one of them"), it might come across as a bit of a lukewarm shoulder for someone outside the industry.

In short, this book — perhaps even moreso than either of the previous IGDA Writers SIG books — is by writers, and for writers. As a "starting point from which we (game writers) can work together to improve the state of the art," the book provides an excellent foundation, and deserves to be on the bookshelf of any game writer or designer, be they novice or veteran. As for everyone else... if you're ready to dip a toe in the chilly waters of game writing, you could do far worse than to check out the advice within.

You can purchase Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews — to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.


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Writing For Video Game Genres

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  • Game story (Score:5, Funny)

    by PizzaAnalogyGuy (1684610) on Monday November 23, 2009 @02:06PM (#30204098)

    The chapter on MMOs, for example, discusses the fact that MMOs have stories that never end, worlds with millions of chosen ones, and a complete inability to control pacing or quest flow.

    I have always wondered why MMO's actually have a more dynamic world. It doesn't even need to be something where you can interact with everything, but where your actions have actual effects on the world.

    Interesting concept would be have two or three nations. Every nation would be having it's hierarchy, starting from a single king to ministers and then to army wiht its generals and lower level players.

    For those who wouldn't want to fight, there would be an economical system based on the same idea. Lets say you wanted to be a level 80 pizza baker. But as with life, you wont get to the top right away. Your life would start as an abandoned-by-his-father, homeless boy on the streets of Naples, Italy. As a kid you didn't have any money and had to live on the cold streets. There were lots of fine italian pizza restaurants. After closing time you went on their back doors and sneaked some already cold pizza from the trash. Pizza that was too rotten to be eaten by the classy rich people. Tasting and mixing the different kinds of pizzas you found from the trash actually teached you about different kinds of flavors in pizza and sooner or later you dinged your first level.

    Now the economy could be nicely mixed in. As a low level character without any gold, you have to start from the bottom, doing work that higher level players found boring. You set up your own little corner where you would take quick pizza orders from people walking past you. From soldiers injured by the enemy forces. Because you didn't have any start-up cash, you would took an order and walk behind the other pizza place and hope they've just thrown something out. Perfect, almost the pizza that the customer ordered. You just take out the pepperoni with your fingers and deliver the pizza to the customer. GZ first quest done, level 2 dinged, made some cash and even improved your skills. Eventually your grant level 80 quest would be to create the largest pizza in the world - larger than anyone has ever done.

    This is also why the world should be SKILL BASED, not level based. You do something and you learn. Eventually you would be the best pizza maker in the world.

    That is what i want to see in a game. Maybe this book helps me get in to gaming industry as a game story writer.

  • by Nautical Insanity (1190003) on Monday November 23, 2009 @02:07PM (#30204108)

    can they teach me to write a good first post?

  • by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Monday November 23, 2009 @03:00PM (#30204678)

    I'm sure they can. My advice - work on your timing.

  • You have to wait for the companion second volume to come out, Drawing covers for books on Writing for Video Game Genres. It really mixes things up by having a brilliantly-drawn cover but 200 pages of half-assed, nonsensical rambling.

    So basically, it's ghost-written by Rush Limbaugh.

  • by PingSpike (947548) on Monday November 23, 2009 @03:17PM (#30204846)

    Not as easy as it looks, is it?

  • Excuse me, but if you don't instantly recognize a Space Marine from the Mr T 40k Universe ("I pity the genestealer!"), E'Latina'a the Hispanic Night Elf from the further reaches of southern Kalimdor (She is the one that gives you the quest to kidnap the rich daughter of King Varian for ransom, you know, the "My white powdered goods are of the highest quality" chick) and ... and ... that game with the psychopathic purple rat wearing the ammo belt ... I think it's a character from Everquest (surely one of the millions of expansions must have dealt with mutation in lab mice), then I really don't know how to help you out here.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 23, 2009 @09:03PM (#30208966)


Never say you know a man until you have divided an inheritance with him.