|Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG|
|author||Wendy Despain (editor), Sande Chen, Richard Dansky, et al|
|publisher||A.K. Peters Ltd|
|summary||Genre-specific advice for game writers, from game writers|
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.
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