All This and Then Some

An update to my earlier post about the differences between story writing and game design:  In just the past few months, I’ve learned a lot but discovered there’s even more of a gulf than I’d previously thought, in many areas.

Stuff I brought over from story writing:

1) worldbuilding

2) plot writing

3) characterization

4) organization

There are a ton of things I’m having to learn now, though, I’ve found over time, with my game design.  More than I’d thought, and some of them were surprising to me to know I’d need to know!  But regardless here’s the list of stuff I’ll need to know – you see where some of the things intersect with stuff I already knew:

1) worldbuilding – wow this is fantastic.  I had a kind of addiction to it before, and in writing, yeah there’s a point to which you need to take a step back from worldbuilding to write the story.  Here, I can kind of go all-out.  I mean, my dear husband who’s been working on altering my first game via Inform, asked me to “elaborate more” about some things.  He doesn’t just need the normal kinds of worldbuilding, wherein I write down every character, every place, make a map – no, he’s told me he needs to know what everyone in-game is carrying, (torches, what they’re wearing, any weapons, what each does, what each person’s like…),  pretty good descriptions of each place you go to (very in-depth ones), and for big games stuff’s now required like lists of weapons for each faction, weather, local customs/holidays (I had SOME of this occasionally in story writing but it’s not constant there), lists of plants, animals, geology, crafting (and for some things like the engineering dwarves of Zagga I need to figure out what kinds of engineering they do), monsters, magical beings (if any), “dungeon-like” areas (if any), challenges… yeah there’s a lot.  Which I thoroughly enjoy – yep I’m my own worldbuilding team.

2) plot/story writing – pretty much the same as with story, though since most of the time I’m taking it directly from stories I’ve written, I need to figure out if I can somehow make this into an interesting (lol or at least mildly interesting) game format.

3) characterization – almost the same way as before, but I also need to think  about more in-depth things

4) graphic design – this is something I haven’t delved into too much just yet; last year I’d finished up learning basics in Python and this year I’m working at just learning to write games  So yeah, I’ve dabbled in DAZ on and off over the years, poked at some BLENDER, and I know how to draw both on paper and with a computer (badly, but I do), but that’s about it for now.

5) research – I have to do this to some extent for story writing; I mean if I’ve taken a stab at historical fiction yeah I need to know my time zone, or if I want to know how to do something (spelunking, how to build something, etc), yeah there was that.  But if I’m writing a game, I REALLY need to be on the ball with regards to what I’m doing with this or that:  You know all that stuff I wrote about needing to put in for worldbuilding?  Well, for instance Medunkna is a taiga zone, so I need to know what kind of critters and plants would logically be there – and that’s research.  Zagga’s a plains/desert area.  Again, more research.  Ishelad is all desert. (And I’ve found, curiously to me, that more stuff grows and lives in a desert than I’d have thought – there’s a TON of things actually)… and so on.

6) game research/testing – this is actually a pretty big part of design, I’ve found.  The parallel in writing is “if you want to write, read”.  Well, yeah, if you want to design games, play them.  And no, I don’t just mean “speed-level a character in LOTRO  from 1-80 in 2 days”.  I mean pay attention while you’re playing.  What do you like/dislike?  What would you do differently here, with this quest/area/dungeon/character design/event/pve/pvp? What kind of things have been done (sometimes ad nauseum)?  What things do you really think need to be changed (for instance, the “grind” tradition in gaming where you have to kill X things/craft x amount of stuff, find x amount of places to gain levels – which is as old at least as Dragon Warrior, out of the 1980’s)?  These are things to think of, and they’re important things.  You know, Guild Wars 2 is actually doing some pretty innovating things – and they’re worth watching.  Take a look at their April 2013 event which is something else, and extremely popular among players (I can see why from doing some of it myself).  Or, their “living story” stuff:  WoW did it with Cataclysm to a very small extent, but that was a one-time thing.  GW2 is actually changing their world every few months.  It’s pretty jarring for someone who’s learned to deal with static worlds that never change much at all, except maybe here and there because of some event going on that you might or might not take part in.  But all the same – yeah I think I do like it.  And then, later this year, Elder Scrolls Online is coming – they finally are going MMO.  I’ve been game-testing Oblivion in anticipation, and both my husband and I are pretty curious to see what ESO will be like… yeah there’s a lot to discover.  Innovations I want to see if I can do something with or like, and innovations (like cloud-gaming – bad idea it seems, from all I’ve read) I really do NOT want to adopt or put my own spin on…

7) marketing/networking – I kind of had a blog for awhile for writing, (lol yeah it was this one), but I just couldn’t get myself to do much with it.  And to be honest, I’ve never been too great at marketing myself (though I’ve heard that from other writers before too).  With game design it isn’t too different I found:  have blog, have contacts, have twitter feed, etc (lol when I started writing it was just “have contacts at AbsoluteWrite Watercooler” and “edit/exchange stuff at Critters.org“).

8)time management – oddly, it’s literally something I never learned with work of any kind.  My dad’s a technical translator, and he works from home freelancing – he never had set hours, just “do it when it needs to be done, till it’s done”.   When I was able to work a regular job, well I worked their hours and went home, and that was it.  So it kind of got dictated to me what to do.  Writing?  That’s kind of “when I feel up to it/feel like it I do it”.  So no, never learned time management.

Here, with game design, I’m learning that to honestly get serious about it I have to learn that.  Not to the extent of “ok 1hr game testing, 1hr programming, 1hr worldbuilding, etc”, but at least to the extent so that I know how much I can handle without burnout in a week, so that I get done everything that I’d like to get done. For instance, last week no blog post, because I did too much of other stuff.

I’m also learning that time management does require some limits.  I’m disabled, and well there’s other stuff I do during a day, but I’d like to learn to do this.  With both regular work and writing I could and did easily burn myself out.  Writing, there’d occasionally be the 5-hr day closely followed by a day when I was all screwed up from that and therefore couldn’t write.  Doing that when I was working a regular job literally gave me a stroke.  So yeah, healthwise I needed to figure out what I could handle, so I’ve given myself a 10-hr workweek limit for the moment.  Work upward from there, but 10hrs.  NO work after 10hrs, and I’ll keep at that for a couple months and see how I do.

It feels odd, let me tell you.  I mean, here I am used to working “whenever, wherever”, and I suddenly have a stringent limit.  But it does help some.  I had a 3-day weekend last weekend, and I feel somewhat recharged, I got some other stuff I’d wanted to get done, and now I know to do a blog post at the start of the week so that I know it’s been done.  Lol the other thing that came out of it was more predictable for me:  when somebody tells me I can’t do something, that’s instantly the one thing I REALLY want to do.  Having to wait on it though – well, that’s taught me some discipline and has also made me look forward to it more than even I had been.

9) the BIG differences between writing and game design – Yeah, you need to have a thick skin to be a writer, any writer will tell you so.  Rejection, rejection, rejection, – acceptance letter – rejection, rejection… that’s the life of a writer.  But game devs need to learn it from a different perspective.  As I recall from game design history, sometimes projects get dropped.  As I learned from the dndkritter thing, yeah it still happens  It isn’t personal – ok unless you’re Nintendo vs SEGA I guess – but it still happens.

The other big difference is I need to stop thinking I can just bang out a game in 1 month, every month.  Maybe once I’ve really gotten all the subtleties of design, Python, and so on, but not just now when I’m starting.  I did my first game in 1 month and a half, and game 2 is bigger so it’s pushing 3 months now actually  (Though I’m also doing it with some of the newer stuff I’ve learned in mind like intense descriptions, writing it all in module form first and THEN I’ll put it all together at the end, and so on).

Yeah, a lot of stuff’s different now.

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