I know I’ve talked a fair amount about “writing AND game design,” but my inner dialogue about it has a hard time actually combining the two things. By now, my knowledge of both is something like 80-20 or so. I know a TON about writing – and I know some basic stuff about programming (some, but there are still a few basics to tie down). Trouble is, so far it’s remained at “writing AND game design,” instead of “how writing works with game design,” or “in what ways do I need writing for game design.”
That’s actually a pretty important thing to know, for me and I’d say for anyone working in the business (be they a huge company or a starter). All game design requires some writing, after all, whether it’s just a very basic story like “kid goes on quest to save princess – he needs to kill a dragon to get her free”, or “the Durrs of Dur-land vs the Memelots of Quanziki have been entrenched in battle for the past hundred years, but now there’s a new enemy that they must work together to eliminate…” I know that’s required, but it’s been harder for me to combine the two styles in my head. This came to a head yesterday, because I’ve started to realize that I need to find a good balance between the two things: how much writing is required for game design, how much of a story I’ve written should go in as is vs how much it needs to be split up into pieces at times so that questing can happen and/or the game itself will have more action, and therefore be more interesting and less of a straight story the player is just pressing enter to continue with. I don’t want the latter to happen; that’d be a boring game no matter how good or bad the story is!
I finally got it into my head yesterday what needs to be done, after a panic attack about how writing was horribly hard these days but I needed it. So (after I’d finished crying and freaking out, and calmed down with meditation and breathing exercises), I finally came up with a list of how this is supposed to happen. I won’t give you the full list, but it is interesting to see, I’ll tell you that. It includes of course storyboards and plot descriptions. At the same time, there’s also dialogue descriptions – even little games have them, heck even Farmville has them, just little dialogue bubbles that tell a player the info they’ll need to move on in the game. (Farmer X goes to player’s avatar with info about how to do this or that, for instance). And, there’s also histories of Npc X or Place Y that go behind the scenes, but which, like in writing, help make the game more rich and interesting. I mean, how interesting would WoW: Wrath of the Lich King be if players just were told “Ok, there’s this bad guy Lich King, go kill it.” I mean, NO backstory EVER, just that much. No “This is how the Lich King came to be,” “this is how Arthas became hated by Lady Sylvanas,”… He’d be just this flat, 2d bad guy you need to kill in-game, nothing more, right? But over time, parts of his backstory were released, players learned about him tiny bits in the beginning, and then more and more, and they got more interested in him and he became more real to them. And they also got dialogue, they got to hear what he sounds like, what types of stuff he would say, what other Npcs said about him, and so on, and that added more depth to it – so you ended up with a much better character all around, and a much better bad guy to take down.
I spent a long time this morning – like with other writing, I literally couldn’t go to bed till it was out of my head – writing this list down. It’s long. Some of it, yeah, is like the above: it’s storyboarding and dialogue, descriptions of land, histories – but there’s also a ton of the smaller descriptions that are also extremely important. And actually, they are huge in number. But you know, that makes me feel better. Maybe it’ll mean less panic attacks about it from now on.