The video game industry is undeniably booming. Technology is pushing games toward further realism than we’ve ever seen before. Games are crafting complex movie-like plots, and fans are passionately engaged, making it a multi-billion-dollar-a-year revenue-generating industry.
And you know what? Someone has to write the video game story. So, why do I not see anyone talking about how to become a scriptwriter for video games? Despite all of the screenwriting advice out there, it’s hard to find information about breaking into the game-writing industry. What is it like to write a script for a video game? Well, now I’ve got the details!
So, what does a video game writer do?
Video game writers aren’t writing one solid script but are required to develop key moments that add up to a complete storyline. Unlike how a screenwriter often writes a whole draft by themselves before getting other’s eyes on it, a video game writer needs to be very collaborative from the start. The game director and game designer create the overarching story based on what they’re capable of building within the game, and the writer fleshes out and documents those ideas.
Game directors or game developers often give writers parameters or a specific scenario to write depending on the types of games they're building. For example, they may instruct the writer to write a cut scene where the main character meets a group of thieves, and the scene needs to end with the main character being knocked out and robbed. The writer isn’t just independently coming up with plotlines because the plot needs to be something that the game designers can achieve technically.
A narrative designer is another type of writing job in the industry. A narrative designer can be brought on to shape the narrative design of the game, focus on the gameplayer’s experience, and they may have a more technical gaming background than a writer. When it comes to writing for a video game story, the various roles and duties may overlap, and some might not exist in different projects. There’s a lot of variation.
Can I write a spec script for a video game?
Unlike in film and television, a video game writer doesn’t have the opportunity to watch their spec script get turned into a finished product. Project directors come up with a concept and work with game designers to build designs, game mechanics, and gameplay. The game writer often comes along later in the process and performs a job that is a lot more technical and secondary than other forms of screenwriting.
How do I get employed in the video game industry?
Every video game’s development can be incredibly different. Some game teams may prioritize writers and may bring them on early. Some might lump multiple roles together and have the writer be someone who’s already doing another job on the project. Others might not require writers at all because the story is just not essential for the type of game they’re building.
While it can be challenging to become a writer in the video game industry, you can better your chances by playing a lot of games and learning to analyze and critique their stories. Immerse yourself in the medium you’d like to write for.
You may find yourself submitting a writing sample to a gaming studio. Before you do, you should be sure to research and understand the studio’s games. Find a company whose work feels similar to what you’re interested in creating. Your writing sample shouldn’t be overly lengthy and should put all of your best work towards the front of it.
Just like with other modes of screenwriting, networking is essential to breaking in. Meet, talk to, and ask advice from people in the video games industry! Here’s a sample list of current video game writing jobs. A video game company might hire video game writers, narrative designers, and narrative writers. Some of the video game companies hiring now include:
Know of another video game company that's hiring? Tweet to us about it @SoCreate.it!
What does an average day look like for a game writer?
Video game production is done in various stages. The workload may be different depending on what stage the game is in.
In the early stages of the game, most of your time will be spent getting briefed by the game designers, as well as reading and taking notes for the project at hand. It's a big process to figure out what type of game you want to make and the amount of writing that will be required - both in dialogue and narrative - based on how the team sees the vision coming to life.
Your workload will likely increase dramatically once you move to the production phase of the game. To make sure there is a harmonious flow of ideas, you are going to have a lot of meetings with the mission designers as well as actors and directors if the game is mostly narrative-driven.
As production ends, you will likely have to make a lot of changes to your work, as well as playtest with your team to see how the vision is emerging.
How To Write a Video Game Narrative
The key to writing a great video game script is to start wide and then work your way down the funnel.
1) Outline the Story
What is the major storyline? What are the main obstacles a character must hurdle, no matter the decisions the gamer makes while playing?
2) Create the World in Which the Story Exists
The next step when approaching any kind of storytelling is setting up the world you want to show. This means deciding which elements are going to make up this universe. What will its characters wear? What will their culture be like? World Building is the process of creating the setting of a video game. The setting includes everything the characters will experience in the environment itself.
It's hard enough to create a compelling setting without having to worry about whether or not the player will enjoy exploring it. That's why world-building should come almost before anything else. If you're going to spend hundreds of hours developing a single location, make sure the place looks cool.
3) Build Your Characters And Their Goals
Characters are the people we play as in a video game. They drive our actions throughout the entire experience. You need to know how each one wants to achieve his or goals. This information helps you determine which choices lead to success and which ones don't.
4) Determine How Each Character Interacts With Other People
Each person has unique traits and personality quirks. These characteristics affect how the characters interact with others. Knowing this allows you to develop interesting interactions between characters.
5) Create a Flowchart
Video game writers often use flowcharts to map the main story, any deviations from it based on the user's decisions, and where side quests show up.
6) Start Writing
Before you get too far in flowcharting all of the possible outcomes for your characters, write the main storyline either as a summary or scene-by-scene content. Then, add in any side quests or other necessary details.
Video Game Writing Software
For now, there are only a few video game writing software options on the market, though some writers choose to use a simple word processor such as Microsoft Word. Twine is a free, open-source tool designed specifically for making interactive fiction. Inklewriter is also free but more limited than Twine, with tools to help writers build stories with branching fiction. Both tools allow users to build stories using text boxes and buttons. In addition, both programs can export these scripts into HTML pages so they can be viewed online.
Both programs have similar features:
Text input box
A list of available commands
An inventory system
However, there are some differences between them. For example, Inklewriter doesn't support dialogue trees while Twine does. Also, Inklewriter supports only two dimensions whereas Twine can handle three. Finally, Inklewriter exports directly to web pages while Twine requires additional work to do so.
Twine is a great way to write non-linear stories, but if you want to tell linear stories like those found in many video games, then InkleWriter may be better suited for you.
So which tool should you use? Well, both programs offer similar features but they also differ significantly. Here's an outline of the pros and cons of each option.
Pros Of Inklewriter
Easy to learn
Can be used by anyone
No programming skills required
Cons Of Inklewriter
Only supports two dimensions
Doesn't allow dialogue trees
Requires additional editing tools
Pros Of Twine
Allows users to add more than just text to their story
Has a built-in editor that makes writing easier
Cons Of Twine
Cannot save as HTML files
Needs an internet connection for the website functionality
Ultimately, the choice is yours. Both tools are great options if you don't mind learning some programming skills in order to get started. Otherwise, Twine might be more suitable since it offers much better functionality than Inklewriter.
Writing for video games is very different than writing for film or television. It’s more technical and requires extensive knowledge of games. It’s a field that requires you to be passionate about the medium. Despite the difficulties of breaking in, if you genuinely have a passion for video game writing, you have to be persistent and hang in there.
Happy writing to all, no matter what medium you’re writing for!