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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I confess.

There are at least 17 points that screenwriters need to learn about games if they're to be effective as game writers, let alone designers.

Point 1: The screenwriter might feel that the player should follow a set route through the game to make sure that the player experiences the story in the way he or she (the writer) intends.

But the screenwriter needs to learn all the ways to give actual or apparent freedom to the player, so that the player doesn't feel trapped into merely being a pawn in a story. Gamers want to feel they're playing a game, not being played by it.

Point 2: Many screenwriters don't realize that, even in games with stories, there may be ways to play the game that completely avoid the story altogether (example: enjoying "vigilante mode" in Grand Theft Auto III).

Therefore, the screenwriter needs to learn dozens of other ways to make the game emotionally immersive so that it will be compelling, even if the player never experiences the story or puts the story on hold.

Point 3: Many games are designed so that a player might come upon elements of the story in a variety of orders. Most screenwriters create emotional experiences by making a story unfold in a particular sequence. They need to learn how to keep a story emotionally engaging when the different parts of it can be experienced in multiple orders.

Point 8: NPC dialogue is often used to convey information. But having NPCs dialogue only convey information can actually end up squashing emotion instead of enhancing it.

Point 9: Most screenwriters feel comfortable writing cinematics, because they're the part of games most like film and TV. They may not understand that these "mini-movies" are the least game-like part of any game. Although cinematics won't completely disappear any time soon, many game designers consider reliance or over-reliance on cinematics to be a weakness in a game.

Point 14: When it comes to knowing how to emotionally draw a player into the story, the screenwriter should be aware of what's been done in other games, so as to not retread the past. In other words, screenwriters who want to write games should do their homework. They need to sit down and deconstruct game after game.

Point 15: This point was contributed by one of America's top game designers who is helping to push the envelope of story, character, and emotional immersion in games. He wrote to me:

"Game writers have to be able to master the technical aspects of writing for games. There's a coding element to game writing that's the stiffest challenge new writers face."

He was referring to a kind of writing that creates emotion while presenting the player with a wide range of options. In game design and writing, there are often an enormous amount of game experiences structured to unfold as:

If the player does A then X happens; if the player does B then Y happens—and Y is twice as intense if the player has done not only B but C as well.

In this scenario, X or Y might take place soon after A or B, or they might occur much later in the game.

The applications of and variations in this kind of design, programming, and writing are almost limitless in nature. The screenwriter has to not only be able to think easily in this manner, but, importantly, needs to also be able to create a wide range of emotional experiences with these tools.

Point 17: A screenwriter might think that giving a game a story is the only way to make a game emotionally engaging. However, sports games and racing games have little story but can be very emotionally engaging. Screenwriters need to learn that there are many other ways to create emotional immersion in a game besides story. The screenwriter should know how to:

Integrate the story with the gameplay mechanics (Mechanics are actions that can be performed by the character or characters being played by the gamer).

Make the player care about the world of the game.

Create emotionally complex relationships between the player and the NPCs—and, for that matter, between the NPCs and other NPCs.

Figure out to what degree and in what way the world of the game impacts the player, and to what degree, if any, the player impacts the world of the game.

Make sure the player is motivated to play through to the end of the game.

Know many other ways effective ways of creating emotional immersion in the game by the player.

(c) Creating Emotion in Games: The Craft and Art of Emotioneering by David Freeman

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