Into the World of Game-Writing

By Liu Jia Yi

The term “writer” might be something very familiar to most of us. Fiction writers, essay writers, column writers…… We must have come across some of their works in our lives. Nevertheless, how many of us have heard of a group of people called “game writers” ? Well, a talk given by Toiya Kristen Finley unveils the world of game writing in front of us.

Game writers, as the name suggests, write for video games which we play on a daily basis. Many of us, upon hearing the term “ games writers”, might think their job is nothing more than writing a few lines of dialogue and inject some story-based elements to the game. As a matter of fact, what we see from our phones or laptops is simply an iceberg of all the efforts dedicated by the game writers.

Unlike fiction writers who sit in front of their desks waiting for their creative juices to come, game writers find their inspirations while exchanging ideas with their team. As Ms Finley put it, “You would be surprised how much you can learn from other people when you discuss your work together.” They usually start with a few questions “Does the game have combat?”  “What’s the game’s main story?”  “Is there a major event that happens before the game’s story begins?”  “Are players part of your character class?”

Then there is this thing called world-building, be it fantasy, science fiction or western. There are two ways to approach it: Macro which means starting with broad theme and story lines and Micro which means starting from details such as character design and expanding from there. Only ten percent of the whole design will be seen by the players. Why? Think about it. How many of us really pay attention to the details of the story when we are playing games? Not many. Most of the time, we just want to finish the game. However, the world building still needs to be as authentic and detailed as possible because the entire development team is going to need it to understand the world and craft their tools.

To me, the hands-on session to build our own world for the game is the best part of the talk. We were divided into three narrative design team with each team consisting of five to six people. Our group was given the topic of "Warrior Colliding". We are supposed to come up with a creative yet authentic world-building within less than thirty minutes. There were numerous ideas coming out during the discussion. Some of them are stupid; some of them are brilliant; some of them are quite cute. There was even an idea of having a blue-leave forest and a potion maker in the home country.

After the world building, another element key to the design of is character. Details of the player such as hair colour, skin colour, eye colour and clothing are necessary. Even the names of the characters are important. Usually, the name is the last element to be decided since all the traits and experiences of the character will have an influence to the name given to him.

Although the players will not bother to note down the details, all these things are needed by the rest of the team to outline the characters. I remember when we were discussing the character, Ms Finley kept reminding us every time when we came up with some details: “ Is it necessary? Why is this so? What does it reflect about the character?” Basically, everything needs to have a reason to be there in order to provide an experience as real as possible to the players. Eventually, we came up with a female assassin with black hair, blue skin and red eyes, which I think is a bit crazy.

Lastly, there is a setting of dialogue scenarios. Even a gameplay-focused game, has to have story with short dialogues. All dialogues must reflect the personality of the speaker. What seems most interesting to me was that text actually has personality and font is used to reflect that. Onomatopoeia, emphasis, sacarsm (Italics)… All these are used to convey certain implicit messages to the players.

Text-based dialogue can showcase accent of a person through eye dialect. However, too many alterations will not be advisable because that would make the character appear uneducated. Also, the tone of the dialogue should be consistent. As game writers, it is important to think from the players’ perspectives. For example, they often take the words limit for the text-based dialogue into consideration since there are some players who will be using laptops and some using phones. Since the words that can be used are limited, every line must contribute to the story. The dialogue should not be more than four lines at a time so as not to bore the players.

The above-mentioned details are simply a glimpse into the complicated process of fame writing. Overall, I find this talk quite an enriching experience. It opens up a new world in front of me and exposes me to another genre of writing. One thing I remember quite clearly from this session is what Ms Finley says about game writing. “You don’t always have a choice when it comes to what game you write for. No matter how stupid the task is, you still need to give your best you can together with your teammate.” I think that is a lesson that does not only apply to game writing.

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Liu Jia Yi is a student from Victoria Junior College and is a member of the Victoria Press.