Developing Stories for Games & VR/AR

by Benedict Chang Yew Kit, Victoria Junior College

Over the past few years, augmented and virtual reality have seen exponential growth in popularity, particularly in the video games industry.

The Developing Stories for Games & VR/AR​ session worked to cover a range of topics on the technology, from the state of game in 2018 to the means of crafting a narrative for such mediums. Two speakers, Lionel Chok and Karl Gan, spoke in the session. The former did his post-grad in AR and VR in London and has 18 years of experience in broadcast TV and online media, while the latter is a scriptwriter for Ubisoft Singapore, the company renowned for game franchises such as Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry.

Karl began first. He noted the importance of understanding what the gaming industry is all about, and what is happening every day in it. He drew a contrast between writing for video gaming and writing for purposes such as history or novels, in that one cannot stay in their own world and merely rely on their own creativity. In the context of video games, it has been crucial to understand what is going on in the world outside of his company and himself.

He then went on to address traditional and new forms of video gaming, beginning with the topic of open world video games. He believed that this is the direction video games are heading in, with an increasing number adopting an open world structure. This change is owed to the rise of Games as a Service (GaaS), which plays a key role in making sure a company continually gets revenue and a fanbase. Open world games have the potential to never run out of content to play and interact with, and thus has the ability to continue to satisfy consumers. AR and VR, he stated, was the next logical step for GaaS. Done right, players will keep going back, with more to explore, discover and interact. This is especially so under an immersive three-dimensional environment that defines AR and VR.

As advice for writers, Karl focused on the need to know what the gaming scene constitutes, to create good character development and dialogue, and to keep players in suspense, drawing a similarity to book writing. Like books, it is also critical to keep players wishing to come back for more. Narrative design, in how game unfolds, is also vital to ensure such retention. World building similarly plays a role into each character. He said that in wanting to create a game, one’s imagination needs to be big.

It inevitably will take a long time to train world building, with a need to read a lot and from a variety of writers, having a deep understanding of the many aspects of different genres. Looking to the future, he referred to up and coming AR games featuring Jurassic World and Harry Potter, highlighting the nature of these games as being high concept. He, as such, implored writers to thus think big and be exciting, and have a personal love for the game they craft.

Lionel then took over. He addressed his work in introducing VR to tourism, enabling tourists to enjoy a virtual tour of places of interest in Chinatown and India. He highlighted the inherently unique value of virtual reality in such a context. With a headset, tourists can have a near unrestricted access to religious sites like temples for them to appreciate and admire. Virtual reality, as he thus showed, has the key potential to lower barriers for trying something new, with tourists encouraged to view such sites for themselves first hand. He also focused on the many possibilities virtual reality offers, in the great ease to push what you want through the perspective you desire. He emphasised the importance of understanding who the target audience is, and to align the product with the audience’s experience with VR, with the platform having the capability to bring about great wonder and joy.

During the question and answer session, Karl stressed that narrative in video games fundamentally remains focused on character flaws and strengths, similar to writing novels. It is also crucial to read extensively and get accustomed to how the process usually works, and naturally try your hand at crafting a narrative yourself. For those having trouble creating a world, Karl recommended writing fan fiction, with a world already largely having been set. In the case for narratives with branching storylines, one also has to plan ahead for an ending, he said, and it is important to, for example, set a number of middle points to ensure branching storylines consolidate, or to introduce character deaths to focus the story to a single ending. To end off, addressing the process of video game writing with an international team, Karl emphasised the significance of making what one is writing of value to other writers, and the significance of learning to take criticism and subsequently discussing with fellow video game writers.

Overall, the session has been an immensely enriching one to be involved in. I believe that the message most would leave with from this talk is that there lies a incredibly fresh opportunity for writers to craft enriching, original narratives in remarkably exciting new mediums, and one who chooses to seize upon such an opportunity would likely be one finding great success and satisfaction.