Lessons in game design and game writing
Being somewhat of a newcomer to this racket, it has been a steep learning curve. I didn’t attend any game design schools, I didn’t even do a single game-related unit when I was at uni. My honours thesis, which was on (roughly) online games and literary theory, was met with dumbfounded looks by the teaching faculty at my school – I really had no guidance, no-one knew what to do with me or my thesis. I jumped into this knowing one thing – I like games.
As such, if I had one thing to tell any budding game designers of you that happen to read this, it would be this: make sure you like games. Make sure you know games – a LOT of games, a lot of different games. In my research, I ran into too many theorists and ‘game designers’ who quite simply didn’t appear to have the slightest clue what they were talking about. They weren’t/aren’t Gamers. To me, that is the most important part of game designing: being a Gamer.
Certainly, game design can be tough – there is a lot to manage and think of and your ideas have many different constraints upon them that you won’t even remotely think of. But at least as far as writing goes, you don’t have to be creating the next great novel – people play games to play games, not to read heartbreaking works of staggering genius.
At GDC I sat in on a ‘writing for games’ roundtable. It was exactly the waste of time and oxygen I thought it was going to be. One guy, who has worked on a number of published titles, claimed in relation to getting the tech team interested in the game story said: “If the story you’re writing isn’t blowing the minds of the tech guys, then you should probably get a new job.”
What a toolbag.
Let me tell you what the tech guys I’ve met get excited about:
They get excited about tech. They get excited about solving puzzles and proving how clever we already know they are. It’s not that they don’t like your story, just to them it doesn’t have the meat that a nice tricky algorithm does, or the elegance of a great piece of code.
At the end of the day, like most writing you’ll ever do, the only judge you can rely on is yourself. If you’re writing comedy and you’re making yourself laugh, it’s a decent shot you’ll make at least some other people laugh also. If you’re writing and you’re generally interested in what you’re writing, it’s a decent bet others will also.
If you like what you’re doing, it’ll usually come through in what you produce.