Do you have advice on becoming a game writer?

Yup. Here goes.

1. Embrace rejection and listen to feedback:

First, becoming a game writer at a big studio is highly competitive, and there aren’t a ton of AAA game writing jobs out there. That said, it’s the best job I’ve ever had, and it’s extremely rewarding. So in the end, it was worth all the rejection, the lows, and so on. But you’ve got to be willing to keep at it, despite how difficult it can be to actually land a job. I learned something from every writing test I took and every interview I landed. If you get feedback, listen to it! Getting honest and critical feedback on your writing is crucial to becoming better at your craft.

2. Put together a Portfolio of Spec Scripts:

Having a portfolio of spec scripts from popular games is the first thing I’d recommend putting together. When I was applying for jobs, I had a Mass Effect script, a Walking Dead script, etc. This helps demonstrate that you can jump into a pre-existing IP with already-established characters. You can write these in traditional screenplay format or use Twine. There are also unity plugins (like Fungus) that help you create a more interactive experience. I made a Walking Dead game in unity with some photos and a few SFX.

3. Acquire a wide variety of writing skills:

Scenes: A game writer (depending on the project) should be able to write both scenes (traditional screen-writing). These are really rewarding, but relish them – they’re few and far between (depending on the type of game you work on), and space is limited because cutscenes can be expensive to produce!

General VO: A lot of a game’s writing comes in the form of General VO — the type of instructions you get from a single character about where to go next, and why you’re going there, etc. To me, this sometimes feels like a mix between writing a radio play and stand-up comedy. Unless you’re working on a David Cage game, the majority of your writing will probably not be scenes.

Battle VO and Contextual VO: These are grids of condition VO based on what’s happening (my character spotted an enemy, I’m hurt, etc). Battle VO is really challenging, because the skill is really in writing the same thing twenty times while keeping it a) informative b) entertaining.

Flavor Text: In addition, having prose skills for all of the other sorts of materials you need in a game, like flavor texts, is handy. This sometimes feels like a mix between advertising and poetry – space is tight. Every word matters.

4. Work on Indie Games:

Reach out to indie devs and help them with writing. There are tons of amazing indie developers making incredible games – don’t be shy. I contacted a few indie devs with successful kick starters, for example, and offered my services. Every project has something to teach you.

I wrote for quite a few indie games (some for free, some paid) before getting my job like Alfa-Arkiv and Elliot Quest. A really good place to find potential projects you can work on is Kickstarter. That’s how I came to write Elliot Quest. Of course, it’s likely that you’ll end up working on games that are never released, but that’s just part of the…magical world that is game development. Gamedev is tough, people!

5. Acquire other skills:

I did a ton of code academy courses, just to understand how code works on a basic level – this has proved really useful in talking with coders and designers. Communication is a key component of game writing, and being able to explain an idea in ways that make sense to other devs is very important. I also read most of the basic game design books. But basically, the more skills you can acquire, the more valuable you are to a team. You don’t need to be an incredible artist or designer or coder, but speaking the language, understanding the fundamentals – goes a long way.

Some updates from last year. First, the first game I ever worked on professionally, Alfa-Arkiv, was featured on the Apple App store. CNET did a behind-the-scenes on this strange, 10-year project. CNET also named Alfa-Arkiv one of the best mobile games of 2014!

In other news, Elliot Quest, I game I wrote the script for, was released on Steam in December. It’s coming to Nintendo Eshop soon!

BHYSl

Ave et…holy crap that’s a lightning bolt!

Ave et salve–hello and farewell–was a Roman greeting when two travelers passed each other on a road, perhaps heading from one corner of the extensive  empire to the other. The greeting conveyed both a sense of genuine comfort in seeing another soul, and also the reality that the vastness of the empire meant that the two would likely not meet again. The video game Dark Souls is so vast that you’ll likely never meet the same player twice.

With the upcoming release of Dark Souls II, I thought I’d revisit why the original Dark Souls singly reinvigorated the action-rpg genre, and made me believe in video games again–strong statement alert! Like many people, I grew up playing the Zelda series. The original NES Legend of Zelda through the SNES A Link To the Past allowed players to explore without being burdened by excessive dialogue. Yet there was narrative to be found everywhere—with the exception that most of this narrative was created by the player.

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this is definitely not Zelda

But as the series continued, traditional cut scenes and dialogue came to replace the more passive narrative of its predecessors—until the recent long-awaited sequel Link Between Worlds, Zelda had become overburdened with unnecessary tutorials, constant narrators, and generally “told” the story rather than “showed the story,” to use a common fictional wisdom.

For those who haven’t played Dark Souls, its premise is still standard fantasy. Imagine middle earth had Sauron taken over, and his darkness spread to the four corners of the map. But the world of Dark Souls is desolate, dreary, and largely abandoned, a fact you’re reminded of not by characters constantly griping about evil but in the gameplay itself.

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Perspective is everything, isn’t it?

Save points take the form of bonfires, which when approached are little more than kindling and need to be lit. Lighting a bonfire saves your progress, but not your souls (the currency for purchasing items, and upgrading both equipment and your stats). But the catch is the thing—resting at a bonfire heals you, but also revives most common enemies (with the exception of bosses and a few special foes).  You feel both excitement upon reaching a bonfire (because Dark Souls is a retro-difficult game), and dread—a well-trodden path hardly exists, and even at later stages of the game early enemies still pose a threat.

Designed by Lady Gaga...

Designed by Lady Gaga…

The story of Dark Souls would be nothing unique–if not for the bonfire mechanic, which constantly reinforce the idea that the flame of humanity has all but been extinguished. Still, perhaps Dark Souls would be an isolating experience if not for its brilliant online mechanic. Throughout your game, the hollowed ghosts of other players enter and leave your world . Glow red tags mark player messages that warn you of difficult monsters and provide hints on secret passages and treasure, or strangers might join you to defeat difficult bosses. Often this strange ghostly community turns hostile. They invade to kill you and steal souls. Such is life…and death. Despite the occasional angst at being invaded at the worst possible time, this online mechanic reinforces the bonfire theme. Salvation is far away, and destruction nips at your heels–not that there are heels in the game–though your armor can sometimes get fabulous…

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player invasion–multiple expletives to follow

This solitude of Dark Souls is welcoming at times, but the trials and tribulations of fellow players are never far off. Bloodstains depict how those who came before you died, and often at a long-awaited bonfire, you’ll see another lost soul rise and disappear down a trail.