|
Your continuous donations keep RPGWatch running!
RPGWatch Forums » Comments » News Comments » BioWare - How Do I Become A Writer #1

Default BioWare - How Do I Become A Writer #1

March 4th, 2009, 21:21
David Gaider steps up to the BioBlog to write How Do I Become a Writer For Video Games? With his characteristically dry approach, David first outlines the position in this three-parter:
It’s the question I get asked most often, and whether the person asking is looking to become a writer specifically or more interested in becoming a designer in general, my answer is generally the same: “you apply, just like with any other job”. The truth is a bit more complicated, of course, but if I don’t often delve into it with enthusiasm you’ll have to forgive me. As I said, I get asked this a lot.
First things first: what does a writer do? Well, I can tell you honestly that there isn’t a lot of call for dedicated writers in the game industry. There are only a handful of companies that actually have such a beast, and BioWare no doubt has the greatest chunk of them. Most other companies, I would suspect, either have people who wear various hats or outsource any time they need actual writing to be done. We do a little of both, ourselves. There was a time when the designers wore more than one hat out of necessity, but as BioWare has gotten larger we’ve begun to specialize within the design group. The writers are the people who do the quest design and a great portion of the story and level concepting, as well as all of the dialogue writing (which takes up the vast portion of our time).
More information.

-= RPGWatch =-
Dhruin is offline

Dhruin

Dhruin's Avatar
Watcher
Super Moderator
RPGWatch Team

#1

Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Sydney, Australia
Posts: 11,964

Default 

March 4th, 2009, 21:21
Well, I can tell you honestly that there isn’t a lot of call for dedicated writers in the game industry. There are only a handful of companies that actually have such a beast
Thank you, David Gaider! I suspected (actually I was certain) this was true, but it's nice to have it confirmed by a real game writer.

Now let's all take a brief moment to imagine what an RPG could be if they hired an honest-to-gods talented, published author… Never mind.

my novel: bit.ly/dreamlandsbook
screeg is offline

screeg

screeg's Avatar
floating head

#2

Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: USA
Posts: 832

Default 

March 4th, 2009, 22:48
This just adds to my view of an action-centric gaming industry.

Action doesn't need writers.

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
Alrik Fassbauer is offline

Alrik Fassbauer

Alrik Fassbauer's Avatar
TL;DR

#3

Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Old Europe
Posts: 15,849

Default 

March 4th, 2009, 23:06
Well, games don't need story. They didn't need it when games first started to appear. This is something that was tacked on later, when productions got larger. Apparently, some people think this thing called "gameplay" is a more important factor in games.

I think that a good writer that is starting to get recognition in the form of sales won't be soon choosing to write for a game, since I imagine it's more lucrative and creatively satisfying to work outside of those restrictions. There might be a deal for some game based on the author's work (where has that sort of game gone to?), but a dedicated writer with actual talent? He's on the New York Times best-seller list, not a game's credit roll.
Thaurin is offline

Thaurin

SasqWatch

#4

Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: The Netherlands
Posts: 2,396

Default 

March 4th, 2009, 23:13
Imho games need some sort of story in order to let the player have a goal.

If I wouldn't need why I played this game, I doubht it would play it, at least with complex games.

Games like Mahjongg can still remain and be fun without stories at all …

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
Alrik Fassbauer is offline

Alrik Fassbauer

Alrik Fassbauer's Avatar
TL;DR

#5

Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Old Europe
Posts: 15,849

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 00:09
Originally Posted by Thaurin View Post
Well, games don't need story. They didn't need it when games first started to appear. This is something that was tacked on later, when productions got larger. Apparently, some people think this thing called "gameplay" is a more important factor in games.
Gameplay is king. However, good writing (as we all know) raises gameplay to a new level, as does good music and good art design. You can have a good game without those things, but you won't have a classic. Btw, that goes for almost any genre out there, not just RPGs. Try, for instance, to dredge up any desire to slog thru God of War without the Kratos backstory, the wonderful soundtrack, and the pretty graphics.

I think that a good writer that is starting to get recognition in the form of sales won't be soon choosing to write for a game, since I imagine it's more lucrative and creatively satisfying to work outside of those restrictions. There might be a deal for some game based on the author's work (where has that sort of game gone to?), but a dedicated writer with actual talent? He's on the New York Times best-seller list, not a game's credit roll.
I agree with the lucrative reason to avoid game writing (as there is almost zero chance to get wealthy writing game content), although there are an AWFUL lot of talented novelests out there waiting tables. However, I disagree with the notion that game writing would not be as satisfying an occupation. Writers (like artists) often work in the medium that gives them the most pleasure, and game writing—for someone who is both a writer and an avid gamer—can be extremely satisfying. I would compare it to screen writing for movies. There are screenplay writers out there who are certainly talented enough with words and ideas to pen a great novel. However, they love movies so much they can't help but work on screenplays.
Cabel Blacke is offline

Cabel Blacke

Watcher

#6

Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 69

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 00:23
How about gamemasters?
hishadow is offline

hishadow

Level N+1

#7

Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Southern parts of Norway
Posts: 1,140

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 00:58
Regarding RPGs and stories, I'm not too harsh with them. I would say that the best stories make for the most linear gameplay. As soon as you put too many decision points that actually change something in, the story suffers. Most decisions are possible in sandbox games, which usually have the worst story.

It's really hard to find the right balance here. I guess that's the reason why there are so many complaints about pseudo-decisions in RPGs: they probably save the main story. A way around this are many side quests, which allow much more freedom to deviate from a particular outcome. On the other hand, too many side quests might obfuscate the main story.

Nevertheless, I guess I play RPGs because I love this mix of story and gameplay so much. I'm not too keen on the stuff that's weighted too much into the gameplay direction (like Wizardry 8), but I'm fine if a sandbox game still holds up the illusion of a story (like Morrowind) without straining my suspension of disbelief too much (like Oblivion). I guess that's why I generally like Bioware games, although it's mostly the same story over and over.
Turjan is offline

Turjan

Sentinel

#8

Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Arizona
Posts: 454

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 02:52
I don't think that decision points are a characteristic of sandbox, in fact I even see the reverse. Sandbox is more no real linearity and because of this lack of linearity there's only very few decision points. Building a story with few linearity is clearly difficult.

But yes, decision points implying alternate stuff is also a difficulty for the story writing.

I don't remember much CRPG with a really good story, I remember only MoTB, The Witcher and Fallout 1. I haven't played Fallout 1 since a too long time but for MoTB and The Witcher there's a strong linearity management. For both there are few decision points that change somehow the main story. For all of them it's also those for which I felt the pure writing quality was the best.

But there's another CRPG for which I not only felt it had a good writing quality but also that the story was good and that there was a strong non linearity, it's The Sword Lands Trilogy. It's three scenario made for Realmz. I have played only the first two because the third wasn't yet released and I still have to replay the whole.

The problem is if I played it many years after Fallout 1, it's still some years ago and too old so I enter in details. I only remember some tricks like an organization like a web, most sub quests revealing some details of the main plot, unveiling mysterious points or/and set new intriguing points. But there was also decision points that could change many things, disabling whole parts of the main story and opening other parts.

None was organized as just one web but as few successive web, only some points opening the next web. So you had anyway a global linearity even in the scenario was a lot sandbox like.

I really need replay this and in fact it would worth multiple replay to really understand the decision points and the capacity to allow non linearity but setup a main story anyway. One quote, the first scenario was quite good but the second even better and in fact quite impressive.

I don't remember much game achieving that, eventually Morrowind but not at the same level. The main quest is very linear in Morrowind and even if there are other points in the web and linked to the main story, this main story couldn't survive without the main quest. The Sword Lands Trilogy is quite different because there's no clear main quest like that and most sub quest build links to the main story.
Dasale is offline

Dasale

SasqWatch

#9

Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 2,096

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 05:11
Originally Posted by Thaurin View Post
I think that a good writer that is starting to get recognition in the form of sales won't be soon choosing to write for a game, since I imagine it's more lucrative and creatively satisfying to work outside of those restrictions. There might be a deal for some game based on the author's work (where has that sort of game gone to?), but a dedicated writer with actual talent? He's on the New York Times best-seller list, not a game's credit roll.
There might be something to that, sure.

There's also the fact that the skills do not immediately translate. Being a great novelist or screenwriter does not automatically mean one is capable of writing decent story or dialogue for games any more than my being an experienced game writer automatically makes me similarly adept at writing novels. It's possible, sure, but speaking from my own experience I know we've had numerous talented writers who simply couldn't wrap their head around the branching dialogue or the non-specific protaganist.

Writing for a game is more than just being able to concoct a clever phrase or think of an interesting plot. It has to work in the context of the gameplay, the technology and the available resources. Those are a lot of limitations that even your most talented novelist may not know how to deal with.

That's not to say it might not also be a brilliant idea in the right circumstance. Nor does it mean that an experienced game writer has all the answers — we're just more familiar with working with the limitations of this particular medium. How successful we are at it, given those limitations, is no doubt very arguable. I'm just not sure the answer is throwing it at a writer of a different medium and hoping their talent is transferable.

(In fact, as someone mentioned, I think the BEST preparation for game writing is likely gamemastering tabletop games, but good like putting THAT on your resume. )
Dgaider is offline

Dgaider

Bioware Writer Guy

#10

Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Edmonton
Posts: 50

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 10:24
Indeed Dgaider. Another thing to consider is presentation - when writing a book, you control all the elements, but have to rely on the readers fantasy to make it come to life. When writing the story for a game or movie, other people visualize it for you, before reaching the audience. There are no guarantees that such a story will transfer perfectly from books to movies, movies to games, games to movies, etc. since the medias are all so different. Good examples: Star Wars and Lord of the Rings - how many rubbish games have we seen in these two franchises, despite the fact that the overall story and universe in general is brilliant?

Also, when presenting a story or characters in a game, the writer must make sure that the target audience understand what's going on (i.e it's pointless to use Molière as inspiration if you are trying to reach the average Joe - there's a reason Joe hardly reads books at all).

Edit: Oh, and welcome Dgaider.

Another edit: I feel that both KotOR games manage to walk the fine line between satisfying the demanding fans, and the mass market. Most of dialogues and the overall story is fairly straight forward, but some details make it interesting even to those who consider almost everything ever written a clichè. These two games are good examples to use as inspiration for aspiring writers in my opinion.

Yet another edit:
I actually think it might be possible to put GameMaster on a resume if you're trying to get into the game industry. Most people working there knows what it takes to lead such sessions. I do know of some people that actually value WoW organizing when selecting employees - if you have what it takes to organize a group of people from different countries into almost army-like discipline and become a leading PvE or PvP guild, you obviously have something of a leadership talent. Of course, something like that is only an "added bonus" and not the actual qualitification, but it can be used to tip the scales in someones favor. Being an experienced GameMaster could certainly tip the scales if two candidates were almost equal (for the position of writer, that is) ?
Last edited by Maylander; March 5th, 2009 at 10:38.
Maylander is offline

Maylander

SasqWatch

#11

Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: Bergen
Posts: 5,289
Send a message via MSN to Maylander

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 13:52
Originally Posted by Dgaider View Post
Writing for a game is more than just being able to concoct a clever phrase or think of an interesting plot. It has to work in the context of the gameplay, the technology and the available resources. Those are a lot of limitations that even your most talented novelist may not know how to deal with.
That's sort of what I meant. Maybe very successful writers would not enjoy working within the limitations of a game very much. That their skill might not be transferable I had not even considered, good point. I also agree (and forgot to mention) that indeed there are many authors that are very much into gaming. I can imagine that they'd love to be involved in writing one, if their skills would lend itself to the task.

Excellent point indeed. I wonder if the best-written novels would be good material for a game. They probably wouldn't, not without much rewriting and editing (like one would do for the silver screen).
Thaurin is offline

Thaurin

SasqWatch

#12

Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: The Netherlands
Posts: 2,396

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 15:22
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
This just adds to my view of an action-centric gaming industry.

Action doesn't need writers.
To some extent, there are certainly action films that benefit from clever/interesting plots or backstory.
woges is offline

woges

woges's Avatar
SasqWatch
RPGWatch Team

#13

Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: UK
Posts: 2,110

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 15:44
Originally Posted by Thaurin View Post
There might be a deal for some game based on the author's work (where has that sort of game gone to?), but a dedicated writer with actual talent? He's on the New York Times best-seller list, not a game's credit roll.
I've seen this enough hundred times to confidently call this a "meme". Why is it that every time writing in games comes up, the New York Times best-seller list is invoked?

On a percentage basis, out of the total number of people writing fiction, full-time or part-time, how many do you think are on the NYT best-sellers list? Do you agree that there are published authors who are never going to make the NYT best sellers list, but who might (stretch your imagination here) actually still be talented enough to improve the games writing genre?

Why not set the bar a little higher? Shakespeare is already dead, so obviously he's not going to be writing for games any time soon! Might as well be happy with what we gots.

my novel: bit.ly/dreamlandsbook
screeg is offline

screeg

screeg's Avatar
floating head

#14

Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: USA
Posts: 832

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 17:09
Originally Posted by Thaurin View Post
I think that a good writer that is starting to get recognition in the form of sales won't be soon choosing to write for a game, since I imagine it's more lucrative and creatively satisfying to work outside of those restrictions. There might be a deal for some game based on the author's work (where has that sort of game gone to?), but a dedicated writer with actual talent? He's on the New York Times best-seller list, not a game's credit roll.
There's a lot of good writers out there who are getting some solid sales and some good critical love but who are still well away from being able to give up the day job.

In the sci fi / fantasy genre market in particular there's a huge barrier to real commercial success just because of the way in which it's sold in bookstores, and hence the kind of thing that publishers are looking for. Bookstores want genre writers with a large body of work ideally all in some kind of series or at the very least all in the same setting, because they are targetting the demographic of people who just want to walk in and pick up the next david eddings / george RR martin / terry pratchett etc, people who will barely read the blurb and who will view the fact that it's another big helping of the same old thing as a positive.

Very, very few authors really break through to any commercial success sufficient to pay the bills because there just isn't the bookshelf space in the majority of stores to stock it because every store stocks dozens of books by the same few authors because people walking in off the street for an impulse purchase want something that's in their frame of reference.

There are a lot of authors who've had a few books with the bulk of the sales through amazon & other long tail distributors who are good, accomplished authors whose work is well received by the people who've read it but who are in a different league to the books stocked as standard and for whom a bit of day work writing for video games could well be a preferable alternative to whatever their day job is.

My brother's in that kind of position at the moment, although his day job is being a lawyer so he'd be better off doing that and saving cash to have no day job than taking a lower paying day job. He was very depressed recently to have gone to a party thrown by his agent (who has quite a few fantasy writers including Michael Moorcock & Jeff Vandermeer), everyone there had one or more books actually published and well received, solid sales in line with publisher expectations etc, the recurring topic of conversation? "So what's your day job then?" He had to accept that the chances of it really paying all the bills were low.

With the right links between writers & game designers I'd say there are a lot of writers who'd be interested. They all have to waste large parts of their lives with creative constraints already, and at least this way it'd be closer to what they want to do and it would mean exposure to a whole new demographic of potential readers who might one day make it possible to really do what they want.
Benedict is offline

Benedict

SasqWatch

#15

Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: London
Posts: 2,348

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 17:17
Originally Posted by Dgaider View Post
There's also the fact that the skills do not immediately translate. Being a great novelist or screenwriter does not automatically mean one is capable of writing decent story or dialogue for games any more than my being an experienced game writer automatically makes me similarly adept at writing novels. It's possible, sure, but speaking from my own experience I know we've had numerous talented writers who simply couldn't wrap their head around the branching dialogue or the non-specific protaganist.
I'd partly agree with that, but IMO that just means that the industry should look at alternative ways of working with writers. I don't think many writers would be temperamentally suited to sitting at a desk and churning out a real volume of text & dialog. I think they'd make the best contribution working on a freelance basis, converting short stories into standalone quests or characters or background lore, writing descriptions for locations etc.

Anyone with just a competent prose style & fast typing speed can take a solid idea, shoehorn it into a structure, convert some of it into statistics as needed, write a few non typical dialogue paths & alternatives etc. Plenty of games do quests like that in huge volumes, they're just a bit bland because the underlying idea was weak.
Benedict is offline

Benedict

SasqWatch

#16

Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: London
Posts: 2,348

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 17:18
Originally Posted by Thaurin View Post
I wonder if the best-written novels would be good material for a game. They probably wouldn't, not without much rewriting and editing (like one would do for the silver screen).
No doubt. In the context of gameplay, you're average novel would be incredibly linear — it relies on a set protaganist that performs set actions. In a game you would need to account for the player doing or even saying different things (or not, I suppose, depending on how interactive you intended for it to be). Even so, consider the difference between watching/reading something and actually playing it — some of my favorite books and movies wouldn't be all that fun to me if I was playing them in a game, where what I'm looking for is some agency in addition to the good story.

But maybe I'm wrong. Games like the Final Fantasy series get away with not only a linear story but a set protaganist, and there's many people who consider the linearity only adds to the strength of the storytelling. Planescape: Torment has a set protaganist but plenty of non-linearity. Perhaps we're barking up the wrong tree, I don't know.
Dgaider is offline

Dgaider

Bioware Writer Guy

#17

Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Edmonton
Posts: 50

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 17:24
Originally Posted by Benedict View Post
I think they'd make the best contribution working on a freelance basis, converting short stories into standalone quests or characters or background lore, writing descriptions for locations etc.
That's what many companies do right now. They outsource their writing to freelancers. If there is going to be any integration, however, that isn't going to work very well — very often we've received a quest write-up from an inexperienced writer (inexperienced in working with games, that is) that is very interesting in and of itself but requires the protaganist to be a certain kind of person or perform set actions. It's a plot that would work well in a book, but not so much in a game, and when you try to explain the issue to them they get confused. We're talking different languages.
Anyone with just a competent prose style & fast typing speed can take a solid idea, shoehorn it into a structure, convert some of it into statistics as needed, write a few non typical dialogue paths & alternatives etc. Plenty of games do quests like that in huge volumes, they're just a bit bland because the underlying idea was weak.
And that's where I disagree with you. It's not something anyone with a "competent prose style" can do. That would be like saying anyone could write a decent screenplay or a novel and that the particulars of that medium are just minor obstacles that be overcome with a strong underlying idea. No way is that true.
Dgaider is offline

Dgaider

Bioware Writer Guy

#18

Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Edmonton
Posts: 50

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 18:05
Wonderful stories will always enhance the gaming experience. Even if the game has no real story of its own. Dune 2, for example, has little to mention in way of story, but for those that have read the novel the experience is surely enhanced. It's why classic gameplay/stories are so often repeated.
woges is offline

woges

woges's Avatar
SasqWatch
RPGWatch Team

#19

Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: UK
Posts: 2,110

Default 

March 5th, 2009, 18:33
Originally Posted by Dgaider View Post
That's what many companies do right now. They outsource their writing to freelancers. If there is going to be any integration, however, that isn't going to work very well — very often we've received a quest write-up from an inexperienced writer (inexperienced in working with games, that is) that is very interesting in and of itself but requires the protaganist to be a certain kind of person or perform set actions. It's a plot that would work well in a book, but not so much in a game, and when you try to explain the issue to them they get confused. We're talking different languages.
I'm sure there's language barriers and communication issues, I never thought there wouldn't be. I think that's where a very variable fee setting could work well. If it's just crap, no money at all. If it's good but completely unsuitable for an interactive quest, bits of it can be condensed and used for background lore & stories for a minimal fee. If there's a character or quest or description or bit of atmosphere that could be plucked out of the narrative arc and used, again a nominal fee. If it'd work as a quest or storyline but needs a long rewrite then there's the choice of taking it away and rewriting it or getting a reduced fee. If it ticks all the boxes and can mostly be just slotted in then a decent fee.

Along with a system that rewards regular contributors who don't waste time I'd have thought there could be a good way of skimming out some good ideas. Alternatively there could be far more of a set format for submissions that mirrors the quest system in the game, or at least a cover note that requires them to answer a series of questions, e.g. required skill set of the protagonist, set reactions needed from the protagonist, number of alternative paths set out etc.

Maybe not, I've not seen it from the game design perspective, but there's so many utterly bland quests out there that I'd have thought it worth a bit of effort to bend a good story into acceptable quest format. You don't even need many good quests for a game, the grind of a few hundred side quests is broken up even by a dozen or so good and memorable ones very well. And the budgets for games are sufficiently large that paying for some good writing and for the supervision necessary to review & convert & embed that good writing would seem a small price.

And that's where I disagree with you. It's not something anyone with a "competent prose style" can do. That would be like saying anyone could write a decent screenplay or a novel and that the particulars of that medium are just minor obstacles that be overcome with a strong underlying idea. No way is that true.
I think we may be misunderstanding each other. I'm sure there is a specific skill set for setting things out in the right format and balancing it to the gameplay. I meant the particulars of the medium are (for the purposes of producing the bulk of padder quests & side locations, I agree that real masters with true understanding of the nature of the gaming medium can produce some truly immersive magic) to a large degree something that can be learnt, and something that can be replicated again and again for quest after quest after filler quest. The particulars are a science rather than an art.

As such I'd have thought a games company could have people internally involved in the whole project with the appropriate skill set to manage the conversion into gameplay, but that isn't the same skill set as being able to come up with great ideas, and judging by the industry output very, very few people have both skill sets. Which is why collaboration with people with great ideas but lacking the skill set would get the best of both worlds IMO. Someone with the teachable practical skills of game design could, I'd have thought, take most strong underlying ideas and convert them.

I agree some ideas are just too inappropriate for gameplay to work though, and quite possibly in practice that's all writers ever give you and you've already tried it all and know it backwards, I defer to your industry judgement but am surprised if that's the case with all writers.

Out of interest, do you ever go on www.jeffvandermeer.com? His blog seems to be very popular with a lot of minor and aspiring writers in the new weird / fantasy / sci fi type genres, I'd imagine your series of articles would be of great interest to him and his readers. They talk a lot about writing and discussion of a different kind of writing most career writers tend to be very bad at and truly misunderstand would probably be well received. And might flush out a few writers who'd have a go at writing for a game designer audience.
Benedict is offline

Benedict

SasqWatch

#20

Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: London
Posts: 2,348
RPGWatch Forums » Comments » News Comments » BioWare - How Do I Become A Writer #1
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

All times are GMT +2. The time now is 15:21.
Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
Copyright by RPGWatch