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GDC 2015: New Game Writer Q&A


It's Not in the Writer's Manual: A Q&A Session for New Writers

Speakers: Toiya Kristen Finley (Schnoodle Media, LLC), Matthew Weise (Fiction Control), Jennifer Young(Pixelberry Studios), Cameron Harris (Bioware Montreal), Richard Rouse III (Paranoid Productions), Chris Avellone (Obsidian Entertainment)

We attended a Q&A at GDC 2015 with some of the games industry's most prominent and experienced writers. They shared some great tips for aspiring games writers and how to accomplish one of the hardest parts of writing, finding gigs and getting paid. They also raised some great questions to ask yourself when writing.

Portfolio Tips

  • Prove that you can write in a voice that’s not your own or was created by you. Good Fanfiction is actually helpful for this as it confines you to the universe of the game and proves you understand how to write in, and for, that world.
  • Writing for a game mod that utilizes the games’ dialogue system is a big headstart as it familiarizes you with the technical aspects of game writing as well.
  • If you have previous writing experience, try to find Let’s Play video that illustrates a player responding to your dialogue

Writing Dialogue/Writing for Voice Acting

  • Keep spoken dialogue short, players can read a lot faster than they can listen to a voice actor speak.
  • Don’t have more than 3 nodes (pieces of dialogue) before the player can interact with the conversation. Spewing exposition at the player is always a bad idea.
  • Establish basic facial ticks and mannerisms to help illustrate some of the character’s feelings beyond text.
  • Have someone else read your words out loud, it can go a long way to making sure your dialogue feels natural.
  • Have clear voices for your characters and let those voices direct their dialogue.
  • All dialogue needs to have a practical reason for being there, character development, plot/story, lore etc

Hiring/Interview Tips

  • Ensure that writing samples you submit are tailored towards the genre of game the company makes/the project requires.
  • Follow submission guidelines.
  • Explain submitted samples and why you submitted those.

Freelance Tips

  • Some resources for finding freelance game writing work: @develop_jobs, IGDA writing sig,,,,,
  • Ensure you get paid for your writing, even sample/spec work.
  • Figure out what kind of writing you’re actually doing before accepting a position. Many gigs do not have clear plans and can go poorly for you.

Writing for Characters from Backgrounds you Don’t Share

  • Get input from the people you’re attempting to convey. Research, be sensitive, test your material in front of other people, and try to make sure the focus test groups are as diverse as possible.
  • Look for media outside of your social/ethnic/gender circle.
  • Making the character’s race/sexuality the key factor of their personality/narrative is almost always insensitive and a poor choice.
  • Writing the player’s responses to the character is as important as writing the character in question. The NPC is only half the equation, what does the interaction with that character achieve outside of being a token representation of diversity?
  • Game characters should not simply be defined exclusively by ethnic/gender/racial traits, there are dozens of facets to every individual, make sure to write as such.
  • Begin to understand what massive topics ethnicity, gender and race are, and accept that you’ll never actually fully understand it. If you feel you’ve got a handle on it, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Finding Story in non-story Focused Games

  • You need to give a player a sense of what they're doing or why, that in itself is a story.
  • Looking for a way to express a character’s voice in a game that doesn’t really have an outlet for them? Try to implement it into UI design or another non-standard way.

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