The Narrative Design Exploratorium™: Game Writers in the Trenches™ Archives

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Evan Skolnick HeadshotThis is an ongoing NDE series featuring interviews with Game Writers in the Trenches™.  The game industry is riddled with the unsung heroes of interactive storytelling.  As game developers are increasingly looking to create meaningful virtual narrative experiences, listening to the real-world wisdom of these writers can help everyone on the development pipeline understand their trials, tribulations, and needs, in hopes of enabling them to do their job as they know best. Today’s game writer is Evan Skolnick, having a long career in other media formats Evan comes to video games with a fresh set of tools to help answer time tested questions. I’m hoping to see what we can learn from his experiences in the trenches of game development.

Stephen Dinehart: First off can you tell me your title and what you do at your studio, Vicarious Visions?

Evan Skolnick: Sure. Officially, I’m a Producer, and less-than-officially, I’m the company’s Editorial Director. Which means that most of the time I manage video game projects, and in my copious free time I help with narrative quality control across all our titles. That can range from getting hip-deep in the story content from Day One (best case), all the way down to just being asked to review the in-game text a day before Beta (worst case).

For the past two years, however, I’ve been devoting the vast majority of my time to my role as Lead Writer on Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (MUA2). On that project, the role has included collaborating with key design personnel on the overall game and story structure; writing all of the cutscenes; writing much of the in-game narrative content and serving as editor on the rest; managing freelance writers; helping with voiceover casting, direction and takes selection; and various other related responsibilities. It’s been a fantastic experience.

Micha WrightThis is an ongoing NDE series featuring interviews with Game Writers in the Trenches™
The game industry is riddled with the unsung heroes of interactive
storytelling.  As game developers are increasingly looking to create
meaningful virtual narrative experiences, listening to the real-world
wisdom of these writers can help everyone on the development pipeline
understand their trials, tribulations, and needs, in hopes of enabling
them to do their job as they know best. Today’s game writer is Micah Wright, I’m hoping to see
what we can learn from his experiences in the trenches of writing and game
development.

Stephen Dinehart: First off congrats on your continued success; between comics, books, games and more I’m wondering where you get the time. The first project I’d like to address is your propaganda remix project.  It is highly compelling from multiple perspectives. How did it get started?

Micah Wright: It started in early 2002… I saw a series of new WWII-era styled posters regarding “information security” that the National Security Agency commissioned, and something about them didn’t seem right.  After staring at them for a while, I realized it was because at least one of them was a direct repaint of a Nazi propaganda poster, and all of them included a lot of techniques more commonly associated the social realism posters of Russia or China… military figures staring not at the viewer, but up and away to the glorious proletariat future.  It really angered me that after 9/11 our government’s first instinct was to pass the USA PATRIOT ACT and strip us of our civil liberties, and here suddenly was a poster with Nazi imagery on it.  I didn’t like the implications.  I blogged about the image, and a reader suggested that I make fun of it, so I did.  One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I had about 50 posters that I’d repainted, so I posted them all onto one page and started getting crazy amounts of hits solely through word of mouth.    That’s when I knew that there were a lot of people like me… people who saw which direction the Bush Administration was leading the country and weren’t on board with their plans.

RichardDansky_NDE.jpgThis is an ongoing NDE series featuring interviews with Game Writers in the Trenches™
The game industry is riddled with the unsung heroes of interactive
storytelling.  As game developers are increasingly looking to create
meaningful virtual narrative experiences, listening to the real-world
wisdom of these writers can help everyone on the development pipeline
understand their trials, tribulations, and needs, in hopes of enabling
them to do their job as they know best. Today’s game writer is Richard Dansky, I’m hoping to see
what we can learn from his experiences in the trenches of game
development.

Stephen Dinehart: First off, congrats on being named one of the top 20 game writers most recently by Gamasutra! How has the recognition of your craft changed over the pas 15 years of your career?

Richard Dansky: Thank you! It really is a tremendous honor, particularly being listed with some folks whose work I’ve always looked to as a model for what I’ve tried to achieve. I think the list itself is indicative of how much game writing has
grown and matured as a craft  – fifteen years ago, I don’t think you
could have gotten folks to name twenty game writers, and now there are
energetic debates on message boards as to who else deserved to be on
the list. The fact that game writers are getting known for their work –
not just within the industry, but by the fans as well – means that
there’s more of an understanding of what good writing brings to a game.
And that can only be a good thing moving forward.

Jeff_Spock.jpgThis is an ongoing NDE series featuring interviews with Game Writers in the Trenches™
The game industry is riddled with the unsung heroes of interactive
storytelling.  As game developers are increasingly looking to create
meaningful virtual narrative experiences, listening to the real-world
wisdom of these writers can help everyone on the development pipeline
understand their trials, tribulations, and needs, in hopes of enabling
them to do their job as they know best. Today’s game writer is Jeff Spock, I’m hoping to see
what we can learn from his experiences in the trenches of game
development.

Stephen E. Dinehart: How did you become a game writer?

Jeff Spock:
I have always been two things; a video game player and a fiction writer. I started playing games back on the Apple platforms in the 70’s, and have been writing something roughly resembling fiction ever since I was old enough to hold a crayon correctly.

These two passions came together in a perfect storm of coincidence; I met Marc Laidlaw while I was doing the Clarion West Writers Workshop in 2004 in Seattle. Marc is the brains behind the Valve writing (the Half-Life series in particular) and has been writing excellent speculative fiction since the 80’s. Chatting with Marc was an epiphany: “You mean, you can get paid to write stories for games???” Through Marc I met Raphael Colantonio of Arkane Studios, and he introduced me to the Ubisoft Third Party group. Since then I have probably done 80% of my game work with Ubisoft.

Sande_Chen_2008.jpgThis is an ongoing NDE series featuring interviews with Game Writers in the Trenches™.  The game industry is riddled with the unsung heroes of interactive storytelling.  As game developers are increasingly looking to create meaningful virtual narrative experiences, listening to the real-world wisdom of these writers can help everyone on the development pipeline understand their trials, tribulations, and needs, in hopes of enabling them to do their job as they know best. Today’s game writer is Sande Chen, her experience spans from RPG’s to Serious Games. I’m hoping to see what we can learn from her experiences in the trenches of game development.

Stephen E. Dinehart: How did you become a game writer?

Sande Chen: Unlike other game writers, I don’t have a wild breaking-in story.  My professional writing career has only been in games.  Basically, I pursued academic majors that were relevant to game development.  Then, I applied for a job.  

I was a double humanities major at M.I.T., which is known for its computer science and engineering programs.  After M.I.T., I attended the London School of Economics and USC’s School of Cinema-Television.  I specialized in screenwriting, but I wanted to learn more, so I asked production students to teach me what they knew and I took classes like Avant-Garde Cinema.  I started making music videos and while still in film school, I was nominated for a Grammy in music video direction. During a visit to M.I.T., I chanced upon a flier for a game design contest.  A military contractor was interested in expanding into entertainment.  With this first taste of game design, I started applying to game companies.   

Tom AbernathyThis is an ongoing NDE series featuring interviews with Game Writers in the Trenches™.  The game industry is riddled with the unsung heroes of interactive storytelling.  As game developers are increasingly looking to create meaningful virtual narrative experiences, listening to the real-world wisdom of these writers can help everyone on the development pipeline understand their trials, tribulations, and needs, in hopes of enabling them to do their job as they know best. Today’s game writer is Tom Abernathy, his journey as writer began in film, and now continues into video games. I’m hoping to see what we can learn from his experiences in the trenches of game development.

Stephen Dinehart: You are currently a Writer at Microsoft Game Studios. Your career has had you focused full-time on storytelling in some of the worlds top-tier studios, what is the most challenging part of writing stories for games?

Tom Abernathy: Without  question, the interactive element.  Those of us who have worked as writers in other narrative media are trained and experienced (if we ARE trained and experienced) in linear narrative.  The spin that interactivity – which is to say, non-linearity – puts on things can really mess with your head.  There are so many tools we’re used to having at our disposal – timing, sequence, parceling out information in a certain way, dramatic irony, on and on and on – that increasingly fly out the window the more control over the direction of things you give to the player.  We writers are used to driving the experience, and then in games, suddenly we’re not.  That’s a tough transition to make, and, after ten years in this industry, I’m still making it.

Haris OrkinThis is a new NDE series featuring interviews with Game Writers in the Trenches™.  The game industry is riddled with the unsung heroes of interactive storytelling.  As game developers are increasingly looking to create meaningful virtual narrative experiences, listening to the real-world wisdom of these writers can help everyone on the development pipeline understand their trials, tribulations, and needs, in hopes of enabling them to do their job as they know best. Today’s game writer is Haris Orkin.  His experience as writer runs the gamut of media types, with a most recent focus on games.  I’m hoping to see what we can learn from his knowledge and experience.

Stephen Erin Dinehart:  Haris thanks for taking the time to interview with the NDE. Your most recent project was Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3, can you explain your role and duties?

Haris Orkin: I was hired to work with the team on the story for the game and write the script for the live action cinematics.   The story was collaboration between Mical Pedriana, who functioned as the narrative designer, Jason Torres, the lead game designer, Mike Verdu, head of EALA, and me.   We wanted the tone and the concept to be a continuation of Red Alert 2, which came out about seven years ago.  Mical was the audio lead on RA2 and wrote all the unit responses. I was a big fan of that game and the Command and Conquer series in general.  So I knew the tone and the story and the characters and was thrilled to be included.   A bare bones outline of the basic story was already in place by the time I was brought on board.   But I suggested some changes, fleshed out the existing characters, came up with some new ones, and created the relationships and conflicts and many of the specifics.   I also wrote and/or rewrote what we call the “Talking Heads”; live action head shots of various characters that appear in game that help steer the player in the right direction vis-à-vis game play.  I helped Mical on unit responses and co-op commander responses and barks as well.

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About this NDE Archive

This page is a archive of recent articles in the Game Writers in the Trenches™ category.

Game History is the previous category.

Interactive Narrative Design is the next category.

Welcome to The Narrative Design Exploratorium.

The NDE’s author Stephen E. Dinehart is a transmedia designer, writer, artist, and Creative Director at NarrWare LLC. He is currently working on unannounced projects. Read more @ stephendinehart.com.

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