Writing and Design

Steve Ince, freelance writer and game designer, posts thoughts and comments on these two meaningful aspects of his life.

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Name: Steve Ince

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Lost Game - a scene

I decided to pull out one of the scenes from the "never to be published", Call of Cthulhu: Destiny's End. This takes place near the beginning of the intended game. Emily has taken car keys belonging to her father, Michael, and her new friend, Jacob, is waiting for her.

Emily leaves the house with the keys in her hand and her backpack slung over one shoulder. She holds the keys aloft to show Jacob, who’s been pacing impatiently up and down the drive.

Jacob: You don’t have to do this. What the Professor said about Innsmouth scared you, I can tell.
Emily: Then it’s time I faced my fears, don’t you think?

One of the house windows opens and Emily’s father pokes his head and shoulders through, shouting after her.

Michael: Emily! Don’t you dare take my pickup!
Emily: Shit! Get in the truck, Jake.
Jacob: You stole the keys? Cool!
Emily: He treats me like a kid. I’m twenty two for Christ’s sake!

Emily fires up the engine, slips the truck into gear and bullets out of the drive, narrowly missing another car travelling in the opposite direction. The other driver is forced to swerve to avoid a collision and Jacob looks back to check that the car hasn’t come to any harm.

Jacob: Your dad looks really pissed.

Emily looks in the rear-view mirror and spots her father running into the road, having escaped from his temporary prison.

Emily: I’ll worry about him when I get back.
Jacob: He had it coming.

Emily gives Jacob a look.

Jacob (smiling): It was kinda obvious.

At the end of the driveway, her father has stopped running and stares after his truck, fuming.

Michael (shouts): You stupid, little...!
Michael (to himself): Why is it you never listen to me?


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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

You can't automate creativity

I'm always wary of people trying to automate aspects of creativity. It always makes me think that the people involved don't truly know what creativity is. What I'm thinking of are those who want to somehow automate story creation or voice acting - I think they will end up being further uncanny valley endeavours.

This attempt at creating the "ideal" Bowie song really illustrates what I mean. Have you ever heard anything so banal and meaningless (assuming you can get past the guy's awful singing)? The exercise is completely meaningless because the reason many people like Bowie is because of his variety. And this is true for many artists and bands who have been around for a while - Queen, Pink Floyd, etc.

However, I think that U2 may already be working with this guy. And maybe EA consult with him from time to time. :)


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Something new...

... at least, something not connected to So Blonde. :)

I've been experimenting a little with a new style. Not fully sure, yet, how it will actually work in game and which game I'm going to use it on, but I think it would be fun to do.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Creativity in games 2

Either I've not been paying attention or there's a lot more creativity coming out of the gaming woodwork at the moment than there ever has been. I just saw an article on Eurogamer about the forthcoming game, Love.

This looks like a truly creative and exciting project and something I find intriguing, particularly as, with a name like Love, I never would have expected it to contain combat. I also like the way that he's specifically looking back to older games for the combat style. The first Quake game works much better for me than the recent ones which are becoming too realistic. But then, one of my all time favourite first person shooters was Heretic (the one that used the Doom engine). Blimey, I wonder if I still have a copy of that somewhere...

I also saw the trailer for Love, which looks fabulous. Certainly a game to keep a watch over.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Creativity in games

Yesterday evening I was over at Hull University giving a talk to the local section of the British Computer Society entitled, Games - the Creative and the Technical. Basically, I looked at how the technology of tools and modern game engines allows developers to unleash their creativity.

One of the great things about the games industry is that we have such a wide variety of excellent games to match all kinds of tastes, from Hotel Dusk on the DS to Bioshock to Peggle to the wondefully artistice delight of Braid released recently on XBox Live Arcade.

But what I think epitomises the whole notion of creativity in games is something I discovered this morning (and now wish I'd seen yesterday to include it in the talk). Crayon Physics Deluxe is a delight, judging by the short video on the website. What a great idea and so brilliantly executed.

The art style perfectly matches what it is meant to represent and complements the game's design wonderfully well. I can't wait to try it out for myself.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Notes on Game Dev

Beth Dillon asked me if I'd link to Notes on Game Dev, which is a blog style editorial on art and design topics. I've not read an awful lot of it yet, but what I've seen so far looks very interesting and highly relevant. Much more so than my own blog at the moment. So please check it out.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Writing Awards

The Writers Guild of America announced last year that it would be creating a new award aimed at game writers. More recently it announced the shortlist, amongst which was the game The Witcher. But because I am not a member of the WGA or its New Media Caucus I was not included in the list of writers nominated.

Now, I have nothing against the other talented writers who were nominated, but it seems like the WGA are taking my share of the credit and alocating it to the writers who are their members. I realise that the awards are for their members, but in a world where we all thrive, professionally, on our credits, this seems a little wrong.

If my work had been less significant I wouldn't even give it a a second thought, but as I edited and re-wrote over 90,000 words of dialogue I think that my contribution is not something that should be glossed over.

I don't expect this post to change anything, but I felt like letting off a little steam (in a polite way).

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hear My Dulcet Tones...

Well, listen to my weird voice, anyway. :)

Although GC in Leipzig was two months ago, the guys over at Adventure-Treff have finally posted a video interview that they conducted with me. I've done a lot of e-mail and MSN messenger interviews and with that format I always have a chance to think about my answers, so I'm pretty pleased that in this video I didn't make too much of a fool of myself. Mind you, I had done about fifteen interviews already by the time these guys got to me.

It's very strange watching and listening to myself in this way. It feels like it's another person doing the interview as my voice sounds so different in my head.

Thanks to everyone at Adventure-Treff.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Daily Crescendo

I'm in the middle of designing a game. Although it's hard to be objective about a work in progress, it's possibly the best design I've worked on. (Best being completely relative of course.) The design is much more non-linear than anything else I've worked on, which naturally throws up a lot of detail and complexity, which I'm having a ball with. However, one thing I've noticed is an unusual pattern to my working day.

Because of the complexity, I find that my mornings are very slow. I must spend most of the first hour just getting all the details into my head and working out where I am with the design. By lunch time I'm back in the swing of things and after a bit to eat I go for a walk while I run a few things over in my head. Then int he afternoon things really take off and my pace picks up to a point where the ideas are coming so thick and fast I have to keep flying back and forth in the main document to keep plonking them in where they need to appear. Which in turn leads to more details as I work through any knock-on effects of the new ideas. By the end of the afternoon I'm going so well that I fear my head will explode if I were to continue.

Creativity is always such a buzz and creating games is far more fun than playing them. :)

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Plotting Talk

I gave a talk on plotting last night at a meeting of York Writers. I was pretty nervous, as many of the writers have been published, and wondered how they would take what I had to say. Thankfully, they all seemed to enjoy it and it fired up some interesting discussion afterwards, which resulted in us running over the normal meeting time.

Because of my years of game development experience, the first part of the talk was about how stories work in games and how we approach the creation of the stories to ensure that they are sound, logically. The second was how I'm bringing some of those techniques to bear for the novel that I'm writing in my spare time.

If I get the time, I may turn my notes into a Developing Thoughts article, though it may be better as a couple of articles. I shall let you know.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stuff is happening all the time...!!

And no one told me!

Again, I'm sorry for not posting very much just lately, but my life feels full. But I'm going to take a little time to chill, listen to some music (Wishbone Ash at the moment) and write a few words.

I'm currently working on a project that I can't mention just at the moment, but it's one I'm sure at least some of you will find interesting. I'm sure something will be announced soon.

The English voices have been recorded for So Blonde: Forgotten Island and I'm so pleased with the quality. Thanks to wonderful voice direction from Martin T Sherman, the actors really delivered some wonderful performances. Our villain's voice is one of the best I've heard in a game.

I've mentioned before that I've been asked to give a talk about plotting to the York Writers group (which people are welcome to come to if they wish - it's in September; final date to follow later). Well, the more I think and research the idea, the more I think that there's quite a lot of scope for a long essay or a short book
It feels like there is a lot or grey-ness surrounding the subject as people have very different ideas about the role of story and plot, how they link together, the connection between outlining and plot and how plotting can be used as a means to an end in itself, particularly in games.
Games, it seems to me, often have very strong plots and weak stories. I think that because we're used to developing strong game logic, this helps game creators develop strong plots, too. Or, at least, very sound plots. I think that there are plotting lessons we can take from games and use them to apply to stories in other media.
While I'm still in the early stages of this - and the talk will be a useful test of some of them - I'm quite hopeful that it could be a useful exercise.

GC in Leipzig draws ever closer. I'm sure that it will be pretty tiring and very crammed with lots of meetings, interviews and such, but I'm looking forward to meeting up with some people I haven't seen in ages and some I will be meeting for the first time. If you're going, be sure to stop by the DTP booth (wherever that is) and say hello if I'm available.

Jason is moving to Wales at the weekend and Shaun has got promotion in his job.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Another New Interview

Sorry for not posting here for some time. I'm very busy at the moment and fitting everything in has been quite the juggling process.

However, I did find the time to fit in an interview for Delter Adventures, a Swedish gaming site.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Thinking about games...

One of the things I find is that I think a lot. I'm not sure it ever does me any good, but I'm sure there must be a good reason for it. Perhaps I'll work it out one day. But seriously, thinking is an important part of how I address what I do - from comic strips to dialogue to game design.

I was thinking just this morning about games and what differentiates a game from a sport. I have no idea what the academic distinction is, but it occurred to me that for my purposes if people are playing a game, then it's likely that they'll be taking turns, whereas in sports opponents (singly or in teams) are actively battling it out against each other at the same time.

Football, rugby and tennis are good examples of sports under this definition, but snooker, darts and golf would have to be classed as games, which may mean that my distinction is flawed from the start, particularly when you look at something like cricket or baseball.

These two could be said to fall under both categories as each team takes it in turn to have an "innings" while their opponents take the field. However, they are also actively battling against each other at the same time, though in different roles.

Anyway, the purpose of this rambling isn't to define a set of rules but to show my thinking process, no matter how odd you may find it. If I think about computer "games" in a similar fashion, I can't help but feel that multiplayer deathmatch or capture the flag are more like sports than games.

I began to think of other games, too, but in particular the adventure. I came to the conclusion, as it's likely that others have done before me, that adventures are neither games nor sports. They are in fact puzzles.

We tend to refer to the gameplay in an adventure as being a series of puzzles - and well they might be - but I believe we should think of an adventure game as one big puzzle that is filled with lots of smaller puzzles, each of which add to the whole in a fulfilling way. In many respects, the adventure has a lot in common with the crossword if you pull back and look at them both from a high level.

The crossword is a puzzle made up of lots of little puzzles (each word and clue), many of which can be solved with the aid of solving others. There is no set order in which the crossword should be solved, but the complete solution is fixed. Each puzzler can get their own enjoyment from it.

One of the ways that I approach a game design is to think about the game as a whole as if it's one big puzzle that must be split up into lots of component parts in order that I provide enough of a challenge and continual gameplay for the player to gain the pleasure they desire. Without this approach a designer will run the risk of the game simply becoming a congomeration of lots of small puzzles that have no overall plan. It's like having lots of crossword clues without the grid to put the solutions into.

Although I've been aware of how I write and design games for some time, being able to think of it in these terms gives me a level of clarity that enables me to relate my processes to others.

So maybe the thinking stuff is good after all...


Friday, February 16, 2007

The Design Process...

A couple of days ago I read a short review of my book in Edge magazine and I must admit that I was a little miffed that they'd missed the whole point behind the book.

There's an element to the writing in Edge at times which conveys a kind of "we know all this stuff so everyone else should" and this was very blatant in the review. Yes, there are chapters in the book that cover a lot of ground that gamers and developers may know already, but judging by the feedback I've received, there are a lot of readers who are grateful for the approach I've taken.

The biggest slant of the book was that it was written for writers who want to know about writing for games and I put that writing into the context of development.

There was, however, one bit of the review that got me thinking a great deal, for which I'm thankful. The review said that the best parts of the book was when I concentrated on the process itself - the dialogue chapter and the appendices are examples of this.

With that in mind I thought that if I could create a book in which I took the reader through my own creative process of writing and designing games and creating a game design as part of that process, perhaps that would be much more valuable for those within the industry. In a way it would be like my Developing Thoughts pieces, but with much more meat upon the bones.

This would be a project that could take a long time to do, (and I may release it a chapter at a time) but hopefully I can make it something that would give some insight to those interested.