On Cutscenes and Viewpoint Changes

Prince of Persia 2It’s been a while since your game’s scheming villain has actually shown up. There’s a good reason for that–you know the player will try to kill her as soon as she appears, and there’s only so many times you can place her beyond a uncrossable chasm or behind a force field. But you still want to remind the player she exists and show her behind-the-scenes plotting.

Or maybe your game adaptation of the Odyssey needs some Penelope scenes to reinforce that, yes–Penelope is pretty awesome and worth fighting monsters and gods to return to. You want to show how she’s handling her own troubles back home to inspire the player.

Or maybe you want to show Sidekick Guy getting murdered back at the base while the player is out on a mission. Or maybe you want to show the Great Dragon slowly awakening beneath the earth. Or maybe…

…well, you get the point. You want to switch away from the player’s point of view and use a cutscene to provide information or atmosphere you couldn’t otherwise get across. In a film, you wouldn’t think twice about it.

Here’s my advice: Think twice. That’s not to say you shouldn’t switch viewpoints for a cutscene in a video game. The advantages are obvious (and pretty much the same as they are in traditional, non-interactive media–thus, not worth discussing in great detail here) but there’s a lot to consider before you jump in. Continue reading

Now Available: Rogue One Novelization

Rogue One NovelizationHas it really been that long since I last posted on the blog? Let’s see if I can crank out some new game writing articles soon; as always, suggestions on subject matter are welcome.

The good news is, I’ve been keeping busy–I’ve worked on several upcoming games since that last post, and as of today released my second novel: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s the prose adaptation of the film, chock full of new and expanded scenes.

At some point I’ll probably write a bit about the process of adapting a film script into prose–it was a fascinating challenge, turning a fast-moving spectacle into a novel-length interior piece, and examining how to play to the strengths of any given medium is always an interest of mine. For the moment, though, this announcement will have to suffice. (I’ll likely update the Bibliography entry once some reviews come in.)

Writing Romance in (non-Romance) Games: Branching Romances

Here’s where it gets complicated. Or… well, more so.

This post is a companion to Writing Romance in (non-Romance Games): Linear Romances. You’ll find a number of assumptions about our overall topic outlined there; they still hold true, and I encourage folks to start with that post before jumping into this one. Here, we’ll cover three overall subjects: branching romance fundamentals, linear techniques in branching games (where we’ll revisit some of the approaches discussed in the previous post), and “casting” a variety of romantic interests in a branching game. Continue reading

Writing Romance in (non-Romance) Games: Linear Romances

Ah, romance.

Compelling romance subplots are tough to write at the best of times. Consider their place in linear media–how many otherwise strong films or novels suffer from an unconvincing, uncompelling, or tacked-on romantic element? Add in the complexities of interactive narrative and of course things often go badly.

But that’s no reason to eschew romantic storylines altogether. No one needs convincing that there’s a rich vein of material to be mined here. So what should we think about as game writers when we introduce romantic elements into our projects? What are the pitfalls to avoid and the game-specific challenges that need to be overcome? Continue reading

Comicpalooza Houston (and Twilight Company in Paperback)

Just a brief update this time around–life and work have been busy, and while I’ve got a few new game writing articles in various stages of production it may be a while before I have a chance to polish any up.

If you want to nag me in person about game writing or anything else, however, I’ll be attending Comicpalooza in Houston June 17th and 18th. (The convention is Friday through Sunday, but I’m departing Sunday morning.) I’ll be participating in a number of panels, as follows (full details, including locations and other panelists, at the official schedule):

Friday, June 17th

8:00pm: Monster Design 101. No roleplaying game is complete without some monsters. Find out what makes a truly effective monstrosity, and work with our panelists to brainstorm ideas for a cool original RPG monster.

Saturday, June 18th

12:00pm: Player Agency and Designer Authorship. In video games, especially when you’ve got a designer-authored experience rather than a purely emergent or procedural one, you’ve got to give the player a reasonable sense of agency over their experience and the feeling that the bad things that happen to them are fair and consistent–no one likes shooting through a room full of baddies only to be disarmed by one guy with a pistol in a cutscene, for instance.

2:00pm: What Makes a Good Villain? This panel takes a look at the characteristics of a good villain for your RPG campaign. Whether a tragic figure or a relentless force of nature, a memorable and compelling villain can add depth and vitality to any game. Come find out some tricks you can use to enhance your bad guys!

6:00pm: Cutscenes Within Video Games. Lots of people have strong feelings about them! What makes a cutscene good or bad? How can they be used well?

The rest of the time I’ll very likely be wandering around the con, so feel free to say “hi.” I’ll almost certainly show up at at least one of the roller derby exhibition bouts going on! If you can’t catch me at a panel but still want to chat, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter during the day and see if I’m in shouting distance.

On an unrelated note, the paperback edition of my novel Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company will be out June 28th. It’s the same as ever, but the paperback includes Janine K. Spendlove‘s short story “Inbrief” (previously published in Star Wars Magazine insider, starring Twilight Company’s resident bounty hunter Brand) as well. Bonus!

I won’t reiterate my pitch for the book here, but there’s more on the Bibliography page as well as a lengthy excerpt, synopsis, and blurbs over at the official Penguin Random House site.