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How to Get Into Video Game Writing

by Matthew Melay
video game writing

Video games have come a long way since Namco’s pixelated pop icon, Pac-Man, ambled his way into arcades during the 80s. Back then, gamers could only dream of the possibilities of modern gaming, things like 4K resolution, online play, and immersive storytelling. Modern video games have since traded in the corridors of Pac-Man in place of non-linear gameplay and story-branching narratives – great news for scriptwriters!

With such an emphasis on storytelling, it’s never been easier to get a foot in the door in the video game biz. Before you set out on your journey to becoming a game writer, read this helpful article. Its contents will help you on your way.

game writing

What is Game Writing?

Writing scripts and narrative design for video games differs from writing for film and TV. That’s because video games aren’t strictly stories; they’re interactive media. Video games offer scriptwriters a unique opportunity to write content that leverages their training and professional experience in storytelling for the interactive 3-D stage.

As a game writer, you’ll help studios by writing narrative elements that legitimize a game as a living and breathing world. The ever-popular Elder Scrolls series from game developer Bethesda offers a great example of a world built by game writer prose (and game writer pros!). Through memorable narration, voice-overs, character dialogue, scenes, story treatments, lore, found narratives, and ‘barks’ (short, triggered dialogue by computer controller characters), game writers helped bring settings like Skyrim to life.

game writing

What Is The Difference Between Game Writing and Scriptwriting for Film?

Video games excel in allowing players to experience a story rather than watch it, meaning that they have a role in determining the outcome of the story. Therein lies a key difference between film and games.  The audience watches the protagonist’s story unfold from scene to scene in a movie, the story moves in one direction towards the end. Whereas in video games, you’ll observe that the player’s choice affects the outcomes and the twists and turns of the story through to its conclusion. This distinction is indicative of the narrative content you’ll pen as a game writer.

Games like Mass Effect from developer BioWare is another good example. In this sprawling space opera, players become the protagonist, Commander Shepard, and his team who sets out to save the galaxy (essentially). Loved for its immersive sci-fi role-playing experience, Mass Effect’s innovative dialogue system allowed players to engage in dynamic conversation with NPCs (non-playable characters) controlled by the computer.

Through Mass Effect’s sophisticated branching dialogue trees, players choose from a set of predefined responses based on a scenario facing the protagonist. The player’s chosen response affects the outcome of the subsequent dialogue, gameplay, and ultimately how the story plays out. The player’s experience becomes subjective, and the result for each playthrough becomes unique from one player to the next.

video game writing

Choose Your Own Adventure

As video game narratives become more sophisticated, player autonomy necessitates that the many possible outcomes of the player’s choice are pre-scripted. That means that game writers become essential for writing outcomes for dialogue, and the narrative content that reflects either the good or bad consequences of the player’s choices.

As an analogy, consider the Choose Your Own Adventure book series. The author has to write each scenario and outcome, regardless of whether the reader chose to: face down the fire-breathing dragon by turning to page 18 or flee the dragon’s den by turning to page 27. They also had to write multiple story-endings that relate to the possible decisions before the reader. The same is true for game writing. More outcomes, more writing.

Storytelling in video games has transformed. The new world of interactive narratives means game writers are in high demand. As a scriptwriter, you’ll have a leg up on other writers vying for choice work with game development companies. But like any profession, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared by learning the tools of the trade.

game writing

Video Games and Script Writing Software

Scriptwriters will already be familiar with word processors like Microsoft Word or web-based apps like Google Docs to write narrative content. Today, however, with AAA and indie game development upping the ante for engaging interactive narratives, it has become increasingly necessary for game studios and game writers to adopt integrated script editors and pre-production tools to expedite game development.

While you prepare your resume and writing portfolio, it’s a good time to familiarize yourself and indeed become proficient with game writers’ workflows tools and how they integrate within the broader context of video game development cycles. Celtx offers one such solution, the Game & VR editor.

Level Up Your Game Writing With Celtx

We built Celtx’s Game & VR editor with game writers in mind. It makes creating interactive narratives easy and intuitive while also providing the broader development teams with expansive exportable data models that integrate with game development engines. You can write familiar screenplay-style scripts and easily house them in branching sequence-based structures to create ambitious interactive narratives.

The door of opportunity opens before you, future game writer. What will you do next? Learn more about interactive narrative design? Or will you take your first step into a career in game writing and sign up for a free seven-day trial of Celtx scriptwriting studio for game writers? The choice is yours to make.



Author

  • Matthew Melay is a technology enthusiast and contributing writer for Celtx. His articles cover transformative technologies for film & TV and interactive media industries, including script writing, media production, and narrative design software.

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