How to Write a Video Game Script
How to Write a Video Game Player's Guide
By Will Kalif
Writing a script for a video game is something that offers a writer some peculiar challenges that are found nowhere else in the realm of writing.
The first challenge is that there is no established or standardized method of writing a script for a game.
Many different companies employ their own methods of writing based on their methods of game creation. These methods are often proprietary or even ad-hoc.
Another big challenge to writing a game script is that no other discipline of writing has the same aspect of interactivity. In no other type of writing does the writer have to consider what the audience will do.
A game script writer has to take into consideration the many branching paths that a player may take through the script.
Writing a video game script offers challenges that go well beyond the normal realm of writing. But it is also something that can be tremendously rewarding in the scope of its creativity. Here are some guidelines and tips for writing a video game script.
Today’s video games are based in complex worlds and they tell stories. No longer does a player simply advance through repetitive screens slaying goblins and ghouls in a quest toward the goal.
A player now expects to progress through a world where there is a rich history and a plethora of decisions to be made. This adds to the complexity of writing a video game script and it also adds to the richness of the creativity involved.
The first thing you need to think about is that writing a video game script is not the same as writing a movie script. The two processes are similar and you do write a movie like script for your video game in the form of a storyboard but that is only part of the process.
There is a whole host of accompanying materials that you need to write for your game script. Here is an overview of what you need to write and why.Knowing who will need your script
When writing a script for a movie you know that there are many people who need the script for their work. There are things that are important to the director and there are things that are important to the actors.
This same thing applies to video game scripts. You have to write it in different ways for the different members of a video game design team.
Here are some basic things you should know so you can fulfill the needs of the various key members of a design team or company.Write an Executive Overview of the story in prose
This is the most important part of your game script and this is what will sink or float your script.
This overview has to tell a compelling and unique story and it should tell the complete story from the opening scene of the game through the major steps all the way to the completion of the game.
An overview like this can be almost any size and it would be very easy for this to be ten written pages or more.
Remember that today’s video games are very complex and the stories can be very complex too. This overview is also the most important part of the script. You would shop this to game developers to see if they are interested in developing it into a game. This executive overview is your business card; what you would use for that initial contact with potential game-developing companies.Write a History and Background of your World
Video games are complete worlds and game designers need to know what the world is like and what kind of history it has. This will help the designers to visualize what the world will look like.Create a Flowchart for the entire game
Your game is going to be very complex and there will be many decisions that the player will have to
make and each decision opens up a whole new path for the player to take.
Creating a flowchart is the best way to keep track of all the possible paths through the game.Create sub-quests and write a prose overview of each quest
Sub-quests can be simple or complex but each one is a story in itself and you must tell these stories.
These sub-quests are strongly affected by the choices your player makes in the game and your flow chart will be very important to these quests.
Will the player complete all or some of these quests? Are there sub-quests that are absolutely necessary to move the story of the game forward?Create character descriptions and bios for all the major characters in the game.
You need to answer these questions and flow-chart all the different possibilities.
Game designers need a complete picture of the characters in the game. This doesn’t mean you have to draw pictures of the characters. But you do need to give written descriptions as to how you picture them, even if it is a very bare-boned description. This is necessary for the modelers and graphic design artists to help bring your vision to life.
What your characters look like, how they act, how they talk and any other characteristics that are important to you and the game need to be communicated to the artists.
Many of the non-player characters you create will pop up time and time again. And their story is woven deeply into the fabric of your world. You need to describe this relationship in detail for the game designers.Write interactions with non-player characters
Your game will probably involve interaction with non-player characters (NPC’s). You should write out the dialogue and flowchart the choices the game player can make.
These interactions are often critical to the story and they can take the player on very different paths toward the conclusion of the game.Write Cut scenes
Cut Scenes are short animations or movies that come before or after major plot points in your story.
A cut scene should always be written to enhance or describe the story. A cut scene is also a reward given to the player for achieving a major milestone in game play.Write the actual storyboard script
This is the final step in the whole video game script writing process and it is the most detailed. You do this step last because you need all the supporting materials to understand and describe this correctly.
This part is very similar to that of a movie script. You progress through each scene of your story and you detail all the necessary information.
Here is an example:
Location: A dark cathedral with stained glass windows. An NPC is kneeling before a stone casket in the center of the main room Music: background music of an organ playing introduces the scene but subsides Characters: Main player, NPC named Thomas, seven were-creatures Player Goal: Discover the location of the underground lair Action: Player must initiate discussion with Thomas, upon first contact we activate cut scene (1) where
Thomas morphs into a were-creature and summons his were-minions. Main character must battle the were-minions then re-initiate discussion with Thomas.
Flowchart: No decisions made at this point: If battle is completed Thomas reveals the entrance to the underground lair and player advances to that level. If player is defeated in battle revert to death cut scene (11) and move to try again screen.
Notes: Player is locked in the cathedral and there is no exit. The only viable way out is to initiate contact with Thomas. Random were-creatures can be activated if player explores cathedral before talking with NPC.
The Importance of Collaboration
Writing a script for a video game is an intensely collaborative endeavor.
Making video games by its very nature is a highly creative and a team oriented undertaking and if you are writing a script that is being made into a video game you will quickly realize that your final game and script may be quite different than your original.
During the course of development many factors including budget, input from other team members, and even technology requirements can morph your game in very different ways. This is a normal part of the process and you have to have the mindset of teamwork, collaboration, and change.
You can’t cling to the letter of your writing. You have to have extreme flexibility and realize that it will change, probably a lot, as the project progresses.
When writing a video game script you have to remember that your primary audience is not the game player but a whole team of game developers with a variety of different skills and goals. And what they need is a complete picture of what your game is about.
This means that you are not just writing a story but you are creating a world complete with a tone, sounds, characters, story, plot, and subplots.
To successfully communicate this to the developers you need to use a whole set of creative tools and this is where video game scripts depart from normal scripts and open up a whole realm of creative possibilities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Will Kalif is the author of two Epic Fantasy Novels and an avid amateur game maker. You can learn more about him at his website http://www.stormthecastle.com
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