The Ultimate Guide to Videogame Writing and Design

Video gaming is for sure one of the reasons I got so addicted in computer programming. Being forced out of the videogame industry in 2004 had not been an happy experience at all and I am still trying to make sense out of it. But life goes on and if I am not really capable of “letting go” that part of my life, I am gardening the (possibly false) hope of making some games in my spare time.I am just a programmer and I know my game design skills will never rival with even to the scantest game designer. That’s why I bought and read this book. Not with the intent of becoming a game designer, rather with the desire of filling some of the gap and better understand the techniques and the mechanics of their work.
The book is easy to read and concepts are easily grasped. I found some little inspiring pearls. The first is the introduction itself. Authors claim that in an ideal world they would have suspended their work for at least one year in order to properly write the book. Actually this is impossible, as is impossible to do with much of the work they do – multiple projects are developed in parallel and the successful worker has to deal with this rather than complaining.
The first drawback is, IMO, a direct consequence of this – the book is not very well organized. I found that some chapters are out of order and oftentimes an overall picture is missing. It is not too bad, you may argue that is just “creative” at work.
Another interesting concept is that writing a game (o a show, a movie) is not “art” but “craft”. I.e. “art” is about inspiration and cannot be relied on for day-to-day work. “Craft” is something that gets thing done, in the best way, even when your muse is on vacation.
The book propose a good number of exercises. I started with the intention of doing them all, but some of them are too time consuming to be done on holiday, with an inviting sea in front of you (and your children yelling around).
The other big drawback is that this book is much more about “writing” than “designing”. The distinction may be thin, but “writing” pertains to the story, while “designing” pertains to the mechanics of the game. Most of (if not all) the problems are seen from the story point of view. Therefore characters are examines and created starting from their story, their internal struggle, their relationship, i.e. everything that is story, rather than from “powers” and which “actions” they perform.
This is not bad per se, it is just that the title may result a little misleading.
I have mixed feeling about suggestions given in the book about the job at large. At one extreme are good advises about how to deal with conflict in the team or with other project stakeholders (even if not everything is applicable in working context other US). At the other end are obvious suggestion (don’t live over your possibilities and subscribe a pension fund).
The book proposes a set of templates for the definition of characters, parties and world. The approach is good and likely the tables contain the right set of questions. In fact I found myself to develop an unexpected and quite awesome background for the videogame I am working at.
To sum it up, read this book if you are interested at story in videogame.

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