Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Writing for games

In a thread at a new forum I spent time in (The Diving Bell Adventure Pub), someone mentioned it might be a good idea to let would-be novel writers create the stories for casual games. I don’t think that would be a good idea and here is why. And it’s here, because it is about writing rather than about gaming.

As a would-be novel writer (and I’ve no problem with that label – I’m not published yet, so I do not consider myself a ‘true’ novelist), I see a couple of problems with that idea. I have, quite some years ago, tried to write and program my own text adventure (I don’t have the necessary graphic skills to create sprites, animations and backgrounds). Even writing the story did not work out well – let alone the programming part.

Adventures and RPGs need very flexible stories that can be pushed and pulled in various directions and still stay in shape. You can do a lot of things differently or at different times in a chapter (or the whole game), so the story has to ‘play along’ with it and allow the game to put in cut scenes in different order (because you first finished chain two instead of chain one, each adventure contains a certain number of intermingling puzzle chains that need to be finished in order to move on to the next chapter – the same is even more true for RPGs with their side quests). A novelist (or a would-be novel writer) on the other hand fights very hard to find the perfect order for all the scenes in a story.

HOGs get a story to motivate the player to go on. You can actually have a HOG without a big story, if it’s a straight HOG (no IHOG, a HOG with adventure elements). But most HOGs tell a story and they do so in dialogues between the levels. That’s not a lot of storytelling, even with the odd cut scene here or there. Unlike adventures, HOGs do not contain puzzle chains that are intermingling, so you don’t have to care about a flexible story that much. But if you dare to put in more than just a few lines of dialogue between levels, half of the players will say ‘that’s a bad game, I don’t like it’, because they don’t like reading that much. (For instance, the game “The Mysterious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was bashed for containing actual pages to read that continued the story between levels – I found the game and the storytelling great, most people didn’t.) But you can’t tell a very difficult story with lots of plot changes and intrigues in just a few lines of dialogue. So, not a place for a would-be novel writer (or professional novelist), either.

Other casual games (TMs, Match 3 and so on) put even less emphasize on a story. It’s just something that connects the levels in most of them. People want to beat those games, to get an expert score or beat the clock, that’s why they play – not because of the great story.

The only kind of ‘game’ that you need a very good story for – albeit one with a lot of dialogue, but dialogue is good in a story – is the Visual Novel I’ve written about before. It’s a novel you play (and even they need a branching story – a story with different paths towards the end or even different endings depending on the player’s choices), but it’s above all a novel.

In addition, most casual games are made with an option for a sequel, provided the game does well. You can’t really ‘finish’ the story – although there should be some sort of closure – and have to give the player the little ‘this isn’t over yet’ scene in the end. This is something a novelist could work with, but it doesn’t make telling a complicated story any easier.

You can write a novel based on a game, you can make a game based on a novel (such as “The Great Gatsby” which I might cover over in my main blog soon), but you can’t apply the rules for writing a novel to writing the story for a game. Therefore you can’t just take a novelist (or a would-be novel writer) to create a story that works with a game.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Wordl Art

I was a bit bored yesterday, so I went to the Wordl site and got one for every blog I have. This one is for this site:

Interesting collection of words, isn’t it?

Friday, 6 August 2010

Snark Hunting and Asian Masterminds

I have already written about “Forgotten Books” and I probably will mention the site and the books I get from there every now and then in the future. This time, I will talk about the first novel I got from them and about a very long, but very interesting poem. I will talk about “The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu” by Sax Rohmer and “The Hunting of the Snark” by Lewis Carroll.

I’ll start with the Snark, though. Years ago, during my Star Trek phase, I found an excerpt of the poem (in eight chapters) in the novelisation of the second movie, “The Wrath of Khan”. The novel (which was not about a Snark or Lewis Carroll) only cited a few verses, but it was enough to stick in my head. Unlike “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass”, though, “The Hunting of the Snark” is not all that well-known in Germany.

Naturally, when I had all those books on the site at my disposal, I went hunting for the Hunting. And I was successful, even though this book merely is a scan (like a few others I’ve found) and thus a bit harder to read than those that have been set anew for the publication as PDF-file. Still, the e-book contains not only the text, but also the illustrations, both of which were taken from the 1876 edition of the book.

I started reading the poem (even though it has about a hundred pages as an e-book, it’s still one poem, not a collection of them), looking for the few lines I remembered about the characteristics of the Snark. (Admittedly, playing a casual game called “Snark Busters Welcome to the Club” before help to remember this poem … ahem.) But the more I read of it, the more amused I was. I read it out loud and found it great. It has its own rhythm to it (but that’s what rhyming is all about, isn’t it?) and flows perfectly.

I enjoyed the poem and will surely re-read it from time to time to be amused (about the Baker who forgot everything, including his name, when he arrived on the ship, about the blank map and about the Beaver and the beaver-specialized Butcher). Thanks to Forgotten Books I have had the chance to get to know it. I really appreciate it.

Now on to someone less benign than the common Snark (when it’s not a Boojum, of course). Gaze, oh gentle reader of this blog, on the cold and scaring face of Dr. Fu-Manchu.

I will start writing about him by admitting that I had my first encounter with the doctor and his methods before I read the novel. I happen to be a fan of Christopher Lee and in the 70s he played the doctor in a couple of movies (most of them with a partly German cast). I own a DVD collection of the movies and it mentioned the original stories in the booklet.

Still, the mention of a novel in a booklet isn’t the same thing as reading the novel itself. The novel was first published in 1913 (though not as a novel, but as a series of shorter stories which now make up the novel). It predates the German equivalent of a dangerous doctor by about ten years, as the first “Doktor Mabuse” story was published around 1923. Still, I found it easier to read than the other story.

It’s not a very complicated story, but a very good adventure. In every chapter (in every shorter story once published separately) there’s the usual action sequence: a threat, a reaction to it, a murder, a dangerous situation, the heroes win, but Dr. Fu-Manchu is not apprehended. This makes it a good, short read.

I can understand why even the contemporaries claimed it was racist, there are a lot of prejudices against people from Asia in the story (not just the doctor himself, but also his helpers, willing and unwilling). But I understand a novel (especially one that close to a penny dreadful) as entertainment. That might include prejudices (older novels include a lot of prejudices against women, for instance, picturing them in a very one-dimensional way) about which I don’t care. This only goes for novels, though, not for any non-fictional work.

As far as novels go, this one is a quick read. The style isn’t glorious, but easily readable, even for someone who can’t claim English as her native language.

Reading old books that are not widely know can have different results. In this case, it had great results and make me look for quite some other books as well. Anyone should at least try it sometimes.