The original guide to writing for games returns! Every chapter has been revised and expanded, and there are new chapters covering storytelling for MMOs, urban narrative, interactive script formats, and the different kinds of relationship players can have with a game's story. Available from Bloomsbury now as a paperback, hardback, or ebook!
- Quantum Elements: manipulate Time to see the past and slow foes, or use Space to hover, lift, and bend light, Mass to apply incredible shattering force, or Energy to vaporise steel!
- Unleash Weaponry Forged at the End of Time: choose two weapon patterns from anywhen in history before each Raid, then seek Elemental power sources to weave them into your hands!
- 10 minute Survival Raids: you begin each Raid with nothing, but with one advantage - a choice of which Quantum Element power source you appear next to… Choose wisely!
High risk, 10 minute, ultratech dungeon raids – can you survive?
These four screenshots show how the world looks when wielding each of the four Quantum Elements - the tunnels beneath the Dying Earth look completely different depending upon which power source you choose to nanoweave your weapons. Four Quantum Elements, infinite tactical variations!
The good and excellent critic of all media, Jed Pressgrove, has kindly replied to last year's A Tale of Two Walking Simulators (1): Firewatch with his own thoughtful diatribe, Remembering the Wretched Firewatch. Here's an extract about which I have no disagreements whatsoever:
Nothing between 2016 and today has convinced me to stop hating the term “walking simulator.” I don’t believe it’s an acceptable descriptor, as you suggest. I believe it’s an abomination similar to Metroidvania (which gives too much credit to Castlevania), roguelike (used by, for the most part, people who have never played Rogue and thus don’t know what it’s “like”), shmup (toddler’s gibberish), and Soulsborne (what did Bloodborne even accomplish that warrants this reference?).
You can check out Jed's acerbic vitriol (not directed at me, I might add!) over at his always opinionated, always fascinating Game Bias blog, the rumours of the death of which were clearly greatly exaggerated! (Also, if it seems wrong to take a year to reply to a letter, please note that it took me four years to reply to Jed's original review of Firewatch... There is no concept of time in the Republic of Letters - only virtuous discourse!)
Is Mario's secret power to lower dissonance...? You ask interesting questions about how and why Mario is able to star in so many different kinds of games - from the bizarre pseudo-medical puzzle game Dr. Mario to the arcane sewing simulator I Am A Teacher: Super Mario Sweater, there does seem to be almost no concept that cannot be made to work with Mario as its centrepiece. By contrast, you point out there is no Doom Space Marine Tennis... and that does gesture at a limiting factor in Mario's promiscuity: there will never be a Super Mario Massacre game in which a gun-toting Mario and Luigi murderize hordes of enemies in a splatterfest of gore - and as your chosen juxtaposition highlights, there is a sense in which what is going on with Mario is that Nintendo have claimed everything outside of what the traditional gamer's vision of 'what videogames are' by having Mario come and plant his red flag. There are subtle points here worth exploring.
Many thanks for your engagement with the Game Dissonance serial in your blog-letter Layered Dissonance in Video Games. Our continued correspondence is a recurring blessing, especially since I can become quite discouraged when no-one is engaging with me on the topics that have drawn me in, and I have always been either in tension with or in exile from (take your pick) the mainstream academic communities - although I am increasingly convinced that standard academic discourse is not founded upon engagement, per se, and is rather a way for us insular nerds to satisfy their own desire to feel clever while being removed from any conversation that might have any impact upon how things are.
Before unlocking the mystery of Mario's secret power, I must push back against your use of 'theme' to mean 'setting'. This is certainly not your fault or responsibility! Boardgame geeks (primarily in the US by my reckoning) set up this use of 'theme' in games that has both stuck and spread - despite mildly disastrous consequences in terms of keeping games of all kind outside of the 'serious art' clubhouse. The problem is that 'serious art' considers theme to be an essential quality of narrative artworks - it is what a story is about. Thus while War and Peace has as its setting the 1812 invasion of Russia by Napoleon, its themes are about spirituality and suffering. 'No theme, no entry' is the door policy on the 'serious art' clubhouse. So identifying 'theme' with setting not concepts helps keep games (of all kinds) excluded from consideration for serious art. Which is doubly unfortunate, since there is an enormous volume of great artworks that are not serious (Duchamp's Fountain, for instance), which makes me wonder what's really going on inside that clubhouse...
You imply in your letter (and state explicitly in a short exchange we had by email) that you think videogames are better able to transition between settings than other media. I am not at all convinced of this. I suspect what makes this seem like a credible claim is tied up with why we ended up with 'theme' meaning 'setting' in the first place - namely, the association of 'game' with the patterns in the systems of play. Thus we can call Destiny and Phantasy Star Online 'the same game' despite being set in very different worlds, and switching a fantasy setting for science fiction does not break the sense of sameness between Terraria and Starbound.
But the same is eminently possible with other artworks, especially narrative artworks. Shakespeare's plays are routinely (and often quite excellently) transplanted from one setting to another without changing the plot, characters, or dialogue - consider, as only one example, the transplanting of Richard III from the 15th century to an alternative history 1930s fascist Britain in the 1995 film of the same name, directed by Richard Loncraine and starring Ian McKellan. Indeed, the Royal Shakespeare Company has thrived in recent decades upon finding ingenious settings to transplant these plays into. In my mind, this is a sign of greater transplantability of content in literature than in games, which are actually severely constrained by their systems. As I have said before, whatever setting you attach to Chess, the game will remain a representation of conflict. If there is a sense in which games are more transposable, however, it is because those systems are always dealing with pawns and not personalities; it is thus easier to house a game system in a new setting than to find a new way of mounting Richard III, because there are fewer interdependencies in game systems than in narrative systems.
Which brings us to Mario's superpower, namely to star in all manner of games provided none of them are serious. I cannot help but point out that this is also a power possessed by all cartoon characters - how many different settings has Bugs Bunny participated in...? Indeed, Mario is to Nintendo what Mickey Mouse used to be to Disney, before they discovered princesses were even more marketable than that ugly freak of a rodent. Thus I would suggest the power to reduce dissonance that you attribute (half-jokingly) to Mario, might perhaps be better understood as a power possessed by the cartoon setting to inherently transcend all other settings, to move between them for comedic purposes without ever breaking our engagement. It is something we have seen reach a kind of zenith with The Simpsons, Shrek, and other cartoons that smash together material from everywhere into a single semi-coherent world. Here, as elsewhere, our expectations - the habits we have picked up by participating in prior narrative practices - are precisely the limiting factor as to what we can get away with, and in cartoons it seems that what we can get away with is basically everything!
Many thanks for engaging with the Game Dissonance serial, and I look forward to exchanging further ideas with you in the near future.
Until next time,
Comments and further blog-letters are always welcome!
International Hobo is proud to announce the imminent publication of its long-awaited second edition of Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames, the original 'how to' guide for game writers. Here's the blurb from the back of the book:
As the videogame industry has grown up, the need for better stories and characters has dramatically increased, yet traditional screenwriting techniques alone cannot equip writers for the unique challenges of writing stories where the actions and decisions of a diverse range of players are at the centre of every narrative experience. Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames was the first book to demystify the emerging field of game writing by identifying and explaining the skills required for creating videogame narrative.
Through the insights and experiences of professional game writers, this revised edition captures a snapshot of the narrative skills employed in today's game industry and presents them as practical articles accompanied by exercises for developing the skills discussed. The book carefully explains the foundations of the craft of game writing, detailing all aspects of the process from the basics of narrative to guiding the player and the challenges of nonlinear storytelling. Throughout the book there is a strong emphasis on the skills developers and publishers expect game writers to know.
This second edition brings the material up to date and adds four new chapters covering MMOs, script formats, narrative design for urban games, and new ways to think about videogame narrative as an art form. Suitable for both beginners and experienced writers, Game Writing is the essential guide to all the techniques of game writing. There's no better starting point for someone wishing to get into this exciting field, whether they are new game writers wishing to hone their skills, or screenwriters hoping to transfer their skills to the games industry.
Game Dissonance was a three part serial that re-positioned the concept of 'ludonarrative dissonance' as merely a specific case of cognitive dissonance in the context of games, and explored the ways that games can trigger - and avoid - dissonance. The serial ran from September 30th to October 14th 2020. Each of the parts ends with a link to the next one, so to read the entire serial, simply click on the first link below, and then follow the “next” links to read on.
The three parts are as follows:
If you enjoyed this serial, please leave a comment!