Train2Game News: How The Elder Scrolls Online story is being written by Zenimax

Train2Game students can find out how the story is being written for The Elder Scrolls Online, the upcoming MMO from Zenimax Studios based on Bethesda’s popular RPG series.

Speaking in an exclusive video interview with Game Informer, lead content designer Rich Lambert and creative director Paul Sage discuss the story for The Elder Scrolls Online and how it fits in with Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, and Tamriel as a whole.

They also reveal some of the techniques used at Zenimax to decide on their story, including research, brainstorming and communication with Bethesda Game Studios.

Watch the video over at Game Informer. You can also watch the Elder Scrolls Online announcement trailer below, right here on The Train2Game Blog.

There’s much more about The Elder Scrolls here on The Train2Game Blog, including this post about nearly 14 million mods being downloaded for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

What are your initial thoughts about The Elder Scrolls Online? Do you think an MMO in an established single player universe will work well?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game News: LittleBigPlanet and Driver: San Francisco writer to talk games writing at GameCityNights

Train2Game students can get an expert insight into games writing from LittleBigPlanet and Driver: San Francisco writer Dean Wilkinson when he appears at GameCityNights later this month.

GameCityNights are monthly events which take place in Nottingham that explore video games and the culture around them.

Not only does Wilkinson have plenty of experience in video games writing, he’s also written comedy for TV, radio and books.

“This is the first writing-focused gig we’ve staged at GameCityNights, so it’s a privilege and an honour o be welcoming one of the best in the business along” said GameCity Director Iain Simons.

Bennett Foddy, creator of QWOP, GIRP and Pole Riders and Ed Key, creator of Proteus, will also appear at the event sharing their inspirations and aspirations over Skype.

GameCityNights Episode 5 takes place in Nottingham on Thursday 31st May from 6pm. Tickets cost £5 in advance, and can be booked at http://nights.gamecity.org

Previous speakers at GameCityNights include Dear Esther creator Dan Pinchbeck. There’s more information here on The Train2Game Blog.

Will you be going to GameCityNights later this month? What would you be most interested in finding out?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game news: Bioshock Infinite director Ken Levine talks game design with Uncharted writer Amy Hennig

Bioshock Infinite

Tran2Game students can get an excellent insight into game design, thanks to a podcast featuring Irrational Games’ Ken Levine in conversation with Naughty Dog’s Amy Hennig.

Ken Levine is the Creative Director of the upcoming Bioshock Infinite, while Amy Hennig has the same role on the Uncharted series. The Irrational Interviews podcast is therefore almost a must listen for anyone interested in video game story telling.

The two Creative Directors discuss creating complex narrative in a video game, how a large creative team works, and the challenges of their roles and how different it is to writing for film.

“It’s not the way films are made,” said Hennig.  “I’ve described this to friends of mine who are screenwriters, and they just think we’re insane.”

Download Ken Levine’s Irrational Interview with Amy Hennig here.

A previous podcast saw Levine discussing narrative with film director Guillermo del Toro, which you can find out more about here.

Will you be downloading this podcast? If so, let us know what you learned from the two Creative Directors.

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game news: BioWare writer to give master class in games writing

Train2Game students have the opportunity to hear Star Wars: The Old Republic writer Jo Berry speak about game design, when she gives a public master class at Sheffield Hallam University later this month.

The BioWare writer is a graduate of the university’s Master’s degree in Creative Writing, who moved to the United States in 2008. The master class will see her pass on advice about creating dialogue and characters, building scenes that work both for the narrative and as exciting set pieces, and writing for voice actors.

“Attention to the quality of video game writing is increasing – gamers are demanding better storytelling and the industry is responding.” said Berry.

“Writing for video games is perhaps not something that creative writers would consider but it is an exciting career where your writing might find a home. I’m looking forward to coming back to the University and sharing my experiences with potential games writers of the future.” she added.

The public masterclass takes place in the University’s Norfolk Building, room 210 on Wednesday 25 April from 6:10 until 7.30pm. For more information, see the Sheffield Hallam website.

As previously reported by The Train2Game Blog, Star Wars: The Old Republic gained almost 2 million subscribers in its first month on sale.  Train2Game students can get an insight behind the scenes of the game, and advice on getting into the industry,  in our interview with BioWare Associate Lead Game Designer Emmanuel Lusinchi

There’s more Star Wars: The Old Republic news right here on The Train2Game Blog.

Will you attend the public master class with Jo Berry? What would you ask here?

As usual, leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game news: Mass Effect 3 senior writer on getting into the games industry

Train2Game students looking to get a job in the industry should be playing games, and anaylsing their strengths and weaknesses as they do so. That’s according to Mass Effect 3 senior writer John Dombrow.

“Find what you’re good at and then keep getting better at it. Whether it’s writing, designing levels, creating sound FX, doing concept art – you’re only as good as your product.” he told the BioWare Blog.

“You should play games all the time, see what works, what doesn’t, and learn from the successes and failures of others.” he said, before adding that getting ahead in the industry, to for example, become senior writer for Mass Effect 3, takes a lot of work.

“But also be realistic – you’re not going to land your first job in the industry as Lead Designer. Be prepared and willing to work hard starting from the ground floor, improve your craft, and eventually you can get where you want go.” Dombrow said.

The full interview is over on the BioWare Blog, and should provide interesting reading for Train2Game students, as the Mass Effect 3 writer discusses the best part of his job, his average day and more.

The Train2Game Blog has previously spoken to BioWare co-founders Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk, who offered Train2Game students their own advice on how to break into the games industry.

There’s more news from BioWare  here on The Train2Game Blog, where you can also find plenty more advice from industry professionals on getting into the industry.

What are your thoughts on the advice from the Mass Effect 3 senior writer? Do you already analyse the games you’re playing?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game news: Mass Effect 3 writer offers advice on getting into the industry

Train2Game students who want the best chance of finding a job in the games industry should create their own games. That’s the advice from BioWare writer Sylvia Feketekuty, who is responsible for dialogue in Mass Effect 3.

“Try creating a game of your own. There’s a lot of community-supported game-making software out there.” she told the BioWare Blog in an interview about her role as writer for Mass Effect 3.

“Even if what you put together ends up small and basic, you’ll learn a lot about working in an interactive medium. It’ll really help you figure out where your strengths and interests lie. You’ll also have a lot of fun, too, between the bouts of frustration. Adjust what you have to, and don’t give up!”

Feketekuty also believes that game designers should read as much as possible, as it helps with creativity.

“I’d also encourage people to read as much as possible. Research topics you find interesting. Pick up a classic. Open up a play, or a movie script, or a travelogue if you’ve never checked one out before.” she said.

“Reading widely helps you become more creatively well-rounded, and that’s a trait developers always love to see.” the Mass Effect 3 writer added.

Train2Game students might find the BioWare Blog interview with Sylvia Feketekuty rather interesting, as she gives an insight into what it’s like working for the Mass Effect 3 studio.

Train2Game spoke to BioWare co-founders Dr. Ray Muzyka & Dr. Greg Zeschuk in November last year. You can see their advice, and find out how they got into game development, here on The Train2Game Blog.

What are your thoughts on the advice from the Mass Effect 3 writer? Are you making your own games? And if you’re a game designer, do you read a lot?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on The Train2Game Forum.

[Source: BioWare Blog]

Train2Game news: Two UK studios nominated for Writers Guild of America awards

Train2Game blog Brink imageTrain2Game students may be pleased to learn that two UK developed video games are among this year’s nominees for the annual Writers Guild of America Awards. As the name suggests, the awards are usually dominated by American games, but not this year.

Splash Damage Lead Writer Ed Stern is nominated for his work on Brink. You can find out how he wrote Brink in last November’s huge interview, right here on The Train2Game Blog. You can also listen to Stern speaking about games writing as part of a BAFTA panel here.

London based Rocksteady Studios win a nomination for their work on writing Batman: Arkham City, while Canadian studio Ubisoft Montreal is nominated for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.

Mortal Kombat and Uncharted 3 complete the list of nominees for the awards which take place in Los Angeles on 19th February. The full list of nominations is below.

  • Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Story by Alexandre Amancio, Jean Guesdon, Corey May, Darby McDevitt; Multiplayer Story by Stéphane Blais, Richard Farrese, Jeffrey Yohalem; Lead Script Writer Darby McDevitt; Script Writers Richard Farrese, Nicholas Grimwood, Corey May, Jeffrey Yohalem; Greek and Turkish Ambient Dialogue Writer Vincenzo Beretta; Ubisoft
  • Batman: Arkham City, Lead Narrative Designer Paul Crocker; Story Written by Paul Dini, Paul Crocker and Sefton Hill; Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
  • Brink, Lead Writer Edward Stern; Bethesda Softworks
  • Mortal Kombat, Story by John Vogel, Brian Chard, Dominic Cianciolo, Alexander Barrentine, Jon Greenberg; Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
  • Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Written by Amy Hennig; Sony Computer Entertainment

So Train2Game, what are your thoughts on the WGA nominations? What does it say about British games writing?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or here on the Train2Game forum.


Train2Game interview: Brink Lead Writer Ed Stern Part 2 – Game Design

Train2Game was at last month’s Games Writers Panel at BAFTA’s headquarters in London. There, the Train2Game blog spoke with panellist Ed Stern, Lead Writer at London studio Splash Damge. In an in-depth interview, Ed discusses development of Brink, game design and game writing and offers advice to Train2Game students on how to get into the industry.

Part 2 focuses on narrative in games, what makes a good game designer and advice on how aspiring writers can get into the industry. It’s on the Train2Game blog, or alternatively you can read it on Train2Game’s Scribd page. Part 1 of our interview with Ed Stern is available here.

We’re here at BAFTA for the Games Writers Panel, the theme is ‘Putting the protagonists in the hands of player kills traditional narrative concepts,’ what are your views on that?

It’s really interesting because we’re so used to, as writers, we think about character a lot and we think about action a lot. But compared to prose or theatre, stage play or screenplay, we just have to empty out our tool kit almost completely. All we’ve t left is a hammer and when you’ve got a hammer everything looks like a nail!

It’s really hard, we’re giving up control to players most of the time. Basically, if it’s a cinematic, players resent it because they’re not in control. If the player is control you’ve given up all control of the pacing and meaning to the player, what happens if they just don’t want to look at the thing you’re claiming is important?

I think part of the answer is what Bernard Herrmann did with movie scores. He realised the symphonic form or the classical form, it needs too long to develop, you need to write in tiny little dramatic units that’ll work no matter how short the scene is. It’s kind of like that and you just get used to writing at postcard length, or Tweet length.

So what do you think makes a good game designer?

I don’t think there’s any one quality but I guess adaptability because your Plan A will never work out. It’s like they treat you at Sandhurst, no battle plan suffice contact with the enemy, battles only ever take place on the edge of maps, never  in towns you can’t pronounce. It’s kind of like that! It’s the art of the possible and there’s and old joke; you finish up the game with the team you should have started with and a month after it shipped you find out what it was about.

So you want people who are flexible enough to not get too up or too down about stuff, but still remain completely passionate and committed to it. I think it’s hard for people when they first join the industry as they can do the passion but they can’t do the pragmatic. Or you get people who are a bit too pragmatic and won’t stand up to fight their corner and be passionate about it and then accept the production decision when it’s made.  So as in all things, balance.

How did you get started in the games industry?

It was just dumb luck. I was working in TV production making TV about computer games, or out of computer games, and one of the guys we had as a consultant was setting up a studio and needed a part-time writer to do press releases and I just fell arse backwards into it…Which I realise isn’t a replicable step but there’s lots of stuff now as then.

There’s a huge mod scene, there’s lots of teams making games out of existing games using existing technology, changing the look and changing the meaning. No one is stopping anyone from making game; it’s just very hard to get paid for it. But when you’re in that initial phase there are certainly projects out that that need writers or need designers, it’s just whether anyone is going to pay you for that time.

But it’s always more important to finish something than to start something, that’s what we look for when we’re hiring, what people finish in their portfolio, not what they start then kind of get a bit bored with and give up on.

Carrying on from that, what advice would you give to a writer or designer looking to break into the industry?

Learn to code, learn Unity, learn Flash, be able to make a game. Because even if you’re not great a graphics or great at sound you’ll understand what the issues are. You know that game Game Dev Story? You want to have at least a couple of stats in the other disciplines. Even if you’re never going to be hired to do sound, have some idea what the issues are with sound. If you’re a writer have some idea what the graphic issues are so you don’t inadvertently end up writing a cheque that no one else can cash.

I think that’s a problem for people coming into the games industry from other industries, they just don’t realise some things are incredibly cheap. I mean in games it’s not that much more expensive to make a building fly through the air then it is to just sit there. By the time you’ve made it you might as well move it around.

But some things are incredibly expensive. Like facial animation; that’s ridiculously expensive and that’s something you get for free in theatres and movies.  Close-ups are incredibly hard for us; they’re way more expensive than any other shot. But then again by the time we’ve built a set we can fly the camera around for free, that’s cheap for us to do, we don’t need to hire a helicopter. So yes, have some awareness of the other disciplines and the relative costs, I think that’s the most useful thing.

Speaking of facial animation, do you believe games will get on a par with films and television? We saw it earlier this year with L.A. Noire but it takes a lot of time and effort right now.

Possibly, it always sounds like it’s just around the corner. Maybe it will be with enough computing power. Photorealism, it’s a blind alley; games are a million times more expensive to make than Tetris now, they’re not twice as much fun as Tetris. Games like Limbo, now that’s not a realistic art style but it’s a fantastically immersive one.

Project Zomboid is a very unpromising sounding game, it’s about a zombie invasion, surely that’s been done to death? They do amazing things with that premise, Will Porter, the writer does incredible work within four lines; I was totally, absolutely obsessed with the fate of those characters. Graphically that’s not enormously complex and it’s just text on screen but it’s enormously effective. Now that’s not expensive, but it’s bloody good writing and it’s really effective on the player. So maybe that’s a more effective way of doing it because it’s not as expensive, but it’s not trying to be movie and as a result you get playing immersion and dramatic involvement much cheaper that way.

Thanks for your time Ed.

No problem, thank you.

Leave your comments here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game forum. 

For more information, go to www.train2game.com

BAFTA’s public events and online resources bring you closer to the creative talent behind your favourite games, films, and TV shows. Find out more at www.bafta.org/newsletter, www.facebook.com/bafta or twitter.com/baftagames

Train2Game interview: Brink Lead Writer Ed Stern – Part 1

Brink Train2Game blog imageTrain2Game attended last month’s Games Writers Panel at BAFTA’s headquarters in London. There, the Train2Game blog spoke with panellist Ed Stern, Lead Writer at London studio Splash Damge. In an in-depth interview, Ed discusses development of Brink, game design and game writing and offers advice to Train2Game students on how to get into the industry.

Part 1 focuses on Ed’s role as Lead Writer, the design and art of Brink. Read it below here on the Train2Game blog, or alternatively you can read it on Train2Game’s Scribd page. Part 2 of the interview is here on the Train2Game blog.

First of all, can you tell us a bit about your role as Lead Writer at Splash Damage involves?

It’s an odd one. It’s sort of a narrative designer director role which means lots of things. It can end up being virtual location scout and production designer and wardrobe guy. I think a lot of it is giving design documents and reference images to artists, environment artists and level designers and so on. And it’s tough for writers because we’re used to working with words but lots of people who make games aren’t textually inclined, you’ve got to give them images. So, photo research is bizarrely a lot of the writing I do.

Because it doesn’t matter if I write a document that I think describe what’s going on, that’s not the target audience, the target audience is the team making the game and quite often they’re more visually inclined. So yes, writing back-story, creating the world, writing cinematics, storyboarding cinematics, writing dialogue, directing performance capture, directing voiceover and trying to do localisation as far as possible. Well it’s not so much trying to do that as building in localisation, so something like ‘here’s a text box, I can’t fill it with text in English because in German it’ll be a third longer so whatever I write has to be a bit shorter than that” That’s the glamorous world of games writing!

Splash Damage released Brink earlier this year, how did you go about writing it?

Well that was really fun because that was the first time we at Splash Damage produced our own original IP. Previously we got to work on Quake and Doom and Wolfenstein which is fantastic, because if you’re working on other people’s IPs that isn’t a bad place to start! So we needed to demonstrate we come up with a world. Arguably we overwrote that, that’s kind of an RPGs worth of back-story and world for pretty much just a multiplayer shooter. But it was great! It was great fun to do and the goals were it couldn’t look like anything anyone had seen before, and we wanted to be sticky, it’s a great test of a character. You turn the page and do they still linger in your mind?

Dickens is a great example of that. He’s got characters who only have a detail of their costume, he only talks about the guys’ waistcoat, but he’s really memorable, even after you put the book down you think what was it about that guy? So the goal was that the world itself would be the games main character and it would be memorable and even when you’ve finished playing you’re thinking ‘What was the deal with…Oh that, that’s the half of that that was in that other level there!’ It was trying to create a world complex and sticky enough so players will think about it even when they weren’t playing.Train2Game blog Brink image

Is that the reason behind the very distinctive art style Brink has?

Partly. I mean partly that’s just to get away from photorealism because there are enough dark brown or green shooters and so it was a unique thing. Also for immersion, I mean realism doesn’t actually engender believability. In fact it turns out that you can exaggerate facially quite a bit, it’s whether there’s an immersive character or situation. But yes, partially it was also to be visually distinct. It made it interesting trying to direct for that with performance capture, because the actor makes a subtle gesture, but by the time it’s been replayed on this enormous hand model with these huge great meaty fingers, quite a subtle gesture turns into this huge operatic gesture. We didn’t see that coming, we should have anticipated that.

What were the challenges of writing a mainly multiplayer focused game in Brink?

The problem is that you’ve got is all the writers tools are generally about a protagonist and you stick with this hero who works their way through. We didn’t have one – we had these three characters depending on what faction you chose and you saw cutscenes with them – but you weren’t one of them, you were just a member of their team.  The challenge is to make the player interactions meaningful so that when they press a button, they don’t just feel like ‘I’m running around and pressing a button on a controller or clicking a mouse.’ You’re feeling like ‘I’m one member of this team and I’ve picked this faction rather than the other and I’m in this location and I give a hoot about what the objective is.’

One of the things we did – for instance there’s a level called Container City and it’s a kind of slum – and if you go there as Security you’re told ‘They’re building a bio weapon, you’ve got to get this thing,’ and that’s a pretty important reason to go and get that thing, fair enough. But if you’re as Resistance you get told ‘They’re stealing our vaccine.’ So hopefully they care about that. Or my personal goal if they’re paying attention to the story – and lots of people don’t, that’s another thing – is they go which is it? And we’re never going to tell you definitively and it’s entirely plausible that it’s both because what do you make vaccines out of other than viral particles which could be used as a bioweapon?

The goal was that it wasn’t just ‘Take objective to place B,’ that we were going to dress it up in a fiction, so that even though it’s all just chaotic being shot in the head action, the narrative carries on even though the cinematic was over. That was the challenge.Brink

And what was the thinking behind adding the alternative game endings as missions?

Well we didn’t want to privilege one story over the other: if you win fantastic, if not that other thing happened. We didn’t want there to be a canonical ‘this is correct and all the other ones are wrong.’ Actually it turns out there is kind of a storyline but we didn’t want to collapse all the possibilities down unless we absolutely had to.

I think it’s a problem with lots of games that in their urge to explain everything they kind of explain everything away and it’s like an equation where it all factors out and there’s nothing left, it just goes, and it’s an exhaustive explanation of what’s going on and there’s nothing left to think about. So we quite like that there were these loose ends and the loose ends themselves would join up, and so players should have questions should have questions about ‘Why are they doing that?’ If they’re of a disposition to listen to audio diaries, ‘Oh that’s what that was about!’ Even if players aren’t into that I think they can sniff it in the time and trouble that’s been taken.

So that was the goal, even if people didn’t watch all of the cinematics or read all of the diaries, somebody has done the work and it does all add up to something.

Looking back at a Brink, if you could change anything, what would it be?

We weren’t able to do it, unfortunately, but it was very much the plan that you would be one of the characters in the cinematics, it would be you doing those things. But because we really wanted to let people choose their voice packs; that would’ve meant recording every line of dialogue in every single one of the voice packs and we just didn’t have the budget to do it. That I think would’ve changed the sense of story, because it would’ve been you going through it, not just three guys you might or might not care about. That would’ve been one thing that would’ve changed the meaning of the game and it’s a shame we weren’t able to do that.

Read part 2 of our huge interview with Ed Stern here.

Leave your comments here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

For more information, go to www.train2game.com

BAFTA’s public events and online resources bring you closer to the creative talent behind your favourite games, films, and TV shows. Find out more at www.bafta.org/newsletter, www.facebook.com/bafta or twitter.com/baftagames

Deus Ex: Human Revolution writer talks Game Design

Deus Ex Human Revolution Train2Game blog image

Here’s something that’ll be of particular interest to the Train2Game Game Design students; Eurogamer have published an interview with Deus Ex: Human Revolution lead writer Mary de Marle.

Here’s an extract from the wide ranging interview:

Player choice is important in Deus Ex, but from your point of view it must be difficult to accommodate that. How do you achieve it with writing?

From a broad picture of just story, and all the different branchings on that, overall our story from a very high level is linear. You go from A to B to C. But we identify early on moments of choice and consequence where you can make a decision that will change and affect the lives of the people around you and the world around you.

Before we started writing the story we knew what the story, basically, was, but then we worked to say, ‘How do we manifest that story in the game through the level design, and where are those key moments where their lives would be changed? And then, if so, how can they be changed, and where do we see the repercussions of those changes?’

So from that standpoint, it wasn’t just me alone. It was working with a bunch of people to spur those ideas and to get it all down on paper before so we had something we could always refer to that we wouldn’t forget three years later.

But what about the dialogue? How do you write dialogue for all these permutations?

First of all, when you’re writing a dialogue, it’s often moments in the writing process where you’re debating, should the character say this or should he say that? When you’re trying to write a dialogue in a film or a book, you make that choice right away and then you follow that dialogue to its natural conclusion. But in a game like this you actually get to go, well, I don’t know. Let’s try them both. The challenge becomes, how do you link them back in together?

So in one way it gives you a lot of freedom to explore things you normally wouldn’t, which is fun. But the challenge becomes not so much about what the character says, because you take it from the character himself and his personality, but identifying all the possibilities of things the players could do.

For instance, I might have a very solid opinion of who Adam Jensen is, and I will play him non-lethal and nice. And I have a hard time thinking, well, he could be an asshole at this moment. So the challenge comes from breaking that convention to think of those possibilities, rather than actually dealing with the possibilities when they come through.

But luckily I’ve got a lot of different personalities on the team who don’t want to play Jensen as the nice and non-lethal person, and they point them out for me. Sometimes.”

You can see the whole interview on Eurogamer.

It’s certainly interesting stuff and will give the Train2Game Game Designers something to think about. You can also see more information about Dues Ex: Human Revolution both here on the Train2Game blog and on the Thoughts of Train2Game blog.

What are your thoughts on what Mary de Marle has to say? Would you like to write a game with many different dialogue options? And are you looking forward to Deus Ex: Human Revolution?

As usual, you can leave your thoughts here on the Train2Game blog or on the Train2Game forum. Alternatively, you can let us know what you think on Twitter.

[Source: Eurogamer]

Train2Game, in association with DR Studios and the University of Bedfordshire, will be holding a Game Jam at the end of March. For more information, see this Train2Game blog post or the Train2Game Game Jam Facebook page. Alternatively, keep an eye on the Train2Game Game Jam Twitter account.