Story Writing for Games

Story Writing for Games was a free panel event held at CCA Theatre on Monday 24 February as part of the Glasgow Film Festival

Did you ever wonder what is it like to write for video games? How can we make best use of the video game medium to tell our stories? And how do we do it well? Rab Florence was the moderator at the panel event. He spoke to some of the best in the field about their experiences with their own brilliant games, and where we can expect video game storytelling to go in the future.


The panel included Ragnar Tørnquist (The Longest Journey, Dreamfall), Rhianna Pratchett (Tomb Raider, Mirror’s Edge) and Sam Barlow (Silent Hill: Shattered Memories).


I’ve included below some of the highlights of the panel:

‘There is alot of restrictions because of the way the games industry operates.’ Sam Barlow

It’s a hard industry to get into, most of the writers are either invited or already work for the company that the game is being developed by.

‘It’s not like writing for a movie script (90-200 pages) , in a game it’s instantly more complex. ‘ Ragnar Tørnquist

Many people under estimate the huge amount of effort and hours that is required to write for a game. Take for example  LA Noire, a writer needs to come up with all the different story lines for each outcome the player chooses to take. Many game like that can take 100’s of hours to complete, you can’t play a game for that length of time without all the dialogue, character development and plot development created by a game writer. When you write for a film, you only need a script that lasts for at least 90 minutes of on screen time. So if you want to write for games, be prepared to write  a huge novel.

‘If you pitched Shame as a game then you would be asked would it be fun? Sam Barlow

As a writer you have to think outside the box and be prepared for anything. If you are gonna pitch an idea then make sure you know what you are talking about. You gotta ask yourself; who is the target market? Why would someone want to play this game? Why should they care about this character or what happens to them? How can you make  it and keep it fun? There is an endless amount of questions because at the end of the day the game you write needs to sell.

‘I love working with actors on the games. They give the spark of life to the characters. Sam Barlow

If you are lucky enough to have talented actors to give a voice to the dialogue you write then go for it. What better way to find out if a certain line works then to hear it from an immensely talented voice actor such as  Troy Baker. Sadly getting performances and character in a game can be very expensive, which is usually why only the AAA games can afford it.

‘With games you can tell a broader range of stories and a broader range of protagonists.’Sam Barlow

The possibilities is endless when writing for video games as you aren’t restricted to write at least 90 minutes of dialogue like you would in a film. With 100’s of hours of potential game play you can have all the time you need to develop the characters and plot, to be able to tell great stories.

‘In The Last Of Us when the father picked up his daughter up, as a father myself i felt something’ Ragnar Tørnquist

The saying that games don’t make you feel anything is not true at all. Games these days have such great detail (thanks to motion capture and great actors)  and dialogue that you forget for a while that you are watching a game and get caught up in the emotional story lines. It’s like watching an American drama thanks to all the Oscar influenced writing.

‘You can get the best writer in the world but if you don’t use them and properly then it doesn’t matter.’ Rhianna Pratchett

Even big budget games can fail, don’t restrict the creative output of a writer because a good story can help make or break a game.  After all  ‘No one is gonna make a huge AAA game with the story of Doom.’ Sam Barlow

‘I’d like to get back to working with smaller titles. The AAA games has the big budget but i’d like to see everything through in a game. I think you only get that with a smaller budget.’ Rhianna Pratchett

‘You have to trust your instincts. It needs to be personal’ Ragnar Tørnquist

The Glasgow Film Festival is was held in Glasgow from 20th February to 2nd March 2014.


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