Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Interactive Stories for the Masses

In this article, game writer Sande Chen delves into the history of interactive movies and how kids today might benefit from interactive stories.

In the 1990's, DVDs and laserdiscs made full motion video (FMV) interactive movies possible, but they never really caught on as mainstream entertainment.  In Tender Loving Care and other titles, a character would stop and ask the audience a question, which would help determine the course of the story.  Such scripts were much longer than regular scripts and no doubt, most of the footage was never seen.  Flash forward to today.  NetFlix has just announced interactive adventures for kids.  Based on existing animated kid shows, the new episodes will allow kids to dictate the direction of the story, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.  As seen in the video, the protagonist directly addresses the audience and asks for input.


Mobile titles like Choices and visual novels also champion choice in stories but usually without FMV or even 3D.  There are interactive Twine stories that are more text-driven.  I think these interactive adventures will more closely resemble the short interactive films from eko or YouTube interactive stories made possible through creative use of the annotation function and video linking.  They are not necessarily games, though some people would call interactive movies games.  I know when I plotted out my YouTube interactive, "The Wish," I simply thought of the video sections as narrative fragments.  There were choices, but it wasn't a game. 

For instance, the first video in "The Wish" was an introduction whereby the protagonist met a genie and was urged to make a wish.  This led to many possibilities.  However, whatever wish was chosen would backfire spectacularly so that all of these videos always included a choice for a do-over.  This would lead to a third video, which would lead to the list of possibilities again.  Obviously, there could be a great deal of looping until the viewer chose to stop asking for wishes.  In that case, the viewer would get the outro video to end the story.

I don't think of these new interactive adventures as games, and they don't have to be games.  I'm interested in seeing how kids take to it and I applaud NetFlix for starting this venture.  I think since these interactive episodes are shorter and using licensed properties, they probably have a better chance than the interactive movies of yore.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Upcoming Workshop: Game Writing Porfolio Workout

In addition to the Game Devs of Color Expo panel on diverse character design and representation in games on June 24, I have some upcoming workshops through PlayCrafting NYC, which are held at Microsoft NY in Times Square.

To learn more about me, you can read an interview I recently did with SciFiPulse: "Sande Chen discusses her career, teaching, and video game design."




The popular Game Writing Portfolio Workout, which had been on hold during the longer 4-week Game Writing Primer course, returns on Monday, June 26.  If you want to see what the life of a free-lance game writer is like, come to this workshop for a deep dive into typical game writing tasks. You'll be writing continually, so be sure to bring a laptop or notepad.

Here's what a former student has said about Game Writing Portfolio Workout:
"This is so far one of the best Playcrafting workshops. The teacher was funny, incredibly knowledgeable and shared the best insider secrets!"
As always, Playcrafting NYC, which offers classes and events related to game development, offers Early Bird tickets, but if they sell out (and they have in the past), you'll have to pay full price. 

Come and write!
Game Writing Portfolio Workout
Date:  Monday, June 26, 2017
Time: 6:30-8:30 PM

Each session is different and dynamic.  Existing story ideas are welcome, but not necessary, because writing prompts during class are intended to generate leads. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Upcoming Panel at Game Devs of Color Expo

Game Devs of Color Expo

I'm pleased to announce that I will be moderating a panel about diverse character design and representation in games at the 2017 Game Devs of Color Expo on Saturday, June 24, 2017, which will be held at New York City's historic Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  Panelists are graduate student Amaryah Shaye Armstrong, Tanya DePass of I Need Diverse Games, writer Yussef Cole, and game designer Dina Abou Karam.  In addition, there will be panels on music, sound, and choreography in game design, polishing and launching your game, and surviving the game industry.

Tickets are still available, including a low-cost student option!

Come see games from around the world at the arcade and listen to microtalks about breaking-in, crowdfunding, indie games, and VR game development.

I last talked about this topic at the Different Games Conference in 2015 and I am eager to explore more of these diversity issues on this upcoming panel.

The details!

Game Devs of Color Expo
Saturday, June 24, 2017, 2:55 PM 
Diverse Character Design and Representation in Games 

Five games industry professionals will further the case for diversity in character design during this panel. Topics to be discussed will include the portrayal of dark skin in games, representation of Arabs in video games, queer people of color in games, whitewashing, and cultural appropriation.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Childhood Game Creations

In this article, game designer Sande Chen reflects on her childhood game creations and how they aided in her career.

The advice I often give to aspiring game designers is to join a game jam like Global Game Jam to meet other like-minded individuals and make a game.  Game designers aren't solo "idea people" who direct the game development process. Aspiring writers are urged to write, not to get others to write for them, and aspiring game makers should try to make games.

But if there aren't game jams near you, you can certainly learn on your own. There are many game creation tools out there, even ones directed at children. I have seen Scratch games that mimic the mechanics of high-end AAA games.


One of my childhood doodles.
For a recent feature on Polygon, "Veteran Game Developers Reveal Their Childhood Creations," I was asked to reflect on my childhood games and how the process of making them aided me in my career.  I have often spoke about making text-based adventure games at panels and interviews.  Prior to the text-based adventure games, I had programmed spelling, grammar, and vocab quizzes. I was familiar with computer programming so it presented no problems when I decided to make the games.

To me, the text-based adventure games felt like a natural extension of my creative writing pursuits.  The interactivity and branching narrative of text-based adventure games didn't seem foreign to me because of the games I played and the Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks I was reading.

Besides digital games, I was fond of drawing elaborate mazes, writing crossword puzzles, and modifying multiplayer tabletop games like mahjong.

While I didn't expect to working in game development after college, I can see how my early interest in games led me to where I am now.  Fresh out of film school, I wanted to be where the frontiers were in new media and writing.  I had grown up with these interactive and non-linear stories and I had created my own.  I decided that I wanted a career in game development.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

In 2 Days! Designing Games For Impact

My class, Designing Games For Impact, continues on Monday, May 22.  In the previous classes, we have concentrated on emotional impact and persuasive techniques.  As I alluded to in recent articles, "VR: The Ultimate Empathy Machine?" and "Issues About Impact," we'll be discussing the quality of empathy and impact we are trying to achieve.  For us to even think about measuring impact, we need to first agree what it is we want! You'd be surprised how often goals can get mixed up and target audiences can be overlooked.

Whether you are an entertainment developer who wants to add another layer to gameplay and story or an activist or educator who wants to reach out through video games, together we'll discuss different methodologies to achieve your goals.


As always, Playcrafting NYC, which offers classes and events related to game development, offers Early Bird tickets, but if they sell out (and they have in the past), you'll have to pay full price. 

The details!
Designing Games For Impact
Date:  Monday, May 22, 2017
Time: 6:30-8:30 PM

About Me 

Sande Chen is the co-author of Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform. As a serious games consultant, she helps companies harness the power of video games for non-entertainment purposes. Her career as a writer, producer, and game designer has spanned over 15 years in the game industry. Her game credits include 1999 Independent Games Festival winner Terminus, MMO Hall of Fame inductee Wizard101, and the 2007 PC RPG of the Year, The Witcher, for which she was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Videogame Writing. She has spoken at conferences around the globe, including the Game Developers Conference, Game Education Summit, SXSW Interactive, Serious Play Conference, and the Serious Games Summit D.C.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

When It's Not Punny Anymore

In this article, game writer Sande Chen explains why puns, cultural references, and jokes in games are not always appreciated.

[Warning:  This article contains spoilers for The Secret of Monkey Island and Game of Thrones.]

As writers, we love our wordplay, our rosy-fingered dawns, our puns, alliterations, similes, and metaphors.  They can breathe life into an otherwise dull descriptive passage.  However, culturalization experts in games know that localizing these efforts can be a difficult process.  A lot can get lost in translation, especially if a game's solution hinges upon this wordplay.  A very famous example comes from The Secret of Monkey Island, which not only had to be altered to avoid offending Japanese dairy farmers, but also stumped Brits who had no idea what were monkey wrenches. (They are called gas grips there.)

Professor Clara Fern├índez-Vara points out in her article, "The Secret of Monkey Island: Playing Between Cultures," that the phrase "red herring" has no added meaning in Spanish as it does in English.  In another passage, she explains why the "root beer float" joke falls flat because there is no root beer in Spain.  Understanding these cultural references would have aided in her gameplay.  Unfortunately, the cleverness of the wordplay was not able to be conveyed through literal translation.

Recently, in my Game Writing Primer class, we discussed the character Hodor and the circumstances of his Hodor-ing that came to light in the Game of Thrones episode, "The Door."  It's certainly an a-ha moment when heard in English, but how did the other languages fare? Some translators had it easy.  "Hold the door" sounded like Hodor in their languages.  Others were able to find similar Hodor sounds but for different phrases such as "Block the horde" or "Don't let them go outside!"  But in some countries, like Japan, the wordplay was simply too difficult a task and was not included in the translation.

Although books, movies, and TV shows are routinely translated and subtitled, it's different in a game when a narrative puzzle can depend on a pun the player does not understand.  Even when it's not gameplay sensitive, I still tell my students to carefully consider localization efforts when writing a game.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Upcoming Workshop: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Writing


Writing For Sci-Fi Fantasy Horror Game Worlds











Hi! We're now in the second week of the longer PlayCrafting NYC course, Game Writing Primer, and I am looking forward to playing all the story-based games produced in the course. Since it's been a while since the last Writing For Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Game Worlds, I'd thought it would be fun to do this workshop again.

If you're interested in science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror and want to populate your game world with monsters, creatures, aliens, fantastical beasts, and otherworldly cultures, you can benefit from this participatory workshop. Tickets sold here.

As always, Playcrafting NYC, which offers classes and events related to game development, has Early Bird tickets, but if they sell out (and they have in the past), you'll have to pay full price.
 
Come and write!
Date:  Monday, May 1, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM 
Place: Microsoft NY, 11 Times Square

About Me

My background is a mixture of theatre, film, journalism, economics, and writing.  I received a S.B. in Writing and Humanistic Studies (now the major of Comparative Media Studies) at MIT and then I specialized in Screenwriting at USC's School of Cinematic Arts.  My first published game as a writer was on the epic space combat RPG, Terminus, which won 2 awards at the 1999 Independent Games Festival.  Afterwards, I worked on the episodic fantasy series Siege of Avalon, MMO Wizard101, and the dark fantasy RPG, The Witcher, for which I was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Videogame Writing. I am a founding member of the IGDA Game Design SIG.