Got a great idea for a video game? Not sure how to turn it into the next Grand Theft Auto? Need a little guidance from some pros? Games have come a long way since Pac Man, and involve increasingly complex stories and characters. Luckily Keith Giglio and Robert Bryant are here to help turn your vision into a story and a game. Hardly a gamer myself (my hippie parents banned Nintendo from the house when I was a kid), I was curious about what actually goes into writing a video game and why they’re so popular. So I chatted with Keith and Robert (over the internet, of course) about their upcoming course, Get Into the Game: Crafting Story for Video Games; visual storytelling; and their own favorite video games.
Katy Flaherty: How did you initially start writing video games?
Keith Giglio: Two years ago I walked into the E3 Video Game convention and saw the future. It’s not that movies were dead and were being replaced by video games. It’s that video games began to look like movies to me. That is, they created an exciting world, had intriguing characters, great production values. As a writer, I was looking for a new creative medium.
Robert Bryant: Initially, as a game tester, I would sometimes find bugs in which the game script as written no longer matched the way the game was played. I would sometimes be asked to rewrite lines of dialogue so that they correctly described the game’s functionality. Currently, as a production executive, I work with designers and writers in much the same way as a story editor does, helping to shape the material and working to integrate game story and game play into a cohesive whole.
KF: How does writing video games compare to writing a screenplay? Are there overlapping elements, or do you find the process to be somewhat different?
KG: Both narrative forms rely heavily on world building. Whether it’s the THE DARK KNIGHT movie or the ARKHAM ASYLUM video game — the audience/player needs to believe they are in Gotham City. Both game and movie do this wonderfully.
RB: The cliché about filmmaking is that it’s a “collaborative medium,” and yet it’s possible–if not preferable–for writers to work independently and produce an entire screenplay by themselves. Gamemaking is to my mind much more truly collaborative. With rare exceptions, it’s virtually impossible to write a game script by yourself. It often requires constant input and review from team members–design, engineering, production, and even testing.
KF: Like movies, video game popularity crosses social, economic, and cultural boundaries. Why do you think video games have become so ubiquitous throughout the world?
KG: It’s the story. Successful movies and games take players/audience on a journey. It’s all about the ride.
RB: I think, boiled down to their essence, videogames are about power. Even on our worst days, when the chaos and stress of modern life leaves us feeling as though we have no control over anything, we can still rely on Mario to jump if we press the “jump” button.
KF: After 10 weeks, what can students expect to leave your class with?
KG: To have a better understanding of what goes into creating a video game and have a short basic game design document for their own original game.
RB: My hope is that together we will forge a better understanding of how traditional three-act story structure can be applied to videogames of undefined length.
KF: Fun fact! Please list your top five favorite video games of all time.
KG: Bioshock, God of War, Lego Indiana Jones, Half-Life, Prince of Persia
RB: My favorite games use a compelling plot, setting and characters to drive innovative –and integrated–gameplay. They are, in no particular order, Fallout, Fallout 3, BioShock, Deus Ex and StarCraft.
Katy Flaherty is the Assistant to the Director of the Writers’ Program. She enjoys Rock Band, Wii bowling, and Tetris.