Part 2 of 3, By David Gaider
The first problem when it comes to people wanting to become a writer is that they think anyone can do it. It’s no doubt the same problem that was faced by the screenwriters in Hollywood when they went on strike recently. People who aren’t writers don’t often respect it as a skill. But it is a skill. It requires practice and dedication. It’s no different than painting; someone may be talented enough that they pick up painting quickly, or show a real flair for the painting that they do, but without developing that skill they’re never going to actually become good.
This is not to say that skill is more important than talent. You can be the most proficient painter in the world, yet without talent it’s never going to amount to much. Same thing with writing. I don’t know everything about writing (and it turns out I need to unlearn some of the things I do know) but I’ve learned that assuming you know everything is as dangerous as assuming you know anything. The point is that it needs work, and just because you may think you can whip up a masterful plot or a brilliant dialogue the truth is that it’s definitely going to be harder than you think.
When it comes to game writing, skill is even more important. You’d be surprised how hard it is for people to wrap their head around the notion of branching dialogue. Often what happens is that the writer has a very particular path in mind and fails to account for different player “voices”: the player who’s trying to do the right thing, the player who wants to be a bastard, the player who is the suspicious and reluctant hero, etc. You won’t be able to accommodate every voice all the time, but it is a mistake to accommodate none of them. Especially if your goal is to prove how good you are at this.
Another mistake is for a writer to put together a dialogue that really only makes sense if you follow the optimal route through it. Sometimes these writers branch off and can’t figure out how to bring that branch back into the conversation, so you end up with that branch becoming an entire dialogue of its own. At that point, you can start missing information, or it’s a branch the writer didn’t think through enough and didn’t consider how to make it sound natural by linking back into the regular dialogue.
David Gaider wisely prepared for a career in the games industry by first suffering from terminal boredom as a hotel manager. During that time he gamed as much with his friends as he could, and that paid off with a sweet little job writing for a company he’d never heard of before on a sequel to a computer game he’d never played. “It’ll last a few years, I guess,” he thought. Ten years later he is still at the same company, working as the Lead Writer on Dragon Age: Origins. Who knew?