Part 3 of 3, By David Gaider
A few tips, then, on how to put together a writing submission:
1) You don’t need to learn how to use the Neverwinter Nights toolset or any other applicable conversation-writing system. We have hired people who worked out just fine that submitted their dialogue in MS Word, using hyperlinks on the player responses to jump to the appropriate text box. It is perfectly okay in such cases to write things like [THIS APPEARS ONLY IF THE PLAYER IS EVIL] or [THE NPC WALKS TO THE DRESSER AND OPENS IT]. We’ll be looking to see how well you’re writing and how your quest works, not how well you script (unless that’s what you’re applying for).
2) Do include a quest of some kind. The most important thing here is to KEEP IT SIMPLE. “KISS” is a guiding design principle for a very good reason. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a writing submission where the writer has gone to great pains to design an overly elaborate quest that would either work far better in a novel and is thus almost impossible to implement in a video game (and demonstrates a lack of knowledge of how a game works) or would require an entire game all of its own (it would be nice if you got to dictate an entire game’s plot as a beginning writer, but unlikely). Or, better yet, they include the entire background of their homegrown setting which is intrinsic to understanding the plot they’ve created, complete with a detailed background on the nuances of each character involved. Trust me, make it a simple side plot that is interesting and has some kind of twist (to show how adeptly you handle it). Focus on writing vivid characters and demonstrating how adeptly you can get that plot across in writing.
3) Allow for a few different ways for the player to deal with the NPC. Also, see if you can’t have the NPC react to different things about the player’s character. What if the player’s an elf? What if they’re female? What if they’re a mage? Does the NPC change their attitude towards the player based on how the player responds?
4) Keep the player responses short. As in no-more-than-10-words short. If you’re angling at writing something in the Mass Effect style, obviously you’re going to have to make the options even shorter. It is okay for player responses to have a little personality. Too much, however, and you run the risk of making one of your choices something very few players will actually take.
5) Avoid relying on the use of narrative text. I happen to think using narrative text in a game (like it was done in, say, “Planescape: Torment” or “Hordes of the Underdark”) is super-duper. Seeing as it doesn’t get used in games much, however, you’re going to need to know how to operate without it (unless, of course, your goal is to demonstrate that you are capable of writing a game as opposed as a game for us.)
6) Read your lines out loud. If they don’t sound natural to you, they won’t sound natural to us.
And the very last and most important thing: if you get rejected, or don’t get a response, TRY AGAIN. Create another submission. If you can get feedback, listen to it. If not, look at what you wrote and decide how you can do better. That’s how you’ll improve your skills. If you were under the assumption that any game developer would hire you based solely on your resume and then train you to competence, think again. Most authors need to look forward to sending submission after submission to publishers, and this is no different. If you’re in it for the long haul, expect it to be work. If you’re not interested in the work, then the best thing would be not to waste the time – ours and yours.
Remember, other developers are going to have vastly different standards, but if you expect to get anywhere as a game writer some of these principles are still going to apply. Even if what you’re going for is general game designer, you’re still going to want to develop something that shows you know your stuff – and you’re going to have to do it again and again. Everyone thinks they’re utterly brilliant until they sit down and do it. What’s important is realizing that, brilliant or not, what you’re doing is applying for a job: be professional, show your stuff and look towards developing your skill set. I have been doing this for 10 years now, and I still have a lot to learn.
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?