Action and graphics alone don’t make a good video game great – a strong plot and smart dialogue are just as important. So say Sean Smillie, content developer and instructor, and Meghan Aubé, program leader of a new game writing academy at UBC Continuing Studies. The program started this summer and is designed to not only hone students’ creative skills but also give them an understanding of the practices, processes, and personalities in the highly competitive field of game development.
What are the objectives of this program? How is it different from other offerings out there?
Aubé: Video game writing is a distinct craft with its own set of rules, and this course was designed to impart a strong foundation in this craft. There are courses that teach video game coding and design, animation and programming. But this is the first program in Canada that focuses specifically on game writing and combines that with knowledge of the complexities of the development process and the game industry.
Smillie: Students will learn how to create an entire character back story, a character’s DNA, and write an actual plot. We’ll give them scenarios and they’ll write dialogue for those scenarios. They’ll also receive training on the lesser-known aspects of the game industry, and how production and development works. They’ll learn how to work with artists and how to be part of a large team, whose members may be located in different cities. Depending on the game’s complexity, development could involve lots of collaboration, intense deadline pressures, and many moving parts. Understanding all of this is important if a writer wants to succeed.
How does writing for video games compare to other types of writing?
Aubé: Good writing is an important part of a successful game. Even games with the most cutting-edge graphics and inventive gameplay will not live up to their full potential if players can’t engage with the world, characters, or narrative.
Smillie: Game stories are more than just a tale; they are an experience that the player is interacting with. There are multiple elements to the plot, as there are in other mediums like film, TV, and comics, but a game narrative needs to be balanced and complement an interactivity that doesn’t really exist in other narratives. Often a player is forced to make a decision that will affect the plot’s final outcome or they will experience a key scenario that may unfold rapidly or be drawn out depending on a player’s knowledge of the game environment or skill at gameplay.
There are multiple elements that each player may look for in a game’s story, but what often stands out is a narrative that can keep them engaged throughout the length of the game. Some video games can go for upwards of 20 hours. A good plot needs to be able to draw a player in and keep them involved for the duration.
How do students start? What are the requirements?
Aubé: There are no prerequisites. Students don’t need to know how to code or work with visuals. All they need is an interest in writing for video games. There are six courses dealing with specific aspects of narrative, such as dialogue writing and world-building, process, and working within a studio, which may be taken in any order. At the end of the program, students will have compiled a portfolio of work that hopefully can help them find their niche, identify job opportunities and hit the ground running.
Where do game writers and developers find work?
Smillie: Studios are global and the jobs are in Vancouver, Montreal, San Francisco, Los Angeles, in Europe and Asia. It’s an exciting time for the industry too with many interesting new titles coming out on all platforms, including Xbox and PlayStation, mobile, PCs, and tablets, and even for social media platforms like Facebook.
For more information on the course, visit cstudies.ubc.ca/game-writing
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