2017-03-20T11:49:18.581-04:00I'm playing a couple of new games, and they have amazing gameplay. But something's missing for me with their characters.Now, granted, you can have a pretty good game without strong characterization. A game can be superfun without it. But it can't make you care about the characters. It can't move you.I have a long-running beef about many fantasy and SF and historical games. Characters are defined primarily by their situations. Say, for example, you're an outcast. Members of the Tribe are mean to you. The character you play is, naturally, spunky, and doesn't let the meanies get her down.But suppose you were a Jew in 1930s Germany, or a Muslim or a trans person in South Carolina now. You do not fit in; some people are mean to you.But they are mean to different degrees and in different ways. Some will mock you. Some will hit you. Some will pretend you don't exist, because they're not fundamentally mean and they're embarrassed about it. Some will be mean if other people are around, but nice to you if other people are not. We expect characters from the 20th and 21st centuries to be people with personalities. Their attitudes are colored by their situation; they're taught to react to you a certain way. But some people are angry and just looking for someone to take it out on. For some, duty is important and they might hurt you but only because they think they're supposed to; it's not personal. People are different.I miss that in a lot of fantasy and historical and sf games.I can't wait for the cave man game where you meet a Neanderthal, and he's a bit of a joker, but actually, you realize, actually kind of an asshole.People also have their own stories going on. I can't wait till I'm playing a game and I meet a member of the Other Tribe, and she's really upset about something that just happened (like she just broke up with her boyfriend) and meeting me is not the most important thing in her day, I'm just a weird happenstance. In A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, the animals are people. When you meet Eeyore, he's a self-pitying mope. In fact, he is such a specific self-pitying mope that I feel positive that, if I'd gone to a garden party at A. A. Milne's house, I'd have been able to figure out which of his friends A. A. was making fun of.So if there are three kids from the Tribe harassing the playing in a prehistoric or post-Apocalyptic game, then maybe one of them is really intent on hurting you, and obviously angry at your very existence. But a second kid is trying to pull him away because she was enjoying the game they were playing and you're nothing to her. And another is obvious upset at what the first one is doing, but doesn't want to rock the boat.Just because you're writing historical or pre-historic characters doesn't mean you can't write people. Modern homo sapiens — meaning humans who you could dress up and put in the subway and they'd look completely normal — have been around for at least a hundred thousand years. A hundred thousand years ago they probably believed the mountain was a god and the stream was a god too and so forth. But don't tell me that some of them weren't really nice people, and some of them were jerks, and some of them you had to catch on a good day, and some of them were egotistical. Some of them wanted to be chief of the tribe, and some just wanted to get with the ladies or the men, and some were no use for anything but okay in a pinch, and some were smart and clever and useless in a fight.And I guarantee you some would not listen to anybody, and some could make you feel good when you fell on your face, and some just made you feel stupid, and the kids didn't listen to their elders as much as the elders wanted, because people have been complaining about that at least since the invention of writing. (Seriously, we have texts from the Romans and even the ancient Egyptians saying, basically, "Kids these days, amirite?")When you're writing aliens, other species, people from other times and places, try writing them like specific people that you know. Write them so specifically[...]
Would you be willing to read what I have done so far and, in addition, give me some advice about getting it in the hands of a producer?I used to do that, for a fee, but I don't do that any more, except for friends.
Certainly, if you assist me, I would not mind at all sharing proceeds with you.What you are looking for is an agent. An agent finds a producer to pay you, and takes 10%.
I am working to get the synopsis for my screenplay exactly right. It took me a month to get the perfect log line.Good! Most people don't spend enough time on their hook. They just charge ahead and write the script. Then they write the query letter. I've critiqued query letters in the past, for a fee, and about half the time, as I'm trying to improve the query, I can easily think of a better concept. Of course by then the script is written and nobody wants to rip up their script and write a better one.
You will see that I am an accomplished writer. In fact, my mantra is that I steadfastly refuse to start a sentence with 'the', a habit left over from the promise of at least a grade of 75% in English Literature if a student submitted material exclusively without ever starting a sentence with 'the'.The fuck???
Q. I show a female cop near the beginning of my script, but she doesn't speak.A. They will, but you’re not writing a shooting script. You’re writing a selling script. A selling script should read the way you want the audience to experience the movie.
As I start Act II, I introduce an old women, who is really the cop, in makeup prosthetics to look like an old woman.
Do I tell the reader that the cop and the old woman are one and the same? Or do I let the reader know when everyone else finds out?
A friend of mine says “the director and the crew need to know right away.”
2017-02-24T20:43:12.166-05:00I was not satisfied with what we were able to do with one particular character in a recording session with an otherwise wonderful voice actor. Our voice actor is very good at accents, but this is a fairly hard role — a developmentally disabled adult who has to break your heart.
Q. I'm a novelist who is expanding my career to include screenwriting.Warning, Will Robinson. Danger, danger. A producer who does not want to discuss money at this point is almost certainly wasting your time. Real producers understand that they have to pay money to get what they want creatively. Indeed, that is literally the job description of a producer. Producers find money in order to move their creative projects forward.
I've gotten many views on Inktip. One producer contacted me to ask if I would add an angel to to script, turn it into a feature film script and then tone it down to family friendly.
I asked if we could chat by phone. We had a good rapport and I enjoyed hearing her ideas. I developed a new synopsis, tweaked it after several email exchanges until she said that she loved it.
I waited a few days. Then I emailed to ask what she would like to do next. I had asked her about her budget earlier and she didn't want to discuss money.
After 25 years writing for major publishers, I've never been told not to ask about money. She just emailed me to ask me about the changes to the script. I haven't added those changes to the script because the changes are major, would certainly surprise the readers who followed the book series, and I'm not sure I want to write a screenplay with no budget in mind. I've never worked gratis.That would be "no."
Should I write a screenplay for her without knowing the budget, or if she has the funds to pay me?
Don't write action scenes. Write suspense scenes that require action to resolve.
Q. Lately I’ve heard that very few agents will take you seriously if you have less than 5 scripts, so before I even write the query, I wanted to know if I should do it one query per script? Or?I have not heard anything about five scripts. Last I heard is that agents want one awesome spec (of a running show) and one awesome spec pilot (for your own show). One speaks to the ability to write in someone else’s voice, the other speaks to your own creativity and voice.
2017-01-04T21:14:09.345-05:00I read Michael Lewis’s book The Undoing Project, about two scientists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who investigated just how irrational people are. For example, “anchoring.” If you have people roll dice to get a random number between 1 and 100, and then you ask them to estimate the number of countries in the United Nations, or the number of languages spoken in India, or anything else they aren’t sure of, those who rolled higher numbers will guess higher than the ones who rolled lower numbers. They’ve been primed to think of higher numbers.Which is sort of interesting, but one valuable takeaway had nothing to do with their research. When Tversky listened to scientific lectures he didn’t agree with, rather than figuring out how to shoot them down, he asked himself: what is this true of?This parallels my acting teacher Joanne Baron, who said that when you get feedback, find the truth in it.It’s easy to find something to disagree with. But if someone gives you feedback, or a scientist gives a lecture, then there is probably some truth to it. You will often get more benefit from figuring out in what way is this true or what part of this is true than in figuring out why it’s wrong. We have a gal in our office who often disagrees with people. She has a habit of finding something in what they're saying that is easy to dispute, rather than finding the thing that makes sense, and then expanding on it.Anyone who’s ever argued with a teenager knows that if the kid can find something, anything that’s wrong in anything you say, the kid will feel entitled to reject everything you’re saying.A cardinal rule of improvisation goes: yes, and. In improv, you’re not allowed to disagree. If the actor you’re with says “I’m a pineapple,” then you can’t say, “No, you’re not.” That would kill the improv. You can say, “And I’m a grocer” or “and I’m an orange” or “and I’m a pineapple fetishist.” As a corollary, when you are proposing a new idea, there is something to be said for couching it in terms that make it hard to pick apart.See, I just did it. I didn’t say, “always couch it in terms....” I said, “there is something to be said for couching it in terms....” If I said "always," you might well be tempted to construct a scenario in which my advice would be wrong.When arguing with our former teenager, I always made a point of phrasing criticism so broadly that he couldn’t pick holes in how I phrased it. Rather than saying, “You never clean up your room,” which would enable him to bring up the one time he did, I’d say, “You’re not exactly a neatnik, are you?” It conveys more or less the same message, but – being as he was not exactly a neatnik – he couldn’t fixate on the wording. He had to confront the message. Or to put it another way, I made it easier for him to absorb the truth in the message.He never did clean his room, of course. But I got my message across, at least.Using words “many of” rather than “most of” or “all of” changes the focus from “exactly what percentage are we talking about” to whatever the issue that is actually bothering you. “Half the NPCs sound like zombies” invites a discussion of whether it’s half or some other number. “Many of the NPCs sound like zombies” focuses on the zombiness of the NPCs.Even better, use sentences that begin with some form of “I.” “To me, a lot of these NPCs sound like zombies.” It is very hard for you to argue with me about how they sound to me. (Note that I didn’t say it’s impossible. That’s inviting an argument.)Find the truth.Help your listeners and readers find the truth.Find the truth in this.[...]
2016-12-04T14:55:13.357-05:00All of us creative types have things we're naturally good at, and things we've learned to do, and things we aren't that good at (yet). This creates a creative trap: when approaching a project, we often work on the part we understand best — the part that scares us least.So if you're good at plot, you write the plot first, and then fill in the characters later. If you're good at characters, you write up the characters and then feel your way towards a plot.In game design, there's a tendency to work on the parts of the game that are "well understood," whether those are combat mechanics, or environment, or story, or whatever.I worked on a game whose entire success hinged on whether some very advanced AI tech would work. The studio, however, hired a slew of people to build environments and animations.I understand the impulse. You want to have something to show for it. If you're working on a very advanced, invisible back end, what can you show your investors? So you make some lovely environments. Also, it's relatively easy to hire people who can make lovely environments — compared to people who can make an expert system based on new research.Of course, if you know what you're doing, it could be a valid decision to work on well-understood parts of the game, if you know in advance that they're going to take a long time to hone. Well-understood doesn't mean simple or fast, it just means you know the processes you're going to use. When we started with combat, it had something to do with how finicky combat is to implement convincingly.Likewise, if you're a character-based writer and you simply have to inhabit the characters before you can move on to the plot, then it might be crucial to your own creative process that you start with the characters.But working on the part that you feel comfortable with can become a trap.By working on the parts that you're comfortable with, you necessarily reduce your options on the part that scares you.Every creative choice you make on a project takes away some future choices. If I set a project in Germany in 1933, then it is very hard to choose a Mongolian steppe warrior as my main character. If I did set a project in Germany in 1933, and chose a Mongolian steppe warrior as my main character, then I pretty much have to tell a science fiction story.So if you make a bunch of decisions on the easy stuff, you're restricting your range of choices for the hard stuff. That's bass ackwards. You want as much room as possible when you're doing the hard stuff, since you can probably handle a restricted range of choices on the easy stuff.In other words, don't paint yourself into a corner on the easy stuff.What happens if you do paint yourself into a corner on the easy stuff is either (a) you accept a poor solution on the hard stuff, because you don't see any good way to do it; or (b) you rip up a bunch of stuff that was working, because otherwise you can't make the hard stuff work.In game development, if your game hangs on a fresh new gameplay mechanic, then try to get that working before you put any environments into the game. Spearhead, for example, created a three-on-three science fiction soccer game. The first playable build was pretty much dots chasing another dot around a grey box; but the fun was already there.In screenplay writing, if you're weak on characters, then consider writing only the faintest of sketchiest of plot outlines, and then really spending some time thinking about what characters could most interestingly inhabit that plot — as opposed to working out a really detailed plot and then trying to shoehorn some characters into it.Or, if you're good on characters but weak on plot, take some relatively simple chara[...]
Q. I just picked up my first "LA" option for a short story I wrote. I'll be getting 2% net if it gets made. Now I've read articles on net versus gross in the industry and my agent ways I should just be happy at this stage of my career that it was picked up...... so of course I signed. However as a writer moving forward is there anything else I should be aware of or ask for that doesn't normally fall within the option contract?The standard definition of net profits is "you don't see any profits." So whether you get 2% of nothing or 5% of nothing is unimportant. On the other hand as a newbie you're not going to get gross. It's pretty rare for even a veteran writer to get gross participation. If the movie is a hit, you won't get more cash from the movie, but you will get asked to write other people's movies at a much better salary.
2016-11-27T11:33:20.140-05:00We had an interesting office conversation today, about the late comedian/troll Andy Kaufman, which then drifted into whether sexist and racist jokes are okay. I don't appreciate them. One of the women in the office said she enjoys them because "it's just a joke."But why do we tell jokes? Jokes are meant to make us uncomfortable in some way. We laugh when something goes wrong. A joke is always a setup that is derailed.There are absurdist jokes, of course, that are just all about the derail:"I went to a restaurant that serves 'breakfast anytime.' So I asked for French toast in the Renaissance." -- Stephen WrightOur expectations are foiled, and we laugh out of the cognitive dissonance. But most jokes are at someone's expense. "Tragedy," as Mel Brooks said, "is I stub my toe. Comedy is you die." For example:My lover's been bugging me for the key to my apartment… finally I said, 'No, I'll let you out when I'm ready.' -- Heidi FossTo dissect my friend Heidi's joke a bit, the setup is the assumed attempt on the part of the lover to have a closer relationship. The derail is that the lover is actually imprisoned. Note that the joke works because it's sort of horrifying. ("When I'm ready" is a nice touch because it mirrors the normal conversation: 'I'm not ready' for a closer relationship.)Stereotype jokes are at the expense of a whole group of people:Q. How many Harvard students does it take to screw in a lightbulb?A. Just one. He stands on the ladder, and the whole world revolves around him.The point of the joke is that Harvard students are conceited. Here's another:Two blondes were talking. "Last year," one said, "I slept with two Brazilian guys.""Oh my God!" said the other. "How many is a 'brazilian'"?The point of the joke is that blonde women are stupid. Oh, and slutty.So why do I think it's not okay to tell racist or sexist jokes? Because the point of a joke about a stereotype is that it's only funny if the listener believes that the stereotype is, in some way, true. Change one word in the joke:Q. How many Columbia students does it take to screw in a lightbulb?A. Just one. He stands on the ladder, and the whole world revolves around him.That joke isn't funny, because almost no one thinks that Columbia students are particularly conceited. Two Canadians were talking. "Last year," one said, "I slept with two Brazilian guys.""Oh my God!" said the other. "How many is a 'brazilian'"?What? Huh? Not funny. No one thinks Canadians are particularly dumb. Now, jokes at the expense of Harvard students aren't particularly awful. Harvard students are on top of the academic heap. So the joke is sort of "telling truth to power." But jokes at the expense of blondes are not completely innocent. If I tell a blonde joke, I'm saying that, to some extent, the intelligence of women with blonde hair is suspect."But it's just a joke." Well, nothing is "just" a joke. If people didn't already suspect blondes of being dumb, the joke wouldn't land. Now, there are stereotypes that are hurtful, and stereotypes nobody really minds:Q. How many New Yorkers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?A. None of your fucking business!Most New Yorkers will laugh at that joke, because they'd agree that New Yorkers are brusque. Q. How many Zen Buddhists does it take to screw in a lighbulb.A. Three.What? Oh. Zen Buddhists are inscrutable. Right. But then we get into jokes based on not so innocent stereotypes. For example, jokes about how stingy [Hittites] are. [Hittites] don't find them funny, because they don't see themselves in them. And, the stereotype of [Hittites] as being stingy is part of a whole package o[...]
2016-11-16T17:43:22.611-05:00...'s talk about Dynamic Stories at MIGS. These are my notes as I wrote them up for my Compulsion Games teammates... The complete powerpoint is on Richard's siteDynamic Story = Story that is not the same every time you play the game.Why good? Replayability. Especially these days when players stream, it’s boring if all the streams are of the same stuff.Types of dynamic story:a. Explorable story spaceWhat we’re doing in WHF and what most AAA games do these days: bits of narrative that you discover wandering around. Hopefully there’s enough that few players discover all of it.Doesn’t have to mean environmental narrative. Her Story allows you discover bits of video through a text parser. You never actually go anywhere.b. Open ended storyGive the player enough bits of a story that s/he can find his/her own meaning in it, but not so much that you force the player into your interpretation. One player may come away with a very different experience than another. c. Reacting to player actionsBranching story trees. Generally, game devs stay away from branching trees because they get crazy fast. Trust me on this one. 31 endings on Stories: The Path of Destinies. (Which, hey! Won Best Indie and Best PC Game at the Canadian Video Game Awards last night.) So often you get a series of choices, but really it’s just one choice repeated: Mass Effect's Paragon/Renegade. Bioshock's Harvest/Rescue. Or, choices, but only some of which change the story, and then only change a little bit of the story: Walking Dead. d. Shifting story elementsProcedurally generated story. In Richard’s game, The Church in the Darkness, you are there to rescue someone from a cult. Sometimes the cult is a suicide Jim-Jones-style cult. However, sometimes, it’s just a bunch of hippies who want to be left alone. The Blade Runner game changed who was a replicant from playthrough to playthrough. In both examples, the payoff is you Actually Have to Pay Attention to the story around you. If it turns out that in the story they're just nice hippies, or humans, you're not supposed to go shooting them. e. Character SimulationThe Sims. The Civilization franchise. Characters have personalities and react to your actions according to them. Faction-based systems: characters will react differently to your dwarf rogue depending on how they feel about dwarves and/or rogues, and how nice you’ve been to their friends.The player here is choosing what story s/he wants to be part of.f. Drama ManagementHere Richard’s talking about games like Façade that try to make a story out of whatever it is you are doing. Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system turns an NPC into your nemesis if he’s killed you before.Wot I ThoughtThe Holy Grail of game narrative is emergent narrative. Emergent gameplay is when you design systems the players can use in ways the developers did not plan for, e.g. rocket jumping. Most of the dynamic storytelling methods listed are not emergent. The Shadow of Mordor people like to claim that SoM’s nemesis stories are emergent, but someone had to write and record all the nasty things the orcs say to you when you come back from the dead, or they do.On Stories: TpoD I pitched the idea of a sort of Collectible Card Game or faction-based narrative. I.e. NPCs have a basic reaction to you, which changes according to what you do with other NPCs. So if you kill someone’s brother, they will no longer sell you a sword, but they might fight you. If you marry their brother, they might tell you where some loot is.This is not emergent narrative, either. It feels more like it, because [...]
2016-10-23T15:10:03.045-04:00I'm enjoying Deus Ex as a series of stealth puzzles. The story raises some points about craft that I'm working on myself.The world is one in which "augs" such as Adam Jensen, our gravel-voiced hero, are discriminated against after a worldwide accident caused many of them to go haywire. There is terrorism by augs, unless it is by provocateurs seeking to blame augs. There's political infighting within Jensen's organization, TF29, and Jensen is also involved, you quickly learn, with an aug organization that suspects TF29 is being used against augs.There are global stakes. Jensen seeks justice against terrorists, and truth against plotters.Now I'm only about 20 hours in, and I'm a bit of a completionist, so I'm not to Golem City yet. But what I would love to see more of is personal stakes. What does all this mean to Jensen? You get to choose what Jensen says about all this, so he doesn't really have his own a point of view.It's received wisdom in a Hollywood action movie that the hero should have global stakes and personal stakes. John McClane is trying to save a towerful of hostages, including his ex-wife.Why? Because we can't relate to a towerful of hostages. "One death is a tragedy. A million is a statistic," as Stalin said. That's why King Kong has to have Fay Wray in his hand. She's there to give Kong a personal goal, without which he's just an ape run amok.A story needs jeopardy or stakes. You'd think you have jeopardy in a video game, because the hero can get killed, but after the 37th time you reboot him, it stops feeling like real jeopardy. So you need stakes. And global stakes don't create emotional engagement by themselves.I mean, did you sob with relief when your Captain Shepherd saved all sentient life from the Reapers? I bet you had more emotional connection when Joel in The Last of Us did that thing that he did at the end -- because it involved his relationship with one person.Heroes have girlfriends (or boyfriends, or wards, or moms) to humanize them; it's the same reason that heroes with flaws are more engaging. We'd care about Peter Parker less if Mary Jane weren't in danger. Fighting crime is abstract; saving the girl he loves is personal.I'm not saying Adam needs a girlfriend (or a boyfriend, or a ward, or a mom). But if the global stakes were tied up in personal stakes, I feel the emotional engagement would be stronger.E.g., rather than having him investigate a bombing, have him investigate a bombing that put his best friend in a coma. Rather than have him prove that an aug organization didn't commit a terrorist act, have him prove that an aug organization of which his ex girlfriend is a member did not commit a terrorist act and therefore she should not be executed. (Or his boyfriend, or his ward, or his mom.)Or, maybe his girlfriend, or boyfriend, or mom, has turned against him because they think augs are terrorists. Or they think augs are terrorists and should all be locked up except for Adam and one or two "good augs." Or a judge is going to take away his kid because he thinks augs are terrorists.Ha ha, I know, Adam Jensen would never have a kid. (But what if he did? And he had to choose whether to make his kid an aug, or let his kid stay in a wheelchair?)(There are in fact side quests which create some personal stakes; but they're missions he does for people he runs into, mostly, not people who are necessarily part of his life. If he fails these people, he doesn't lose anything.)L[...]
2016-12-12T13:52:34.309-05:00Q. I've always had a strong interest in writing which is why I went on to pursue a degree in English. I would like very much to pursue know what it would take for me to become part of a team of creators. Is it better to have Master's degree as opposed to a Bachelor's? Would it be preferable to have degrees in different fields of study? Does Compulsion Games offer internships for individuals seeking experience and exposure?We don't offer internships. We're a small team of 25 fairly experienced people. The company philosophy is that if you're good enough to work there, you're good enough to pay.The game industry, like showbiz, is not particularly interested in whether you have a parchment in a frame with Praeses et Socii Universitatis on it. We're interested in whether you have skills, experience and talent. So if you're an artist, we don't care if you went to art school, we want to see your portfolio. Now obviously you learn a lot in art school, and you can put together a good portfolio there, so many games artists went to art school. But it's the portfolio, not the credential. Same for programming. Show us what you've done, and we'll give you a programming test. Pass the programming test, and we'll interview you. You may very well have learned to program in a computer science department, but if you taught yourself online, or out of books, that's cool. The head of the company started working at 17 as a programmer. My first wife taught herself to program after finishing her Ph. D. in Folklore, and she's been a programmer ever since. (She figured that if she could learn 14 dead languages, computer languages couldn't be that hard. She was right, too.)What schools do teach you is the tools. For example, Montreal's Cégep du Vieux Montréal will teach you Unreal. (For free, if you're a Québecer.) Level Designers and Environmental Artists make the world of our game in Unreal 4. However, I don't know how you become a game writer. My path involved having written a hit comedy film and directed a bunch of shorts. I moved into games laterally. I did not have to convince anyone that I could write dialog, or tell a story. My first few game writing jobs did not involve any special software, or even much in the way of the elaborate spreadsheets we're using to track dialog in We Happy Few. So there were no software tools to know.(Basically I now use Google Sheets, Google Docs, Final Draft and Pro Tools. Pro Tools is the only serious badass professional bit of software. It's for editing sound.)I actually do have an MFA, but I think the most valuable part of my MFA was having an excuse to muck about with cameras for three years. I did learn a few things about directing actors and cutting audio, but I did not learn to write at UCLA, or Yale. I learned to write by writing, for free and then for money, for many, many years.I don't have a terribly good idea how someone becomes a pro games writer.You can attend game jams. There's good info in The Game Narrative Toolbox, which my friend Ann Lemay contributed to.Better, you can teach yourself Twine (it's trivial to learn) and create an interactive HTML text narrative which someone can easily play.Even better, you can learn how to make mods, and create story modules in various game engines, e.g. you could create your own Shadowrun story. There are some amazing mods out there, and modding communities full of volunteers that make them. If you can show us a mod you made, that o[...]