I don’t want to be the cranky old man at Chromed. I honestly don’t. But if I learned anything during my stint with the Taft administration, it’s that some men have roles thrust upon them. So permit me to crank up the cranky.
Odds are if you’re reading this, you’re familiar with Jane McGonigal. My Chromed cohort Stephanie has already confessed her crush on the game designer/theorist’s epic brain. A leading proponent of gamification, McGonigal has put her thoughts about harnessing the energy players pour into video games and setting it loose on more intractable problems in her new book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.
I’m really just starting to get my feet wet in terms of writing for video games. There are a lot of basic elements that cross over from writing plays to writing adventure games (character, story, world, etc.), but there are also some pretty big differences, particularly the experience of writing as a group. Playwrights usually toil away in isolation, THEN get on the collaborative train. However, in our writers’ room, we hash out the story and characters together, then take away small pieces to write. Soon we’ll be going back in as a group to weave these pieces into a coherent and consistent whole.
Focus testing is an important part of game development. Once a team has spent a lot of time on a project, they start to grok the game in a way that people who have never played it simply won’t, and can at times lose perspective. Focus testing is a way to regain that perspective.
Some games are a one-shot deal. Most unequivocally in this category, it seems to me, are puzzle games. I replayed Braid the other day when I was stuck with someone else’s computer and nothing to do except someone else’s dishes, and even though it’s been two years since I last monkeyed with time as a little suit-clad mopester, there were only two puzzles that gave me any hesitation. Even if I didn’t know the exact solutions, I knew far too much about the rules, mechanics, and game logic to reclaim the original experience.
We are not talking about an epiphany on the level of Proust’s madeleine, but reading Grady Hendrix’s Slate history of the Choose Your Own Adventure books rocketed me back to my 1980s childhood. I was the target audience for these page-turners, mainly because I lacked the key ingredients that Hendrix notes were essential to enjoy the other primitive interactive entertainments of the era: rides to the arcade (video games), money (computer games), and friends (Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs). I was a lone wolf as a child. A broke, housebound lone wolf.
Choice in the CYOA books began with genre. They ran the gamut. My favorites matched the types of stories that I gravitate toward to this day, like mysteries (Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey?) and westerns (Deadwood City). For years I believed that the one of the greatest books ever published was #6 in the series, Your Code Name Is Jonah, in which you’re a secret agent trying to outwit the Russians while deciphering a code concealed in a whale song. (Historical note: in the 1980s, whales were frequently used as plot points.)