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Lifesaving Tips On Writing for Games

How To Write Smashing Narrative

Writing for games is one of the reasons why video games have gone from a million-dollar industry to a billion, exceeding the film industry.

I remember the day when Research In Motion came to my college accepting resumes.  It was around 2007 when Blackberries were the shit and not just plain shit.  I was excited and submitted my resume immediately because I desperately wanted a fucking RIM job.  I know it sounds embarrassing but at the time Blackberry was the Cell Phone Queen and everyone was bending over backwards to get a RIM job from her.  If you got a RIM job in Waterloo it was a real sign of respect from the boys while the girls would be shocked, yet secretly impressed, that you got one.  Yes, it was a great time to go out looking for a RIM job.

Now enter Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie; the men responsible for the Blackberry’s success.  ‘Magic’ Mike and ‘RIM’ Jim believed their own hubris that their encrypted email and instant messaging service BBM couldn’t be beat.  Then came the iPhone, apps, Android, and the transition from smartphone to smart device….in other words fucking progress.  Like good Christians the dynamic duo denied the theory of market evolution claiming people didn’t like all that fucking fluff.  Turns out the people did like ‘all that fucking fluff’ burying the company to 0.000065876% market share.  Today the thought of a RIM job just leaves a nasty taste in your mouth no matter how many gallons of Listerine you swash with.

We can say the same thing today with the indie game scene.  It has gone from simple tiny arcade like games to larger story driven experiences you see in the AAA scene.  Narrative is a very powerful compliment in games and one of the reasons video games in general have gone from a million-dollar industry to a billion dollar one.  Stories in games are more staple than special feature as they create richer objectives and fully immerses the gamer.  Good writing can be difficult to pull off when you have a one man or small man team.  That’s why this article is for you in helping write your narrative for your game.  Create great games with great stories and you’ll make your indie studio shine.  People will see your workplace as an incredible abode to work for instead of a shameful RIM job.

Decide How You’re Going to Tell Your Story

Now I’m assuming you’re thinking I’m not a writer, how does Herbie expect me to produce Pulitzer prize level literature for my interactive experience?  Well, here’s some great news; no one buys your game assuming you’re J.D. Sallinger asswipe; and you should really get that ostentatious fuck complex analyzed by your psychiatrist.  The first thing you need to decide, because this is a game after all, is how you want to tell your story.

One route could be cut scenes at the end of each level or certain waypoints.  We’ve seen this with Metal Gear Solid, where heavy use of cinematic cutscenes are laced throughout the game like crack.  That’s why losers like me failed university.  Another means of constructing a story could be through the gameplay itself similar to Metroid Prime.  This entry in the series contained a feature where the player could scan items and personnel logs within their environment allowing them to discover the story as they were playing.  The further the player explored Talon IV, the more they learned about the events that took place before Samus’ arrival.

Whichever road you take be sure to communicate the games narrative through the tone of your IP.  A game containing a lot of characters with complex back stories will need to be dialogue heavy.  In other words, really chatty like those assholes in the coffee shop trying to live life like those assholes on Friends.  A game where it’s just you and the environment would do better with visual representation.  Basically, more action less talk……kinda like porn but with a lot less shame.

Start Planning It Out

Now there’s a popular saying when it comes to planning that has been passed down from generation to generation:  If you fail to plan you’ll forget to buy that condom from the drug store, and you won’t stop that ungrateful shit kid swimming out of your balls.  We’ve all heard this from our fathers time and time again reminding us of this essential life lesson.  Treat your writing with the same bawdy caution instead of going balls deep into territory unknown.

As an alternative to running bravely, and fucking stupidly, into your writing fray you need to pen an outline of what you want.  Who are your characters?  What are they like?  What kind of situation are you putting them in?  You need to paint these big broad strokes to help guide you when you focus on the actual nitty gritty of writing.  Break it down into pieces either chapter by chapter or in acts.  A small blurb on each chapter/scene/act will help you focus better.

Don’t forget the cardinal rule of showing your work to get feedback once you complete your outline.  Don’t be shy, show it to your teammates.  If you’re a one-man dev team show it to your friends.  If you don’t have any friends show it to your mom.  If you don’t have a mom show it to your arch nemesis.  Not for feedback but to stick it to that fuckle finkle fart!  The asshole makes fun of you because you have no friends or parents.  Now you make a game!  High time that fuck trumpet ate some crow!

Write from What You Know

Unless I’m hallucinating violently after eating my morning bowl of Fuck Loops (relax its just Fruit Loops……laced with PCP) I usually have a mind-numbing dry as paint imagination.  Why? Inspiration isn’t inside of me, it’s all around me.  Think about it for a second.  You’ve met interesting people, done interesting things, and had interesting life experiences.  Been in an abusive relationship with a toxic person?  That’s a great last boss fight to write about.  Stuck in the eternity line at the dreaded DMV?  There’s a level your character can get stuck in.  Trying to outrun the cops because you have 7 DUI’s and you’re 13 times over the limit?  Most excellent backdrop for a bonus level dude!

When you write from what you know you will build a plot that is more realistic and logical.  Writing will come naturally and you will avoid making the narrative feel forced.  Your characters will also become more interesting because they become relatable.  Try creating characters based off people you know in your life, places you’ve been, situations you’ve run into.  Of course you can embellish, and that’s the point.  You have to make what’s real appear larger than life.  This will make the words flow on the page while fending off writer’s block.

And don’t give me that I’ve been living on Mars for ten years in a cave with my eyes closed bullshit.  Matt Damon was on Mars in that documentary The Martian.  You know, that guy from Boston who won a free trip to Mars in the NASA lottery?  Crew took off and left him on the planet because he was annoying as fuck.  Dude didn’t bitch about it like you though.  Matt made a space farm and grew space potatoes, which makes for a great story.  I love the part where he escapes the planet in his space helicopter he built while yelling Look at dat Maas!  Suck my fackin’ cack!

Don’t Overwhelm Yourself

Every year on December 29th you feel dirty after the Christmas influx of your regular carbo-betes diet.  Fed up (and literally fed) you clench your fist in the air swearing that you will never touch another sugary/salty dish ever again.  You also make a solemn vow to live in the gym starting January 1st.  What’s the end result?  You hit the fitness club thinking you’re Lou Ferrigno, fail miserably because your physique is more along the lines of Jonah Hill, and go back to drinking fucking gravy because exercise is too hard.  Instead of taking small steps, you expected to do everything at once like the impatient instant gratification seeking fat turd that you are.

I wrote a two-hundred-page tome for one of my games.  Most of you probably think I’m outright lying or I broke the laws of physics or something.  Fact of the matter is no matter how special I think I am, I’m really not.  I didn’t write the whole thing in one sitting.  I wrote a little bit at a time.  The game is eight chapters; I wrote a chapter a week.  And this is after I wrote an outline treatment of the story.  The fun didn’t end there.  I still had to do rewrites.

If you focus on the whole overall of what you plan to write, becoming completely overwhelmed will be second nature.  If you focus on writing a little at a time you will chip away at a bigger and seemingly daunting task.  You will make what appears impossible…possible.

Remember Beginning, Middle, End….and lots a lots a Conflict! 

Do you hate old people?  Me too!  Why do we both hate old people?  Because they talk and talk and fucking talk about shit that’s fucking mind-numbing.  Gary Geezer doesn’t tell you a story, he tells you a series of events that don’t culminate to anything.  It’s no different than them reciting a shopping list.  Don’t write a narrative for your game the equivalent of Agnus’ prescription mix up at the drug store and how she had to go back to get the right medication.

Whatever story you tell should have a beginning, middle, and end.  The beginning should establish character, and a backstory for the environment they are in.  The middle should focus on the problem a character runs into creating conflict.  And the end should deal with the climax plus the conflict resolution.  Whatever the ending good or bad there has to be some kind of resolution.  But let’s trot back to conflict.  Conflict can be described in four ways:

Man vs. Self: This is where your main character has to deal with problems internal.  They must face their inner demons and either fight or come to terms with them.  Example: Max Payne struggling with the guilt of his wife and daughter being murdered because he was home five minutes late.  Don’t worry he solves it with vigilante justice!  Basically murder as well…but good murder.

Man vs. Man: This conflict involves your main character clashing with another person who usually comes off as a certified piece of shit.  Their goals directly conflict with your characters creating problems.  Example: Final Fantasy 7 – Cloud’s eternal battle with Sephiroth because he broke the bro code by killing Aeris before Cloud could tap that….guys hate it when other guys cockblock.

Man vs. Society:  In this setting your main character is challenged by society and its laws.  An association’s ways go against your characters’ values because they are either too draconian or too progressive for its own good.  Example: God Of War – Kratos fucking up the snooty Greek Gods’ fraternity because we’d all like to kick the shit out of the Kardashians.

Man vs. Nature: This scenario pits your main character against the elements around them.  It’s the environment the character is in that causes their grief.  Example: Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild where Link is forced to survive off the land by hunting, cooking food, dealing with weather elements and….yes…uh huh….okay I know he’s really fighting Ganon at the end…ugh…okay let’s just go with something simpler.

Duck Hunt!  Because fuck those birds and fuck that dog!!  When the hell is someone going to make a patch so I can fucking blow that cocksucking canine’s snout off!!!

Get Other People’s Thoughts and Opinions

There’s a very wise saying that an artist is an island, meaning the artist creates orgasm inducing art all by themselves.  As poetic as that sounds don’t believe it, it’s a bunch of smelly melly bullshit!  Sure you can create something orgasm inducing by yourself but the bigger the group behind it the more intense the orgasm….errr….art.

As you’re writing, whichever stage you’re at, you can always look to your team members as a source of information.  I’m sure some of them have some fascinating life stories that can really help add flavor to your narrative.  And it doesn’t stop with your teammates.  You have friends, family, and colleagues who all live interesting lives.  Their feedback on your work can be extremely insightful.  Sure, they will probably laugh at your work in the beginning — however, with a little time and a lot of effort you can laugh at their tears when you kidnap their dog leaving only a ransom note behind.  And you don’t give it back when the ransom is paid.  You already shipped Barfy to Japan because they know how to take care of animals 😀


Just because you haven’t written anything story-wise before doesn’t mean you can’t at all.  Anything you haven’t done before can be accomplished by doing two things: study and practice.  In other words, you’re going to have to try while fucking up constantly.  Think I’m wrong?  When you were a toddler did you give up trying to walk every time you face planted yourself on the corner of that sharp coffee table your parents should never had bought?  Now take a look at those scars in the mirror and ask yourself why the fuck am I shitting bricks over typing words on a keyboard?!  Where did I go soft?!!!  Henry Ford had a saying for doubtful fucky flakes such as yourselves:

Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t you’re right.

I on the other hand have a much better one:

Stop thinking and go fuck up.  Screw ups build character while perfectionists have none!


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