For many video game fans, the opportunity to write and create their own game would be a dream job. But unlike writing a book or a screenplay, the process of writing for a video game isn’t necessarily understood by the same potential creative people who covet that opportunity.
In gaming, writing is often a collaborative process between multiple writers, the game’s designers, and many others. And the writers often have to fill many different roles along the way. Fortunately, one of the key creative forces behind Torment: Tides of Numenera has pulled back the curtain on video game writing in an effort to demystify the entire process.
In an extensive four-part interview with Forbes, Torment: Tides of Numenera lead area designer George Ziets spoke at length about how the writing is handled within the industry. For an RPG like Torment, an entire team of writers was required to create the game’s backstory, characters, side quests, NPCs, and dialogue.
“The early part of a project can be unpredictable, with lots of impromptu discussions on every aspect of design,” noted Ziets. “Once pre-production is finished, writers will settle into a more regular routine. We’ll assign them dialogues and text, plus deadlines they need to hit. We try to make sure that each writer can ‘own’ a chunk of the game. It’s usually better if one writer handles all the writing for a particular level or zone. They feel more ownership, and the tone for that area of the game will be more consistent.”
Ziets also explained that it usually falls on the narrative lead to create the framework for a game’s story, but many different writers and developers are expected to review the initial story and contribute new ideas and suggestions.
“Game stories are always evolving,” said Ziets. “Early in development, we’ll write multiple drafts of the story, incorporating feedback from many different people. Later, as we start designing the game, we might find out that some parts of the story don’t work so well, or they don’t support the gameplay. Sometimes the game is too big, and it’s running over budget, so we need to make cuts to the story. Those are all opportunities for different writers on the project to make contributions…. The whole writing team provided fun ideas to improve the story or fix problems, so it’s impossible to say that any one person is entirely responsible for Torment’s narrative. We all left our fingerprints on different parts of the game.”
For the later stages of the game’s development, Ziets added that the writer’s role changes to quality control, as they write new content, fix bugs, and make sure that the chosen voice and tone are consistent throughout the game. “Writers know the story better than anyone,” shared Ziets. “And we’ll catch problems that other people miss.”
You can read the rest of Ziets’ initial interview with Forbes here, before moving on to the three additional parts. We highly recommend it to anyone who has ever dreamed about breaking into the video game industry.
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Image Credit: InXile