CSR RACING is nominated for Visual Arts, which is very well-deserved; when the game was released, it was perhaps second only to INFINITY BLADE in terms of amazing visuals on a goddamn phone. But while I’m delighted to have been involved, obviously the graphics aren’t really anything to do with me.
ZOMBIU, however, is nominated for Use of Narrative, and that’s entirely to do with me and my co-writer Gabrielle Shrager, Ubisoft Montpellier’s Story Design Director. We talked about the game’s use of narrative, and how we approached it, at GDC this year, and if you have a Vault pass, you can watch the session here.
So, yeah. Nothing like an awards nomination to brighten up the morning.
It’s a good, fairly in-depth interview talking about the process and pitfalls of adaptation, why I enjoy doing them, what to look for in the future, and more. Read it here.
WASTELAND #44 goes on sale this week.
‘The Wreckage of My Flesh’ is the concluding part of the current arc, and signals the beginning of the end — as Michael, Abi, and Thomas are all reunited, and press on to what they hope will be their final destination.
But before that, there are questions to be asked, and clues to be found:
Their long journey through the wasteland is almost over… if Michael, Abi, and Thomas can make it through just one more strange encounter. The people of the valley, tattooed and suspicious, don’t take kindly to intruders. But their Oracle thinks different, and wants to meet these odd people…even if they may not want to meet her!
The order code for this issue is JAN131227, available from all good comic stores, and from Comixology for digital readers.
You can also read a preview of the issue at Comic Book Resources.
A while back I mentioned I was writing a Secret Prose Story. In fact, by the time of that post I’d already finished it, but had to wait for its release. Now, finally, you can read it for free.
But the story focuses on the human side, specifically on the unassuming heroics of a research base security officer, and an outpost moonbase commander, three years apart but linked by a strange, alien creature…
You can read ACID BURNS on the StarCraft II website, for free, right now. I hope you enjoy it.
We’ll explain how we created the story and mythology behind ZOMBIU, our thoughts behind some of the big decisions, and show how narrative influenced even the mechanics and marketing of the game. Should be a good ‘un.
It’s Not in the Writer’s Manual: A Q&A Session for New Writers, on the other hand, is a roundtable with me and a bunch of other game writers, and if you can’t figure out the contents from the title, you’re in the wrong business.
Although the Narrative Summit only lasts a couple of days, I’ll be there pretty much all week; I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends, and also just spending time in one of my favourite cities. Get in touch if you’re attending and want to arrange a meeting, or just catch up over a drink.
Being a bit of a nerd (“A bit?!” — Everyone), I like to keep an eye on trends in script formatting and writing software. Remember, I’m the guy who designed the comics template for Scrivener. This stuff interests me.
As soon as Fountain was released (along with its companion app Highland,
still in beta), I started wondering if I could tinker with the format and use it to write comics, especially when travelling.
(Right now, if I’m away from my desk but want to get work done, I simply have to take my laptop. I’d love to be able to just use my iPad, but Scrivener doesn’t yet run on iOS.)
Turns out that, despite being designed for screenplay format, Fountain actually works pretty well for comics “out of the box” (note: there is no box) by using some of the built-in “forced format” syntax for underlines and emboldening.
So here’s what I’ve come up with. Behold, a portion of comic script written in Fountain:
**PAGE 1** _PANEL 1_ This is a panel description. CHARACTER ONE Hello. (cont) Now, let's see how a longer line of dialogue might look, both in the raw script and the preview. _PANEL 2_ This is another panel description. And this is the second para of a panel description. Note how no special formatting is needed. CHARACTER ONE Hi there. CHARACTER TWO (OFF) Don't start without me!
A veritable masterpiece, I’m sure you’ll agree. But here’s the good bit: what the above looks like in Highland.
Pretty darn good, isn’t it? And yet the original format is so simple, both to write and read. Which is the point — like its inspiration Markdown, Fountain is designed to be human-readable in its original plain text form.
(Frankly, if you’re not bothered about making your page and panel numbers bold or underlined, you could even forget the asterisks and underscores. I’ve just used them here to closely replicate my Scrivener/Final Draft format.)
Right-click to download the template — you have to do that, otherwise it’ll load straight into your browser window, because Fountain is just plain text. Kind of neat, actually.
If comics is all you care about, you can stop reading.
But here’s another possibility that interests me: using Fountain to write games.
Now hang on, you might say; surely this is a step too far. Surely, dear sir, you have flipped your goddamn lid.
But no. I’ve opined for several years now about the lack of dedicated writing software for games. Different publishers (sometimes different studios within the same publisher) use entirely different bespoke software, designed for their specific needs and workflow pipelines.
Or they just use Excel. Excel, for heaven’s sake.
It’s a big old mess, but it’s also a tough nut to crack. Contrary to what you might imagine, a game script isn’t a movie script with more bald space marines. It’s a cutscene script, a branching systemic dialogue map, a level plan, a directorial aid, a barks database… so many things to so many different people, and none of them care about the bits they won’t use.
The voice actor wants their lines in screenplay format, but doesn’t care about techie stuff like level notes. The designer placing dialogue triggers wants an Excel table and line numbers, but doesn’t care about arty stuff like VO parentheticals. And so on.
The games writing app in my head allows me to write like a screenplay — with paired character/dialogue formats, parentheticals, action lines for context — but with extra bits for scene/level headers, dialogue branches, design notes, alts, auto line numbering, etc. It allows me to type all of this information as I go, and then extracts and formats what it needs for different export types, all from the same base file.
So if I export “For Character A — VO”, it spits out screenplay-formatted sides with Character A’s lines, parentheticals, scene numbers, etc. But if I export “For Character A — Triggers”, it gives me an Excel table containing the same lines, numbered, with design notes. And so on.
The game writers among you are now drooling. But put your tongue back in, you mucky pup, because this is most assuredly a pipe dream. Nobody will ever build this software.
Why? Well, for a start, there are at most maybe 5,000 people in the entire world who would ever pay for it. Frankly, even that’s optimistic. It would have to retail for a small fortune to be profitable.
And now we have Fountain, and Highland… look, you can see where I’m going with this. What if we could write in plain text, using a Markdown/Fountain-like format, and use a parser to pull the necessary bits out according to the required destination format?
This is still a pipe dream. People who use bespoke software have no intention of switching away from something they feel gives them an advantage. People who just use Excel have no intention of learning a new application — why do you think they use Excel?
And, of course, it’s possible that maybe I’m overlooking something fundamental which guns down this idea without a second thought.
But maybe not. I’m still dreaming.
Backwards compatibility is another reason I like Scrivener — a Scriv “project” is actually just a package of RTF files. While not open source, RTF has become so ubiquitous that it’ll be supported for many years to come by plenty of other apps, should Scrivener suddenly explode. ↩
Last November, in the run-up to ZOMBIU’s release, I worked on a promotional web comic for the game: ZOMBIU: Z-14, showing the first fourteen days of the outbreak and leading directly to the start of the game.
What you may not have realised was that the whole thing was first scripted and drawn as a normal-format comic, then edited and animated for the website.
Well, now you can see it for yourself, as Ubisoft have decided to release the whole story as a free PDF. Just go to the Z-14 website, and scroll all the way to the end; there you’ll find a link, “Download the Comic”, which will auto-download the PDF to your computer.
(NB I’ve categorised this under ‘On Sale’ for expediency; be assured, the download is completely free.)
The idea was that Mike — an indie game designer, and creator of the sleeper hit THOMAS WAS ALONE — solicited feedback from game professionals, including designers, audio producers, and the like, and invited the audience to ask questions too. Kieron and I were there to talk to him about game narrative and writing, natch.
I went into the event with a certain amount of trepidation — I’d played THOMAS, but didn’t know Mike at all, and I’d certainly never before given that kind of feedback outside the closed doors of a game development team. The prospect of talking about this stuff in front of a room full of random people was a little nerve-wracking.
I needn’t have worried. Not only is Mike a great, smart guy (who has now gone freelance, by the way), but the whole event went really well, and turned out to be one of my favourite things we did that week.
Happily, you can now enjoy it too, because the panel was recorded. Watch it here…
…or if that’s not working for you, click through to see it on YouTube.
Back in 2003, I wrote a thing for ALAN MOORE: PORTRAIT OF AN EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN, about the first time we spoke. The book is long out of print, but now you can read it at Alan Moore World.
Feels like every time I open my mouth about survival horror these days I get into trouble, but what the hell.
My interview at NowGamer has, to nobody’s surprise, had a couple of quotes cherry-picked out of it — “necessary evil” being the most sensational, I guess — and spread around the Internet, helping fuel the rampant “DEAD SPACE 3 IS CALL OF DUTY OH NOES” wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many commenters even seem to think I’m responsible for these decisions at EA, ha ha.
But the biggest misconception, by far, is that if only EA had continued to produce DEAD SPACE games exactly like the first, they’d be sitting on a goldmine. And that’s simply not the case. Listen carefully, now:
There is a market for survival horror games. I’m part of that market. Survival horror fans are so starved of “real” survival horror right now that we will buy just about anything that crops up. We are loyal, and we will spend money.
Sounds good, right? Encouraging? Not so fast.
The survival horror market is small. Too small to support huge triple-A titles from major publishers. AAA games cost as much to make as a Hollywood movie, and sometimes more. They have to sell millions — not a million, many millions — to make a profit, and justify their cost. And there just aren’t enough “purist” survival horror fans out there to achieve that, not any more. You want to know why games like RESIDENT EVIL and DEAD SPACE have evolved to become more accessible, less “pure”? That’s why. Simple economics.
Sounds bad, right? Discouraging? Not so fast.
AAA is not the only way. If you only watch the big console market, you may not know about recent indie games like AMNESIA: THE DARK DESCENT, or LONE SURVIVOR, or HOME. These are all great survival horror games, and they are all profitable. Because they are not triple-A.
Look, this isn’t rocket science. There is money to be made from survival horror games, so long as you don’t spend a fortune making them.
And the more people support those small, indie survival horror titles, the more chance there is of other developers taking a similar gamble, maybe even a major publisher or two, and that’s the sort of thing that leads to another boom in the genre.
But if not? If we only continue as a niche, with superb, terrifying games like AMNESIA released every so often? That still sounds pretty damn good to me.