The design team will develop the gameplay mechanics, decide the characters’ abilities and create everything relating to the gameplay objectives and obstacles. This is no mean feat and how well a game plays is entirely down to the hard work they put into the creation, testing and adjustment of these elements. Things are often changed, altered, removed or added to over the course of a project’s development as a direct result of ongoing play-testing and a writer must be aware of this.
Working closely with the design team is vital because any changes, from large scale alterations to small tweaks, may have an impact on the story and how it is delivered.
For instance, the design team may want to make a substantial change to the player character. Originally designed as male, they want to be more inclusive and give the player the chance to choose the character’s gender. Now the writer will need to ensure that the story and any dialogue written will be appropriate to this change.
It is not a one way street, of course. The development of the story may well throw up narrative objectives that will work well as gameplay objectives, for example. It will then be the turn of the design team to work these into the overall game design in a seamless way.
Working together will not only be beneficial to the game but if it’s done well will fire up the creativity on both sides. But each party need to be open to the thoughts and ideas of the other.
Some writers like to keep themselves apart from the development process and some writers are kept apart from it by the people they have contact with, particularly if the writing role is a remote working one. But not knowing how the writer fits into the process can be detrimental to the project as a whole.
That’s not to say a writer should know the process in fine detail, because that can be distracting, but knowing the shape of the framework and how the writing is integrated into the development of the game can help your understanding of the big picture and how the characters, narrative and dialogue will fit into this in a cohesive manner.
Only when you learn how the development process works can you appreciate the complex nature of making games and why they often take so long. But you may also be able to work with the team in ways that enable the efficient integration of the writing.
It’s also pretty exciting to see how all these different parts contribute and make it all come together into something rewarding.
As a writer it’s easy to think that the work you do has little direct connection to the work of the rest of the team. Even those who do appreciate the way games are made don’t always relate in the most beneficial way.
Understanding game design, specifically, is vital to a writer delivering the work that enhances the player’s interactive experience. From the moment-to-moment gameplay mechanics to the interface that conveys the story and character progressions, knowledge of these design aspects will feed into how you see the narrative and how it should unfold on the actions of the player.
I’m not trying to say that you should become a game designer or understand all the fine details, but an insight into game design will help you appreciate the narrative limitations and structures that various game styles place on the writer. And when you understand the parameters you must work within, you can work with the design team to deliver the narrative in the most creative way possible.
If, for example, you learn there will be no detailed facial expressions or even any voice acting, the way you approach the game’s dialogue will likely be very different to the way you’d do so if those things were incorporated.