March 28, 2004

Game Writing Whitepaper

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 4:18 am

I went to a meeting of the IGDA Game Writers’ Special Interest Group at GDC. The organizers began to talk about the white paper published by the group late last year. And they were met with blank stares. Finally, the question was asked — who there had read the white paper? Only a few hands. Who there had heard of the white paper? The same few hands. Then the meeting’s moderator told us — these were hands of the people who wrote the white paper.

Now that the conference is over, I’ve started to look over the white paper myself. It appears to be a good introduction to the majority of writing work in the industry, aimed at encouraging writers toward successful strategies for finding and carrying out projects. I’ll probably be posting some more thoughts about it in the comments on this entry. But I thought I’d start by providing this pointer, in the hope that others might share their thoughts on the Writers’ SIG and/or the white paper.

Update: The 2003 whitepaper is now (October 2007) available here.

5 Responses to “Game Writing Whitepaper”


  1. noah Says:

    Here’s some more info. The white paper characterizes itself this way:

    This guide is a reference intended for existing game writers, writers from other media considering working in games, newcomers to the game industry who feel that game writer is a role they could fill and anyone who is about to or is considering working with a game writer.

    It paints a familiar picture of the game industry. Most of the work writers would imagine for themselves is actually in the hands of game designers. Writers are usually brought in to provide dialogue for characters someone else has imagined in situations someone else has defined. Or to provide a story to make sense of movement through levels someone else has already designed via game mechanics someone else has already determined. The writer is one of the last people brought in — like the audio designer. That’s why there’s nothing like a writer’s “pitch” or “spec script” in the game industry.

    Of course, there are exceptions. James Leach has worked with designer Peter Molyneux (at Bullfrog and Lionhead) from the early stages of projects. He’s worked in-house, so that he can be involved in projects every step of the way. As he succinctly puts it in this interview, describing his role in Black and White: “I’ve written most of the Black & White story, as well as the quests, challenges and all the dialogue. I’ve also written for the website and for the press.” There are also writer/designers like Tim Schaefer who take on all the things writers would imagine for themselves and more, and do them well (the dialogue for his Grim Fandango was one of the most praised elements of the game).

    But the white paper exists to talk about the realities for most game writers, rather than these sorts of exceptions. For this reason it also has an extensive section on writing for licensed properties. One interesting moment for me at GDC was meeting a writer who is tasked with trying to emulate Tom Clancy’s authorial voice for the Clancy-licensed games.

    I’ve still got another 10 pages or so left to go, so I may write more here before long (or even another top-level post).

  2. Dennis G. Jerz Says:

    Thanks for this link. I’ve been asked to teach a short class on new media writing, for Seton Hill University’s “Writing Popular Fiction” program, and this paper is just what I was looking for.

    It’ll be a while before I can sit down to read it, but I’m very glad to have found it.

  3. Hideous Pursuit Says:
    Games + Audio Gutenberg
    Need to seriously NOT spend any time playing with lasers. Or choppers either. *Should* however probably get around to reading this game writing white paper. Finally… can’t remember where I found a pointer to this HUGE Project Gutenberg Audio collecti…

  4. miscellany is the largest category Says:
    Game Writing White Paper
    Note to self: read the white paper by the IDGA Game Writers’ Special Interest Group [via GTA]…

  5. Reality Panic Says:
    As Good As TV?
    I rather enjoyed a recent guest editorial at GameSpot titled “The Low, Low Bar of Being As Good As Television”. The author laments on the overall poor quality of writing and storytelling in games. Sadly, I have to agree. The…

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