TGC ’10: Writing for Videogames Is Harder Than it Seems

This article is over 14 years old and may contain outdated information

Writing for videogames isn’t as simple as putting pen to paper. It requires a methodology and exactness that Rafael Chandler has down to a science.

If you want to learn about videogame writing, Rafael Chandler is the guy you want to talk to. He’s worked on multiple scripts in games such as SOCOM and Ghost Recon 2, has written a book titled the “The Game Writing Handbook,” and authored many articles at GamaSutra. Standing in an Iron Maiden t-shirt and jeans, Chandler opened his talk at Triangle Game Conference 2010 with an explanation of the “HOSEF principle,” a technique that he employs whenever he first sits down to write a script.

When Chandler was in kindergarten, his teacher had a thick Southern accent reminiscent of Gone With The Wind. During a round of the Hokey Pokey, Chandler remembers his teacher singing “Put your ‘hosef’ in, put your ‘hosef’ out.” To the teacher, this translated to “jump in the middle of the circle,” but to Chandler and the rest of the class, it simply meant “stick out your groin.” The lesson is simple: it doesn’t matter if the teacher (or writer) knows what they are talking about, it only matters if the audience does.

Videogame writers, of course, also need to write a decent plot line, design compelling characters and create believable settings. However, there’s another level involved in the process beyond creative brainstorming. Often, writers are not the only ones who will need to see or work with a script. Voice actors, artists, designers and producers will all use the script at some point, and it will need to be as easy and understandable for them as it is for the original writer. Writers will need to include directions and notes that can help each person working with the script accurately flesh out the scene that the writer envisioned. For instance, when directing a voice actor, Chandler explains that you will want to note what emotion each line of dialogue is supposed to convey, or how the main character feels about the other characters in the scene. The more detailed the description, the more accurate the scene will be.

After game launch, during what Chandler prefers to call “postpartum production,” the entire team – including the writers – should take part in a positive, focused and impartial meeting to evaluate what went right, what went wrong, and what needs to be changed.

Overall, videogame writers need to be writing for more than themselves: they must consider their audience, their team and the real head honchos to impress: the gatekeepers, otherwise known as the people who decide whether or not to give your game money.

Recommended Videos

The Escapist is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy