Dec 042006

“Games don’t need a story – writers in the games industry are essentially unnecessary” Mark Laidlaw, VALVE

Jackie Turnure presented by AFTRS LAMP as part of its Friday Futures Series.

Taken out of context, this comment could be dynamite, but the point made by Mark and many of the speakers at the Writing for Games conference is that the most important question game players ask is ‘is it fun to play?’. This statement goes to the heart of the need for games writers to understand that they serve the player. Storytelling for games only works if it is immersive and interactive. Forget this and you’re not writing a game.

How story works in a game, the role of the writer, and how to technically script a game are all topics Jackie Turnure will be touching on in her 1 hour overview of the 2006 Austin Texas, Writing for Games Conference

Summary of the presentation

Jackie Turnure is one of the mentors at LAMP and lecturers at AFTRS in the area of games, online role playing, extended reality and virtual worlds (full bio below). This talk combines much of her knowledge as professional writer gained from her experience in the interactive industry along with a recent trip to the Austin Games Conference where she met and heard some of the best Games Writers in the World. She referred to presentations by four key writers who presented at the conference. The first Mark Terrano of Hidden Entertainment talked in his keynote about stories that are like home movies, meaningful to them, about not using other mediums to analyse or design games and most importantly for would be writers to actually play games to understand them. He finished on the importance of embracing user content, the personal experience, people want to personalize. Alexis Nolent a writer for Ubisoft made a key point that a writer is involved through the whole game production process not just at the beginning. Games are not remembered for the writing, gameplay is. But gamers often complain about bad story so it is critical to embed writers with the level designers to produce strong narrative at all points.

The third writer was John Sutherland from Microsoft who talked about conflict is important for drama. “Try selling the superman story without kryptonite”. Story will emerge from conflict and for MMO’s once the conflict is set up the writer has to learn to let go, as the players themselves create the story. Rules of games, do – if possible, show – if you must, tell -last resort. Rafael Chandler from Media Sunshine made a point in his talk about the production process, that gamers dont want story, they already have it. The final speaker was outside the writing stream. Raph Koster is renowned for dropping bombs in conferences and his main point here was that the ‘big’ games are finished. Console games and gigantic MMO’s are finished, ‘Age of the Dinosaurs’. His point was that games become services not products and that publishers and games creators will start to fragment with many hundreds and thousands entering the market creating small, niche services.

For this talk Jackie finished on her own ‘busted myths’ that she gleaned from the conference. They included myths such as:

  • Games = shooters
  • Games aren’t stories
  • Audience contribution is new
  • Interactivity breaks emotional engagement
  • Conflict = combat
  • Personalised content is not story
  • Story is king

and had some good news to finish on. Traditional skills do cross over in story, emotional engagement, genre, character, conflict, structure and dialogue and her final, final message was about the new skills many writers need to develop:

  • Balancing narrative with agency
  • Player is the protagonist
  • Making navigation transparent
  • Controlling rhythm and pacing
  • Incorporating personalisation
  • Encouraging real world interaction

PDF (83k) of the Powerpoint

MP3 recording time 41:15. (9.5MB) Click to listen

All LAMP podcasts are also published through the iTunes store.

Jackie TurnureWith script editing and writing experience in both traditional and new media, Jackie Turnure brings a unique perspective to the role of narrative in cross media production. For the last 15 years she has been working across film, television, games and online production, with a particular focus on animation and children’s content.

Jackie received her Bachelor of Arts (Visual Communications) from Sydney College of the Arts and her Master of Fine Arts (Film Production) from San Francisco State University. She spent nine years in the US teaching screenwriting at New York University, Hunter College and the Academy of Arts College, San Francisco. During that time, Jackie wrote and directed eight short films and videos that have won awards and screened internationally.

After returning to Sydney, Jackie produced and directed three 3D animated kids’ games for PC, “Bananas in Pyjamas ” It’s Party Time”, “Oz – The Magical Adventure” and “Oz – The Interactive Storybook”. The games have won numerous awards and been distributed in 18 countries. Jackie lectures part time at AFTRS, was an industry mentor at the NSW Film and Television Office’s Indigenous Writers Workshop, ran a Game Design Workshop in FTI in Perth and gave a workshop on Alternative Narratives for the Australian Writer’s Guild.In addition, Jackie works as a script editor and story consultant on feature films, animated television series and animated games. She recently completed story producing and writing 3 episodes on Deadly, a half hour animated TV series based on the books by Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman. Jackie is currently script editing and voice directing Stolen Life, an animated feature produced in Machinima, written and produced by Peter Rasmussen.

Recorded at AFTRS Sydney 1 Dec 2006

Audio edited and processed by Gary Hayes.

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