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makers of Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect

makers of Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect

This afternoon, I went to an event at my local library where Bioware writers Sylvia Feketekuty and Luke Kristjanson were asked questions about the video game industry and how they got to where they are now. Before I get into everything that was talked about, I’d just like to point out how awesome it is that this kind of thing exists. The Writer in Residence there set it all up because of the new interest in video games that the library’s interactive section was creating. What’s more, even though the email I got notifying me of the even said that only 30 participants would be allowed to come, the place was overflowing with at least 60+ people. And the library let them stay! People were lining the walls, standing in the back, sitting on cushions; it was great.

As for what the writers had to say, there’s a lot to unpack. The talk started pretty innocuously with the writers talking about what games they used to play, what their first gaming system was, even what games they were good at as children. As I’ve read a number of articles with people in the gaming industry, this was pretty standard fare and I didn’t take much stock in it.

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toss that shiz.

toss that shiz.

At the beginning of the year, I found out about a catalogue of free online courses that my library grants me access to. I inevitably landed on the “How to Get Started in Game Development” page and immediately signed up. Now, six weeks after my start date, I’m almost ready to write the final exam so I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on everything I’ve learned so far.

Some things were really encouraging, like learning about how easy it is to find development environments for smaller games, like iOS and Android games. Some things were really discouraging, such as learning about what it takes to make a triple A game like Mirror’s Edge and Call of Duty. The amount of time, energy and manpower involved with that kind of game development just seems so far beyond my scope at the moment. Add that to the fact that the only way to land jobs in those big game studios, according to a bunch of career advice columnists online, is to KNOW someone who already works there. Damn.

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Bravely.Default-.Flying.Fairy.full.1294893

the cast of Bravely Default

I read recently that people who are planning on/are already making games often take notes when playing video games. Now, taking notes isn’t really a new thing for me (playing A Link to the Past without a notepad beside me would have been a nightmare for 10-year-old me), but I’ve decided to take more than just the ordinary “remember to go back to cave NW of Kakariko after learning to lift big boulders.” Instead, I’m trying to take notes about the game design itself, something that’s making a lot of mindless game-playing into an actual mental exercise.

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these eyes haunt my dreams

these eyes haunt my dreams

So I spent a whole bunch of time last night trying to really get real with the Inform 7 manual, even referring to the website @type_ins on twitter gave me (intfiction.com) but I kept getting stuck on one stupid little thing.

I guess I should back up a little. I’ve been trying to make this game where you get stuck in a laboratory (see my previous post) and I’ve made it to the second scene where you wake up with your hands tied behind your back. Great. No problems yet. Now, to set the stage, I put a table in the corner with a box on it. Inside the box (if you examine it) are shards of a key. You will eventually (after some more reading on my part) be able to use that key to cut the nylon ropes that tie your arms together. For some stupid reason, I thought this would be THE EASIEST THING IN THE WORLD to program but, somehow, it was so, so complicated.

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So I’ve been playing with Inform 7 now for a few days. I will say one thing, the level of frustration I’ve achieved is probably only matched by the last time I was trying to learn code (JavaScript). I consider this to be a good thing, if only because it means that it’s a frustration that I’m sure to encounter time and time again as I learn other languages.

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“It is a radical reinvention of the way interactive fiction is designed, guided by contemporary work in semantics and by the practical experience of some of the world’s best-known writers of interactive fiction.”

A little while ago I posted my first experience with some software called Twine, an interactive fiction engine. It’s a great tool, one where you can explore a lot of space in a very aesthetically pleasing way. Since then, however, I’ve come across a program called Inform 7 (thanks to the new “Clash of the Type-Ins” podcast starring Video Game Taco’s Jenni Polodna). This program outputs something a lot less pretty than Twine does, but I’m finding that the options are a lot more diverse.

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twine logo

A new tool has emerged that empowers just about anyone to create a game.”

Carolyn Petit, Gamespot

Having wanted to get into video game development over the last few years, I’ve been having a hard time figuring out where to start. A lot of people seem to disagree as to what is the best way to dive in to this industry. Some people say that you should put your nose to the grindstone and just learn a few languages like C++ and what not. Others say that you should explore different engines/IDEs before settling in and committing to making a game.

Neither of these options seem appealing to me, which is probably why I latched on so strongly to something I heard on a recent Idle Thumbs podcast. While reading an email from a listener that was basically going through the same thing as me (lots of writing experience/no game making experience), they suggested that he try a program called Twine. Having read about so many different engines and development tools over the last year, I felt the same level of fear and wariness when they mentioned Twine, but as they kept going, I started to feel my fear back down a bit and be replaced with excitement.

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