Course Spotlight: Introduction to Game Writing

This month we’re spotlighting the Creative Writing for Entertainment program, focusing on the courses that make up the backbone of the curriculum that students learn across its 32 months.

While most of today’s popular games have excellent graphics, mechanics, and gameplay, another element that game designers cannot ignore is story. Games and game franchises like Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and even first-person shooters like BioShock are known for the complexity of their stories.

In Full Sail’s Creative Writing for Entertainment Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program, students are taught the fundamentals of writing for games in Introduction to Game Writing. While writing for games is not a traditional path for writers, many game studios realize the need to employ talented writers, says Course Director Michael Pynn.

“Games that have narrative actually sell significantly better than games that do not,” says Pynn. “And writers actually do more than just write narratives. Games have lots and lots of text elements.”

There are four major types of writing involved in game design, according to Pynn, and his students learn about and practice all of these during his class. These include: screenplay writing for cinematics, branching dialogue, trigger dialogue, and design documentation.

Cinematics are mini videos within a game; therefore writing for cinematics is just like writing for film or TV, says Pynn. Branching dialogue refers to the dialogue in games where characters can choose their response. Players often make moral or strategy choices in games with branching dialogue.

Trigger dialogue is programmed dialogue that offers hints, explains something procedural, or just adds to the story action. “If a [computer generated] character reloads their gun, they might yell, ‘Cover me! I’m reloading!’ or another character might tell you you’re running the wrong way,” says Pynn.

Finally, design documentation is much like a story bible for a film or television show, “laying out the description of what a character should look like, the orientation of a level, and the backstory of the world and the characters,” explains Pynn. “Really the primary distinction of design documentation is that it’s for the development team, whereas the other types of writing go directly to the player.”

Bigger games studios often employ people with film and television writing experience, says Pynn, but smaller studios will work with writers who show they have a background in writing and understand games. Students in Pynn’s class get a head start by coming up with a game concept and turning it into an eight-page game pitch that covers game mechanics, target audience, platform, and characters.

“Even if you’re not going into games, it’s a lot of creative fun to imagine a world someone can play around in and to give them tools and toys within that world,” says Pynn. “It really isn’t all that different from fiction.”

Read about Developing New Worlds: Environment and Historical Research and Transmedia Writing within the Creative Writing for Entertainment program.



One thought on “Course Spotlight: Introduction to Game Writing

  1. Avatar Alwane Clarke says:

    I love writing! Been writing my own little stories since like…forever. But I’m also really interested in the game designing aspect. Oh I hope I get the necessities ready for next year..

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