Writing for computer games is more than just up, down, left, right, jump. There are multiple worlds and narratives to consider, as well as which media platform to use. Fortunately, Nottingham’s very own videogame writer, Lynda Clark, has helped form a writing group – Hello Words – at The NVA, to offer a bit of support for those who don’t know their Twine from their Inkle…
Videogame writer, Rhianna Pratchett, has been known to describe her role as being a “narrative paramedic.” This stems from the videogame industry’s old, unfortunate habit of bringing writers in once a game is all but complete, to retroactively add some sort of narrative; effectively bandaging together all the broken bits of story so it can limp out of the door and onto players’ consoles.
Even though a writer is now usually involved from the start, the inherent difficulty of putting together a story that the player may try to pull apart or work against has many videogame writers tearing their hair out. In an interview with New Statesman in 2012, Brink writer Ed Stern suggested it was “spectacularly, trudgingly hard to make games mean things” due, in part, to their collaborative nature.
And yet the number of tools for writing interactive fiction remains on the increase. Inkle, Twine, ChoiceScript, Texture, Inform, Ren’Py; the list of free interactivity tools for writers continues to grow. However, for every writer who embraces interactivity and cannonballs into the pool of tools, there are probably ten who hover at the water’s edge, scared away by the shark fins of jargon poking through the surface: “technology” “multi-linearity” and “code.”
A good starting place for the uninitiated lies in the Infocom version of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. By typing commands, the reader can help Arthur Dent escape the Vogon’s planned destruction of his home and planet or, more often, they can fail utterly and get him bulldozed flat, along with his house.
Indeed, the interactive fiction – or IF – of eighties, text-based adventures were the precursor to many modern-day videogames. And today, Nottingham’s wealth of ‘escape rooms’ – Escapologic, Cryptology and Logiclock – all have two interactive fiction staples; puzzles and exploration. Then there’s Nottingham University’s Mixed Reality Storytelling project, which allows players to tell the stories of their miniatures and models from tabletop roleplaying games like Warhammer by creating character backstories and sharing their gaming experiences.
If you fancy giving interactive fiction a go – whether you can code but have never written a story in your life, or you’re looking to develop links in your writing – Hello Words has got you covered. Based in The National Videogame Arcade’s Clubroom, our writing group meets once a month and we’re all about helping each other to develop ideas.
Some of us are coders, some of us are writers with no technical abilities whatsoever, and some of us are jacks of many trades. What we all share is a love of experimenting with storytelling: we work on our interactive fiction in our spare time, then get together to discuss each other’s work, and have an hour to play around with what we have.
So far, our members have made a wide variety of IFs: a puzzle game drawing on Greek mythology to cast the player as Ariadne, a Nazi-punching simulator, and a talking-horse adventure. The best thing about being a “narrative paramedic” is learning on the job without ever losing a patient. And there’s no blood and guts. Unless you make a blood and gutsy game, of course.
We’re inclined to agree with Ed Stern; it is “spectacularly, trudgingly hard to make games mean things.” But we want to keep trying anyway, so come and join us.
Hello Words meets on the second Thursday of every month, 6.30pm – 8.30pm, in the Clubroom above The National Videogame Arcade’s Toast Bar, free.