Video game stories have come a long way since saving Princess Peach from Bowser’s castle. Narratives in games can range from simple puzzle solving games, like “Baba is You,” to the revolutionary, first-person adventure, such as “Bioshock.” There are multiple ways to write video games because there are many kinds of games to write.
As a college student, it can be hard to figure out how to start writing your first game. You may be asking yourself: I can’t program or make art myself, so how do I build a team to help me? How will I have time between classes? What does a video game script even look like?
There are a few ways to approach these issues, but know this: as a video game writer, you will need to know some code. Not a lot, but having an understanding of if/then statements, variables, and Booleans are essential to writing video games. Not only will this make your life easier, but you’ll pick up new skills along the way that will help you in your video game-writing career. If your school offers introductory programming, it wouldn’t hurt to register for a course.
You don’t need a whole team of experienced game developers to write your first game. With Twine, your team can be you and only you. Twine is a program for users who want to create text-based, choose-your-own adventure games. Twine allows users to get fancy with code or only use the bare minimum to create video games. The program also serves as a great tool for mapping out the choices in your game if you’re having trouble visualizing them. As a bonus, Twine is completely free, making the program a prime resource for college students on a budget.
Finding time to write your video game while attending college classes can be hard, but you can set aside one weekend a semester to host a game jam at your school. Game jams are 48-hour long events where you team up with other game developers — or go it alone — to create a video game in two days under a certain theme. You can be complete amateurs or veterans in the field because all levels of experience are welcome at game jams. Game jams are also a great avenue for meeting other game developers and artists in your area.
If you don’t have a weekend where you can plan for a game jam, you can always work on your game script in your free time. Writing just a little bit in your free time every day between classes will get you much closer to finishing your script than working in bursts of thousands of words one day a week. You won’t feel burnt out or sick of looking at your screen, and you will be able to put in more days of work on your video game.
As for what a video game script looks like, that’s entirely up to you. Your script can be like Twine where everything is separated into smaller passages with minimal code connecting them, or it can be one Godzilla-sized document of text with code woven between phrases. You write how you’re comfortable writing your video game. As long as the script works when you plug it into the rest of the programming, your process for script writing can be whatever you want it to be.
Before you jump into the virtual world with your writing skills, it’s important to research the type of game you want to write for. A platformer? Puzzle-solver? Open world adventure? RPG? Once you’re set on a genre, research the games you find inspiring. These inspirations are called your comparable titles, or your comps.
Your comps are games that you want your video game to emulate in not only writing, but also visuals and gameplay. If you want your game to be an RPG with silly humor, deep themes and a pixel-art style, then you should look into games like “Earthbound,” “Final Fantasy 9” and “Undertale.” If you want to make a gritty action adventure inspired by classic films, then you could learn a thing or two from “Tomb Raider” and “Uncharted.”
Once you’ve compiled a list of comps, take out what you want to adapt from those games and combine them with your original ideas for your video game. This blend will then showcase your unique voice while at the same time be something familiar that players can understand.
The next step is to write. Whether it’s through a game jam, or little by little in between classes and homework, write your game. It won’t exist if you don’t start. If you don’t want to jump right into programming just yet with Twine, the free text editor Sublime is a perfect program for college students. Sublime comprehends most programming languages, but also processes plain text just fine. Google Docs works as well, but if you’re looking for a more authentic experience of writing games, then Sublime is the program for you.
Most of all, don’t forget to have fun while writing your game. At times, writing video games feels like hard work. That’s because it is. Many people don’t realize how much work game developers put into their job. Writing video games is no easy feat, just as any other video game job. If you feel stuck in a rut, watching documentaries like “Indie Game: The Movie” or playing the games that inspire you are excellent ways to pick up your spirits. You’ll be motivated all over again and reminded why you started writing your game in the first place.
If you’re feeling slumped because of classes, it’s okay to take a break from writing your game. Unless you’re writing the game for a class, there’s no deadline to your video game. While it hurts to put your passion project aside for a moment, you’ll come back to it with new eyes. You’ll be refreshed by the time you start writing again, and you will probably have new ideas for improvement in your game.
Writing your first video game takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but if you plan your schedule correctly, you’ll be done in no time. Collect as many resources, references and inspirations as you can, and if you’re able to sign up for a class for writing video games, do so. You’ll learn from professionals in the field and get valuable information to further your career. Your video game script won’t start without you, so go make the next revolutionary interactive story.