Tonight, I didn’t come home all rambling and confused about game writing versus screenwriting – it was much clearer today, especially since Syd Field tackled the specifics of the screenplay, which were really more unique to film than any other media. He listed ways on how to start your film (the opening scene), how to write action sequences, the different types of dialogue, etc. I found the dialogue part most interesting, probably because it was something I could immediately use for my current game. (Sometime, somewhere, a character of mine is going to TALK :P)
I also liked Field’s suggestion that if there was something in your story that you didn’t like (whether it be dialogue, a scene, a plot point), just go ahead and write it, no matter how ugly it was. THEN, once you were done, think of another way to say or do what you just wrote. You don’t have to change location, characters, anything – just get to the end result using another way, preferably the least unexpected way. It’s useful advice, because the “gut feeling” he mentions when something you wrote doesn’t sit well with you? I get that.
The other parts of the seminar were just as interesting but less useful.
For example, the decision of what to put in your first 10 pages (or 10 minutes of screen time) is definitely different for film than for games. In games, we have that similar short attention span – a few minutes of gameplay to really catch the player’s attention before s/he puts the mouse or controller down and says, “Well, this is sucky, I’ll go play something else.” But it’s not a decision between starting with a character, or starting with action. Games ARE action – main characters are, more often than not, empty vessels that the player controls. I have reviewed games that make you sit through loooooong non-interactive cutscenes (which were meant to build character) and given them shit about it, because the less time you are playing, the less control and importance your player feels.
The exception, I believe, is if your game is entirely ABOUT cutscenes – such as Mass Effect. The first 10 minutes of Mass Effect have you walking around a ship and talking to people, no action at all. But that’s the point – they’re selling their cinematic, interactive storytelling; THAT’s the innovation. They’re not selling their first person shooting – which is really just as fun as any other shooter out there.
I say this is less useful to me because the game genre I am working on doesn’t allow this kind of “character vs action” luxury – you start the game, and you’re immediately playing it, and that’s just the way it is. But we did have a similar issue years ago, when we were writing Anito: Defend A Land Enraged. There were two playable characters – Agila, the warrior, and Maya, the mage – and they had unique stories: Agila’s story started immediately in combat, while Maya’s started in a dream sequence. Needless to say, people played the Agila character more (even if Maya was the scantily-clad tribal beauty that we thought would be more popular) because people LIKED combat, and liked being able to kick butt immediately. Maya, for all the great story quests we gave her, took a backseat.
Now that the Screenwriting Masterclass is over, I think it was a weekend well-spent. Two days were just right for the amount of content we got. I just wish there was more food.