Gamemoir 05/09/2016 – Meaningful Decisions and Yesterday’s News: Why I’ve Waited So Long to Write My Final ECGC 2016 Piece

An ECGC article three weeks after the conference? I had better have a good reason for it, and I do. 

ECGC was last month, ancient news. Who even remembers it? An internet-eon has come and gone. PAXEast has happened. Everybody is talking about the lead up to E3. If you are going to report on yesterday’s news, you had better have a good reason to do so. I believe I have one. My notes on ECGC have helped me to put the cancellation / inevitable failure of my book’s Kickstarter campaign into a more useful context than, simply, “The people do not want another analog book about digital media.”

Two-panel discussions stand out to me as pertinent to the theme of this article.

In a panel called What Not To Do As a Game Writer, Richard Rouse III (State of Decay and the upcoming game The Church in the Darkness) hosted Carrie Patel (Pillars of Eternity), Antony Johnston (Dead Space), Annie Reid (Dead Rising 2 and Dead Rising 3), and Dan Jolley (Prototype 2, Dying Light, Transformers: War For Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron). Patel talked about another writer’s rewrites that changed a flawed character, whom she had created to be flawed but likable, to a very bad guy. Johnston emphasized the importance of clear instructions and documentation when communicating over Skype and email. Jolley told a tale of woe in which he was not paid for his work on a game due to a contractual loophole. Reid gave examples of how passivity and foolish pride can be a game writer’s downfall. Stay humble but be heard; take the long-view.

In a panel on Writing for Franchises, Carrie Patel, Eddy Webb (Futurama: Game of Drones, an addictive and consistently hilarious Match 4 mobile game), Jessica Sliwinski (Lead Narrative Designer at Disruptor Beam, makers of Game of Thrones Ascent), and Jonathon Myers (Game of Thrones Ascent, Ear-Plawhich makes immersive gaming experiences that are entirely sound-based). Patel and Webb shared anecdotes from their careers. Sliwinski sang the unexpected virtues of high-quality fan-fiction for aspiring game designers. What better way to prove you can write for an established franchise than to have a portfolio of evidence showing you can do just that? Myers emphasized the importance of having deadlines defined in writing, going on to say that if “silence equals consent” on an issue, then “spell it out” in the original correspondence. That is to say, if you ask a question in an email to the intellectual property holders and you receive no response, be sure whatever action you will take on the issue is in writing beforehand. After all, the IP holders have the final say. Define your terms and stick to them.

There were other standouts, including Warren Spector’s keynote on choice and decision-making in game design; a panel discussion about Tom Clancy’s The Division and its team’s writing process (lots of Skype calls and patient collaboration), featuring Annie Reid and Richard Dansky among others; Jonathon Myers’ entertaining Futurama Lives! talk; and from the tutorial sessions, Jana Sloan van Geest’s masterful presentation on story structure and dialogue writing, and Eddy Webb’s witty presentation on narrative. To the delight of everyone in attendance, Webb declared, “If it makes sense to have a battle while riding a giant turtle through a forest that’s on fire, by all means do that!” You do what makes sense for your game, your story.

Rewind to ECGC Day 2 (April 20). Richard James Cook, creator of the Devolver Digital Films documentary Pixel Poetry, gives a presentation on his own experiences as an indie dev. With disarming honesty, Cook cataloges his failures to make a name for himself in the games industry, his DIY adaptability (the camera he used to record his first doc was a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone), and celebrates his recent Devolver Digital Films successes. Here, Cook riffs on Beckett’s old theme which only gets truer with age. Try again, fail again, fail better.

Fast-forward to the end of ECGC Day 3 (April 21). I chat with Heather Albano, game dev and writer at Choice Of Games. Her latest game is A Study in Steampunk: Choice by Gaslight, a Choose Your Own Adventure style text-based game about steam-powered mech warfare. Choices matter.

Fast-forward again to May 4. Enhance the image. My Kickstarter campaign teeters at 11 percent funded with less than two weeks to go. It is clear to me that the campaign is taking up too much of my time. The outlook is grim. I hit the kill switch to cancel it. If you want to get anywhere in this industry, you can’t look back for long. Keep moving. E3 is right around the corner. I can’t wait.

Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously identified Jessica Sliwinski as an employee of Telltale.

Special thanks to the incomparable Rellik Nissassa, my ECGC spirit guide.<