VideoBrains Speaker-in-Residence: episode 1
This is the first of a six-part series on game narrative I’m doing as the new Speaker-in-Residence at VideoBrains. VideoBrains is a great event and I’ve been a fan since the old days (2014 seems so long ago…) so I jumped at the chance. Jake Tucker of VideoBrains knows better than most how hard it is to shut me up when I get talking about this stuff, so he knew what he was in for when he put me in charge of six short talks on game narrative. It’s really nice to develop my thinking on how game stories in the long term, and I’m already collating my notes together towards writing my dream interactive narrative book someday.
Fallen London: The Last Dog Society
— Rob (probably) (@AboutThisLater) August 1, 2015
My guest writing piece for FailBetter Games’ Fallen London is out! Failbetter’s world is amazingly rich story-wise, and I’ve been a fan of since it launched, so It’s been really cool to contribute writing (and a lot of puns) into their living mythology. The Last Dog Society is a creepy and (hopefully funny) stand-alone premium storyline which reveals new lore about the Admiralty and the conspiracies at work in London’s Underworld. The feedback on the forums has been great, and it’s been a real delight to see players enjoying and commenting on a live piece of writing in real-time.
The Assembly: Two Perspectives Trailer
Woo! The trailer is out for The Assembly, the story-led VR adventure game I’ve written for nDreams. It’s slated to be a launch title for Vive, Oculus and Morpheus, so you’ll get a chance to play it soon! Now I just need to find a way to get a VR headset up North so my mum can play it…
The Creative Penn Podcast: VR, AR and Future Interactive Fiction
I had a chance to go on the Creative Penn podcast with Joanna Penn, who I’d met at this year’s London Book Fair. I got to talk about my own writing career, what the current state of VR technology means for writers and literature, and how excited I am about augmented reality fiction in the near future. Also my parents tell me that this video finally let them understand the difference between VR and AR. Now I just have to find a way to explain to them what I do for a living.
VideoBrains: Throwing Your Voice
It’s always a pleasure to talk at VideoBrains, it has a great atmosphere and a really diverse, welcoming audience. I really enjoy the chance to do a short talk that combines memes, academic thinking, and of course, puns. This is a talk I did on the subject of protagonists and how we feel about them in the age of VR. Now, this video just has me talking but doesn’t show my slides. So a lot of the punchlines don’t make sense. Especially where I make a spoileriffic point about The Last of Us, and got the audience to hum the Tetris Theme en masse to cover the sound of spoilers.
Voices of VR Podcast
Kent Bye of the Voices of VR Podcast has posted an interview with me at GDC (on a street full of skateboarders, as you’ll hear). For those who don’t have Vault access, it’s got a summary of several of my points from my GDC talk, and I also ended up looking forward to a converged VR/AR future.
London Book Fair 2015
I was back at the Book Fair for a second year and did a talk on VR, AR and Wearables and the Future of Digital Publishing. No video unfortunately, but it was done in an ‘Interactive Theatre’ where the audience wore headphones like a silent disco, which was fun. It gave me a chance to try out an in-person Augmented Reality game: everyone who came to the talk was also playing a game where they scored a point for every person in a blue shirt who walked past. Thanks to a digital medium, that audience was experiencing a game layer, a different context of reality to ordinary bystanders. That’s Augmented Reality! I also did a panel with @EdStern, @BabelfishWars and @BetterTheMask about writing for games and the role of text in interactive. Post-panel interview above!
GDC 2015: VR, AR and the future of story
Just back from GDC, and I have so much to mentally digest, as well as physically recover from! I did a talk on narrative in VR which seemed to go down pretty well – VR was a hot topic this year, although most people seemed to be talking still about bombastic tech demos and how to achieve photorealism, which I’m not really all that interested in. It was great to be able to talk about how story/dialogue can cheaply solve a lot of these budget-heavy problems, help players get over the uncanny, and achieve more immersive experiences.
Immersion is about emotion, not realism. — Rob (probably) (@AboutThisLater) March 6, 2015
(That tweet was at about 3.30AM local time. GDC is a weird place)
My thinking actually evolved further in the course of the week, and now I’m also thinking a lot about how what we learn from VR can contribute to an AR future. And stuff. Also I ran a private one-man game jam on the plane back. Thank god for Twine!
I’ll be summarising my current thinking and catching up with the amazing people I met over the next few weeks. But for now, I’m gonna play some Persona and try to figure out what time of day my liver thinks it is.
VideoBrains talk: Doppelganger dialogue
Here’s a video of the talk I did at VideoBrains in October, about avoiding the “eerie experience” of repetitive dialogue. VideoBrains is a fantastic, informal games talk session run monthly by the excellent @_JakeTucker.
A little while ago I posted a question I got emailed by a game writer just starting out. She wanted advice on making a game for a games writing portfolio: should it be purely text-based or should she aim to put a polished visual experience together? I posted my reply, which was by turns gloomy and (hopefully) encouraging. Read that first response here.
We’ve been chatting further by email, and I thought it was worth posting some more of her story, which I reckon shows just how tricky it is to get off the ground as a game writer at the moment – but also, how determined she is to keep going. I’ve also put in my follow-up responses with more advice/rambling.
So, here’s how game writing looks from the internship end:
Just because you did say you were interested, I will briefly let you know what things look like from my end of the business (or non-business, to be more precise): Internships for game writers are, at least from what I gather, difficult to get. Even if a studio does have a professional writers’ room, they do not always offer internships; if they do, these are usually aimed at grad students involved in a practical game studies programme. This is lovely for anyone going to uni or college in the States, but it is a little less convenient for the rest of us.
Really pleased to see the announcement for Gunner, which will be a launch title for the Gear VR. I worked on it as Game Writer for the excellent nDreams. I’ve got some other really interesting VR projects coming down the pipeline too – I’m starting to think there might be something to this VR thing.
Develop 2014 talk: I didn’t ask for your life story
Phew! Develop was great fun as always. Here’s the audio and slides from the talk I did about “emotional telemetry” and making your game story more responsive without just adding MORE WORDS. Find Part 2 of the talk here.
I got a question from someone who’d been to a panel I did at the Dublin Writers’ Festival. The question was fairly specific, but it kind of raises a lot of the things that I wondered about myself, when I was first starting out. Answering the question turned into kind of a screed! So I thought I’d post this response in edited form in the hope that it’s useful to others.
Disclaimer: In case it’s not obvious, my own career is really just starting out (hope so anyway!),and I definitely can’t pretend to be a true veteran. But I’ve had the good fortune to work as a writer both within studios and as a freelancer, and I’ve been in the unenviable position of having to hire writers myself. The following suggestions are based on what I looked for in other writers, or based on questions that I myself have been asked while applying for jobs.
Say I was making a video game, primarily to have something to show when I apply for writing-internships at game studios. What would be better suited: a completely text-based game, such as the ones made with inklewriter (do-your-own-adventure-type), or a game that also incorporates visual elements?
Obviously, these are two completely different methods of story-telling. Both have their merits. The question at heart is: Would studios want to see that I know how to tell stories visually, game-ly, or is it enough to write a very, very good branching story?
Firstly, it’s great to hear that you['re looking at internships. If I was in a studio and looking for a contract writer to work on an in-progress game, unfortunately I would probably be looking for experience above all else. This is inherently unfair on people just starting out, of course. But unfortunately most game production schedules have very little margin for error, and when it comes right down to it, studios will tend to want to hire someone who is proven to be reliable, even if they're not the most flashy.
If a studio is prepared to take a risk on a new writer, then to me that's a really good sign: that's a studio that's prepared to invest in younger professionals, and they will hopefully get fresh, interesting writing as a reward. But it doesn't happen too often as far as I know.
— Rob Morgan (@AboutThisLater) May 15, 2014
Well, there we go. In an era when I keep pretty much everything in one cloud or another, this bothered me a lot more than I expected it to. A couple of months ago, an old laptop finally died on us - a partially melted, soup-stained one which had seen me through a year in Japan years ago. It had long since been relegated to the status of 'TV computer' - the one permanently plugged into the TV. I.e., the slowest and least graphically impressive computer in the house, fit only for streaming.
When that laptop finally gave up the ghost in a puff of ozone, it never even occurred to me that there might be files on it which needed rescuing. It had all been backed up ages ago - and everything I've made in the last couple of years is permanently housed on Dropbox anyway.
But when the XBox went, it took all of our saves with it- thousands of hours of time passed, unlocks, and in one case, all the memories of a romance seven years in the making.
It's not the end of the world (which, I'm always saying, is kind of overrated anyway), but it is annoying. While I'm deciding whether I can afford to go get it reballed, the main thing which struck me is that this will have the biggest impact NOT on the new games I play, but on the old games I'll replay. Read More
There's a short interview with me up on the London Book Fair site talking about reading and the publishing industry. Thanks guys!
Today FM Game Interview
I did an interview on Irish radio in the run-up to Dublin Writers' Festival, talking about games. Here's a clip along with some delightful daytime radio ads:
@GlobalGameCraft 24hr Game Jam
We got an impromptu invite to the @GlobalGameCraft game jam and rocked up about 11pm when it was in full swing (and the cake was mostly gone). Time for some serious Johann Sebastian Joust.
Dublin Writers’ Festival
Thanks to Anthony Johnston and moderator Joe Griffin and everyone who came to a fantastic panel on writing for games at the Dublin Writers’ Festival. I’ll hopefully get an audio file of the whole thing, and I’ll post the short talk I did on game narrative ASAP.
Photo courtesy of Dublin Writers Festival