oday's market for videogames doesn't just require flashy graphics and new music to sell a game - a game also has to have content that's engaging, and brings the player back for more. And that means a story, and a good one. I've written several stories for videogames, two of which you can download in the Dungeon Siege™ siegelets I have created. If you would like me to write the story for your commercial videogame, then here's what I need from you before we begin:
1) A complete, honest and realistic list of what you can and can't do with your game system, covering the following points:
A) What is the overall genre or theme of your game? By 'genre', I mean 'fantasy roleplaying', 'first-person shooter', etc. By theme, I mean fantasy, science-fiction, science-fantasy, etc.
B) How does your game engine normally render the game world? 3-D third-person, 3-D first-person, 2-D side-scrolling, 2-D "bird's eye view", etc. An important component of writing a story for a game is understanding the player's perspective on the game world.
C) What are the advantages of the overall game engine? What things does your game engine do that sets it clearly apart from the competition? For example, if your game engine can produce spectacular skies, rainbows and explosions, it's to your best interest for me to write a story that includes panoramic vistas, rainbows and lots of explosions.
D) What are the limitations of your rendering and SFX engines? And don't tell me "we don't have any," every engine has something it can't do. For example, if your SFX engine can't render the color black for magic spell effects, it does no good if I write a story for you where the villain uses a "black lightning" spell.
E) What are the limitations of the overall game engine? And again, don't tell me "we don't have any," every engine has something it can't do. For example, if you have "loading screens" when you go inside or outside a building, it does no good for me to write a story for you where the heroes and the villain engage in a running battle both inside and outside a castle. Also, if your game engine doesn't support "town portal" type spells, it does no good for me to write a story where they would be necessary to the plot.
F) How does your game engine handle death/player defeat? This is actually very important. For example, if characters in a your game are easily revived, then it does no good for me to write a story where the hero's companion is permanently killed at an important part of the story - either you're stuck trying to figure out how to code permanent death in a system you already set up where death isn't permanent, or the player will be unecessarily frustrated at discovering they can't bring their companion back when everyone else who died was easily revived. As another example, if your game engine automatically causes the player to lose (and have to restart from a previous save) whenever their character is rendered unconscious, it does no good for me to write a story where the hero is beat up and dragged off to a cell in a dungeon halfway through, since they basically can't be defeated in a fight without losing the entire game (Dungeon Siege™ has this limitation).
2) What is your intended market and the intended ESRB rating you are shooting for? It does no good if I'm writing a squeaky-clean "E" rated story and what you really wanted was an "M" rated story targeted more to the 25-45 market - or vice-versa. Be candid, and tell me precisely what you want in this regard.
3) A list and accompanying illustrations of any special characters, objects or creatures you have already created for the game or plan on creating, and how you intend for them to be used. For example, if your game is going to focus around magical automobiles that zoom through the sky, I'll need to have an idea of what they look like. If your game is a fantasy game that's going to use giant birds instead of horses to ride around, I'll need to have an idea of what they look like.
4) What format do you want the story to be arranged in? The format you choose depends on how your company plans to work around building the story into the game. There are four choices, here:
A) Storyboard Outline: This is a series of short paragraphs which can be illustrated by your artists that lay out the basics of the story from scene to scene. Character lines are given, and brief descriptions of their interactions. This is ideal if what you want is just a brief story outline you can fill in as you go along.
B) Broad Plot Outline and Backgrounds: This is a series of short essays on characters and the background world, accompanied by a very loose plot outline which you can tailor to fit your game as you go along. Character lines are given, and brief descriptions of their interactions. This is ideal if what you want is just very broad story ideas you can fill in as you go along, but also need detailed background information you can insert into the game for the player to read/discover as they play. This is ideal if what you want to do is build the story around the game, rather than build the game around the story.
C) Novella: This is a short literary work, in essence a brief novel. This is ideal if what you want is to build the game around the story, rather than build the story around the game.
D) Filming Script: This is a story arranged in the manner of a film script, describing scenes and actions, camera views, etc, and detailing the lines each character speaks. This is ideal if what you're trying to build is closer to an interactive movie than a game per-se, or if you intend long cut-scenes/in-game movies to be an important element of the game.
5) How much are you offering, and on what terms?
Yes, I know, it would be fabulous if you could get someone to write a story for free, and I'm sure that if you try hard enough you'll find someone who'll be willing to do it, but if you want a professionally written story, you can expect to pay for it. A flat fee is fine, but please don't insult me by offering a couple hundred bucks for a project it's going to take me a month or two to write. If I could make more flippin' burgers at McDonald's than the flat fee you're offering, don't expect me to be terribly excited by your offer. Royalty payments are also fine, but you will also need a small fee in advance to make it worth my time - I'm not going to spend a few months writing a story for you for free, only to discover your company folded and I got nothing for my work. Also, your contract should specify who owns the IP for the characters and concepts I create for you.
Now: If all the above sounds reasonable to you, you can send me an e-mail at email@example.com and we'll discuss your needs.
Thanks for visiting, and I hope to hear from you soon!
- Jim Farris,
Published Professional Author and Composer