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Writing great video game characters with Brandon Sheffield - GDC Podcast ep. 4

Brandon Sheffield is lead writer on Lab Zero's excellent action RPG platformer Indivisible. Find out how he injects humor, emotions, and personality into Indivisible's dozens of characters.

Kris Graft, Contributor

November 20, 2019

Released last month, Indivisible from developer Lab Zero is an action RPG platformer that hosts a wide range or memorable characters with unique personalities and motivations. That required a whole lot of writing.

Listen now on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify

Indivisible lead writer Brandon Sheffield was tasked with imbuing the game's characters with life. The Gamasutra contributor, former editor-in-chief of Game Developer magazine, indie game dev and longtime friend of Game Developers Conference joined us on this month's GDC Podcast to talk lessons in character writing, tips for young writers, and other scintillating topics. GDC Podcast music by Mike Meehan.

Brandon's tips for aspiring game writers

"Number one tip is of course, is do writing. Do a bunch of writing and get critiques and try to do better, and realize you can always do better. And, this isn't exactly game-specific either, but I also think it's super important for people to figure out what their own taste is and write things based on that.

"I remember in high school I got invited to some writers forum or something like that, and I thought this would be a good time to challenge myself and write a sci-fi story that was actually outside of my comfort zone -- and it totally fell flat. What I learned from that experience is not that I shouldn't have written a sci-fi story, but that I shouldn't have tried to write so far beyond my feelings and my experience.

"Not that people shouldn't branch out, because they obviously should, but if you are going to branch out you need to ground it in stuff that you know super well first...It helps to ground the experience and helps people to identify with it. I find that a mistake a lot of young writers make is they try to go straight for the fantasy bit without [figuring out] 'here's how this relates to my life, this is why it came from me rather than anyone else.'"

"In terms of game [writing], people should make Twine games. That's good because Twine's free, and it's really easy to use and you can make visual novels with choices and things. 

"Another tip that I have is if you write dialog, try to read it out loud and see if it sounds extra stupid, because that happens to me a lot! I'll write something and I'll be like, 'is this fine?' Then I'll try to read it out loud...and [realize] this is not something a human being would say." [laughs]

"Also, just write for any game that you can. My first video game that I did any writing for was...a Capcom collection with Digital Eclipse back in 2005. I was just writing some dumb quiz questions for a Capcom game called Quiz & Dragons which has a bunch of quiz questions in it that were about Capcom and they wanted to renew those. So I wrote some new Capcom trivia.

"Of course, that didn't do much for me career-wise because I was definitely a footnote in that video game and very little of it had to do with me. But when I next went to someone who needed a writer, I was like 'hire me because I can write things -- and also I have one game credit!' So having any game credit can help."

Listen to the full episode on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify

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