Day in the Life: Steve Ince, Freelance Writer-Designer

In our inaugural edition of our new "Day in the Life" feature, exploring the regular day of a game industry professional, we gain insight into the freelance writer-designer lifestyle. from sunrise to well after sunset, courtesy of El Dorado scripter Steve Ince.

Steve Ince is the UK-based designer and writer behind the script for many of Revolution's noted adventure games, including In Cold Blood, El Dorado and the third iteration of the Broken Sword series, for which he has received multiple award nominations both at the Game Developers Choice Awards and the UK-based BAFTA Awards.

Because I work from home, I thought that I would put that work into a larger context and cover the whole of my day from waking till going to bed again. There are times in the day when it can be difficult to demarcate the boundary between what is my time and what is the client's because I regularly think about the current work while doing mundane chores around the house.

There is no specific reason that I chose the day I did, but it's pretty typical of how I spend my time. When I work on something like story or character development, I work very intensely and my breaks fit themselves around my work, which is why so many of the timestamps are odd ones.

It's very important to be self-disciplined when working from home. For me this means proper planning with the client to come up with a series of deadlines that we are both happy with. In order that I reach those deadlines without undue pressure, I always make sure that I have a structured day to maximize the amount of time spent on the client's work.

Monday, March 7th, 2005

Steve Ince

7.00 - The alarm clock goes off at the same time every day. It's a battered old thing that must be at least fifteen years old, but it does its job and wakes me up every morning.

I regularly wake before the alarm sounds and will lie in bed thinking about the day ahead, particularly if the previous day's writing hit a tricky patch. This peaceful time is often when the best solutions to these problems come to me.

Although I'm a morning person and like to get up early, the reason the alarm is set is for my partner, June, who works in the council offices about twenty miles away and needs to be there by 8:30. As I'm always quickest to rouse, I make us a cup of tea. It's been particularly cold recently so I light the gas fire in the living room. Breakfast consists of a bowl of cereal. June and I spend abou twenty minutes together before she prepares herself for work.

7.25 - While June takes the first turn in the bathroom, I boot up my computer and check my emails and update my site. I've just started up a new comic strip in a simple style which allows me to put the individual strips together very quickly. I like to have a presence on the web that has a connection to my career, but at the same time is separate. At some point during this period, June will enter my office and bid me a fond farewell for the day.

8.02 - My turn in the bathroom and although taking a shower doesn't last long, it's another chance to do some thinking and I come up with a neat development I can work into the story I am currently developing. The shower is followed by a shave, after which I realize that the wheelie bin needs putting out front - the council informed us only last week that the day of refuse collection was being changed from Friday to Monday, so although the bin was only emptied a few days earlier, I found something to put into it so that they would still have something to do.

I always put food out for the wild birds as I like to watch them feeding. We get quite a variety - three types of tit, two types of finch, robins, sparrows, thrushes and blackbirds. I saw a woodpecker for the first time the other day, but it hasn't been back since.

8.35 - Before I launch into my work, I like to browse a few gaming websites. When you work from home it's vitally important that you keep up on all the latest gaming news as it happens. I find that trying to catch up once a week can be a little overwhelming. Sometime it seems as though the whole landscape of gaming changes three times from Monday to Friday.

9.05 - Start work. The first ten or fifteen minutes is spent reading over the work I completed on Friday, during which I spot a couple of phrases that need a little re-wording for clarity. Overall, though, I'm pleased with the flow and get back into the rhythm very quickly.

My current client is an excellent company who brought me in to work on the story and story-related content for an action game. The key with this type of story development is to do so in a way that enriches the experience and complements the action.

I'm currently working on the second draft of the main story, which has turned out to be surprisingly rich, and I'm working through the client's feedback on the first draft, as well as incorporating new gameplay details they have developed since the first draft was started. Feedback and answers to questions are very swift at coming through, which is important if a writer is to deliver what the client wants.

Like the first person shooter I did story work for at the end of last year, this client had the structure of the story mapped out but felt that they needed to bring someone else in to help enrich it and develop the characters to a greater degree. When this is the case, the story work takes place over a much shorter period than if the story had been created from scratch.

Though the story document is not for wider publication, I like to write it as dramatically as possible. The intention with this is that all the other members of the team can see how the dynamic nature of the story will complement the exciting gameplay.

I'm quickly adding in some new stuff based upon the gameplay detail and it's coming together very well. The words just seem to flow from my fingers and by the time an hour is up I've written a thousand words.

Though the current work is story revision, the work will vary depending on the client's requirements. Last week it was first draft story work. Next week I'll be working on character profiles. Another client may want a script editing and polishing.

10.12 - An e-mail arrives that has a vague offer of a potential job in Denmark. But when I read further I realize that they are looking for level designers. This is quite a regular occurrence - because I call myself a writer-designer, many people seem to think that level design work is part of that. Though there can be an overlap, much level design involves working with 3D software, which is not my speciality.

I spend the next fifteen minutes reviewing the work I've just done.

10.31 - I take a short break to make myself a cup of tea and to have a piece of fruit. It's probably because I have breakfast so early, but I find that if I don't eat something at this point of the day I can become a little distracted. In the kitchen I am greeted by a howling cat who clearly has the same idea as I do - she wants something to eat.

While the kettle is boiling I eat a banana and watch the birds feeding through the patio doors. For a brief moment I wonder about the possibility of developing a bird-feeding game, but cannot think, for the moment, how that might work.

10.44 - I return to work with my cup of tea sitting on the desk in front of me. I've been known to get wrapped up in the work to the point where the tea goes cold, but today I drink it quite quickly as I think about the next section and how best to put across the new ideas.

Sometimes writing is more about thinking things through than actually doing the typing. Because I type reasonably quickly, producing the work is rarely about getting the words down in time, but in deciding what ideas, feelings and relationships the words will convey.

11.09 - The time the post arrives varies quite a bit from day to day, but is usually somewhere between 11 am and noon. So when the letter-box rattles I go to check it out in case someone has sent me lots of money, but, sadly, there's only a letter from the council explaining its new recycling policies - I will read it in detail later.

I return to work and after a short while the new approach to the section I'm working on begins to click and it's not long before the writing is flowing again.

11.24 - I'm interrupted by a knock on the door, which breaks my flow. Though I'm tempted not to answer it, you never know when it could be something important. It was only a guy asking if I needed any pruning work done in the garden. As I tend to do these jobs myself, I had to turn him away.

One of the disadvantages of working from home is that you get distractions like these all the time, so you need to develop the discipline to be able to get back into the swing of things as quickly as possible.

12.02 - I manage to pick up straight away and get a good half hour in before I reach a convenient point at which to break for lunch. It's a little earlier than I'd like, but I like to fit to the flow of the work as much as I'm able.

Lunch consists of some lean ham with a tomato and cucumber salad. I try to eat fairly healthy as much as possible. I'm not fanatical about it, but definitely feel better if I have a varied diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. As I let the food settle for ten minutes, I'll either read the paper or catch up on the news on TV.

12.28 - I take half an hour in each day to go for a brisk walk. Because I sit at the computer all day, it's very easy to get into the habit of not taking any exercise, and as I'm a little overweight anyway I'd soon balloon up.

I pick up a couple of pints of milk and some fresh meat for the evening meal. I regularly try to coincide the walk with a visit to the shops; it's an extra encouragement to go out, particularly in winter when the rain and snow may be a little off-putting.

When I return I notice that the daffodils are nearly out, which hopefully means that spring is on the way.

13.05 - Back to work on more story refinement. Much of this section of work consists of fleshing out the existing material and refining it, which goes very well.

14.13 - I receive an e-mail from another client about a couple of days work I'm to do next week on a fun children's title. One of the advantages of a small job like this one is that I'm able to fit it into the down time on the main job where I'm waiting for feedback. It's always very useful to be on the lookout for this kind of work. It only takes me a minute to reply and then I'm back on the job in hand.

14.44 - I take ten minutes out to make myself another cup of tea. The last half hour has moved along very well and I'm surprised at where the time has gone. I notice that a squirrel is perched on the bird table and eating the peanuts. It is completely unfazed as I stare at it through the window.

14.58 - Returning to work once more, progress initially goes well then hits a tough patch where I'm forced to unravel ideas from the previous version and weave in the new ideas. I need to tread carefully in case I introduce inconsistencies or plot flaws.

15.46 - I receive an e-mail from an adventure game developer who, among other things, asks how well Wanted: a Wild Western Adventure is doing. This was a game that I script-edited last year and for which I do not have any figures, so I cannot help his curiosity out.

15.50 - I spend the next fifteen minutes checking back and forth between documents and am soon pretty sure that I'm able to continue with the changes in a manner that will work well.

16.05 - The client sends me some updated character art for reference, based on changes to one of the main characters we'd talked about previously. It's real quality work and perfectly fits the image I have in my head for the character. Pleased that the visual ideas are complementing the story ideas, I return to the writing with renewed vigor.

I cut out whole sections of the old stuff and work in the new ideas. The careful thoughts from a little while earlier are paying off and once again my fingers rattle across the keyboard as the words flow like a river. After about an hour I've finished all the changes and then review what I've just done.

17.25 - I come to a convenient finishing point. Tomorrow I will review the whole document and polish it before passing it onto the client.

17.30 - I answer some emails that have been building during the day and which didn't need my attention at the time.

17.50 - I start the preparation of the evening meal, timing it to be complete for when June arrives home from work.

18.25 - June and I sit down together to eat and to share what each of us have done during the day. One of the disadvantages of working from home is the lack of contact with other colleagues that you naturally have when employed within company offices. So I almost find I'm living the office politics vicariously through June.

19.10 - I wash the dishes. June and I have an arrangement - I cook and wash the dishes and she washes the clothes and does the ironing. Although this means that I'm doing something every day, I still feel that I get the better deal as ironing is one of the most mind-numbing tasks known to man. The rest of the chores we share.

I have a great idea for a low-budget game while I'm doing the dishes, though not a dish-washing game. I need to explore it some more when I have the time.

19.30 - I return to the computer for a while with the idea of doing some work on my comic strip.

19.35 - I receive an email from someone asking if I'm going to GDC so that they could set up an interview. Too busy with work to go all the way over to the other side of the States, though I'd love to go one year. I'll have to make do with EGN later this year.

19.45 - I remember the game idea and write up a few quick notes so that it doesn't disappear forever.

19.55 - Do some work on the comic strip, Mr. Smoozles, and write couple of episode scripts.

20.20 - I chat for five minutes on MSN with my son, Jason, about my old laptop and a couple of comics we've both been reading.

20.25 - I type up some thoughts I had on a couple of my earlier game ideas. I have more ideas than I'll ever get chance to work on, but they are all valuable and even if they aren't used directly they could feed into other projects.

21.00 - I watch TV with June. There's a documentary on the TV about a guy who was a serial bigamist, ruining lots of women's lives in the process. This is followed by ER. Although it's a little like a soap opera most of the time, it's still a well put together programme that always conveys such energy and exciting drama, even in the quietest moments.

23.05 - Bedtime. It takes me a while to get to sleep, though, as I think about the work I've been doing during the day...



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