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Thinking about playwriting for improving on game writing

TL;DR: You should read more stage plays if you're interested in improving your game writing skillz.

Recently, Extra Credits' OtherDan did an audience choice Design Club stream. I took the chance to show him Ultra Hat Dimension, the first Ludum Dare game I did as part of a team. We made it for Ludum dare 32, and after tying for 24th place of 1500+ entries in the 72-hour Jam, we decided to expand on it, add more content, and release a paid version (coming in the next couple of months). The version he played was the original compo version, and he gave me two pieces of feedback that we hadn't already considered. One is that we should milk the mechanics more, rather than throwing everything at the player at once. The other piece of feedback, the one that I want to focus on today, was that the text could be greatly compressed.

Ow!

The LD version does indeed have a lot of text. It's in between levels and easily skippable. However, it contains hints about the mechanics. OtherDan pointed out that it's good that the text is skippable for those who want to do so, but that once players start skipping text it's hard to get them to start up again. And of course, once they start skipping text, they'll miss the hints contained therein.

It was at this point that I realized I needed to switch writing brains for Ultra Hat Dimension. I am quite happy with what I wrote, but it's very prose-y. A more dialgue-focused approach will do just fine. And that was when, for the bazillionth time, that I thanked my lucky stars for the acting experience I got growing up. (Thank you, Grandma, for getting me started on that. <3)

The reason theatre has anything to do with this is that a script is almost purely dialogue. There might be some stage directions, but most of the information about the characters and the setting are conveyed to the actors through their lines. The script writer has to pack those lines with information for the actors to draw from, all while making them sound like natural speech. I have very little script writing experience (none professionally), but I have a lot of script reading experience to draw from.

Cool animated water. (See what I did there?)

Since I'm currently focusing on adding more levels to Ultra Hat Dimension, I haven't done much with the writing yet, but here's an example of what I mean using the game's intro. The original compo version of the game has the following:


There are many worlds, interconnected by portals, and although some itinerant souls have the itch to travel between them, most are content to stay mostly at home. This is especially true of the Spluffs; although most races have arms and legs, they are... a bit less defined and so mostly stick" to their own lands out of mild embarassment, though they welcome visitors.

As a result of all Spluffs looking much the same, they love to accessorize. Hats are especially popular, and so every year the royal family holds a hat design competition. This year, for the first time ever, an otherworlder has won! Tonight is the grand ball in her honor at the royal palace.

However...

And here's the new version:


A toast to Bea, the first otherworlder to win the Spluff Kingdom's annual hat design competition!

It's much shorter, but calling for a toast implies party; calling Bea, our main character, an otherworlder implies that there are multiple worlds; and mentioning the Spluff Kingdom's annual hat design competition introduces the name of the Spluffs, states that they have a kingdom, and implies that they really dig hats since they have a hat design competition every year. It's far more succinct, but contains most of the information I initially spent two paragraphs on.

So if you're making a game that's heavy on story text, perhaps you should read some plays (your local library is sure to have some) and consider how you can imply more and state less.

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