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We've Been Doing it the Wrong Way

Through the process of writing a screenplay, I discovered that the screenplay is the perfect, if not at least an extremely powerful way of planning out your game.

Armando Marini, Blogger

September 17, 2015

5 Min Read

For the last few years, I’ve been kind of on the outside of the industry. It’s been an intentional self imposed exile. My trajectory was not what I was hoping for. It didn’t jive with me. A lot of it had to do with not necessarily jiving with the process of developing a game, especially in the early days. However, while I’ve been out here searching for what’s next, I believe I have discovered a fundamental flaw in game development that has lead to almost all the problems in the process. Just hand tight and I will explain.

For as long as I can remember, we're talking all the way back to the mid 90’s, the process of making a game starts with “Hey, give me a concept, I need it as soon as possible. Can you have it by the end of the week? How about two weeks?”

Hyperbole? I don’t think so.  The concept is what every producer and executive wants and they want it as soon as they can get it, if they don’t like it, you go back and you rework it. Under this pressure to come up with something you also have to, to a significant degree, give examples of what you’ll do in this game, what it will look like, and my favourite, what’s “the hook”. Sometimes you have a few months to do this, but you are always under the gun to come up with something.

Newsflash!! I haven’t got a clue. No project lead does. We make it up as we go. We all know this to be true. This leads to poor planning, poor scheduling, crunch times, wasted money, and onward with a laundry list of what not to do when you have to create something worthwhile. Sometimes, out of this chaos, something decent comes, but I am going to stand up and proclaim that this process needs to stop and be replaced with a new starting point.

Behold – The Screenplay.

In June of this year, I was encouraged to take an old game idea I had and turn it into a screenplay. I didn’t have much other than the very vague, super high level of a concept that I could not turn into a game in any meaningful way. Every attempt that I threw at it sucked. I still liked the idea of the story and turning it into a screenplay seemed like the only possibility for it. I wrote and re-wrote. I was critiqued and I rewrote. I read and I rewrote. I just kept going on it, and in fact I still am, trying to make it a top notch screenplay. Then it hit me. If, on the long shot, this turns into a movie, there might be a game based on it. What would that game play like?

Eureka moment!

As I read through the script I had all the elements I needed to know to create a game concept and to have a fruitful preproduction process. I knew the characters. I knew the enemy characters. I knew the themes. I knew the locations. I knew the goals of the levels. Lastly, I knew the game play and, maybe most importantly, I knew the hook. What this game really needed to make it cool was gameplay based on stealth and enemy AI that did it’s best to stay behind cover making it very challenging for the player and forcing the player be very clever at making them come out from behind cover.

Now, will this be a cool game? Will it ever get a green light? Will it ever see the light of day? I have no idea, but that isn’t the point of this post. The point is that by embarking on creating a good screenplay, I inadvertently found that this should be the starting point for many, many, many games. Rather than just sitting back and imagining what might be or trying to string together the oddball moment, the screenplay is a single cohesive blueprint for what the project will be. Proper scheduling can be done. Resources can be allocated properly. More accurate projections can be made. There are real discussion points that can be covered, and agreed to, or rejected before a single line of code is written or a single piece of artwork created. Also, I have three valid unique I.P. ideas where there used to be nothing.

For years people have been saying to design the game on paper. I get that. This is very much along the same lines. This may not work for every game, but it could apply to far more than you might think. Even if you write the story from the fictional perspective of a fictional player, how would the script play out? How would Madden Footbal play out at a screenplay? That’s a very interesting exercise.

When I completed my last revision, I decided I would go back and expand on the screenplay and turn it into a novella. By filling in the blanks that you intentionally leave out in a screenplay, I revealed even more of what the game could be. I found opportunities for metagames and possibilities for multiplayer. The story kept revealing more and more. How is it that we have not tried this before? How was this not determined to be the way before?

Ok, granted, if you are working on your very first indie project, this might seem overwhelming. It might be unnecessary in some cases. However, would ever case benefit from it to some degree? I really do think so. I really hope to put this hypothesis to the test.

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