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How Saltsea Chronicles empowered its writers room with "incredible 'yes, and' energy"

"It's better to have pillars and structure for finding the work than it is a 'finished vision' for a product guiding a process," wrote Saltsea Chronicles' deputy story lead Sharna Jackson.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

August 16, 2023

3 Min Read
Screenshot of a boat in Die Gute Fabrik's 2023 game, Saltsea Chronicles.

Depending on the game, the exact moment when a writer is brought on to craft its story or general narrative will vary. For its upcoming title Saltsea Chronicles, developer Die Gute Fabrik elected to have the writing team drive the game's overall development. 

"Hannah [Nicklin] and the writers’ room drove the story from the start, and our work led the production pipeline," wrote deputy story lead Sharna Jackson.

In a new blog on Die Gute Fabrik's website, Jackson explained the process of building out Saltsea with the story and characters in mind, and its effects on other studio departments. During those early months, the writing team would build out the game's world and talk with Nicklin about her direction and goals for its story. 

Nearly a dozen writers total were brought in for Saltsea Chronicles, each with varying levels of experience. Jackson, who was part of the initial iteration, added that every writer brought in their own ideas and wants for the story, further enhancing collaboration. 

"Working out what we didn’t want the game to be or include was important to our team," she noted.

Ideas were created across three categories (Characters, World, and Story), and catalogued in a Google Document. Factors like a character's contribution to the ship's crew or an island's climate (both in the present and past) were used to help flesh out a specific person or location. 

Coming up with NPCs, she continued, meant holding contests to fill a Google Sheet with as many named characters and subplots as possible. "By creating a silo of quick-easy to pick up names and fun side stories in one go, it made later work much easier. [...] There was incredible ‘Yes! And,' energy as we walked ideas down unexpected paths."

Jackson was tasked with creating Story and Place documents, the latter for the visual design team. For that one, she came up with NPCs, flora, fauna, and weather for each individual chapter and whatever objects players could interact with. 

As for the Story document, that required her to create a full synopsis for each chapter as other team members were writing them. The synopsis would then be used to implement story technology and allow encounter writers to only focus on dialogue and choices. 

Jackson noted that the documents and methods used for Saltsea Chronicles were imperfect, but said some of her favorite moments during development came from "beautiful brutality" and cuts being made. "The documents helped us all share an overview in buy-in to make that all possible."

"Our process and documentation were creative constraints," she added, "flexible structures used to propel our international, flexible working team through production."

For developers looking to build out writing teams, she advised studios to consider how well they work with (and properly prepare) writers from a non-game background. It isn't enough to bring on writers who are interested in games; documentation of some kind and more experienced staff should be available to help guide newcomers.

Depending on the developer's goals, it would also be worth branching out to non-game writers whose work may compliment the staff. Since Die Gute Fabrik was looking for writers with "excellent" dialogue experience, the team "needed to shape our tools and processes around people with little to no games writing experience.

"We're not saying a film or theatre or novel writer can instantly become a game writer, but we did design a system of onboarding, documentation and recruitment which skilled our writers up so we had access to that wider pool that met our other aims."

Jackson's full blog, which provides deeper insights into how the writing staff built out the world of Saltsea Chronicles and worked with the visual team, can be read here.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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