Book Review: Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know about Narrative Techniques by Evan Skolnick

Book Review: Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know about Narrative Techniques by Evan Skolnick

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** This book may be available from your local library. Check it out! 

At first glance, an outsider to the world of video games might see little relation between a major motion picture and a video games. They seem to be different genres, different worlds, even when movies crossover to become games and games crossover and are developed into movies — often badly. The action, the interactivity, the immersion of video games can make their stories seem unlike a standard narrative program. Surely, due to the player’s control of characters, video games can’t be written in the same way as a television script. While that might be true in some regards, when you go deeper into the creation of story that drives the final narrative, there are more similarities between writing for film and video games than you might imagine. These similarities also mean that many similar challenges exist for these writers regardless of their genre.

Writer Evan Skolnik is an international speaker and educator who conducts workshops on storytelling techniques and has worked on large scale video game projects such as Star Wars 1313, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 and Spiderman 3.

The first half of Video Game Storytelling would be familiar to anyone who has ever taken a film writing course. It discusses the “three act structure”, “The Hero’s Journey” and the Monomyth that are the basis for many of our most classic books and films like Star Wars and Alien. Skolnick uses these well-known films to illustrate various writing concepts but then expands his examples with examples from well-known video games and how they also use these same techniques. These games include the Bioshock series, Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid. Thankfully, just as with movies, many scenes and playthroughs of these games are easily available via YouTube. This allows the reader to familiarize themselves with games they may have never played and fully understand the lessons Skolnick references.

While there is a good deal of video game examples spread throughout this first half, I found myself wishing for even more examples of how the traditional writing and storytelling rules applied to video games.

The second half of Video Game Storytelling details the many disciplines involved in creating a video game and how each of these affects — and is affected by — the narrative tools he has illustrated in the first half. For incipient video game developers this is where they will find the “meat” of the book and the majority of the author’s expertise. The information found in the first half might be found in any good book on screenwriting, but the detailed breakdown of all the video game development disciplines, their challenges and their relationship to the narrative of any video game should probably be required reading for anyone considering a career in video game design and development.

In the “In the Trenches” section, Skolnik details the responsibilities of each important discipline including Game Character Development, Level and Mission Development, Environments, Audio and several others. He also details how a video game writer needs to work with each of these disciplines in order to create a well-balanced, successful, and most importantly playable video game.

Throughout Video Game Storytelling you will see and hear a complaint common to any collaborative writing and creative enterprise — the lack of inclusion, if not outright respect, for the creator of the narrative of a game. There are several common mistakes in dealing with a writer, whether in traditional media such as television or film or the relative younger video game industry. Skolnick lays out the biggest mistakes creative teams can make with their narrative experts i.e. writers. These mistakes can range from not hiring a writer at all for your game to hiring a writer but then not giving them the power and support to defend the narrative from the competing demands of all the disciplines mentioned above. Too often writers are given all the responsibility for the narrative, but very little power to defend that narrative. This can often translate into taking much of the blame for a less-than-successful game, even when many of the narrative decisions were taken out of their control.

Skolnik’s best advice when hiring a video game writer can be summed up as — hire as early as possible in the development process, integrate them fully and equally with all the other disciplines and teams, listen to their guidance about the narrative. A game developer is paying their writer for their experience, advice, and knowledge. They should then take it. Too often, though, that is not the case. The writer — and the narrative — get shunted aside by cool gaming mechanics, great explosions and intricate AI characters.

One of the main reasons I requested a review copy of the book from Blogging for Books is so I could better familiarize myself with game development and be able to discuss it more intelligently with my high school aged son, who is looking at a career somewhere in the game development industry. As I read the book, I found myself reading him some of the stories and ideas out loud and also encouraging him several times to read the book as soon as I had completed it. I think there is a great deal of knowledge to be gained from both sections of the book. The “Basic Training” section gives an excellent introduction into the world of the Three-Act Structure and the second half applies that knowledge in very concrete ways specific to video game development. It is a great starting point for learning about an industry — video gaming — that is rapidly becoming a huge entertainment industry on the level of traditional television or film.

Video: New Media Q&A 2015 for UCLA Extension Voiceover Class

Douglas answers questions from students in Janet Wilcox’s online Voiceover class at UCLA Extension.

Links mentioned in this video:

Voiceover: Techniques and Tactics for Success by Janet Wilcox

 iTunes Podcast Directory

Free Blogging Sites
http://Wordpress.com
http://Blogger.com

Royalty Free Music
Kevin MacLeod – http://incompetech.com

Amazon Affiliate Program

Audible.com

Far Lands of Bust

KurtJMac Patreon Page

Rob Paulson and Talking Toons


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2015 – A Year of Teaching with Douglas E. Welch

Douglas E. Welch

As we start 2015, I have selected a theme for the year. Over the past several years themes have included: Year of Visibility, Year of Leadership, and Year of Opportunity. This year I have decided to focus on something truly dear to my life and career — Year of Teaching.

A Year (and more) of Teaching

Education — in all forms — has always been a part of everything I do. Whether working in IT, consulting, writing. speaking or coaching, it all comes down to learning and education. Education was always been there whether I was speaking about careers, technology, new media, gardening or any of my other many and varied interests. I’ve always been passionate about sharing my experience with those around me to help them build the career (and life) they deserve.

As part of this Year of Teaching I want to focus on several areas where I think I can have the most impact. Perhaps you can help me in the coming year. I would greatly appreciate your advice, opportunities and your connections to others who might be able to use my skills.

I am looking to formalize my teaching in a number of ways. I am interested in connecting with organizations and students, of all types that could benefit from my experience, skills and, above all, my teaching abilities. Here are a few of the possibilities I foresee:

  • Classroom teaching using existing curriculum or creating curriculum designed specifically for your students
  • Seminar and Guest Speaking – both on-site and remotely
  • Webinars/Online Courses
  • Instructor positions at organizations, colleges and vocational schools

Over the years I have applied my teaching skills to Career Development, Gardening, Technology, New Media and more. You can find many examples of my writing, and both audio and video presentations on my web site at DouglasEWelch.com. I believe that each of these interests plays off the other and expands my ability to reach a diverse audience of students.

CareerCamp International

CareerCamp International will also continue to be an on-going part of my teaching efforts this year. I’ll be working to spread the word about CareerCamp and help develop as many additional CareerCamps as possible. I believe that CareerCamp provides a great opportunity for people to share their knowledge and experience — teaching important concepts and lessons to those around them. I’d love to bring CareerCamp to your college, school, business or organization. You only need to ask.

A Year of Teaching Begins

2015 is providing a good start for this Year of Teaching. I currently have 4 speaking/teaching engagements scheduled and I am in discussion for several more:

  • New Media and a Career in Voiceover – Pursuing a Career in Voice Overs (Online) course at UCLA Extension Class – January 2015
  • CareerCamp: New Methods for Building the Career You Deserve – 2015 California Placement Association Conference – February 25-27, 2015
  • Transition as the New Normal – Ventura County OPEN Group – February 27, 2015
  • Smartphones, Technology and Your Career – GLAPros – March 12, 2015
  • Career Tools and Techniques for the 21st Century – Career Development Theories and Techniques Class – Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology – March 2015
  • CareerCampSCV (Santa Clarita Valley) 2015 – July 2015
I’m looking forward to a great year of teaching — of all sorts — in 2015 and I am wishing you the best year, too!

 

Video: Seeing Differently #5 – iPhone Photography and Waterlogue app

Seeing Differently — an on-going video series

See previous Seeing Differently videos in this YouTube playlist

 

Subscribed 54: Music from Kevin MacLeod for all your New Media projects

Originally published as part of the “Subscribed” series on my New Media blog and podcast, Careers in New Media


Incompetech

If you have listened to or watched any of my podcasts or YouTube videos then you have heard a lot of Kevin MacLeod’s music. In fact, if you watch anything on YouTube, chances are you have heard it, too. Kevin is one of the foremost providers of music tracks for YouTube publishers around the world. I first discovered his work via the Minecraft Let’s Play videos that I watched and quickly adopted him as my own music provider.

Listen to one one of his latest tracks

Kevin provides all his music, for free, under a Creative Commons license — but he wouldn’t be adverse to a few dollars either. (SMILE) I sent him a lump sum payment myself to thank him for his creativity and music and help ensure that more tracks keep coming. Kevin also does composing on commission for video games, stage musicals and film.

You can subscribe to Kevin’s latest music release in a number of ways. First, he posts all new tracks to his blog at Incompetech.com 

Kevin also recently wrote a great blog post on selecting music for your book trailer — Book Trailer 101 — which has some great advice. 

Incompetech blog

As you can see here, Kevin also has a presence on Soundcloud and YouTube. You can also subscribe to these channels to hear all his latest releases.

 What are some of your favorite Subscriptions? Share them here in the comments!


Previously highlighted on Subscribed:

Subscribed is a Careers in New Media series  highlighting the Podcasts, YouTube Channels and Blogs that I follow on a daily basis. Check out this entry, and past entries, for some great New Media Content — Douglas

Video: Seeing Differently #4: Slow motion typing

Seeing Differently — an on-going video series

See previous Seeing Differently videos in this YouTube playlist

 

Noted: TuneIn brings over 100,000 radio stations to your Chromecast via Engadget

TuneIn brings over 100,000 radio stations to your Chromecast via Engadget

tuneinradioch

Today is a great day to be a Chromecast owner. Joining Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Sesame Street Go and others, TuneIn is now also making its mobile apps compatible with Google’s budget-friendly streaming dongle. Now that TuneIn has added support for Chromecast, you can start casting more than 100,000 radio stations, including local and international, as well as a ton of different news, music and sports podcasts. Oddly enough, the TuneIn Radio Pro applications don’t appear to have been updated, but nothing’s keeping those users from going to the non-paid version to get their Chromecast fix.

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Audio: Douglas talks Podcasting on The Struggling Entrepreneur Podcast

se-logo-square

Last week I sat down with Frank Castaneda of the Struggling Entrepreneur to talk podcasting, being a pioneer podcaster and more. It’s always great to talk about podcasting, especially the exciting early days.

 Listen to the entire interview(~45 mins)

Baby Boomer Douglas E. Welch of the very first podcasters in the podosphere (since September, 2004) was also one of the very first New Media content producers who standardized in (1) repurposing content from a written column or blog: and (2) using screencasts to provide additional value to all 6 of his early podcast shows; and (3) taking a lead in organizing virtual events in the Bar-Camp style of un-conferences.

Douglas had his first podcast, Career Opportunities, and then added 5 more shows to become a prolific podcaster in multiple genres — from business, careers, gardening, finance, and high-tech discussions.

His current podcasts are available for subscription at www.DouglasEWelch.com.

His background is creative and not conventional — he was a THEATER major in college, but he was successful as an Entrepreneur for many years with his freelance computer-and-LAN installation-and-support business.

As you will hear in this audio episode, crawling under tables and desks to install or unclog the coils of cable that grow in IT locations was something less than desirable. So he decided to go into helping others with counsel, advice, public speaking, presentations and consulting for New Media, including screencasting, podcasting, video, blogging and other New Media areas. In addition, he is the author of 5 published books on amazon.com and other publishers.

Noted: A @GoSwivl Class Example #FlippedEd #EdChat via The Nerdy Teacher

A @GoSwivl Class Example #FlippedEd #EdChat via The Nerdy Teacher

A @GoSwivl Class Example #FlippedEd #EdChat via The Nerdy Teacher

I’ve written about Swivl on my site before here and here, but here is a great post on a how a new teacher has used it in her classroom to accommodate a student who misses school due to illness. This is a great reason to consider Swivl for your classroom.

Greetings!

My name is Katie Parent and I’m an English teacher in Michigan. I’m writing today about Swivl, a piece of technology that I recently tried in my classroom.

I have an honors student who is chronically ill and is hospitalized for treatment one out of every five weeks—we’ll call her Rebecca. Rebecca is a star student, always putting forth 100% effort and contributing to class discussion; school is a positive place where she can excel. As you can imagine, having a debilitating illness can get in the way of this. Rebecca’s mother contacted me before her first hospitalization this school year, wondering if I would be comfortable recording my classes so that her daughter can watch them while she is receiving treatment. I was eager to do so, but faced one issue: I am very mobile in my room, hardly staying in one spot for more than a few seconds. How would I be able to record myself as I moved around the room? Enter: Swivl.

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“Noted” items are particularly good finds from my daily reading which I share via all my social media accounts.

Find more Noted items here

Noted: Beyond Blogging: Why Content Creators Are Making Mugs, Sweaters, And Moisturizer via Fast Company

Beyond Blogging: Why Content Creators Are Making Mugs, Sweaters, And Moisturizer via Fast Company

 Beyond Blogging: Why Content Creators Are Making Mugs, Sweaters, And Moisturizer via Fast Company

Sweaters, mugs, and wall hooks. These are not products one typically associates with bloggers. In fact, blogging and hawking wares does not seem like a natural fit, exactly.

But bloggers often feel the desire to move beyond the two-dimensional landscape of their websites and create physical products. Take John and Sherry Petersik of Young House Love who designed quirky wall hooks sold by Target, Kendi Skeen of Kendi Everyday, who set up her own brick and mortar boutique or lifestyle blog The Everygirl, which creates tumblers and mugs emblazoned with inspirational quotes. (Oh, and let’s not forget Gwyneth Paltrow’s foray into selling overpriced sweaters on her blog, Goop.) It seems easy enough to jump from editorial to creating real life products, but is it?

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“Noted” items are particularly good finds from my daily reading which I share via all my social media accounts.

Find more Noted items here

Noted: Learn How to Make Captivating Presentations with This Free Online Book via Lifehacker

Learn How to Make Captivating Presentations with This Free Online Book via Lifehacker

Learn How to Make Captivating Presentations with This Free Online Book via Lifehacker

Communication guru Nancy Duarte helped us learn how to create and deliver presentations that don’t suck. Her acclaimed book, Resonate, is available online now for free in multimedia, touch-friendly form.

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“Noted” items are particularly good finds from my daily reading which I share via all my social media accounts.

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Event: Voiceovers: Techniques and Tactics for Success Book Signing – Sat, Oct 11 at 3pm

Event: Voiceovers: Techniques and Tactics for Success Book Signing

Buy the book!


Come celebrate the Second Edition of 

Voiceovers: Techniques and Tactics for Success at my book signing!

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11th AT 3:00 PM
IN THE GREEN ROOM AT SAMUEL FRENCH BOOKSTORE

7623 SUNSET BLVD, LOS ANGELES, CA 90046

THERE WILL BE A DRAWING FOR TWO 30 MINUTE FREE VO LESSONS WITH ME VIA I-CHAT OR PHONE.

RSVP AT: janetwilcoxvo@yahoo.com

Praise for Voiceovers: Techniques and Tactics for Success, Second Edition

“The indispensable, comprehensive work on the subject.  Janet Wilcox’s book is valuable not only for its breadth of
knowledge, but also for the respect it teaches for  voiceover as an art form.” —FRED MELAMED


“Janet Wilcox has written a wonderful book where all the  information is at your fingertips.” —MICHELLE DANNER, artistic director, Edgemar Center
for the Arts and the Michelle Danner Acting Studio 

“Wilcox does it again! Everything you will ever need to know about voiceover in a sparkling second edition: the  tools, the techniques, and now a deeper dive into the  digital world, animation, and audiobooks. A must-have for   everyone in our industry.” —CHRIS SPENCER, executive
vice president, HBO Creative Services

Noted: Rise of the museum Twitter bots via Kottke

Rise of the museum Twitter bots via Kottke

Rise of the museum Twitter bots via Kottke

John Emerson has compiled a list of Twitter accounts that periodically tweet out images from the online collections of some of the world’s best museums, including the Met, the Tate, the Rijksmuseum, and MoMA.

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“Noted” items are particularly good finds from my daily reading which I share via all my social media accounts.

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Video: New Media 101: Perfect is good. Done is better! from The What, Why and How of Blogging with Douglas E. Welch

Part of the New Media 101/Blogging 101 series…

A quick clip from this 45 minute presentation — The Why, What and How of Blogging.

Watch the entire presentation

New Media 101: Perfect is good. Done is better! from The What, Why and How of Blogging with Douglas E. Welch

 

Transcript:

What I will say, though, and I have to deal with this with podcasters and video a lot, is that the “P” word comes up — Perfection. They want it to be perfect before it ever sees the light of day. it will never be perfect. We all know, perfect does not exist. It is a great goal. It is a great brass ring out there that we constantly keep grabbing for. We are never going to get there. And unfortunately, what happens is, in reaching for that brass ring all the time, they never do anything. They totally abandon all the benefits they might get from all forms of new media — whether its blogging or podcasting, whatever — waiting for perfection. And I always say — I have a theater degree, that’s the degree I graduated college with. I worked in the costume shop as part of my theater degree. And we had a costume designer who was very fond of saying, “Perfect is good. Done is better! The actor has to go on stage wearing something. So if that stitch isn’t quite right, you know what? We’ll pin it. They have to go out there now.” That is something I took to heart back in the early 80’s when I was in college. Yeah, perfection is something we reach for, knowing we’ll never get there, but up until the point — we search for perfection up until the point where it prevents us from actually doing something. So, that is the balance you have to strike. You have to find that balance of “it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough. It presents my ideas clearly enough and to just try to avoid the analysis paralysis of “it’s not good enough. It’s not good enough,” and work around that because that is a very common problem that we run into.


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Previously on New Media 101/Blogging 101:

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Video: New Media 101: Blogs as a place for your stuff from The What, Why and How of Blogging with Douglas E. Welch

Part of the New Media 101/Blogging 101 series…

A quick clip from this 45 minute presentation — The Why, What and How of Blogging.

Watch the entire presentation

Video: New Media 101: Blogs as a place for your stuff from The What, Why and How of Blogging with Douglas E. Welch

Transcript:

The other thing you can do with blogging, too, is blogs give you — is anyone familiar with George Carlin — they give you “a place for your stuff.” Too often, with our web sites, it’s like “Oh, I want to put up these photos but I have to figure out how to a make a gallery page and I’ve got to format all the pictures and …” Now, you don’t. With a blog, a blog gives you a ready-made place — and by typing to other services on the Internet like Flickr for photo sharing, and YouTube for video sharing, whatever — you suddenly now have the ability to put something up on YouTube — a little short video you took. You take that little embed code that they give you. How many people have seen the embed code there? You hop over to your blog and go, paste. Publish. That video is now on your web site. It’s now on your blog and everybody can read it. It’s not that hard. This is what I try to reinforce with people all the time. It’s not that difficult. It’s not that hard and I hope that if you dive into this, I hope that you will see that, by using these others services. The Internet world has become so much simpler over the last even 5 years compared to what we had to face early on of — I mentioned ftp and command lines — Oh, I need to upload this so ftp (space) login and ok — it was, if not difficult, it was cumbersome. Nowadays, especially with the advent of blogs, it is so much easier, because all these sites exist. YouTube and Flickr and Picasa and other sites that simply say, “Oh, ok, you sent your content up to us, that’s great. Where do you want to use that?” I want to us it there and I want to use it here and I want to use it here and I want to use it on Facebook and…you can put it everywhere from that one source.


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Previously on New Media 101/Blogging 101:

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Noted: People Are Already Finding Amazing Uses For Hyperlapse, Instagram’s New Time-Lapse Video App via Business Insider

Noted: People Are Already Finding Amazing Uses For Hyperlapse, Instagram’s New Time-Lapse Video App via Business Insider

People Are Already Finding Amazing Uses For Hyperlapse, Instagram's New Time-Lapse Video App via Business Insider

Last week, Instagram announced its latest app, called Hyperlapse.
Hyperlapse allows you to take time-lapse videos, without the need for fancy, expensive equipment. It’s really easy to use, and has a beautiful interface. You push one button to record the video, and then speed it up to various degrees using a separate button.

You can then upload the video you made to Instagram and Facebook at the touch of yet one other button.

Sound simple? That’s because it is. And people are using it to make some awesome-looking, creative videos.

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“Noted” items are particularly good finds from my daily reading which I share via all my social media accounts.

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Noted: Study: In social advertising, YouTube converts more customers than anyone else via Venture Beat

Study: In social advertising, YouTube converts more customers than anyone else via Venture Beat

Study: In social advertising, YouTube converts more customers than anyone else via Venture Beat

When it comes to paid advertising on social platforms, YouTube is the clear winner in introducing new products and helping consumers make their purchasing decisions, according to a new study Aol Platforms released today.

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“Noted” items are particularly good finds from my daily reading which I share via all my social media accounts.

Find more Noted items here

Video: New Media 101: Effective Reblogging from The What, Why and How of Blogging with Douglas E. Welch

Part of the New Media 101/Blogging 101 series…

A quick clip from this 45 minute presentation — The Why, What and How of Blogging.

Watch the entire presentation

New Media 101: Effective Reblogging from from The What, Why and How of Blogging with Douglas E. Welch

 

Transcript:

The other thing that is great about blogs — you should be reading other blogs as well, which a lot of you probably are, whether you realize you’re reading a blog or not, you probably are. One of the great things you can do is, what we call, reblog and that doesn’t simply putting that blog post on your blog and saying, “Hey, isn’t this net!” I don’t care necessarily about that blog post you’re putting up there. Yes, the information is interesting — the reason you put it on your blog is to give me your take on that information — taking a news story of the day and giving me your, unique thoughts and ideas about that topic. If you look at my blog, you’ll often see I do tend to reblog fairly frequently, but I try to my darndest to make sure I have a good paragraph up top that explains my thoughts about why this was important and interesting to me and what my thoughts are about that particular topic. Why it caught my eye and why I put it in my blog to share with all my readers. 


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Previously on New Media 101/Blogging 101:

More information on Douglas E. Welch and Careers in New Media:

Noted: Next Time You Offer Advice, Turn It into a Blog or Podcast via Lifehacker

Exactly what I recommend to everyone, too! – Douglas

Next Time You Offer Advice, Turn It into a Blog or Podcast via Lifehacker

Next Time You Offer Advice, Turn It into a Blog or Podcast via Lifehacker

Those of us more experienced in life sometimes get asked by colleagues to be a mentor and give them some advice. Instead of giving the same answer over again, consider turning it into a podcast or blog post and sharing it with others.

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“Noted” items are particularly good finds from my daily reading which I share via all my social media accounts.

Find more Noted items here

Video: Clouds over Los Angeles time lapse

Clouds over Los Angeles using the Instagram Hyperlapse program.

 



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More information on Douglas E. Welch and Careers in New Media: