Script Lock

Script Lock

Writers Max and Nick Folkman sit down with other writers and developers for an informal discussion about storytelling in video games.

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    Ep 46: Jon Paquette & Mel MacCoubrey

    Awards season has ARRIVED, and to mark the occasion we've invited two writers representing two of the games nominated by the WGA this year for Best Game Writing : Jon Paquette and returning guest Mel MacCoubrey! Incredible topics discussed include Jurassic Park Trespasser, writing internships at Ubisoft and Insomniac, whether the core pillars of Assassin's Creed: Odyssey and Spider-Man stayed consistent throughout development, scoping challenges, game length, making big changes to the story once you have a playable build, preventing problems before they happen, always putting your best ideas forward, hardest part about writing for an open world, the worst professional advice they've ever gotten, maintaining a healthy work/life balance, underrated people working with game narratives, the value of voice actors, if there's anything they would change about game development, AAA games that don't have combat as main mechanic, the importance of Farming Simulator 19 as an esport, and moreeeeeeeeee.

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    Ep 45: Molly Maloney & Eric Stirpe

    It's 2019 and we've got Molly and Eric here to talk about how choose your own adventure is the dominant influence on interactive narrative at the moment, choice timers, the marriage of writing and narrative design, working relationships, players forgiving bad writing more than bad narrative design, what made Telltale work, finishing a project and feeling like you just spent a lot of time making an asset for somebody else, Bandersnatch (SPOILERS), the problem of having “good” and “bad” endings in branching narratives, fail states, making people feel like their choices matter, obfuscating branches from players, and what makes a good choice.

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    Ep 44: Rhianna Pratchett, Jill Murray, and Cara Ellison

    Happy holidays! We're sneaking in right before Christmas to give all of you the very special gift of Rhianna Pratchett AND Jill Murray AND Cara Ellison, who've joined us to talk prime writing hours, freelancing advice, how to network (and how NOT to), game writing agents, negotiating for yourself, being a narrative paramedic, red flags to watch out for on potential jobs, what they wish more people knew about the kind of work they do, skills to have that are unique for working in AAA, how to handle when people are constantly telling you that your work isn't good, being aware of studio politics, writing mistakes/failures that they've learned from, the state of the industry, worldbuilding, and a few other things that you'll just have to find out yourself!

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    Ep 43: Ryan Benno & Ellen Shelley

    We've got another art-focused episode for you this month as we're joined by Ryan and Ellen to talk about whether degrees are necessary anymore to find work, where do you start when making an environment, style guides, navigating creative disagreements, environmental storytelling, the overabundance of sci-fi hallways, narrative/visual techniques that games still haven’t tried much, soft cardboard boxes, starting with the blank page, the difference between making a twentysomething-year-old’s apartment vs Peter Parker’s apartment, what can’t you tweak when you’re building an environment that everyone knows, breaking walls that were not meant to break, readability, accessibility, and know that not everything you make needs to be at 11.

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    Ep 42: Ashley Swidowski & Claire Hummel

    We're taking a big ol' swan dive into character design and concept art on this week's episode, and so we're SUPER lucky to have Ashley and Claire joining us to talk about the misconceptions around what a concept artist does, how they each approach character design, what they want from the writers/creative director when they're starting out with designing one, working for the project instead of yourself, how they know when they're done, the importance of taking breaks and having personal projects, how to achieve good storytelling and character work through costuming, how "real" you can push things before it becomes so novel for players that they're distracted by it, cloth sims: the final frontier of video game character design, making art for VR, major influences, how to create characters that are lifelike and not superficial, the secret to navigating creative disagreements successfully, the importance of failing and making mistakes, which game stories they've responded to recently, and MORE!

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    Ep 41: Ben Esposito & Andrew Shouldice

    Puns are OUTLAWED on this episode as we talk with Ben and Andrew about skulls near toilets and environmental storytelling, designing a story where the player doesn't fully understand what's happening in the world, when to start thinking about theme, garbage chic, coming up with a game to match a specific feeling, freedom being a terrible thing for an artist, the emotional expense of investing yourself in someone else's project, the danger of snacks and working from home, when you know you’re done with something, games dictating their length, naming your game, keeping a good work/life balance when your boss is you, secrets decisions, and how to Twitter well.

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    Ep 40: Laura Michet & Cat Manning

    Freelancing! Blessing or curse? Today Laura (writer and editor of such games as Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, Frog Fractions 2, Swan Hill, You Got This, Brutadon!, The Brigand’s Story, and more, and is currently an editor at Riot Games.) and Cat (writer and narrative designer of video games and narrative fiction, who's worked on titles such as Invasion, Pathologic 2, What Isn't Saved (Will Be Lost), Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, and the forthcoming Leader of the Pack) join us to talk about that independent life with topics like how to find work, what to look for in contracts, rates, renegotiating, the importance of maintaining a social media presence, whether you should go to festivals, why you maybe shouldn't go to the Write Zone at GDC, and non-freelancer stuff like how to match another writer's voice, reflective choices and how to make strong ones, how to give a player the feeling that their decisions have an impact on a story (especially when the story isn't actually changing at all), writing mistakes, the importance of editing, getting feedback, and I dunno, a few more things.

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    Ep 39: Marc Laidlaw & Chris Gardiner

    Summer is here and so is a new episode! Today we're talking with Marc and Chris about storytelling transmedia synergy in 1990s Japan, what makes a good narrative director, planning a career as a writer, core skills writers should have, getting into writing with a team too early in your career, keys to good worldbuilding, creating the illusion of depth, the poop caves of Nottingham, having end goals in mind as a team, trusting your teammates, avoiding your first thoughts in writing, how expectations of more dialogue can put the wrong weight on characters, big failures, changes in writing processes, and player literacy.

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    Ep 38: Mitch Dyer & Demian Linn

    Going from a game journalist to a game writer isn't something you see too often, but today Mitch Dyer and Demian Linn join us to talk about their experiences doing just that, as well the freelance life, assumptions they had about game writing that ended up being incorrect, aspects of games we all wish fans and/or the media understood better, the biggest storytelling mistakes they've learned from, writing tests, how to stay objective about your writing, the approval process on big IPs, writing processes, toolsets, what takes them out of games, what to do when you're struggling with a writing problem, what's inspiring them lately, why comedy in video games is so hard to pull off, what they struggle most with with writing and how they conquer it, storytelling trends over the last decade, when we're going to see a AAA studio make a game with no combat, verbs they'd like to see more, and -- wow, this sentence is just going on forever, huh.

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    Ep 37: Charlene Putney & Jana Sloan van Geest

    Spring is here, and so are Charlene and Jana! They join us to talk about what makes a good bark, writing a good tooltip, finding inspiration in others, doing different types of writing at different times of day, solving a writing problem by articulating it to someone else, working with different team sizes, best practices for breaking through creative ruts, honing your judgment, the need for simplicity and clarity in game writing, the craving for more narration through items, and never retiring a tool in the storytelling toolbox.

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    Ep 36: Janina Gavankar & Sarah Elmaleh

    GET IN, LISTENERS! WE'RE GOING TO ACTING CLASS! And joining us on this fantastically illuminating trip are Janina Gavankar and returning guest Sarah Elmaleh! We chat about letting actors become collaborators (and why it doesn't always happen), rehearsals, falling in love with Don Johnson, the audition process, what makes a good director, the worst piece of direction they've ever gotten, what takes us out of game stories, the kinds of roles and characters they'd like to see more of, the era of the antihero and its end, knowing the medium, not making decisions out of fear, if it's ever possible to know too much about a character you're playing, the film industry chasing the games industry, and so much more you don't even KNOW.

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    Ep 35: Tyler J. Hutchinson, Ken Wong, Jolie Menzel, and Emily Grace Buck

    Arriving fashionably late for Valentine's Day, our relationship-focused episode is here! Joining us are Tyler, Ken, Jolie, and Emily to talk about our favorite relationships in games, could you make the Final Fantasy 15 bro roadtrip game without any combat, the possibility of making a AAA relationship game, building more relationship-based mechanics, being a martyr cupid in Mass Effect, do relationship games work better as shorter experiences, habits of real relationships manifesting in-game, aspects of relationships not seen in games, the skewed expectations players can have, can relationships become too gamified, acting different in games vs real life, and butthole simulators.

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    Ep 34: Alex Neonakis & Olly Moss

    A NEW YEAR means NEW GUESTS! Alex (former UI designer and current character concept artist at Naughty Dog, as well as a freelance children’s book author. Her credits include The Last of Us, The Last of Us: Left Behind, Uncharted 4, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and NBA Live 09) and Olly (Art Director on Firewatch, and graphic designer best known for his work w/ Mondo, Harry Potter, Star Wars, the Academy Awards, and much more) join us to talk about growing up on message boards, NBA Live 09 and the UI of sports games, whether knowledge limits your creativity, communicating a feeling through art, being critical of your own work, creating Garfields for fun, experimentation, UI in a background role, creating spaces in Firewatch that felt natural and not meticulously designed, how to lead the player without being too obtuse or explicit, creating Drake's Journal in Uncharted 4, misconceptions about work, why Breath of the Wild is great, and Tom Bombadil.

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    Ep 33: Halley Gross & Graham Reznick

    2017's coming to a close and who better to spend it with than Halley and Graham! They join us to talk moving from TV to games, writing solo vs with a partner, staring at the ceiling being work, pacing for the player’s time, garbage passes, Steven Soderbergh’s Mosaic and his thoughts on video games, what makes something a game vs an interactive experience, how everyone is gaming literate now, lining up performances in a modular narrative, writing and recording out of order, trusting your actors and going easy on those parentheticals (unless you’re making a modular narrative), fan expectations, fan fiction, getting the audience to trust you, writing exposition, story burritos, characters saying their feelings, and challenging your audience.


    • This episode has spoilers for Inside
    • Halley said she played a Game Gear game called Gems, but she wants you to know that she actually meant to say Columns.
    • Halley was right about Playwright’s Horizons.
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    Ep 32: Samantha Wallschlaeger & Brooke Maggs

    Samantha and Brooke call in to talk about breaking into the industry, binging the Mass Effect trilogy, writing processes, why character should be the plot, trying to get a story across without using text or speech, creating well-rounded characters, transitioning from a literary writer to a narrative designer, writing for MMOs and the writing process working on The Old Republic, episodic and 100+ hour narratives, special difficulty modes for people who just want to experience the story in a game, NOT being able to kiss Nick Valentine in Fallout 4, different approaches to storytelling within Bioware, career advice and tips for breaking into the industry, and oh man so much more it's crazy.

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    Ep 31: Michael Choung & Laura Jacqmin

    Michael and Laura join us to talk about moving between theatre, TV, and video games, switching fonts and other strategies when you're narratively stuck, the best times to write, jumping from selling shoes to Telltale, player agency, approaching storytelling differently for different IP, Night School’s storytelling philosophy, story being an endlessly renewable resource, work-life balance, giving the illusion of choice to players, making choices feel big, responding to players while making episodic content, and the need for more character moments in AAA.

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    Ep 30: Ashly Burch & Kate Dollarhyde

    Ashly and Kate are here to talk fan fiction, writing processes, letting your work breathe vs brute forcing it, whether games need their stories to be great or not, dealing with bad notes, voice acting and having too much or too little info to work with when you go into the booth, staying true to an IPs voice while also bringing your own, writing as a fan, ways to handle the problem of crafting stories when players might not be paying attention to/remembering key information, making players feel helpless, and much more!

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    Ep 29: Kim Belair & Harrison G. Pink

    Kim and Harrison are here to talk about whether modern games leave enough to the player’s imagination, introducing a New Game Minus feature, if you have a lot of money, you can’t afford faith (from a corporate level), the weirdness of Earthbound, feeling obligated to share lore because you have it instead of holding it back, studios valuing plot logic over emotional logic between characters, open world design problems, giving players more verbs, being able to ask for help more in games, making choices explicit to players, too many twists, and the need for lower stakes.

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    Ep 28: Josh Mosqueira & Darby McDevitt

    Josh and Darby call in to discuss tabletop gaming, the benefits of an english degree, being a game director at Blizzard, the business realities of game development, the relationship between narrative design and game design, the importance of the player's story, the problem with plot in video games and how to deal with it, the storytelling of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, whether games will ever be remembered for their stories, bad writing, working with established franchises, dealing with the expectations of players, and much more!

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    Ep 27: Sean Vanaman & Jesse Stern

    We've got Sean and Jesse in to talk about joining the industry with no preconceived notions, the importance of having somebody with strong storytelling sensibilities in a senior leadership role, how building scenes first and then finding a writer NEVER works, generating trust with your team, trusting the process, the skills you improve over making games, staying usefully ignorant of the process, the hardest scene to write in games being two people talking to each other, maintaining a professional curiosity, when is the right time to share ideas with your team, the problem of people mortgaging fun and entertainment for subtlety, and Sean’s experience working on Mickey Epic.

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    Ep 26: Aleissia Laidacker & Rob Morgan

    Straight outta GDC, Aleissia and Rob join us to discuss augmented and mixed reality experiences, interactive immersive theater, how to get players to not break experiences, whether AI is the future for making games accessible or not, Sleep No More (as always), should players be aware of a narrative changing around them, managing the user experience, having stories where the player isn't the hero, participation through implication as a storytelling conceit, using AI tracking and Machine Learning to help systemic games, attuning players to treat the world around them as if it's not devoid of social consequences, the player's self-importance about their own experience, advancements in systemic design, our collective excitement at the prospect of a wrestling game using the nemesis system, parallels between wrestling and storytelling, how do you make a believable NPC, and sooooo much more!

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    Ep 25: Émilie Poissenot & Brie Code

    We're starting 2017 off right with our guests Émilie and Brie! Topics include making games with people who don't like video games, modular narratives, integrating positive psychology into game design, story emerging from systems, the storytelling challenges of being free to play, updating a game every three weeks and the challenges therein, emotional triggers that create engagement, player ownership in games, the importance of giving space to the audience, and games as a personal growth tool.

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    Ep 24: Emily Grace Buck & Julie Marchiori

    It's our last episode of the year! Emily Grace Buck and Julie Marchiori drop in to talk about using agency to empower players to build their own stories, gameplay verbs, the narrative potential of systems, environmental storytelling, level design, the research phase, design processes, subtext in games, the importance of downtime with your characters and why it's difficult for studios, minority content, examining the choices of players, and a heck of a lot more!

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    Ep 23: Tim Schafer, Jake Elliott, and Cara Ellison

    We are JAM-PACKED with storymakin' knowledge as we talk with Tim, Jake, and SURPRISE RETURN GUEST Cara about using Twine as a design tool, knowing the implementation of your writing, working the fat off your prose style, the hero’s journey being just one bag of tricks that works, the differing emotional states between pitching and working, thinking of structure like Brutalist architecture, the most over utilized/underutilized tools in the storytelling toolbox, the importance of having/not having voice over, fatigue from world-ending stakes, internal writing rules, deciding to use/not use puzzles in adventure games, and whether there’s too much pressure on conclusions.

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    Ep 22: Mel MacCoubrey & Ann Lemay

    Mel and Ann are here to talk about whether going to university is necessary for becoming a game writer, being a salesperson to other departments, Ubisoft internships, the length of game stories, being a narrative director, one thing they wish all departments knew about narrative to start with, dealing with players who don't care about story, how narrative is everything, the possibility of AAA studios making smaller open world games, being scientifically accurate in Mass Effect and historically accurate in Assassin's Creed, coming onto a franchise that has already started, fan fiction, how to acknowledge every possible action of the player without diluting the story you want to tell, whether we should be concerned about side content overshadowing the main narrative, the hardest and easiest characters to write, the importance of communication, and jeez, so much more!

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    Ep 21: Rayna Anderson & Alexis Kennedy

    This week we've got Rayna and Alexis talking about the Beast ARG, not underestimating your audience, small teams vs big teams, pruning your ideas through technical constraints, why game writing should be more like short stories, bloat in modern game writing, trusting the players more, how to get lots of words in a game trailer, game rhythms, owing players closure, and more!

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    Ep 20: Thomas Grip & JT Petty

    Thomas and JT join us to discuss the Four Layers of Narrative Design, mistaking plot for story, how controllers affect the narrative, goals of storytelling, VR skepticism, the relation between narrative systems and emotional impact, Silent Hill, what a lack of combat can do for you, the lessons developers can learn from horror, and much more!

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    Ep 19: Josh Scherr & Sarah Elmaleh

    Uncharted 4 spoilers abound as we've got Josh and Sarah in to talk performance, can you know too much about a character, the writing process at Naughty Dog, what you accomplish in level dialogue vs cutscene dialogue, why there isn’t an open world Uncharted, was Sam ever Samantha, structure, taking the time to develop characters in-game and spend time with them, where do you start when creating mysteries/puzzles, serious pirate history, making the main character an asshole, ghost pirates, and can you enjoy the games you’ve worked on.


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    Ep 18: Laura E. Hall & Ian Thomas

    The wait is over! Laura and Ian join us this week to talk about moment-driven story design, designing escape rooms and narrative live action experiences, relying on people's subconscious' to do the heavy lifting, Punchdrunk's immersive theatre, environmental storytelling, breaking games, how to write for experiences where you can't control what the player will do, puzzle design, VR shorthands, and much more!

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    Ep 17: Jolie Menzel & Teddy Diefenbach

    Talking all about design this week with Jolie and Teddy! We also chat about the story and lack of text in Hyper Light Drifter, games being different based on what department heads the studio, breaking design down into systems/levels/narratives, narrative puzzle design, iteration, having intimate conversations with developers by playing their game, giving players choice when they don’t expect it, the balance of showing how much a game is listening to players, subtlety in design, storytelling through level design, games withholding their payoffs for too long, and the need to not be precious with your work.

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    Ep 16: Drew McGee & Greg Kasavin

    Drew and Greg call in to talk with us about the importance of being involved with the development process when you're a writer, worldbuilding, the writing process on Banner Saga 1 & 2, subtlety in games, how Supergiant decides on which game they're gonna make, writing as the most disposable of the creative disciplines, the divide between thinking something is good and what ends up shipping, storytelling structures, revising and never being comfortable in knowing how close you are from the finish line, the phrase 'We made the game we wanna play,' dealing with branching narratives, and the storytelling potential in fighting games.

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    Ep 15: Rob Morgan & Emily Short

    NPCs! VR! AR! Rob and Emily are here to talk about the importance of streamlining the implementation of your script, looting silos of information and the problem of them not being widely accessible, the value of knowing programming, the storytelling possibilities of VR and who you “are,” disempowered experiences in VR, interactive theater’s influence on games, different solutions for offering branching narratives to players, writing for augmented reality, and the lack of games about maintaining relationships.

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    Ep 14: Ian Gil & Anna Kipnis

    Ian and Anna join us to discuss falling into the industry, the benefits of an education that doesn't just focus on programming/computer science, the work involved with implementing dialogue, planning for localization, Never Alone's development, cultural expression in games, dialogue systems, why text to speech isn't the future (for now), the costs of voiced dynamic dialogue, authored vs simulationist vs player-centric approaches to story in games, and a couple of other rad topics!

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    Ep 13: Matthew Burns & Carrie Patel

    Matthew and Carrie join us this week to talk about maintaining your writing momentum, outlining, the writing process at Obsidian, Large Teams and the Problems they Cause, creating a Total Work of Art in video games, offering decisions that lead to chokepoints, motivating players with different play styles, the negative space that defines players’ experiences, how The Writer Will Do Something came about, that part of the meeting when everybody turns to look at you, when gameplay doesn't trump story, the linearity of relationship portrayals in games today, and should creators ever be involved in the post-release discussion.

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    Ep 12: Karla Zimonja & Eric Stirpe

    This week's coming in hot with Karla and Eric joining us to talk about writing and editing processes, writing at Telltale and working with design, player trust, gaming literacy, the importance of Minecraft, trying to balance giving the player an experience that feels unique and tailored to them with the desire to tell a coherent story, ludonarrative dissonance, whether there's a place for cutscenes, how to handle pacing, things you can and can't do with a first person narrative, and so much more!

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    Ep 11: Meg Jayanth & Richard Lemarchand

    We're captivated by our guests this week, as Meg and Richard talk about the cultural influences of tabletop, LARPing and interactive theatre on games, the woes of being a freelance writer, finding work-life balance, the importance and need for editors, the propensity for systemic thinking, unfairness in games, following the rules of fiction vs the rules of games, systemizing choice, the structure of 80 Days, research giving safety to the player, whether genres are useful, the generic influences of The Velvet Underground and The Doors, games confident enough to not explode all over your face when you start them up, and taking responsibility for the stories and games we put out into the world.

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    Ep 10: Mitu Khandaker & Jerry Belich

    Social simulations and the storytelling potential of hardware-based games are the main topics in today's discussion with Mitu and Jerry! We talk about the importance of player choice, The Witness and the dialogue that happens between a creator and the player, why freedom in games isn't always a good thing, how controllers and interfaces affect the way we think about games, why Animal Crossing is an amazing social simulator, how fleshing out a game's world can influence the design, the problems with making a social simulation, what happens to our engagement with games as interfaces become more mimetic, slaying Chris Crawford's Dragon, and man, that's just the stuff that's off the top of our heads!

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    Ep 09: Jill Murray & Corey May

    2016 has been put on notice by our guests Jill Murray and Corey May, who are here to talk about how everything is writing even if nobody will believe you, staying creatively refreshed, the brain’s thirst for motor activities during procrastination, how one is never done writing a game even after shipping, the insularity of the games industry vs other mediums, the treatment of making games as software instead of entertainment, why it's so hard to get rid of the cutscene/gameplay/cutscene structure, how games have a lot to learn about nonverbal storytelling from dance, the need to embrace failure, how pressure does NOT make diamonds in game development, working with a nonexistent creative vision, being forced to make decisions and live with them as early as possible, not holding out for a better idea, and more things The Good Wife can teach us about narrative design.

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    Ep 08: Cara Ellison & Jack de Quidt

    Our last episode of the year is here and it's super writing-focused! Cara and Jack join us to talk about their writing processes, working on a narrative when it's fractured across an entire team, why fetch quests occur even though everyone HATES them, the narrative design in The Witcher and Kentucky Route Zero, why a lot of studios are afraid of trusting the player, narrative problem-solving, the verbs that happen in games, navigating breaking the fourth wall, the portrayal of relationships in games, the importance of humor, how to handle pacing, required reading for people working in the industry that isn't about making games, and much, much more.

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    Ep 07: Graham & Malena Annable

    LucasArts is in the house with our guests Graham and Malena! We cover RTX: Red Rock, wearing many hats as a producer and creative director, Telltale’s first year, course correcting your game, localization vs translating, how writers can make producers’ lives easier, similarities between miniature set design and game development, and the unnerving speed of technological change in games.

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    Ep 06: C.J. Kershner & Liz Albl

    Come for the discussions about writing on an open world game with C.J. and Liz, stay for the talks on how to write a good bark, working with localization, pickled toes, writing Far Cry 4, exposition, maintaining urgency in an open word, catching players back up with the story, the importance of asking why manhole covers are round, and GTA 5 role-playing.

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    Ep 05: Khris Brown & Brad Muir

    Two of the happiest people in games, Khris and Brad talk to us about pitching games to studios, working with the story for MASSIVE CHALICE, voice over directing, working with actors, how to deal with differences of opinion, the importance of staying positive, creating stories in games when you're not a "story person", narrative and gameplay dissonance, linearity of AAA game stories, the future of performances in games, and how we've evolved for hugging.

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    Ep 04: Robin Hunicke

    We dive deep into empathy with Robin this week, along with her pitch for a Street Angel game, games being systems that run on the software of us, what producers actually do, how to design for and instill empathy in players, fostering a genuine non-adversarial connection between players, how to reward contemplative play, games that celebrate mistakes, why aren’t we making games about being loved, the future of AI and storytelling, and how to stave off creative starvation.

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    Ep 03: Tanya X. Short & Rob Auten

    We're all about ARGs and procedural generation on this week's discussion with Tanya and Rob. Our sprawling conversation includes chatbots, transmedia narratives, creating mythologies, binary morality systems, pacing in a procedurally generated game, why haven't we moved past cutscenes in games, how procedural and systemic gameplay affects development and writing, and games based on information retrieval.

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    Ep 02: Brian Kindregan & Diandra Lasrado

    We've brought in Brian and Diandra for discussions on Boogerman, working at Bioware, what being an editor in games is like, application processes for writers, writing born from constraint, why we haven't seen The Wire: The Game yet, and what RTS' can do with storytelling that no other genre can do.

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    Ep 01: Brendon Chung & Brie Code

    Brendon and Brie join us on our very first episode to discuss narrative systems, whether or not cutscenes are evil, the systemic possibilities of a game based on The Good Wife, procedurally generated stories and level design, what an open world game without a main quest would be like, silent protagonists, if narrative is a game mechanic, and much more!

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