Episode 81 – Evan Skolnick – Video Game Storytelling

Overview

Evan lives in San Francisco and writes stories for video games. He has worked on some big ones like: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, Battlefront, Cuphead, and TellTale’s the Walking Dead.

He has written and edited comics and also teaches game writing at the University of Silicon Valley. We delve into the differences in story between books, movies, comics, and video games. Evan clarifies the different jobs in game writing and how they work together.

If you’ve been interested in how to create stories that work in video games, this is the episode.

Book

Article

Here is an article that Evan wrote on his blog about getting into the game writing business.

https://www.evanskolnick.com/single-post/2019/08/28/How-does-one-become-a-game-writer

Website

https://www.evanskolnick.com/

Favorites

https://www.marvel.com/comics/issue/62276/spider-man_unlimited_1993_12

YouTube

Transcript

All right. Evan Lewis officially greet you a welcome to the podcast. Discovered wordsmith. Really great to talk to you, how you doing today besides

[00:05:28] Evan: doing fine.

[00:05:29] Evan: Thanks. Thank you very much for having me on.

[00:05:31] Stephen: Yeah. Great. Okay. So you’re a different person to chat with. Usually I talk to new authors who have a Bookout. We are talking for something completely different. So I’m really excited because it is different direction. It’s something that a lot of my author friends don’t know much about.

[00:05:47] Stephen: So before we get into that, tell everybody a little bit about yourself outside of work life. Some of the things you’d like to do where you live that definitely.

[00:05:55] Evan: I live in the San Francisco bay area with my lovely wife and two sons who are away at [00:06:00] college. So we’re just going to taste it being empty-nesters.

[00:06:02] Evan: Now, this is interesting, but I love spending time with my family. I’m a big baseball fan, especially red Sox, van Gogh, red Sox. I’m from the Northeast. Watching the playoffs now with bated breath and I like playing video games that you would expect. And also board, especially with my old high school buddies were spread across the country now, but we play online just about every week to stay in touch and have fun together.

[00:06:21] Evan: And I play drums, not well at all, but I do it for fun. And it’s one of the things that I do that I have no intention of getting any good at. And that’s not the point. So

[00:06:31] Stephen: I play some drums and we just drum set from my stepson. He wants to play

[00:06:36] Evan: nice electronic. I hope

[00:06:38] Stephen: no, he got it from a friend. So it’s a starter kit.

[00:06:43] Evan: Okay. That’s what I, that’s why I started a beat kit as well. And all I will say is use ear protection. Cause I did not. And I

[00:06:49] Stephen: regret it. I used to have a kid growing up so I know how loud they are. And my, my son, who’s a little older than my stepson had a kit and I know how loud they get. So not going into a blind [00:07:00]

[00:07:00] Evan: or deaf.

[00:07:01] Evan: I hope is actually the one

[00:07:04] Stephen: that starts coming with days after you’ve been playing for

[00:07:06] Evan: awhile. Yeah. I used to play really loud drum room in my basement where we listed live in upstate New York. After I play, my ears would be ringing. I’d be like, Hey, that was a good session. My ears are ringing. And then one day it just never stopped ringing.

[00:07:17] Evan: And I was like, that probably was a mistake.

[00:07:19] Stephen: Right? It’s not until you’re older that you realize what you shouldn’t have done when you were a young,

[00:07:25] Evan: that’s always the way, isn’t it? Yeah. That’s what I like to do when I’m not doing my thing. We do my, my

[00:07:29] Stephen: job, your job. So let’s hit on that for a moment. Tell everybody a little bit about what your job is and also what your job has been.

[00:07:39] Evan: Okay. My job, I have two jobs these days. I’m a game writer and narrative designer for video games, and I’m also a professor of practice teaching the same subject. So teaching game writing, and they’re designed to the next generation of video game writers and narrative designers in the past, I’ve worked at Marvel comics as a writer and editor.

[00:07:56] Evan: I’ve been in games for about 20 years now. [00:08:00] I came in as a producer, so managing the process, but very early on, I noticed that the narrative elements could definitely use some support. And I began providing that support based on my previous career as a writer and editor. Um, and so that just became more and more what I, of what I do, what I did.

[00:08:15] Evan: And now I do it full time, or I, if it’s all I do, it’s all I focus on. And the industry is a game writing and their design. I do sometimes that crosses over into game design. Mostly the storytelling. So

[00:08:28] Stephen: obviously this is not like writing a book and it’s something that has grown through the years. I don’t imagine they had game writers and narrative writers when they made space.

[00:08:38] Stephen: So what exactly is a game writer and a narrative writer when it comes to modern,

[00:08:43] Evan: a game writer and narrative designer are two very closely related roles, but there they aren’t quite the same. So I’ll start with what a game writer does a game writer, as you might expect, writes the story for the game, all the things that you, some of the more traditional skills that you would expect to need to have as a writer in any medium.

[00:08:59] Evan: [00:09:00] So you know how to tell stories, how to develop worlds, how to develop characters and write dialogue and all those things. That’s what game writers tend to do. So that’s more traditional things that are probably easier to get one’s head around. And then narrative designers are the ones who are folks who try to figure out how to make this, how to marry this to gameplay.

[00:09:18] Evan: And when you’re working on a project as a game writer, you’re going to be doing some narrative design. It’s almost. And if you’re an air designer, you better know how to write because you have to understand how stories actually work to make them work in gameplay. So it’s this, if they’re two separate roles at many places, although on a smaller team, one person will apply.

[00:09:35] Evan: Do both of those things combined. And like I said, there’s overlap. There’s always overlap. So basically the, if the narrative design part of the process that has really particularly different game writing itself has some things that are very different from writing a novel or a screenplay or a comic book or anything else.

[00:09:51] Evan: Those are all different from each other. But game writing is like way out here. It’s got some things that are similar, but it’s got so many things that are so fundamentally different and it [00:10:00] took me a long time to understand those differences. And so now I try to help young writers and other folks learn that much more quickly than that.

[00:10:08] Stephen: Got it. And this is where I think most people would get confused. I understand story in a book or a TV show and you introduce characters, you set up a conflict, they go after the bad guy or whatever it happens to be there’s obstacles. And you get a conclusion at the end, whether the good guys win a basic idea where video games are interactive and it could change.

[00:10:30] Stephen: And it could be a completely different ending than that. So I assume you’re not sitting down and writing a story, like it’s going to be a published book. So how has how’s that work? How’s that? How do you do that with a video game? That’s so interactive.

[00:10:45] Evan: Yeah. So you’ve intuitively yeah. Hit the nail on the head there with regard to you.

[00:10:49] Evan: Don’t just sit down, start writing a story. Usually you come on after the train has already left the station as a writer. So in other words, a team has an idea for a world. They have an idea for a up, they have an idea for the most importantly, the [00:11:00] mechanics of the game, the things you’ll be doing, the things you can do with the things the game will allow you to do as a.

[00:11:06] Evan: And those are the mechanics. And so there’s usually a context and a concept, and they may even have figured out the story on their own, or at least a story. And then often someone like me comes in and they’re like, can you help us make this good? And not always, sometimes we’re involved early on, but it almost never starts with, we’re going to make a story.

[00:11:26] Evan: This is what a lot of writers who I know from other media where like, Hey, I want to be a game writer. What should I do? I’ve got an idea for a great game story. Who do I bring it to? And I was like, that’s not how it works. It is how it works in novels and movies and any other medium where the story comes first and everything serves that story.

[00:11:42] Evan: It’s not the case in games in most of the time, almost all the time. So the way it works is you come in and try to enhance and contextualize what the team probably already has worked out the basics of it. You’re going to be going with the mechanics. So in other words, you’ll figure out what can the player does.

[00:11:57] Evan: So the first questions, the first questions I asked is what [00:12:00] can the player do? Because we’ll build the story around that active. As opposed to, I’m going to write a story and now make a game around that story, which we’ve seen games like that they’re called the old movie games. Maybe you’ve played a few of those where that story was dictated before the game play.

[00:12:16] Evan: And the team has to figure out, okay, how do I turn this story into a compelling gameplay? And they usually weren’t very good games because of that, because they were not leading with their strength, which is gameplay and players come to play a game. And as a writer in this industry, one of the first things you have to understand is understanding your lane and your role in the processing.

[00:12:35] Evan: That is not a leading role. You are in a support role, and that’s a very strange place for a writer to, to be. And it, because they’re used to leading the charge and everyone’s serving story, it’s all about the story. And that’s not usually the case in games. The stories, it can be very important in some games or the games are not so important at all.

[00:12:54] Evan: It just needs to be. And that’s also a variant. See if you don’t and the audience is split [00:13:00] sometimes as well with regard to those who are interested in the story and those who couldn’t care at all, who care less. And that you’ve never, I’m sure you’ve never walked into a movie theater back in the four days when we used to go to movie theaters full of people.

[00:13:12] Evan: And before the film starts, and you might hear someone talking in front of you, some people talking with each other and you’re playing, not likely to hear someone say to their friends. I hope there’s not too much story in this movie, but we have people like that playing our games sometimes. So not all of them, probably not even a majority, but they’re already something like, just get this out of my way.

[00:13:28] Evan: I’m going to skip this cut scene, this little movie to get to the more gameplay. Cause that’s what I came here for. So understanding that and going with it as opposed to fighting it is one of the most important lessons for, for becoming a game writer or narrative designer, especially. Okay. And there are other elements that are different too, but that’s probably the, one of the biggest ones is that, like you said, it’s interactive.

[00:13:49] Evan: So you’re letting someone into your story that you don’t have control. Like when you read a novel, you have complete control over everything that happens. I know sometimes we develop characters to [00:14:00] such an effect that they basically tell us what they would do and what they won’t do. But in this case, there actually is someone in your story that you don’t have control over that full control over.

[00:14:07] Evan: And not only that we have to cater to that person, that player. And so that’s, again, a very way different, very different way of thinking when it comes to storytelling. Yeah.

[00:14:17] Stephen: Cause I know I’ve been just trying to figure it out, thinking about it and I’m like, okay. That’s like crazy thing. I’m used to reading a book, writing a story, watching a movie or TV show.

[00:14:28] Stephen: They’re very little. But, okay. So let’s like ultimate Alliance. You worked on ultimate Alliance too, and you mentioned cutscenes. So I can see that ultimate Alliance had cutscenes some good story, a little play almost, and it led up to where the conflict was. And that was the next section. The player got the play.

[00:14:46] Stephen: So as a writer, I’m assuming you helped write the cut scene, who says what and the flow of that. But then you got to stop where the action takes place and let the player take over. So at that level, what’s the writer do with [00:15:00] the designer and the level

[00:15:01] Evan: programmer. Yeah. So Marvel ultimate lies to the most games of that age.

[00:15:06] Evan: And even today we would work that the storyteller doesn’t stop when the player gets on the sticks, as we call it constructs playing the storytelling is continuing, but it’s happening through gameplay. And that the cutscenes, you mentioned the little miniature little movies that kind of bridged between gameplay experiences.

[00:15:20] Evan: Those are often there because those are things that we can’t do in game play that there are, that we just, we need to take control. To show a character’s expression and to, and to force the story in a certain direction to say the player, put the controller down for a second. We’re going to be steering you in this direction now.

[00:15:34] Evan: And the players generally are okay with that for a limited amount of time, like a minute or two. And then after that, you’re really pushing your luck. So they want to get back into gameplay, but the storytelling does not stop when you start playing. And that is where narrative design really comes in, because then how do we weave the story?

[00:15:50] Evan: And even as you’re playing, even as we don’t make you let go of the controller, even as you are doing whatever you want to do in level, how do we continue to weave the story elements and keep you most importantly, [00:16:00] understanding what you’re supposed to be doing? And. And the why is especially what we bring to the table.

[00:16:05] Evan: The game will tell you, you need to beat these enemies. You need to move to this location and that’s the core of what they’re doing, but we have to lay in layer and will these enemies are these people, and this is why you’re fighting them. This is why there’s trying to stop you. And this is the thing you’re trying to get.

[00:16:17] Evan: And it is here because of that look of that reason. And the reason you need to do this is because if you don’t blah, blah, blah. So that’s all the why. But the, at the core of it, it’s simply the game of simply saying basically to feed these enemies and move this, and then I will let you move forward.

[00:16:29] Evan: That’s all the game is doing. So we are layering all this additional content. It is a story-driven game. It is a very important role, but it’s not the core role. The core role is, is that mechanically fun? Is it fun to defeat these enemies or is it engaging? Is it compelling or is it boring after a few minutes?

[00:16:45] Evan: And if it is narratively, we can’t help it. One of the things that I say is that storytelling can make a good game. Great, but it can’t make a bad game. So if the gameplay is terrible, no, one’s going to, no, one’s going to experience your story. So we have to go with [00:17:00] them and, and enhance that experience. And again, contextualize it.

[00:17:03] Evan: So that’s what we do working with the level designers and with the game designers help hopefully hand in glove. So that experience feels very smooth and it has a lot of continuity. So when you go into a cut scene, it feels exactly like you came out of gameplay and there’s no jarring like disconnect, okay.

[00:17:18] Evan: If we can avoid them. So

[00:17:20] Stephen: I imagine you’ve got your cut scene, gathering your team, the heli carriers under attack, go fight the minions. And then it’s the level. And at that point, I would assume you turn it mostly over to the level designer, because you’re not going to say they climb down a ladder and there’s five henchmen.

[00:17:36] Stephen: That’s more up to the level designer that, but you would say they need to get to the control room to turn off the computers so they can open the door and fight the big, bad guy. But you don’t necessarily say what hallways they’re going down. You don’t write it like. Uh, narrative,

[00:17:52] Evan: right? Well, like you said, we’ll have the big beats in there like that.

[00:17:55] Evan: Like you have to get to a control room and prevent the HELOC character from crashing and [00:18:00] we’re going to, however they do that is up to you level designer. But then as they designed that level, we’re still going to be involved writing dialogue, to support that goal, writing voiceover, you might hear along the way and creating other narrative events that might happen once the level designer base begins to map out the details will still be involved so that you can even get that kind of very smooth experience that the player feels like it’s all unified.

[00:18:25] Evan: So we don’t fully step back. And conversely for our cut scenes are not the level design. The designers are also heavily involved in that because we are bridging between their levels between their experiences at that or the players going to be involved in. So we, it has to be when it works best, everyone’s involved in everything to, to a degree.

[00:18:41] Evan: Obviously we take over the dialogue writing, but they might say we need something like this here because the player needs to know that. Because we’re going to be dropping this thing in the level. So we’re like, okay, let’s work together on this. And then we’ll actually write the dialogue and they’ll trigger it.

[00:18:56] Evan: And actually the designers were the ones who, the ones who will actually make the code that [00:19:00] triggers the Della to happen under certain circumstances. So it, again, it is very much collaborative and that’s another aspect of game development. So important to understand is that it is very collaborative.

[00:19:09] Evan: It’s not write a script and walk away and hand it off to a team. It is very much you’re in the thick of it when it’s working with. You’re in the thick of it the whole time. And it’s a very changing landscape as well. Another important thing to understand about game writing is that it’s not all the writers solve narrative problems, then find the next day, you know what I thought of a better solution.

[00:19:27] Evan: I’m going to change it, but we will solve a problem. Then come into the office and say, I got it. And they’ll go, oh yeah, that level was cut. So don’t worry about that. You’re like what it is, I call it writing, like in a rodeo, you, you simply are simply trying to hang on as this thing is continually changing and morphing and trying to kick you off by the way.

[00:19:42] Evan: Cause it only wants to be a game. It does not want to be a story, staying with it and actually steering it still in the general direction. You want it to go. So it’s a very different kind of writing experience and it’s exhilarating. But then again, I used to have hair

[00:19:54] Stephen: before all this started. I was just talking to a friend of mine that we agreed that I used to have hair before I had kids.

[00:19:59] Stephen: [00:20:00] So that may

[00:20:00] Evan: have been at two. I’m not sure. All I know is I used to have hair. So

[00:20:04] Stephen: that sounds crazy to me. I imagine as you’re writing again, ultimate Alliance is a great example that at no point at the beginning, are you writing a complete story and all these cut scenes, and then, Hey, let’s use these. You might write a level two and then tomorrow level 13 and 15, but then 15 might get moved.

[00:20:23] Stephen: Then you might have to rewrite. So it’s almost like a new writer figuring out how to write and moving things around. It sounds very chaotic.

[00:20:32] Evan: We have mapped out the whole story at the beginning, but not in a vacuum is the point we’ve worked with designers. We’ve what you usually see is once this snow, what the mechanics are, what the player can do, the writers and the designers in a, an optimal situation, we’ll work together to map.

[00:20:49] Evan: The entire story mission by mission level. By this, of course, we’re talking about a single player contain game experience, which is not an assumption we can make any more cause of games have continued to evolve. And we see [00:21:00] many other things there, but let’s just say, we’re talking about a single player game and with a beginning, middle and end, we don’t just make it up.

[00:21:05] Evan: As we go along, we have a plan, but then once you start drilling down into the specific specifics of this mission or this level, or even this part of the game, you’ll find that, you know what, that mechanic isn’t working. We can’t make it work. We can’t make it engaging. We’re going to change this and we need to change the entire level to something else.

[00:21:22] Evan: And we need to change the story along with it. Or we need to cut this level. Now, this thing that we thought we were going to doing between chapter one and chapter three, isn’t happening. So how do we bridge that gap now? So it’s not that we didn’t have a plan. It’s not that we make it up as we go along and do out of order, but it’s more that it is a plan and that’s all it is.

[00:21:38] Evan: It’s not a blueprint and it has to be flexible and ready to respond to all kinds of feedback. Not only from the games, success management and focus, testing players, playing the game and finding that we feel like this more than that, it’s just, like I said, it’s a constant consideration. And in games we get a rate, we prototype, we test, we take notes and we change the plan.

[00:21:59] Evan: And so the [00:22:00] narrative, even though there was a plan that we have to, sorry, I’ve got a cat and beta in this space, we have to be really flexible and be aware that it’s going to be like riding the bull, riding an earthquake, and just, ground’s not going to be stable. And you just gotta be ready to be frustrated with solving things that become irrelevant the next week or having a brand new problem that, that you had no idea what’s coming that doesn’t, it’s just not the same.

[00:22:24] Evan: It

[00:22:24] Stephen: definitely sounds like if you’re the right person, the right mindset, that sounds like a very exciting and fun thing to do. Now I can definitely see every day waking up. What do I get to work on today? Right.

[00:22:36] Evan: That’s the thing that people ask me. What was my typical day like as a game writer? And I say there is no such thing.

[00:22:40] Evan: And not only from studio to studio, I work with many different studios over the years, and they all have different ways of doing things. They have their own jargon for things. There are some shared tools and things that you will see again and again, but basically you’re not only, it’s not like walking into a movie studio where a gaffer is always a gaffer and they always do the exact same job.

[00:22:56] Evan: They use the same tools. And if you’ve been a gaffer on one production, you’re [00:23:00] going to be a same job at another production. Even if it’s a science fiction, one case in a historical romance, the next it’s the same job, but in games, the titles and the specifics of the role, quite a bit from studio to studio and the culture to culture and the tools they use as well.

[00:23:13] Evan: Yeah. There’s no, it’s not like uniform and it’s still being invented. What’s the exciting part is that we’re still figuring out new ways to tell stories in games that have never been attempted before. And it’s like an open landscape, so it’s exciting, but it is also can be frustrating at times. And I try to, when I teach my students about game writing and trying to prepare them for this, I throw exercises at them to try to stimulate this situation.

[00:23:36] Evan: And the fact that you often don’t get to choose the. Intellectual property working on or the type of game you’re working on. You don’t get to come in before the mechanics have been decided you basically try to simulate all these things to kick in their skin and toughen them up for the reality that, that I hope weights them if they want to, if they want to grab it.

[00:23:53] Evan: But yeah, that’s the reality is that it’s very divorced in many ways from traditional writing. [00:24:00] Yes.

[00:24:00] Stephen: And I want to come back to your teaching, but before we do, you’ve worked on different types of games, which I found really exciting. So how is what we just talked about with ultimate Alliance and writing for that story compared to the walking dead from telltale, which I thought was, were great games.

[00:24:18] Stephen: I loved all those, but they’re not action. They’re not fast paced. It’s definitely a story with a little bit of choose your own elements, but you had to hit a certain spot to move on to chapter. So how are those different and how was it working on

[00:24:33] Evan: why I, the walking dead season one is the one that kind of broke telltale open to the world and was a huge game.

[00:24:38] Evan: I had nothing to do with that. So I won’t take any credit. I worked on one of the later one of the later series. That was, that was a follow-up. So I can’t, and I don’t want people to think that I was involved in that first season. I wish I could play my, I was, but I wasn’t, but some very smart people were some friends of mine and they just did some things that are really clever.

[00:24:53] Evan: They had tilted has been around for awhile. And if you played the earlier games, they were basically, they felt a bit like choose your own adventure. But with a walking [00:25:00] dead season, when they did several new things, they’ve never done before, they’d never done it. Never done an emigrated, very serious title like that before.

[00:25:07] Evan: And they added a few new mechanics and what I understood from the inside once I got to telltale, but I didn’t understand from the outside. And most people don’t notice is that the gameplay in those games is not the walking around kind of find the key to open the door to the next level. It’s not, it is not the shooting gallery.

[00:25:24] Evan: So they pop in once in a while they fight. That’s not the gameplay. I most people think that’s the gameplay and the answer. Oh, it’s very likely. The gameplay is the conversation wheel. Yes, the game plays making those choices. And most importantly, the relationships and how they’re affected by those choices.

[00:25:38] Evan: The game story, generally doesn’t branch that much. We generally don’t branch game stories that much because it’s hugely expensive to do so to pursue, to basically make two or three totally separate games. You notice in Marvel ultimate lines too, we branch, but then we fold back to a unit because otherwise we’re making two games and we’re, we’re splitting our efforts and the player will only see half of our efforts.

[00:25:56] Evan: So telltale games are the same way, but that is the focus of the game [00:26:00] play and the telltale game. So it’s a very different example you happen to choose is very different from most traditional video games, even though it looks like a video game, it doesn’t under the hood. It’s not really much like a video game in many ways.

[00:26:11] Evan: Um, so what’s different about that is, is that everything’s everything in a telltale experience was about those choices and those relationship management is what it came down to. And that’s not, what is the core of most video games? Um, working on Marvel ultimate lights too. Yes. We presented they’ll get a major choice to the player, which was choose a side and the superhero civil war, the comics had only let you choose a side in your head, but our game was going to let you choose a side and actually fight for that side and the game.

[00:26:37] Evan: So we had to, but there was some similarities there with regards to choice design. And how do we make this choice feel balanced? How do we make sure our players don’t feel like they’re being railroaded to one or the other, or have any particular gameplay advantages to choosing one or the other, um, and let them express their it’s like a moral choice and it’s a philosophical choice that was similar.

[00:26:56] Evan: But then once you get past that, the telling the story in a game like [00:27:00] Marvel hospitalized to a, well, I would say it’s a double, a console title is very different because you’ve got a much, much bigger budget. It’s a longer experience. Um, and the production values tend to be higher and a lot more emphasis on action gameplay that you have to contextualize.

[00:27:15] Evan: Yeah. Telltales is an outlier among the projects I’ve worked on in. What’s actually happening under the hood. Whereas if you can lose two, which is what I come over with ultimate lines too. And like Cuphead, which I worked on a cup head was one of those typical one was a great experience. But as well as cases where this team had already done, most of the story work already, that they knew the story they want to tell they had their characters, their world, they had them structure of that game, but they knew they were going to need someone to come in and really Polish it and help them with their, their storybook cuts things.

[00:27:43] Evan: They didn’t have animated cuts things. They had like a storybook opening. Like you have at the beginning of snow white with an actual physical storybooks, they want to have it feel like you’re going into a 1930s storybook and then a 1930s cartoon. So I was, and there was no voice in that game. So the characters were not going to be voiced.

[00:27:58] Evan: So I had to get to the cross [00:28:00] on the cap and the word balloons and whatnot captions. And so I came in very late. I basically came in the game was largely done. I had to help them tweak things here or there and write all the dialogue for all the characters. But there isn’t that much dialogue in that game versus like a movie.

[00:28:13] Evan: So it’s, again, it’s a similar skill set, but you have to understand this is a different genre. Story as much less important to this game than it is like a, like an action RPG, like Marvel. So you have to go, okay, I’m going to step back and I’m going to make sure that the things I do get what do, what they need to do and not get in the way of the game play, which is the core thing.

[00:28:29] Evan: So the game play is almost always a core thing, but it encompasses case again, as I said, some stories, some games and genres lean more heavily on the story quality than others. And some like Cuphead, I don’t take any credit for that. Game’s huge success, but I’m glad that I was able to be part of it. And I’m glad that the game feels like a 1930s experience through and through, including the way characters talk.

[00:28:50] Evan: Yeah. That’s just a big part of what I brought to the table.

[00:28:52] Stephen: That cup heads brutal game, but that’s what I have not finished. I’m not that good of a game player, but as I claimed that I did [00:29:00] either, you’ve probably actually got to see some of the ones I haven’t seen, but I was going to ask about that because the.

[00:29:05] Stephen: Cut scene the story leading up to why you’re playing the game, but that was basic story. But then any individual boss within that game, didn’t really like advance the character arc didn’t, um, move the story along that was defeat this boss and souls and this boss and souls. So it was very much a old, almost an old fashion classic arcade game.

[00:29:26] Stephen: Uh, what it came down to. So what you just said, I was like, okay, I can see that. And then walking dead. I know a lot of people loved it and a lot of people didn’t, I liked it, but I could see it as you basically did write a story for that one. The minor choices didn’t necessarily change the outcome. It just changed.

[00:29:43] Stephen: Sometimes the reactions people had is that.

[00:29:47] Evan: Yeah. And there are other things that would change to things that programmatically weren’t that difficult to do. So for example, I don’t want to spoil too much, but there’s a point in the original walking dead season one, where you have to choose, you’ve been bitten by [00:30:00] a Walker and you have to decide whether to cut off your arm or not.

[00:30:03] Evan: And if you choose to cut off your arm, you walk around the gift of the game with, but because you chose to do that, if you don’t, you take a risk of maybe something terrible happens, that’s a programmatic change where they can swap in different modes. On the fly pretty easily. What I eat, I’m not gonna say it’s easy because what do I know about the programmer?

[00:30:18] Evan: But they could do it as opposed to writing an entire other story, which they did not do. So things like that, changing the conversations, changing who’s in the scene. Those are things that we can swap in without changing everything. And they make the player feel like the choices they’re making are having an effect on the world.

[00:30:32] Evan: And that’s the core thing is we call it the illusion of choice. So we cannot give you true choice in most games, because it would be massively expensive to develop that. And the player would only ever see a tiny bit of the game. We generally provide them the illusion of choice. We can do small things that make you feel like, yes, my choices are having an effect on the world.

[00:30:48] Evan: Characters are talking to me differently. They’re saying things, different things to me that, that they’re making note of things. I do things look different possibly slightly, but under the hood, it’s the same structure in place, which is very [00:31:00] expensive to develop a balance and then debug and

[00:31:01] Stephen: things. Okay.

[00:31:02] Stephen: So. Big game. I see you’ve got Battlefront on your portfolio. Totally different game than the ones we’ve been talking about. It’s an open basically FPS shooter, you got two teams fighting and killing each other and that’s really the gameplay. So what as a game writer were you involved with for the story?

[00:31:20] Evan: Yeah. And there wasn’t really, the first game didn’t really have a story. So I came into write dialogue, lots of dialogue. So a game like that and what you and many other big games with lots of characters and combat you’ll often have what we call barks, which is, or a systemic dialogue. So this is another kind of writing that is not exist in any other medium, basically.

[00:31:40] Evan: And this is if you’re running around in Battlefront and you hear to our left or I’m reloading or look out or grenade, those are things that if you play it again, you won’t hear those same lines. You’ll hear different lines depending what’s happening. So they, they are systemic. They are system-based, they’re playing or not playing depending on what’s actually [00:32:00] happening in real time.

[00:32:01] Evan: And we have to write multiple copies, multiple variations of each trigger, we call it. So if a line is triggered by an event, so for example, if one of your teammates is throwing a, uh, what they call it, star wars, a detonator, uh, thermal detonators, thermal detonator. I’m throwing up throwing that Nader that made her out.

[00:32:19] Evan: I had to throw, like I had to write like 20 versions of that line because it may happen many times. And the worst thing that can happen is you hear the same exact line twice within a certain cause that breaks you suddenly, it feels like it’s not a real world anymore. People don’t do that. And if you hear that it breaks the immersion.

[00:32:35] Evan: So we have to write multiple variants of all these different trigger lines to cover that. And so this is how you can get tens of thousands of lines in a game. And you’ll only hear a few hundred perhaps in a play session because it’s a bank of lines that the game is pulling from dynamically to make your experience feel.

[00:32:53] Evan: And so on Battlefront, that’s mostly what I did. I also wrote a fun attract mode thing with C three PO and R2D2. If you don’t touch the [00:33:00] controller for a while, I mean, then you will start wandering around this white space. And three PO is bashing or two on the heads calling them a rust bucket and all the great star wars things.

[00:33:08] Evan: I got to write for that, but basically it’s, it was mostly the dialogue. And there were thousands of lines of barks of a systemic dialect to support this combat, which you might play for hours and hours. And hopefully not hear the same exact line twice, at least not over a long period of time.

[00:33:23] Stephen: So what it all goes down to what I hear is game writer does not mean following the beats and creating a story arc necessarily you work with designers a lot.

[00:33:34] Stephen: You’ve probably had to learn a little bit more about game design. It’s it’s got a lot more to it than a novel. You could almost look at Novelis and say, really that’s all you gotta do,

[00:33:44] Evan: right? Yeah. Now what about right devil writing is probably one of the less useful backgrounds to come in. Games a screenplay writer might be better equipped because they write for the screen.

[00:33:55] Evan: They show a show, don’t tell all that stuff. They are not going to be in the characters heads. So [00:34:00] novelists have the luxury of being in your heads and also having a completely unlimited budget, right levels. Novelists can write whatever they want. It doesn’t cost any more to describe a million spaceships versus one spaceship.

[00:34:10] Evan: But in our game, if I’m, if I said, I want a million spaceships, all uniquely designed, I’d be late. They’d run me out of the studio. The pitchforks would come out. So a screenplay writer or a TV writer, someone who’s written with a budget and for the screen is probably closer to being ready for something like that.

[00:34:27] Evan: As a novelist is going to, if that’s all they’ve done, it’s going to be real challenging to get your head around a lot of different things at once. The same way Novelis switching to, to the screen is a, is an adjustment. Because again, you’re not in the character’s head, you’re not describing their thoughts.

[00:34:39] Evan: Everything must be shown if possible. And you’ve got very limited budget as to where you go, what. These are, these are a lot of the same things we deal with in games. And then you layer on and games, all these additional things I just talked about on top of all that, at least someone who’s ready for the screen.

[00:34:52] Evan: When I’m looking at writers who want to come from the outside into games, generally, people who have written for the screen, they’re gonna have a better, are going to be closer to getting their head [00:35:00] around a lot of other constraints that we work with. Okay. So

[00:35:03] Stephen: let me ask if somebody is listening to this, they love video games, probably a younger person.

[00:35:09] Stephen: And they say, I, that sounds cool. I didn’t know. They actually had people as story writers for video games. What would you tell them? They should start looking at or doing to get prepared, maybe they’re 15 or even in college now or something? Yeah, one

[00:35:21] Evan: of the first things that I wrote a blog on this, on my website.

[00:35:24] Evan: So it’s, how does one become a game writer? It’s aimed at anyone who is interested in possibly converting from another writing in this, another writing track, or just a young person who wants to investigate this. And the long, the short of it is that it is great to practice those skills and to look at tools like rim pie and twine, which are very easy to learn tools for creating branching storylines, without having to worry about a budget episode, mobile, which I worked helped to develop the prototype that led to that platform.

[00:35:52] Evan: And you can write your own. Stories on there with little characters, walking around, talking to each other and making choices without really having a lot of technical knowledge. [00:36:00] Those are all good places to start, but I also very much recommend that anyone in a young person who interested in seriously just sort of becoming a game writer or narrative designer should make sure they were bringing something else because it is a very competitive, it’s become very competitive.

[00:36:14] Evan: It’s people, a lot of people want to do this, and it’s a very difficult first job in history to get you’re more likely to get a different job in industry and then pivot over to that, which is what I did. And I see that working more often than someone who has no, you know, as a, is only studied game writing.

[00:36:29] Evan: That’s all they’ve studied. That’s the only thing thought that’s the other, they’re like, this is what I want to do with. You’ll have I think the possible, but it’s a very, it’s a very specialized role. There are much fewer openings for them, versus like for example, the more generic role like designer or producer, or even QA quality assurance testing games at a professional level.

[00:36:48] Evan: And I’ve often seen people who start in that role and then move over to the narrative side once they’re within the walls of the studio, because this is because it doesn’t require because people think they can write. Everyone thinks they can write. [00:37:00] And because people don’t want to have program or do 3d modeling because those are very high barriers to get into games.

[00:37:05] Evan: Writing has, has, I think it’s seen as a relatively soft target by many people. Like I know how to write, I know how to open a word document. I can start typing a story. We see this in all kinds of media, not just games, but because of that, there’s so many people who believe they can do this. And a lot of people who can do this, I recommend if you’re really serious about game writing in particular that you also, that you trained yourself up as someone who could do something else to.

[00:37:29] Evan: So, for example, in the game writing program, where I teach at the university of Silicon valley, our program teaches are the students who choose to be in this concentration. The game running concentration are trained first and foremost as game designers with a writing focus. So we, I T I’m the one who handles the writing focus part.

[00:37:45] Evan: So we put, I put them through the ringer, but if we extractor hero’s journey, I just had to all the students actually in the game program, because they they’re all to be part of the storytelling process. But then the students who go deeper into this, this game writing one gateway to their design leadership.

[00:37:58] Evan: And that’s where I teach [00:38:00] some of those skills. But meanwhile, they’re learning game is either learning level design. They’re learning how to use unity and unreal, and they’re, they’re becoming qualified game designers, or in some cases they are game engineers, game programmers. I have an interest in storytelling and they use these courses as electives, but the point is that they could go out and apply for a game programming job or a game design job, which are much more plentiful out there and more likely to build a break in.

[00:38:22] Evan: Whereas the game writing jobs are more specific, more specific, and really just very challenging to break in as your first job in the industry. So

[00:38:30] Stephen: multiple skills help. Definitely. So you mentioned game design. What exactly is a game designer compared to a writer or a program? Because I would think, oh, a game designer and it’s the programmer, but there’s different jobs.

[00:38:46] Stephen: So what exactly is a game design? Yeah,

[00:38:48] Evan: there was a time when that was all one job, right? When games first started, we only had 64 K of memory to deal with one person before he put so much in the game. Anyway, but now the jobs, the roles have become so [00:39:00] specialized because we’ve put so much content in the game.

[00:39:01] Evan: So game programming and game design are two different things. Game designers are the ones who conceptualize what you’ll be doing, that the clinics of the game. The rules of the game and many cases that narrative context and conceit. And in fact, for a long time in designers doing the story stuff was just another thing on their long list of things to do until, until that became more specialized in the last 10 or 15 years where we didn’t.

[00:39:22] Evan: But when I came into industry 20 years ago, there was no such thing as a game writer or a narrow designer didn’t exist, which is why I became a producer. I didn’t see any other role for my self in the industry that has evolved. So that’s breaking out for design itself, but design, yeah. Design is basically the ideas for the game, the rules, bounce and mechanics layout levels.

[00:39:40] Evan: In some cases, again, within design, there were different roles within design. So there’s level designers, there’s combat designers, there’s, you know, economy designers like it for end game economy, all kinds of different roles. Within that role. And the program was of course, are the ones who actually make it work.

[00:39:55] Evan: So they’re the ones who are dealing with the engineering that actually executes on these designs and [00:40:00] these systems. And so we all rely on programmers to make the games actually function. If I can write as much dialogue as I want, but if no one triggers it, if it doesn’t, if the game can’t make it play, what’s the point, programmers are just what to expect.

[00:40:11] Evan: They are the ones there that are working all that code under this light and making this actually

[00:40:14] Stephen: happen. So you mentioned your course that you teach. Tell us a little more about that, because like you said, 20 years ago, this didn’t even exist. So there’s really no courses to become a bachelor’s of arts and game design and narrative writing.

[00:40:30] Stephen: So tell us a little bit about the course and what you a little more about what you do and anything that’s really cool about

[00:40:36] Evan: it. Yeah. Yeah. But there are loads of game design programs across the country and university level, but there are very few that have any kind of focus on narrative. Some might have a single course or a single module within a course.

[00:40:48] Evan: There are probably less, there are definitely fewer than like 10 universities across the world. Probably more like six, but actually have more than just one course, having that, having an actual track and narrative [00:41:00] that is designed to compliment, you know, a game design degree or other kind of game related degree, and ours is one of them.

[00:41:07] Evan: So the idea of it is to teach them how to be writers. So the core track is the main. The main bulk of the major is still, it’s not a major that with the game design major. So they’re still learning all the things I talked about, how to design games, how to work in the tools and make levels and balance games and think of ideas for mechanics, things like that.

[00:41:27] Evan: And then these students will have a series of courses that are designed to also make them very competent writers and game writers and narrative designers. So either, like I said, there’s a course called introduction to game storytelling that is every student in the entire game program has to take it because again, they’re all going to be.

[00:41:43] Evan: Storytellers. And so the basis of that course is my book, a video game storytelling, which is essentially designed to teach game developers of all stripes, the basics of storytelling, because I found that a team that doesn’t understand storytelling, I can’t babysit 200 people with regard to the narrative decisions they’re making at their desks every [00:42:00] day, because they do make decisions that they don’t even realize are affecting the narrative.

[00:42:02] Evan: That course is everybody. But then the students who want to go further with this, the, that the spine courses of this concentration are script writing. So I teach them how to write for the screen, how to write short films and how to understand larger films and how to write in the screenplay format. And then there’s a game writing one, which simulates being a junior writer and industry doing common tasks that a junior writer will end up doing, like writing barks and working on someone else’s IP, not your own, and then getting ready to we, we teach them how to actually develop their own IP, their own world and begin writing for it.

[00:42:31] Evan: And then they were to design a leadership, how to manage the nuts and bolts of a simulated large, uh, game projects from a narrative point of view and making decisions. And also mentoring junior writers. So I connect that fourth course with the game writing one core students. So they’re interacting. The students who have made their own IP are now sending the assignments to the junior writers.

[00:42:54] Evan: And the first game writing course so that we have that kind of interaction, which I think is really valuable. The students seem to really like that. I

[00:42:59] Stephen: love that [00:43:00] because back in the day, when I was in boy Scouts, uh, that was a key tenant was the older Scouts that know the skills, teach the younger ones.

[00:43:09] Stephen: Then it’s a cycle. So doing that I think is really,

[00:43:12] Evan: and both in both sides learn yeah. Process. It’s not a one way street.

[00:43:15] Stephen: Yeah. I was talking to someone else about that. If you’ve never taught something, you should because you learn so many things teaching. That’s why I

[00:43:22] Evan: do it. That’s why I do it. I’m still learning from my students all the time and it’s learning how to teach.

[00:43:27] Evan: So if the student and the upper level class sends a specification to the young, lower class, the lower level class, and they don’t get back what they wanted, I say, well, let’s look at your specification. You weren’t very specific yet where you left it open here. And another place you left it, you were too prescriptive and you do allow them to play.

[00:43:43] Evan: You didn’t give them any room to be creative. That is a learning process as well. So yeah, definitely

[00:43:48] Stephen: two way street. And I love how you mentioned that teach like hero’s journey and the basic structures, even if they’re not writing a whole story and falling all the beats, that’s the basis. [00:44:00] Still. You got to know that.

[00:44:01] Stephen: So even in the gameplay, the interactive, you got to have that bill of games are boring. If the very first thing you do is the big battle. And then the rest of it is just walking around, picking up items

[00:44:11] Evan: and stuff. Yeah. And, and they intuitively what I tell students when I start teaching that particular course is the things I’m going to teach you in this course, you probably pretty much already know.

[00:44:18] Evan: You just didn’t know that you, because the audience knows you don’t start off with a bit with the final boss and then the players and the designers know that, but the answer is why. And also just provides a shared language of story. So in other words, when I mentioned an inciting incident, we all know what we’re talking to.

[00:44:34] Evan: Uh, or I mentioned an act to break or the things that, that are kind of Hollywood Arlin and things that the traditional writers are very conscious of a game programmer might not realize that, but they have an effect on it. Having that shared language of story that the team understands is the goal of my book, which is based on a bunch of tutorials I gave at the game developers conference.

[00:44:50] Evan: I continue to give. And now these classes, especially that first class, because I have found, like I said, that if I am speaking a language that is foreign to the entire team, with regard to story, they go [00:45:00] back, scratching their heads to their desks. It’s not going to get a good result. So I like to try to prep the team with these concepts so that we are speaking the same language, not necessarily that they’re going to be there to be the ones that are gonna be executing at me in the actual game, not me.

[00:45:13] Evan: So, um, I can help. I can help them make a plan, but they have to have some instincts themselves. No, Tony, come on.

[00:45:21] Stephen: He’s already pretty cat. Oh man. She’s a big girl. You’ve mentioned your book, which I’ve been reading by the way, since this is a podcast for authors. Tell us a little bit about the book.

[00:45:31] Stephen: Obviously

[00:45:32] Evan: it’s nonfiction. So like most much of my career was not a plan to write a book. What happened was I was giving these tutorials at JDC every year, the game developers conference, largest conference for game developers in the world every year. And people share all kinds of knowledge. You’d be amazed how much knowledge people share, but quickly belong on their previous projects and what they’re working on now, as much as they can reveal, but best practices and things like that.

[00:45:54] Evan: And so I felt I want to teach everyone how to be better storytellers because I was finding that I need the team to be [00:46:00] better storytellers, not just have us have not just bring someone like me on board to help shepherd the process. But it was, I can’t babysit everybody. They can’t look over someone’s shoulder.

[00:46:09] Evan: I want them to have better narrative instinct. So I began giving these. At GDC and for years and years, and I thought someone mentioned to me that you should probably, um, have you think about trying this to a book? I thought, yeah, that would be great. Cause that would be a lot of work and I’d have to find an agent and I have to, you know, pitch around and write a proposal and being an inherently lazy person, I just didn’t make that happen.

[00:46:29] Evan: And then I was just at a certain point, one of a penguin random house imprint contacted me and said, Hey, we’re looking for books to fill this line. And we think your tutorial makes a great book. Yes, it would. And I can skip about three steps. I just mentioned too. So we were off and running and um, so it came out in 2014, but takes the concepts of this daylong tutorial.

[00:46:48] Evan: I have been giving it, expands on them. And then it’s the whole idea of it is it’s a very affordable, quick reads on big compendium. It’s a first half is a, basically an overview of how stories work in general. And then the second [00:47:00] half is how does this relate to games? And so it’s really aimed at not game writers, not narrative.

[00:47:05] Evan: But everyone else in the team to provide that common ground with that kind of common language. Yeah.

[00:47:09] Stephen: I’ve been reading it and I was very, oh, wow. Look, I know the hero’s journey and it’s really a story stuff you got to work on. But I imagine it, it was difficult to work on it because it’s very static and linear.

[00:47:21] Stephen: That’s totally different than what you’re probably used to writing for

[00:47:23] Evan: games. I be writing a book. Yeah. I used to write for comics and I’ve written for other media too. So I still remember how to write in that form and not have to jump around, but those principles still apply to games. Most games are pretty linear.

[00:47:37] Evan: The fact is that, like I said, we, we, we will change things here and there along the way. We might give you a different ending toward the end, but fully branch games are very rare because of the expense. So we do think in terms of the three X structure, we do think in terms of traditional forms, but then we have to go further and realize that we can’t, the players are looking for story.

[00:47:54] Evan: It’s going to contextualize their experience. But, but yeah, it was. And just because you’ve got a bunch of PowerPoints dropping them into [00:48:00] a, into the page, It was a lot of work and it was a challenge to do, but it’s been, that’s what led me into teaching. If I hadn’t written that book, I don’t think I would’ve been able to break into teaching this at the university level because I don’t have an advanced degree.

[00:48:13] Evan: I just have loads of experience. And then the fact that I’ve written a book on the subject that was fairly well received, I think helped me open that door for me. So again, not a plan, but it just happened. I feel very fortunate that way. Yeah.

[00:48:22] Stephen: It sounds like you hit all the right points at the right time.

[00:48:26] Stephen: Let’s talk a little bit about comics real quick. You worked in comics for a while and that’s again, a totally different medium to tell a story. How is writing a story for comics different than video games or

[00:48:38] Evan: novel? The, the in comics. So I, I mentioned the riding, the bull metaphor for being a game writer that the, the kind of hang on for dear life as this thing continues to change and try to kick you off and gore you pretty much you being the story in the story.

[00:48:54] Evan: So I, I, the, the metaphor I use for comic writer is the fewer done. One of those where your, your leg is [00:49:00] strapped to another person’s leg, and then you run it on together. It’s that kind of close collaboration between you and a penciler, you know, the team and telling a story together. I worked at Marvel during the day, the days of what we call the Marvel method of visual storytelling, which is the writer would write what’s called a plot.

[00:49:18] Evan: The plot would basically describe what’s happening in an issue of a comic book, but not down to the panel level. There was, you know, say on pages one to two, this stuff happens and they talk about this, but you wouldn’t put actual dialogue and you would just describe the scenes and then would go to the penciler.

[00:49:32] Evan: The penciler would take this plot and break it into 22 pages of art. And they would choose the camera angles. They would choose how many panels per page and they, but they didn’t have the dialogue yet. So they would, if they knew the gist of what was being said, so then the penciler would do this, and then it would come back to the writer to then look, react to this and write the dialogue based on what they’re seeing.

[00:49:50] Evan: So. Collaborative process. I think most comics, these days, they switched over to the, what was called the full script method, where the writer says, [00:50:00] page one, panel one, this, and here’s the dialogue for it. It’s very prescriptive. And I’m not a big fan of that approach because it puts the visual storytelling, mostly on the writers back where I think the artists probably better equipped to play director visual director than the writer.

[00:50:15] Evan: But anyway, that was so it was very collaborative and you had to be thinking long-term because it’s serialized it’s episodic. So every issue is part, usually part of a longer story. And if you have an arc of three issues, Threads that are going along for the year to the future, whatever. Whereas with games, obviously a lot of things I mentioned before, the challenges of the changing landscape that letting someone into your story, that, that wants to have control of the story and how do you make them feel like they have control of the story, but not really give them control of your story.

[00:50:40] Evan: How do you account for the variables that could happen in the scene who might be dead? Who, what happenings, what things have happened that the player affected that this scene has to take account for? How many versions of the scene do I need to write depending what the player did? There was a time during development of Louis to, I put out, put out this giant spreadsheet on my office wall with all the characters in the game [00:51:00] and all the things that happened to them over the course of the game, because I was worried that at some point we were going to be a cut scene that would play with a character and it would already died in one version of this.

[00:51:09] Evan: As I was paranoid about this happening, I was sure it was going to happen. So I was like really keeping track of all these characters and writers of novels have, have their cork boards and their cards. And so two people in a writing writer’s room for TV or a movie, but, but the, the additional part is a variant.

[00:51:24] Evan: Some of the things I can change along the way and how we should, we don’t miss messed that up. So something you’d do sick do here is a contradicted six hours later. So there are, there’s definitely overlap. But then of course the budgetary aspect of comics and our, even though, yes, we can do anything comparably want to, but if I asked the artist to draw a million individual spaceships, each the different design, the artists will come find me the same way that the 3d modelers will find me the game.

[00:51:46] Evan: Whereas on a novel do what you want, it’s you against the road. The novel metaphor novelists metaphor I use is the long distance runner, because you’re basically you against the road, right? There’s no one, there’s no one here. You’re competing against yourself against the time you can do it in that’s [00:52:00] that’s.

[00:52:00] Evan: Each one is its own. But, but yeah, I enjoyed my time in comics very much. I look back on it fondly because it feels very simple compared to what I do now in terms of not easy, but just simpler in terms of the things I need to think about and the kind of the lower barriers to get to my audience. Like when I was writing for Marvel, if I wrote it and it got into a comic book and had to get past my editor and past the editor in chief, and once I got past those two people, it was out into the world and it was, and if the artist drew what I hope they would draw, it would basically be what I visioned.

[00:52:31] Evan: Whereas when a game team, you are just one small piece of a much larger machine. And so you have to be okay with that.

[00:52:38] Stephen: And I think that’s fascinating because I always pictured writing for comic books, like writing a script for a movie, plot it all out, and then they go draw it. At least at the time, it was much more collaborative.

[00:52:49] Stephen: So to me, it seems like comics were almost partway between writing a novel and in a video game,

[00:52:55] Evan: there are definitely some similarities like that. Again, not having full control over, for example, the visual. So [00:53:00] sometimes there’d be an artist who didn’t draw what I asked or they misunderstood and we have to decide what to do about it.

[00:53:05] Evan: Do I have to write around it or do we do I beg the editor to have an artist, send it back to the artist or have a correction artist and they had the studio tweak it. Those are things that, that won’t happen in a novel. Although if it’s your, if your editor comes in a novel, you may be dealing with a very different kind of challenge there, but, and we all have editors, but yeah, yeah, there definitely are some things that working in comics helped me prepare to write for games.

[00:53:27] Evan: But again, there’s all these other things that you just have to kind of learn as you go or, or read about it books, or just experience it. So I try to prepare my students by experiencing the kind of things that they will want across in writing for games and doing narrative design that, that, that are hard to, that are hard to describe otherwise, other than just being.

[00:53:46] Stephen: Um, I know right now there’s a big push for serial fiction and I’ve got all these author, friends writing, serial fiction, learning about it and asking about it. And I’m like, guys, go grab some comic books and read some comics. [00:54:00] That’s been serial fiction for 80 years.

[00:54:02] Evan: Yeah. Yeah. And of course today’s TV is all episodic now, too.

[00:54:06] Evan: So thinking longterm and leaving doors open for yourself and also letting yourself discover things along the way that you didn’t know were there until you got down into the weeds. That was always a big part of what I had to learn as an editor working at Marvel was we would plan out the writer would plan out six months ahead and we would talk over this issue.

[00:54:20] Evan: This is going to happen and okay, go do that. And, uh, you know, they’d have the beats of each issue kind of laid out for six months or a year ahead of time. And then the, the plot would come in and, and I’d be like, well, wait a minute. This isn’t what we agreed on. But I, I wouldn’t just go, well, give me what we agreed on.

[00:54:37] Evan: It’d be like, well, let me see what we got here because they discovered that once they got down into the, into the nitty gritty, that there were better things that, that. And so that balance between discovery and having a plan. So you don’t want to end up working on episodic thing that has no, it doesn’t know where it’s going.

[00:54:52] Evan: Like for example, last battle star Galactica, both of which had a good following for a while and then kind of [00:55:00] fell out the pieces or game of Thrones, you know, which kind of, you know, had such a great run until that last season clearly did not know what to do. You can feel it as a, as an audience member.

[00:55:08] Evan: So for myself as a writer, I kind of, you know, work ahead, but things impact your, your S your series that you don’t anticipate crossovers and editorial, edicts and whatnot. So when I was writing a book called new warriors and I had, it was a team of teen heroes, no, thanks. Um, I included a character that really was pushing my luck, and that was a character named time slip.

[00:55:29] Evan: And the idea of her power was that she could. Consciousness with herself with a future version of herself. So they would swap places. So as a little girl, she would get these visions and literally transport herself to when she was 20 something years old. And in the middle of a random situation, she would be terrified because she was five-year-old girl.

[00:55:47] Evan: And meanwhile, her 20 year old self would be in her five-year-old body for a few minutes. So this character became part of the team and she would try to look to the future to see what’s going to happen. So I had to kind of show images and the, and the tricolor [00:56:00] character was these weren’t like potential things that would happen that, that the, the, the, the hook was, if she saw it, it was going to happen, which meant I was putting these serious stakes in the ground for my future issues that I had to pay off on.

[00:56:13] Evan: And I always had to kind of reorient myself into that very, very, you know, the exact same panel that I showed six inches earlier, that things have changed since then. I still got to get there. And so leaving those doors open for myself, there was one scene where she, she just tries, she’s desperately trying to see what’s going to happen.

[00:56:28] Evan: So. Twice again. And again, we showed like six panels on one page of different things that we were going to have happen in the next year of the book. And one of the panels was like, I don’t really even know what I was thinking with that one. What are we going to do? How am I going to, how am I gonna get to that one?

[00:56:42] Evan: And I eventually was able to reinterpret the visual. So it was the opposite of what you thought was happening because it just didn’t work for me for where I think it had gone. So that balance of, uh, of course having a plan, but also, um, not being so rigidly locked into it. You don’t open yourself up to discovery along the way?

[00:56:59] Stephen: [00:57:00] Yeah, I, I must say someday, uh, if I come out your way, I will bring some video games and comics and find you. Uh,

[00:57:07] Evan: I’ve got, I’d be happy to do that. They may, they may raise the value by maybe a dollar. Yeah. Well,

[00:57:13] Stephen: mine are pretty well read and use my son read most of mine. So they’re not really all high value, like stuff in cases.

[00:57:21] Stephen: Uh, we enjoyed them through

[00:57:23] Evan: the years. That’s good to hear. Yeah. I much prefer her to hear that some things have been polybag to ever read. Yeah.

[00:57:29] Stephen: I don’t get that. Whatever

[00:57:32] Evan: happened.

[00:57:33] Stephen: Yeah. Well, my son works at a comic book store now, so he’s right in the thick of it. I keep hearing how old these things going on in the industry and very chaotic almost of course, then I see video games.

[00:57:47] Stephen: So

[00:57:48] Evan: yeah, it is definitely, uh, a dynamic as the word. I try to use dynamic landscape when you’re working with very dynamic. Well, Evan

[00:57:58] Stephen: has been really great talking [00:58:00] to you. I’ve loved this, uh, about the comics video games, and I appreciate all your time. Uh, we’ve run over a bit with our tech problems. So before we go, is there any last minute things you would tell the writers out there, if they’re looking into comics or video?

[00:58:18] Evan: Uh, well, we talked about, you know, the breaking into games and, you know, making sure that you don’t just say, I want to be a game writer and nothing else, and that’s what I’m going to do. It’s a very, very difficult practice to rest. So I would, again, try to, uh, you know, learn something else. That’s, uh, that’s an important role in games, maybe a more common role and make sure that you’re qualified to apply for those jobs competitively.

[00:58:42] Evan: Um, and, but, you know, but with that secret superpower of yours being narrative, which you can unveil once you’re there, once you’re within those walls, because trying to break in, you know, purely as a game writer is just so challenging. I see so many people banging their heads against the wall. Uh, my own students have a very hard time, you know, getting that first job.

[00:58:59] Evan: I’ve been [00:59:00] lucky enough to see a couple of actually succeed, which I tell them. We’re going to train to be game designers first. And, and this is why. Um, and so I, we tried to kind of make sure they understand that I would never want to gain program writing program that was only focused on game writing. I would be not, it wouldn’t be fair to people paying for that.

[00:59:17] Evan: So, um, so yeah, and I would also say just in general with writing, um, and one thing I’ve learned over the years is if you have a great idea for a story and you don’t write it, someone else will happens over and over that. I, I take too long to write it. I haven’t my head for years. And then I see what would come out and yeah, there it is.

[00:59:38] Evan: Or an episode of a TV show. Yep. There it is. So if you’ve got what you feel is a great idea and you aren’t actually executing on it, trust me if you leave it long enough, you’ll watch someone else do it instead. So is that something you want to have happen? Um, so yeah, that’s, that’s probably the, one of the biggest takeaways I’ve learned from many years of, of watching that happen.

[00:59:58] Evan: Uh, cause I mentioned the whole laziness thing, [01:00:00] right? Yeah.

[01:00:01] Stephen: So, uh, what if somebody is listening and would like to go to school and come and take your classes and we’re in game design and game writing anything to tell them or they sign up and come out there.

[01:00:14] Evan: I mean, no, there, the school is university of Silicon valley, uh, usv.edu.

[01:00:18] Evan: And, uh, right on the, on that site, you’ll find the game writing concentration within the program. So you can check it out and ask more questions if you have them. Um, in terms of preparation for that, I mean, we, we take you from wherever you are to hopefully being prepared to go out into the world. So we don’t assume anything.

[01:00:36] Evan: We don’t assume you’ve used you in any, we don’t assume you’ve done anything, but of course the more you’ve done, the better, the better your job, you’re gonna be hitting the ground running. But we don’t assume that you’ve. I mean, when you sit, when you apply to that position, particularly concentration, you will have to submit a writing sample, several writing samples.

[01:00:52] Evan: Uh, this is not just it’s just to gauge whether we feel that. You’re at a level where we can bring you up to that next level. Uh, [01:01:00] so basically mental language, good ideas, or just, just kind of basic handle on writing. It’s not like you have to be a professional level writer of the program. It’s an undergraduate program.

[01:01:10] Evan: So, so, um, yeah, but in the meantime, if someone’s, you know, too young to enter college and it is, it is a four year degree. So, um, you know, it’s, it’s a, it’s a to B a, B a, uh, for the game it’s called, it’s actually part of what we call the game design art side of things. We have game design, art and game design engineering.

[01:01:29] Evan: One is more technical on the other side. Um, and that’s currently being shuffled, but, but yeah. Um, you know, just if you’re at the age where you’re looking at colleges, then yeah. I, I definitely would love to hear from you and see what happens. But, um, the meantime, yeah, th th there are tools out there that we’ve practiced these.

[01:01:45] Evan: And get a handle for interactive writing. I am what’s involved. Twine is a great way to see, begin to see this possibility space and also the extra work that comes in to start branching your story over and over.

[01:01:56] Stephen: I’ve actually been messing around with twine a little bit. [01:02:00] Alright, well, Evan, thank you very much and very gracious.

[01:02:03] Stephen: And I love the talk and all the info.

[01:02:07] Evan: My pleasure. Great questions too. Cool. Thanks.

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