The Difference Between Writing a Book and Writing for a Video Game – A Non-Tutorial

Yeah, call me stupid for not knowing how major of a difference there is between the two, but there is. Thank God I figured it out when I came up with the new story of DATABASE – Thank You For Calling, because if I kept going the way I was for the past two years I’ve been working on this game, I never would have gotten a complete concept down, I would have kept getting demotivated, and eventually, I’d likely quit game development because nothing was working. In this Non-Tutorial, I’d like to discuss how I finally figured out the difference, what my methods are for both books and video games, and why it’s incredibly important to know the difference.

To begin, let’s first look at the method I use for writing books and how you probably shouldn’t apply it to a video game when you’re a solo video game developer. Ever since I was a little kid, I would write completely improvised works. In the early days, I wouldn’t even come up with a basic concept. I would just start by putting pen to paper, writing words, forming sensical sentences, and a story would spawn from my imagination. I used to write so frequently, that was basically the only thing I did, so when I’d get in trouble, instead of grounding me from hanging out with friends or playing video games, my parents would ground me from writing, even though I still would in secret. (It sounds cruel because it could be seen as stifling necessary creativity, but in an ironic twist, it’s because of my parents that I never gave up writing when I wanted to. They were actually incredibly supportive of my writing and still are.)

There were only a few books I actually wrote an outline for. And back when my co-author and I started the Dark Fantasy series in High School, I actually came up with an outline which, well, outlined the whole series out. We knew there would be seven books in total, we vaguely knew how each book was intended to go, we knew who was going to die, etc. Unfortunately, once my co-author moved to Germany and we were only able to communicate via email, I lost my motivation for that series. I got about 60 pages into Dark Fantasy II: Crimson Moonlight, and it was a damn good book, but after the 60 page mark, I had no idea where to take the story. It just felt like it was dragging on after that, like I wasted all my effort on making an amazing beginning.

A Thief’s Journey, the third book in that series which was published when I was a Freshman in High School, was also written with an outline, and while I tried my best to stick with it, I eventually went rogue and only used it as a bit of a lifeline. In short, my method of writing is to dive head-first and just go for it. I’ll usually have a general idea in my head as to where I want the story to go, and that’s honestly all I’ll really need in order to get the book written. And if I get stuck, I’ll use some of the methods I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries.

Pretty cool, right? I can somehow manage to write an entire series of novels without using an outline because for the most part, I remember important details of what I’ve written, details I have yet to write, and how to foreshadow those events as if it was all planned ahead of time. (I mean, I guess you can say it is planned ahead of time, but usually mentally.) And now, here’s why this method should absolutely not be used when you’re a solo video game developer working on a story-driven RPG.

Writing a book, though difficult, is fairly straightforward in terms of what you’re actually doing when you know what you’re doing—you’re typing and writing on an electronic typewriter, and instead of impact ink, you’re watching pixels on the screen form the letters you’re typing, like a highly-efficient typewriter. Yes, I know writing a book goes in far deeper than that since the words you’re writing are meant to capture the essence of a completely new world, the lives of people within that world, etc., but when you break it down to the actual visual/physical aspect, you’re just tapping away at a bunch of keys, using 26 letters, 10 numbers, and various symbols to get your point across and share the world you know with others. Developing a video game, however, especially when you’re by yourself, is a completely different ordeal altogether.

When you are developing a video game, you are assuming the combined roles of authors, music composers, actors, mathematicians, historians, scientists, artists, filmmakers, and naturally, gamers. There’s a lot more to video game development than meets the eye, which is why I see video games as art, not just a means of entertainment. Here was my problem for the past two or more years—I kept using my method of writing books for my game, and even though I came up with some great drafts, it was never enough for a complete game. Until a few months ago, I was too focused on making it story-oriented that I forgot the importance of other aspects. I always thought “eh, I can improvise it!” but that is not enough for a full-length RPG.

Developing a story-driven RPG that you also want to make fun, challenging, and memorable takes way more work than just improvising. You need to know ahead of time what the story is going to look like from beginning to end. You need to know your characters and fall in love with them. If you aren’t absolutely in love with the cast of your game, even the antagonists, figure out what went wrong, because falling in love with them will make you more passionate about them, and having amazing characters will turn a semi-decent story into something unforgettable. Fine-tune the details. Even if you can’t do this in the planning process, figure out what players may question, and incorporate it into the plot, or at least leave enough clues for players to form their own theories and ideas about it.

What I’ve been doing is I’ve actually been writing the game in script form before doing the actual programming. It’s sort of like writing a strategy guide along with a play script so I have every major line of dialogue written down, a concept of the maps so you know how to play to your restrictions, and if you’re like me, knowing sort of how it works ahead of time gives me time to figure out what sort of music I want to compose. I’m sort of writing the script and developing the game in tandem. I guess I found a pattern I could get into—I work on the script a good amount, program a bit of the game based after what was written (but never catching up to the script so I’m still ahead in writing), and perhaps compose a new song before working on the script more. That would be a nice pattern to get used to!

Distinguishing the difference between writing for the two has almost exponentially increased my motivation, productivity, and progress on the game. Even though it’s short now, I’m not letting it bother me nor will I add unnecessary padding to the game. I’m going to just keep writing it so I can make a game people will remember, enjoy, and want to play multiple times. It will take some time, but I’m still in love with it all. I hope this entry has motivated you on this Monday. Let’s make it a productive and relaxing week!

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