In which I interview the wonderful Rudolf Kremers, game writer, producer and designer extraordinaire,with titles such as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (among others) under his belt. I was lucky enough to meet Rudolf at the 2012 London Screenwriter’s Festival where he was teaching a class and voila – a year later – I finally got him to talk to us about writing for video games! With the many hats that he wears and demands on his time, we’re lucky to enjoy his perspective on writing for video games. Enjoy.
So Rudolf, I met you at the 2012 London Screenwriter’s Festival in the “green room” for the speakers. Is that event not one of the most organized, genteel, professional events you’ve ever spoken at? It was for me. Chris Jones is a prince among men.
R: The festival is something special. I have been lucky enough to experience it both as a speaker and as a delegate, and in either case it’s a wonderful event. Every year I meet amazing people, and many of them become friends or colleagues.
So you write games. Which video games have you written? Go ahead – brag a little!
I am not good at bragging, but I will try.
I design, produce, develop, and publish games (and other things), through my indie production company Omni Systems Limited. As part of that many hatted job description I write for all my own games, like Eufloria (BAFTA Nominated), Eufloria Adventures, StarLit, Neopolis and others. Generally I also take the game story and write an accompanying tv or feature script, or comic, or novel, or… well you get the idea. Before I carved my own niche I worked on games like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Stolen, and a bunch of other ones. I prefer working on my own IP though. Think of it as a writer/director/producer role.
I have also written a book on game design that was published by A.K Peters.
Did you start off as another type of writer or a programmer before you got into writing video games?
I studied film in Amsterdam, and was dabbling in screenwriting and prose before I got into making video games. I never got the discipline/confidence until I went indie though. Since then I found I no longer need discipline, because I love writing so much that I can’t stop doing it.
Are there opportunities for writers in video game writing today? How would a writer try to break into that?
There most definitely are opportunities, but there is a lot of competition. Pay is not always great. (Sometimes there is no pay at all).
Having said that, things have completely changed from the days where the producer or designer would have to write some story in their spare time, without any real craft or understanding of narrative principles. So, these days it is at least taken more seriously. Additionally, there has been a revolution in independent game creation, which coincided with a revolution in free or cheap tools becoming available. As a result there are quite a few ways into the industry.
· Create your own independent game, where you do all the work, including the writing
· Use a free program to write interactive fiction
· If you have a portfolio/good cv just apply for a writing job at a company that you like
· Write for an ARG
· Create your own HTML based interactive narrative
Whatever you do though, you must like and play games, and have a passion for writing for games. It’s a highly specialised field that doesn’t allow for “winging” it. Personally I think it is key to build up a cv of writing for any interactive medium. Use that as your portfolio when trying to get ahead. And try to stand out!
What’s the latest and greatest on the horizon for video games? Any big technological shifts or story trends?
Virtual Reality Gaming is coming back with a vengeance through the amazing Occulus Rift. Indie devs are continuing to blaze a fiery trail of innovation through the gaming landscape, but big studios like Naughty dog are also doing exceptional work.
Back to bragging: I am working with Tim Clague, Linda Aronson, and a wonderful teams of writers, coder, and artist, to create a completely new approach to electronic narratives. It’s something that has never been done before, and secretly I hope that it will be very impactful. We will see.
I imagine that writing for games requires a different skill set than other forms of writing. How would you define them? Or is story telling story telling?
It is and it isn’t. Many aspects of story telling are independent of the format, but others are influenced by platform specifics. For example, most games are participatory, allowing the player into the narrative, which creates a dramatic tension that is completely different from most other forms of writing. You can write material that taps into very deep rooted behavioural principles. Fear of the dark. Love of experimental play. Survival instinct. Nurture instinct…
Gameplay realities, the game’s environment and rules, the game’s non-linear structure… all of these become part of the narrative toolbox.
How on earth do video game writers keep track of the various levels and choices that can be made by the player in the game – the ever shifting possible outcomes?
It depends. Sometimes you don’t, as it is enough to give players access to whatever narrative snippets they need to build up their own story. Other times you use big spreadsheets, flowcharts, or special debugging software. It can be daunting.
Do you ever come to Israel? Because we’d sure love to have you at our Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon!
I have never been, but would love to come and visit one day. It is very kind of you to invite me!
For those of you interesting in learning even more about developing and producing video games, I suggest you check out Rudolf’s book, Level Design: Concept, Theory and Practice. Not sure? Read this review of the book.
Treat yourself to Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas