How I Became a Game Writer: An Interview with Sande Chen and Anne Toole
[10.02.07] - Jill Duffy
Sande Chen and Anne Toole are two contract video game writers bound together as a group they call the Writers Cabal. Toole has previously worked as the head writer for the massively multiplayer online game, Stargate Worlds (Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment), and Chen has done voiceover work as the lead character in Wadjet Eye Games' The Blackwell Legacy. Both women also worked together as freelancers on a new game called The Witcher, to be released by Atari this month.
"You could also call us content designers or narrative designers," they say. "We collaborate with developers to articulate the vision of a game through story and dialog."
They're also active members of the larger video game community; Chen is on the steering committees for the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Writers Special Interest Group and Women in Games International (WIGI), and both are members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) New Media Caucus.
They together have credit as writers on the game Terminus (Vicarious Visions), children's game Pet Pals: Animal Doctor (Legacy Games), Zoo Vet (Legacy Interactive), and the upcoming fantasy role-playing game, The Witcher (CDProjekt). Chen is currently the lead producer at a casual game company.
GameCareerGuide.com interviewed them via email to find out how they got hired to write for video games and what kind of educational background got them there. GameCareerGuide.com: Tell us a little about who you were right around the end of high school. What were you interested in then? What kinds of things happened that eventually put you on the path to working in the game industry?
Anne Toole: High school and college provided me ample opportunity to explore all the disciplines that make a good game writer and designer, although I had no inkling of it at the time. I took a lot of performing arts classes in high school, such as acting and directing.
When I ran out of classes to take, I enrolled in the only programming course the school offered, PASCAL. I immediately discovered the fun uses of programming. My final project was a game based on the card game War.
In my senior year, in a mad quest to take advanced placement (AP) classes, I took art history. During the course of the year, my fabulous teacher grounded me with a thorough visual education. My other APs included physics, a good basis for any science fiction story, and English. I even wormed my way into a special section of English, which provided my first, and to date only, exposure to academic film studies.
I already knew in high school I wanted to work in entertainment, so I attended some special workshops called the Media Workshops in Hollywood. There I was advised to major in whatever I wanted in college because I would learn everything I needed to know my first six months in entertainment. Taking this advice to heart, I chose to major in Archaeology.
While I continued to study programming and art in college, auditing a class in C and taking more art history classes, the archaeology emphasis has had the greatest influence on me. Combining soft knowledge like art, history, and mythology spanning the globe, with hard knowledge like biology, statistical analysis, economics, and urban planning has helped me the most in my game career.