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  • Notes From A Game Writer: Indie To AAA

    - Danny Homan
  • Being a professional video game writer is one of the best jobs around. Period.  I'd love to see the look on my six-year-old self's face if I told him I'd be writing video games one day. But here's the real talk. The path to becoming a video game writer is tough -- and different for everyone. But in case it helps, here's how I got started. My video game career began after a hilariously bad birthday.

    The Bad Birthday Pivot

    My girlfriend and I had recently come back to the States from Japan after the Tsunami of 2011. I'd left a soon-to-be amazing teaching job in Tokyo, the type of gig an aspiring novelist dreams of: short hours, great pay, plenty of time to write on the side. But with my family's concerns over the Fukushima situation, we came home instead (blowing much of my savings in the process) to Florida to crash with my parents. The plan was to recoup a bit and then figure out next steps. Then my girlfriend and I broke up, a week before my birthday. So, to review: Recent break-up. Unemployed. No savings. Living with parents.

    Chrono Trigger

    On the morning of my birthday, I dug through my closet, found our Super Nintendo, and fired up Chrono Trigger. Alongside the novels I'd read that shaped the type of novelist I wanted to be, video games had also impacted my imagination and sense of story, games like Final Fantasy IV and VI, and of course, Chrono Trigger

    While I was playing, my mind drifted to my writing career, and how I wanted to be a working writer -- that is, I wanted to pay the bills with my writing, rather than my writing being a "when I've got time" situation. Most writers go for TV and movies, incredibly competitive but potentially lucrative careers. But I wasn't sure I wanted to move to Los Angeles.

    I asked myself what I liked about storytelling in video games. The answer was that I felt like I was part of the story, instead of an observer in someone else's story. One writing career lesson I didn't learn soon enough is that sometimes you have to pivot when one avenue isn't working out, so, I said to myself, I should try to make it as a video game writer.

    Then the inevitable question followed...  so how do you become a video game writer?

    My First Strange Gig

    I scoured game studio websites for an entire year, but I didn't see many open game writer jobs available. Then, one day my brother told me about a guy he'd recently met looking for a writer. I sent a few sample scripts, which the team liked, and I was hired. It was a strange, ambitious, iPad game called Alfa-Arkiv.


    For this first gig, I wrote a series of fictional emails hidden within the app. You'd consider it a secondary or even tertiary story -- imagine the types of emails you read while playing Deus Ex. The emails explored the backstories of several main characters. I suspected that most players wouldn't read this content, but in video game writing you sort of have to have that mentality. Some people gobble up story at every opportunity, and others skip in-game text like the plague.

    The value of starting your career by working on a small team is that you get to see the entire game develop right around you, day by day. You collaborate with people from every discipline. Even the discussions on how to market the game were new and exciting to me. Although Alfa-Arkiv wasn't financially successful, it did manage to get recognition from CNET as one of the best mobile game of 2014, and more importantly, I learned a lot and cut my teeth with professional and very talented developers in the process. As the game was nearing completion, I started to look for other gigs, but again, there weren't many game writer jobs being advertised.

    If you don't see a game writing job, try to find indie developers working on a game you'd like to write. That's what I did, at least.


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