Keynote: Adrian Hon
Getting Writers Close to the Metal
How does great storytelling happen in video games and other immersive media? Good writers are necessary but not sufficient, since there are plenty of awful games with excellent writers. Instead, great storytelling happens either when the format of a game is so established that little new game design is required, or when writers are also serving as lead producers or directors.
In both cases, writers are “close to the metal”. In programming slang, this means being close to the deep guts of the computer; for writers of games, it means having a complete understanding of all game systems that interact with the story, and preferably the authority to make decisions across all those systems. This can be difficult in massive big-budget game teams, but much easier in smaller games using accessible tools and game engines like Inklewriter, Twine, and Ren’Py.
Getting writers close to the metal doesn’t just ensure a better concordance between story and user experience. It’s faster, wastes less work, gives creators more agency, and ultimately helps everyone learn faster. But it needs two things to work: affordable, accessible tools and game engines, and a creative team with high trust and excellent communication skills.
I’ll explore this from my perspective as a game designer, producer, writer, and CEO of Six to Start, and having worked with writers including Naomi Alderman, Mohsin Hamid, and Charles Cumming on award-winning video games, alternate reality games, and transmedia experiences including Zombies, Run! and We Tell Stories.