[Script Frenzy] Press Select: A first-person tutorial about game writing

“Press Select”

“New Game”
“Continue” [Appears conditionally on previous save]


The camera is behind the player-character’s closed eyes, slowly flickering open in a very cliche, minimalist white room. As soon as the player-character’s eyes are fully open, he can navigate the 3D environment with ease. The painfully shiny, circular room is empty, devoid of windows and doors.

Welcome to your mind, player-character. As you can see, it is a bit of a blank slate right now. But you are here right now because you want to write a video game script. My name is Alex. My function is to get you started on the basics. First, let’s talk about formatting.

A black slot appears in the wall and promptly vomits a gray sheet of PAPER, light but contrasting significantly with the whiteness of the perfect room.

When the player picks up the PAPER:
Resources” checklist added to inventory [viewable in Pause menu].

Take a look at your resources list to get started on any formatting questions you might have. As far as I am aware, there exists no “one” industry standard for game formatting–it all comes back to the game itself that you are writing. First, what kind of game would you like to make?

[1.1] I will create the next Bejeweled.
[1.2] I will create the next Fallout.
[1.3] I will create… honestly, I have no idea.

So you envy Rovio then. Try to focus on quality, however, over quantity. Your game may or may not have a storyline, but it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to write it. It certainly won’t occupy a hundred pages if you’re planning this project for Script Frenzy. Still, it needs words. It needs a script, or at least a storyboard. Every action has a consequence.

The center of the floor in the room cracks, a sapling of a tree abruptly springing from it. Pink cherry blossoms float to the ground.
IF the player is standing directly over the crack, he will be thrust to the ground. [-10 HP]

Branching will become your best friend or your worst enemy.

The player-character, examining the tree, sees that each of the branches bears a glowing label, “Touch Me,” upon approach.

IF the player-character touches the BRANCH, two more BRANCHES spring forth, each with the same label and exponential growing ability.

When the player has activated any six branches:
Accounting for every possible action the player could take is a hassle, admittedly. But it is worth it.
[Go to Conclusion]

Did you know that the video game scripts for games like Bioshock and Mass Effect consist of thousands of pages, not including character bibles and world encyclopedias? Furthermore, consider that good games do not entirely rely on convenient cutscenes to make a complete story–even the classic JRPGs contain story elements in the fights and missions between movie-like, cinematic sequences, even if it just means interacting with a shopkeeper. Cutscenes are the solution of a screenwriter forced to work on a video game. The best way to write a game is as a gamer.

[Go to Branch Chapter]

Do not concern yourself with details too much. Your mind is not empty–it is only clear. Do not worry at this time about what kind of mechanics you have, or what kind of graphics you want in the final product. Write plot, first. Write characters, first. Write your ideas like a chapter of a novel, or a short story.

[Go to Conclusion]

A section of paneling from the wall becomes a DOOR, moving out and sliding up. Outside, an exotic, barren, and beautiful landscape of rocks and trees appears. The sky is dark with night, but stars and some kind of planetary body cast a romantic glow on the landscape, illuminating it.

Another section of paneling slides out and up. CHEERY AUTOMATED MALE enters, carrying a Chromebook under his arm and making a beeline for the door. He stops at its entrance to face the player-character.

Let’s start imagining.

Alex J. Freemont is a self-nominated android fascinated by the humanizing appeal of good stories wherever they can be found, especially if they involve time-travelling British men. It muses about the geek life on Twitter, while on transcending pixels it picks apart the aesthetics of genius casual games.

Script Frenzy 2012 Launches!

Dear Readers,

Welcome to Script Frenzy 2012!  Script Frenzy is an annual challenge held by the Office of Letters and Light in April to write a 100-page script in the month of April.

This year, I’m participating in Script Frenzy for the first time in several years – and this time, I have an edge: last semester, I learned how to properly write a screenplay in the Screenwriting I course at my university.  Along the way, I’ll post encouraging tidbits, discussions of craft, and hopefully pick up a few guest bloggers as well.

If you’d like to participate in Script Frenzy this year, you have plenty of fantastic options for writing.  You may want to consider experimenting with one of these forms:

  • Writing a film.  100 pages is a typical length for a feature film and, based on how much action and the pacing of the dialogue, makes for a film of about two hours.
  • Writing a stage play.  I’ve written stage plays before – that’s how I started my high school drama club.  Stage plays are fun, but you’re limited by the space on the stage.  If you loved drama club when you were younger – or if you love acting for the stage even now – you may be most interested in writing a stage play.  My favorite stage play is M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang, which is the book on which I wrote my senior Honors Thesis.
  • Writing a miniseries.  A miniseries can be tons of fun!  Since you can calculate about one minute per page of script, a 40-page chunk would make a single episode of your miniseries.  If you’re not too intimidated by going over the page count, try writing a three-episode miniseries with 40-minute episodes for a total of 120 pages.
  • Writing the opening episodes of a television show or web series.  TV episodes are usually about 20 to 23 pages long for a half-hour show and about 45 pages for a one-hour show.  With those lengths in mind, you could easily write three or more opening episodes for a potential television show – and you could reduce the number of episodes needed by writing a double-sized pilot episode.  If you’d rather write a web series, you can write serial scripts of any length, so you could write a five-minute show every day and crank out your SF project in only 20 days.
  • Writing a comic book or graphic novel script.  This is the really fun but really difficult one: comic book/graphic novel scripts are written very differently from screenplays or stage plays.  You can learn more about how to write comic book and graphic novel scripts in Script Frenzy’s Writer’s Resources section.

Certainly at least one of those things must tickle your fancy!  If you’re just coming from NaNoLand, you may want to try writing a film first – and using your last NaNo piece as the base of an adapted film.  Who knows?  Maybe your SF script will end up even better than your NaNo novel.

Remember: to make that 100-page goal, you have to write three and a half (3.5) pages per day.  The actual number is 3.3 pages, so if you do 3.5, you’ll finish a little bit ahead of schedule!

Are you participating in Script Frenzy this year?  If so, post the URL of your profile here, and I’ll become one of your writing buddies!  You can also add me directly on the site by visiting my profile.

Writing Scripts: The “Three Act” Formula

Author’s Note: This is not an actual professional formula.  It’s a theory created by someone who has studied literature and writes scripts for the stage and screen for enjoyment.  If you also enjoy writing scripts, this may help you as well.

Over the past year, I’ve developed a sense of myself as a fiction writer through the classes I’ve taken.  One way I’ve developed is as a writer of dialogue – and, in particular, as a writer of scripts.  I started off writing one-act plays and films, but eventually became interested in the concept of miniseries after watching SyFy’s Alice.

As part of this, I worked on a short miniseries last year for my school’s student broadcasting group, and I’ll be working on a sequel (of sorts) for the rest of the summer.  I’ve also started working on three other scripts, what would be considered “feature film” length for films and full-length for plays.

One thing I’ve been able to keep in mind is something I learned during my time taking a fiction-writing course.  My professor gave us a basic formula for a three-act play – but it works just as well for a feature film or for a three-episode miniseries.

For this article, I’ll be using the show West Bancroft Side Story for examples.  If you don’t want spoilers, watch each episode before you read the section.

Act One: The Set-Up

As seen in Episode One.

The first act of a three-part script is always the set-up for the problem.  Here, you want to introduce the most important characters as well as their main problem.

In WBSS, the problem is made very clear: there are two rival groups, and the couple in the story is made up of one from each.  The ending of the episode also makes it very clear what problem comes next: the young woman (Sonia) will have to deal with her upset brother while the young man (Joey) will have to deal with the consequences of what he’s done.

The script also introduces all of the characters as well as the important places in the story.  All of these things are important for the first act and should at least be mentioned there.

Act Two: The Problem

As seen in Episode Two.

The second act of a three-part script is most often the showcase of the problem itself as well as an escalation of events to a climax.  In the second act, you want to clarify why the problem is such a big problem – or, if it’s already abundantly clear, make it bigger.

In Episode 2 of WBSS, the problem of rivalry between the two groups is shown as an escalation of arguments that lead up to violence.

The climax scene often marks the end of the second act, which – according to a few friends of mine who study theater – is usually about twice as long as the first act.  If you are writing a miniseries, though, it should simply be more fast-paced than the first episode.

Act Three: All Hell Breaks Loose

As seen in Episode Three.

The third and final act of a three-part script takes place after the climax and, if you’re using a witch’s-hat diagram, represents the downward slope.  Here, you must as a writer deal with the events of acts one and two and find a suitable conclusion.

Episode 3 of WBSS does this by dealing with the first major act of serious violence in the show, which is the climax of Episode 2.  At the beginning of the episode, all hell DOES break loose: the protagonist Joey deals with the violence against his best friend by retaliating violently, then regrets his actions afterward.

The final act should be about the same size as the second act or longer, depending on how your characters deal with the events of the climax.  If you’re writing a miniseries, the action should be the same pace or faster than that of the second episode.

Remember: during this act, you must wrap everything up and find a suitable conclusion, which means different things for different scripts.

Final Advice

In conclusion, I have a little bit of advice for those working on a miniseries that WILL BE filmed, since this is what I have most experience with.

  • Work with the director.  This is important – if you’re writing scenes that can’t happen, you’re going to have a lot of problems.  The director will also be able to give you feedback on character development, plot development, and more.
  • Take your time and don’t rush.  You definitely don’t want to write your miniseries the same way I did: in under three months while working on a senior thesis.  I think that says enough right there.  While I’m very proud of the show and those who participated, I know that as a writer I could have done better with more time and less stress.
  • Try to be involved with the casting process, if not the overall process.  I’m credited as the director of WBSS, and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.  I got to meet every single person involved with the show, and I was on the casting board.  One of the main characters was almost cast differently, but I knew the moment he walked in that I wanted him to play the character he played.  In the end, his character was one of the viewers’ favorites.  Stay involved.  You won’t regret it.

Hopefully, some of these tips will be helpful to you.  If you’ve written something that’s been filmed and is now online, post the link below – we’d love to check it out.

‘West Bancroft’ wrap-up

As the end of Spring Semester 2011 approaches, I find myself thinking about the end of one project that has been a huge part of my life since October: West Bancroft Side Story.

What was originally a 4-episode, 21-song musical parody eventually evolved into the 3-episode, 14-song show available on YouTube today.  There has been so much work involved in the show, from the original scriptwriting to revisions and filming.

Looking back, I feel I can no longer take full credit as writer for the show.  Yes, I wrote the original script and most of the songs, but after watching the entire series for the first time at last night’s premiere party, it feels more like a group effort than a solo effort.  The actors took my script and turned it into their own.

I’ll always love the cast of West Bancroft Side Story, and someday I’ll do something different with the script (a friend of mine wants to do a straight stage play of the show) – but my experiences this semester will stay with me forever.