Character Development and Storytelling for Games Paperback – Jun 15 2004
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About the Author
Lee Sheldon is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He has written and designed more than two dozen commercial and applied video games and MMOs. His most recent book from Course Technology PTR is The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game. Lee began his academic career at Indiana University, where he instituted the practice of designing classes as multiplayer games, and wrote and designed the alternate reality games in the Skeleton Chase series. Most recently, Lee was lead writer/designer on three games based on Agatha Christie novels, lead writer on Star Trek: Infinite Space, and lead writer on Zynga's Facebook game Indiana Jones Adventure World and an upcoming Kinect game for Harmonix. He is head of the team that is building the Emergent Reality Lab at Rensselaer, a mixed reality space for research and education; lead writer and design consultant on a game teaching math; and lead writer/designer of games teaching Chinese and business ethics. Before his career in video games, Lee wrote and produced over 200 popular television shows, including Star Trek: The Next Generation and Charlie's Angels.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I think the author really understands these difficulties. You want to make an emmersive worl, but you need to do it very quickly. So he talks about dialog, and how to convey as much information as possible in as few words as possible. He talks about how to get the player to sympathize with a chaacter, from the situation that characetr is in, to the design of the character art, to the words that the character says. All of the information is very practical, not like some books that leave you with a bunch of high-level nonsense that doesn't work in a real game. I really appreciated that he wasn't one of these "video games are mindless because they don't tell a story" type of guys. Or acting as if video games need to learn how to tell a story in order to "grow up" like movies or TV have. In a straight up action game or fighter, you don't need as much of a story as you do in a more adventure game. Playing a video game is a just a different experience, and the story has a different role, it's NOT the holy grail like some people think. Rather than trying to tell you how to convert video games into novels, he describe ways that you can inject story without taking away from the inetraction. I think he makes a good case that in almost any game, you can introduce just a bit of characetr depth and relationships, without stopping for a ten minute cutscene, and it adds value to the game.
This author's background was originally in TV, but he also has considerable experience in video games. I felt like he has a good background to be writing the book, and was speaking from experience.
The only negative comment about the book is that I found several of the chapters to be very similar. Like you'd be reading a chapter, and you'd think, "Hey, didn't I just read this exact same thing a few chapters ago?" Actually, you didn't, this chapter is covering a very slightly different topic. In other words, I think he could have consolidated a few chapters, which would have saved me some time. I suppose this makes it easier to jump around, since you don't rely on information from previous chapters. But I found it a little repetitive.
All in all, a really good book for anybody interested in video game design or storytelling in general.
When I got down to reading the main work - it was just as captivating. He writes well, there are jokes mixed in and a good strucutre. Some minor typos/mis-references (a missing appendix c) and a bit overdone on the "define this word" stuff, but it doesn't detrect from the overall message.
The best part? Make your rule then break it. If you willingly break a rule, chances are the result will be much better than if you happen to ignore it beacuse you are unaware of it.
Draws heavily on ideas from many fields, so the content has value outside of "pure" game design (ie for animation, machinima, role playing, adapting books to hobby-theater)
Writing for games has a lot in common with writing for other media (e.g., character and theme) and a lot that is unique to itself. Lee does an excellent job of covering both aspects - so much so that I would recommend this book to writers with absolutely no interest in interactive media. (I've read my share of writing books over the years, and this one stands at the top of the heap.)
Of particular interest to me were chapters 3-6 on character and chapter 14 on modular storytelling, the most elegant way I've seen of organizing a linear experience into a non-linear structure. The book also does an excellent job of discussing storytelling in massively multiplayer games and provides extensive background material, much of which is intended to set up and justify Lee's modular storytelling model - rather more background than necessary, actually, since you should be sold on the need for something like modular storytelling long before he gets around to explaining it.
The book's does have a few faults. For example, a couple of the later chapters feel out of place, and the text is dusted with a handful of puzzling and sometimes repeated typos (Eowen? Kalishnakov?) But these are of little consequence and should not detract from your enjoyment.
While the title of the book is "Character Development and Storytelling for Games," the book really focuses more heavily on the latter. I was expecting the former, but by no means am I complaining! I have been able to break through blocks in my own role as a writer for this project.
If you are looking for the "right" way to write your story, you won't find it here. What this book does instead is to open doors, and then let you decide whether to walk through them or not. And even then, you still have to choose for yourself what to do once you've walked through them. If you are looking for new openings in crafting your game _and_ writing your story(and synthesizing them both together), this is the book for you.