Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know About Narrative Techniques by Evan Skolnick

Video Game Storytelling
Video gaming has come a long way. Once upon a time Pac-Man raced around an uncomplicated maze. The gamers great quest was to get the little guy to swallow all the beads before being eaten by a ghost. It was mindless fun, but hardly epic storytelling. Times have changed. Video games now can contain large casts of characters complete with complicated backstories. With avatars, the players enter through a fictional portal to become actual participants in a digital realm.

Evan Skolnick has produced a very readable guide to the storytelling involved in the creation of these worlds. The book is divided into two parts. Part I is called Basic Training and includes a solid wrap-up of writing techniques. He makes the case that conflict is at the heart of every story and includes very clear explanations about such things as transitions, plot points, and exposition. Each description is punctuated with examples from video games. I found the chapter on believability particularly interesting as he discusses character consistency and when and how to break the rules.

Part II, The Trenches, delves into some of the nitty gritty of video game storytelling. The book does a thorough job detailing all the different facets a writer must consider in order to create believable story, character, and environment. Skolnick also addresses the team aspect of working with concept artists, programmers, musicians, along with the audio engineers who produce the sound effects. He includes a useful example of a character description document needed by team members to maintain consistency during development.

This is well-thought out and well-crafted book. I liked the layout and extent of material covered and would recommend it to anyone interested in developing video games or simply writing in general.

Picky Quibble
This has nothing to do with the content matter, but take a gander at that cover. Whoever approved the blah design should be ashamed. Video gaming revels in vibrant colors and excitement. This cover looks like it was done by middle schoolers in a summer camp class taught by volunteers at an underfunded community center. Don’t be dissuaded from a purchase. While the cover is terrible, the contents are well worth it.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

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