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4 Tips for Writing Game Text

September 24, 2011

I’ve been writing lots of text for the game recently and while doing so I thought I’d share a few pointers that helped me in this process:

  • Less is More:  Lots of gamers don’t read in-game text.  Fair enough, they want to be playing.  So while the temptation is to write loads of great prose, the reality is that most people won’t read it.  I’ve enjoyed playing Metal Gear games, but as for what they are saying?  Yup; I pressed X to skip it.  I’ve not always done this; in Fire Emblem you’re rewarded for reading the text with clues that help in the game.  Same in Deus Ex: Human Revolution but in general, less is more for game text.
  • Consistency: In writing prose it can be considered desirable to use lots of different words to explain and describe. However in game text this can be a mistake; to help the player understand what you mean it is often best to have consistent words for the same thing.  So if you call a level a ‘level’ in the text, stick to that and don’t start to call it an adventure or mission.  Make it easier to navigate.
  • New Term Blues: While making games we often create new things that need a term.  This might be a new weapon, HUD device or skill.  So we’ve got this User Interface bar that appears when you attack; it was called the Attack Bar, then we adapted it for other uses and now it’s the Action Bar, which does what it says but naming new things can be hard.  There are loads of special things that need naming in Deus Ex: Human Revolution for example (Icarus Landing System, Social Enhancer, Hacking Analyze Add-On…) and they do a pretty good job in general, but you do need to work at such things because they both need to explain what they are and fit your game’s context.
  • Test in Context: When writing in-game text it is often already very disjointed because of the nature of the non-linear experience you’re building.  So I find I’m often writing into a spreadsheet, but that is not enough – testing the text/speech in context as a player would seem it sounds obvious, but when you’re pushed for time you may be tempted to skip it – don’t!  You need to see your words in context both on the game engine and in the narrative context when in the game as it occurs to really feel if it’s done right.

That’s all I can think of now, feel free to contact me with yours! Thanks.

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