The Creative Process - "How to get your butt in gear writing a game"
“The creative process?! So is this arrogant, self-serving blog post supposed to let you delve into the mind of a supposed “professional writer” and see how I don’t think like him, which makes him all kinds of popular? Well buddy, if you’re so popular, why haven’t I seen a book with your name on it? Where’s your movie deal, Captain Pretentious?!”
Okay, so now that we got that initial wave of criticism out of the way, I’d like to talk not about how awesome I am and that Heroes Must Die will be a kick ass game because I’m a part of it. This is actually a very interesting avant-garde subject that I first came across in an English class I took in university. What is the Creative Process? Even better, what is YOUR creative process?
This may come as a shock, but most people believe that can’t be a successful writer because they can’t get their ideas down out of their heads. They lack concentration, structure, drive, inspiration...they are in effect, missing their muse. One of the benefits of the creative process is that is offers all of these and more, it focuses their talents and lets them drive home their ideas into something concrete – it gives your muse the defib to the heart it needs to get you going. Want to know the best part? YOU decide how it goes.
One thing you learn is just like everyone, every creative process is different. If I compared my process to Neil Gaiman for instance, I’m sure we’d find his ability to get his ideas down is vastly different than mine...or then again maybe it wouldn’t be so dissimilar. Your creative process isn’t good or bad, so long as it works, THAT’s what matters.
So what is my creative process like? How do I wake up my muse and get my ideas in line and start to create something cool? Usually it’s quite a rigid system, but I’ll be honest guys, I’ve worked on interactive multimedia projects before, but this is my first full-on video game – my usual weapons don’t work as efficiently as they would for an actual story-based project. But I will let you know exactly what my day entails when working on the story of Heroes Must Die. First, I put myself in “Video Game” mode, which begins by recalling two major points that I’ve noted during my own video game research:
Two Things I Consider When Designing a Video Game
1.) VIDEO GAME RULES: First, I remind myself that video games are different from books, movies, and t.v shows. These are the rules I follow when thinking about the story:
- Engaging characters, engaging story
- The player must feel he’s in control of his character’s actions
I feel both of these points are equally important for a single reason – video games give the fan an unprecedented level of visceral control over the protagonist that you can’t find anywhere else. I want the story to be engaging, but I also don’t want the player to think the game is “on rails”, meaning it’s simply a fight, a cut scene, a fight, dialogue...the player must feel like actions and choices affect the game, both in the immediate and the long term.
This is a big plan for Heroes Must Die – you won’t just explore and fight, but your actions and responses to actions and dialogue will affect the outcome of the story arc you’re playing and ultimately, which ending you will see...and yes, there is going to be more than one ending.
2.) THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS: Hey, you remember that last book you read - remember the weird Hawaiian t-shirt in the closet? Remember that last movie you watched – remember what was in the protagonist’s wallet? This is both a blessing and a curse to a video game designer, how much detail is too much? The thing about this is, the more detail you have in your game, the more immersed your player can become and the more enjoyable the experience can be...but how much is too much? Okay, maybe the Hawaiian shirt is a little much...but Heroes Must Die will have some interesting detail to give the player a feel of what its like being in its world.
How I Engage in my Creative Process
With these two major points in mind, I begin my usual process to jumpstart the old “creativity engine”. Remember, this isn’t the right or wrong way, but my way. Everyone’s creative process is different, amd if you believe you don’t have one but would like to begin, maybe this will help you understand a little more to what I’m talking about.
a.) I open up Youtube and start to look at video game footage. Think of this like starting the engine in a car, it’s a quick way to find some inspiration and to get myself into video game mode. I usually look up whatever hot title is currently showing cut scenes from the many players who post their games online for all to see, then I set my mind into the current scene that I’m editing (first draft written by the big bossman, Rick) and preparing dialogue for the future.
b.) I open up Windows Media Player and keep YouTube open. In my experience, dialogue comes from many different sources depending on the mood. If it’s a dramatic part, I tend to listen to movie soundtrack music – epic stuff that gets my inner hero going. Currently I’m rocking the Man of Steel soundtrack, mixed with The Dark Knight Rises, Tron: Legacy, Tron: Uprising, and a spattering of industrial metal here and there. If I’m writing comedy, I’ll tend to watch cartoons or slapstick comedy...my favorite two being Looney Tunes and The Three Stooges. I then bombard my senses with all of these media, and when I have had my “creative batteries” sufficiently charged, I open the floodgates and let my mind go to work.
c.) I double check character sketches to ensure I haven’t overstepped a character’s personality after writing dialogue. Although I’ll be honest, I won’t be going back as much if I’ve been working with a character for a while, say for the main character, but I definitely will when working with secondary characters. I read what I’ve written and tweak however needed, then I do what every good writer does – I let it sit.
d.) Letting things sit is something that not many people do, but when I walk away from my work, it gives my mind a chance to wander and relax, which is actually very conducive to my creativity. I take from anywhere between a 15-30 minute break depending on the length, complexity of the scene, and whether or not I feel what I wrote really worked or if I need to start back at the beginning. Then I write again, and leave it again. I continue this process until I’m happy with what I have, then I try to start over with a new perspective...maybe a new joke or new action that I didn’t try before...and see where it goes. Typically if I have the time, I like to have 3 different scenarios written for each scene...but time constraints usually have me writing 2 or sometimes 1. Sometimes I’ll be halfway through the new scene and think of something I could have done in the part I just finished and go back to fix it.
e.) Repeat ad nauseam. If I need video game inspiration, I hit up the video game channels again. If I need some good music to help get my mind in a particular scene, I change songs. Would a character actually act like that? – I double check to make sure. If I feel like I’m starting to struggle, I walk away for a bit.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is typically how my brain works, I like to call it “Order through Chaos”. I do this every time I open my computer to work on Heroes Must Die, but typically any major project will look something like the above. It may look like a painful journey for you, but it works for me. Sometimes I’ll write a ton of work, sometimes I’ll only get a small part done. The thing about the creative process is, you can’t count on it to produce the same way as a machine, we as artists can estimate but can’t quantify our work and promise “X” amount of words per day. Some days are good and some days are bad, it’s the nature of creation. Remember that even God needed to rest on the seventh day, and started over with The Flood.
What’s your creative process like? If you don’t have one, do you now feel like you may want to create one now? Let us know what you think!