Welcome to Friday’s Commandments for Writing for Videogames. I’m trying something different right now. I was supposed to discuss Commandment III – Thy Story hath Three-Dimensions, but let me stall on that for a week for two reasons. One, I won’t number the Commandments anymore until I’ve written a few and asked for your help in numbering them. Secondly, I want to discuss something I’ve seen when it comes to videogames and people who are interested in writing for them. I call this one:

Commandment – Thou Shalt Not Tell Me Thy Idea for a Videogame, for It is Like Telling Unto Me About Thy 15th Level Drow Archer/Assassin/Necromancer/Stripper Thou Playeth

Okay… friends, well-wishers, peers, and people I’m nominally acquainted with have told me about “their idea for a videogame.” So, if you’re one of these people, please take this as 25% tongue-in-cheek and 75% truth. No, not my tongue in your cheek, please close your mouth.

“I have an idea for a videogame,” you tell me all excited. The thing is… so does everyone else who has touched a videogame. Everyone involved in videogames has an idea for a videogame. Everyone. Every. One. Everyone. Every-fucking-one. Everyone. EVERYONE. Everyone. Ever. Everyone ever. Every-fucking-one ever. Everyone. Every and Everyone. EveryONE. Absolutely Everyone. Ever. Everyone. Everyone? Yes, Everyone. Everyone. EVERYone. Everyone Ever and Forever. Ev.Ery.One. Everyone. Ever. EVER!

Even me.

Now, maybe you don’t get what the big deal is. You probably equate it with going to a movie director and saying “I have a movie idea,” but it’s not the same thing. It’s more going to a movie director and saying “I have an idea for a camera angle.”

See, when people tell me they have an idea for a videogame, it usually means “I have a story that I want to write for videogames.” Only it’s just a story and there’s nothing there about what makes it a game. And no, saying “It’s about a fat man with jaundice who chases the ghosts of his own appetite as he navigates a maze of diet pills, and it’ll play just like Pac-Man!” doesn’t cut it either. Neither will space miners shooting rocks apart, a space commander blasting rows of perfectly aligned alien ships, or a plumber stalking his Ex who chose an ape over him.

If you want companies to rally behind your idea, it can’t just be about story. It has to be about a mechanic that excites them, or a bit of unique technology driving that game. The industry doesn’t rally around story the way they rally around genres like, say, “puzzle platformer,” or around mechanics like “reversing time.” And with that, let’s look at the indie hit “Braid.” This 2D platformer uses watercolor backgrounds, beautiful music, and a melancholy story about love and loss to create a very unique and somber mood. But the game is sold on its mechanics, on its ability to spin time faster and slower to solve its brain-twisting puzzles. There were times I had to spend a night away from the game before the puzzle’s solution hit me. “LA Noire,” for its narrative focus, was about the facial capture technology to sell the interrogation of suspects to tell if they were lying or not. The “Fable” series used story and situations to show how your decisions had consequences, and an AI that reacted to those changes.

And that’s the hard, unfortunate truth. Yes, you may have a wonderful idea for a story, and maybe even a game to go with it, but only a privileged few are in a position to make the story they want to tell in games. And sadly, telling me your idea won’t work either, because I have ideas of my own to pitch and despite my position within companies, no ability to get my worlds published into game form. Or at least, not yet.

Next Week: Commandment – Thy Story hath Three-Dimensions (Take II)