British Columbia

UBC video game class teaches storylines, dialogue

A new program at the University of British Columbia is taking video game writing to the next level.

Most video game programs focus on writing code; but what about dialogue and storylines?

A piece of concept art from the snowboarding game SSX. Game Writing Academy instructor Sean Smillie was a writer on this 2012 game, and he argues that good writing is important for all video games. (Sean Smillie)

A new program at the University of British Columbia is taking video game writing to the next  level.

Players have come to expect deeper storylines and more developed characters from video games, so good writing is essential says Meghan Aubé, program leader with the Game Writing Academy at UBC.

"In terms of storylines, [video games] have come a long way," said Aubé.

"I like to say that video games have grown up a bit. One of the games that I've been playing for a while now, The Witcher 3, people who are into role-playing games will know, is a game that is really sophisticated. It's an example of strong writing, strong character development."

The UBC Game Writing Academy is training writers to deliver that strong writing and character development. The online program includes courses like Video Game Narrative, Writing Dialogue for Games and The Working Game Writer.

A unique writing environment

The program, which launched this summer, aims to give students the tools they need to make a career for themselves in a unique writing environment.

One thing that makes video game writing different from other writing jobs is that it is intensely team-driven.

Meghan Aubé, program leader for the Game Writing Academy, joined Rick Cluff on The Early Edition to talk about why writers are an important part of game development. (CBC)

A video game writer has to work closely with artists and programmers to turn what can be some pretty radical concepts into something that players will buy into.

And while video game writers could be the ones coming up with grand ideas, they could also be more like a cog in the wheel, tasked with fleshing out someone else's concept and making it feel more real.

"I think the trick is taking that limitless possibility and making something that has a set of rules that are believable and engaging and that the player can feel at home in," says Aubé.

Practical results

As it stands, the Game Writing Academy is a non-credit program, although Aubé says it offers students practical returns such as a portfolio reviewed by an industry professional.

And while it is highly specialized, it also offers students some skills that can translate anywhere.

"The big ones that I think would be transferable into other areas would be working within a team and creating a creative process that also produces results," says Aubé.

"The students who've taken it already, I'm hearing fantastic things about their ideas and what they're producing."