Have you ever wondered what it’s like to make a video game? I know I have, so when I made friends with some guys who wrote for the Double Fine Productions Kickstarter game, MASSIVE CHALICE, I had to ask them some questions! Here are some insights from my interview:
Alisha: Alright guys, first question: Who are you, who do you work for, and what do you do?
Nick & Max: We are Nick and Max Folkman! We worked for Double Fine Productions as writers on their game MASSIVE CHALICE.
How did you get into working for Double Fine Productions? What was the audition/interview process like?
We were given a writing test that consisted of a few different things. It asked us what we thought the tone of the game should be and what other media we thought had a similar feel to that tone. Then it gave us a template for a random event (a text-based event that involves at least one of the heroes you’re managing and you making a choice that will affect the gameplay in some way, like a hero dying or your research speed doubling) with some factors already set (two choices, each with two outcomes each, etc.) that we had to then complete. After that we had to make up our own random event completely from scratch, and after that write a short dialogue exchange between the two halves of the Chalice about a situation that just occurred in the game. Finally, we had to name and describe an item based on the effects it would have on a hero. When we were finished with all of that, we sent it off, waited a bit, had an interview where we talked about the test, and were offered the job!
Woo! How did you start writing? What’s the first step in the game writing process?
We were brought in about a year after development started, so they already had some stuff set up like the Chalice itself, how the game began and ended gameplay-wise, what the enemies were, etc. We spent a while doing world-building, which meant deciding the back story for the world, what the Chalice was all about, who/what the Cadence (the enemy of the game) is, who are the people who live in the nation, naming the different regions, what the citizens do in their daily lives, methods of transportation, etc. Once all that was decided, we moved on to writing dialogue for the two Chalice characters, all of the random events, and finished with naming items and weapons along with writing their descriptions.
As for the first thing writers must do in the game writing process, there’s no one answer! It really depends on when the writer is brought on and what is required of him/her. Some writers are brought on in the very beginning and help develop gameplay/level design/etc. with all of the other departments, and others are brought on towards the end when everything has been decided and they have to connect it all together through the script or just write dialogue for the NPCs (Non-player characters) or what have you. The writer’s responsibilities can be very broad or very narrow, it all depends on the job. In general though, the only thing that’s common is that a writer should always be thinking about how their writing can complement the gameplay and not run against it.
Did you have any involvement with any other parts of the game development process? (work with artists, actors, casting, etc.)
The only other parts we were involved with were casting and the recording sessions. When the auditions came in, we gave our input on who we liked best, as did the rest of the team, and Brad Muir (our boss) made his decision based on that. Then, since the recording sessions were near us in LA, we sat in and helped Khris Brown, our amazing casting and voice-over director, understand what was going on in our script when working with the actors.
What was your favorite part of the process? What was the most difficult?
Nick: The world building. It’s stressful because barely anything has been set in stone and there’s a deadline constantly over you, but it’s so much fun when you’re just bouncing ideas back and forth about stuff: like what the ending can be, how to tie in the themes, why is that Chalice so ridiculously huge, and so on. The most difficult thing… Names. Oh my god there were so many meetings about the names for the enemies, regions, and classes that we’d even bring in the whole team at some points so we could all brainstorm at the same time. Item and weapon descriptions would be a close second. The stuff that you assume would be the easiest always turns out to be the opposite.
Max: My favorite part was the puzzle aspect of trying to integrate the writing with gameplay as much as possible. For instance, apart from the opening cut scene, we never really see the citizens of this nation you’re in charge of. How do we build empathy for them and make their presence felt within the actual gameplay, while also minimizing the amount of extra work for everyone else in the process? Our solution was the random events, which ended up being the answer to a lot of these sorts of questions, so for as many events as we could we would use the problems your heroes were involved in to build a relationship with these citizens and regions of your nation.
The most difficult part was writing dialogue for the combat moments that could repeat possibly hundreds of times during an entire game. The Female and Male Chalice are our only fully voiced characters in the game (besides the grunts and cries of the heroes), so when a hero lands a critical strike against an enemy, we have to write a piece of dialogue that ideally: is short enough to be repeatable without boring the player and gets the character’s voice across. This is really hard! The answer we found was, if you can do both then great, but if not then try to nail one of them. Having talented voice actors also helps immeasurably, as they can lend their own special bit of magic that can elevate even the most generic-sounding of dialogue.
How involved are the writers once the game is released?
We’ve been pretty much finished since the game came out on Early Access, but every now and then we help out with touch-ups and small stuff like the descriptions for the Steam cards. If the game does well when it’s fully released though, who knows! 😀
What’s next for the game? What’s next for you?!
The game’s still getting balanced while it’s in Early Access, we actually just put out a big patch last week, and getting ready for a full release on PC/Mac/Linux/Xbox One very soon! As for us, nothing announceable yet, but we’re keeping busy!
How did you get into writing for video games as a whole, not just for MASSIVE CHALICE?
This was actually our first experience writing for video games ever (we had been and still are focused on screenwriting for film and TV). The way we got MASSIVE CHALICE is the way a lot of jobs happen in the entertainment industry, we were at the right place at the right time. Early last year we were visiting Brad in San Francisco when he told us that they were looking at writers for the game and that we should apply. We got the application and that was that.
Do you have any advice for anyone who may want to get involved in any part of game development? For anyone who wants to be a writer?
We can answer both at the same time: Make stuff and go to events. Whether you wanna be a game designer/programmer/writer/etc., you have to just start making stuff. Don’t worry about it being bad because everyone’s first work/draft/version, is bad. The important thing is that it’s just going to get better the more you work on it. If you don’t know where to start, the internet is an amazing resource for tips, tutorials, and finding people to ask for help. And that leads to events. There are tons out there like Indiecade, PAX, and GDC where you can meet tons of amazing people who are starting out, super experienced, and everything in between. Besides the inspirational value, events like those are fantastic for learning more about the advances in the industry and for building connections that could lead to future work.
Just remember the golden rule: don’t be a dick.
Nick and Max write words for film, TV, and video games, and since they live in Los Angeles, they also direct stuff on occasion as well. They believe Speed Racer is one of the greatest films ever made and are eagerly awaiting the next game in the Gex franchise. Follow the brothers on twitter! @twinmadefilms & @maxfolkmax.
Have any questions for Nick & Max? Interested in another aspect of video game making? Comment below and we’ll make sure the brothers see your questions and we continue to bring you material you love!