Sunday, February 8, 2015

Review: Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know About Narrative Techniques

With increasingly sophisticated video games being consumed by an enthusiastic and expanding audience, the pressure is on game developers like never before to deliver exciting stories and engaging characters. With Video Game Storytelling, game writer and producer Evan Skolnick provides a comprehensive yet easy-to-follow guide to storytelling basics and how they can be applied at every stage of the development process—by all members of the team. This clear, concise reference pairs relevant examples from top games and other media with a breakdown of the key roles in game development, showing how a team’s shared understanding and application of core storytelling principles can deepen the player experience. Understanding story and why it matters is no longer just for writers or narrative designers. From team leadership to game design and beyond, Skolnick reveals how each member of the development team can do his or her part to help produce gripping, truly memorable narratives that will enhance gameplay and bring today’s savvy gamers back time and time again.
Little known fact about me, only if you haven't read my About Me page, I'm a gamer. It's been awhile so I can't remember which games I've got listed there as being some of my favorites (there always changing based on my mood, same as my favorite books!) but there's usually a trend of fighting games. I've been playing those, and kicking major butt, since I was a kid. But, here's a really little known fact for you, a lot of the time I actually prefer to watch people play rather than to actually play myself. A combination of not having enough time to really immerse myself into the big epic games that can take awhile, hint of laziness, and just a short attention span for actually playing RPGs in general makes it so that I'm often the perfect audience. So basically, I LOVE the narratives of these games but I just don't have the patience for my own play through. So while I do play them on occasion myself (and sometimes even conquer them entirely) I'm usually content to lounge on a friend's couch and watch them or check out play-throughs online.

That was a mouthful...Okay, basically that was just a really in-depth way of saying that I just really like video game narratives. I think the way that they tell stories are fascinating. It's an interactive book that actually plays on the screen in front of you rather than in your head! I don't think it really gets better than that and that's why I was interested in this book. I'm a writer, a gamer, and a reader so OF COURSE I want to know how it's done.

However, I went into the book a little wary of it being too technical for someone like me who was interested in the how but not actually in the field itself but after a quick flip through I saw that my worries were completely ungrounded. Evan Skolnick did an excellent job of writing this book so that it would be beneficial for the actual audience, those people who were actually going to be working with narratives in game to create something amazing, while making it equally interesting for someone on the outside looking in.

The breakdown was good, the writing style something that was engaging and never felt like it was talking down to the reader, and I enjoyed seeing some of my favorite video game titles (such as Bioshock and Red Dead Redemption) included as some of the best examples of narrative in game (as they should be). As a whole I think it really did well at breaking down what each department did for a video game when it came to narrative, some of which was common sense but there were other connections made that I never would have even though of on my own. It was great seeing the framework for how a truly fantastic game could/would come together from start to finish.

While I would have liked more in-depth, varied examples of actual video games as there were toward the end (rather than just mentions and as opposed to the often included movies) I understand why he felt it was easier to stick to basics that were more likely to have been played all the way through so that the audience would have a base understanding of what he was referring to and it is kind of hard to pinpoint games with amazing narratives that everyone would have played so that the playing field would be even. Over all I liked the book, picked up some nifty knowledge about one of my favorite hobbies, and even learned a few tips that I could apply to my own writing.


Check it out on Goodreads here.
Or buy it on Amazon or Book Depository.

*I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.*

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