The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

September 1996

by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 8.24.96 Copyright ©1996 alt.screenwriters

Deborah: It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and answer the question on the minds of traditional linear writers everywhere…

Terry: What is this thing called Interactive?

Deborah: Stop butchering Cole Porter and get with the program! There are definitely some hard and fast rules we should share to help our fellow writers get their proverbial feet in the Interactive door. But how do you tackle this question when it’s asked? What’s your advice?

Terry: That depends. When somebody asks for advice and I don’t like them, I tell them to go ahead and write a 500-page spec interactive script…

Deborah: That must score high on the karma-meter.

Terry: I’m already in hock to my eyeballs on that one. Seriously, you can’t get involved in this stuff without studying the market: play the games, surf the Webpages, go to the trade shows, ask your kid questions, find what YOU like.

Deborah: Follow your heart, but do your homework. The first thing to do is familiarize yourself with the medium. Find a way to look at a variety of titles — both in the genre you think you’re interested in writing, and in others. You can’t write for a medium you don’t know. In fact, you can’t intelligently talk about this medium if you don’t know it.

Terry: You have to find a point of entry, intellectually and emotionally. And if you can’t, that may be a signal to stay out. Nothing dishonorable there.

Deborah: Interactive producers in audition and pitch meetings like to hear a writer talk about what’s on the market. A question you can bank on is, “So, tell me about some of the titles you’ve played — which ones are your favorites, what did you like about them, and what didn’t you like?” I know producers who still claim that 90% of the responses they get all echo the same pitiful theme: “Well, I’ve never actually played any CD-ROMs, but I’ve watched other people play them.” That’s the perfect way to bring your meeting to a screeching halt.

Terry: I’ve never actually seen a sitcom, but I’ve read about Friends… They know you’re slumming. And it isn’t any different than writing for a show or studio: they don’t want to think you just ‘need the job.’ They’d like to think you’re bringing some passion to the project. There are some misconceptions that Interactive producers are desperately craving the participation of the Hollywood talent pool. T’ain’t so.

Deborah: Let’s talk a little bit about genres. Whatever genre you’re interested in pursuing in the “linear” world is available in the “nonlinear” interactive arena. Horror, Non- Fiction How-To’s, Reference Titles, Comedy, Action/Adventure, Westerns, and Mystery are all out there. But beware: only write what you love!

Terry: Because the sheer volume of work will sorely test that love.

Deborah: Maybe we should assign this as homework: find some interactive titles (current and “classic”, i.e., two to three years old), and look at them, study them, play with them!

Terry: That’s it, scare them away with homework! Well, Teach, got any specific titles I can “thumb” through?

Deborah: Any of the Living Books titles! Beyond the Wall and Passage to Vietnam are excellent. Carmen Sandiego is a classic. You Don’t Know Jack is a personal favorite. And, in case you’re curious, I highly recommend Curious George Comes Home! (no shameless self-promotion here, it’s actually a great title!). What impresses me most about any title is its interface.

Terry: I’m partial to the sheer beauty of Myst and Gadget. LucasArts’ Full Throttle is fun: worth looking at for its combination of gameplay and narrative. Psychic Detective (written by Guild member Michael Kaplan; check it out) exploits the uniqueness (and the limitations) of the medium in clever ways. But we’ve just scratched the surface, obviously…

Deborah: After you’ve done your homework, we’ll take you into the realm of what to do next. And remember, this is interactive writing we’re talking about, so hermits beware — you’re going to have to get out there and interact.

Terry: Yikes. Now I’m going to have to fill up the tank and get the car washed…

Written by tborst

August 24, 1996 at 7:21 pm

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