The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

August 1997

by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 20 July 97 Copyright ©1997 alt.screenwriters

Last month, we surveyed Web entertainment genres. This month, we’ll look at CD-ROM/DVD and console (Nintendo 64, Playstation) genres, with an eye to possible writing opportunities.

Genre identification is much more difficult in New Media. With rare exceptions, the boundary lines for TV and film genres are pretty stationery. Once in awhile there comes a Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (dramedy?) or an Angel Heart (film noir or horror?). But most movies or episodics are easy to stock on the video rental shelf: Drama, Comedy, Science Fiction, etc.

Interactive entertainment often overlaps categories. At the same time, the range of genres is narrower than in film and TV, as we’ll see. Here then, a genre primer, with titles you should investigate if you are exploring work in this market:

Remember when you went to the fair and stopped at the shooting gallery to knock down wooden ducks? Well, this is the high-tech version, highly influenced by the Terminator and Rambo movies. If you have a son over the age of 7, chances are he’s playing one or more of these games. So far, these games have been the equivalent of Hollywood’s big summer movies: eye-popping graphics and hardly any story. The raison d’etre for these games can be drawn from William Holden’s famous line in the opening scene of “The Wild Bunch”: “If they move, kill ’em.” Because these games continue to sell so well, developers are unconvinced they need any narrative or character development … again, kinda like Hollywood’s summer blockbusters.

Titles you should know
Duke Nukem
One can argue that ALL interactive entertainment is about role-playing, since the player is a direct participant in the experience, not a passive observer. But true role-playing means you have donned a particular persona, and must make real decisions (something more than which-direction-do-I-shoot-in) based on the persona. Often (though not always) your character is represented onscreen, creating a kind of 1st-person/3rd-person duality. These games usually provide more opportunities for narrative and character arc: their worlds can be quite rich and textured.

Titles you should know
Tomb Raider
Rebel Assault
Kings Quest
Wing Commander
The mystery was always a natural for the interactive medium. Exploration, finding and interpreting clues, making decisions about whether to poke around in the haunted house or the abandoned shed: these are some of the activities that work best at a console. These games are usually slower-paced and more cerebral, requiring more traditional storytelling tools. Myst is the biggest selling interactive title to date, precisely because it appeals to both men and women of nearly all ages. A message here?

Titles you should know
7th Guest
There used to be board games that allowed you to gather up armies and navies and deploy them against an opposing player. Now they’re electronic. If you like the minutiae of assembling things and tweaking their performance, this may be for you. A writer/designer’s role here will principally be to create the world (or universe) of the conflict. The narrative is really created by the players as they attempt to outstrategize each other.

Titles you should know
Command and Conquer
Ever wanted to drive a racecar or fly a plane? Pure simulation games will get you as close as you can get. This genre probably least requires a writer’s services, since the experience is all first-person and story means you take off, fly, and land…or win the Indy 500…

Sports titles may be about simulation or strategy. Ever wanted to coach a Super Bowl team? The opportunities for writers are a little stronger here, as interstitial dialogue and sports announcer patter is often needed.

Titles you should know
Flight Simulator

Where’s the comedy? The romance? Probably the best CD-ROM comedy comes out of a game called You Don’t Know Jack, which is Jeopardy with attitude (the game is also available for play on the Web). Is interactivity an enemy of comedy, except when it’s in a game show format? A topic for another column. Interestingly, while romantic soap operas are available on the Web, the genre is all but non-existent on CD-ROM. The Web audience may skew somewhat more female than CD-ROM’s, but there are probably other reasons for the dearth of romance in the CD-ROM arena: a future topic again.

But what about New Media for kids? Many of the categories listed above fit children’s education and entertainment titles as well — but the children’s market is an entity to itself, and is arguably the market with the most opportunity for professional screenwriters, as we shall see next month…

Written by tborst

July 20, 1997 at 6:08 am

%d bloggers like this: