Chapter 14: The Basics of Scriptwriting


In 1995 I decided to learn all about the movie-making business. The film industry is a well-established medium similar to game design and production with its own rules and theories. I have said for some time that if a movie were made like a video game, the audience would walk out after five minutes.

In game design and implementation, we often lack solid and interesting storylines. (That’s why I recommend “borrowing” masterpieces from other disciplines like classic stories, movies, and history in Chapter 6 and on the companion CD.)

The gaming business blames technology for our shortcomings like “slow computer speed,” “not enough memory or RAM,” “terrible storage space available on CD or DVD,” and “lag time or slow Internet transmission rates.” We pay little attention to important visual issues like lighting, camera POVs, actor position and the verbal impact on their delivery, and sound effects. I’ve heard this said and agree that technology is a tool and not the basis for designing a great game. Stories, character development, interesting puzzles, and interaction make great games.

The film business is just that—a business—and many game publishers and developers fail to understand and operate like a profitable business. I have seen and been paid by companies that ran their business haphazardly and without plans, documentation, or any goals except to finish the current game at some point.

The film business has several phases like preproduction, where the script is written, the shooting schedule is prepared and documented, the entire film’s budget is documented, the in-front and behind the camera crews are hired, and the filming locations are scouted out and selected. After six to eighteen months of extensive planning that has been researched, documented, and communicated to all personnel involved, two to eight weeks of expensive filming begins. Then postproduction begins with first dailies (each day’s or previous day’s shooting reviewed) to ensure that the filming is useable. If we’re satisfied with the currently shot footage, we are ready to continue. Otherwise, we must reshoot scenes or make cutting room floor decisions. Postproduction also includes editing (which takes to use, which POV or shooting angle looks best) and voice audio (the shooting dialogue is only a place holder as actors and actresses rerecord all of their lines in a soundproof room for the final merging with the film).

When the film is shot, the film itself contains no audio, which is recorded on another medium like audio or digital tape and later merged together with the film in the editing room. Obviously, video contains both audio and video, but almost always the audio is redone in postproduction. Also in the postproduction phase is ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement, also known as “looping”) and Foley, which is where sound effects and clean, audio dialogue are added to the film.

It is in post that a film may go through several staff and audience viewing tests to see how people react to various versions of the film.

As a film producer, you would be expected to understand the filming process like lights, camera angles, and filming techniques as well as dealing with your crew, actors, writers, and studios. Similarly, as a game producer you should be equally skilled.

This book is about game design and not filmmaking. These skills, although they may be interesting to learn, fall more into the realm of the game producer. The skills that the designer needs to understand are the preproduction skills mentioned earlier, which include script writing, scheduling, budgeting, characters needed, and stage direction (how you envision the screen to depict a scene like “CLOSE-UP on George as he enters the room seeing his wife dead for the first time”).

A brief introduction to these skills is discussed in this chapter, and through your research in the library or a favorite bookstore you can learn additional insights about the film business, preproduction, and postproduction.

Film is a linear (one beginning, one middle, and one ending) type of medium where the audience is passive (only watches the presentation). Later, we look at a suggested nonlinear, game-oriented standard that has worked in my endeavors.

In writing a script for actors to follow, there are certain standards in formatting your masterpiece. Standard items in your script would be a slag line or scene identification, the action in this scene (a description of any action), the character who is speaking, the dialogue or line spoken by this character, any action being performed as the character is speaking (he lights a candle as he walks toward the hallway), the camera and stage directions (information to the cameraperson like CLOSE-UP, CUT TO, FADE-IN), and scene notes that the writer wants to briefly convey. Typical information in a slag line are location (the courthouse steps, in the evil doctor’s laboratory, outside in front of John’s house), the time of day and weather conditions (nighttime, around 10 P.M. as the rain is pouring down), stage instructions (dark room lit by a flickering candle, blindingly shiny room with an open window), cues and special effects (lightning, explosions, ringing telephone), and background music.

Slag lines include “INT.” for interior shot and “EXT.” for exterior shot, along with the time of day.





Column 60 (or pica) is where you put the camera start of scene or end of scene instructions like CUT TO:, DISSOLVE TO:, and FADE IN/ OUT:. When a character is speaking but not shown on the screen, we call this a “voice-over” or (VO). After the character’s name, we place the (VO) indicator as in ROGER (VO), meaning that Roger is speaking off-camera. Stage directions are always in parentheses, like “(crying),” “(laughing),” and “(looking at the book).”

The cover page should begin with the script’s name one-third to halfway down the page and centered followed by (on the next line) the word “by” or “written by” (again centered) and then the author’s name centered. Then, on the bottom right side of the cover page should be the author’s or his representative’s name (on the first line) and address (on the second line), their city, state, and zip code (next line), followed by a line with their phone number and another line with their fax number. On the left side of the cover page at the bottom should be the copyright notice (example “Copyright 2002 Roger E. Pedersen”).

The entire script should be typed on white paper that is 8.5 inches by 11 inches (20 pound weight) with 1-inch margins all around. You begin the first page of your script (using Courier 12 type) with the film’s (or game’s) title placed seven lines down from the top of the page and typed in all capitals, underlined, and centered on the line. Then five lines below the title (on line 12 from the top of the page) type “FADE IN:.” Then two lines down from that (on line 14) write your first scene.

Remember to always check your spelling and punctuation (especially since today’s word processors have spell-checking features). A script should be bound in a plain card stock cover secured by two or three brass brads.

0000000001111111111222222222233333333334444444444555555555566666666667 1234567890123456789012345678901234567890123456789012345678901234567890 --------------------------------TOP OF PAGE---------------------- 1 2 3 4 5 6 7                     GAME DESIGN FOUNDATIONS 8 9 10 11 12                                                    FADE IN: 13 14                            SCENE 1: 

The script has several important items that are used, such as the name of the character, the character’s dialogue, the dialogue directions, and the page number.

The CHARACTER NAME is always in all capitals and starts on the 40th space or pica. The dialogue starts on the 30th space or pica and ends on the 60th space or pica. The dialogue directions begin on the 35th space or pica. The page number begins on the 75th space or pica and is two lines from the top. All SOUND EFFECTS are in all capitals.

000000000111111111122222222223333333333444444444455555555556 123456789012345678901234567890123456789012345678901234567890                                  (Roger walks in the room tired.)                                        ROGER                              What a busy and tiring day!                              Let's see what I received in                              the mail today.

Game Design Foundations
Game Design Foundations (Wordware Game and Graphics Library)
ISBN: 1556229739
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 179

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