I always wondered how someone would get into the video game writing business. Today’s guest is screenwriter/game development guru Robert Denton Bryant and he answers that question and so much more.
Robert Denton Bryant has worked in Hollywood in marketing and production, and in video games as a publisher and a developer. He has been Executive Producer on dozens of games on platforms ranging from CD-ROMs to the iPad, including the bestselling World Championship Poker and Pinball Hall of Fame console franchises.
Writing for the multibillion-dollar video-game industry is unlike writing for any other medium. Slay the Dragon will help you understand the challenges and offer creative solutions to writing for a medium where the audience not only demands a great story but to be a driving force within it. Aimed at traditional writers who want to learn interactive narrative as well as game creators who want to tell better, more emotionally involving stories, the book is written by two creative veterans of both Hollywood and “Nerdyhood.” Through lively discussions and self-paced-exercises, Bryant and Giglio step you such topics as the:
- “No-act” structure of video games
- Writing great game characters
- Making gameplay emotionally meaningful
- Bringing your game world alive
I can’t tell you what an amazing episode this is. Robert takes me down the rabbit hole of writing for video games, the business, how to break in as a writer, and a ton more. Who says you can’t write for both video games and the big screen.
Enjoy my conversation with Robert Denton Bryant.
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Alex Ferrari 5:37
I'd like to welcome the show Robert Denton Bryant, how are you doing my friend?
Robert Denton Bryant 5:46
Hey, how are you?
Alex Ferrari 5:47
I'm doing Oh, man, I'm excited to have you because we're going to talk about something I've have no idea about. And it's like I generally have some reference point to a guest that I speak to but I am a complete an absolute newbie when it comes to writing for video games. And I wanted to have you on the show because you worked in you've worked in Hollywood before and and your co author Keith has as well. So it's, it's not you're coming at it from a perspective of my listeners, which are screenwriters, who got roped into writing for video games so before we get going, how did you get into the business in the first place? And then from there, how did you get OSI not sidetracked but how did you jump into the writing of video games?
Robert Denton Bryant 6:37
Okay, so So the business you mean film
Alex Ferrari 6:41
The only interactive entertainment they only business which is
Robert Denton Bryant 6:45
the obvious industry, um, it's top of mind to because I'm, I'm playing around in doing a deep dive in HBO Max's giant catalog of really great old films. It's like going to film school, you know, for $15 a month. It's a great I was so delighted is how deep that catalog was. And somebody came up and I just watched it randomly two nights ago was the player
Alex Ferrari 7:13
course course. Yeah, yes. Film.
Robert Denton Bryant 7:15
Yeah. And so it was it was a it was a throwback, because that's when I got into the business. Because I'm on a lark, I was trained as a journalist when I was working as a business reporter in New Mexico, where I'm from, and on a lark, because I read a Time magazine article where the cash in EPS, the Top Gun, guys, right, one of them was sitting in his den. In this lounge chair and his feet were up on this stack of screenplays, find out where the titles have been written on with Sharpie. And the The article said, you know, Top Gun is the first script they've sold, it's been made. And so the gist of the article for me is that even if the movie doesn't get made, the writer gets paid. And so I figured, well, that's a good job. So on a lark, I applied to USC film school. And I got in, and that's like, getting into Harvard Law. So dropped everything you just go. And so that was lucky enough. And then like, and it was scary for me, because I'd never been to Los Angeles. I didn't have any family. I, you know, just kind of said, well, I'll just live on campus and go from there. So I got my dorm. And I got my tuition squared away in my classes. And I'm like, Okay, go find a job. And I went to the job board, which back then was, you know, three by five cards on bulletin boards. And I was just looking for a bartender here awaiting job, but they had this miscellaneous section. I'm like, Well, like I have some office skills because I used to be a reporter what are they got over here? It says, wanted a college marketing, a college promotions person for Film Studio, and I'm looking around, I'm like, it can't be this easy. And so I applied. And I got hired, you know, day four in Hollywood, at a film studio, right? Sounds
Alex Ferrari 9:24
happens happens all the time.
Robert Denton Bryant 9:27
Except here's the asterisk. The film studio was canon.
Alex Ferrari 9:31
Oh, it's so awesome. Oh, that's actually now you just got a couple more credit points with me just because
Robert Denton Bryant 9:37
yeah, so I was the Canon right at the end right before for about two years, right before they finally they'd been they were circling the ball, and then Peretti flush them. But
Alex Ferrari 9:49
you're an analogy by the way. Great.
Robert Denton Bryant 9:54
And then, uh, so i i Actually the first movie I worked on was Something with Albert Pune called down twisted. But the second movie I ever worked on was Masters of the Universe. The Motion Picture
Alex Ferrari 10:07
Robert Denton Bryant 10:08
piece of cinema, sir. Yeah, right. Right. And, and so I was in marketing for two years at Canon Wila. And that was a full time job, by the way, while I was going to graduate school, remember graduate school. And so it was, it was exhausting, and brutal, but it was a great place to be because in film school, I learned the mechanics of the making of the films, right. And at the studio was learning, the selling of the film's right and all of that sausage that, you know, most filmmakers, you know, most filmmakers, like a lot of game makers, they operate under this law of dreams fallacy that if I make it because I made it, and my mother says I'm cool. P Oh, buy this thing that I'm making. And that's not the case. Right? And so, that gave me even though I was selling stuff, like missing an action three and Deathwish for the crackdown, it gave me a respect for the need for marketing. But how lack of marketing is is a brutal, no.
Alex Ferrari 11:19
But your investment, but I do have to ask you, though, did did you work on Superman for quest for peace?
Robert Denton Bryant 11:25
No, no. That was that was one of the I didn't work on that or Cobra, had they had this side deal with Warner's? Yes. Those weren't distributed by us. Those went out through Warner Brothers. And, you know, made lost even more money because of the additional print advertising costs. Right.
Alex Ferrari 11:46
So okay, so you so you have this amazing, you had this meteoric rise in the industry. That you so I'm assuming you got work and you started working in Hollywood as a screenwriter.
Robert Denton Bryant 11:58
No, no, no, no, no, um, I wanted to finish graduate school. And I was hustling, you know, because Cana was killing me on many levels. And so I just quit focus on graduate school. And so I worked in a restaurant in Beverly Hills. But I got pa work from, you know, producers who were in there. And so I started working, you know, did a one ad I started working on sets when I was a PA on like, music videos and commercials, and was a story editor. And I worked with, like TV movie companies, coverage. And I worked with the producers, when they bought the life writes, I'd helped shape it into x or 5x, or whatever the structure was for what we used to call them a movie of the week. But my love the reason I went to film school is I always wanted to write and, you know, my story is familiar to a lot of screenwriters. I came there I was just like, session F I came this close, is so close, except my footstool of unproduced screenplays are both on produce and on sold right there now, which makes them even more special. But you know, I made the rounds and I did a meetings and I got really close. And I got attachments. You know, Kevin, like, is my favorite stand up comedian of all time, fantastic. Because after one read, he attached himself as the villain, kind of a comic villain to one of my scripts, and I'm like, yay. And I was able to sort of parlay that into yet another failed deal. But thank you, Kevin, if you're watching, I'm and you know, you just have to hustle. And you have to have an Iron Skin. And you have to focus on the work and actually do the work and put your tushie in the seat. I was looking at the website, you've had some major guests on here. One of the people you've had on when honored to be in this group is can actually right here, they can actually, you know, I read his book, years ago, writers time, and it's one of the few books on writing that I'm like, this helps me because he talks about process and he talks about put your tushie in the seat, right. And so, you know, I'm writing I'm trying to get stuff I'm doing day jobs, but here's the problem. You have to love your day job. Right? And I wasn't and so at that point, I was doing marketing for like a real estate consulting firm in like downtown LA. And so I did that thing that you're not supposed to do. Don't do this kids. I quit my job without another job in front of me. because I had the love of a good woman, she was like, you gotta, you're miserable. You got to do something. And all I knew is I wanted to work in computers, right? This is the late 90s. Right? There was this cool new job that I thought was really sexy webmaster right. I thought I was a webmaster. That sounds awesome. Right film like
Alex Ferrari 15:23
you got to where it's like a dungeon master. It's like a dungeon master but different.
Robert Denton Bryant 15:27
I want to be a master. And so I just found a temp firm, across from my gym, and I walked in there and they looked at my resume, say, oh, you know, PowerPoint? Um, that's kind of multimedia. Right? And I'm like, Yeah, well, you can do embed sound clips and stuff like media.
Alex Ferrari 15:47
That's a that's a term. That's a term I haven't heard in quite some time. We working in it. And they're working with macro macro mind working with macro mind director.
Robert Denton Bryant 16:00
In a second, yeah. Because they said, well, PowerPoint. It's kind of multimedia, we'll send you to Mattel where you can test CD ROMs. And I'm like, people get paid for that. That's almost as cool as webmaster. Is there a cloak too. And so I started at Mattel, the toy company, in their little CD ROM division, where most of their stuff was developed in Macromedia Director. Testing, in quality assurance, I was a tester making certain everything worked, right. And if something didn't work, right, I'd write a little bug report. And we get sent to the developer to be fixed to get help. And that parlayed into my old second career, where I rose up through the ranks of QA testing, moved over to product development, where I was a producer or I was a project manager. And after three years of Mattel, I moved over to crave entertainment that was doing a first PC and then a lot of console stuff. And so I think after a year four or five, from that very first job at Mattel, I became studio director at crave where I was sort of the guy Greenlining all of the projects and listening to pitches from developers and giving interviews like this one from the booth II three and stuff like that. My Your mileage may vary. Kids may be a very different path. But I just again, I got incredibly lucky. And so yeah, so I worked in teams having had this Hollywood background, right. So part two of the story is I hired Keith, my co writer on slay the dragon Keith Guilio. Because he and his wife were they're both sag writers. And the there was a strike. Was it in? Was it at 97 or 98? Yes, yeah. 2007 2008. Yeah, yeah. So they were on strike. And I needed a writer because I just been hired by yet another toy company, to head up an in house interactive studio that was building a really big open world game. And I thought, wow, this is really cool. And I'm the, I'm the exec producer, I can hire whoever I want. So I hired Keith, because I knew he had daughters. And I knew that he had played video games. But more importantly, he and I had collaborated. I compare us to David Bowie, and Iggy Pop, right? Always would collaborate, always be the first one to show new stuff, too, and everything like that. And a lot of you know, Keith and I came out of different film schools. He went to NYU, I went to this, but at the same time, and so we both went through very similar screenwriting eras where it was all about structure. Right. And, you know, Keith taught me about 15 Page sequences. And when you get eight of those put together, or whatever it is, then you have a screenplay. And so I hired him to help me write this really big world game. And that became an exercise in frustration for both of us, mostly him, because he'd sit in his office and come up with a cool idea. He brought it into my office to say, hey, can we do this? And I'd say no, because it's a game. You can't lock the player down and just push story at them. The player wants to have a hand in the frame. The player wants to have some emergency of your own experience, right. And so he grumble he get it but he grumbly going on. After his office about 20 years later, he thrown back into my office say, Hey, can we do this? And I say, No, we can't. It's a game. And so that, for sure, I mean, we've known each other for decades. We're like brothers. He's like the brother and ever had, um, we were grinding each other, but in a collegial way. And then finally, he walks into my office one time and I cut him off. I'm like, it's a game. Katie says, No, listen, I've been teaching at UCLA Extension. He's been teaching screenwriting for a time. What if we took this frustration we have and turn it into a class? Right? What if we discussed this, this friction between what the player wants and what the storyteller wants to do? Right. And so he pitched that to UCLA Extension. And so we taught our very first class.
It's been over 10 years ago. And it was a one day kind of traffic school class pitch to to your point when you began to segment, screenwriters who don't know anything about games, who think that they can go into games like, you know, there's there's gold right? Or any in games, but it's very humbling. If you're an established screenwriter, or a non established screenwriter, you're still used to the paradigm of the beginning, the creative seed comes from my skull, I'm going to tell my story, and if not how the weight games work, right. And so it's very humbling.
Alex Ferrari 21:35
So what is the so so because again, such a complete newbie in green in this entire world of game producer? What is the hierarchy of game producing? Meaning like in films, there's the executive producer, producer, director, writer up? What is it for game producer, and just the general big heads?
Robert Denton Bryant 21:56
It just, you know, it depends on the type of game, but exec producer, which is the title I've held the most frequently, is essentially the money guy. Okay? An exec producer is the deal guy. Um, and he's the one who shepherds the contract through the process and has to, you know, make the relationship with the developer. game publishers are games are like movie studios, they finance and market and distribute, right? So when you hear me talk about publisher, think movie studio, and the exec producer, it tends to be the studio guy who's managing the developer. And when I say developer, that means a company that actually makes the games they're the ones that hire the programmers, and the artists and the voiceover talent and everybody in that relationship, and that contractual relationship is stressful. It's stressful, because every time you make a game, you're making that game for the first time. Right? Hollywood has a almost 100 year Headstart, on getting technology sort of perfected, which mitigates surprises on the technical end, right. And you know, what, what causes production delays in Hollywood is stuff like, you know, Star egos, or weather going bad, or you have some very rare catastrophic accident on the set. But for the most part, you know, 10 shoot days or 90 shoot days is 90 shoot days, right? With games, especially, it's getting better now with game engines. But for so long, you will commit to Yeah, we're gonna have this feature in this feature in this feature. And then you actually start to do the r&d, to try to code the thing and move it into the flesh and deliver on what you promised. And the risks both technological and creative, are massive, right? games take a much longer time to make. And so that relationship between a developer and a producer is very stressful. And our executors are very stressful. So over here, on the, on the developer side, you know, a production company, those can be structured in any one of a number of ways. But what there isn't, generally, is a director or there's one creative person who sits at the top of the pyramid and calls all the shots. Okay? There's one or two creators that have sort of possessory above the title credit like Sid Meier or Hideo Kojima, who does the Metal Gear Solid games, but they are the exceptions rather than the rule. because games are made by committee, you've heard, you know, it's the oldest cliche in Hollywood, that film is a collaborative medium. And that's true. But that's nothing compared to games games are super collaborative, if, because they're so vast, and because they're so specialized, that all the teams have to be in constant, good communication with each other, to deliver their stuff. Inter connectedly. Um, and so, games are sort of managed by a producer, a project manager, or a team of producers. And some of them may be more or less creative in terms of working with the art director, or the head of narratives, right, a game writer and a writer in games that sometimes called a Narrative Designer, right. And the gameplay designer and
Alex Ferrari 26:04
the there's, there's, there's heads of departments, there's
Robert Denton Bryant 26:07
heads of departments, and you, as the producer, have to make certain that everybody is on the same page. And so it's a very, very, very collaborative, very diplomatic, you have to listen as much as talk. And you have to be patient. And, you know, there's a reason that we have a very deserved reputation for crunch time in the industry, because the best laid plans, you know, you'd have the best plan and the best documentation, the best people. And still things go wrong on a day to day basis in the schedule slips. And it was worse, 20 years ago, it's gotten a lot better in the last 10 years. But still, there's this expectation that if we start to slip too much, we just have to cancel kids birthdays, and started working at
Alex Ferrari 27:05
it. Similarly, similarly to VFX. In the VFX world, you there's, there's this 24 hour day, just turn around sometimes just to meet the deadlines. That's what happened to cats. They literally shipped it without visual effects, shots missing.
Robert Denton Bryant 27:22
And it's brutal. And it's it's but it's that same technology, it's it's that same tech culture, sure, you just have to go Electronic Arts used to have this fray, saying we have to go Egyptian on this meaning we just seem to have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of building the pyramids. And there's a fallacy there. Because in project management, it's like you're you're constantly worrying about person hours, you know, how long is it going to take this one person to do this task, right? And it takes a woman nine months to make a baby, right? Produce a baby. But, uh, too often we think that Well, if we hire a, if we hire eight more ladies, we can have that baby in one month.
Alex Ferrari 28:16
Right? Doesn't work. So yeah, go ahead. So what are the so I mean, obviously, we've studied, you know, screenplay structure, and there's multiple different acts and structures in the hero's journey and, and, and all sorts of different theories in regards to how to structure a movie. But generally, it's a 90 page script. There's, there's certain points that hit and Syd field basically laid it out years ago. What are the different structures for video games? And I know that depends on the kind of video game you're playing as well. Correct.
Robert Denton Bryant 28:53
Right? Right. Um, and, you know, even when we talk the there's so many words that we use in common in film and games, but have different meanings, right? Like genres in film tend to reflect the mood in the audience right in comedy, or horror, whatever. And even though we have a genre in games called survival horror, the genres tend to be grouped around actions the player takes right shooter person reads, Game of sports in where you're modeling the behavior an athlete on the field feel like in FIFA, or Madden and, or a puzzle game where you're moving stuff around and trying to line stuff up and or solve a puzzle. So, the genres are based around mechanics rather than moods. And those mechanics kind of define or or combinations of mechanics kind of define what sort of game it is and What sort of structure the story should have? If it has a story, right, I'll be the first person to tell you that not every game needs a deep involving story. But all games are improved by having some type of story no matter how light to give the gameplay, some type of contract.
Alex Ferrari 30:27
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. So let's select super like Super Mario Brothers has a very thin storyline is fairly thin, right Ramsdell the damsel from the bay from Bowser. But then you look at link or Zelda, much more, much more complex, and then it's become its own world after the whole Zelda series. But then so it all like I remember this is I'm dating myself, but like Castlevania, the original Castlevania. like Contra. Contra was pretty, pretty straightforward story. It's not really high that high. But then they would I started seeing that even in those early Nintendo games, that there was they were starting to add more story. Remember ninja Gayden. And those kind of stories, they started adding more story elements as even Super Mario Brothers. They started to add more and more stories, nothing compared to these what we have today. But you can start seeing that were there? I mean, obviously, there must have been writers, right. I mean,
Robert Denton Bryant 31:39
in the early days, the writer was was the designer was the artist was the program. You got it. In the, in the arcades the first console generation, you had crews of one or two people making a game, right? I'm dear friends with so many original Intellivision developers, until a console system in the 80s. And you would have one or two people. And they would be the artist, the designer, the programmer, the sound designer. And as the 80s advanced in the games began to get more complex, um, you and you would see writers especially over on the PC side of things with PC games, where you have very text heavy, like Xbox, right? Works, or the Text Parsing games, or the Dungeons and Dragons style computer RPGs those handful own stories, because there were pages and pages of texts, and they were dialogue scenes and everything like that. And you can see that same deep structure on a game, like a Fallout or a witcher three, or what I'm playing right now is outer worlds right now from its opinion. And you know, the, the, the visuals are amazing. But the deep structure of I'm going to go do this stuff. And I'm going to talk to these people, I'm going to choose from dialogue trees. And that's how I'm going to experience the story through interacting with characters and through the world building, rather than me sitting down and being told a lot of stuff in a little cinematic. Right.
Alex Ferrari 33:27
So what So what So what
Robert Denton Bryant 33:28
are the experience story? How
Alex Ferrari 33:30
so? So what are the different story structures? Let's say let's pick this pick a genre, if you will,
Robert Denton Bryant 33:35
it just Okay, so play games on right. So like a puzzle game. It's all world building. Right? If you think of Candy Crush Saga, on your phone, um, the story, the structure is just an endless series of levels, right? But there's still a world there. Right? There's still a context of, you know, essentially this candy world anthropomorphic candy world that you have to release all the candy and get the stars and move to the next level thing like that. I'm playing a game on mobile right now called homescapes, which is a little family drama about a butler helping to fix up his parents dilapidated mansion, but that story is completely tangential to the core gameplay, which is essentially Candy Crush Saga, you know, align all this stuff and clear the
Alex Ferrari 34:31
state but they added the next but they added a heavier storyline to it than they should that they had to
Robert Denton Bryant 34:38
then they needed to and yet part of the reason is successful is you get really engaged with these characters, right? And he's such a, you know, he's a middle aged man. Balding and yet he gets very upset when his parents start fighting with each other, you know, and works on many levels. So it's a puzzle game but but um You know, the other problem, the reason it breaks down when you talk about structure is that a screenplay is 90, you know, a movie is 90 minutes, two hours, right? It's finite in duration, and again can be infinite. And I'm not even talking about replaying the game now that you finished it, but on a higher difficulty. I mean, we live in the era of Fallout and Grand Theft Auto and Witcher and Red Dead Redemption, these giant open world games that um, there's different levels of content you can engage in, there's the main story, but there's also sighs that was sub shot sub stories or Yes, sub stories, little side D lines. And then there's the story of, there's all those the story of you just running around in the world getting into trouble, right? One of my favorite games from 10 years ago was Grand Theft Auto. Four, right, which was set in fate, New York, and you play this really tough Eastern European guy who ping pongs back and forth be called between all these factions of the New York City criminal underworld. It was a great story really involving with a great anti hero that you play as named Niko Bellic. And I was enjoying the story, I was enjoying the game. And then I went online, and I saw that if you steal a car and run at a 45 degree angle into a swing set, that car that swing set will act like a trebuchet and shoot you hundreds of feet into the air. Okay. At that point, to heck with Niko Bellic, I want to play Bob, flying through the air on my swing set trebuchet right there. I did that for like four hours. I was like a kid, when I was literally a kid with a new toy plane. How far can I go? I wonder if I can go across the Hudson River into the Bronx on my dream in my car in a trip launched like that, right? And you can still find videos on YouTube of this ridiculous bug in the game that they found, they reported. And the producers decided, You know what, that's pretty fun. It doesn't crash the game, the player can have fun with this. Let's leave it in. Let's not fix the bottom right? So you do that. And that's you playing as a sort of a pure video game player, you're you're in your own story. And the story is you the gamer doing this cool thing, right? And so there's always this tension between and we describe it in the book is Aristotle versus Mario, right? Aristotle is the story that the storyteller wants to tell. And Mario is whatever the player wants to do, right? And sometimes those are complete opposition to each other.
Alex Ferrari 38:15
So is it more because I'm just trying to wrap my head around it from a story perspective. So if you're, if you're going to sit down and write, you know, a new, a Witcher, let's say, let's say you're going to, you're going to write a witcher you're very much into world building first and foremost. So there's, there's, there's sort of sub store subplots and stories about this little town here. That little moat there, what that dragon is over there that he's got to say there's a backstory on that. So there's just a lot of writing regarding the world that tons that so there's that writing process, then you're the main character, then the main villain or multiple levels of villains, villains, and then there and then you've got all of Joseph Campbell in there, you've got the trickster, you've got the mentor, you've got so you so it's like storytelling on a massive open skill, where the the screenplay is a very defined highway. It's literally the road is gone. And anything your eye can see is now needs to be kind of filled as a game writer. Is that a fair assessment?
Robert Denton Bryant 39:30
It's fair. And you know, you're absolutely right. And another way of thinking about it is it's not very useful for very long to compare a big budget video game to extrafill. Yeah, it is fair, and much more useful to compare a big bunch of video game to either a theme park or a television series, like a big epic multi season television series because it's become
Alex Ferrari 39:57
massive. It's so massive scale. Storytelling, like really like Games of Thrones for Game of Thrones?
Robert Denton Bryant 40:02
Yeah, we're allowed to still talk about games. Yeah, but that's a great example. I mean, what what the reason that works is a book in a film and a TV series until it didn't, is that there's something for everybody, Hey, you're tired of this character in this plot line. Be patient, because we're going to do a complete gear change geographically, but also in mood and tone, to where like to, like the best of dramatic television. It's serves that short attention span, you're little into the story, but not too much. And then there's a scene shift, and now we're picking up on it. It's like eating at the buffet. Right? You get a little of this and a little of that a little event like ooh, scampi. Instead of in a feature film, you're locked in to one story, maybe two, or maybe a couple of subplots. But you have the patience, because it's only two hours. Right? Right. Um, so So with games, we're, we're the, you can compare the three act structure to kind of the meta structure of how you as a player approach, a game you've never played before. The first act is the tutorial, where you learn how to play the game. And part of learning how to play the game is the exposition of the game, your role, and who are you playing as? And what can you do? And what can you not do? How will I succeed in the game, and then you go off into an infinitely long second act, if you will write and that's you playing the game. And then there has to be some sort of ending. There has to be in most genres, especially in most narrative genres, story genres, there needs to be some type of conclusion to the story. In an abstract game, like Candy Crush Saga, no, there doesn't need to be you know, I mean, it's part of the business model, this will go on forever. Ray, is we want you to keep buying fives. But in, even like the last Zelda Breath of the Wild, which was an amazing game, it's the first delta I played in years and years and years. And I did not want it to end but it finally got to the point where finally I get to throw down with Gannon. And it was an epic fight and and lasted a long time. But I finally got to return, you know, peace to high rule. So there was a resolution. And I felt like, all this time I'd spent in the game wasn't wasted. I mean, of course, it wasn't wasted. I was amused, I was enjoying myself, I was diverted. But I feel like I accomplished something in the digital world that I spent so much time with, as opposed to like actually accomplishing something like folding my laundry in the real world, which is mundane. Right?
Alex Ferrari 43:12
So so like World of Warcraft, which is these these kind of online worlds, that are essentially endless, like they're distinct. They never there is no conclusion. There's just, it's constantly just about building. It's about selling stuff and making money.
Robert Denton Bryant 43:29
Well, well, it's about it's about you and your relationship to your character characters. And the people that put Warcraft together, do come up with storylines, but, um, and there is there is always talk about the end game. Um, but like history, it never ends. Right. And so Warcraft is sort of you can compare nor Warcraft to a, a cable network. And then whatever. This year's expansion pack because, you know, they're constantly seasons. Yes, seasons. Yeah, big long seasons that take two years to develop. Right? And I mean, Warcraft, I know. I'm too familiar with Warcraft, because my ex wife and I played Warcraft, solid from like, 2004 when it came out through our divorce in 2009. Right, I see the problem. I see. I do not have children. I have a level 110 Bar lock, but I don't have any children.
Alex Ferrari 44:41
Is it is it very similar to that episode of South Park when they were playing work? No, no, we
Robert Denton Bryant 44:48
want we would take polygroups Well, at least Yeah, I mean, it's it's it's, um, but it is, like, like many many good and lucrative video games. It's addictive. I'll go ahead and tell you it's addictive.
Alex Ferrari 45:03
What so what is it like? So, you know, I play video games. I haven't played them in a long time because I have other things that because I know when I played video games, I played video games. So my first I mean, I hadn't shout out to BurgerTime on Intellivision. So I my Intellivision was the first game system. And then I bought myself a Nintendo system when I was in high school. And I worked in a video store, which rented video games. So I just had this non stop. I mean, I still remember if I may, if I if I may tell a short story. I remember when I got Mike Tyson's Punch Out. Which was amazing. I beat Mike Tyson's Punch Out in five days, which was a feat that was straight out 12 hour days. On day six, my eyes went blurry. And I thought I thought I woke up in the morning, and I was blurred. I called my mom. I'm like, Oh my God, I've gone blind. And she's like, No, no, you've got eyestrain, just calm down. So I don't play as much as I used to. But I'm fascinated with these stories of hearing how like people literally died in like Korea.
Robert Denton Bryant 46:16
The guy who died playing while was in China, and he just he didn't take a potty break, or a food break or a water break. And he just expired playing the game. And that was terrible. You know, no one wants this to happen. It's not like the people at Blizzard were like, Ooh, you know,
Alex Ferrari 46:33
we killed one like, No, it's not No,
Robert Denton Bryant 46:35
no, no one no matter of fact, I mean, from early days, Warcraft was, you know, on the loading screens, you occasionally have to stare at a loading screen. And they would put tips and tricks on the loading screen. And one of the more frequent one was remember to go out into the real world and explore outside the world of warcraft, you know, like, hey, take a break sometimes, guys,
Alex Ferrari 47:02
so So what is so with, with a screenplay with a with a movie? It's a screenplay. So you're handed a 90 to 120 page book or screenplay? What is the thing? And what is the what? What's the format? What's the like? What's the thing you had to? Is it? Is it like, like scripts? Like a TV series? We have new episodes every week, like how does it work?
Robert Denton Bryant 47:25
Okay, so there's no standard format, um, that we're getting there. And there. So
Alex Ferrari 47:32
Robert Denton Bryant 47:34
Yeah, but there's no standard format. Because Because, um, it's not driven by a because the deal isn't brokered over script. Right, the deal is brokered over a demo. Okay, if you're lucky, and sometimes over a design documents, you know, at crave, I would sometimes do contracts based on the track record of that developer, and a design document, which is essentially a memo. Like agreement, but but about the overall player experience, and a component of that, but just a component is the story. Right? So um, you know, the word games come from is from developers coming up with cool things for the player to do. And then the writer comes along, you hope, very early days to come up with a great context, so that those players can do that, right. A good example is Electronic Arts released Apex legends about a year ago. And essentially, it's a fortnight clone. Hope I'm not offending anyone, it's a successful fortnight clone. But it's a fortnight clients run around and kill to kill the other 49 people on the map and good for you. There are feature differences. There's a story difference, the tone is very different format fortnight fortnight is a very whimsical, Battle Royale murder sim. And Apex Legends is a little more important, a little more gritty, little more adult little more post apocalyptic. And there are feature differences in terms of the way you do things the way you can more easily say make teams in APEX legends. All of that none of that relates to start Oh, no, sorry. Um, so it's not like you pitch just the core gameplay. Pitch gameplay plus narrative context, plus new features and new technology, you know, has to be this whole app plus developer track record is alive. easier for you to get a contract your studio you get a contract. If you've put out something rather than if you're for kids with a server in the garage saying, Hey, give us a million dollars we can make this game.
Alex Ferrari 50:14
So unlike the screenplay, like the movie can't be made while arguably can't make a movie without a screenplay, if you really truly want to you could do it out of the scripts. You and you and you could do a script mentor there's they're successful stories, movies made with that. But generally speaking movies without a screenplay doesn't get made. Right. But video games could get the ball rolling very comfortably without a specific guy blueprint right away as far as stories concerned.
Robert Denton Bryant 50:41
For as far as stories concerned. Yeah, um, or even even as far as gameplay is concerned, because so much of it is you're you're trying something you're testing it? Is it fun is not fun. Okay, let's make some tweaks. Let's test it again. Is it more fun? Is it less fun? And then you're filling it in around, you know, the, you've heard that cliche about building the airplane while it's in flight. It's very much like game development, right? Um, because and Keith is very passionate about this. Keith makes the argument in the book that the sooner you have a writer in the room, the better. Because historically, what's been kind of creatively a problem with a lot of games is the head of programming. Who loves him some Star Wars, thinks that that makes him an expert on the hero's journey, and science fiction and character and, and dialogue
Alex Ferrari 51:49
and plot instruction now. Yeah.
Robert Denton Bryant 51:52
And so the sooner you can have an actual writer in there whose sole focus is to kind of see what the gameplay is developing into, and saying, Oh, well, you're doing this sort of player has an opportunity for this, we could tease a really cool quest line out of that particular aspect of it, right? And, or that you're having the character, you're having the player character have this sort of group of actions, that tells me a little bit about what their personality is like, right? You want somebody in the room or a couple people in the room that can take everything that's being done on the gameplay side, and kind of use that as hooks to start building the story out and start developing, you know, the things that are going to be the, you know, what we now refer to as the narrative design of the game. Now,
Alex Ferrari 52:55
how is dialogue treated in gameplay versus, because I'm assuming there's no Quentin Tarantino's in the game world, where their dialogue is so snappy, that they're like, oh my god, I have to play that game just to hear the dialogue. Okay, well,
Robert Denton Bryant 53:11
um, no. Because imagine playing Oh, I don't know, the Hateful Eight, the video game. Right? That'd be really cool. That dialogue in it. You're sitting there with the controller and you're listening, listening, wishing these two people would just shut up. Okay. No disrespect to Quentin. But I have a controller in my hand I want to do. I don't just want to hear Samuel Jackson and whomever you know. And they're witty banter, right. And so um, dialogue, you know, we do have, we do have what we call cutscenes, or cinematics, which are many, many, many m i n i small movies that have dialogue. And those are written as conventionally as possible. And the scripts for those look like pages from screenplays. But there's the bulk of dialog comes in either like interactive, where I choose, you know, in an RPG, or in a certain types of action or adventure games, where I'm going up to a non player character, and I'm having a conversation with them. And they'll say something and then I can choose different responses on the bottom, like a choose your own adventure. And so that sort of branching dialogue is another sort of much more complex way of interacting with all the different people you need to interact with in a big game. And then the third type of dialogue is what we call Bach barks, which is procedurally generated dialogue. That is that the player or, you know, the bad guy I'm sneaking around will say based on the situation, right. And so the almost all this video game dialogue is we're talking about format is either written in or eventually makes its way into Excel, one sentence one line per row in Excel. And then voice talent has to sit there in the booth with headphones on and go line by line and read every one of those lines discreetly. And it's caught up into its own little sound file. So that the goon number 12 when you accidentally hit the controller and make a noise, oh, no, you can say, Hey, did you hear something? Right? Right? He can't just record that one line and be done. The problem with barks is you have to come up with six or seven or eight different ways of saying Did you hear something?
Alex Ferrari 56:12
Because if not, every time he's hated it say the same thing to get repetitive.
Robert Denton Bryant 56:16
Don't want it to be repetitive. Yeah. So it's, it's, I went to a cool presentation at the Writers Guild several years ago, where they had all of the nominees for Best Game for Best Game writing. And they were all in this panel of the Writers Guild. And I had the guys from Fallout New Vegas there. And somebody said, somebody asked him, how big was the script. And the guy did like this, like here to the floor says, you know, on a lark, we decided we were going to kill some cubes of paper, and we printed out the entire script. And it was here to the floor. So how many 1000s of pages
Alex Ferrari 56:56
7000 pages 8000 pages in Excel? Oh my God, that's even. Right. Um, so there's no description. So there's no descriptions in the stories or, I mean, in a treatment, I
Robert Denton Bryant 57:11
guess something, it's getting better. Okay. Things that has frustrated me for decades, because I come from my background, and I've worked with actors and I respect what they do, um, is when fanboys or critics that don't understand the process will say, Oh, this is a fun game, but the voice acting is terrible stop. It's not the voice actor that's doing a bad job. It's that the voice actor hasn't been given enough information to work with to where they can craft it performance.
Alex Ferrari 57:48
And how and how do you have a director there? Like a vo director? Yeah,
Robert Denton Bryant 57:52
yeah, you have a you have a not a film director. But do you have a creative director ahead of sound or head of dialogue, whose job is to understand the story context of all of these characters. And very often, you'll have, you know, you'll have the line of dialogue in Excel, and then the next field over in the same row, there might be a bit of stage of direction, like a parenthetical in a screenplay. Right. And and screenplays, we know that nowadays, we don't put a lot of those in, because the director and the actors want to craft the performance, you just write the dialogue screenwriter, right? Will you do that a lot in games, because you want to contextualize the line because it's just a line of dialogue in itself. You don't know where the scene is necessarily. You don't know what the context is necessarily. You very often, even though you should know what the triggering action that's going to trigger the character seeing this line, right. And so that director has to be responsible for giving the character as much information as they can. And so they have a very, very, very big responsibility. And the good ones are very good. And we'll come into a voice session armed with as much information including like character sketches, so that the voice talent the actor can know what what she looks like this person who's she's going to be reading this long, long list of, of very often interconnected lines. It's also super rare that you have, unlike say animation, where you have two characters in the same booth to where they can react against each other. Sometimes if it's a linear like a mini movie, like to share a man a shift from time we'll do that. But the bulk of it is me alone reading line by line and it takes dais eyes have the role yet rural.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:05
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Now, Russo, I mean, I'm gonna ask this question, but I have a feeling that it doesn't apply, but I'm going to ask it anyway. How do you write a compelling hero? You know, because it all depends if it's a one kind of player thing, but like the new Star Wars, whatever Battlefront or whatever it was, I just saw commercial for. You could be, you could be Obi one. You could be Darth Vader, you could be Yoda. You could be a stormtrooper like and that and those are different storylines, and different perspectives and different everything. So let's say just for argument's sake, you have one hero, how do you write one that people really connect to because obviously, what Mario is Mario, but link more specifically, and Zelda is a little bit more relative to what I'm talking about.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:01:03
Right? So so we know, it's a very good question. Um, you have to ask yourself, again, it relates to what type of game is right. And link is very often what we call the mute hero, right? He's sort of this defined sort of, because he's mute. He's kind of the tabula rasa, right? And he's sort of generically good. And he's going to do heroic things because that's what the player wants. Because the more of a rogue I am, the more risks I take, the more rewards I get. And it's an adventure, right? I'm, I'm not having very much fun as a player if I just cower in the corner, right? We want to go out. So you have new heroes, like link or like, Mario Freeman in Fallout, or, well, Mario, they gave Mario lines starting with Mario 64. So he had a dialogue. So Mario, Mario got a better ah, oh,
Alex Ferrari 1:02:07
what's this? Is a snake for Metal Gear.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:02:10
Snake. Yeah, like a Solid Snake. He's He's very verbose. And you know, says all kinds of cool tough guidelines. So he's a define character, who is not new. And and so he's more like a action hero or like a cinematic character that we want to follow Laura Croft, right has lines you know, who Laura Croft is. So when I choose to play Tomb Raider, I know who I'm playing as it's Laura Croft, and she has this backstory, and this trauma in her life manifests. Those are like, Drake's fortune, I was playing through the Nathan Drake series for the knotting it. That's, you know, it's like a boy, he's a male Tomb Raider, kind of very different, very American, very sort of cynical, but I know who it is, then there's a third type of character. And this happens in open world RPGs quite a bit where you, the player get to help define who you are, right. And so outer worlds is like this. And Fallout is like this, where broadly, your character is somebody who was born in an underground vault, in this post apocalyptic world. And for whatever reason, you're sent out into the vault, and sent out into the dangerous world where they have mutants and giant scorpions and everything and have to do heroic deeds in order to solve the made quest across the whole game. But you get to define who you are, you get to play the way you want to. It's a role playing game. So very much like Dungeons and Dragons. You get to define your character you get to play as a kind of brutish warrior who kicks ass first and ask questions later. Or you get to be a very persuasive congenial kind of Bard character with a lot of charisma, who doesn't like to fight and likes to trade and engage people that way? And so those are two very, very, very different characters. Um, it would be really hard to do a game based on Fallout, because even though it's a popular game series makes millions of dollars very, very popular. There's no one central character that everybody has in common. It's very much like World of Warcraft,
Alex Ferrari 1:04:58
right? There's Yeah, but Halo Elevate. Was that Halo
Robert Denton Bryant 1:05:02
horrible, even though the it was great, and it was a lot of answers. I was a fan. I felt like I was seeing the world of Azeroth. But I had no idea who these characters were in this story because that story is not my story playing the game.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:20
There is that why is that? Why? There are rarely if ever, video games that translate well to, to cinema. It's I can't I can think of I can't even think of maybe a handful I'm trying to lose, lose, it escapes me. I know Laura Croft Tomb Raider, the first one. It's fun, but that's very specific, because it's just we know who Laura Croft is. And they just write a new adventure. I'm very much like Sherlock Holmes. But why is like Doom and God, there's so many bad ones. War crafting,
Robert Denton Bryant 1:05:55
I think. I think there's a lot of reasons for that. I think that with World of Warcraft, um, you know, first of all, that was Duncan Jones directed that, you know, the David Bowie's son, you know, he came off of Moon, which is a great little,
Alex Ferrari 1:06:13
you know, little indie
Robert Denton Bryant 1:06:16
thing, little indie thing. And, you know, it's like what Hollywood did to Josh Trank he does this great little indie thing is like, Here, let's give him too much money. And he and and all the expectations with that money, and they will get into trouble. Um, I think that I think that there are good video game movies. I haven't seen the sonic movie, don't it my students. I hear love the sonic movie felt satisfied. They felt like it was fun. And it felt
Alex Ferrari 1:06:49
better. It's a character though that like and that's it. Sonic is not a very deep character. And
Robert Denton Bryant 1:06:56
you're defining a question even further. Yeah, you know, you asked a video game movies. And that was a video game movie, arguably saying hey, you found a giant audience? Oh, yeah, I think. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:10
Um, but then we have Super Mario Brothers.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:07:12
Oh, don't be No, no, no, that happened so long ago.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:20
Yeah. That's why we don't have a Zelda movie. Now. It's because of that movie.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:07:23
It's why people you know, look, it's an evolving it. This is an evolving medium. And we as filmmakers have been trying to figure out how to adapt video. Well, first of all, we're trying to figure out what is it that makes this game so popular? And what can I distill out of that to make a creatively successful movie as opposed to just a marketable movie? Where I'm just borrowing the IP? Right, right. That's what Doom that's what all of the ones that you know, the famous kind of failures, you know, is hey, this is popular with the kids. We're trying to sell tickets to kids, so let's make street fighter in the movie.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:10
Oh. Hey, Mortal Kombat, though. doesn't age well.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:08:16
I've never seen those but though, are some of the better ones.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:20
Oh, no, you know, combat still. But Mortal Kombat first one does not age well. So if you watch it, now you go. But but still has the greatest opening theme song
Robert Denton Bryant 1:08:34
for how I have to finally watch it.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:38
I mean, the theme song is and then trust me, they let you know, because they play it seven or eight times. They just constantly playing it. Um,
Robert Denton Bryant 1:08:47
I think that what I think that ultimately answer your question, I think that what we're finally learning is that what makes these games popular and can translate into creatively successful movie creatively and commercially, is either the central character or the insomniac. It's the central character, right? I want to have fun with all the sass of Sonic Right? Or in the case of Detective Pikachu, it's I mean, it's it's a Ryan Reynolds playing Pikachu. That's funny. But also, I got to finally see the world where the Pokemon live side by side with the humans. And that was such a delight. As somebody who you know, I played Pokemon 20 years ago with my wife. It's why we don't have children, but we have all the Pokemon. So it was great for me to finally see in beautiful fully rendered 3d. All of these Pokemon exists existing next to human beings, kind of as has always been the promise of those games. Right? And I kind of compare it to when I was in film school. We were always told that be novels make a movies right some of the best most beloved movies were based on kind of be novels programmer novels of James in Kane right Postman Always Rings trice and like that, not a high literary novel but a potboiler something that's a page turner, something where it's very plot driven. And it's got a lot of twists and turns and you know, a yard. Those make good movies. Not Ulysses by James Joyce, why don't we have our Ulysses movie? Right? Right. Your follow? I got it. Oh, we're slowly kind of figuring that. We're trying to figure out what is it about a movie that's gonna, we can pull out those elements and create something that doesn't just serve as the fans of the game, but also makes the world apprehensible and enjoyable for people who aren't fans of the game. Two of my biggest disappointments is I would love to see a great Halo movie, right. And Microsoft has been trying to get a halo movie done for years. And they keep you know, Neil blow camp was attached to and Peter Jackson.
Alex Ferrari 1:11:19
Robert Denton Bryant 1:11:20
maybe Peter Jackson, that would have been awesome. And also, um, uh, you know, Bioshock, which is, you know, if you have not played a game and forever, I would send you write it by your shot. Because, like James like Ulysses, by James Joyce, it's one of the one of the first games I would point to nowadays is saying, This is art. This is a very interesting, um, dystopian sort of action adventure game. But it's also on a meta level, a commentary about the relationship, the manipulative relationship between the game designer and the game player. Okay, so it has layers, it has a philosophical element to it, and it stays with you, it's really interesting. And you experienced this, not by watching a lot of movies, but by actually playing the game and experiencing this world and going through the twists and turns of the levels and the plot. And I would love for there to be a BioShock movie. But I just said to you, part of what makes BioShock great is the experience of playing it. And being passive and watch, seeing an actor or actress going through the story is not going to be as emotionally in fact, Paxful is not going to approach what triggers me to call it art, right, as much as actually playing the game.
Alex Ferrari 1:12:55
So I want to ask this question because even I that I mean, I'm, again, I'm not very deep into the video game culture as I was back in the day, but Metal Gear, and the creator of Metal Gear. I even know about that guy. It's almost right. He's almost mythical at this point. Like when they make movies about game designers. He's the archetype. You know, like, and like, there's so much myth around him. And I remember playing Metal Gear one on Nintendo, and I think he was part of he's always been part of Metal Gear. Right? Right. So it's like this story that's continued even from the back in the Nintendo days, all the way to these things. And every time there's a Metal Gear movie show that comes out or a game that comes out, it's you know, everybody's dying to play it. On what makes it so beloved as a story, because on a story standpoint, what makes it so beloved, or is it all gameplay? Or is it?
Robert Denton Bryant 1:13:53
I think it's, uh, you know, he's an interesting character. I mean, this is a great question, because I didn't play the early top down metal gears. My first Metal Gear was metal Metal Gear Solid on on PlayStation. Yeah, which was, you know, the first move the first game map, one of the very first games where all of the guys that I worked with at Mattel, and they played every game, right? We're like, oh, man, this is this is finally a movie that you played. And Kojima is very vocal and very transparent about how he loves movies, and he's a kind of a frustrated film director. And so he tries to make his games as cinematic as possible. And so I bought Metal Gear Solid I put the disc in Baba Baba, and it begins with snake puking to his handler over the radio back at headquarters, while he's being injected into the dangerous phase and asked to infiltrate this base. And it's happening very slowly in real time. And we're seeing credits during that opening sequence like we would in a movie. And we're seeing very carefully selected, I mean, all of this stuff is storyboarded by Kojima and his team to seem as cinematic as possible. And there, um, you know, I haven't played many of the later metal years, but part of that brand is the dialogue to your point about dialogue, and even a male you're solid, most of the time you are snake and you're in the bass infiltrating the bass, so you're taking out bad guys slowly, because you're sneaking around, it's a spy game, it isn't a running gun game. But what makes it seem like a deep story is he's always talking to his hand on the radio, to his handler, or his mentor. Or, you know, the old crusty colonel who has seen it all done at all, or the technical person who's going to advise them on technical stuff. And there's every one of these characters seems like a fully motivated dimensional character. Um, and Snake starts flirting with somebody, you know, some young girl in the office and everything. And so it's kind of like you're playing a video game, you're also listening to a radio play, even though the dialogue is represented by the text playing up on screen and two, semi animated vignettes of the characters, so you can keep track of who's saying what. But you feel like you're, I don't know, in a movie, but you're definitely involved in and drama, you know, a radio drama with visuals. And that's something that he's been able to deliver on that level of narrative engagement. For 20 years now, 25 years now, 30 years going back to the 80s Metal Gear. Yeah, yeah. So, um, so, you know, he, he is he's, he's one of the people that is launched. He's so been so creatively successful. He's launched an entire generation of people that want to make video games just like Kojima sawn, and just as story driven, and just as cinematic.
Alex Ferrari 1:17:30
He's the he's the Spielberg. He's the Kubrick he's the Scorsese.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:17:34
He's close. Yeah, he's one of those guys.
Alex Ferrari 1:17:36
he's, he's, he's on. He's on Mount Rushmore. Probably. Yeah. Yeah. And now it's so he's been able to combine. The reason I asked is because he is one of the more the most more passionate. Players really, like if you love Metal Gear, you love Metal Gear, and you follow it. I mean, you go back to play the original, and you follow it all the way to where it is today. Because there is a storyline that's continued. He seems to have combined one of the one of the few that's combined the cinematic experience with awesome gameplay. So it's the best of both worlds. But the way he does it is very unique. Like you're saying he's talking to someone, and it works within the genre of game. Like that wouldn't work in another genre. Or it could be different.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:18:27
Yeah, I think that his choice of of game and story John, or the game genre is action. The you know, spy film, third person action of the story. Genre is his espionage thriller, like Tom Clinton, you know, he's he's in Tom Clancy territory. And I think that that works. But it's not a it's it's a it's an experience that's informed by cinema. But it's not purely cinematic. Because in video games, you have what we call HUD heads up display, or UX UI user interface, meaning and I'm not just talking about like the health bar around the edges of the screen. But early days. Ah, the bad guys, the the patrol guys, and he was supposed to get around, they'd be patrolling their path. And if they heard you, they would get this exclamation point. Remember, that does happen in real life I've tried. And yet we buy it because the pseudo reality of the video game, right? We accept that because we need that information because it helps us play the game.
Alex Ferrari 1:19:41
Right? It's just a story style. On a storytelling standpoint, it seems to be a really interesting combination of more traditional narrative storytelling mixed with really wonderful, wonderful gameplay. So so I have to ask this question. So I'm a screenwriter. I I'm writing screenplays and I want to write video games. I want to get into the business. How do I go about it? What's step one? Besides buying, besides buy your book?
Robert Denton Bryant 1:20:15
Okay, by the way, thank you. Thank you for letting me go by slay the dragon slate.
Alex Ferrari 1:20:20
No, I got my copy of
Robert Denton Bryant 1:20:22
the story. Okay, there we go now we're synched up, or it's also available in China. I've actually it's cool. Keith and I have written a book I can't read. Nice. Um, but, uh, um, no, if you know that very first class how this whole book started was Keith and I taught a class at UCLA expansion. That class was filled with mostly screenwriters who had the very same question. And it's tough, because you can, okay, if you're already an established writer, okay, if you're signed with, um, you know, one of the big agencies, you can ask your agent to go set them up with the interactive agent and have that conversation you can announce to your agent, your manager and creative team, I want to move into video games, how do I get this done? So sure, it is possible if everything works, right for you to get lubricate a path there. But for the rest of us. It's a challenge because if I'm a fledgling screenwriter I can take my spec script and enter it what the low hanging fruit is festivals, right? I can go into the screening of festival content, screener contests and festivals and do some things to try to get some heat around my screenplay. I hope that I get representation. So with games, the good news is you don't necessarily need representation. There are jobs for game writers, but they're going to be looking for samples of work. If you don't have those samples. Writing a spec game is first of all, that's off the table. Because remember, you need to know too much. Yeah, right. Right. And it's too much, it's too much of your time relative to what the person is going to need. So there's a couple things you can do. Um, there are a level editor if first of all, if you're expecting to play together job writing games without having played games to get it playing. Okay? You just need to, you know, it would be very arrogant. For me as somebody who's been working in games for years, to go to Hollywood and say, Well, I've never seen movies, but please hire me to write a movie. Right? Okay, so start playing games, you know. And we have a list in the book of like, you know, here's, here's where you should begin your journey, right? And the, so first of all, start playing games. And you're going to, you're not going to like every game. Just as if you're going to be a screenwriters not gonna, you don't like every movie, right? Um, you don't even like every type of new movie you're gonna, like, be stuff that you're passionate about, there's gonna be stuff that you're not interested in, lean into the stuff that you're interested in. And depending upon the game, there might be a level editor, or there might be some path to creating content for that game. And some of that content can be narrative, okay, I don't know that this is true anymore. But, um, there used to be a game called Neverwinter Nights. And for years Bioshock, that developer if you wanted to get a job as a writer for Bioshock, then be like, great. Go download Neverwinter Nights, which was a Dungeons and Dragons based RPG. Play the game, then download the level editor and put together your own little dungeon crawl. Okay, using all of the tools, all of the assets, what you're going to add to it is what happens when you're going to script the level meaning you're going to create the story the way a dungeon master in d&d is a storyteller, right? We're gonna create that, put that together, send it to us, and we'll take a look at it. We'll see if you've done anything interesting or not. I don't know that that's available anymore. But there are games where you can create your own content within the game engine that the that the actual developers did. So you can it's kind of like a Star Wars analog. Analog. There's like right Writing a spec sitcom episode of writers write, write really want to know, do you get the world to get the characters? Can you write jokes in their voice? All of that? Right, right?
Or there's there's a program and it's free called twine. TW i ne, and it's essentially an engine for doing branching paths, stories, right? That is an extremely exciting tool. It's what I use for my interactive storytelling class that grew out of the book. And it's something that has a applicate applicability right now, because we're seeing choose your own adventure. Multiple path. Films now chosen. Okay. You know, we haven't talked about Bandersnatch. Or it's for runners, or the latest one. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which was a delight. Right? Um, and that's a proof of concept is something that, you know, I've heard people talk about, and I've been talking about it since I was in grad school, which is like, when are we going to have an interactive movie? Will now thanks to Netflix, we have and they poured a lot of money into that technology, and now they're just waiting for content. Um, you know, we are now we have viable proofs of concepts of what's an interactive movie or an interactive TV episode like, right? The best of the best, I am told is the Minecraft interactive story, because that one goes on for a long time, you can get through the Kimmy Schmidt in about a half hour if you don't do a lot of backtracking. Even though they do backtracking for you for comedy sake, it's hilarious. The is the Minecraft just just search on Minecraft at Netflix. And you will have this very deep interactive story in the Minecraft universe. That really feels like you're playing an interactive game. It's amazing. That same sort of choose your own adventure branching path narrative you can do tonight with twine. This is a plug. They're just Google twine. I think their website is Twinery dot o RG?
Alex Ferrari 1:27:37
Is it a free service as a free? No, it's
Robert Denton Bryant 1:27:39
free. It's free. And then just adding to you by and stuff like that. But this is absolutely free. And so you can get going for free. And there are other sort of interactive tools like that. But twine is sort of like the big daddy. And I'm just putting together a little story. Okay, because you're a screenwriter, right? You can do prose, you can do a dialogue scene, do that. But give me some branching path and make it meaningful. You know, we all especially people of a certain age, look back at the Choose Your Own Adventure games as Oh, they were such fun. Yes. Because we were kids. And we didn't know any better. But I mean, in terms of deep storytelling, the the genre was in its infancy. And the whole point was to kind of, you know, you were playing kind of a book as a toy. It's like, okay, well, I'm gonna go to the left path. You're eaten by a tiger. Oh, well go back to the beginning, right. There wasn't a lot of meat.
Alex Ferrari 1:28:47
There's a lot of depths there.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:28:49
No, no, well, now 20 years later, three years later? How can we use this medium of branching storytelling for something that's meaning full that has an emotional impact on on the player right or the viewer? Right? And so if you can put together a show, you know, essentially interactive short story put two or three of those on your portfolio site. There are there's a places out there that where there are readers that love to read this stuff, building yourself a following on like fanfiction sites. They have interactive fiction sections where you can put that or you can just you know, is a sample you don't have to publish it. You can send it in as a sample when there's a game writing or narrative design job or another job you can look for is content designer or quest writer. You know, they're looking for people that understand interactive storytelling on top of linear storytelling, right? And, you know, the the reason that I got so passionate when I got into video games is I felt like I had a handle on screenwriting traditions and what criteria we use to tell an engaging cinematic story. Let's see if we can't bring emotional engagement and the storytelling parts of video games up a little bit, and make it meaningful, make it moving, right.
Alex Ferrari 1:30:39
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:30:50
And that's the end of the day. That's it. You know, you have something interactive, doesn't have to have graphics attached to it. That's not your job. But can you do something in that basic Choose Your Own Adventure format? That if I spend 10 minutes, I've you've surprised, you've surprised me? You've aged me. Yay. You know, you've done all the things that a good screenplay should do, if you want to get noticed. Right.
Alex Ferrari 1:31:21
Fair enough. Now I one last question. Before I ask you a series of questions I always ask. I'm Oregon Trail. Is that like, the first narrative? When did that come out? That was like, dos, that was early dos.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:31:38
It's one of the first was one of the first, you know, on purpose constantly educational goods and software. But probably the first story game is Colossal Cave Adventure or adventure was the name of the name of it when I played it on a mainframe computer. Wow. Part of the problem being my age teaching history of games, is I have to do a lot of table setting with college kids today who don't know what a mainframe computer is, don't know how to tell what printer is, right? They barely know what a CD ROM or a floppy disk is, right. But that was the one that was a Text Parsing game, where it had kind of a, a medieval fantasies kind of saying, you know, you you you see a tree with a door in it look, door, that I don't understand what that means, look in door, you know, you'd have to tell the computer and basically play a guessing game as to what words it wanted to know that would unlock the next little chunk of story, the door magically opens, it's dark inside, but you see a lamp on the table light lamp, you don't have any matches, you know, and you cannot get people to play this game 30 years later, because it's so absolutely frustrating. But back in the late 70s, when we had nothing but time waiting for the bombs to fall, you know, you had patience to like, have this conversation with this computer to try to tell you a story bit by bit. Um, and then Oregon Trail came three, four or five years later.
Alex Ferrari 1:33:30
Alright, so I normally the first question I was asked is how what advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the video game business, but we've already kind of covered that. So what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry, the game industry or life?
Robert Denton Bryant 1:33:47
Ah, well, geez, Doctor, how much time? Yeah, I think it's, I think it's to trust myself, right? Because I have really good instincts. When I don't get my own way, right. And so that whole it took me years, but I stopped like writing something and then I couldn't wait to show it to somebody because I needed a pat on the head. I needed validation. I'm getting much better about Yeah, objectively, this works or this doesn't work, right. And I did that through a lot of painful therapy that was very expensive over years. But also just, you know, listening to podcasts like this one and reading articles about writing process, right. And I remember I wish I could remember who it was and give them credit but they said no, I won't read your goddamn screenplay. Here's something because you should know you know, if it works for you, if it's working, send it out. And so I even stopped having, like my girlfriend right now the only Probably the only person I ever send something to to read because it's just become a life habit. Is Keith right? Oh, yeah. And part of part of the joy of writing this book was collaborating with him finally instead of just you know, in winging my stuff for me giving notes on his stuff, but he just trusting yourself
Alex Ferrari 1:35:21
and three of your favorite video games of all time.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:35:26
Oh, that's like asking your three favorite children. Yes. Each special in their own
Alex Ferrari 1:35:34
BIOS BioShock BioShock is one of them.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:35:36
Oh, Bioshock Yeah, okay, we'll go with Bioshock and the Fallout franchise, okay, because Fallout one is was brilliant when I played it when it first came out 20 years ago. But Fallout three I really spent a ton of time in and just love that world and found that story very poignant and Liam Neeson is the is your dad and the whole mega quest is your dad abandons you as a child and you need to go find out why. And so probably that, um, and then the third one believe it or not, is about World of Warcraft. Even though mad respect for World of Warcraft. It's this amazing thing that has gotten so big that in order to be a viable Warcraft player, I just can't do all the other stuff I have to do right. You're pretty much in that Warcraft lane. Is a Starcraft okay, I made the heck out of Starcraft because I played WarCraft two. These are real time realtime strategy games. They're basically army raising and building strategy. And StarCraft had because I'm a science fiction fan. Starcraft was Warcraft in space. Yeah. Such you know and Blizzard Entertainment did such a great job of world building. They're they're great pasty shores at Blizzard or they used to be where nothing they do is original. What's original is all the ways that they've combined all these different bibs and bobs. And so creating these three distinct races, humans colonized humans way far out in the galaxy, and the Zurich and the Protoss. And coming up with backstories, and the lore for all these three civilizations and having a really compelling story with characters with twists and turns and backstabbing and reversals. And you know, it just, it really got I loved living in that very dangerous world, playing the game, but also reading the tie in novels, right and there were comic books and I would read the comic books and stuff like that and got expressed in a lot of different media. And so and I still haven't finished Fallout, excuse me, Starcraft two Believe it or not, part of the reason is it was released in three big chunks over a number of years. But also is like I kind of don't want to because I kind of don't want the story to be over. Right oh, so the
Alex Ferrari 1:38:32
probably that now and where can people find you and then get the book.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:38:37
Okay, so I'm I'm, I'm on Twitter at at phone candy is the most direct way to reach me. And if you're ever going to Austin, I'm in St. Edward's University is the director of video games and video game developing animation. We have a brand new animation major that we're launching in the fall and I'm excited about that. But the book is available on the Michael easy productions website. And it's discounted and I think free shipping sometimes if depending on your order, but it's also on Amazon and all the ones it's on a V bars and stuff it's never nor Barnes and Noble Pauwels still kicking in the crisis and so that you can order for pals if you're in the red region Half Price Books has it so yeah, it's it's super available online or you can go to slay the dragon book.com which is Keith and I little website for the book and there's all sorts of sales links right there,
Alex Ferrari 1:39:50
man, Bob, it has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for just taking me on this kind of mini masterclass in video game. I'm writing in videogame history and I feel like busting out my old my old Nintendo, Super Nintendo and start playing Oh, is it? Gold? Goldfinger, Goldfinger? GoldenEye. GoldenEye,
Robert Denton Bryant 1:40:14
no gold 909. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 1:40:16
And is it the why is that? Why, why is that such a legendary game,
Robert Denton Bryant 1:40:21
because it was one of the first console 3d shooters, you know. But Doom and Quake had been around on the PC for quite some time. And this was the first implementation. fancied in the end 64 could do pretty good 3d on the cartridge. And that controller where you had a lot of control, it wasn't like a mouse and keyboard, but it was close enough. And the developers just did such a great job of translating that very early, FPS kind of mechanics and making it work on a console with James Bond. I mean, you got to hunt down odd job and shoot him in the back for crying out loud. That was cool. But yeah, no GoldenEyes a legend, just because it allowed you to be able to have that FPS experience without all the expense of a LAN party where he had to connect computers in the same room. All you needed to do there are fork control, or four controller parts on that. And 64 And you and four people could be, you know, playing in security camera mode on one quarter of your TV screen. So have that great deathmatch thing you know, and from that experience, yada yada yada yada fortnight.
Alex Ferrari 1:41:45
Yeah, yada yada. Bob, man, thank you again for being on the show. I truly appreciate your time, my friend.
Robert Denton Bryant 1:41:53
My pleasure to talk to you soon.
Alex Ferrari 1:41:56
I so want to thank Robert for coming on and dropping insane knowledge bombs on the bulletproof screenwriting tribe today because, like I said before, I had no idea about this process. And I'm so excited to be bringing this information to you guys. It's just another way that you can generate revenue and tell stories with your writing. Just another way to think about the storytelling process. And I highly recommend you pick up Robert and Keith's book, slay the dragon writing great video games. It is the Bible when it comes to transitioning from screenwriting, for for television and for film, to video games. And by the way, guys, it doesn't have to be either one or the other, you still can do both. You can also write novels. You could also write short stories. You could also write ad copy, you could also write so many things. It's just another way to express yourself as a writer and hopefully generate some revenue as a writer. So if you want to link to that, and anything else we spoke about in this episode, please head over to the show notes at bulletproof screenwriting comm forward slash 073. And if you haven't already, please head over to screenwriting podcast.com. And leave a good review for the show. It helps us out a lot. Thank you guys so much. I hope you all are hanging in there during this insane time in our history. And I know that a lot of you guys are having, you know, issues with this whole quarantine and having to deal with everything that's happening and trust me, I understand. So one thing I am going to be doing for the bulletproof screenwriting tribe is I'm going to try to now release a weekly episode for the bulletproof screenwriting podcast before it's been every other week. But now I'm going to release it every single week. So once a week, is what I am, my goal is, and generally speaking, I have a pretty good track record when it comes to these goals. And considering I'm almost at 400 episodes of the indie film hustle podcast, and well over 50 episodes of the film entrepreneur podcast. So I think I have a pretty good track record, and I think I'll be able to do it. But I have some amazing guests coming on very, very soon. So and I hope that helps you just a little bit more with dealing with this quarantine and everything else we've got going on in this crazy crazy world. So thanks again for listening guys. Thank you for all the love all the emails. I truly, truly appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. As always, keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.
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