December 2nd, 2005


BioWare Writing Contest!

If you haven't heard already, BioWare (of Neverwinter Nights and Knights Of The Old Republic fame) is hosting a Module Writing Contest, in which you can win BioWare swag or, ideally, a job interview with them to become a professional video game writer person.

What impressed me from a writing angle is that they are only grading you on the plot, characters, and dialog. They do not expect (or want) you to design a fancy area, combat scenes, random encounters, magical item statistics, or any of that happy horse crap... The contest specifically limits you to:
  • A single 4x4 Area (Approximately 100 x 100 feet of space, like a medium sized single story house, a small cave, etc.)

  • Four characters, including the player (So, three NPCs total, really)

  • No more than 3000 - 3500 words total (Combined dialog, descriptive text, and so on)
  • You can use scripting (and to an extent, you will be working with it via the Conversation editor), but you aren't required or particularly encouraged to. They just want a short side quest sorta story, with interactive dialog and multiple options/endings. Any sort of skill check or combat based thing should just be abstracted out into a dialog option (i.e. "(A fight ensues between the player, X, and Y; We'll assume the player survives.)")

    So really, you don't need much in the way of mad programmer skills... Just create a small area with the area wizard (basically, choose if it's a cave, dungeon, forest, house, etc.), slap some random NPCs down, and make some dialog. The conversation editor allows each "response" to come from an arbitrary character, so you could do the entire thing as a single large conversation with different voices and ignore the "stage" entirely.

    In fact, their Writers Guidelines allow you to submit the entry in written movie script / theatrical play format... Though you do need to keep branching dialog and multiple outcomes in mind, and the Conversation editor might actually make that part easier. But it's nice that you can enter the contest even if you don't have access to a copy of NWN, or are totally clueless about their editor.

    And it's challenging! The three or four ideas that came to mind when they said "Short Module" don't fit... They all had multiple areas, or more than three characters (aside from the player). The "one act play" format requires you to really streamline a conflict or puzzle down to the good parts. (They also kindly point out that if the first character you talk to doesn't say something interesting, you'll be out of the running immediately.) And I think the competition is going to be pretty rough... At least, there are a lot of talented NWN module writers out there.

    The contest is open until January 30th, and you can even enter multiple modules if, like me, you can't quite decide on an idea. I don't think I particuarly want to quit my day job and write for BioWare, but this is an interesting challenge, and a good exercise for anyone who's interested in writing or designing for the games industry. Or just found themselves rolling their eyes at the things characters say in RPGs these days.

    Is anyone else going to give it a shot? If any of my writer-y friends are interested, but dubious about the branching dialog part, I'd be glad to help.
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