Friday, May 3, 2013

What I Learned About Writing By Writing, Part 2

In Part Two, I'll examine the next phase of my career after the publication of my first book, The James Bond Bedside Companion

So, it was the mid-1980s, I was still in New York, and I had a published book.  My first literary agent had just retired, so she passed me off to another agent within the same agency.  I was prepared to continue my day job, direct more theatre and compose more music, and perhaps write something else--but I didn't know what.  Within a month of the Bedside Companion's publication, though, Agent #2 called up and said there was a software company in White Plains, New York, that needed a writer for some computer games they were doing.  It so happened that the company had a license to do a couple of James Bond titles, so my agent thought of me.

I had always been into games.  I love board games (and still do).  As a teenager I played Avalon Hill war strategy games.  When Dungeons & Dragons came out in the late 70s, I explored that phenomenon and played it with some friends in New York.  In 1983, the James Bond 007 Role-Playing Game was published, and I knew the creators at Victory Games (this was a pencil-and-paper role-playing game, like Dungeons & Dragons).  We became friendly and they hired me to write/design an adventure module for the Bond game, which I planned to do on the side with all my other activities.  That was one door that appeared in front of me as a result of the Bedside Companion.  I had already begun the work when Agent #2 called about the computer game job. 

In 1984-85, PCs were just coming into the home.  I bought my first computer, an Apple IIc in early '85.  Computer games naturally came along, too.  Thus, an even more mysterious door popped up alongside the role-playing game gig, and I chose to go through it.  I found myself on the ground floor of an exciting new industry, something I never planned or dreamed about.  At the time, I had become interested in "text-adventure" games, like the ones published by Infocom ("Zork," "Enchanter," "Planetfall," etc.).  These were story-based role-playing games (no graphics) in which the player is a character that travels through an environment while solving puzzles and ultimately reaching a goal.  By the end, the "game" has unfolded like a novel.  The company that hired me was producing text-adventures, too.  They had a license for not only two 007 titles ("A View to a Kill," the current film, and "Goldfinger"), but also Stephen King's novella "The Mist."  I was hired to write and design these three games. 

Call it what you may, but this was fiction-writing, albeit for a different medium.  These adventures had characters, obstacles, thriller elements, a plot, and dialogue.  In many ways they were like writing screenplays, only three or four times longer because of the variable quality of a role-playing game--the player had to have several choices to make, so I had to create what happens for every possible choice. 

So I quit my day job and concentrated full time on writing the storylines for these games.  Stephen King's The Mist, A View to a Kill, and Goldfinger were published in 1985 and 1986 by Mindscape, and the pencil-and-paper game, You Only Live Twice II--Back of Beyond was published by Victory Games in '86.

WHAT I LEARNED:  Games of this ilk are like writing novels in many ways.  They have all the ingredients of epic fiction.  My theatre training came in handy again, for I "staged" the story in my head as I wrote.  I learned to invent obstacles of all kinds that characters had to overcome--which is no different from what you do when you write a thriller.  I also learned that there can be several possible outcomes when solving a puzzle; it's good to keep your options open when throwing impediments at your protagonist!  And, I learned that you never know how your life and career will change by going through a door that unexpectedly pops up in front of you.

To be continued in Part 3...

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