Slay The Dragon: Writing Great Video Games by Robert Denton Bryant & Keith Giglio (book review).

From the start, authors Robert Denton Bryant & Keith Giglio in their book ‘Slay The Dragon: Writing Great Video Games’ make the point that at $93 billion per annum video game industry, that the $35.9 billion per annum film industry is in a smaller park compared to their industry. A simple straw poll here of who hasn’t played a computer game in the past day compared to seeing a film in the cinema would settle that case. Even more so, with how many play on-line to buying a game.

Even though I prefer shoot ‘em ups, I’m well aware that there are other types of games to keep most of us occupied for a few hours in our downtime. As the authors point out, it is also a venue for writers to explore as well and this book shows what you need in skills for work in that direction with fun tests to give you some practice. I emphasise ‘fun’ because the writers want people who enjoy this kind of work. From a writer’s pov, the stories are mostly interactive and you need to understand the framework that this needs to be laid on to make it work.


I also didn’t realise that Cortana, the new ‘voice’ of Windows 10, comes from ‘Halo’. At least we’re spared the silly name of its lead character ‘Master Chief’. As writers, we come up with a lot of good new names all the time so I tend to be at a loss when dumb names get selected.

I did have some vague ideas of how computer game stories are built and I can see why it might suit SF writers as we always have to work out from multiple choice options and we are supposed to be good at world-building. People like me do that on a monthly basis. Oddly, plot is more important than dialogue, although each has its place.

I’m less sure about their belief that understanding the structure will temper my enjoyment of a game though. I mean, I know how films are made and even read books on the subject but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them anymore. If anything, I watch them more intently and I doubt if they mean we’ll find computer games shallow. If that was the case, then getting recruited, your job would be to make them more meaningful.

In many respects, the plots follow the same pattern as any story: set-up, confrontation and resolution. Just that you have more of them for the gamer to work through. Looking at the game plan (sic), it resembles those book games where you go to different pages depending on what decision you make. Character creation is a little different, especially as it has to be somewhat of a blank for the player to play one of the roles. Saying that, even when you can dress a character’s body how you want, at least in shoot ‘em ups, I don’t see any personality you can endow the avatar with. I love the examination of the differences between Superman and Batman, especially as the later is working out his trauma. I wish they’d compared that to Spider-Man.

Of course, they are quite right when they say creating games is a collaborative effort. The writer creates the framework but it is others who use this to map the scenarios. The authors supply a lot of useful information, right down to what formats are used writing sample drafts. You can see some semblance to comicbooks where the artists, at least in the Marvel method, embellish the plot with their own skills.

As with any industry, you can’t expect to start with the game leaders and they point out the ‘garage games’ as a good starting point for all sorts to get into gaming and get some needed experience. I wish they’d given more details about this although I suspect the way they work is the same as with the big boys.

How to create a successful game is a different kettle of digits though. They point out that there is more of an emphasis on stronger character development. I would probably add to that, there is a need to improve the limitations of weaponry forcing a change to something more suitable than rely on a particular weapon all the time. Mind you, I probably play ‘Unreal Tournament’ far too much. They place emphasis on playing as many as you can and study how they work.

I found this book a very easy read in terms of how much I absorbed. Mind you, I recognised so much that I apply when writing fiction as well. For younger writers, this might be a better way to make money than writing fiction, as long as you’re prepared to work your way up from the bottom and develop your CV. If you have a star quality then you’ll probably rise to the top a lot faster. If you read this book, then you’ll have a firmer grasp on how. I don’t think that there are many books explaining how to write for computer games out there yet but if you think this is an area you might want to explore, then this book is a good starting place.

GF Willmetts

October 2015

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 225 page enlarged paperback. Price: $22.95 (US), £16.44 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-229-0)

check out website:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.