Transcending Media One Story At A Time

Featured in this post:  

  • Unleashed!  – Guest blog with Stargate novelist/publisher Sally Malcolm on writing for the iOS game.
  • Gateworld Podcast – Transmedia
  • What’s going on in Houston?

Prose.  Comic books.  Television.  Film.  Web Series.  Games.  Stageplays.  Musicals.  Augmented Reality…

In the words of my favorite fictional president:  What’s next?

The transmedia experience, that’s what.   By definition, this means storytellers can create unique experiences by telling stories utilizing more than one medium across multiple platforms and formats.   Sure, we’ve seen some basic efforts in the past few years — web series like Battlestar Galactica’s The Resistance which filled in the blanks between seasons 2 & 3 or the Serenity River Tam sessions which served as a prequel to the film (and were cleverly revealed in backward progression).  Sure, to a certain extent, media tie-in franchises like Buffy Season 8, and the novels Star Trek and Stargate SG-1/Atlantis have continue the ‘story’ of those franchises as well, allowing us — the ‘story consumer’ to experience layers and elements across more than one medium.  Epilogue dipped a toe in the water with our Godel’s Pizza Commercials (which take on a completely different meaning if you watch the series).  One of the latest forays into transmedia, of course, is SyFy’s Defiance — a story told across multiple mediums including television, gaming, and iBooks.

And unless you’ve been living underwater for the past six months, you’re aware of the new iOS Stargate Game Unleashed!

So…

WRITING IN ANOTHER MEDIUM
How does a storyteller move from one medium into another, keeping the overarching story moving forward while taking advantage of the different medium?  Sally Malcolm — novelist and editor for Fandemonium — the publishers of the Stargate novels — is here to share her experience in co-writing the new Stargate SG-1 iOS game.

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Unleashing Stargate SG-1 – Sally Malcolm
I was thrilled when I got a phone call last summer, asking if I’d be interested in writing for the new video game Stargate SG-1: Unleashed – a game that was going to reunite the original cast and bring Stargate SG-1 back to our screens. As a long-time fan of the show, this was a fantastic opportunity. The only snag? Despite having written several Stargate novels and audio dramas, I’d never written a video game. So what on earth was I getting into?

Turns out that the fundamentals of storytelling are the same whatever the medium – be it novel, drama, or video game. The producer was looking for character development, emotional depth, and a meaty plot. But above all he was looking for something that was authentically Stargate. Having worked on Fandemonium’s Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis novels for the last ten years, I know how much fans value stories that ‘feel like Stargate’ and so it was really exciting to be involved with the transition of Stargate SG-1 into this new format.

My first job was to outline a story that would arc over the first five episodes of the game. I was given some broad parameters – elements that I had to include because they’d already been modelled by the animators and a situation that the characters had to reach by the end of the fifth episode – and within that I had a pretty free hand.

Of course, when I say ‘free hand’… Compared to novel writing, scripting a video game involves many more constraints; whether it’s for technical, timing, or game play reasons, there are some things that just won’t work. And there’s much less time for introspection, so all those emotional beats you can take at a leisurely pace in a novel need to be played out in just a few, concise scenes. That’s a challenge.

Script writing being a collaborative process, the script goes through a number of iterations before it’s sent to MGM for approval. The scripts I produce look much like a screenplay, but the wonderfully talented people at Arkalis Interactive transform them into something quite different. This is called ‘gamification’ and involves breaking down the script into ‘game play’, ‘cinematic’ and ‘conversation’ sections and including flow-charts, maps and illustrations.

ulsample

Click the image to read a sample page from the Stargate SG-1 iOS game “Unleashed”

For me, writing the conversations is especially rewarding. Every interaction between the player and non-player characters needs at least three possible responses, each with a different emotional tone – for example ‘snarky’, ‘concerned’ or ‘upbeat’. The challenge for the writer is keeping these responses in character, and yet making them distinct from each other. Normally, as a writer, you create a single response to a situation – the ‘true’ response for your character – but a video game requires you to imagine three or more versions of the same scene, and each one must be as true as the next. Getting this right is crucial for Stargate, where the show’s fans have such a strong understanding of the characters and how they would behave in any given situation. They’ll know if it doesn’t feel right.

The logistics of working on the scripts has definitely been fun. I live in the UK, Arkalis is based in Andora, and the producer lives in the US – thank goodness for Skype! We get together on a conference call several times during the production of each script, discussing story flow, feedback and any script changes required. I’ve also Skyped with a couple of the actors. Thanks to the different time zones, I can be in the kitchen one moment, cooking dinner for the kids, and then nipping upstairs to discuss Ancient Egyptian pronunciation with the folk in the recording studio before rushing back downstairs to save the fish fingers from burning. It keeps life interesting!

So, what’s next? At the moment we’re finalizing episode two – it’s an exciting episode, with lots of action, difficult choices for the player to make, and some strong emotional beats. After that we’ll be outlining in detail episodes three through five. I can’t wait, because the deeper into the story we get the more complex the characters and plot developments become – and that’s always good news for a writer.

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GATEWORLD PODCAST
Gateworld
‘s David Read and I recently discussed the benefits (and disadvantages!) of the transmedia movement in our latest podcast.  While we did spend time discussing Defiance,  it’s pretty clear that our excitement was centered on Sally’s work with  Unleashed! and what this means for storytelling across different platforms.  Take a listen.

 

LASTLY, WHAT’S GOING ON WITH HOUSTON?
A few weeks later, a few hundred miles south, and here I am… in Houston!  It’s a new chapter in the (hopefully!) never-ending book of Diana.  Teaching will always be an integral part of my life.  No question.  I enjoy participating in the shaping of tomorrow’s storytellers.  That said, I’m shifting my focus to deal more with MY tomorrows — as in my writing and what futures I can discover in the tales I wish to tell.

And who knows?  Some of my projects will focus on the novel medium, sure, but I’m also working on a super-sekrit transmedia project that I hope to share some time this fall.  One step at a time.

diana

SF Writer. Screenwriting Professor. Insanity ensues day and night. Science Fiction is my wheelhouse.

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