“The dungeon definitely needs to be pushed up into the first act.”
In the very beginning, I would say that most story development is the same across genres – books, movies or games. It’s pretty ugly and weird at first, with a lot of half-finished ideas and unsupported motivations all up in the air. “I think it would be cool if…,” with characters, settings, and plots furiously thrown together and just as furiously pulled apart.
The only important thing to nail down in this stage is the key theme or goal, the reason the work should exist. As long as this element – whether it’s a cool gameplay feature, a poignant narrative hook or a beautiful, explorable environment – remains central to development, it’s easier to make decisions on all the other aspects, including story .
“I’m not sure what the bard’s importance is as a character.”
The main difference in writing for a game is that story, along with everything else, is ultimately subordinate to gameplay. Even in a story-driven game, the better the story and gameplay mesh, the more immersive the experience, the happier the player. As a writer, it’s important to remember that ultimately the player is the protagonist, and they should directly interact with the story as much as possible.
Working within stricter limits and requirements for a story is a wonderful way for writers to get under the hood of a story and see it broken down into its component parts. I would compare game writing with screenwriting in that both have fixed boundaries of setup, character development and how these should be managed to best serve the audience. It’s all about delivering the most information in the most interesting way, to keep the audience engaged and entertained, a good skill for any writer to have at any time.
Working in a team is a great experience for any writer. While writers generally write alone, a lot of great ideas are a compilation of observation, peer review and constant revision. It’s important for writers to learn how to recognize and incorporate good ideas from teammates while defending and championing what they think are core narrative requirements.
“Okay, so we’ve changed one of the main game mechanics.”
So far, the best strategy for writing games seems to be to stay loose with the details for as long as possible, to allow the story to adapt to new gameplay requirements. It’s a complicated dance, providing meaning and story for players who might only care about gameplay, but the potential rewards for a player actually living through a story instead of just reading about it are more than worth the effort.
I would recommend Evan Skolnick’s book ‘Video Game Storytelling’ for a detailed overview of how storytelling and gameplay can best interact and how each member of a team adds to the storytelling process. (Although the consensus at Nerdpile is that he’s wrong about the T-Rex Ex Machina in the ending of Jurassic Park, which is in keeping with the movie’s ultimate theme that life cannot be controlled or anticipated and also that dinosaurs are awesome.)