Today I am so pleased to welcome Seth Haddon to Joyfully Jay. Seth has come to talk to us about his new release, Reforged. Please join me in giving Seth a big welcome!
How Game Design Principles Apply to Novel Writing
I spent the majority of my childhood dreaming about being an author, but when I was about sixteen a new dream crept into my mind. I’d just finished Dragon Age 2–in tears, because I’d grafted my entire personality onto the main character Hawke.
I wanted to be in the games industry.
So I did it: I pivoted my attention to game design in the final year of my schooling and went to college for video game production and design. Whilst completing my degree, I was given a lead writing role and have since worked as a writer, designer, and producer.
On the side, I was always writing personal projects. I wrote a manuscript that was Frankensteined together out of seven drafts. . . it was a mess. But it wasn’t until I was given a mentorship by Blind Eye Books that I started to understand how much of my game design knowledge I was applying to the craft of novel writing. This wasn’t always a good thing. At times it became clear that character motivations that might work in video games just seemed silly and unnatural on the page. My fight scenes needed a lot of work, because I’d always focused on big-picture battles, and never from a POV character on the ground.
But even though there were simply elements of my game design knowledge that needed to be kept separate, I was surprised by the similarities.
In general, I do think my experience in game development helped me with the novel writing process, especially with understanding my book as a product, and not just a result of passion. To me, the overlap of design principles are clear, and I can safely say Reforged is the result of both video game knowledge and writing craft.
I think the most apparent similarity is the need for iteration. Iteration is the need to go through several versions of development in order to nail down design or structure.
When designing a video game, iteration happens on the fly, but the initial focus is on a core game loop. This is the crux of a game’s design. It’s essentially a chain of repeated actions that make up the primary flow of the player’s experience. In something like Super Mario Bros, the core loop is
Run through the map -> break blocks -> collect power ups and coins -> avoid enemies -> win level
Another way of thinking of it is the essence or heartbeat of the game; the hook that drags you in. There’s a similar logic applied to novels, a hook or a loop structure repeated throughout the story. I think a lot of plot structures appear linear, but almost every arc or act ends with some type of reward that references the hook. In the case of Reforged, most conflicts would have some interaction between Balen and his love interest Zavrius. It’s clear from the cover alone that the reward or incentive for reading Reforged is a romance between those two characters. This is very similar to game development, as two key principles are rewards and incentives for that dopamine release.
A great example of this happening in games is with Dragon Age 2, a fantasy action RPG, since it divides its gameplay and story into three acts, which is a common Western style of storytelling. Dragon Age 2 also lets players romance in-game characters, with the romance culminating in the final act. So many people (myself included) play this game for the romances. After each major conflict or event, you’re given new dialogue and a cutscene with your companions–and a chance to escalate the romance.
It’s also a great insight into the importance of story pacing. This was a game massively influenced by a tight production schedule, and the effects of that can be felt especially in the final arc. However, each in-game companion is given a fully developed arc, even if they’re not in the story’s spotlight. I think it’s a great example of managing a cast of main and side characters and making them feel like real people.
Game development is primarily about iteration, but a lot of the time it isn’t smooth. There are so many departments working concurrently that at times entire sections of the game are moved between departments to make changes. There’s no smooth linear process from A to B in development.
There was a very iterative process between myself and Nicole Kimberling, my editor. But it felt a lot more linear than game development. Every week, I’d submit a chapter and the previous chapter would go through a round of edits. Once the first draft was complete, the developmental edits and copy edits were all part of that repeating process.
Both games and books are tailored for a specific audience, and for both, pacing is crucial. It’s the crux of engagement and the reason people remain engaged enough to make it to the end and fully experience the story’s message. I can’t help but see such strong similarities in these mediums (the adaptation of the Witcher books into video games confirms this overlap!).
But of course, not all authors write this way. My experience in game development undoubtedly colors how I write, but some authors write purely for their own gratification. In the end, it’s about whatever serves the story you’re wanting to tell!
Since time immemorial the warriors of the Paladin Order have harnessed arcane powers to protect their rulers. For Balen, who has given up his chance at love and fought his way to the top of the Paladin Order, there can be no greater honor than to serve his king. But when assassins annihilate the royal family, Balen suddenly finds himself sworn to serve the very man he abandoned.
Now with their nation threatened by enemies both within and outside the kingdom, Balen must fight hidden traitors and unnatural assassins, while also contending with the biting wit and dangerous charm of young King Zavrius. To save themselves and their nation they will have to put aside their past and reforge that trust they lost so long ago.
Praise for REFORGED:
“Lush, vibrant fantasy with a glorious love story at its heart. Haddon weaves a riveting tale of a king, his bodyguard and a romance that decides the fate of kingdoms. Filled with mythic creatures and a rich, layered world, this is fantasy at its finest.” C.S. Pacat, bestselling author of The Captive Prince Trilogy
Seth Haddon is a queer Australian writer of fantasy. He is a video game designer and producer, has a degree in Ancient History, and previously worked with cats. He lives in Sydney with his partner and their two furry children. Some of his previous adventures include exploring Pompeii with a famous archaeologist and being chased through a train station by a nun.
Author URL: https://sethhaddon.com/