The Brunette Games Writers' Room

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One of the distinguishing features of working with Brunette Games is that you're not trusting your precious game story to some isolated, solitary freelancer but rather a team of highly trained professionals who work together to deliver narrative design and writing that consistently out-performs other games on the market.

Two of us on the team came to game design from backgrounds in traditional publishing. The convention in book publishing and journalism is for all writing to go through a series of checks and balances before it's ever put out to the public for consumption. The process looks like this:

  1. The writer, sometimes working in a team with other writers and editors, outlines the concept for the work.
  2. A developmental editor provides feedback to the writer on the overall theme, setting, story arc, characters, and the structure of the work.
  3. The writer goes through the draft stage, writing and then revising, with the feedback of the developmental editor.
  4. Once the writing content is pretty well locked down, it still gets two more passes. The first is from a copyeditor, who tinkers with sentence structure and might punch up lines for more humor or drama or both.
  5. Finally, the work gets a final proofreading pass to clear away any typos or errors in grammar and style.

Game writing has not traditionally received anywhere near this much scrutiny, and that's part of why the writing in games has often had a bad rap. The other reason is that game text has often been written by game designers, artists, programmers, and others who usually have zero training as writers.

At Brunette Games, we apply the standards of traditional publishing to our game projects. Whether one of us writes a scene or we draft the scene as co-writers, the text also receives several rounds of feedback and review. What goes to the client is a highly polished product. No one's text gets to the client without review.

Borrowing heavily from TV and film, we work as a "writers' room." We discuss and try out characterizations, scenarios, and dialogue, tapping the team brain. We conduct what's known in Hollywood as a "table read," each of us taking a character and reading out the script aloud to listen, critique, make adjustments, and finely hone the text.

We're also experienced specialists in both writing as a professional skill and specifically game writing and design as that unique practice combining the right-brain creativity of fictional world creation and the left-brain activity of integrating that world with the primary mission of gameplay.

Our newest member, Anthony Valterra, is a game-industry vet with 30 years' professional experience. He steered high-profile game brands such as Dungeons & Dragons and Avalon Hill, leveraging his master's degree in religion on titles with heavy mythological content. His former company published the classic D20 player guide, Book of Erotic Fantasy. Since joining Brunette Games, he's designed and written locations for G5's game Survivors: The Quest and works on several unannounced projects as writer, editor, and reviewer.

Dexter Woltman has worked with Brunette Games for more than a year. He possesses a BA in Scriptwriting and has already designed and written an interactive novel and the launch content for an unannounced narrative puzzle game. He's also lead writer/designer on Sweet Escapes, and you can see his impact on this game in the rave reviews players give the character Scoops. Dexter also edits the games Homicide Squad: New York Stories and Jewels of Rome for our client G5 Entertainment.

Most clients and followers know my background by now, so I'll just say this. When I entered the game industry more than a decade ago, I brought an editorial acumen honed as a journalist, published fiction writer, and professor of writing to all the games I've touched. But I also approached every game as a player first, crafting my stories in service to the game. I believe this is why I've had so many successful games to my credit, and that same spirit is why my team continues to rack up successes.

Only one of our many clients over the years has had in-house narrative talent; they don't need it; they've got us.


St. Louis Ranks No. 1 for Female Entrepreneurship

My longtime friend and fellow Saint Louis University grad, Lubna Somjee, posted the above recently on LinkedIn. We're honored to be thought of here at Brunette Games, and I'm personally grateful for the recognition. I hadn't realized what a small cohort I'm part of as a female entrepreneur. As the Forbes article Lubna links to says, only 24.5% of U.S. startups in their first two years are owned by women. You can read the full story here, which provides a list of the top 20 cities for female entrepreneurship; St. Louis is no. 1. There's also an interesting discussion of what challenges and factors go into making a city a supportive place for women to start successful businesses.

When I relocated my business to St. Louis from the Pacific Northwest in 2017, I was a solo act. Two years later, we're a team of three full-timers and two contract voice-over actors. We love our Midwestern headquarters. It's been a privilege to hire Dexter Woltman right out of my game design classes at Webster University, and we're active members of our local St. Louis Game Developers Co-Op. I've always said that St. Louis is vastly underrated as a city in a "flyover state." The degree of cultural and natural world offerings at your doorstep compared to the low cost of living makes it, in my opinion, a much better option than cities I've lived in on the East and West Coasts. Of course, my family is here, too, so that helps tip the scales.

Congratulations to St. Louis for this distinction. We're thrilled to be part of the entrepreneurial spirit here in the river city!


Brunette Games Now Offers Voice-Over Services

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Brunette Games is pleased to announce a new offering in our suite of services: voice-over talent! As storytelling becomes more and more of a focus in mobile games, we see greater need for professional voice-actor recordings to help enhance and heighten narrative. As narrative designers and game writers, it's a natural fit for us to work directly with voice-over talent. We write the scripts they'll be reading, after all, and can provide the right direction and feedback for voicing dialogue that best works for the game and characters. It's a great benefit to clients, who can regain valuable studio time by offloading management of this task. We've already inaugurated this new service with one regular client who will have not one but three distinct voices adding texture and polish to one of their games. 

Two voice-over actors have joined our team to support the new offering: Cammie Middleton and Andy Mack.

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I've known Cammie Middleton for many years and have been only too excited to see her acting career soar. A native St. Louisan, she now works out of her L.A. studio. Game industry peeps might recognize Cammie as a series regular in "Dire Multiverse," directed by longtime narrative designer Angel McCoy. Cammie has also played the lead in several films: "Glass Half Empty," "Eastern Standard," and "Caseworx." A multitalented artist, she sings Jazz and Blues, is an accomplished stand-up comedian, has appeared in theater productions across the U.S., and can even make her ears wiggle. Read more about Cammie on her team page, where you can also listen to her reel.

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Unbeknownst to either of us, Andy Mack and I worked on the same games for the same Eastern European studio for years. That was Serbia-based Eipix, a longtime Big Fish partner and developer of flagship game series such as Mystery Case Files, Hidden Expedition, Phantasmat, Myths of the World, and many others. So literally, Andy has been voicing my scripts for a long time already. Now we can do so directly!

Besides the VO work he's done on Eipix titles, Andy has contributed to Dying Light 2, Whispers of a Machine, Grim Dawn: Forgotten Gods, and many other games. Andy toils daily at the metaphorical anvil of voice-overs, honing his craft and donning the 'chain mail' of vocal awesomeness. He'll proudly shout from his Hobbit hole that doing character work is his specialty, but many bards have sung and several lengthy tomes have been written about his audiobook, commercial, and e-learning skills as well. Give his reel a listen and find out more at his team page.

Please join us in welcoming Andy and Cammie to the BG team. And feel free to reach out to us to discuss how VO might enhance your game. We're happy to do a test sample anytime.

 


New Release! 'Vineyard Valley' for Jam City

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Brunette Games is pleased to announce the release of Jam City's Vineyard Valley. Vineyard Valley is a collapse, color blast game with a renovation storyline set in a winery. With this title, the Jam City team pushed the innovation curve with a slightly more adult setting than is customary in the genre. The game is rendered in 3D, and the art and design are beautiful. To capture the look and flavor of a winery, Jam City consulted with Genevieve Gorder, celebrity interior designer and Emmy-nominated television personality (Netflix’s Stay Here, Bravo’s Best Room Wins, and TLC’s Trading Spaces). Gorder designed the furniture and interiors featured in Vineyard Valley and will even appear in the game.

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A new client for Brunette Games, Jam City brought in our team just before launch as consultants to see what more could be done with the game before release. We've continued to consult on the title as well as work with Jam City on other, unannounced projects.

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In Vineyard Valley, you earn stars by beating puzzles, and you can use those earned stars to renovate and run a small winery, all while navigating the relationships of a cast of colorful characters and dealing with the pitfalls of running a business. The characters are quirky and fun, the rooms are lovely, and the decorative choices are modern and tasteful. The winery itself is enormous, with a lot of room for renovation, stories, and adventures.

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Here is the official description:

Design & renovate the vineyard resort of your dreams! Express your home design creativity by playing exciting puzzles in this FREE color blast matching game. 

Uncover the secrets & mysteries of Vineyard Valley with a lovable cast of unpredictable characters.  Complete puzzle quests and grow your business from catering to restaurant to acclaimed destination resort!

Bring your home designs to life as you transform the rundown vineyard to a vibrant resort. Flex your interior design muscles by customizing the kitchen, dining room, entrance, guest rooms, garden and more. Embark on a brand new adventure puzzle game and uncover the mystery of The Tangled Vines.

Blast cubes through hundreds of challenging collapse puzzles, create powerful combos and let the renovation fun begin! 

Game features:

  • RENOVATE, design and restore your very own vineyard resort
  • DISCOVER the quirky cast of characters and enjoy their stories and secrets 
  • MATCH and blast cubes to solve hundreds of addictive matching puzzles
  • DECORATE the resort to increase your Prestige level and unlock awesome rewards
  • JOIN social clubs to connect to earn free lives, extra coins, and special perks

Are you ready for dream designs, mystery, and drama? Get immersed in fun gameplay and the personal stories of your new friends while you design and renovate the vineyard resort in this new home decorating game.

Download Vineyard Valley and start designing now! 


PixelPop Festival 2019: A Community for Gaming

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I’m Dexter Woltman, a Game Writer / Designer here at Brunette Games. On the weekend of September 13th and 14th, I had the pleasure of representing our narrative design company at PixelPop Festival. For those who aren’t familiar, here’s an official description of the event:

PixelPop Festival is a game conference and expo in St. Louis, Missouri, that celebrates unique games and the many people who make them possible.

PixelPop Festival features independent tabletop, digital, and experimental games produced by local and national game creators. Two full days of diverse conference sessions from industry professionals are curated to equip you with creative tools and resources to make remarkable work that makes a difference.

There are two main components to PixelPop. The first is the expo hall, where dozens of designers show off their creative visions in gaming, whether that be video gaming or tabletop gaming. The second is a series of talks coming from industry veterans that cover a wide range of game design topics.

This was my first time attending PixelPop. Aside from stories of past years, I didn’t know what to expect. I put on my Brunette Games shirt, filled a pack with notebooks, and went in with an open mind. The first thing I saw when I entered the expo hall was an overarching sense of community. Not only were there dozens of faces I recognized from classes and industry appearances, but everyone was actively engaged with one another. They were talking, laughing, and, most importantly, playing games together.

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An image of the PixelPop expo hall.

The community of PixelPop was filled with visitors from various cities across the country, like Chicago. Many local St. Louis developers also attended. As for the presenters themselves, some were part of companies with personal IPs to showcase, and others were independent developers demonstrating their design skills. Everyone was there to be part of something and engage in a supportive atmosphere.

As for the expo hall itself, it was a large room to accompany the dozens of stations and tables inside. Oddly enough, I noticed a strange lack of prominent lighting in certain areas. As the day went on, I realized this dim lighting lead to an explorative atmosphere where the games shined.

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Gamers playing a chicken-themed dice game called Dice Fight.

In the hall, imagination flourished in small-scale indies. While some presenters told a story with their games, others displayed gimmicks. Both concepts were equally as entertaining. I went from playing a game where you slap a fish controller in a dual fighting game to a narrative tale focused on the discovery of Earth’s roundness. 

Coming from a narrative design company myself, I couldn’t help but wonder about the story behind each game I played. I asked the developers what their inspiration was for their games, as well as the messages they’re trying to convey. One particularly adorable dog shelter management game, To the Rescue, had a darker, more hidden message. It called attention to the ongoing issue of kennel euthanizations, something players in the management game could do when their kennels got overfilled. Of course, this mechanic was optional, especially for younger audiences.

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To the Rescue is adorable and honest.

Beyond that were a plethora of narrative-based games. I spent over an hour playing a fun tabletop roleplaying game called Thalassophobia. The game was described by its creators as Dungeons and Dragons meets The Thing. My friends and I were each given occupations and were tasked with investigating reports of missing patients at a nearby hospital. I received the role of doctor. Coming from a narrative background, I constantly strived to push motivation onto my character. The end result was an obnoxious doctor who heals critical injuries with band-aids and who probably but definitely doesn’t have a real doctor’s license.

I also can’t forget to mention the roleplaying game, Starry Messengers, where I could only communicate with other players through handwritten letters. The setting may have placed me centuries ago, but I still found ways to put modern-day memes in all my letters. There was also the occult choice game, Hills & Hollows, that features tarot cards as a decision device. I’m proud to say I’m one of the lucky few who discovered a hidden ending and somehow summoned the Devil. Last but not least, I found a texting game called We should talk, where I texted my in-game girlfriend from a bar. Again, I discovered a rare ending that definitely got me broken up with.

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The poster for Hills & Hallows.

Throughout these many narrative-focused games, others also relied on the amusement of gimmicks. I probably spent too much time at Hellcouch, a game where an actual couch is a controller. A previous professor of mine and an active member of the St. Louis Game Developer Co-Op, Rob Santos, also presented two incredibly fun games. One featured an Infinity Gauntlet as a controller and put players in the shoes of Thanos. The game was a parody of the recent blockbuster hit, Avengers: Endgame. An endless runner, players used Infinity Stones to avoid being caught by Ant-Man before the superhero flies up Thanos’ personal “endgame.” Santos also showed a mouse cursor battle royal. There were computer mice scattered around the table, and players scrambled to find an active cursor to move around and shoot others with.

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Santos' Infinity Gauntlet and mouse battle royal games side-by-side.

 

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Hellcouch is a game you control with standing and sitting.

Beyond the expo hall and games was an impressive line-up of industry talks. While I didn’t attend every talk of the festival, I did pay special attention to the ones with a narrative focus. The first I attended was a talk about visual novels. They spoke of the various ways to go about writing a visual novel and how to deal with branching choices. As someone who recently worked on an interactive novel with many, many choices, I was particularly interested in their organizational methods.

There was also a talk on depicting mental health in games. This can be a sensitive topic, and I admit struggling with it in my own game writing. The talk focused on ways to approach mental health respectfully and realistically. The largest takeaway for me was that writers must consider mental health as part of the character, rather than merely a status ailment.

Lastly, I attended a talk on procedurally generated storytelling in the real world. It was all about how designers can use sounds and images in the real world to influence the story of a game. Not only was this a very intriguing subject, but it opened my eyes to various ways in-game environments can convey stories beyond just typical dialogue and cutscenes.

Oh, also there was a mini talk about Bad Tetris. Someone intentionally made an aggravating version of Tetris that moves a character around based on regular Tetris block movements. The comments the developer received for sharing the game online were just as funny as the game’s actual existence.

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Bad Tetris, "It made me frustrated but like in a good way."

Throughout all these games and talks, PixelPop taught me that no one has to forge the gaming industry alone. This festival builds a community. It’s about finding reliance and mutual interest in ideas and mechanics. It’s for people trying to bring awareness to their creativity. It was an honor to be part of the festival, and I hope Brunette Games is even more involved next year.