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.


We Grew Three Sizes This Year! A Brunette Games 2019 Recap

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The Brunette Games crew, from L to R: Anthony Valterra, Lisa Brunette, and Dexter Woltman.

At this time last year, I'd taken my first steps toward going beyond the solo act by engaging with a few project-based contractors, but I soon discovered that wasn't enough. There was opportunity to build Brunette Games into the dream team I'd always envisioned: A collaborative cabal of casual game scribes delivering the best narrative in the business.

Brunette Games has now tripled in size, with three full-time staff members:

  • Anthony Valterra, an industry vet who steered flagship brands such as Dungeons & Dragons and Avalon Hill for Wizards of the Coast. His publishing company also released the only roleplaying game guide governing the romantic lives of D&D characters, The Book of Erotic Fantasy. His thirty-year career in brand and grant management makes him ideal in his role as business director, and we've been grateful to get his seasoned perspective and writing chops on unannounced projects for Jam City, Daily Magic Productions, G5 Entertainment, Tuyoo, and Super Gaming. He's also contributed to our work on a new game app set to release in 2020, Tiles & Tales for Helsinki-based Kuuhubb, and Jam City's 2019 game Vineyard Valley. Some of you already know he's my husband in real life, too, making Brunette Games truly a family business.
  • Dexter Woltman, who, though new to the industry, is cut from the same cloth as the rest of us. As one of my original contractors, he's now put in a year with Brunette Games, and sometimes we think he gets us better than we get ourselves. Dexter is lead writer/designer on the top-performing Redemption Games title Sweet Escapes, and in his spare time, he's also written his first interactive novel for an unannounced new mobile app and designed and written for a new franchise title to release in 2020. A superb team player, he's also contributed to our work on numerous games for clients Kuuhubb, Jam City, G5 Entertainment, Tuyoo, Super Gaming, Storm8, Belka Games, and Cherrypick Games, just to name a few!
  • Lisa Brunette, intrepid owner and leader of Brunette Games. My focus this past year has been on taking the skills I honed on industry-dominating titles Matchington Mansion, Lily's Garden, and Choices, plus the five years I spent at the narrative helm at Big Fish, and transferring them to my team so that we have a group expertise not dependent on any one of us. Our collaborative process ensures clients an above-average narrative product, and I'm confident we'll see many more hit games in the coming year as a result.

In addition to the core three, we've got two others on the Bru Crew, both voice-over actors. Cammie Middleton records voiceover work for TV, film, and games out of her L.A. studio, while also playing lead roles in both film and stage productions, including appearances in the Golden Key award-winning "Rochester 1996," to rave reviews. Andy Mack is a longtime video-game voice actor whose work has been showcased at E3, Gamescon, GameInformer, and elsewhere and includes 2019's The Amazing Fantastics and Postal 4. They've both recorded for an unannounced Jam City title to release in 2020.

It's been a whirlwind year of success, but not without its struggle. As a small business owner, I can tell you that running a business from scratch is one of the hardest things I've ever done... from providing employee benefits such as health care to grappling with decisions like liability insurance to handling the complexity of a remote client network spanning the globe. Whether it's working over the July 4th holiday on a rush job (which we did) or getting up for 6 am calls with clients in an opposite time zone (which we do regularly), you have to be willing to go the extra mile. I'm proud to say everyone on this team is, and we have the game credits to prove it. That makes the struggle so worth it!

In 2019, Brunette Games worked with a total of 12 different clients to release three new games and produce new content for three existing games. We've also been working on 10 other games still in development. 

Here's a list of our 2019 new releases:

  • Lily's Garden, for Tactile Entertainment - narrative design, concept origination and character consulting, intro storyboard
  • Sweet Escapes, for Redemption Games - intro storyboard, narrative design, scriptwriting
  • Vineyard Valley, for Jam City - general consulting

We delivered new content for the following games:

  • Survivors: The Quest, for G5 Entertainment - narrative design, scriptwriting
  • Homicide Squad: Hidden Crimes, also for G5 Entertainment - narrative design, scriptwriting, editing
  • Sweet Escapes - narrative design, scriptwriting

And finally, we're working with the following clients on unannounced projects in various stages of development:

  • Graphite Lab
  • Daily Magic Productions
  • Storm8
  • Belka Games
  • Jam City
  • Tuyoo
  • Super Gaming
  • G5 Entertainment
  • Kuuhubb
  • Cherrypick Games

Looking ahead, we're excited about the opportunities for us in 2020 both close to home and far away. Our projects gel best when we can kick off the teamwork in person, which we were able to do this year right here in St. Louis with Graphite Lab, in Helsinki with Kuuhubb, and in L.A. with Jam City. Not every client has the budget for an onsite, but we look forward to seeing you at the Game Developers Conference in March and perhaps at other venues later on.

We wish you a prosperous 2020 filled with creativity, imagination, and great game stories!


Narrative, from the Beginning

The question of whether to design a game and then fit a narrative into it, or to have a narrative and design the game to fit is probably as old as chess. There are numerous examples of success in both categories. And there are plenty of successful games with little or no narrative. I guess a narrative with no game would be a story, but  that is another blog post entirely.

But in the current genre of casual iOS games, the value of narrative is beginning to be understood. The huge success of Matchington Mansion and Lily’s Garden, in particular, has caught the attention of many a developer.

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But there is a secret to both of these games: The narrative design was brought in early. No, it wasn’t the case that the narrative designers were brought in first. But in both cases, they were brought in early enough that art assets and game play could be adjusted to the narrative. Those cute little pillows in the Match-3 of Matchington Mansion? They were suggested by the narrative design. Lily’s tragic story in the first narrative cut scene? Created by the narrative designer.

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A lot of terrific synergies can occur if narrative is brought in as early as possible. Narrative can be incorporated into tutorials and game mechanics. Game art assets can reflect or support the narrative. Tying the narrative closely to the game makes the user experience seamless and encourages engagement. This has been shown again and again in A:B testing and in focus groups.

The worst situation in game development is taking a nearly complete game out to A:B testing and hearing from representative consumers that the story is not engaging, or that they find the story boring, or even worse: offensive or problematic. Then narrative expert or consultants are called in to salvage a game. But in these cases it is almost always true that the budget has been spent and there is no money to revise, alter or add assets, change code or alter UI. In the very worst cases some narrative or text is part of the graphic art and cannot be altered, either. Now the narrative designers must try to revise and improve the story by only changing the text. This is an extremely difficult proposition.

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If you bring in expert narrative early, you might avoid becoming the next Internet meme!

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New Release in Games: Matchington Mansion!

New Release: 'Lily's Garden' for Tactile Entertainment

The Brunette Games Writers' Room


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!