The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design is mistitled, but only slightly so. For any designer or writer with aspirations of success in the gaming industry, this book will aid them. However, the book should not be the last guide an amateur buys,i nor the first. The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design is not ultimate, simply thorough, with solid advice for both novice and veteran writers. The book’s great weakness is that its authors only seem able to address half of their audience at a time; this is no one’s ultimate guide.
Each half is well-written and concise, if festooned with typos. The first half provides a walkthrough of the process of developing a strong, marketable property, and the second half teaches its readers how to see that property through the corporate minefield. The first half errs on the side of simplicity; it’s difficult to conceive of a would-be game designer unaware of the basic history of video games, or who would need to be reminded of the difference between onscreen and offscreen dialogue. A newcomer will benefit from the learning exercises provided, if they’re the sort of writer who works well with templates, but writers who fancy themselves experienced creators may find Dille and Platten’s fill-in-the-blanks approach demeaning.
The second half of the book contains valuable advice for staying hired at a development agency, but their suggestions about how to ease into the industry are not only basic, but common. Even a reader completely unconnected to the industry will find their advice rather obvious; in 2010, it is unlikely that aspiring designers are not already aware of their need to network and check for jobs online. Fresh hires will find the chapter on the various uses of lawyers, managers, and agents useful, but only if they can afford them, and the glossary will be useful only so long as the references are relevant—and references to plot devices like the Giant Rat of Sumatra may not be relevant as long as the authors seem to think.
The guide may be penultimate, but it does have its strengths. Dille and Zuur Platten both are warm, considerate writers who want their readers to succeed in the field. But the odds of any novice being guided to chairmanship through this guide alone are slim to none. The readers and writers both would be better served through an expansion of this book into a two or three volume set to give the writers the breathing room to be more cohesive, and the vast scope of readers more distinct attention. Dille and Zuur Platten have the necessary skills and ambition to make an ultimate guide to videogame writing; this just isn’t it.