Videogame Dialog Scripts – Formatting and Production

Sometimes it takes awhile to catch up on one’s reading, but Jesse Harlin’s Aural Fixation column in the November 2011 edition of Game Developer succinctly summarizes some of the issues involved with scripting, producing and integrating voice actor content in videogames — a topic rarely discussed, although definitely one covered in End to End Game Development as well as the authors’ earlier book Story and Simulations in Serious Games.

As the column discusses, no real standards have emerged in script formatting for videogame voice acting: we’ve seen scripts in Notepad files, Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoint presentations (truly a hideous application for scripting) and thankfully, in Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter (generally, we’ve been responsible for creating those). More recently, Celtx has come along as another scriptwriting tool (discussed fully in co-author Terry Borst’s book Mastering Celtx).

A key takeaway from Jesse Harlin’s column is that dialog scene production often requires multiple print and digital versions of the same script (one for the actor, one for the director, and one for audio programming). Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter and Celtx can all handle the task of generating these multiple versions. You’ll need to do some experimenting with any of these scripting tools to finesse the output you’re looking for: waiting until the last minute to generate different versions can induce panic! (And confusion on your distribution list if you don’t pay attention to your final distribution product.)

In the past we’ve converted Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter scripts to XML or CSV output; it’s doable, but requires patience and a certain number of global search-and-replaces after export. Again, trial-and-error will guide you. Decide what your output needs to be and test out approaches using a script subset (2-3 scenes). Certain macro recording programs can slightly automate your outputs — but they can also get you in even more trouble! Our general experience is that you’ll still have to handcraft your digital output — but you’ll be amazed at how much you can manipulate dedicated scriptwriting content.

As Jesse’s column confirms, script formatting in the videogame world will vary for every project: the only rule is to serve the project and its creators, and the task is always a learning experience, which is part of the fun if it doesn’t drive you crazy.

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2 comments so far

  1. […] work as a professional screenwriter, time permitting) — but I’ll direct the reader to a new post about videogame dialog scripts on the End to End Game Development book […]

  2. […] somewhat surprisingly, even this mature game development shop struggles with casting and directing audio scripts, costing them hugely and resulting in re-casting and […]


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