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GDC: Write Club

This is a capsule summary for an unusual GDC roundtable session. The actual title of the event was ‘The IGDA Game Writers’ SIG Presents: Write Club’. It was hosted by Ed Kuehnel and Matt Entin.

Holding a writing contest at 9 am on the morning after the first big party night of GDC is a bit of a gamble. Writers do not particularly enjoy getting up in the morning, and alcohol seldom improves this situation. However, after an initial crowd of shadows, the room gradually filled out with a dozen and a half of bright eyed hopefuls.

The challenge? To compete head to head with a crowd of hopeful writers to see who is the champion writer, to see who can out prose the pros, and just whose pen was mightier than whose sword. 

Ed Kuehnel and Matt Entin (whose drawling slacker voice seems to have been perfectly made to say the word ‘dude’, even though he never does) were the hosts of this delightfully whimsical event, which had already been held once the previous day to much success.

1st Challenge: Write a voice call for the description of a plant. That is, a first person voice over describing a plant (in a charming and witty style, Matt adds) in the classic adventure game style [5 minutes]

The prevailing tone of the voice calls in this round of the challenge was fantastical horror, although there was also the odd wryly comic reality check shuffled into the mix – and even a Freudian cactus tale. Many of the descriptions were unbelievably long – far too long for use in a real game – although it was apparent the writers were having fun with their task, which filled the renditions with a light hearted air.  

I could not help but conclude from this first round that most male writers are mortally afraid of plants, to a degree even HP Lovecraft would find inconceivable, while most female writers wrestle with their hidden anxiety that every plant they have ever owned has died from neglect.

2nd Challenge: You are working on a next generation platform game; the player character is Ocho, a totally radical octopus. Come up with a name and a concept for power ups for Ocho’s superspeed, superjump and invincibility [5 minutes] 

This round produced a balance of anti-octopus sadism and equally painful puns. The tone varied between playing on the oceanic theme, a Spongebob-esque pop culture transposition to the ocean bed, and horrific Spanglish crimes against language. It struck me that writers have a very strange idea of cephalopod biology and life cycle. More than a few of the entries chose to interpret the brief not, as might be assumed, as a kid’s game, but rather as a full-on undersea adult explosion of sex, drugs and wasabi.

3rd Challenge: Write some barks (short exclamations) for an eccentric Texas oil tycoon to scream out as he is hit with spare ribs [5 minutes]

It is perhaps inevitable that several writers felt it was irresistible to relate said tycoon to a certain US President, usually by reference to a certain Mr. Cheney. My favourite line presupposed the player’s deadly rib attack decapitated said tycoon, to which he replies: “Here in Texas we like to call that a light scratch.”

4th Challenge: Write a fictional interview with one of the enemy characters from the classic video game Burger Time, Mr. Egg (a fried egg on legs). Answer the following questions as Mr. Egg: “Why do you hate chefs, specifically Peter Pepper?” [3 minutes] 

Ah, Burger Time – what a classic game. Mr. Egg was always a personal favourite of mine, as there is something strangely satisfying about crushing an ambulatory egg under a giant hamburger – although one does suspect that the customers might complain if they found egg legs in their double cheese.

This was by far the funniest of the rounds, and produced spontaneous rounds of applause for some hilariously ridiculous accounts, and some truly toe-curling puns. Revenge themes dominated, naturally, although one particularly memorable account hinged around post-traumatic stress, and I was also taken with the idea that Mr. Egg’s frustration was borne of the denial of his destiny to be fried chicken.

And the winner is… 

Mike Viner 

Runners up: 

Jennifer F. Estaris , Lance Peterson, Shanming Loh, Aljernon Bolden

Winners Transcript 

Here is what Mike wrote for each stage of the competition, as best as I can read from his largely illegible scrawl. 

1st Challenge: Plant Description 

“The plant is clearly harmless. It’s four mouths and extruded row of teeth which resemble razor wire were no match for my double knit sweater. The green bile which pours from its bloodied claws are clearly intended to attract mates from its species. I wonder what it smells like? Only one way to find out.”

2nd Challenge: Ocho’s Power-ups 

Completely illegible, I’m afraid!

3rd Challenge: Rib Barks 

“What? You can’t take a ribbin’?”
“You suck, Texas-style.”
“You couldn’t hit the broad side of a refinery!”
“Chaney’s a better shot than you!” 

4th Challenge: Mr. Egg Interview

Q. Why do you hate chefs, specifically Peter Pepper?

A. Peter Pepper! Don’t get me started! He’s a no good poacher, that’s what he is! I was married once… Meg and I spent two years on the sunny side when we came across… Peter. She begged for mercy – begged! Peter Pepper scrambled my Meg. You want to know why I hate them… hate them all? They have yolk on their hands. Oh God… Meg! *sobbing*

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