Usc school of Cinematic Arts, ctwr 410 Professor



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Character Development and Storytelling for Games


USC School of Cinematic Arts, CTWR 410

Professor: Danny Bilson

Contact Info:



dbilson@gmail.com

Office Hours by appointment- usually before or after class.

















Course Description:

The dramatic potential of games and interactive entertainment is in its infancy today. Popular games offer lavish worlds and 3D environments to explore, and attempt to people them with believable and empathetic characters. There is much room for growth, however, in this aspect of games; much opportunity for serious writers and creative thinkers to build the foundation for the next generation of immersive fiction.

The purpose of this class is to give students an understanding of classic dramaturgy – characterization, motivation, story patterns, structures, styles, genres, etc. -- and to teach them to use these storytelling skills in a new way to create emotionally rich characters and worlds for interactive entertainment--In other words, how to convey story through objectives and rewards.

The methods in this class will draw from both the wealth of experience in the Writing Division of the USC School of Cinema-Television, as well as high-level thinkers in the game industry who are charting new ground in this area.

The class will explore two core creative issues facing game fiction writers- Developing fiction for existing game mechanics, and inspiring original game mechanics with great fiction.

In addition to this convergence of classic and interactive storytelling methods, the class will have working interaction with game producers, designers, and writers whose games are pushing the envelope on the development of character and story in games.


Meeting Information:

The class will meet once a week for three hours. The first hour of each week will be spent discussing the topics described below and screening/playing example scenes from films and games. The second two hours will be a working session where student assignments are pitched, critiqued and revised with input from the entire class.



Pre-requisites: CTIN 488 is recommended but not required.

Required Texts:

  • There will be no required texts, however students will be called upon to critique fiction from different games currently published.

Evaluation of student performance:

Class Participation 30%

Game Fiction Reviews 10%

Game Fiction Project 60%

Course content (summarized by class meeting)

Week 1: Introduction


Introductions: Who we are and why we are here.

Course overview – objectives, assignments, grading, etc.

How can good writing advance the interactive experience?

Fiction before mechanics or vice versa?

The X and the Y

Final Project: Original game I.P. (build the game you want to play the most) Package, PP and Walkthrough.

What are student game fiction reviews?

Guest Speakers

Intro PP: Screenwriting in Gamespace

Game intro fiction demo (time permitting)


Week 2: Classic characterization

Discussion: Classic characters in games, films, television & literature. What is character in gamespace? What is motivation in gamespace? Backstory? How do these impact the creation of game characters?

Student game reviews

Student I.P. pitches

Week 3: Characterization for games


Discussion: Player motivations vs. character motivations. Building character – mechanics vs. dramatics. Character types, character traits.

Student IP one page treatment due.

Student Game reviews

Discussion: How to provide relevant and immersive fiction to existing game mechanics. Assignment: Create abstract mechanics then develop relevant fiction.

In class team exercise: Mechanics to Fiction pt. 1



Week 4: Empathy and emotion

Student Game Reviews.

Discussion: Meaningful moments, identifying with characters, making choices that matter.

The Three Act structure for games: Opening, Mid Game, End Game.

In class team exercise: Mechanics to Fiction pitches

Week 5: Classic conflict


Student Game Reviews

Discussion: Developing conflict: collision, complication and culmination.

Team Presentations: Mechanics to Fiction to complete.

Week 6: Guest speaker: (time permitting)


Student Game Reviews

Discussion: The development of successful game fiction and characters: Jak & Daxter and beyond.



Three act game structure due.

In class team exercise: Fiction to Mechanics Pt. 1


Week 7: Story arc

Student Game Reviews

Discussion: The terminology of structure: exposition, point of attack, rising action, turning point, falling action, revelation, twist, and resolution.

Discussion: How great game fiction inspires great game mechanics.

Assignment: Develop original mechanics from existing fiction.

Week 8: Game conflict, Plotting and subplotting


Student Game Reviews

Discussion: Game objectives related to conflict and story structure. The quest, the journey and the challenge. Discussion: Classical vs. revolutionary screenplay structure. Dealing with coincidence in story plotting. The creation of drama and tension. Crucial moments in storytelling.

In class team exercise: Fiction to Mechanics Pt. 2

Week 9: Developing Game Mechanics from Story


Student Game Reviews

Team Presentations: Fiction to Mechanics


Week 10: Guest Speaker on I.P. development (time permitting)


Student Game Reviews

The Franchise Power Point

Level based fiction from group projects Pt 1.

Week 11


Discussion: Revelation versus emergence. Creation of drama within levels and across levels. Pacing of playtime and the “mini-arc.” Emergent A.I. versus “scripts”.

Level based fiction presentations.



IP Powerpoints due

Week 12: The Student IP projects


Student Power Points

Week 13: Guest Speaker—


Student Power Point Reviews

Week 14:

Discussion: Original character versus licensed properties. Adapting characters & worlds to interactive environments.

Student Power Point Reviews


Walkthroughs due.

Week 15: Final Presentations with guest feedback. (time permitting)

Selected Power Points for professional presentation and review.


Missing an Assignment Deadline, Incompletes:

The only acceptable excuses for missing an assignment deadline or taking an incomplete in the course are personal illness or a family emergency. Students must inform the professor before the assignment due date and present verifiable evidence in order for a make-up to be scheduled. Students who wish to take incompletes must also present documentation of the problem to the instructor or teaching assistant before final grades are due.



Note for students with disabilities:

Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to us as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301, and is open 8:30am5:00pm Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776.


Academic Integrity:

The School of Cinema-Television expects the highest standards of academic excellence and ethical performance from USC students. It is particularly important that you are aware of and avoid plagiarism, cheating on exams, submitting a paper to more than one instructor, or submitting a paper authored by anyone other than yourself. Violations of this policy will result in a failing grade band be reported to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs. If you have any doubts or questions about these policies, consult “SCAMPUS” and/or confer with the instructor.




Character Development for Storytelling

USC School of Cinema-Television, CTWR 4XX 1







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