Film London Labs: The Games Sessions

Latest 8 Feb 2023

News Story

Late January saw the Film London Labs team collaborate with Games London to present Film London Labs: The Games Sessions. As film and TV become more interactive and after a run of notably cinematic games, this lab was designed for screenwriters who are interested in writing for games, and to also explore what the games industry can gain from the story skills of film and TV writers.

During the lab, we delved into understanding the process of writing interactive stories, how to translate the language of the games industry, and the use of new techniques to inspire cinematic-style games. Games developers, screenwriters and narrative designers talked about the space where film and games meet, helping aspiring creatives understand how to bridge the two worlds.

Kicking off of the week, we were joined by Games Designer & Producer John Lau, and Writer and Narrative Designer Leah Muwanga-Magoye, both alumni of Games London Ensemble 2022, which showcases UK video games talent from Black, Asian and underrepresented ethnicities. They presented insights into viable opportunities for screenwriters and the realities of crossing that bridge. When entering the games space, Leah stressed the importance of understanding your own motivation, “to have a curiosity about how it’s put together but also a sense of clarity of why you want to be in the [games] industry in the first place.”

Jack Attridge, co-founder and creative director of digital entertainment studio Flavourworks, and creator of the “beautifully crafted” cinematic game Erica. Influenced by cinema and the desire to make games accessible to non-gamers, he discussed developing innovative touchscreen technology to enhance the user experience, immersing them further into the story, “We wanted the world itself to be the interface. In Erica, the interactions are more like wiping away a tear from somebody’s cheek on your phone screen, your touch equates to touching that world.”

BAFTA-winning video game designer Sam Barlow revitalised the full-motion video genre with his ground-breaking work in Her Story, Telling Lies and Immortality, and leads the way in non-linear narratives. He said, ”Beyond the idea of Her Story, there was something very interesting in terms of finding a different way to let people enjoy film narrative. Structurally what does the computer give us over just watching something in a traditional linear way?” Considering the usual way traditional structured narrative keeps an audience engaged, “In games, because you're driving [the story], because the interactivity is this constant engine, there is some kind of tactile back and forth dialogue, you don’t need that structure. The interaction, the curiosity and whatever you’re driving is keeping you engaged in the story.”

Screenwriters Adam Butcher and Anna Costello joined the Bafta-nominated studio Electric Noir through a Film London Labs x Electric Noir collaboration in 2020, leading to permanent positions as Creative Lead and Senior Creative respectively. They talked about how they navigate working across both the screen and games industry and how they created a dramatic story incorporating the interface of a mobile phone. The experience of writing for Electric Noir, Adam said, is “ Not getting too bogged down in the interactivity and the game play so much and more about creating stories that have beats and characters. Moments that work however you play them.”

Hannah Nicklin, an award-winning narrative and game designer and CEO of indie studio Die Gute Fabrik, presented a talk on theory & practices on writing for games. She highlighted the importance of understanding the structure of the industry & medium, navigating the language of games in order to develop your writing craft. For writers coming from traditional linear storytelling, excited to move into non-linear storytelling, “Think of it not as a virtue of storytelling in games but as a quality of the material you can work with or not work with.” She's the author of Writing for Games: Theory and Practice for creators entering the independent games sector.

We rounded off the week with a talk from Steve Bailey, Senior Principal Games Analyst at Omdia, specialising in the games market, virtual worlds, online consoles, and social games. He gave insights to the current games market, history & resurgence of interactive video and the relationships between film and the market. He also highlighted the rising popularity of visual-novel games, which he said are due to “to have a major breakout moment in the next few years”, already finding their place on platforms like Netflix.

Overview by Rhian Solomon-Ayeh