Using Scrivener for Game Design

It’s been quite a while now, but once upon a time I wrote a post about a software tool for writers called Scrivener that revolutionizes the way authors create worlds. This post attempted both to inform how it works and to review it as a product, based on the lessons taught in the tutorial. I had planned on writing a follow-up post that covers the remaining sections of the tutorial, but I never tackled that post because I never finished the tutorial. I’ve since bought an online course at Udemy on how to learn to use Scrivener and haven’t looked back. I decided not to write the second half of the post because there are plenty of videos that do a better job showing what I can only write about, and my point was pretty much made in the first part anyway.

But, the moral of the story, in both my post and the many videos on the software that you can find on Udemy, YouTube, or anywhere that Scrivener exists, is that Scrivener is the best tool for writers since the typewriter, and it’s just a good idea to have it.

What none of these courses, posts, or the like will tell you, however, is that Scrivener is not just a decent world-building tool for writers, screenwriters, and bloggers. It can also be used for game designers.

What???

Yes. But to make that make sense, let me first remind you what Scrivener is:

Scrivener is a project-based design tool that keeps all of your documents, web links, video files, PDFs, etc. in one place. What does that mean? It means you can use the program to plan out your games extensively, from the journal itself, to character bios and files, to maps of your games, and so on. You can also tag your assets, keep notes on every file, view select files at once, maintain side-by-side comparisons of documents (perfect for scripting), and so on.

Here is a sample of what my game design journal for Entrepreneur: The Beginning looks like in Scrivener.

From my May 25, 2009 entry:

scrivener game design 1

Notice all of the many tabs in the left binder that have dates attached? Yep, those are journal entries. I can track my development progress, ideas, etc. by clicking on the tab for that day. Because I can tag items with labels and/or keywords, searching for specific terms is quick and easy. If I need to find out what my plans are for the trashcans west of the game’s town, I can search for the keyword “trash” and see what pops up.

Next, here’s an early version of the game map that I produced in another program. I’ve imported it as a PNG file, and here we are. If I need to get a quick reference on where a store is located, I don’t have to open the game file to find it. I can just look at the graphic I posted in Scrivener.

A visual map of Hybrid City to remind me where everything is located:

scrivener game design 2

And that’s not all. Games require a programming language specific to the engines they’re designed on, and Scrivener, while not a compiling source, and not recommended for actual coding, can still be used as a storage container for active codes or scripts, and even used as a before and after example if certain code needs revision.

Here is a sample of what my plotscript file looks like in Scrivener. This comes from HSPEAK, the scripting language for the OHRRPGCE, which is the engine I use to design Entrepreneur: The Beginning.

The script I use for starting the game:

scrivener game design 3

Because Scrivener does not work as a compiling source, you would need to copy your scripts to a text file and compile from there. Or, you could probably export your scripts into a single text file, or into a document that you can convert into a text file. It’s neither hard nor time-consuming. But again, it is perfect for keeping track of scripts and for taking notes on what each script is used for, and even where you might be using it in the game.

An example of the side-by-side view, using the search parameter “random text”:

scrivener game design 6

You can also keep a chart that tracks how you’re using your assets in case you want to make a drastic change to one of your systems.

Keeping track of game assets:

scrivener game design 4

But Scrivener is not just a place to update your design journal or list locations of assets. You can also write the story in the same file you keep graphic images, research, etc.

Here is a sample of a story script in Scrivener. The program comes with various templates to help you draft the perfect story in your preferred format. It also comes with character and setting sheet templates to help you flesh out your people and locales during the design phase.

Note: Those templates are usually located in the novel formats, but you can import and use them wherever you want.

A sample story script from the game’s introduction:

scrivener game design 5

If these screenshots don’t do enough to convince you that this program is awesome and a great tool for game designers, then check out this three-part video I recorded on the topic.

Video 1 (Design Journal): https://youtu.be/N9kcDbOBB_Y

Video 2 (Plotscripting): https://youtu.be/9DhhU0CZJCo

Video 3 (Screenwriting): https://youtu.be/YNnj6G5d8Ho

Full Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2ihfMnuinWPyDkNfgtqSotqWuonxKqWM

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding all of its possibilities. Scrivener is the ultimate organizational tool, and it can even import mind maps if you have supported software. It’s extremely versatile, and after going through a minor learning curve, anyone can find a use for it in game design planning, or any type of design, and it can even replace the need for a Trello account if you’re clever enough.

It does come with a price tag, but it’s low compared to most writing software, and probably more useful than most of them.

So far, it’s saving me the burden of getting lost in my plotscript rewrites, and it’s reminding me of all of those unimplemented features I’ve forgotten about.

scrivener game design 7

Scrivener can be bought and downloaded at https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php.

You can also try it for free for 30 days. So, if you’re on the fence, you can explore that fence without fear of falling too hard on your crotch.

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Cover image from Pixabay

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