The Threshold Kids

Finally, finally, FINALLY the Threshold Kids are out in the world and everyone can see their glory and horror.

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More than anything else in Control, the Threshold Kids are my fever dream. When I first pitched the idea of a kids’ puppet show inside a AAA game, the reception was, uh, lukewarm. “Janky handmade sockpuppets explaining our complicated ideas in a simple way” didn’t resonate with people. But the idea haunted my head. I couldn’t stop talking about them.

One day, Mircea Purdea from the cinematics team wandered over to the writing room. “I heard you want puppets,” he said. “I have some experience with puppets.” I explained my idea to him and gave him links to material that had a similar tone. Shows like Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. Especially this episode:

And Hi Stranger, of course.

After Mircea saw the videos, he was all-in on the idea. He made the puppets by hand, crafted all the props, and built sets for them. Heli Salomaa sewed tiny, detailed costumes for them. I wrote up the beats for the episodes and handed them off to Clay Murphy, who added his humor to the screenplays. (He later wrote the shrill, 90s-era theme song for TK and consulted on the VO sessions.) And then filming started, and everything got darker than we’d planned.

When we went to E3 2018 to announce the game, a fan presented us with a sockpuppet award and it felt like a sign. (Thanks so much for Socky!)

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I’m so grateful to everyone who helped bring my haunting puppet dream to life. It’s been a joy to see my kids find their audience and receive the love they deserve.

VG24/7 collected a bunch of them into one video. Happy viewing!

Control's Reception

Well, the strange baby that we poured so much love into has been released into the world at last. And people LOVE IT. So gratifying to hear all the praise for the game—especially the world-building and oddities that were so dear to my heart.

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There are so many great reviews out there, but here’s one that talks about the research and inspiration behind the game. Happy reading!

The Night Before Control

In 2017, Sam Lake and Mikki Rautalahti pitched me a game about an unusual government agency. The P7 pitch had beautiful concept art & interesting character descriptions, but it was the New Weird flavor that hooked me. I fell in love with it. That was my first glimpse of Control.

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I was entranced by Control. I sold my belongings & moved halfway around the world to HEL to work on it. And as I dug into the design documents, I fell deeper in love. This was the world & story I’d waited for my entire career. A perfect match for my interests & imagination.

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I poured my heart into helping build Control’s world: The rules of the Oldest House & the unsettling experiences players might have there. The lore of this strange & shifting world. As the story developed, Eevi Korhonen & I drew from history, literature, and the weirdest corners of the web.

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With help from Petteri Tuomimaa, we vetted literally hundreds of candidates to assemble a brilliant writing team: Clay Murphy, Ben Gelinas, Angel McCoy, Sinikka Annala, and (eventually) Brooke Maggs. Everyone fell in love with Control & itched to get writing.

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We went on field trips to see Hereditary & Blade Runner. We dissected Beyond the Black Rainbow, Annihilation & Stalker. We visited the Museum of Jurassic Technology and watched Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. I’d brought my occult library with me from the US, so we studied superstitions, weird history, natural wonders & the paranormal. Our motto was “Make It Weird.”

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We tried to give people outside the studio hints about the strange creation that was coming. But some things are hard to explain.

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All of this to say, I loved Control. Walking away from the game to take on my current role at Ubisoft Massive was a tough decision. It was the right choice, though. I love my new project and team. And I knew I was leaving Control in capable hands.

I trusted the writers to bring our screenplays to life and work with the other teams to realize this wild fever dream of a world. I’ve followed the game updates with interest & I can’t wait to see how our words got transformed into playable quests.

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Of course, it takes a huge team of people to make a game like Control, so I have to praise the entire P7 team at Remedy for their hard work and vision. And, of course, everyone at 505 Games for their support. Congratulations, to all of us. I can’t wait to play!


My old website was looking pretty dated, so I moved everything over to a (slightly) fresher template. I cleaned up a lot of loose ends in the process. Don’t worry! All of the Ask Anna posts are still available in the archive. I’ll update my Game Writing FAQ soon with material from recent talks, and I’m going to start blogging again, so check back occasionally.

A classic

A classic

Massive Changes

Last week I was delighted to announce that I’m moving to Malmö to work for Ubisoft Massive as Lead Writer. I’ve been sitting on the news for a while now, so it feels good to have it out there. I moved to Helsinki because I fell in love with Control and knew I had to be a part of it. Letting go of the project was hard, but I know that it’s in good hands with Sam Lake and my talented team. I can’t wait to see the final game they create.

The Sudden Stop posted a really sweet farewell message after my announcement on Twitter.

I’ll miss the incredible Remedy fan community a lot, and the friends I made here, and of course annoying the HEL out of everyone with my puns, but a MASSIVE new opportunity awaits me. I’m excited to get started.

Control Gameplay Demo

During gamescom, Remedy's communications director Thomas Puha walked the folks at GameStar through the Control demo. The narration is German, but the video still lets you experience a mission midway through our game.

Announcing Control

The news is finally out: P7 is Control. I finally got to talk about the game at E3. It was wonderful to share the weirdness with everyone. Remedy fansite The Sudden Stop has done an amazing round-up of all the articles, interviews, and videos from the show, so I'll just post our announcement trailer.

Death of the Outsider Nominated for WGA Award

Tonight I was alerted that the narrative team on Dishonored: Death of the Outsider has been nominated for the Writers' Guild of America Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing Award. 

Obviously, we're thrilled to make the award shortlist--especially when we're in such talented company.

You can see the list of nominees for all award categories on the WGA website. The presentation ceremony is on Feb 11th, so we'll know then how we did. Cross your fingers for us!

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New Job at Remedy Games

I'm delighted to announce that I've accepted a job as Senior Writer at Remedy Games. I've been a big fan of their work for years, ever since I played Alan Wake. But I never dreamed I'd move to Helsinki and actually work for them. I'm excited about the project I'll be working on. It's a dream story, for me. I can't wait to get started!

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider Announced

At long last, I can tell everyone about the project I was working on this year. It was a real labor of love for me and the entire team. Such a dream job, writing about Billie Lurk and her quest to kill the Outsider. Look how badass she is!

It was a joy to work with all the smart, talented people at Arkane Studios. I can't wait until the game comes out so you can see all of our hard work come to fruition. Here's a small peek:

Inside Story Panel at ECGC 2015

The video for my ECGC panel in 2015 suddenly appeared on my Twitter timeline yesterday. I'd never seen it before! It was fun to talk about games with Jesse Scoble, Ann Lemay, Mikki Rautalahti. If you're a game writer, seriously add ECGC to your don't-miss list of cons. It's fun and informative.

Does Length Matter?

Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer asked for my views on why video games don't list play length on the box anymore. Here's my response:

“By the time any major title is released, we know from thorough testing how long the average playthrough takes, how long average leveling up takes, and how long it takes different play styles to play through the game,” says game writer Anna Megill. “We know the times for players who skip cinematics vs. players who read every line of conversation, explorers vs. achievers, and so forth. We even have internal speedrun records. A studio could easily estimate an average gameplay time.”

However, Megill believes that just because a studio could estimate average playtime doesn’t mean it should. “There’s danger in viewing games as a time investment rather than an experience,” she says. “Journey took me four hours to play through the first time, but it changed the way I see games forever. How do you quantify that?”

It's an interesting article with thoughtful responses from some big industry names. Definitely worth a read--even if I don't see gameplay times appearing on boxes again anytime soon.


Gamewriting Book Reviews

I get a LOT of requests for gamewriting book recommendations. Some of you want a manual or how-to guide that covers the basics. Some of you already work as designers or artists and want to understand the story side of games better. "Anna," you say, "there's a crapton of gamewriting books these days. How do I find the best book for me? I don't even know what I need to know!"

I hear you. It's tough. But I'm here to help.

The best way to learn is by reading books and playing games—and then tearing them apart to understand how they're made. Learn to read and play games with a critical lens. Always ask yourself how the creator makes the story and characters work—or why they don't work.

"But, Anna," you say, "how do I get that critical lens?" Okay, fair question. I wrote up a list of resources to get designers started, but it obviously won't help non-designers. So, here's my new plan. I'll write short reviews of gamewriting and narrative design books. And by "short," I mean a sentence or two. These will not be in-depth critiques. I'll discuss the book's focus, its best audience, and how practical/useful/accurate I find its content as a professional gamewriter.

I'll add critiques one by one as I finish reading the books. If there's a book not listed here that you'd like me to review, list that baby in the comments.

Basics: These books are not about gamewriting specifically, but many are considered foundational texts. Read them with a thoughtful, analytical eye, and they can provide great insight into storytelling structure and technique. If you can resist the temptation to use them as story templates or checklists, they're fantastic sources of information.

Reviews: Books that I am reading and reviewing.

Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games by Robert Denton Bryant and Keith Giglio - This was a quick and interesting read. It covers writing and game basics like structure and character with lots of bleeding-edge media examples—such as Remedy's recently released Quantum Break. The knowledgeable and well-connected authors are aware of the latest discussions and debates taking place in the gamewriting community. The book includes helpful exercises at the end of each chapter.

Best audiences: Screenwriters making the switch to games or interactive media. Novice writers who already know the basics of good writing. 

Bonus points:

  • Simple, understandable explanations of how game design influences story.
  • Concrete examples that include IF, board games, films, and plays.

VERDICT: Recommended


Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know about Narrative Techniques by Evan Skolnick. - PENDING

DISCLAIMER: I'm friends with many of the authors, but I receive no payment of any kind for these reviews. I pay for the books with my money. I read them on my own time. And I offer these reviews not as a promotion or endorsement, but to help readers find the best book for their needs. 

March Mailbag

I got some messages recently asking me about Project Untold, my Twitch show, my scratches, and my writing life in general, so I thought I'd give a quick update.

Project Untold: The visual novel and tools are on indefinite hold. I closed my Patreon for it last summer, because I was no longer actively working on it. I did as much work as I felt comfortable doing on my own, but I can't move ahead without a team. I've been working other contracts for the past six months, but those end next week, so maybe I'll pick up Untold again and see what I can do with it.

A little trimming and tightening and it'll be good to go!

A little trimming and tightening and it'll be good to go!

Story Goes Here/A Million Monkeys: Oh boy. I don't know who all caught the disastrous first episode of the show, but it was not fun. A combo of tech issues and bad timing, the experience was so traumatizing for everyone involved that I won't try it again until I KNOW things will go smoothly. But I'll have more time when these contracts end, so maybe I'll give it another shot then.

An accurate reenactment of the first show.

An accurate reenactment of the first show.

Writing Life: I've been doing a LOT of writing. Incredibly, I wrote two novels last year. The novel I fountained out in under three months should never, ever see daylight, but the other one's not bad. I'm reworking it into something worthy of submission. I've also been a guest writer on a couple of games: Dead Scare and a TBA title. That was fun! And of course, I've been doing work for the Corcoran, which was inspiring and a genuine pleasure. I'm excited to see where I end up next. 

Scratches: Yes, my cat scratches have mostly healed. Thanks for asking! I have a noticeable scar above my lip, but it makes me look dangerous. In a good way. The only downside is that I might have to change my name to "Snake" or "Bruno" or something. that a downside?

Hmm. What would be a good name...?

Hmm. What would be a good name...?

As I mentioned on Twitter,  I've started reading a bunch of books on narrative design and gamewriting. I'll post brief summaries and recommendations of them when I'm done. I should have the first mini-review up in a week or two.

I still read every message that comes in, even if I mostly respond privately these days. So please don't heistate to drop me a line if there's something you want to know. 


A Million Monkeys and One TV Show

I've had some extraordinary conversations with fellow gamewriters recently about our inspirations and the games that made us choose this medium as the only viable means of expressing our stories. And I thought, "Why not share these conversations?" I couldn't think of a good way to worm out of it (my brain is a pest), so I'm starting a show on Twitch Creative.

Each week (or so) I'll have a guest gamewriter on to play any game of their choosing. They'll walk us through a section of the game and break down what's happening narratively. I think it'll be a lot of fun and very educational for anyone looking to get into gamewriting.  Or for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of game story.

The title is tentatively "Story Goes Here," but I'm leaning more and more toward "A Million Monkeys" as a jab at all those people who think gamewriting is easy. That title was suggested by Aaron Linde, who will also be my first guest. We're playing Earthbound, I suspect.

I'll post more details as the show develops, so stay tuned!

IgDA Event

I'm hosting an event for IGDA DC this month. My original plan was to have a small meetup of gamewriters who would get together and discuss writing once a month. But then it became an official IGDA event  and really awesome devs signed on to chat with us and now it's turned into  this:

The event starts at 6pm on Saturday, 9/26, at American University’s Game Lab. If you’re in the DC/Baltimore area, you won’t want to miss this.

Meet the Devs

Lucien Soulban
Lucien Soulban is a twice-nominated BAFTA writer for Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4. He started writing in the stone age of games with a career in tabletop RPGs that spanned 20 years as writer, editor, and developer, with such properties as Vampire: The Masquerade and Dungeons & Dragons. He jumped to fiction, where he wrote novels for Warhammer 40K and Dragonlance, as well as various horror anthologies including Blood Lite 1, 2, & 3. In the last ten years, Lucien has worked on such AAA titles as Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Rainbow Six: Vegas, Far Cry 3, Far Cry 3 – Blood Dragon, and Far Cry 4 as writer and lead writer. He is currently working on an as-yet-to-be named project at Ubisoft Montreal.

Aaron Linde
Aaron Linde is a writer and game designer currently stationed at Gearbox Software, where he creates hand-forged fart jokes for the upcoming hero shooter Battleborn. Linde’s previous credits include games nobody’s ever played, as well as Gears of War 3, which at least several people played. He’s also an occasional creative collaborator on the web series Hey Ash Whatcha Playin’, and runs a novelty Twitter account about a dad from a 1994 SNES RPG. Expertise: Game writing and editing, narrative design, VO production, game design, fart jokes, localization, and fart joke localization.

 Chris Klimas
Chris Klimas created Twine, an open-source tool for interactive text-based storytelling, in 2009 and continues to lead the project. He also develops indie games as part of Twofold Secret since 2011, which began with Flash games and transitioned to PC titles in recent years. Expertise: interactive fiction, open source, browser-based games.

Grant K. Roberts
Grant K. Roberts began his career in the games industry in 1997 as a writer and editor at Next Generation Magazine.  Two years after that, he started in full-time game development.  Most recently, he led the design of a culturally important, award-winning game with the Alaska Native community called Never Alone.  Before that, he worked on a wide variety of titles such as Marvel Comics games for kids, free-to-play games for phones, big-budget sequels for the hardcore, and casino games for the bargain bin.

 John Ryan
John Ryan has been writing either about or for games for more than 10 years now. He’s written for franchises including Fable and Guild Wars. Currently, John edits copy for Destiny. Expertise: game writing, editing, story bibles, narrative design, AAA dev process, world building, transmedia fiction, VO direction.

Kate Edwards
Kate Edwards is the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and also a geographer and founder of Geogrify, a Seattle-based consultancy for content culturalization. Formerly, she was Microsoft’s Geopolitical Strategist in the Geopolitical Strategy team she created and managed, helping the company avoid costly mistakes in their product content. Since leaving Microsoft, she has provided guidance to many companies on a wide range of geopolitical and cultural issues, and she continues to work on a variety of game franchises. In October 2013, Fortune magazine named her as one of the “10 most powerful women” in the game industry and in December 2014 she was named by as one of their six People of the Year.

 Matthew Moore
Matthew Moore is a sometimes singing, always writing, multi-format game designer. Formerly with Microsoft and ArenaNet, he now works by day on digital games at Disney Interactive and by night readying the release of his tabletop juggernaut, Bring Your Own Book.

Patrick Coursey
Patrick Coursey is a freelance videogame writer and designer. His recent work focuses on describing real-world conflicts and controversies through the lens of gameplay. He’s currently finishing the upcoming Cloud Chasers with Blindflug Studios, which was an Official Selection for IndieCade@E3 2015 and awarded “Best in Play” at GDC Play 2015.

 Phil Salvador
Phil Salvador is the author of The Obscuritory, a blog about obscure games. He has hosted panels about the design lessons and history of obscure games at MAGFest and Awesome Con and is a member of the game collection committee at the American University Library. Expertise: game history, game criticism, independent work, blogging, community.

Sarah Bergh
Sarah Bergh is a 2D and User Interface (UI) artist. Currently she is web designing for an educational game company called GlassLab, and before that did UI and 2d art for a number of projects including Lara Croft and the Temple of OsirisMurdered: Soul Suspect,Microsoft Flight, and Age of Empires: Online. She also loves to draw monsters in her spare time. Expertise: user interface, user experience, 2d art, concept art.

Tanis O’Connor
Tanis is an adventure card game designer with Paizo Publishing, responsible for creating and maintaining the Pathfinder Society Adventure Card Guild organized play program. She previously worked at Wizards of the Coast on Dungeons and Dragons, and at Lone Shark Games as an editor and factotum. She spends her free time harassing cats and advancing the cause of women in gaming. Expertise: tabletop game production, start to finish; design, development, editing, RPGs, board/card games, and user interaction.

And super-secret special guests!!