Matthew Michael Carnahan is an American screenwriter who wrote the feature film The Kingdom, and the film adaptation of the hit BBC television drama serial State of Play. Carnahan also wrote the screenplay for Lions for Lambs for United Artists.
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My short bio: Hey everyone!
I'm a narrative designer, which is an annoying way of saying writer in the video game industry. Originally coined to basically give more 'weight' to the role of... designing narrative. I've written comics, books, that fluff you read in pen and paper RPG rules, those stupid websites that tell you how to do things in lists, movies, TV, video games, copy for the back of books, ghost writing, Hallmark Cards, commercials (though i don't think it got produced), and other things. I assume most people would be interested in my work as a professional video game writer. I'm not going to link to everything I've worked on or all my personal projects, as I'm not really here to promote myself.
The two projects I've worked on you're most likely to know are...
The Walking Dead (season 2, Telltale vidya game): http://store.steampowered.com/agecheck/app/261030/
And Tales from the Borderlands (Also a Telltale Vidya game): http://store.steampowered.com/agecheck/app/330830/
My most recent game is Dead Horizon which is free and ten minutes long and you get to be a cowgirl and shoot people in quickdraw duels, pew pew: http://store.steampowered.com/app/671700/Dead_Horizon/
You're free to ask about anything, though. I've worked on lots of stuff. My assumption would be that people are more curious about how one actually makes a living as a writer for video games. At least, that's the one I get a lot in the real world. Oh, I've been making a living by writing or creating in some way for over a decade. Which I think is cool.
I'm not famous. Though I've worked with a lot of famous people. I wear stupid hats as you'll see in my proof. I get fired a lot, I've probably had more jobs than you've had. I am also not a great speller and my use of commas is sometimes questionable, so go easy on me if you see the professional writer screw up either. (I've probably already done so at least once in this AMA intro, I'm not proof reading it) I think splitting infinitives is fine and to be is an unnecessary part of language. I also feel the semi colon is useful but not enough people know what it means to use and that makes me sad!
Ask me anything. Seriously. I'll try and answer everyone, not that I'm expecting a lot of questions.
I am me. https://imgur.com/a/Wkn3g see? That's me. You can compare that to my facebook over here: https://www.facebook.com/matthew.ritter.9083 where you can compare my face and my twitter is here: https://twitter.com/Matthewmritter where you can confirm it has the same name as this and my facebook.
As an aspiring writer struggling to get action adventure novels published, and as someone who loves video games, how does one pursue such a career? What baby steps, short of going to Full Sail or some similar college, should I take?
Also, how hard is it to write stories that are interactive depending on what the player does and constantly have to rework stuff?
Baby steps? Find some way to get someone to pay you for some project that eventually gets finished. Whatever it might be. However much it might be.
When you tell people about yourself always mention the finished stuff you've done. A lot of people consider finished and shipped products paramount. Not that credits are everything but being able to prove you can work on something that gets done is very helpful. Of course, if it's good is even more helpful.
See if you can get in on some gamejams. See if you can get places to publish your short stories. See if you can edit stuff for people.
Writing stuff that is meant to be interactive can be difficult. It's also almost always a moving target. Play testing, voice acting, producers, editors, designers, everyone needs something and the player trumps all of that.
Even harder for me, I often want to write too much. I'm a rambler and I want the player to have LOTS of choices. Choices? Are expensive. Branches are expensive. I can write a sentence that would cost 200 grand to make and it really doesn't matter how good that sentence is, odds are it's just no good for the project.
How is it that you actually got started in your industry?
In the video game industry? QA. Like many people. Not that QA is a fun road if you can get in any other way. It's hard work that doesn't pay great and isn't given a lot of respect despite being very important to quality products. I was a QA lead at Yahoo! working on their cell phones, this was back in 2007. I didn't QA games but I did talk to and pitch to the games department of Yahoo! a lot. Also, to pay for college I did pixel art professionally as a freelancer. Mostly for junk cell phone games.
Early on it is often about claiming that everything you've done matters no matter how silly it seems.
In any of the other industries I've worked in? Depends on the industry.
Thanks for the detailed answer. While I continue the almost hopeless venture of getting an agent to read my manuscripts, I plan to start trying to get into writing web articles or at least try to publish some of poetry online at least to start making some connections or something. Not sure if 'I'll ever make it to the games industry but its definitely a possibility I'd like to consider. Ultimately, I really just wanna write novels though. I'll probably end up homeless before I get published at this rate though. Oh well.
Do what you need to do. If you really love writing? Find the time. Keep writing. Practice is important. Get feedback. If you can't afford classes, find writing groups. Get people to edit your stuff. Listen to what they say. If people find something boring, figure out why.
Write articles, write blogs, write everything. If no one looks at it? Good. It's probably crap. We got a lot of crap inside us we have to work to get out. Don't listen to anyone who tells you only talented people get noticed or only talented people make it. That's something people who've made it tell themselves so they feel better about everyone who is trying.
It's about perseverance, a real effort to grow and learn at your craft, and luck.
Never let yourself end up homeless if you can avoid it. The pit of true economic destitute can be very difficult to pull yourself out of. Work a job you hate before you let that happen but quite that job the moment you can. Don't stay at a job you hate one second longer than you have to unless there's a very good reason. Life is too short to waste it somewhere that hurts you.
Don't let pursuing writing ruin your life, but don't ruin your life not pursuing writing.
Very interesting profile!
Which is your favorite video game? Would you consider creating fan fiction versions of videogames that DO NOT have good writing?
My favorite video game? Whooo... that's a REAL hard one.
Space Quest 2. Quest for Glory 4. X-Wing. Flashback the Quest for Identity. Prince of Persia (the first one for the apple II). Adventure! Star Control 2. Starflight. The gameboy version of Mario Golf. Link's Awakening. Spider and Web. Full Throttle. Under a Steal Sky. Mechwarrior 2 Mercenaries. Wonder Boy in Monster World. Fallout. Papers Please. FTL. Spulunkie. Net Hack. ADOM. Chrono Trigger. Snatcher. Sonic CD...
falls over and starts twitching So... so many... more... Spec... spec ops the line... Doom... Code... code of the...w..west... Mad Dog... Mcree....... TIME CRISIS... I...
How do I name a favorite?! Especially as they're soooo different.
And of course I'd write fan fiction for games with bad writing. I have a spec script for a Megaman movie sitting in my drawer.
hi, friend! you still have those garage LAN parties?
Sadly not! The guy who ran them turned the space into a studio. The ARTEMIS runs were legendary. I got to live out my dream of being a starship captain and failing horribly at that job.
Man if you make some good fan fic for Mass Effect Andromeda, it actually may become canon. And if you approach a developer bold enough to create a playable version, you get much money, many wow!
what tools do you use when designing a narrative?
Also: have you ever thought about designing narrative as a kind of "philosophical experience" for the player, like Jason Rohrer does with his games? If so, how do you go about it?
The best tool for a writer is your own notes. Making sure you know what's been said to you. What the team wants from you. And most importantly, asking questions whenever you can. Better to pester someone with questions than to be confused. This might annoy some people, though.
#2. Have I thought about it? I don't think I can gather up the kind of energy needed to write my own projects if I'm NOT doing that. The way I go about it is... trying to do it?
When making a game you have to ask yourself at EVERY element of the game, what is the player feeling and what are they doing, and why. Even things like menus and pause screens and things like that. Title screens. Super Metroid has one of the greatest title screens of all time. It starts to tell the story in a very real thematic way before you even officially 'start' the game.
In my most recent game Dead Horizon I was going for a very specific kind of flash fiction thing. A meditation on death, murder, machismo, gun culture, and a lot of other stuff. How successful I was? Sadly, no matter how much effort you put into it, that's always up to the player.
You have to try and control every element you can. Or, set things up so the player is doing something interesting towards what you want them to do.
Or you can make sweet sandbox games like Sleep is Death. Which is awessooooome. But I don't know about it being a philosophical experience.
If you could have a robot (humanoid or otherwise) to do any daily/weekly task what would it do?
Work out for me.
I'd say I'm more of a fundamental idea guy, but I'm not sure where I can step into the industry with that. Still, I'd definitely like to get involved with QA to break into the industry. Pretty inspirational to see someone in the field talk about their work. Any reason you kept getting fired, if that isn't too personal?
Sometimes it's my fault. Sometimes it's their fault. Sometimes the project is over. Sometimes someone needed blamed for something. Sometimes I hated my job.
It's a volatile world we live in and a lot of the jobs I get are temporary/as long as they need me anyways.
Though, I haven't missed a deadline set to me in like eight years. So, it was never out of laziness.
Where did u find it best to work? Also how is it to make comics? Is it all computerized or do artist ACTUALLY draw and stuff by hand.
Depends on the artist. More and more computerized. Though, it's like... computerized hand drawing. Like a tablet where you use a stylus so the computer is interpreting your hand motions. What does that count as?
As for the best place to work... Dark Horse Entertainment was oddly a lot of fun. The people that work there are really interesting guys. I'm super excited for the new Hellboy movie and I hope it goes really well.
which game or creative work impressed you the most on a technical level or craftsmanship that went in during the creation process, but ended up not being that good in the end? also, which work was the opposite (hacky, simplistic workmanship but great result)?
Probably while working at Telltale. The team that was working on the Game of Thrones game was fantastic. They had it together, they knew just what they were doing, they were having fun and hitting deadlines and producing amazing stuff. Everything just seemed... great.
The game isn't BAD or anything. But it just didn't come together like it seemed like it should.
Then on the other side was Tales from the Borderlands. Which was a MESS. Nothing worked. Everyone was being transferred. It was the dumping ground of people who couldn't work elsewhere and then near the end people kept getting pushed off it onto other things.
Yet critics looooved it. It ended up being infinitely better than anyone thought it was going to be in house.
We were all surprised and no one in house could have predicted it.
> Get people to edit your stuff. Listen to what they say. If people find something boring, figure out why.
This is super important. I'm a writer, too, and most people fail to realize how social writing really is. You can write alone, but you'll get nowhere with it. Write with others, research with people, collab, talk, socialize, and most importantly write some more. Sound advice, /u/Gamewriterguy
The only way to know what people like is to show what you've done to people...
This is also the hardest part of creating. People are not always nice and their opinions can be very pointed. Especially online.
I have great respect for ANYONE who puts their own creative endeavors out their for others to see. No matter what it is.
Nah I'm kidding, keep up the good work I've enjoyed all your work apart from dead horizon (haven't played it).
You just lost yourself twenty bucks!
You should play Dead Horizon. It's free. And very short. And awesome.
I am someone who mostly enjoys dry, deadpan humor in games like Maniac Mansion. So, in turn, I normally write dry, deadpan humor.
How do you suggest getting better at adding more conventional comedy?
Watch popular comedy. Study it. Find the most popular sitcoms, cartoons, standups, and other such things. The best comedy books. Best being best selling. If you want to get better at writing what 'most people' laugh at. You need to study what most people laugh at. The most popular movies. So on.
This doesn't mean you need to make your humor exactly like this or play to the lowest common denominator. However, it'll give you a better understanding of WHAT people are laughing at, and you can craft your own jokes that are more conventional with this information.
thank you soooo much for working with these kinds of games! These are the ones I thrive on constantly! Like it can be hard if I want it to or I can just enjoy the game and play with an interactive story!
Man your job history sounds like what mine will be soon, and I just do random jobs for the shit of saying I did them...
but! if there was a theme of a game, which theme would you prefer to work on? an example would be middle earth, zombie, kingdom, or kind of an every day hero game type... if this made sense
Violence and its consequences.
Would be the theme I've been wanting to tackle a lot more lately. Themes come and go in waves. Trying to get a publisher interested in one I want to do myself, but it's hard to convince anyone to give you huge bags of money even if you have a working prototype.
What are your major influences?
So very many. It's very hard to say who my major influences are. We are all products of that which we experience.
So many writers. Jules Vern, Piers Anthony, Jim Starling, Terry Prachett, Robert Heinlein... and I could just go on.
Nick at Night. Ooooh boy did I watch a lot of sitcoms from the 50s 60s and 70s growing up.
Bad TV. Good plays my parents dragged me to. Teachers that inspired me and often spent a lot more time than they needed to on a pretty lackluster kid.
Video gaaaaames. Ooooh man. I played so many. Emulation. That was the ticket. When everyone else was playing a play station I was emulating games on my old computer. Playing through the NES, Genesis, SNES collective.
The sega master system. Game wise? This thing was amazing. Not a lot of people know what it was, but it had some amazing games.
Bad romance novels. I used to read everything my mom set down. Read a lot of smut.
Role playing games. My father was a dnd player when he was younger. At a garage sale we bought a copy of a game called Hero Quest. A board game kind of between board games and a role playing game, I was hooked. From there, it was all down hill. I loved it. Still do. Role playing defined me as a writer and as a person in many ways. It taught me how to act, how to lead, how to follow, how to do character arcs and how how to pace things. It taught me why endless fights can be boring and why character death willy nilly can leave a setting barren and empty. It taught me the power of surprise and about player agency.
You want to be better at anything creative? Get into role playing. Pen and paper role playing, larping, online role playing. People make fun of it, but it's the act of creative improve. There's nothing like it for practicing your creative muscles. It's about crafting and populating fictional worlds with characters and people. DM if you can. Learn a lot about managing people by DMING games...
My old Atari... well my mom's. She sold it and regretted it. I bought her a plug and play one, she loves her some centipede. My father's work's arcade. Had Fatal Fury, Spy Hunter, and a pinball machine. I'd play for hours and hours. FOR ONE BRIEF MOMENT I HELD THE WORLD RECORD ON THE SPY HUNTER FLASH GAME VERSION. Got beaten like, later that day.
Old westerns, kung fu movies, silly TV shows like Highlander. I had a grandfather that used to watch all this stuff and I watched a lot of it with him and it shaped my young mind.
I could go on because telling the story of my influences is telling the story of my LIFE, but I'll stop there because, yeeesh. Getting long.
Only $29.99 Try not to sweat though
I'll sweat as much as I want! I'll even put up with the last few episodes of that show!
Can you PayPal me $20? I'd like to share a pizza with my gf.
Sure. What's your paypal?