Screen-play the Game

Screen-play the Game

By Cleo Whittingham.

As a screenwriter with no notable credits under my belt, I began thinking about ways that I could showcase my writing.  I noticed that many writers were collaborating with directors and producers in a similar position, making short films and posting them to ‘youTube’.  This is a good way, to see your scripts in action, build a portfolio and generally get your name out there.

I decided that I’d try and do the same. I made a couple of short films but as my funds were low, the production value of my shorts was less than satisfactory.   I saw a posting on Facebook, by a fellow writer, announcing that they were working on a project for ‘App-Media’, a company based in London, writing scripts for a new project called ‘Persona’, a daily continuing drama, exclusive to smartphones.

My friend suggested I contact the company, as they were seeking more writers. I wrote for season three and a year later, season three went into production. I thought the idea and concept were great and wanted a similar app for my projects, including short films, documentaries etc.

I got a few quotes for my idea and was dumbstruck to discover how expensive it was.  I knew there was no realistic way of me coming up 20K.

I joined the ‘iPhone’ group on LinkedIn and decided I’d try to find a developer who may perhaps like to collaborate, though there was no real idea if anyone would be interested in effectively working for free.  I also purchased an Apple license and downloaded Xcode. I decided that in the time it would take me to save the money I’d been quoted, I could perhaps learn how to do it myself.

I began reading up on Xcode, which was no easy feat, it made no sense to me at all but I persisted.

A couple of weeks later, I read a discussion between developers, in the iPhone group, regarding the best tools to use for building apps and the SDK Corona was mentioned several times. I googled Corona, their tag line, “Code less, Play More”. It sounded perfect.

After downloading the software, reading up, testing out, and a few training sessions. I submitted my first app to Apple in December 2010 but it was rejected because it was, in effect, a book with some images.

I was disappointed and submitted the book (more of a pamphlet) to iBooks.  By this time, I was swamped with ideas for apps. I couldn’t code quickly enough. I built many apps with fun in mind but based around fashion and music. It was very much an experimental period for me. I wanted to see what the possibilities  were and quickly discovered the possibilities were endless.

I found that once I had planned out and mapped my ideas, I could pretty much find the code required within the Corona forums and sample code library.  The key, was being able to understand the code and learning how to adapt the code for my specific needs.

My key project to date is ‘Big Bear’ which was released on 30 April 2012. I produced a short documentary based around the Big Bear jazz record label, here in Birmingham. Big Bear are the longest running independent record label in Birmingham. I found that breaking down the documentary into 3-5 minute segments, worked really well and added some images from the label’s archive and designed and built a mini game.

The game is a very simple concept, collecting musical notes and navigating through mazes. The main reason I’d included the game was to give users another reason to come back to the app.

Once the user had viewed all the episodes and images, there wouldn’t really be a good reason to keep using the app.

It was this thought process that really peaked my interest in gaming. I added a game to most of my apps. The game element is what, I believe keeps users engaged.  I began to realise that my games were too simple. I wanted to up the ante and so began working a lot harder in trying to develop my skills on making ‘good’ games.

Currently, I’m adapting a TV series script into a game. It’s essentially a ‘who-dun-it’ concept with a twist. I’ve found many similarities between the two industries, gaming and film and adapting my script ideas into games is pretty seamless. Engaging characters and exciting plots are the two main elements that make sense to me because of writing scripts.

As I’m not an artist, sourcing images can be difficult and costly but I have had help with this from other developers who are artists and are happy and willing to help in exchange for my services of writing their copy for the various apps stores, blogs and review sites.

Apart from learning to code, I continue to learn, every single day, of new tools, new features and perhaps the biggest lesson for me throughout my journey is never giving up. There is always a way, if you look hard enough and if you’re prepared to open up your mind to new ways of doing things. Determination and hard work do pay off and then you realise that the only real limitations are the limitations of the mind. I could have decided that 20K was way out of my budget and therefore that option was closed to me.  It is difficult to dedicate so much time to creating something with no guarantee of it paying off financially, another similarity in writing for film. I think it’s important to balance the work load, writing, coding and talking (in person, via Skype etc) to others in the same field, with the same interests.

I’m constantly impressed with how people in the gaming community are so open to giving advice, helping, pointing me in the right direction, making introductions etc.  The gaming community is tight and once you make contact and in effect forge friendships, it opens up a whole world of information and knowledge which you simply don’t get if you’re not out there talking to and meeting people.

The really cool part of what I do, is being able take my ideas and concepts, develop them and get them out there without having to hire a huge team which equals a huge budget. I’m able to adapt my stories and scripts and build on those ideas by developing/incorporating games into my apps.  The possibilities are endless.

Cleo Whittingham is an app developer based in Birmingham in the UK, with a background in writing for a slightly different screen. She completed her MA in Screenwriting at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, and was drawn to app development as a way to complement her digital storytelling by including game elements into her app designs. You can find her on twitter @LuvApp!