Sorcerer King is a fantasy 4X game, a genre named for the goals of "eXploration, eXpansion, eXploitation, and eXtermination." It's a type of game known for its density and difficulty, and Sorceror King is set up to give you an opponent that's much more powerful than you are, and it's your job to fight back.
So how do you make that funny? You hired a writer from the comedy website Cracked.
Humor for hire
"I’ve been writing for Cracked for seven years or so," Chris Bucholz told Polygon. "They couldn’t get rid of me. The developers and the owners of Stardock said we need to get a writer for these games we’re working on and they said, 'hey this guy is funny, let’s send him an e-mail.'
"So… yeah. Completely out of the blue, I was sitting there writing in my pajama pants and I get the opportunity to start writing video games."
Games that fall into the 4X designation are again, dense. There's plenty of information the player receives throughout the game, and it's Bucholz's job to make that information as interesting and funny as possible. He quickly learned that writing games is much harder than sitting down by yourself and writing a comedy article.
"It’s quite a different challenge. When writing video games you’re tied up in certain constraints. You could have 40 characters to communicate these two very important gameplay concepts and it would be great if it could also be in-character and hilarious." Bucholz explained.
"And then you do that, and they say, 'it would be great if it could be in 30 characters now, because we changed the format of this window.' It’s a big challenge that you don’t come up against writing for Cracked or comedy articles."
"The biggest comparison is probably tweeting," he continued. "If you can tweet well, you can probably start filling in dialog boxes fairly well."
This story may seem like it's easy for writers to more or less luck their way into a secondary career in writing games, but Bucholz' story underscores how important it is to have an understanding of how games work and how they're created if you'd like to contribute to a team in a deeper way.
"I’m quite technically savvy. I have a degree in computer science, so I can work down to the bone with the technical aspects of game development," he told Polygon. For a while his writing was removed from the code, and done using Google documents shared with the team. "That worked for a while, but it’s quite slow in the back and forth and it’s hard to iterate." He moved into working directly in the code, but wasted time getting to that point.
"Going back to the beginning, I would have tried to get to the low level of the game code and the data files earlier, just to make iteration faster for me," he said.
That being said, many players will cycle through the dialog and flavor text, either skimming for information that will help them in the game or skipping it entirely. Bucholz is realistic about his job, and the goal of the writing he's done.
"If they ever slow down to read a bit of text, make it as funny as possible," he said.
Sorceror King is available now via Steam's Early Access program.