Storytelling is something that existed even before writing. People used to paint symbols on the cave walls in order to remember a good story. In this age, video games can provide unique storytelling everyone can enjoy, and we have narrative game designers to thank for that.
In this interview with GameBuz, Miloš Doroški is telling his story, and he has a lot to say starting with what got him interested in writing and what inspires him the most.
Miloš Doroški - I’ve actually been writing on and off since high school. When I was bored in class, which was most of the time, except in English, History, and PE classes, I used to scrabble some words together. The actual first story I wrote was during an English class when I asked the teacher to do nothing except write a story. She agreed only if I was to read the story in front of everyone at the end of the class. I agreed and, when the time came, I read it aloud. I don’t exactly remember what the story was about, but it revolved about a guy whose homework gets stolen by aliens and he gets in trouble with his teacher.
Because of my love for movies and television, I always enjoyed writing screenplays. The idea of seeing what you imagined on screen, big or small, is a huge satisfaction for me. Speaking about inspiration, it can come from anywhere. I watch a lot of TV shows and movies. I read a lot of screenplays and books. And of course, I play a lot of games. When I was younger, so much younger than today, I mostly played point and click adventures. They are narrative heavy and contributed to me learning English, as I played with a dictionary by my side, wanting to understand the plot and characters better.
From all those things you can draw inspiration, but the thing is, you can find inspiration anywhere, a song, a conversation or just by watching something happening on the street. You never know when the next idea is going to come to you.
When it comes to people, my biggest inspiration is my very good friend Ivan Knežević, who I met when I was 7. He was the first one to acknowledge my writing and kept me going. He is a screenwriter, director, and editor all in one. Currently, he is developing a TV show with HBO Adria. And he knows about game design. We worked together in Eipix Entertainment for a while.
I also draw inspiration from people like Charles Bukowski, George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Terry Pratchett, Zakhar Prilepin, Anton Chekhov, Ivo Andrić, Radoje Domanović, Branislav Nušić, Vince Gilligan, Cameron Crowe, John Hughes, Denis Leary, George Carlin, Bill Burr, Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, David Cage and many more.
GameBuz - How did you get involved with the Gaming Industry?
Miloš Doroški - I sent a game pitch to Ron Gilbert and he was so thrilled he phoned me up and said: “Hey kid, you have talent, come work for me!” I wish that’s how it went down, but unfortunately, it’s not.
I was coming back from a film festival in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina when Ivan mentioned to me that a local company is looking for Game Designers. I was always passionate about games and grew up playing, besides the point and click adventures I already mentioned, Commandos, NFS, SimCity, Half-Life, Comix Zone, Boogerman… Sega, PS1, SNES, or PC. The platform didn’t matter much as long as the experience was fun.
During the time I applied for the job, I was playing Max Payne 3 (a hardcore fan of the franchise to this day), Assassin’s Creed, Hitman: Absolution (hardcore fan of the franchise also), Heavy Rain, PES – spent a ton of time with friends, cramped in one room, playing against each other for hours and I was still into Counter-Strike a lot!
So, I gave it a shot. I sent my CV and CL and had my first interview. Despite having no experience in the gaming industry, up to that point, people were surprised by my knowledge of games. After the initial interview, I went through a couple of tests and a few more interviews until I landed a job as a Game Designer.
GameBuz - The first big project you were working on was 'Hidden Expedition Game Series' from Big Fish Games and Eipix Entertainment. Can you tell us more about your experience working on it?
Miloš Doroški - When I started working in Eipix, the ‘Hidden Expedition’ franchise was a big deal. They were finishing up ‘Hidden Expedition: Smithsonian Hope Diamond’ when I started. Working with Big Fish Games and especially with The Smithsonian Institute is a huge thing and raises the bar. I was fortunate enough to work on ‘Hidden Expedition: Smithsonian Castle’ and it was a great experience.
Whichever HOPA (Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure) I worked on, the story was the most important thing to me. So, when we approached this project, a couple of other designers and I spent countless hours in the ‘writers room’ coming up with a suitable story which would please Big Fish Games and the good people from The Smithsonian Institute.
When the story was approved, the production started. We had to take careful care about representing the Smithsonian Castle in the game as close as possible to real life. That meant working closely with concept artists, 3D, and 2D artists to get the most realistic scenes possible in the game. We wanted the players to have the experience of going through the Smithsonian Castle while they were playing it. Another thing we needed to do is keep the puzzles in the game feel consistent. There is no worse experience for players than to encounter a puzzle which feels out of place, so we made sure all puzzles were thoroughly planned out.
And we incorporated several real-life people into the game to make it even more realistic. This is tough when you’re dealing with time travel, but I don’t want to give away the plot. I feel privileged to have worked on a project of that scope from start to finish and I hope we delivered an enjoyable experience to the players. Even I feel I have seen every nook and cranny of the Smithsonian Castle even though I never actually went there. It’s on my bucket list.
Last year Miloš Doroški started working at Electronic Arts as a Narrative Game Designer and he had to move to India. Considering that EA is a pretty huge company (this is an understatement) I wanted to know how does it feel working for a company of that size.
Miloš Doroški - When EA approached me, I couldn’t believe it at first. I felt like I didn’t have the knowledge or the experience to work at such a high-profile company. But, like anything in life, if you don’t try, you won’t succeed. And they say that in the end the only chances we regret are the ones we don’t take.
I took the initial call and went through a long process. Several Skype calls and several tests went by until I was finally invited to my on-site interview. I flew out and met the people who I’m working with to this day.
It took me a long time until I made the final decision to move to India. And when I finally did, I can say with full confidence it was one of the best things I could have done. The people here are wonderful, experienced, and passionate about games. They helped me adapt to the new environment and start a new chapter in my life.
Working in EA is a challenging experience. You get a chance to collaborate with people from all over the world and get their insight. The people are passionate about games and maintain a great atmosphere inside the studio. I’m very happy to be a part of that.
Being an avid bookworm myself, when I found out that Miloš wrote a book, I just had to ask more about it...
GameBuz - You've also published a book recently. How much did a process of writing a book differ from writing game narratives?
Miloš Doroški - Yeah, the book is available only in Serbian at the moment, but we’re working on an English translation. For now, you can order the Serbian version online at New Now Media. The actual process differs in a lot of ways, but it’s also a similar experience. Let me try and elaborate.
When I started writing the book, I had no deadlines, meetings, people to report to. It was just me and the empty page. Most of the time, I would write after work and on the weekends. I tried to have some kind of plan, write at least 500 words a day, but still, it took me around two and a half years to finish it.
But when you write for games, you have to take into consideration the player’s experience. In the game world, they are free to explore things as they like, so you have to make sure that the game narrative compliments any kind of player. This is especially true when you want to do a non-linear story and give players choices which impact the story down the line.
Also, working on casual games, the best way to introduce players to the narrative is through world building. What do the buildings look like? Who are the characters? When is the game taking place? Nuances and attention to detail are what keeps the players coming back. And you have deadlines to adhere to and be in sync with a whole team of talented people which can be hard at times.
GameBuz - What brings you more satisfaction, writing a book, or working on video games?
Miloš Doroški - Writing screenplays. My biggest dream is to write and (hopefully) direct my own movie in the future. Or an interactive movie like Detroit: Become Human. But in all seriousness, both writing and designing video games give me equal satisfaction. I wouldn’t be in this job if I didn’t love it.
The only thing different is the approach. When I write a book, sometimes it feels like I have homework every day, but in a good way. I close myself off and write alone, somewhere in a dark cave with bats flying around me. No, I don’t have a Batcave, yet, so I tend to write whenever I can. On the commute to and from work, sitting on a bench or in a coffee shop.
When working on games, I like to collaborate with other people because that’s the best way to develop an idea. I love being part of brainstorming sessions where you either come up with an idea for a new game, or you need to solve for a problem on an existing one. During production I collaborate with people from other disciplines: concept art, 2D, 3D, engineering and try to learn from them as much as I can.
So to summarize. Writing books is like tennis, where you play alone against your opponent. For this analogy to work, the opponent can be the blank page. And working on video games is a team sport. Football, as I’m a great Leeds United fan. In this case, the opponent can be the deadline which is always somewhere, lurking over you.
GameBuz - What was the most challenging problem you had to deal with so far, regarding the game making?
Miloš Doroški - There are many challenges when you’re designing games, from time constraints to getting on the same page with the client, but if I must choose one…
Getting your idea across can be challenging at times. As a designer, when you are pitching a new game idea or a feature for an existing one, you have to convince other people that you are right. Especially producers, PM’s and PO’s.
I went through this process countless times. Some of my ideas were rejected, the others were very well received. It’s all about spending that extra time on a pitch to make sure you’ve dotted the i's and crossed all the t's. At the end of the day, it’s a process I enjoy and the challenge which comes with it.
GameBuz - What is the most rewarding part of that process?
Miloš Doroški - The most rewarding part of making games for me is when I see something I’ve designed and written on the screen. Be it for mobile, PC, or any other platform. I enjoy coming up with stories and intricate worlds for players to explore.
I also enjoy collaborating with other designers and people from different disciplines because they all have different approaches to a project. But if the original idea is good and inspires the team, they will all enjoy collaborating. I love to be in the middle of that process, from the idea generation to the final product.
When you see the players enjoy playing something you designed is a proud moment for me. That’s what keeps me going. Sure, not everyone will like what you designed, but if you make most of them happy, you did OK.
You should always take into account advice from people with more experience, and if you’re planning on having a career in the Gaming Industry, Miloš has a piece of advice just for you.
Miloš Doroški - Let’s start off with a cliché: never give up! Honestly, I can just share my experiences from being part of this industry for 6 years now. You have to be persistent and never have the “I-know-everything, I’m-right-and-everyone-else-is-wrong” attitude. Always try to learn new things. Collaborate with people from various disciplines. That is why I love working with concept artists. I tell them about an idea and then I see their vision of it. That sparks even more ideas and ads to your original design. Listen to people with experience. They have been through everything, thick and thin, and they will have the best advice and insight for you.
Also, try to better yourself whenever you can. If you like coding, devote some time to it. You never know when it will come in handy. I’m currently learning how to work in Adobe Premiere and After Effects because I have an affinity to movies and television.
And, because this is an entertainment industry after all, stay in the loop. Play as many games as you can, especially those in beta, on any platform, mobile, PS, PC, whatever. Watch movies, TV shows, documentaries. Read interviews, game news, and if you have time, even books, but please do not read self-help books. Listen to podcasts, vlogs. Even follow twitter. That is how you stay up to date, and that is what’s most important in the game industry.
The part about self-help books had me laughing a bit louder than I probably should have in the office space, oh well, I couldn’t help myself. Now, you might think this interview got pretty long, but there’s a lot you can learn from it. In the end, Miloš had one more important message to share with you: Never give up on your dreams! No matter how big or small they are. The universe has a way of getting things done in the end.