Writing for Butter Royale
Hello! I write most of the text for Butter Royale, a multiplayer food fight game for Apple Arcade. This consists of character dialogue, names of items in the game, buttons and headers. However, I also worked behind-the-scenes in shaping the narrative and world of the game. Some of this writing is not seen explicitly in the game itself, but serves as a guideline of sorts that helps us create content that fits within the Butter Royale universe.
At its core, Butter Royale’s focus is in its gameplay, but the narrative and setting serve as a wrapper for that: the tasty tortilla that houses its well-seasoned filling. It may be thin, but it’s the first thing you taste, and a flimsy wrapper will surely lead to the messy collapse of your entire meal!
The Butter Royale Universe
Butter Royale started from one premise: a peaceful world where conventional weapons have been banned and people have resorted to using food fights as an outlet for fun and stress relief. We worked backwards from there to figure out the rest of the narrative — we knew we wanted to have a large variety of character skins, so having Butter Royale be a game show with Contestants jumping in and out of different rounds would fit perfectly. If Butter Royale was a game show, who or what was behind it, and what were their motivations for doing so?
To handle the behind-the-scenes of Butter Royale, the C.E.O. of Butter Co., Cocoa Chanterelle was born — a go-getting food scientist responsible for creating “NOMs” (Nutritionally Operated Machines), the primary method of food propulsion in Butter Royale.
Every game show needs a host, so we came up with the friendly and relatable Cesar Salads, a jolly paternal figure with a penchant for (bad?) food puns. We conceived him as an ex-infomercial salesman with a talent for hyping up the masses.
While Cesar Salads may seem to be the only one running the show, popping up nearly everywhere from the tutorial to your results screen (thank you Cesar!), Cocoa’s presence is mostly felt in our social media and marketing efforts, where she plays a key role in disseminating information about the mechanics of Butter Royale and NOMs.
On the topic of social media, we also decided to commit to the game show theme by operating our social media accounts “in-character” — when assisting with player support or making posts on different platforms, we sign off as “Team Butter” of Butter Co., as opposed to employees of Mighty Bear Games. The bubbly personalities of Cocoa and Cesar also influence the friendly and light-hearted tone we take when writing up posts and patch notes.
OK, but what about the rest of them?
Butter Royale is home to 56 different Contestants and counting, spanning a diverse range of gender identities and cultural backgrounds. Each Contestant plays a big part in making Butter Royale the vibrant and fun game it is, so naturally, they needed big personalities.
Let me go a little bit into how the Contestants were conceived. The talented Art team at Mighty Bear brought hundreds of concepts to the table, taking inspiration from game shows, sports and other popular culture. We also let everyone in the team give feedback and suggest character archetypes they would like to see represented in Butter Royale — I remember putting forth the idea of a father carrying a baby in a child carrier who eventually debuted in the game. These ideas were later narrowed down and further refined until we had about fifty or so Contestants ready for the Butterfield.
These Contestants each have unique given names that we spent a while agonizing over. As I learnt over the course of this project, it takes gallons of creative juice to come up with names that fit the narrative and didn’t sound too generic for more than fifty distinct characters. Some of them were references or parodies of real-life celebrities and others were (you guessed it) simply food puns related to each character’s occupation or costume.
While each Contestant functions similarly in terms of gameplay, we came up with short biographies for the initial batch of Contestants players received, and some others that we thought would be popular amongst our player base. We hoped that by doing so, a sense of individuality was brought out among the Contestants and they were treated less of a “costume change”. These biographies were later published on our website and through social media posts as mini-introduction videos, much like those you would see at the beginning of reality TV shows.
How this all fits inside Butter Royale, the game
As mentioned earlier, Butter Royale’s main focus is on gameplay and thus it would be detrimental and out-of-place to include long paragraphs of text to detail the background story and introduce characters, not to mention expensive to localize. We tried to show as much of the world as possible in a visual manner, for example, the UI is set up to look like the set of a game show, and Cesar’s commentary can be heard through voice lines when in a game. We made sure to pack his voice lines full of bad food jokes and wordplay to emphasize the corny side of his personality, pun intended.
Since Butter Royale takes place in a game without weapons, we wanted to avoid allusions to violence, war and other non-family friendly topics in the game and had to scrub all words that could connote violent themes from our vocabularies. You’ll never see the word “gun” in Butter Royale, we eschew that in favor of “launchers”, “blasters” and of course, “NOMs”. Likewise, competitors in battle are “creamed” when you view your end-of-battle results, and not “killed” or “defeated”.
Writing for games doesn’t just cover the story and in-game text; plenty of other things require careful consideration in writing such as voice lines, UI elements, and even weapon names. If you are limited in how much narrative text you can include in the game, there are many other ways to flex your creative muscles and show off the game’s personality through writing.
Knowing when to stop
Some praise for Butter Royale has stemmed from how we commit to the humor and absurdity of a world where food fights are the main mode of conflict resolution. We do this by liberally and unapologetically incorporating food puns into any piece of text you see in-game. However, having the great power of puns also means having the great responsibility of knowing when and where to apply them.
We want to avoid confusing players (especially new ones!) by injecting too much flavor where it doesn’t belong. For example, we kept the tutorial text straightforward so that players can easily understand the basic controls of the game, while still keeping the tone of the dialogue light-hearted. Things like error messages, warnings and pop-up dialogues explaining certain features of the game should also be written in clear, concise statements to avoid any uncertainty.
I want to stress the importance of having a Lexicon or Glossary of terms used as part of building the narrative. It helps ensure that there is consistency in the words used, which will help to mitigate confusion amongst both the team and the players in the future.
We also set the tone of the narrative in English and encouraged localizers of other languages to adopt that tone and adapt language-specific things such as puns and wordplay to their own languages. It helped maintain the personality of the game throughout the different languages despite our reliance on English puns and afforded the localizers more creativity in their translations since the tone was so established.
Lastly, make sure to open yourself to feedback and edit accordingly! I may have written most of the text, but writing for an entire game is definitely not a one-man job. Good ideas came from every department in the team, and without their contributions, the game and its universe would not have been as vibrant as it is.