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No Writing Is Better Than No Writing
Posted on Sunday, July 5 2009 @ 10:23:12 Eastern

Hey guys. Today I'm going to talk about something that should be important to all gamers. The design of most blockbuster games comes down to the writing behind it. For almost twenty years we've seen some great stories being told through this great medium. So what gives people like Rhianna Pratchett the right to say that writing in games is **** and we need more of it? This is a lady who has written for games such as Overlord and Mirror's Edge. She talks about the need for concept and content variation, but both of her games have included neither. The former was infamous for providing the player with lacklustre moral decisions and poor humour. The latter hardly held any narrative what-so-ever and was let down by bloody infuriating indoor sections. Is this woman qualified to speak openly about how she thinks this side of the industry sucks? I don't personally believe so; not until she actually plays some other games.


To begin with, we have to consider if games actually need writing. Its no secret that one of my favourite games for the PS2 is Shadow of the Colossus. For those of you who have been living under a rock, the game follows an adolescent and his horse as they traverse a varied landscape, killing huge bosses so the boy's girlfriend can be brought back to life. There's not a great deal of narrative to it and any exposition that the player is given has been heavily theorised upon. Most of the backstory comes through vague hints and overanalysis of dialogue, of which there's about twenty minutes throughout the entire thing. Does this stop SotC from being a good game? No. The developers have obviously let players conceptualise their own ideas about what the characters were really there for and, in a way, they've given a very personal experience to each gamer. If you play some linear bullshit, then there's little space to really think about what's going on for yourself.

Pratchett incorrectly identifies games writers as a new position on production teams. I can name tonnes of franchises and standalone games that have had heavy influence from great creative talent from Day One. Final Fantasy springs to mind, where each game is written by a bloke who gets a golden throne in Square Enix's conference room. While I believe that FF games tend to get weird as a two-headed goose by the halfway mark, these people obviously value their writing staff and contrast Pratchett's beliefs totally. Even Western companies have a tradition of appreciating good writers.

Valve have a talent of intertwining narrative with gameplay. I won't bring up the obvious examples of this in Portal, but even in Half Life 2 you're not sent on pointless quests. Instead, you seek out people. These people and their environments give you a little more exposition about the story at regular intervals. In an ideal world, this is how all games are written. In both the likes of Overlord andMirror's Edge, you basically work from a hub and are sent out on missions to... dostuff. There's no flow to the story there. Its just a series of different scenes loosely connected by other characters going 'OMG, ITS SO IMPORTANT YOU GO DO THIS!'. A lot of games are guilty of this and lack any real hint of momentum to drive the story forward. Gears of War, a game that would otherwise be identified as 'Hollywood trash', seethes with motivation to keep the player going. When it comes down to it, isn't that the purpose of games? If the player has no reason to keep playing, then the writers have done a bad job. You could be the best writer in the world, but if playing bores me I'll turn the game off.

Writers and writing itself is not necessary for a game to be good. Developers realise this. It is exactly for that reason that some writers are only drafted on at the last second to tag a story onto a novel gameplay concept. Mirror's Edge is a great example - that was built and sold around free-running. Of course they didn't need a writer. Hell, does anyone play EA games for the great character development? Whining about games needing writers despite them selling well is futile, and pretending the medium is just like a film is bloody ridiculous. Gameplay is thebedrock of a good title and the writing should work alongside that to provide a great experience.
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