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Rich Carlson talks about game writing/writers

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This will be of interest to all the aspiring game writers out there. http://www.gamespy.com/articles/september00/carlson/ Excerpt: "Our game stories are on the level of Saturday morning cartoons, in terms of characterization, plot, and especially dialog. In fact, I''m guessing that that''s where most of our writer-guys got their chops. Anyhow, this is what got me thinking about all of this. I appeal to all computer game project leaders, designers, and writers to consider the issue of the unchecked unsophistication in computer game stories and dialog very seriously and carefully. I ask you to broaden your horizons; engage in speculative talk with more experienced writers from outside the field of computer games. I ask you to take it upon yourself to become an expert at those special elements of story, plot, character, and dialog that define your interests and aesthetics as a writer or designer. If you''re a project leader and use staff writers, establish or seek out writing clubs, clinics and author-clinicians for your employees, and pony up for mandatory participation. Allow them to meet and learn from experienced experts and mentors in the fields of movie, television, written sci-fi, and fantasy."

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Well, that''s one way of looking at it. Another way, perhaps, would be to see that here is an example of a game industry veteran saying that good storytelling is important. In most cases, the people who argue for the importance of writing are not actually in the industry. So, I think it has some value in that sense.

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Man, I post a link to what I consider to be an interesting and relevant article, and it gets no feedback. I guess I should post something completely off the wall and not at all related to the forum topic, like time travel. That seems to be a popular topic.

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I''d like to see some articles on writing that actually gave some hints on how to write for games, rather than, "read more books! watch more movies! Then you''ll know how to write"

Personally, I find my "Writing A Novel" book to be very useful, but sadly I don''t have time to write a story-based game at the moment.

[ MSVC Fixes | STL | SDL | Game AI | Sockets | C++ Faq Lite | Boost ]

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I was going to say something useful about how I want deep games or games with good stories or something. Then I thought I might have realized something. Do the games with good stories, as opposed to the games with good technology sell in high enough perportions to fuel more games with good stories?
Half-Life had a mediocre story ( but they tried ) and had good technology for the time.
Reviews i''ve read of Arcanum say that it has an excelent story/theme, but the technology hampers it.
From the little i''ve played of the MaxPayne demo, it''s got a mediocre or better story, but the presentation of that is novel, and the technology is excellent.I heard somewhere that out of 100 console games only about 10 make a profit, and i don''t remember the rest of the statistics.
For PC games, it was 90 don''t get made/lose money, 9 break even and 1 makes a profit.
Game developers are forced to keep somewhat close to current technology, limiting the ability to invest in having a good story.

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You raise some good points, SoakinKittens. The good news is the technology needed to make a reasonably good-looking game (in terms of graphics) is becoming more and more accessible to a wider range of people. The Quake 2 engine is pretty dated, but look at some of the work being done in the Half-Life mod community (check out Day of Defeat 2.0, for example), and that''s based on a modified Quake 1 engine. My point is, as the technology to make games of acceptable graphical quality becomes more accessible to a wider range of people, costs to develop drop and we''ll begin to see people taking bigger chances on innovations in gameplay and storytelling. Sure, you might not be able to make a game with Doom 3-class graphics, but it''s getting to the point where that doesn''t even matter. At least, not to many people. There will always be a component of the gamer market that has to have the best hardware and play the most cutting-edge games, but if you look at the numbers you''ll see that many of the most financially successful games are actually very simple technologically speaking. You won''t see Quake III or Return to Castle Wolfenstein in the top 10 titles this year for overall revenue, I promise you. But you will see things like Harry Potter and more Sims games.

I apologize for the rather undirected flow of ideas in this post.

Kylotan, have you looked at any of Chris Crawford''s writing? This guy has done quite a bit of work towards improving the quality of writing for games. Might be worth looking into. The thing is that despite what many people think, writing for games is not very different than writing for film, for example. If you look at the script for Deus Ex, you''ll see that it''s written in the same style as a screenplay. Those techniques may not work for every game, but most professional writers worth their salt are able to modify their style and structure according to the medium.

Just my two cents...

R.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Carlson''s heart was in the right place with his article, but his narrowmindedness towards the literary implementation in videogames prevents me from standing up and applauding his remarks.

I will present two quotes that struck my eye and disgusted me to an elevated degree.

"I''ll be happy, in the curmudgeonly spirit of Harlan Ellison, to put it bluntly. If your writers imaginations aren''t steeped in the works of sci-fi writers like Asimov, Heinlein, Bester, Dick, Pohl, Simak, Bradbury, Niven, Ellison, and Brin* (Never mind cyberpunk. You know cyberpunk, and it''s not helping you.), or fantasy writers like Vance, Tolkein, DeCamp, Zelazny, Lewis, Leiber, LeGuin, Poul Anderson, Moorcock, and Eddings* (And you can keep your Robert Jordan, thank you. His stuff is far too derivative to be of any original use.), then your speculative fiction computer game''s story, characters, and dialog will be basically screwed. Yes, I''ll definitely go out on a limb and say that."

"If computer game storywriters haven''t read this stuff, and ALL of it, then they''re fantasy fiction illiterates and just not qualified for the job."

This, to put it mildly, is complete and utter bullshit.

From this fellow''s point of view, if a game writer''s works do not virtually mimic the style of moldy old sci-fi and fantasy writers, then their game will be utter shit. As a writer, this has offended me.

His implication is that writers should be introduced into the industry to a heightened degree, but only if they follow HIS guidelines. If they display a remarkable degree of unoriginality and base their literary forms on outside sources, rather than make their own style. For instance, by his statement, he means to say that Quentin Tarantino would be incapable of making a decent videogame. This is complete crap. I would be willing to bet great sums of money, if I had any, that Tarantino would be a GOD of the videogame industry if he were given the chance to do what he wanted.

Cheer for his remarks if you want, but it is narrowminded fools like him that prevent writers from gaining entrance into the industry. We''re still looking at the problem that, if we don''t cater to these "videogame god" wants, we will not be paid attention to. I, for one, am incapable of such things. My literary style is unlike any I have ever seen, yet I still persue a career as a writer in the industry.

We need ORIGINAL writers with NEW ideas in the game industry. Not writers who copy their styles directly from others, which is what he is limiting the notion of "writer" to.

The videogame industry is a sickeningly ignorant medium. Those in charge still pine for their AD&D dice games, uninterested in changing trends and broadening the creative spectrums. Fools.

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Well, I don''t know the author of that piece so I can''t defend him personally, but I think you may have taken his comments in a spirit against which they were intended.

I took that particular quote to mean that to speak to the mass of gamers, you need to be familiar with the content that has cultural relevance to them. I don''t necessarily extrapolate from that that there is no room for people with other styles or influences.

I applaud and agree with your comments about the importance of originality, but in the end a game still has to offer financial success or it doesn''t matter how original it is.

Sadly, I have to completely disagree with you regarding Tarantino, but that''s only because I generally despise his work. You perhaps know more specifically what it is about him that would make him a GOD of game design.

R.

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It is a shame, but it''s true that the game industry will have to go by what makes money rather than what makes a quality game. Although I do not like it, I guess only game writers knee-deep in the fantasy/sci-fi scene will ever be able to make an impact. I guess that''s what he was trying to say. Oh well.

And about Tarantino, I truly do see where you''re coming from. I didn''t really care for him either until I saw Reservoir Dogs the other day. Seeing that makes me truly believe that he could make a great game if he favored that style of filmmaking, rather than his more recent style, which has become watered down QUITE a bit. I guess a better comparison would have been somebody along the lines of Kevin Smith or Phil Alden Robinson. My main implication was that there are guys outside that realm Carlson mentioned that could be great game designers. I was a bit hasty to mention Tarantino after seeing Reservoir Dogs the other day.

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