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    • CommentAuthorFlabyo
    • CommentTimeJan 19th 2008
     (566.1)
    Spawning off from something said in the 'Endless Ocean' thread.

    What do people think about the state of writing in videogames at the moment?

    It seems to still be very much the poor backward cousin of writing for other media, to the point where most games companies still do their own writing themselves without hiring someone who actually knows how to do it.

    Games don't fall under the WGA strike, although I suspect they would if enough of their members knew the games industry generally doesn't pay royalty, but not many guilders would even consider it.

    It seems we're stuck in a situation at the moment where good writers (mostly) don't want to work in videogaming, and (most) games companies don't want to hire competent writers anyway.

    Does anyone have first hand experience of it? I'm genuinely interested in how the writing types among us have found it.
  1.  (566.2)
    I think you need to add that videogames aren't exactly great at the moment. For every dialogue heavy game with anything for a writer to do above that of writing cutscene dialogue (like Mass Effect), there's 20 new FIFA games.
  2.  (566.3)
    I don't know jack about the reality of it but... I think, as pete mentioned, the Bioware games (Mass effect, KOTOR etc) tend to be fairly well written; as are games like Bioware and Half-life.

    Generally, it seems to depend on the production values, although there are examples where this isn't the case: ie Halo and Gears of War (WORST DIALOGUE EVER). Perhaps it's because games are still in those early stages and are still considered to be just for kids so it doesn't matter whether the dialogue sparkles like 'Big Sleep' or 'Resovoir Dogs' (this is even when the main market is between 20-30). It kind of shares similarities, in this case, with every other media. Comics and, to maybe a lesser extent, films were looked upon with fear; fear that they would corrupt the youth. After everyone realised it probably wouldn't the mysterious "they" decided it was just for kids until great writers came along and shook it all up.

    I can't remember who stated it in another thread but it will be when auteurs/visionaries/whatever get a hold of the format and really start to push it forward regardless of the stereotypes surrounding it. I think, then, we'll see vast improvements on stories and dialogue. There are some games designers pushing things forward... Hojima (Metal gear), Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy), Kenji Kaido (SOTC & Ico), Molyneux (fable, Populous... uh...), Braben (Elite - when he gets back on it, so to speak) and Ken Levine (Bioshock) all look at the format with an artistic eye. So, I'm not fretting too much at the moment. It's time is still coming.
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      CommentAuthorLuke
    • CommentTimeJan 20th 2008
     (566.4)
    Games with good writing will always be the minority - because a vast bulk of games can be brilliantly fun without any 'writing' at all. The Street Fighters backstories were only ever something to read while waiting for the game to start, for example.

    The games that do have good writing do exist (too many adventure games to count, Psychonauts, Sam and Max etc) and recently the idea of quality writing got some deserved spotlight with the quality Portal. We can hope that this leads to more games investing a little in good writing, but it's not something that needs to be widespread.
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      CommentAuthorFauxhammer
    • CommentTimeJan 20th 2008
     (566.5)
    It's getting there! I just finished Bioshock, which had an amazing story and dialogue, and Halo 3 continues the series' tradition of solid military SF.

    Then again, you also get ass-slapping brodeos like Gears of War. But it's an emergent art form; by the peak of this generation's lifecycle, gaming will finally get its touchstone.
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      CommentAuthorJaredRules
    • CommentTimeJan 20th 2008
     (566.6)
    Only a few games have every really wowed me writing wise.
    The Metal Gear franchise, Eternal Darkness (which really felt more like an interactive book, but was cool nonetheless) and Mark of Kri was interesting.
    • CommentAuthoradrian r
    • CommentTimeJan 20th 2008
     (566.7)
    I'm getting paid VERY well to write for a game that's on its way from a UK manufacturer, who like me because of my experience of writing for screen and past in pen and paper rpgs (as a hobby, not for money). In this case, I'm being asked to create a detailed backstory for the game, rather than content such as speech which will be immediately apparent to players. I can't say much more than that at the moment.
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      CommentAuthorroque
    • CommentTimeJan 20th 2008
     (566.8)
    I can only comment on the survival horror genre, since I pretty much stick to that exclusively, aside from Onimusha.

    I remember reading that the reason that the writing in Silent Hill 2 was above-average (and leagues above SH1, much as I love it) was that the voice actors gently but firmly took the Japanese team aside and said "This isn't realistic American dialogue. Try this..." and Team Silent actually listened. and even then, some goofy and awkward language ended up in there.
    • CommentAuthorFlabyo
    • CommentTimeJan 21st 2008
     (566.9)
    I hope we are approaching a stage where writing can come to the fore, I've been a coder in the industry for nearly 10 years now and I've yet to see any real sign of progress in that time.

    A few years back the game I was working on employed a writer who'd had a few things out via Image to write our plot. It was pretty good, but the publisher nixed it because it would've meant a Mature rating rather than a Teen one. The plot we did end up with was a cliched mess, and I still like to think that going with the original one would've made us more sales despite the higher rating than the one we did go with.

    It is true that plenty of games don't need a story at all, but even games that just need a paper thin reason to get people punching each other would benefit from better writing. But it's really those games that are all about their stories that show up just how far off the pace we are as an industry.
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      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeJan 21st 2008 edited
     (566.10)
    Something that really blew me away about Mass Effect was the codex, which for those who haven't played the game is basically an encyclopedia of the universe the game is set in that updates whenever your character is in a position to have learned something. The writing in the articles is fascinating from a science fiction standpoint, and entertaining as well as informative. It really brought a new layer to the gameplay. Ditto to the information pertaining to the various planets that you can land on and survey. I'm hoping other games do something similar, as that is a really effective concept.

    I'd love to see some effort put back into the writing for the game manuals. Whenever I buy a new game, I always read the manual, hoping to glean some extra information or story elements before playing the game. The game Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is probably one of the best, with the section on the races written as if it were an anthropological paper, full of controversial theories and 'references' to other works. Of course, this could also be incorporated into something like a codex in other games, or as free downloadable content via the internet or XBOX Live.
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      CommentAuthorJack_Crow
    • CommentTimeJan 21st 2008
     (566.11)
    It's complex...probably now the writing is far better than any other time before...the first videogames had nearly no story (of course there are always exceptions like the golden age of the conversational adventures). Even if they had no story most of these games set the cliches for the following (you wanna see where Street figther comes...well, yie are kunf fu was there before!).

    I always want a good writing behind a game, i don't mind wich genre does it belong I will not speak now about wich games do i like for his writing, my memory is really bad, but in a quick way i'd like to remind you the incredibly funny graphic adventures of the 90's (monkey island, day of the tentacle, sam & max...)

    Anyway...there is even less respected places inside the consoles and pc videogame industry...the mobile videogame one. I'm working on it, and appears that no one really cares about the writing or the story. I'm a QA tester and use to get annoyed about the lack of backstory on them...but no one else cares :P
  3.  (566.12)
    I'm writing a game for the first time right now, as we speak. So this thread is a gift. I'll be watching it closely. Thanks guys! I'm enjoying it already.
  4.  (566.13)
    Writing game scripts is like writing movie scripts, but in games you have to write possibilities for what the player will do. If the player does something, a certain characters says or does something. If he doesn't, the same character says or does something else. The Darkness has script excerpts in the Extras section that show the structure of game-scripting very well.

    Games that count with a great script:

    MAFIA - best story I've ever seen in a game.

    THE DARKNESS - I don't like Paul Jenkins, but he did a very good job here.

    CALL OF JUAREZ - An epic western with great characters. And I have a strong suspicion that Reverend Ray was based on Saint of Killers, from Garth Ennis' Preacher. There's just too many similarities.

    HITMAN: BLOOD MONEY - Unlike previous games in the series, this one has an interesting story with a beautiful ending.

    CALL OF DUTY 4: MODERN WARFARE - Most immersing war game I've ever played, and it has some great characters, like Captain Price. And the scene where the nuke explodes is simply breath-taking.

    GEARS OF WAR - As far as alien invasion games go, this is one of the best.

    THE PUNISHER - Apparently, Garth Ennis also writes games. And very well.

    GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS - Probably has the best characters I've seen in games, and a bloody good story. Also, it's not a racist game, unlike some politically correct pussies have been accusing it of being.

    HALF-LIFE 2 - I hate when the character I control doesn't talk, but the world in which this game happens is fascinating and the story moves forward with some good characters.

    METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SNAKE EATER - Exaggerated at first, but soon you get used to it and the story and characters get to you. Great game.

    GIANTS - CITIZEN KABUTO - Funny and creative.

    FABLE - A good epic, with a well-told, if unoriginal, story.

    PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME - A great return for the prince, and in a good story with good characters.

    ESCAPE FROM MONKEY ISLAND AND CURSE FROM MONKEY ISLAND - These guys at LucasArts have SOME imagination. Hilarious adventure game, and clever too. Not to mention, of course, the characters.

    Games that fucked up story-wise:

    CALL OF DUTY 3 - Only game in the Call of Duty series not made by Infinity Ward, but by Treyarch. Coincidentally enough, it's the only bad game in the series. The objectives are original stuff like blowing up enemy air defenses, blowing up tanks, blah blah blah. Story? None.

    THE GODFATHER - The story feels flat and it's short. Writers with more imagination could have created a story for the protagonist, instead of simply throwing him into the events of the film. But it's a good game.

    SCARFACE - Pretentious and artificial dialog ("Miami's more closed than a nun's ass right now"), repetitive story and Tony Montana is terribly annoying, not only due to the bad script but also due to the exaggerated voice-over (not done by Al Pacino).

    DOOM 3 - "Demons from Hell invade a Research Lab in Mars". There. Now go blow things up.

    DRIV3R - Huh? Story? Where?

    QUAKE 4 - Has its moments, but the story is simple and the characters, generic.

    PAINKILLER - Well, this game doesn't NEED a story. It's pure mayhem, and very enjoyable at that. But hey, a story would have been kinda nice.

    PRINCE OF PERSIA: WARRIOR WITHIN - turning the prince into a hardcore heavy metal motherfucker simply didn't work.

    MAX PAYNE 2 - The story's not that bad, but it's exaggerated, to the point of becoming melodramatic. But has its moments, and it's an excellent game.

    POSTAL 2 - "Now, go get some milk, pay my bills, see a parade, get an autograph from Gary Coleman and kill a lot of people while doing all that..."

    ENTER THE MATRIX - The definition of "fuck-up".

    MATRIX: PATH OF NEO - Better game, but see above.

    This might look like all I do in my life is playing games, but those are games I played over the years and didn't take long to finish them. I just have a good memory.
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      CommentAuthorEgon
    • CommentTimeJan 21st 2008
     (566.14)
    I think it's time we do away with over-written text based dialog on modern consoles.


    I'm looking at you Super Paper Mario.
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      CommentAuthoraduckworth
    • CommentTimeJan 21st 2008
     (566.15)
    I sort of touched on this in another thread already, but I think we're headed for a mini renaissance in the game world. Everyone who grew up playing games are now becoming old enough to program/write/design/critique/etc., and I think this fact colliding with all the new game mechanics available to them via technology which are allowing for increasingly sophisticated story-telling techniques, as well as pressure from gamers to deliver stuff that isn't just yet another throw-away shooter or licensed title, is going to produce some seriously amazing new stuff. It was about this time in history when cinema started churning out its first major auteurs, elite cinematographers and screenwriters -- leading up until that point was just a lot of eye-candy and novelty films, because people were just so easily amused by the idea of moving pictures that they just didn't realize much of anything else was possible from such a technology. We have yet to get people in the gaming industry who really, deeply understand the language of gaming as well as people understand the language of cinema today; there are people like Warren Spector who say "yeah, we're really just scraping the tip of the iceberg right now," but I think gamers have really yet to get a sense for that.
    • CommentAuthorNecros
    • CommentTimeJan 21st 2008
     (566.16)
    I do think games are generally overlooked as far as writing goes. That said there are some really good games out there as far as storytelling goes.

    For my favoerite game as far as the story goes I would say KOTR I. It was extrememly well put together story wise, and really caught me by suprise.
  5.  (566.17)
    The absolute best writing I've seen in games comes from the folks at Oddworld Inhabitants. Abes Oddysee and Abes Exedous were both fantastic examples of what is possible in the genre, dark and funny and dramatic and sad in the same package. Similarly, Strangers Wrath was a well done mixing of genre's, an epic sci-fi western complete with gravely-voiced poncho-wearing anti-hero.

    The Monkey Island games were also very good, as was Grim Fandango and the Longest Journey, although the sequel was just aweful.
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      CommentAuthorpKone
    • CommentTimeJan 21st 2008
     (566.18)
    I liked FinalFantasy stories.... they just keep spiraling out of control! And once you think the most melodramatic villain is dead BAM! it gets crazier!!

    I would write them for free, just to be part of creating a game...they have filled many of my hours ; )
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      CommentAuthorRantz
    • CommentTimeJan 21st 2008
     (566.19)
    Speaking as someone who's made videogames for the last 14 years, and written more than his fair share of scripts for said media, it's a fucking nightmare. from both a production and creation stance. Not saying it can't be done and done well, but fucking hell it's a nightmare process.
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      CommentAuthorTelecart
    • CommentTimeJan 21st 2008
     (566.20)
    Star Control 2 by Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford. Best writing in a game ever. best soundtrack in a game ever. Best game ever, period.