Game stories: Passing the buck?

Before sitting down to watch the awe-inspiring Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, I was speaking to my friend and fellow gamer about his reading habits. Once upon a time he read fantasy novels almost exclusively. Now he sticks largely to non-fiction. Why? Because these days when he’s looking at fantasy, he’s seeing the same stories over and over again — the princess, the elves, the orcs, the questing hero. More and more he feels that creativity has gone out the window, with few exceptions. As a largely recommendation-driven reader, I was surprised by his description of the sorry state of fantasy fiction. I couldn’t help but think it all sounded familiar. It sounded like the many complaints about games.

We posted previously on who’s to blame for game writing, but my friend’s diatribe, coupled with watching the latest Fantastic Four movie prompted me to offer a different explanation. If a game has a bad story, why is anyone surprised? Look at the examples you have to draw from! Like the old anti-drug commercial, if any fiction or film creators ever ask how the industry learned to create story, you can say we learned it from watching you! Of course all of us can think of great examples of fantasy/science fiction in both fiction and films, but we must realize that these are the exceptions, rather than the rule.

In short, the game industry is not alone. Instead of feeling like the red-headed stepchild of the media, we, the game industry, need to realize those models miss the mark as often, or perhaps more so, than games do when telling a story. As many players and developers who say story doesn’t matter, there are gems within our industry that prove them wrong. So instead of trying to be as good as film or fiction, let’s aim to make the best game stories we can.

Who’s with me?

Question Mark Guess that game dialog! Today’s line: “I’ve just locked an open door. Strange…but symbolically compelling!

Check later this week to find out what game it came from!

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Published in: on July 11, 2007 at 2:35 pm  Comments (5)  

Game Addict Hotline

Listen to interviews of game developers, including one from Sande Chen, on the July 7, 2007 podcast of Daily Game Addiction, hosted by Luke Stapley.

Topics include: serious games, mobile games, casual games, console games, next-gen platforms and more!

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Published in: on July 9, 2007 at 7:49 am  Leave a Comment  

Dependencies and Game Writing

A recent article from none other than Gamasutra featured several game producers discussing dealing with dependencies. Frank Rogan of Gas Powered Games indicated that problems with dependencies all stemmed from a breakdown in communication. The question is, is there a way to keep communication flowing just as smoothly remotely as in-house?

When I worked on staff, the big board of milestones, goals, and, by extension, dependencies, was up for everyone to see. We could chat in front of it, discussing the latest episode of “Supernatural” or run in fear of the Nerf gun. As a remote worker, however, I’ve noticed that I’m only made aware of my milestones and only occasionally notified of my dependencies and about who’s depending on me. For instance: “The dialog must be done because we start voice recording on x day.” “Don’t start this section until I’ve talked to the programmers.” Or one of my favorites: “We haven’t figured this part out yet, we’ll let you know” where the “we” could be the producers, the designers, the programmers, or the publisher for all I know.

Personally, I like knowing as much as possible. However, knowing too much could lead to problems if your outsourcing partner doesn’t understand the process. This is one of the benefits of working with writers who have also worked as producers or designers. If your writer is unfamiliar with programming needs, they may make the wrong assumptions.

What do you think? Should outsourcers be treated like the team, with full knowledge of the project plan? Or do you think that’s more trouble than it’s worth?

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Published in: on July 6, 2007 at 11:38 am  Comments (1)  

Happy 4th!: a WoW story

As some of you may know, today is Independence Day in the US. So while you’re off barbecuing or sweltering in the heat, I’d like to share one of my favorite July 4th experiences. No surprise it happened in-game.

I had been playing WoW for about four months when July 4th came along. As you can probably tell, my addiction was in full swing since the best thing I could think to do on the 4th was play all day! I made my way toward the bank and AH in Orgrimmar (Horde, ftw!) and saw someone had bought fireworks for the occasion. I didn’t have any, but I had enough area effect spells that mimicked them to join in. In a short while, many people were hanging out there, throwing their own fireworks. Meanwhile, in general chat people from all over the English-speaking world were discussing the merits and drawbacks of the US. On they went while we by the bank threw firework after firework. The silent patriotism was actually rather touching. It was definitely one of my more memorable 4ths, right up there with my grandfather shooting off bottle rockets from empty beer bottles.

I hope this memory serves as a gentle reminder that all of us, whether writer, designer, or programmer, are working to create the same thing: a fun experience for the player that maybe, just maybe, becomes memorable. So no matter who you are, go out and have a great day. I hope we’ll be throwing fireworks in each other’s game next year.

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Published in: on July 4, 2007 at 12:04 pm  Comments (2)  

Zork: A Love Story

You are sitting in front of your computer. It is on.
There is a blog post here.
There is a link to a Gamasutra article here.

>read post
You do not see that here.
>read blog

A retrospective on Zork brought back many fun memories — all without the benefit of graphics. It’s interesting to think about what we’ve inherited from those earlier games. It was one of the first games to include a villain who was actually a character, rather than an “anthropomorphic obstacle.” The thief worked against the player and at one point, you could exploit him to solve a puzzle. Even today there seems to be a tendency to put in obstacles without real character or story behind them. To some extent, this is due to game design time constraints, but not always.

The initial Zork games were also praised for their writing and humor. Nowadays, you’d have to wonder if most would be willing to slosh through so much text. Text MUDs still exist, of course. However, the biggest inheritor of Zork’s text love has to be the Bioware games. It just goes to show that not all gamers are graphics-only players. We have Zork to thank for that.

What other games or gameplay do you think Zork has influenced?

>go back to work
You do not see that here.

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Published in: on July 2, 2007 at 11:43 pm  Comments (4)