03 October 2012
Posted in Video Games
A keynote speech by Steve Ince for the 11th International Conference on Entertainment Computing 2012 in Bremen
Whenever I prepare for an event of this nature I’m reminded of the huge diversity of gaming in particular and computer related entertainment in general. It’s bewildering in its range and scope and simply keeping abreast of the constant assault of news and developments is somewhat daunting.
But this broad scope also gives such incredible creative freedom to those of us who want to explore new ways of delivering entertainment to a worldwide audience. This talk, then, is me scratching the surface of writing for games and how the whole idea of entertainment can affect how writers approach the task.
David Cage, the creative mind behind the game, Heavy Rain, recently said this about players: ‘I am not interested in giving them “fun”, I want to give them meaning.’ Many of us might think that one of the main points of games is that they should be fun, but I understand why Cage would make a statement like that. The word ‘fun’ has a certain amount of baggage that could trivialise the emphasis of the product. Super Mario is fun, for instance, and Cage may feel he needs to distance his games from this kind of association. If we substitute ‘fun’ with ‘entertainment’, surely Cage would want his games to be meaningful and entertaining? If they are not, why would we want to play them? And if we want games to be entertainment, we must see them as such throughout the development process.
Designer versus player
Some years ago a designer I worked with said, ‘This puzzle will stump the player!’ I must admit that I was taken aback – I didn’t realise that some designers approached the task this way. But it explained the way that some puzzles and gameplay appeared to me as a player – the designers involved saw design as a kind of battle between them and the player. Could they come up with a great puzzle that would keep the player guessing? Or a level boss it would be nearly impossible to beat?
Thankfully, that kind of thinking is dying out, if it hasn’t already done so. Now design is seen as a partnership between the development team and the player to provide the best entertainment experience possible.
Game writing must be approached the same way. We should ensure that the actions of the player reveal the story, characterisation and dialogue in a highly entertaining manner and do what we can to integrate the written aspects with the gameplay. Game writing must be in service to the story, characters and gameplay and any obscurity or lack of clarification should be part of the mystery to be solved and never obscurity for its own sake. Keeping track of progress in a game is enough for the player without muddying the waters with superfluous ambiguity.
As a game writer I also like to understand the game’s mechanics and how they are used and introduced so I can support and enhance this with the work I contribute. I never want my writing to be to the detriment of a game project.
Game writer or narrative designer?
In recent years there seems to have been a reaction against the use of the term ‘writer’ in connection to games. Some of the writers I know tell me they still meet people who think a game writer simply creates the words the characters speak or the text that appears in various on-screen places like diaries or character logs.
A game writer, ideally, should be involved with all aspects of concept, story, character, plot, subplot and dialogue, working closely with the development team to help them realise their vision in the best way possible. Writers cannot work alone and should never impose their own vision onto projects unless specifically asked to do so.
Some writers have started referring to themselves as ‘narrative designers’, but this is not a term I like to apply to myself, even though part of what I do encompasses what we think of as narrative design.
Stephen Dinehart, who created the first definition of the role, said the following: ‘Many writers have falsely taken on the self-appointed title of “narrative designer” and as a result there has been a watering down of the term and a general sense that the role is for nothing more than a relabelled game writer. This assumption is false.’
Narrative design, in a broad sense, has been part of a writer’s role since stories have been told and encompass story arc, structure, plot, sub-plot, characterisation, etc. In relation to game development, interactive narrative design is something more and covers the meeting place between the writer and the game designer.
As writers, we should proudly embrace our craft in the field of interactive entertainment. If there are those working in development and publishing who do not fully understand and appreciate the writer’s role and what a writer may bring to a game project, then I hope they will take the time to learn and expand their knowledge and understanding of game development.
If we are to deliver games as high quality entertainment then we should all understand the development process as much as we can. Writers are no exception to this and if we learn the process it can’t be hard for others to learn the writer’s role. We all want to make great games, after all.Gameplay
Games, by their very nature are defined by the one thing that makes them games – gameplay. This is exactly as it should be, of course, but it doesn’t mean that other aspects of a game’s development should be neglected.
Imagine if any of the latest spate of superhero films – Batman, Avengers, Iron Man, etc. – had skimped on an important part of the mix; the costume design, for instance, the special effects, the casting or even the script.
All aspects of making a film must be given the right level of importance in order to provide the audience with the best entertainment. And so it should be with games.
The development of creative elements such as art, animation, sound, music and writing are all vital and must be seen as such. Yet each must be approached with a consideration for gameplay at all times in order to maximise the cohesion of the project. The more seamless we can make the end product the better the entertainment value.
Writing in particular is something that should intertwine with the gameplay design as much as possible, not just for simple things like linking gameplay objectives with story objectives, but also in the way the gameplay itself reveals story and character elements to the player.
The more integrated the story, the less likely it is to feel ‘bolted on’. It’s also more likely that the flow of the game and story will draw the player into the game world with much more immersion.
Even when games are not using gameplay mechanics directly or requiring the player to solve puzzles the game should still offer interactivity to the player.
Often, part of the overall gameplay is involved with working out what you must do to achieve your next objective and overcome the obstacles along the way. Interacting with the environment is often a vital part of this and may involve the writer thinking about how clues may be integrated into the world the player is exploring. But not just clues, information that helps paint a richer representation of the game world, the society, characters and elements of story.
The line between gameplay and simple interactivity is very blurred; particularly when, by interacting with the environment you open up new gameplay or advance the story. But when is a game not a game?
In my view, when there is no gameplay and interactivity is so minimal it’s nearly non-existent.
This is how I view Dear Esther. I think it has lots of great qualities, not least of which are the wonderful environments, but simply using a game engine and interface does not make it a game. Esther is a great experiment worth making and certainly provides an interesting experience, but to me it’s not a game.
The main thing it highlights is that a game development team must bear in mind the role of the player when creating a game. They must think about what the player is going to actually do. What are the player’s expectations?
This, too, is what game writers must consider – how the gameplay and interactivity, from the player’s perspective, affects the way they develop story, characters, dialogue, etc. In a project like Dear Esther the needs of the creators have outweighed the needs of the player and the game partnership is lost.
Writers, along with the rest of the team, must see the player’s perspective.
The way the player interacts with the game world, and how he or she approaches the gameplay, is impossible to predict unless the game is so tightly on rails player involvement is a mere formality.
Is it possible to create a great story entertainment experience when we have no control over the way the game is played?
Of course it is, but at each step of the process the writer must think through all kinds of possibilities. With each scene or scenario developed there will be a whole list of ‘what if’ questions to incorporate into the scene alternatives.
What if you haven’t discovered the murder weapon? What if you’ve already found that Jim is lying? What if you’re too late and the guy you wanted to question is dead?
Lines of dialogue, subjects for questioning and even whole scenes may need to have alternate versions. We may even need alternate lines within alternate scenes. Sometimes these alternate versions throw up different gameplay, of course, but that’s a whole different area.
Dealing with scene variants is usually best done with conditional dialogue. What I mean by this is that individual lines, groups of lines or scenes are only played out if the right conditions are met. For instance, if you know that the murder weapon was a hunting knife you can start asking suspects what they know about such a blade. Because you don’t know quite how a scene will run, it must be made to work whichever conditional lines are triggered. It must appear to flow naturally whether, in this instance, the player knows about the knife or not.
Creating the right structure and keeping track of what is happening under which conditions can be a logistical headache.
Flow charts can be useful for mapping out the structure because they give a picture of how a scene is meant to flow and the various conditional parts that must be included. Detail is irrelevant at this point and the process is somewhat similar to developing a film screenplay in terms of scene index cards.
Keeping track of the details and the state of information knowledge is a fine level of detail that’s best handled by the use of Boolean variables. Although it’s not necessary for a writer to understand programming to any degree, thinking in terms of true and false is important. The character has knowledge or he doesn’t. She has the object or she doesn’t. They’ve spoken about a subject or they haven’t. And so forth.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking in terms of information progress so that as the player character discovers more about a particular subject a variable is incremented in stages. The problem with this approach is that it can lead to all kinds of dialogue and logic problems. If the player is able to talk to a number of characters in the order they choose, it’s possible to skip a state of the variable and introduce a bug.
If the writer and development team are both thinking in terms of Booleans it will mean that it’s much simpler to transfer the writer’s scenes into the game’s scripts. Of course, we’re now seeing tools emerge onto the market that help the writer and development team stay in synch and even enable the writer to create structure that can be imported directly into the game. When such tools become standard practice it will help the development process become so much more creative.
The iterative process
How do we go about writing a game story?
Game writers, from the outset, must approach the process in a very collaborative manner with high degree of iteration.
Writing for a game is practically never a solitary task, but I don’t mean working with other writers (though it could happen), I mean the writer collaborates with the rest of the development team delivering increasingly detailed versions of the story for approval. Numerous iterations are vital for ensuring the team members all see the same picture as it grows. Starting with a brief, high-level document and working up increasing detail with each iteration, not only keeps everyone in synch, it also makes it easier to see how the detail at one iteration relates to the overview of an earlier version. This is particularly important when drilling down to the level where individual lines and their variants are written – if the gameplay and plot logic has already been established as sound, the writer isn’t worrying about it at the point of creating the dialogue. This means that more creative energy can be concentrated on developing the dialogue in the richest way.
Multiple storylines can be incredibly alluring. The impression that they give the player more freedom and choice can be seen as a real selling point, but is this a genuine reason people buy games?
I believe there are two questions that should be asked when contemplating the use of multiple storylines.
The first is: Do multiple storylines give the player the best entertainment experience? Multiple storylines can be very resource intensive because, for each storyline, you may need to create new locations, characters, animation, dialogue, etc. It may weaken the ideas because you have to spread them across the story variations. Some endings may be watered down and not have the major impact of a single ending.
The second question is: Can we give the impression that the player has choice and freedom without going down the multiple storyline route?
The key to this is to allow the player to discover information, open up new areas, deal with obstacles, solve puzzles, talk to characters, etc. in the way that they see fit. If it doesn’t matter if you obtain the Earth Gem before the Fire Stone or vice versa, it’s easy to give the choice to the player – go to fire mountain or go to the crystal caves.
This kind of choice can happen at different levels, too. If the player chooses to go to the crystal caves they may find there are five obstacles to overcome but that they can take each of them in the order they choose.
If story details and dialogue scenes vary according to the order (from the choices made by the player) the story unfolds differently even if those differences may be subtle at times. Two friends playing the same game may experience the story in a different way. Therefore the appearance of multiple storylines may be achieved.
Key story and gameplay information
If we give the player freedom in how he or she experiences the game, how do we ensure key information is obtained that will move the story and gameplay forward?
Sometimes it’s important to have a game node that acts as a pulling-together of a number of conditions. This could mean that the next area or section of the game isn’t opened up until each of those conditions is met. The goblin refuses to give you the key to the gate until you have the magical sword, the gem of enlightenment, the +4 armour and the sewer map.
Broken Sword, Ireland location
In the first Broken Sword game, when the player went to the Ireland location, there was no option to leave until the gameplay was completed. Now it may be argued that not allowing the player to leave stifles the freedom of the player, but here it actually served three purposes:
The first was to set the overall gameplay and story objective for the section – discover the next important clue.
The second told the player that everything they needed to complete the section is contained within it.
Thirdly, allowing the player to travel back and forth across Europe, with little changing in the different locations, stretches the suspension of disbelief more than a little and would only lead to unnecessary confusion for the player if they started looking for clues in the wrong place. It’s more important to give a clear direction and maximise the entertainment value than give complete freedom.
Of course, when the player character arrived in Ireland there was the freedom to explore the currently available places and talk to the characters in the order the player chose. What we had was a structured freedom designed to mix player choice with a sense of purpose.
There has been a rise in the use of in-game hints to help the player who might be stuck or who is interested in working through the entertainment experience at a higher pace. Where hints are at their most useful is when the player thinks they have completed everything but still isn’t able to progress – a hint can tell the player what they’ve missed. They may have flipped all of the switches in different locations but they may not have re-routed the power or talked to the right character to get the code to do so.
Writers need to be aware of the uses of hints and, where possible, be involved in the creation and application of them. They should be written as hints and not instructions about exactly what to do. Hints should avoid giving away information the player finds through gameplay. They ought to tell players what they can do and try, not what they can’t do. Hints should also not be used to paper over any flaws in design.
Not a hint
There was a kind of weak design common in adventure games at one time - interact with an area and have the player character comment that they have no reason to go that way. It’s always best if a story and gameplay reason prevents the player going into an area, or leaving one.
Hints should also not be confused with the clues the player uncovers through gameplay and talking with other characters.
Although most hints are kept within a self-contained part of the interface, it’s possible to have in-game hints delivered by a partner character if the engine detects that the player doesn’t seem to be doing what’s required.
The problem here, of course, is how we handle the dialogue lines for such a situation. If handled badly, focus can be drawn to them for all the wrong reasons and give the wrong impression about the quality of the dialogue.
The good, the bad and the ordinary
Dialogue in games is often the only place the writing can be directly seen or heard and so is often the subject of articles and commentary. And we can appreciate that something so up-front in a game is bound to draw more scrutiny, even being compared directly to other media like film and TV.
Game dialogue can be good and often is. All too regularly it can be bad, sometimes dreadful, for different sorts of reasons. Dialogue can also be ordinary, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Good dialogue comes from well-defined characters with genuine human foibles having to cope with the stresses of getting through the story and dealing with confrontations along the way. When working at its best, good dialogue becomes almost unnoticeable because it’s completely natural to the character speaking it.
To create the best dialogue we need drama and conflict that put the characters through all kinds of emotional confrontation.
Characters must fight for what they believe and when two strong characters come together their dialogue will sing.
Bad writing, or the appearance of it, can be down to one or more factors conspiring to give that impression.
The first of these is inexperience.
People writing the dialogue don’t understand writing or don’t understand game development, or both. There is only one answer to this – use experienced writers.
The second factor is localisation shortcuts.
When translating a game it’s often felt that all you need is a good translator. Experience has shown me that in order to get the best from the translated dialogue a writer experienced in that language should be used to give the lines a polish to ensure they have the right level of vibrancy.
Recently at Gamescom I was talking to a developer who told me a comedy game of his was translated into English and lost all of the humour; something they didn’t discover until after release when players said that the game wasn’t all that funny.
A third issue is often down to casting.
Without the casting of talented actors, we can get the impression of bad writing when it may be down to the acting. I’ll go into more detail on this in a moment.
Lines that seem ordinary may be symptomatic of the nature of games because we have so many instances where single lines are used. These isolated lines mostly exist for flavour or exclamation. Sometimes we have the opportunity to turn a single line into a witty or meaningful observation, but often it’s better to think about variety than searching for a line worthy of Shakespeare. It’s better to have 50 different lines for similar things than rely on ten lines that are repeated too often.
Ordinary lines in other media serve a specific purpose within a larger context and form part of a greater whole. In games, single lines are in and of themselves the whole but we can lift their quality with great delivery.
Good casting is vital. Without talented, professional actors game dialogue can sound like the developer simply dragged a few people in off the street and all the hard work of the writer will feel like a waste of time. Professional actors bring out the best of any dialogue and layer on depth and additional meaning.
It’s very easy to think that anyone can act (in a similar way to some people thinking that anyone can write), but if you’ve ever been in a recording session with good actors who quickly get into character and deliver exactly what you need (and a little bit more besides) you’ll understand that acting is so much more than putting on a different voice.
Take a pirate character, for example. It’s too easy to deliver a clichéd voice if the range and experience of a good actor isn’t utilised. Even a comedy pirate needs to have something more to his voice to help him stand out.
Cast an actor who will deliver a fresh take and he will lift the character above the cliché.
Although top level games offer better character depiction through facial and body language animation, the majority of games do not have the visual subtleties required to put over the emotional range of characters. In many instances the voice acting must carry the whole weight of this load through the recorded performance and the game writer must approach dialogue with this in mind throughout.
Writing for performance
While casting is part of the mix, the writer must deliver a script that allows the actors to give a great performance. We must write with a clear idea of how we want the voices to sound in the studio. Not only does this help with the casting but it enables the actors to get into the performance quickly.
So much of hitting the character’s voice comes from defining the character well in the first place and a writer must think about this, not just in terms of how it relates to the lines he writes, but how he conveys the character to the actor playing the role. ‘Mabel, the gossipy old woman who has never had a relationship in her life and carries decades of regrets in her heart,’ is much easier to get a handle on than simply describing her as Old Woman 3 and expecting the actor to give a rich performance based on that label.
Performance should fit with the style of the game so the writing and characters must reflect that. However, we always need to be careful that the style of the game and characters doesn’t affect the process. In a game with a flippant tone, for example, the writing and performance shouldn’t be approached in a flippant way. The final lines and the actor delivery – the end product, as it were – are where the flippancy lies. The embodiment of the character. The process is as professional as ever.
Because we are thinking about performance when we write, we should always be aware that less can be made to say more if the actor delivers the line in the right way. Although it’s not something we see much of in games, writers should think about subtext and how it can be made to work in a game context. We should never over-write and there are times when a single word can be made to speak volumes.
What a writer wants from a line, or even a single word, can vary so much depending on the context. To ensure that the performance delivery is what we intended, we must be clear about that context.
Because game voice recording rarely uses a traditional script format, descriptions and notes to help with context are often placed into a spreadsheet for clarity. Although a writer may sit in on the recording sessions and help set the context for the actors and the director, the notes are still important for his or her own use. If a game script consists of 20,000 lines, it’s impossible to remember the context of every single one without notes, particularly if conditional dialogue may affect the mood or character relationships, say. Performance
One important aspect of writing for performance is giving the actors room to move. They need to be able to do their job and act to the best of their ability. This is best achieved by avoiding dialogue that’s too ‘on the nose’ as the saying goes. For instance, when a character is asked a direct question, an avoidance of the words, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ means that we can be creative with the line and the actor can be creative with the delivery. If a character asks, ‘Do you like Lady Gaga?’ The big guy who answers might say, ‘Get lost, creep.’
This could actually mean ‘No’ or ‘Yes’ depending on the delivery. But it can have additional meaning mixed in, too. ‘No and go away for even asking.’ Or ‘Yes, but I’m not going to admit that to the likes of you.’ By leaving the player to pull this from the performance we draw them into connecting more strongly with the characters.
Some games do not have recorded voices at all or simply record voices for cut-scenes, but I don’t let that change my approach to writing for performance. Writing dialogue with performance and character in mind gives a natural feel that, even when read, can give the sense that the voices are spoken in the mind of the player. Some of the subtleties have to be addressed differently but the method should be the same.
Tone of the voice-over
In games, voice-over lines are the kind of narrative comments the player character often makes to herself for all kinds of reasons but are often really aimed at providing the player with information or the chance for humour. This can be done well, if handled with the right tone because it can be made to seem part of the character’s nature to summarise his position or think through the objectives that face her.
However, there are times when voice-over lines are used in places where the character is explaining how the game works and suddenly you’re aware that the character knows something he wouldn’t be party to in the world he inhabits.
In my view, characters, particularly the player character, should never be used for interface/controls/system related information and tutorials. Ideally a writer should be able to work with the development team to find a better solution.
The fourth wall
The whole idea of the fourth wall in games is an odd one. As players we effectively reach through the wall to interact with the game and guide the action by interacting directly with objects on screen or by controlling a character that interacts on our behalf.
We are also presented with information from the game and interface that tells us how to play the game or relates interface information to us like maps, inventories, weapon status, etc.
In spite of this, as far as the story and the characters’ place in the world are concerned, the fourth wall should be seen as a solid construct and only be broken for a very good story reason.
Even in a first person game the fourth wall is solid because, although we may feel we are in the game world and characters may address us directly, they are not talking to us as the player but to the character we are playing. In a sense we have been transported to the other side of the wall.
Interface and immersion
Immersion is a wonderful aspect of games and the different disciplines that go into making games all have a role to play in coming together to make an immersive whole. Story, character and dialogue must be presented in a way that contributes to the immersion.
Often the interface is key to making this work and I think that consistency and intuitiveness is important. A problem I had with Heavy Rain was that for every interactive object in the scenes there was a different way of interacting and interface icons would appear to tell you this. I was constantly reminded that I was playing a game and I couldn’t feel the immersion I wanted.
As writers we should ideally work with the development team to think about the dialogue interface and how the player interacts with characters. A consistent interface can be learned by the player and doesn’t become a barrier to being immersed in the developing story.
I’d like to touch on humour at this point because I think that humour in games is only able to work if the player is immersed enough into the game world to develop a connection to the characters. Without this connection, jokes will fall flat and humorous comments and observations may seem trivial or banal.
Many of the best humorous games – Day Of The Tentacle, Grim Fandango, Edna And Harvey, for example – have a crazy or unusual game world and may seem very trivial on the surface, but there is a consistency within that world that makes the off-beat game logic work and delivers the opportunities for humour.
The real strength of all humorous games is in the way we love the characters and the lines they speak. How many of us have quoted the line, ‘You fight like a dairy farmer’? Humour in games isn’t just jokes but great lines that are funny by the context of the situation, characters and gameplay.
It might seem impossible to develop humour that has an involved setup and payoff when you don’t know how the player will play the game, but again, this is where Boolean variables can be used to advantage. If the humorous setup consists of three separate elements, when each of those elements has been delivered you then have the conditions for the payoff, which ideally should be triggered by an action from the player.
Everything discussed in relation to story, characters and dialogue is just as important where humour is concerned and actor performance can be even more vital. Often, character based humour is tied into the delivery of the lines and the underlying characterisation.
Games are not art
The comedian and comic actor, Steve Martin, said, ‘I believe entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art, you’re an idiot.’ I don’t agree entirely with what he says. No one should be considered an idiot for setting out with the intention of making art. Surely this is to be admired and encouraged? However, making games as entertainment is enough of a challenge in itself, so if you add to the complexity by attempting to turn that entertainment into art your vision must be powerful enough to carry that through.
Most films, books and television programmes are not art but provide us with many hours of excellent entertainment. Why, then, is there regular debate on whether games are art? Do developers consider their work to be art because there are artistic qualities that go into the making of them? What of the technical achievements that go into making them possible?
If I look again at Dear Esther, it’s quite clear that the creators were going for art first and foremost, but in my view this has been at the loss of gameplay, interactivity and entertainment. I find this a real shame because the potential for all of these elements was there, just not realised. And while it may be considered art, it can’t be an artistic game if it’s not really a game.
If we compare this to the game, Journey, there is a huge difference. Not only is it interactive, it has gameplay, it’s highly entertaining and immensely beautiful. If it isn’t actually art it’s the closest anyone has come with a game in my experience.
As a writer I aspire to one day creating art through my work and a game like Journey shows me that such a thing is not an impossible aspiration.
Putting talk of art to one side, writing for games viewed as entertainment means that we must be aware of our markets and of the people who make up those markets.
The mass market idea often feels like it’s an unobtainable dream that we can only hope to reach by creating games that have a wide appeal. Call of Duty, Uncharted and other big budget games of this nature sell huge numbers when compared to other traditional retail games, but are these games really only reaching the mass hard-core market?
There are games, of course, that reach truly huge market numbers and the genuine mass market in games are the likes of Angry Birds. So where are the story-based games to match this level of audience reach?
We need to widen our horizons across the board and look to how other media draws in and keeps a large audience. We should match the breadth of TV and film and look to story and character to help us deliver this.
Although the interactive nature of games make them different to every other entertainment medium, we can still draw on TV, film, theatre, etc. and learn how to write those same strengths into our games.
Some of the stories and structure I’ve written for casual games have more in common with a TV series structure than anything else. I specifically set out with this aim in the hope of capturing some of the flavour that makes those shows so popular.
We can do so much more in this area by taking TV ideas and turning them into rich interactive entertainment. Soaps, medical dramas, detective dramas, romantic comedies, sitcoms – they can all be incorporated into the breadth of games as long as we take the time and care to develop them in the right way.
A broader context
We live in a world where the audience has access to a huge range of entertainment, much of it delivered through computer-based systems. But the traditional media, although changing, are still important – TV, film, books, music and so on.
Although, as I’ve continued to state, we should approach games as a highly interactive medium, we should also be aware of those other media as we create. That doesn’t mean we lift or copy directly, but nothing exists in this world without a connection to many of the other things it contains.
I’ve lifted a paragraph from a review on Examiner.com of one of the casual games I wrote and designed, Special Enquiry Detail: Engaged to Kill
‘Finally, what's best about the game is its team of co-heroes, Lamonte and Turino. Both of them offer amusing observational comments when investigating crime scenes, and the banter between the two is often a hoot. In fact, the story as a whole ... is pretty entertaining--certainly better than many a prime-time crime drama.’
Although very flattering, what it illustrates best is how I used my broad range of influences to create a story and characters that I hoped would appeal to the audience in the right way. The comparison with a TV crime drama by the reviewer indicates at least a degree of success in that respect.
The review also demonstrates that, given the opportunity, games can be judged in a much broader context than just comparing them to other games, which is exactly how it should be. We don’t want people to say something like, ‘That was pretty good – for a game.’ We should strive for a level of quality that has a universal standard.
Not only are games in competition with other games, they are also in competition with other media and those of us who create games, particularly game writers, must not only be aware of how other media currently tell stories and how that is evolving, but must also take into account the fact that our audience is very media-aware.
In a recent BAFTA lecture, Armando Iannucci talked about the way television is changing. Because of the rise of HBO, Showtime and similar broadcasters and programme makers, it’s been shown that creative freedom and quality is not only giving viewers great TV it’s actually making those companies profitable. We can learn lessons here and must deliver to our audience in the right way. We can compete for this worldwide audience by being creative, delivering quality and providing excellent interactive entertainment.
The player, of course, is our audience. Whether the stories we write are for single-player or multi-player games, the individual player, connecting with all aspects of the game, must be taken into account with every creative decision we make. For every player, the entertainment experience is a personal one because they make decisions that affect the way the game and the story unfold and how they relate to it. We write our stories to fit our medium and the expectations of the player.
Game stories have the potential to be the best possible entertainment there is, but we still have so much exciting, creative exploration to undertake along the way.
As Armando Iannucci says: ‘We shouldn't be afraid of abandoning caution and market research, nor afraid to write and produce from the heart, out of passion.’