Game Development Writing, Part 1

By | July 18, 2016

Game development and writing. Rarely are these distinct disciplines played in concert. In #gamedev, it is expedient to substitute objectives for story and caricatures for characters. Often sorry pastiche will be masqueraded as something seemingly original. Even in the AAA league, with budgets of many millions of dollars, developers will cut corners on story.

My favorite interactive fiction fail hails from L.A. – Noire, that is. Time and a tendency for comedic hyperbole may have colored my memory of this particular pixelated police encounter, but it goes something like this: It’s the 1940’s and a woman has just been murdered, strangled with a rope that featured a Carrick’s Bend or some such knot. You, as the detective, happen upon a suspect and ask him to pop his car’s trunk. Inside are ropes of all manner length and color, all joined by Carrick’s Bends. Quite a coincidence. The suspect, Joe, is apparently some sort of door-to-door knot salesman. People needed lots and lots of knots in those days and the knot conglomerates were happy to deliver to your door. Still with us?

Detective: “What’s your favorite kind of knot Joe?”

Suspect: “Why the Carrick’s Bend, of course. It’s America’s favorite!”

Detective: “Uh-huh. You ever strangle a woman to death with a rope with a Carrick’s Bend knot Joe?”

Suspect: “No! But if you wanted to do such a thing, I couldn’t recommend a better knot!”

You find suspects like these all over LA. All have motive, opportunity, and an undying passion for rope bending. Potential murder weapons, ie, ropes, are also found wherever you go. How can it be that you keep finding ropes tied to boats, attached to curtains, bundling parcels? Why because the real murderer has been all over town planting evidence, of course. No really. That happened.

That’s where L.A. Noire ended for me. The script did the game in. The ground-breaking facial animations, the “sweeping orchestral scores”,  the meticulous recreation of yesteryears’ LA, it was all for naught.

Game development writing is hard. Another AAA title that crashes and burns their story-driven game is, surprisingly, GTA5. I double dog dare you to watch all of GTAV’s cut-scenes. If you’ve better ways to waste your time however, I’ll save you the trouble. Here is EVERY GTA5 CUTSCENE EVER:

Michael: “I’m having a mid-life crisis.”

Trevor: “You betrayed us Michael!”

Franklin: “I am exasperated by you both.”

That’s it. There’s no denying that GTA5 was a hit. But that was despite the fact that its story was hit-and-mostly-miss. You might even say that it was hit-and-run. But don’t, because that’s a bit of a stretch and exactly the type of poor writing writers should endeavor to avoid.

NOT a hit-and-run.

NOT a hit-and-run.

There are factors unique to #gamedev and #indiedev that make writing game scripts far more difficult than their traditional counterparts. Game development writing is undeniably hard, but that’s no excuse for failure. We’ll discuss the pitfalls and potential solutions in an upcoming post.

"May I see your poetic license?"

“May I see your poetic license?”


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