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Opinion: The Case Against Writers In The Games Industry
Opinion: The Case Against Writers In The Games Industry
March 20, 2008 | By Adam Maxwell

March 20, 2008 | By Adam Maxwell
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    45 comments
More: Console/PC



[Are writers a necessary part of game development? In a striking counter to current industry thinking, game designer Adam Maxwell (Auto Assault) argues that they are not, drawing on his own experiences to state that they are always better replaced with another designer.]

There is no doubt in my mind that it was my skills as a writer that opened the door to my becoming a game designer. It was 1997 and a designer from the Warcraft II team had left Blizzard to join another ex-Blizzardite in creating a new studio.

They had a 3-game deal with Activision and an idea in mind to create a paradigm breaking RTS game, called Third World, but what they lacked was someone who could write their documents for them. I wasnít technically hired as a writer, but rather an assistant designer. This would prove to be a decision that I am eternally grateful.

Had I been hired simply as a writer that would have been the end for me. You see, that studio imploded very shortly thereafter, but itís not that implosion that would have doomed me -- as a designer I survived. No, what would have doomed me is the simple, and some would say sad, truth: There is no place for writers in our industry.

Writer Vs. Designer?

When we discuss of the role of the writer, we have to be clear. There is a huge amount of writing in game design -- and good writers tend to make better designers (all else being equal) -- but being a writer doesnít automatically make one a game designer. Writers do not dictate the way players interact with the world, nor do they dictate the way the player experiences the content that they themselves may create. These are the responsibilities of the game designer.

A writer might create the characters, and a writer certainly architects the plot of a gameís story, but the work a player actually sees and consumes? That is the work of the designer, even when the writer has written the dialogue, decided the plot, created every character and conceptualized every setting. Thereís a critical reason for that, a reason that is perhaps the most compelling fact behind avoiding writers:

The work of the writer is inherently linear Ė the work of the designer is typically not.

When a writer sits down to build a story, they are usually building a plot. Most games certainly have plots, so you might be asking yourself why a writer wouldnít be useful. After all, an experienced and well-educated writer will know everything there is to building a plot, and games could certainly benefit from better plots, right? I couldnít agree more, but Iím afraid that itís something of a leap to go from there to, ďthe person to architect a gameís plot is a writer.Ē

Plotting On Games Vs. Films

Now, Iím not going to talk about methodology specifically, but a writer expresses the plot by putting together scenes. Scene A leads to scene B, which leads to the climax in scene C and finally to the resolution in scene D. By placing particular scenes in a particular sequence, the writerís plot is fed to the reader in such a way as to evoke the emotional response desired by the writer.

This is why the writerís work is linear -- the writerís power depends on the sequence of events. It is why a writerís work is so powerful, at least in static media. Itís also why Roger Ebert thinks games can never be art. In Ebertís mind, this inherent authorial control is what makes art of other media. I mention Ebertís opinion because there is one small grain of truth implied by it: This type of authorial control is not something native to video games.

It exists, I donít deny it, but where it exists it does so because it has been enforced. Special effort has to be made to accommodate it; in the early history of gaming new technologies had to be created to enable it at all, in fact. Video games, abstracted beyond the specifics of any one genre or title, do not require this authorial control to be considered such, do they? Pong is certainly a game, but what about Final Fantasy VII, or Bioshock?

Both are certainly games, but thereís something else there, something that makes what are otherwise two mundane examples of gaming stand out. Their stories. Now, one could make a case for the story making those games better, but if you look at the games themselves, You see games hamstrung repeatedly to allow for storytelling mechanics.

To many, Final Fantasy VII is reviled as the game that introduced us to interminable cinematics, boring exposition dialog and pointless interruptions to the gameplay. Bioshockís railroaded experience is such because of the story. I donít think Iíd have played Final Fantasy VII without the story, but Bioshock? Done as a sandbox game, I might still be playing it now. Of course, it would all depend on the implementation, but thatís where designers come in.

How Do Writers Help?

And thatís something you can never say about a writer. No matter how well written, a story canít make the game better. It can make the game more memorable, perhaps, but when it comes to playing the game, to interacting with the world presented within, a writer has no real power. To have any effect in that realm of what we do, the writer would essentially have to be a designer or at least have the knowledge, skills and sensibilities of one.

So, when I wonder about the place a writer has in our industry, I have to ask myself a simple question: ďWhat does a writer give me?Ē

Good characters, interesting plots and memorable worlds? Evocative emotional experiences, wouldnít you say? I would, but when I come to that conclusion, I ask the next question: ďIs any of that necessary to make a good game?Ē

Sadly, the answer is no. So then I start to wonder about what designers give us. Designers give us puzzles to solve, worlds to explore, new ways to interact and above all, new games to play.

Despite my love of the written word and the way I tend to identify myself as a writer, I have to admit that when it comes time to add to the team of a project Iím on, I would rather have another designer than a writer.

Writing may have gotten me my first gig in this industry, but itís my skills as a designer that have kept me in the industry for as long as they have. That I can write certainly makes me better at what I do, but I have to admit that it is, in the parlance of my world, a bonus stat, not a primary one.

An extra designer on your team can mean the difference between 8 levels and 12 or between 10 hours of content and 15, or the difference between a 60 and an 80 on Metacritic, and this is true whether your game has a story or not. Designers bring fresh perspectives that could bring with them innovations in your gameÖ but what about writers?

How Writers Do Help!

Writers are at their best when they can write stories. That means there are whole market segments of our industry where writers are only somewhat useful.

Even in a linear single player experience where story is king -- say an old school RPG, writers alone canít get your game done; you will need designers to implement game play. In other words -- even on a story heavy game, a designer who can also write is more valuable than a writer alone. This is bad for the pro-writer camp because writers are expensive and often in ways that donít show up on the books.

Case in point, as a part of my job on Dirty Harry, I met with our writer once a week to discuss the story, his progress in the script, changes we had made to the game that he had to accommodate. It was a great process that really helped the game, but it was also a 3-4 hour event, once a week.

During that time, I was not balancing weapons, implementing core game play systems or overseeing the work of the rest of the team, which was what my job description actually called for.

Iím not saying this time was wasted, but it was time where part of the game design was suffering for the sake of the writer. Games get delayed all the time, I suspect that the example I provided above is one of the reasons why.

Accommodating writers takes time and money that is often unaccounted for because people donít realize that it takes extra work to integrate the work of a writer into the game, even at the fundamental planning stage.

Mind you, if your game has a story in it, these costs donít go away if you hire a designer that can write. No, those costs exist either way, but hereís the final nail in the coffin for the writer: What do you do with the writer when the story is done?

Do you fire the writer? Do you pay them to sit around in case the story needs to change? Do you only hire writers on a contract basis? All of those questions have answers that can work, but I wonder why you would bother.

Conclusion: The Denouement

For the same price (sometimes cheaper, Iím sad to say), you can hire a designer who is also an unsung writing hero (they exist in far larger numbers than anyone wants to give the industry credit for) and when the story is done, that same designer can be there to throw his lot into the fire with the rest of the designers and actually make the game fun. He can be re-tasked as needed, and he can be useful at every stage of development.

For those reasons, and maybe even a few more, my money is on the designer over the writer, every time.

[Adam Maxwell is a designer (and writer!) who has worked on games including Auto Assault and Dirty Harry. This weblog post is adapted from an original posted on his personal blog Dopass.com.]


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Comments


Jonathan Wood
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I haven't actually taken the time to post a reply on this site before, but this article has encouraged me to break my silence.



Personally, I don't think that I could disagree with Maxwell more on many of the points that he makes in this article. His argument seems to revolve around the idea of the game writer as an unnecessary luxury, but it uses what feels to me like some flawed arguements to make the point.



In the article, Maxwell uses Final Fantasy VII as an example of over-done story, with long cinematics, boring dialogue, etc. The problem is, these perceptions are the result of poor game writing, not of having writers in general. A good game writer knows his/her medium and how to work seamlessly within it. A good game writer would have written cinematics that meshed with the timing of the game and dialogue that was engaging and believeable, adding to the immersion and enjoyment of the game.



Without harping on this particular point too long, I would also like to throw the idea out that in the case of FFVII, this may have been more of a localization issue than it was a specific "Game Writer" issue.



To respond brielfy to the idea that Bioshock would have been a better sandbox game... Without story, there would have been nothing holding the game together. Bioshock was based upon a complex set of ideas and without the story and good, solid writing, the "game" that is left doesn't make any sense to the average player. Why am I in this city? What is it about? In short... Why is any of this happening? If you want to engage your audience in this kind of game, you need to immerse them in the game world not only through visuals and cool gameplay, but through story, and words. In short, you need to give the players context for the events of the game.



From the article: "Good characters, interesting plots and memorable worlds? Evocative emotional experiences, wouldn't you say? I would, but when I come to that conclusion, I ask the next question: 'Is any of that necessary to make a good game?'



"Sadly, the answer is no."



Is it necessary in order to make a good game in general? I suppose not for games like Pong, or Tetris or Bejewelled. All good games that have no need for story and no need for a writer. Are they necessary to make a complete and complex game that is (like many non-casual games released today) story driven? Absolutely, 100%. Without these things you have no context and you have no immersion. You will end up with a game that is, at best, shallow and unreal.



Before I leave this and get back to work, I also wanted to address the idea that a designer who can also write is better than a professional writer.



First let me say that yes, in theory, someone who can do two things well on a project is more valuable to the project than someone with a single talent. That really seems like a bit of a no-brainer. The problem is that in the same breath that this was said in the article, Maxwell also claimed that taking 3-4 hours out of a week for a meeting with the writer was too much time away from his duty as a designer. If that is indeed the case, how can Maxwell justify asking a designer (who can write) to take what would undoubtedly amount to much more time away from creating mechanics in oder to fill that role, even if you scaled the writing back considerably. Even for the bare minimum of well written plot or dialogue or even, say, help files and instruction manuals, you're looking at a lot of dedicated time for you designer / writer.



I understand though that it's hard to think of what to do with a writer once the story is finished. The problem is though that a writer's job doesn't stop at crafting the story any more than a designer's job is finished after the initial mechanics are down on paper. Once the story arcs are planned, the writer still has plenty to do. Assuming for a moment that said writer isn't also responsible for writing the maual and doing other more technical writing, he/she still has to write the scripts. Dialogue is one of those things that is very very tricky to do well and it requires a lot of work and polish to make it sound realistic and believeable within the context of the story, a task that is far more often failed in released games than accomplished. This is usually because that sub-par dialogue is written by a designer who, regardless of their abilities as a writer (and usually it's less than they think), doesn't have the time to craft the words properly. Honestly, many many many of the games that are currently on store shelves could have benefitted greatly by giving the writer more time to polish their work. Why assume a writer's job should be done significantly before the project is completed? To me, that just seems like cutting corners.



I could probably continue, but my lunch is getting cold and I have to get back to work. Before I go, I will say these two things: First, I want to apologize if my words seem rused and disjointed in places, I wanted to respond quickly in a limited time. Second, I was just thinking that if you could find a programmer who could also design, then why would your company need any designers to begin with. Come to think of it, if you had a Producer who could also program then why would you need programmers...

Rafael Chandler
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(Some kind of glitch ate most of my post, so I am going to try again.)



I'm currently working as a writer on three games. Needless to say, I'm having a very hectic week, so I don't have time to comment on this article. However, my good friend (and intrepid SG-1 operative) Teal'c of Chulak was available, so I forwarded the article to him. These are his comments:



"There is no places for writers in our industry."



This statement is demonstrably incorrect. Numerous writers are gainfully employed in the game industry. High-profile developers such as Insomniac Games and BioWare are currently hiring writers.



"The work of the writer is inherently linear – the work of the designer is typically not."



I am aware of no evidence to support this contention. Furthermore, no attempt is made in the text of this article to support the author's claim with factual data of any kind.



"Even in a linear single player experience where story is king -- say an old school RPG, writers alone can’t get your game done; you will need designers to implement game play. In other words -- even on a story heavy game, a designer who can also write is more valuable than a writer alone. This is bad for the pro-writer camp because writers are expensive and often in ways that don’t show up on the books."



This appears to be an attempt to create a false choice between the work of the designer and the work of the writer. In reality, the roles are complementary. In addition, the assertion that writers are expensive is not supported by facts.



"Games get delayed all the time, I suspect that the example I provided above is one of the reasons why."



It is highly unlikely that weekly meetings with writers are actually responsible for the considerable delays often experienced by game developers and publishers.



The author of this opinion piece appears to have confused assumptions with conclusions. Anecdotes do not constitute evidence. Had the author consulted with a writer, some of these issues could have been addressed prior to publication.



-- Teal'c

Anonymous
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"I wasnít technically hired as a writer, but rather an assistant designer. This would prove to be a decision that I am eternally grateful. "



Quite frankly, I can see why he wasn't hired as a writer.

Coray Seifert
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As a producer/designer/writer doppelganger, I certainly agree with some points expressed in this article. However, the truth of the games industry is that absolutes have no place here. Thus the statement "[writers] are always better replaced with another designer" is not valid.



Every game's development process is unique, even compared to other games in the same genre or even created by the same studio. The role of the writer changes based on the breadth and depth of the narrative in the game along with the present skills of the team. Some games require many full time writers, others require none at all, and still others are best represented by a hybrid designer/writer.



Again, some great points in this article, but with an art form so subjective as writing for games, blanket statements like these are very dangerous.

Jeremy Bernstein
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To my mind, this is a lot like someone working in the movies saying "Why hire a costume designer when I can just hire an actor who can sew?"



Writing is clearly not the art of paramount importance in a game. Bad to mediocre writing will seldom ruin an otherwise good game, much like bad to mediocre costume design will seldom ruin an otherwise good movie. But really good writing will add to a game, just like really good costume design will add to a movie.



I'd agree that one certainly doesn't want a writer as the lead on a game. Just as one doesn't want a costume designer directing a movie (or an internet poster beating his own metaphor to death). And yes, of course it's good to have a writer who knows something about the medium they're writing in. But I think it's short-sighted to downplay the value of having a professional on your team, who's job is to focus solely on doing what it is they do best.

Ron Toland
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Wow. Mr. Maxwell's argument is so full of holes, I might have to go point by point here:



"Had I been hired simply as a writer that would have been the end for me. You see, that studio imploded very shortly thereafter, but itís not that implosion that would have doomed me -- as a designer I survived. No, what would have doomed me is the simple, and some would say sad, truth: There is no places for writers in our industry."



It sounds like he survived because he carried the label of designer, even though what he was doing was (technical) writing. Why would the label "writer" have hurt him? Because of the misunderstanding about writers in the games industry that this guy still carries.



"A writer might create the characters, and a writer certainly architects the plot of a gameís story, but the work a player actually sees and consumes? That is the work of the designer..."



Wow. That's a pretty hefty claim. Do the designers also create the art "consumed" by the player? Or write the code that enables the game mechanics? Or compose the music playing in the background of the game?



"The work of the writer is inherently linear Ė the work of the designer is typically *not*."



Another bold but bogus claim. Has he never played D&D? Read an RPG module that accommodates several different path to play through? Read a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book? All those things were created by writers. All involve non-linear storytelling.



Conversely, the work of the designer is often very, very linear. Super Mario Brothers is an incredibly linear game. So is Portal, the Heroes of Might and Magic series, and many others. All these games were designed to be linear, and are great games. Games are often linear because of limitations in technology and time; writers can help make that linear experience *feel* more free than it really is, by involving the player in an unfolding story.



"When a writer sits down to build a story, they are usually building a plot. Most games certainly have plots, so you might be asking yourself why a writer wouldnít be useful. After all, an experienced and well-educated writer will know everything there is to building a plot, and games could certainly benefit from better plots, right? I couldnít agree more, but Iím afraid that itís something of a leap to go from there to, 'the person to architect a gameís plot is a writer.'"



This paragraph doesn't really make any sense to me. If writers are good at building plots, then they're good at building plots. He sounds really confused here to me.



"...a writer expresses the plot by putting together scenes"



False. Portal has no cut scenes, but plenty of plot, all expressed through dialogue, character and setting. These were crafted by the writer to provide what the /designers themselves/ felt was missing from the game. Rather than do it themselves, they did the right thing, and called in a professional. The result was one of the year's most impressive games.



"This is why the writerís work is linear -- the writerís power depends on the sequence of events."



Again, false. It seems he's got movie scriptwriting confused with game writing. From what I hear, it's known in the industry that the two are different, and require different skills.



"This type of authorial control is not something native to video games...It exists, I donít deny it, but where it exists it does so because it has been enforced. Special effort has to be made to accommodate it; in the early history of gaming new technologies had to be created to enable it at all, in fact."



An odd claim. If he's talking about games being linear, then talking about "new tech" to make them linear is not only false, but senseless. Ditto for games telling linear stories.



Talking about "authorial control" is also strange. Does the director of a film control the conditions in which I see it? Does he know how often I'll pause a DVD to go grab some popcorn, or when I might doze off and have to finish the movie later?



The idea of artistic control of how audiences experience their art is a false hope. Games, with their inherently interactive nature, just make it more obvious.



"Both are certainly games, but thereís something else there, something that makes what are otherwise two mundane examples of gaming stand out. Their stories. Now, one could make a case for the story making those games better, but if you look at the games themselves, You see games hamstrung repeatedly to allow for storytelling mechanics."



Another sweeping and confusing claim. First he says the stories helped two "mundane" games stand out, then turns around and says those same games were made worse because of their stories. Which is it? Can he provide any concrete examples of games that were awesome before the nasty writers came in and messed it up with story?



"And thatís something you can never say about a writer. No matter how well written, a story canít make the game/ better."



Strange, since this is *exactly* what the lead designer on Portal said at GDC during their post-mortem. They had the game mechanics down, but *needed* a good story, and a good writer, to make the game better.



"Designers give us puzzles to solve, worlds to explore, new ways to interact and above all, new games to play."



False. *Game development teams* give us new games to play. You can't have a game without programmers. A game without artists is going to look terrible. A game without designers won't have as good mechanics. A game without sound engineers is going to sound cheesy. A game without writers (or someone acting as the writer, even they're called a designer or narrative designer or scribbler-in-chief) will probably be full of cliches. Just like the movies, games require a lot of different disciplines to come together and make something fantastic.



"Even in a linear single player experience where story is king -- say an old school RPG, writers alone canít get your game done; you will need designers to implement game play."



Another case of being way off track. Designers don't *implement* game play, that's a programmer's job. You can have game play without a designer, but having a designer on your team means your game play will (likely) be better.



"Case in point, as a part of my job on Dirty Harry, I met with our writer once a week to discuss the story, his progress in the script, changes we had made to the game that he had to accommodate. It was a great process that really helped the game, but it was also a 3-4 hour event, once a week....During that time, I was not balancing weapons, implementing core game play systems or overseeing the work of the rest of the team, which was what my job description actually called for...Iím not saying this time was wasted, but it was time where part of the game design was suffering for the sake of the writer."



A wonderful anecdote that fails to prove his point. Is he claiming that, as a designer, he never talked to the programming team? Never once stopped to see what an artist was modeling, or talked to the art team? And I suppose he never spoke to the sound designers, either?



He's right that talking to people takes time away from "balancing weapons." And that as a designer, he's probably got a lot of different teams to talk to. But isn't that just part of his job? If he doesn't like managing people, shouldn't he go do something else?



"What do you do with the writer when the story is done?...Do you fire the writer? Do you pay them to sit around in case the story needs to change? Do you only hire writers on a contract basis? All of those questions have answers that can work, but I wonder why you would bother... For the same price...you can hire a designer...and when the story is done, that same designer can be there to throw his lot into the fire with the rest of the designers and actually make the game fun. He can be re-tasked as needed, and he can be useful at every stage of development."



When the story is done? Really? Is the story finished before the game is done? You never need someone to go back and shorten dialogue up a bit or change some lines to reflect the latest changes done in beta testing? You never have one project nearing completion and another in pre-production that could use a writer? This problem seems to be a lack of imagination and management skills, not an inherent problem with hiring writers.

james hack
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Articles like this make me wonder about the criteria that Gamasutra has for publishing an article in the first place. Read through the comments, then explain to me why this was online for me to read in the first place.



I'd like my ten minutes back.

Kirk Battle
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Well, the comments already said most of it so I'll opt for brevity.



I'll believe an article like this when I play a game that creates as deep an emotional experience as a powerful story does.

Chris Rock
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I'm glad to see critical response in these comments.



On the one hand I feel like I agree with the spirit of the article. I find game writing to be pathetic, partly because industry standards are so low. The story is seen as a skin you can slap over any game after the real work is already done. The writer exists to modify the story to better fit changes in mechanics, but how often are the mechanics changed to better fit the story or the story and mechanics developed simultaneously around some semblance of meaning?



Game writers can only be seen as unnecessary because they don't produce good work. I'm sure that's partially because most writers are not very good (as in film or literature), but the game industry has also failed to provide them with an environment conducive to their trade.



Maxwell speaks of enforced linearity. It's true that stories can feel forced in a game and Bioshock is, in my opinion, a good example of where that fails. I found its story implementations annoying and cliched. However, everything in a game is forced. The designer is also forcing a number of limitations onto the player, and ultimately its the designer that must choose to force the writing (via cutscenes, scripting or whatever else you like) onto the player as well. Forcing is inevitable. What's bad is when it feels forced, when the writing or design elements go against the grain of the overall game.



The most flawed arguments come from the belief that games "should" be something. Let's stop saying "should." Games are, games were, games will be, those are viable subjects. "I would like to see blank in games," that makes sense. "Games should" is inherently incorrect.



And by the way, FFVII was a great game and its writing was far better than that of most games. I don't consider it's writing to be any good on its own, but it was an ambitious attempt at some real artistry and while it failed in some ways, it succeeded in many others. The Final Fantasy series is a perfect example of games that would not have gone anywhere without writing, and their enviable success is evidence that writing in our medium cannot be ignored.



While I'm at it, am I the only one that didn't like the writing in Portal?

Anonymous
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Anyone who says "The work of the writer is inherently linear" has neither read nor thought widely enough to comment on writing.

Aaron Lutz
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Wow. I have never seen so vehement and heated response to any article on Gamasutra, even the Opinions, and I've been reading Gamasutra for almost 3 years.



That said, I have to agree with James Hack; I'm curious about what standards opinion pieces, and articles in general, are held up against to be accepted into publication. If this is all you have to do to write something on this site, sign me up! I have plenty of incoherent rants and skewed arguments in the form of text documents from over the years.



And as everyone else seems to be in agreement about, writers are an integral part of creating games. Good writing is the only thing that holds many games together; sometimes bad writing is the only flaw of many others; but to cut writing out entirely is bad, and to have someone inexperienced with writing fill in (maybe a designer), well that's just dangerous.



And to have a bad writer complain about his writing experience and come to the conclusion that writers are useless... well, that's just a waste of time.

Jamie Roberts
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As a self-described writer who is also going to school for game art and design, I agree with some points in this article and disagree with others.



Above all, I think the author has missed a major point: While traditional writing is linear, there are very important concepts and tools that a writer can bring to game development. The most important of which, in my opinion, is theme. And by theme, I do not mean "post-apocalyptic wasteland" or "stock fantasy universe". I mean the deeper kinds of statements about humanity and existence that, until now, have been reserved for the traditional arts.



While BioShock would have been an enjoyable game without its story, it is the theme of its story and setting that reinforces every aspect of the game itself. The theme adds real depth that takes the game beyond a mere sandbox system, making a much deeper statement in the process. The game involves one major moral decision by the player, which succeeds on some levels and fails on others. Regardless of how successful its implementation, I think it is one of the first brave steps of our industry towards the "Holy Grail" of that which is considered "art": Meaning.



I agree that a writer who is also a designer (or at least understands game design enough to communicate with a designer) is best suited to apply this kind of knowledge and skill to the gaming industry. But the insights gained by a writer's perspective are capable of more than mere plot or character generation. They can influence (and enhance) the entire framework of the game itself.

Anonymous
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Come on guys, its an opinion piece, why bang on gamasutra for putting it up? If a person's in the industry and has an opinion, they should be able to post it, just like we should be able to comment on how irrelevant their opinion is.

Aaron Lutz
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Your right, Anon, and I actually thought about that while writing my rebuttal, but alas it was lost in translation from my head to my fingers. Sorry Gamasutra. It's not your fault.

Neil Sorens
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Having designers write text is often a huge mistake. Most designers, even ones hired with writing tasks in mind (for text-heavy MMOs, typically), are staggeringly illiterate. Everquest 2 is still full of comma splices, brtually butchered King's English (Frogloks), and hundreds of other cringe-worthy spelling and grammar blunders. It detracts significantly from the game and looks completely unprofessional, as if the game were made by a bunch of high school dropouts who spent more time being a Dungeon Master than paying attention in English class.



Of course, you don't necessarily want writers getting into design tasks like scripting the sequences that involve dialogue, either.

Neil Sorens
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And of course I have a typo in my rant about misspelling, but hey -- I'm a designer! Case in point!

Robert Chang
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This article assumes that game writers have no idea they are in the game industry--that they just one day woke up and started working on a game, while yesterday they were still writing screenplays for film or prose for a novel. If a company is hiring writers that have no understanding of how video games are made, or how important the gameplay experience is, then it's the company's fault for hiring the wrong kind of writers.



The article also assumes that while game designers can be good writers, writers can't actually be good game designers. Are people who chose the profession of game design genetically superior? Why can't game writers also have game design skills and be involved in the design process? Or maybe assumes that as soon as a writer picks up game design skills, he's no longer a writer but a game designer that knows how to write?



And to the point of how good writing does not actually help make a good game--I totally disagree. Most of my favorite games ever are only on my favorites list because they had great writing--characters I cared about, worlds I could immerse myself in, and stories that were compelling and moving. If you took away the writing I wouldn't bother playing them at all. Great case in point is Portal. Without the deviously clever writing, it would've been just an exercise in game mechanics, and I would not be nearly as much in love with it, and I seriously doubt it would've won all those awards and gained so much praise from fans and fellow game developers.

Steve Garvin
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This article parallels one that could have been written around 1926 about "talkies". The limited assumptions regarding a writer's role and the inherent dismissing of their added value stem from focusing on what-has-come-before. No one sane would argue that writing exceeds game play - but it also is pretty apparent that there are many titles which include (and feature) top-notch story work.



The game business has long suffered from terrible writing - often perpetrated on the public by "designers who are good writers too". Only recently has there been a concerted movement toward improving that aspect of our products. It is, therefore, premature to start making sweeping judgments about what better writing and mature story have to do with making games better. We simply don't know the impact yet - for better or worse.



Let's take FPS titles as an example: Most people would agree FPS games are a game-play first genre. But is that all that matters? Many massively successful FPS games are very heavy on story - COD4, Bioshock, Half-Life 2 come to mind... Certainly these games feature great game-play, but just because that is true doesn't mean that story didn't add significantly to the overall quality of the title.



If one extends the role of writer out to be "a person whose material provides context from which creative choices are made" suddenly one sees that core story - if the design team is working on a unified vision - feeds into every aspect of a game's design: Art, Systems, Level Design... The thematic and story work feeds the entire creative beast, and suddenly writers seem less like chrome and more like a steering wheel helping to guide the creative engine in a uniform direction.

Anonymous
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You ought to have known better than to post an article dissing writers with open comments... ie. a place for people to WRITE endless vituperative responses.

Moran Shemi
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It's people like you and Ebert who are holding the industry back.



If Bioshock will have even the slightest impression on the future of game development, story will become increasingly integral to any game.



Plot holes and shallow characters will be as obvious as they are in the film, and in the not so distant future games with weak stories will be regarded as B games, unless they excell in other fields - much like films.



Imagine if Doom had a professional writer in the project, it could have been 5 times better.

Thomas England
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He does make some very valid points, the intrinsic passivity of a written text is a far different entity to the inherintly interactive video game. Writers write passive texts how can anyone argue that, it is a fact.



The question is not about writing but about narrative delivery. and in a medium charachterized by interactivity it seems almost absurd that so often delivery of a narrative falls back on a pre-recorderd cut scene, rather than a players emotional response to interaction.



Metal Gear solid 2 is an example of what iam talking about, remember feeling puzzled in arsernal gear? controled?. Underlying plotlines of the story.



Shiny's Enter The Matrix, and the hacker console..maybe if they had more designers that would have actually been really neat.



There are many ways to tell a story and writing is only one

Anne Toole
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Poor, poor Adam Maxwell. Adam bravely went forward to make a few statements on Gamasutra about the role of writers in the game industry. Unfortunately, he tripped over his own words, causing anger and dismay for many. One designer who told me he doesnít care for game story e-mailed me after reading his article, saying, ďThatís not what I meant!Ē If you read Adamís missive closely, heís really expressing frustration with game writing as well as demonstrating a misunderstanding of what good writers can do. Iíll do my best to underline what he is really trying to say and what it means for any developer working with writers and writing.



ďWriters tend to make better designers.Ē

Thanks! Thatís so sweet of you. In the interest of full disclosure, Writers Cabal offers game and content design services as well as game writing services. We are that enviable hyphenate ďwriter/designers.Ē



ďBeing a writer doesnít automatically make one a game designer.Ē ĒThe work of the writer is inherently linear Ė the work of the designer is typically not.Ē

Translation: ďIím frustrated that so many game writers donít get games or donít get interactivity.Ē

Very true. Itís important when hiring a writer to find one who gets the medium. On top of that, do what you can to help the writer you hire ďgetĒ your game. If you hire the right writer, you will find someone who, as writer/designer, designs the story into the gameplay. As writer, s/he will write a story that wonít hogtie the player by giving the player non-trivial choice.



ďIs any of that [characters, emotion] necessary to make a good game? Sadly, the answer is no.Ē

Translation: ďWhile Iím frustrated that efforts to put in great story and characters have met with relatively little success, thatís all writers have to offer. Unfortunately, it seems like no one in the industry wants to make great games.Ē

Certainly, you can make a good computer game without writers, without composers, and without artists. Let me point you to one right now: http://www.websudoku.com/ I suspect the reason Adam has singled out writing is because he has tried to put in better story and character and met with little success.



Adam seems to misunderstand the writerís role. The best writers donít just throw some story and dialog over the wall and go home. Games create emotion ó you canít escape that. The developerís job is to identify what emotion the game should elicit, then use every tool at his/her disposal to get there. If you want the player to feel heroic, you can design it in, draw it in, write it in, sing it in, or all of the above. This is what great writer/narrative designers can do: help you create this emotion across all disciplines. After all, are you in this industry to make okay games, or to make great games?



ďI would rather have another designer than a writer.Ē

Translation: ďI would rather have a co-worker that has more than one skill.Ē

I agree, as do many developers. People love artists who can program, designers who can build, and programmers who can use more than one language.



ďI met with our writer [. . .] it was also a 3-4 hour event [. . .] During that time, I was not balancing weapons [etc. . . .] which was what my job description actually called for.Ē

Translation: ďI donít like managing writers, but I donít actually want to write the script myself because Iíd rather balance weapons.Ē

Some of the top five excuses for not hiring a writer. If there had been no writer, poor Adam would not have had time to balance even one weapon, since he would have spent all his time getting the script ready. Hiring a writer allows designers, programmers, producers to focus on what they do best. Professional writers save time by working faster than someone for whom writing is not a main skill.



Managing outsourced writers can be a challenge, which is why we keep the Writers Cabal Blog. There are plenty of ways to streamline the process, including hiring the kind of narrative designer who interfaces with writers, much like an art outsourcing manager.



ďWhat do you do with the writer when the story is done?Ē

Translation: I live in a fantasy world where games arenít an iterative process.

Okay, now Iím just being mean ;)

Translation: ďIím not a producer and donít realize that this question plagues developers with regards to any employee, from writer and QA to core designers.Ē

This industry is inherently volatile ó when a game project ends, not every company is equipped to keep everyone on staff. Hiring writers on contract is a good option. Hiring writer/designers on staff is another. A good producer or product manager will decide what works best.



Now that Iíve translated Adamís thoughts, I have to agree with him on many points. Yes, a writer with a designer mentality who ďgetsĒ games is better than one who doesnít. Yes, it can be frustrating that more developers arenít striving to create great games that appeal to all kinds of players. Yes, finding the right staff and outsourcing partners for your game project can be challenging. Fortunately, Adam, and developers like him, are not alone. There's always our blog ;)

Anonymous
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I will try to be brief, but I couldnít help but respond to a piece voicing an opinion that I think is actively damaging to the industry. It seems that Mr. Maxwell has a sadly narrow understanding of what a good writer can actually add to a game. As otherís have already eloquently argued, a game writer (i.e. someone who understands the medium) can pull art, programming, and game play together into a world that makes sense to the player, that compels the player, engages them in the actions of the NPCs, makes them want to keep playing.



Just like programming, art, and design, writing is one of many avenues through which the player interacts with the game world. As with any other component of a video game, writing on its own rarely makes or breaks a game. Also like any other component, the better the writing, the better the game play experience will generally be. A game with amazing mechanics or graphics can be a success despite mediocre story (a la Gears of War). A beautiful game with a compelling story can often overcome mediocre game play (hello Mass Effect).



Not to make this personal, but since he wrote the opinion piece I have to remember that one of the reasons I didnít enjoy Auto Assault was because it made little sense to me. I had no idea why I was doing anything, I felt no attachment to the world, it had no sense of place and I didnít really care about anything that happened there. I think everyone agreed that the mechanics of the game were actually quite fun and well designed. To me Auto Assault was a textbook example of designers not having the insight into human psychology and motivation that a good storyteller/writer could have provided. If you are going to write an opinion piece about how game writers are unnecessary, it seems that you would have at least released a game that was successful without any real story rather than a game that, in part, failed because of its lack of story.

Tony Dormanesh
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I have a couple points:



1. This is an opinion piece, Gamasutra editing it or not putting it up because it is controversial would not be cool. Look at the discussion it has started, that's worth something (even though most of it is just bashing the author.)



2. I'm a designer and I like to write. (Am I good, no.) I have written dialog in past games and I've implemented dialog written by a writer. There were times my dialog was much better for some of the reasons listed here and other times where the writer's dialog was better because they were a professional writer. I must agree that there are times for both designer writers and professional writers. Blanket statements like this never work for game development because it's such a nebulous process.



3. (On a side note) I agree with Chris Rock above, I didn't like the writing in Portal all that much. It would've been an amazing game with no dialog at all. But on the other hand, the only thing anyone talks about in Portal is the writing, almost like it has overshadowed the game play. "The cake is a lie" was worn out the day Orange Box was released.

richard hutnik
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Let me say places, in my opinion, having writers is important:

1. Development of the backstory of the world. Having the pre-game plot elements fleshed out, the who, what, where, when, why, etc... of a game is beneficial with a writer. Unless you are doing a true game game (not interactive fiction which is goes about as "games" now) or puzzle game, this helps.

2. Character development for your in-game character and NPCs. The lack of writers has resulted in the cliched plot lines and starting points, and characters we have seen in games.

3. NPC dialog with your character. Unless you are talking a sim, if you want to have decent NPCs, you need good writing. Throw cutscenes in here also.



These are important for games that are story driven. Of course, you need someone skilled enough to work with this genre and the developers. Game developers are more world builders and engineers that make the logic of what is in the world work. But it is the writers that are the muses that give the world a point for being. Well, unless you want a fun world with hackned plots and dialog.

Lorenzo Wang
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Are you saying that a successful film is dependent on a writer who understands directing, cinematography, and editing? There is nothing special about a writer's role in games, and they don't need to understand interactivity anymore than a voice actor. It is the designer's role to take advantage of a writer's skills, same as what directors, actors, and editors have to do. Firing the writer? This is pure inexperienced crazy talk.

Brandon Van Every
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Glad I'm an indie, so I don't have to put up with what industry types think can / can't / should / shouldn't be done with a game.

Abdulah Pouriliaee
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Wow...



This is disgusting. To think that any devloper would go on record with such a statement is absolutely disgusting and a sign that the retardation factor among developers is still there.

Question: Do we need a writer?

Answer: No, but if we don't have a writer, someone on our crew should be really good at it.



Frankly the subject of designer vs. developer is a short one: Designers can link a lot of technical nodes together and it's going to make sense. Start at Point A, go to Point B, get Item C, take to Person D, get to Point E, get Item F, etc...

No problem.

Why the player is doing this is another matter entirely.



Without proper writers, you get empty useless chores.

With proper writers, you get quests with a sense of accomplishment awaiting you. Like a good book, the game becomes a page turner with overlapping objectives. You get one, then another, you finish the first and on your way to the second you get your third... maybe your fourth objective.

Then suddenly you complete all the quests thus far and the chapter ends. Next chapter, etc..



A hallmark of every great game development house has always been the strength of their literary team because abstract creativity in a story format is a daunting task.

Bethesda employed a writer from Star Trek named D.C. Fontana, back in 2006 (nevermind a long list of other titles: The Six Million Dollar Man, Babylon 5, and Earth: Final Conflict).

Valve Software has had a writer on staff from the get go and every installment of their series, Half-Life has been written by Marc Laidlaw!



Now obviously these folks are in a design capacity, but to say that you don't need a writer is completely retarded and it should be noted who is making this statement.

Their titles to date include: Jumpgate, an MMO Space Flight Simulator. Auto Assault, an MMO Vehicular Deathmatch game, and now Warmonger Operation: Downtown Destruction... (winning title if I've ever heard one) the idea here is... an apocalyptic first person shooter... which features unique piece by piece destruction system... and is designed to deliver stunning fluid and cloth-based effects. As per Wikipedia.



Just for the record, UT3 already had great cloth dynamics, and pretty damn good fluidics.

As far as the piece by piece element... well, I suppose templating breakable models is a grand thing, but how about marketing a great storyline...

When you don't have a writer or the skills, this can be pretty daunting.



...just a quote:

Scene A leads to scene B, which leads to the climax in scene C and finally to the resolution in scene D. By placing particular scenes in a particular sequence, the writerís plot is fed to the reader in such a way as to evoke the emotional response desired by the writer.



No... when the story is structured as such the reader isn't confused, but the content is what derives the emotion. Pulp Fiction (amongst other films) has already proven this.

You watch Vincent walk out of the restaraunt, but you already know the resolution therein. Tug those heartstrings.





I agree one hundred percent with Lorenzo. It's like the relationship a Screenwriter has with the Writer. The screenplay represents the film Adaptation of the story. Hence, it is a film design, of the story.



It's a simple concept really..

Adrian Forest
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This article is based on a strawman argument. It assumes that a writer for games will not be familiar with how to write for games. This is like assuming that a writer for film will not be familiar with how to write for films. Every kind of writing requires some amount of expertise relating to the medium, and any decent writer will understand this.

Ed Byrne
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"The work of the writer is inherently linear Ė the work of the designer is typically not."



Wow. Forgive me here but I'm staggering slightly from reading this comment. Adam -- a writer of literature, or screenplays, is far from what we now commonly refer to as a "game writer". Game writers understand interactivity, branching narratives, redundant plot resolution and overlapping exposition. Please, for the love of all things good and holy, don't resort to gross categorisation in order to support your theory here. Game writers are the most fully aware that what they DON'T do is write in a linear fashion. One of the games I'm responsible for currently has about 10,000 lines of dialogue. Would I want anyone but a game writer to deliver those lines to our audience? Absolutely not. They're paying $60, it's the least I can do for them



I've been in the biz for about a decade now and have worked on several titles, selling in the millions, which have DIRECTLY benefited from having a fulltime writer on board. I'm not saying you're wrong (though honestly you are) necessarily, but your opinion here does seem to be more about your lack of exposure to games where good writing is essential.



I should point out that, while a Designer, I also consider myself a good writer, but I'd never assume I'm capable of writing as professionally for a game as someone who does it for a living. I think we've all played Resident Evil, yes?

Dermot Lyons
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If your point is that a good writer/designer is more valuable than just a good writer, point taken... but if your point is that good writing in games has no value, then you couldn't be more wrong.

Ryan Galletta
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I don't play as many games as I used to. Maybe it's because I'm getting old(er), but I just find that an FPS is an FPS is an FPS. The more games come out, the more I see the same game over and over. The only difference that remains that can make a game stand out for me, beyond creating some truly innovate game play, IS STORY!



Good writers work, study, and practice writing in whatever form they choose to work in. A journalist is not a technical writer or vice versa. A playwright is not a screenwriter. These subsets of writer require specific skills - craft that must be honed until the writer's capable of producing something that won't make a reader puke three words in. Similarly, a writer who chooses to work in the game industry must study that industry in as much as they practice the skill set required to produce quality game writing.



What I believe this author is riling against is that more often than not, the writing produced for a game is marginal at best and in that I agree with him. However, there are numerous reasons why game writing often sucks and continues to do so. Here are a few:



1. Designers who write. Designers study and practice design. Few that I know of spend as much time studying and practicing writing as any writer I know. Taking time out of their busy day 'balancing weapons' to whip off 20,000 lines of dialog or come up with a story line for the game to follow almost guarantees that those lines/that story line will be utter crap. Even if the designer is also a great writer, the time they must devote to the writing ends up not just making the story crappy, but also hurts the design itself.



2. I don't believe we have many (or maybe any) great writers in the game industry yet. That's for the same reason Canada produces lots of great hockey players and few baseball players - the talented athletes go where the money is. In Canada, hockey is promoted out the ying yang - it's what all the cool kids are doing - and baseball is not. The game industry hasn't been very welcoming to writers until VERY recently (and even then, given this article, we're still marching up hill) and so I don't believe we've yet seen the best a great writer has to offer a game. And that frustrates me because when people point to games with "great" writing I rarely agree with them - and I suspect most of the world outside the game industry doesn't either. The problem with that is that people like the author can then point to the game with "great" writing and say "See? Writing does not make a game better/Writing does not drive sales."



3. Poor writing comes from hiring a poor writer!!!



4. Poor writing comes from hiring a good writer who is not sufficiently integrated into the team and thus doesn't really have a clear idea of the game itself, its mechanics and so the writing is marginal.



5. Poor writing comes from hiring a good writer, and then not giving them sufficient time to construct a good story or write good dialog.



6. Poor writing comes from hiring a good writer who wrote good dialog and/or constructed a good story but whose work was subsequently rewritten by the designer/producer/sound tech without their knowledge because the person thought they were making things better a) without being consciously aware of the thread in a tapestry metaphor and/or b) because they thought that because they can type it means they can write.



It's equivalent to believing you can design a bridge like an engineer because you know how to use a calculator. How may writers have been rewritten like this by say, a producer? Yet how many artists have had their art redrawn, or programmers had their code rewritten?



I believe the lack of respect for the craft of writing displayed by the author and prevalent through the industry comes from this low barrier to entry. You don't have to study and practice for years to learn to type words on a page i.e. ANYONE can be a writer. And far too often in the game industry, anyone is.

CJ Kershner
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While I disagree with many of the points Mr. Maxwell has espoused, I must laud him for inciting debate about the place of writers in our relatively young industry.



Anything more I could say has already been said above (and probably more eloquently), but I would like to thank Mr. Maxwell for this piece. Though it initially filled me with anger and frustration, to see other proponents of the craft come to its defense has re-affirmed my beliefs in why I started writing for games in the first place.

CJ Kershner
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I forgot to add: Ryan Galletta said in one of the above comments, "I don't believe we have many (or maybe any) great writers in the game industry yet."



I'd like to hold up Erik Wolpaw, whose credits include both Psychonauts and Portal, as an example of what can be achieved when a dedicated writer is integrated into a talented design team.



A great writer? Open to discussion. A step in the right direction? Without question!

Matt Cratty
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Portal - just in interesting toy without story.



Knights of the Old Republic - a shell of a game, made insanely popular SOLELY because it's a good "movie". It certainly wasn't much of a "game".



Betrayal at Krondor - the writer was NOT a game developer whatsoever, and for it's time, it was perhaps the best RPG there was. It CERTAINLY had the best story of the time.



Granted, for almost any game, a writer would be out of his depth as a designer. A designer's job is to be well-versed in far too many things. But, working in this industry, the problem is far different than you think in my opinion.



The problem, in effect, is our inability to create a game that maximally enhances the story the writer creates. Bioware made a game that was essentially nothing more than a series of screenshots and incredibly limited gameplay that you just watched after hitting a button or two. And it sold millions because it WAS a very good story. Story can sell, even by itself if it's well disguised.



Assuming the story doesn't have unrealistic technical requirements for it's delivery, if the story doesn't work, it's because we as developers weren't smart enough to present it correctly.

Tawna Evans
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Wow, there are a lot of comments for this article. @_@

Gustav Seymore
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to be honest, as a small gaming company I have to agree with the author, we hired a writer and would of been a thousand fold better off if we had hired and extra designer with some writing skills (which every designer should have). My opinion comes from hard experience and a huge loss of money...



I think writers are essential, to make better games even, and if you have the extra space and budget for a writer then great, but I'll choose a good designer over a good writer any day.

Anonymous
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I'm not sure how many of you were around in the 70's (not the TV show mind you), but I'd be surprised to hear the game designers of that era (i.e. Engineers) pontificating the need for artists. At that time they were probably correct [Pong, Space Invaders, etc.] but it wasn't long though when hotter graphics became more important, which in turn generated a need for real artists. I'm sure you see my point.

Mr. Maxwell, your opinion is a decade (minimum) too late and poorly written in any era.

Glenn McMath
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I'm going to try very, very hard to restrain myself and not succumb to the urge to write what would be a very angry and mean rant here. Instead I'll put things mildly: I disagree.



I think fundamentally this argument is coming from the same stance that many programmers took over a decade ago when game design started to emerge as its own discipline. That is "Why should I have someone on my team who can only do that? I can do that AND this!" I think we can all agree that the industry is better off with designers around, and the same will eventually be just as obvious with writers.



As was the case back then, some will argue for merely having team members who are adept at both disciplines. Obviously a team member who has multi-disciplinary skills is more valuable than one who does not (all other things equal). However having a dedicated writer means that they can focus solely on the narrative quality of the game, and honing their craft in regards to game development and implementation.



Are writers necessary for every game? No. But the same could be said for EVERY discipline. Does a 2D sprite based game need modelers? If designers can script, does an expansion pack need programmers? Does a simple puzzle game need a full time audio designer (or if audio libraries are available, does it need an audio designer at all)? Nobody would dare question the importance of any of these disciplines within our industry at large. And your argument that writers are dead weight once the story is finalized is ridiculous, as it is an issue which faces all of game development. Would you fire all of your artists once your game has entered a state of content lock down for final bug testing?



I have said it before and I'll say it again, video games are a combination of visuals, audio, tactility, and meaningful input from the user. What we choose to craft within those guidelines dictates the prevalence of each element (and as an extension, the makeup of the development team).



When any element of a game is identified as being integral to the experience the developers are trying to create (as many would claim is the case with narrative) they would do themselves a disservice to use anyone other than a professional in that field. A far more useful article would have been theorizing (or better, explaining from experience) how writers can be better integrated or utilized in game projects.



Finally, I believe that a good portion of this stigma against writers in the games industry is born of the time when big studios thought it would be a good idea to merely hire a Hollywood screenwriter, who didnít know (or care about) games, because they were a ďprofessional.Ē The days of jamming a screenplay into a videogame are gone. There are a great number of professionals in all disciplines of other media who see the immense and unique creative potential of videogames. As our medium gains a reputation for expressive potential, writers will emerge who are educated in their craft as well as videogames, and are dedicated to finding the best ways of pursuing narrative within an interactive context.



Itís already happening, and I canít see how anyone would view it as anything but positive.

Larry Rosenthal
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ugh.

a bad definition of design, a bad definition of writing, and proof positive why the "game industry" is still a tiny closed club for adolescents..still.



A powerful "medium" will mature, one can only hope that the mindsets/views of those in it will as well.



c3

Larry Rosenthal
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ugh.

a bad definition of design, a bad definition of writing, and proof positive why the "game industry" is still a tiny closed club for adolescents..still.



A powerful "medium" will mature, one can only hope that the mindsets/views of those in it will as well.



c3

Ryan Galletta
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To CJ Kershner re: no great writers -



I didn't say we were all bad writers. Certainly we have some good ones. I think we'll know a great writer when a game is released that people buy specifically for the story - a story so good that without question it is what drives the sales of the game.



Maybe that will never happen. As Neil and some others point out, perhaps this medium will not support a great story in the way other mediums do. I hope that it will. I think that it can. But whether it can or it can't, there is no excuse for the many games with poor story telling related to either just poor story telling (hiring a poor/no writer) or poor story implementation (hiring a good writer, but with one of the many problems that sideline story).



These are the problems we as an industry can certainly address and are beginning to if the large response to this article is any indication. But until we're able to eradicate the author's mindset within the industry - that game stories suck because writers don't understand games (or perhaps even that games suck at telling stories) - we're never going to find out if a game can tell a truly great story.

Peter Park
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It's amazing how this short article caused such intense responses... shows how much people love the medium, and how popular Gamastura is :D



But a lot of people here seems to think of "game" differently than I am (and possibly Maxwell's as well); Many talk of game as a MEDIUM FOR DELIVERING STORY, a story with characters, conflicts, resolution, and abstraction of human nature.



Well, to be honest, I've been contemplating about this aspect of game and has been growing apart from this. I think game is NOT REALLY A GREAT WAY OF DELIVERING STORY. (Shane Bettenhausen of 1UP Yours podcast once said to "read books, and not game novels" if you want good story. Is it odd that I agree with this?) Games, by its nature, are repetitive and goal oriented. Stories are not goal driven, and certainly not repetitive (not good ones, anyways)--It's like difference between sports and human-story revolving sports.



Games may eventually tell great stories, one would never know. However, if devs don't break today's paradigm of how games tell story down and just tack on great story to today's games, I say we'll miss a great opportunity to do something greater..



And thus, I see Mr. Maxwell's point, and I do agree with him. (Let the flaming begin..)





PS. A great game designer is a must to a great game, but a great writer is NOT. Gears of War certainly had a great designer, yet when they brought in a Hollywood writer vet, they limited her work in various ways that she felt extremely confined. Yet, Gears of War turned out extremely well, didn't it?

PS. I'm all-capping some sentences that I'd italicize normally...but couldn't. I'm not screaming out loud.. :d

Craig Stern
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Mr. Maxwell's pedigree, I suspect, conditions his prejudices. I'm just going to take a wild guess and say that Auto Assault and Dirty Harry are not games that cater to the sort of literate, thoughtful gamers who appreciate "evocative emotional experiences," "good characters, interesting plots and memorable worlds."



I agree that some games can be great without those qualities: Katamari, for example, or Super Monkey Ball. But those are mostly social games, meant to be played with friends. The real-life company provides the needed interaction.



Compare that with a complex single-player game like Fallout, and it's obvious why writers matter. Let's face it: five years from now, no one is going to remember how well the shotgun, minigun, and laser rifle were balanced in your game, or how realistic the aliens looked when they blew them up. No one is going to care that you somehow managed an 8.0 out of 10 on Gamespot. But people will never forget how freaking creepy SHODAN and Xerxes were in System Shock 2. They'll never forget the beauty of the opera scene from Final Fantasy 6. They'll never forget Mort the wisecracking skull from Placescape: Torment. And...I'm sorry, what were those games Mr. Maxwell designed, again?

Megan Wiseman
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While I have only been in the games industry for a limited time, I have been a consumer of video games for far longer, and a writer for over half my life. So I feel I have room to comment here.



Maxwell's editorial, and the opinion expressed therein, remind me quite a lot of the general opinions I've heard expressed in the "Tech" industry in general toward a specific type of writer--technical writers. As a technical writer myself for the past eleven years, I can respond to his argument based on that analogy.



I don't know how many times I went into a contract job and found documents that had originally been written by a programmer or engineer. Why? Because they knew their subject and could put two words together and type them, supposedly that meant that they could "write". Frequently, however, the documents that resulted were wordy, clunky, dry as the Sahara, and so information-dense that they were better than Sominex or a stiff drink at putting someone to sleep.



Finally, someone got smart, and hired a professional to come in a clean up the mess. Me. As someone who has a degree in English, and years of experience in writing, I was able to take the vital pieces of information in the document and clean up the *presentation* of that information so that it was cleaner, leaner, easier to understand, and less likely to act as a sedative.



I believe the same thing is true in video games. A designer has many valuable skills, and is definitely crucial to the overall development process. But as many have already pointed out--having a designer take time away from *designing* to do the writing tasks necessary for a game not only hurts the writing, it hurts the overall quality of the game. When one person does two tasks, they can't put the same level of attention and focus into each task that one person doing that same task could. It's pretty obvious. Is it more expensive, in terms of money and time? Perhaps. Does it pay off in the quality of the game, and therefore in the player experience? I would argue, YES--most definitely.



A writer's job is frequently misunderstood, frequently undervalued, and almost always the first to be cut when times get hard. But unlike Mr. Maxwell, I (as a writer, of course) would argue that the writer's job is one of the MOST valuable and is crucial to advancing video games (or at least some portion of them) from the category of trivial time-wasting to the level of true entertainment art.



And as a side note--while FF VII may have had its flaws, another offering in the FF series (FF X) was, for me, a perfect example of video games as interactive storytelling at its best. The story in that game was incredible--it drew you in immediately with a mystery that you really wanted to solve; the characters had depth and emotional relevance, and their interactions with each other made sense and was realistic; the world was complex and layered; and above all, the events in the story actually had an emotional impact on me, as a player. I felt as much emotional connection to that story as I would to a good novel or a good film. And to me, THAT is the "Holy Grail" that we are all searching for. Would that have happened without a good writer? I sincerely doubt it.


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