Rebooting Lara: Rhianna Pratchett on Writing for Tomb Raider
November 19, 2012 Page 2 of 3
Still, she remains confident that the team is going in the right direction, and it's driven not just by a need to redefine the character, but also for the game and character to irretrievably intermingle -- and the team at Crystal Dynamics has worked very closely, across disciplines, to make sure that happens.
"One of the things we've been keen to do with Tomb Raider is explore the idea that action equals character. It's a fairly standard idea in other entertainment mediums, but in games there's often a strange disconnect with the way a character is presented in cutscenes (heroic, quippy, everyone's pal) and the way they act during the gameplay, i.e. mowing down enemies like there's no tomorrow," Prachett says.
"The key is making the action part of the story and not something that exists outside of it. With Lara we wanted to show that her actions (particularly when she takes a human life for the first time) have an impact on her character and emotional state."
The division between storytelling and gameplay is, ultimately, artificial, Pratchett argues. "It's all story, at the end of the day," she says. "Narrative actually saturates every facet of a game world -- be it the level design, the gameplay mechanics, the characters, soundscape, etcetera."
"From a narrative perspective, I wanted to make sure that the gameplay mechanics fed back into Lara's character make-up... Looking at gameplay mechanics is often a good jumping-off point when putting together someone like Lara. It's working backwards a little bit, but it means there's not so much of a disconnect between character and action. The bravery, tenacity and resourcefulness that Lara shows during the gameplay are definitely reflected in her personality."
Working backwards to flesh out a game character may be a great tactic -- but it's not as if Pratchett really had any choice. When she became invovled in the project, the game's cast was roughed in "in avatar form." She spent "serious time defining a world narrative and characters" -- work she considers "extremely important, because it gives you a solid basis to work upon."
"It's important for writers to understand how the whole iceberg is constructed, even if what players experience is only the tip," she says. "I spent a long time constructing bios, treatments and meta-scripts before I actually started writing a single word -- which is exactly how it should be."
This is a big problem with most game writing, Pratchett argues. "Not enough thought goes into defining the logic of a game world, which is something that narrative is very useful for doing," she says. "In general, logic is more important than realism."
The lack of proper integration of writers into the development process, she says, is part of the industry's growing pains: writing for games is a "young profession within a young industry."
In her view, this youthfulness means that there's a lack of understanding of how narrative functions; "the industry's general narrative literacy is also pretty low, at least when compared to other entertainment fields," Pratchett says. Writing -- and how best to utilize it -- is well understood in other creative media, but not all developers are used to leveraging its strengths.
That means that there are issues with how writers are integrated into the process, she says -- often "like square pegs trying to fit into round holes." Her worry is that, in general, "the industry is still wrestling with how best to use narrative professionals. Unfortunately, there's a great deal of misuse out there."
"Those [developers] that really know about the construction of good narrative, characterization, structure, and plot are few and far between (although the people that think they do are rife.) Moreover, the people that know how to work with narrative in games specifically are even rarer," Pratchett says.
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