Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 31, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 31, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

DICE 2010: Garriott: 'Some Of The Best Interactive Dialog, I Wrote!'
DICE 2010: Garriott: 'Some Of The Best Interactive Dialog, I Wrote!'
February 17, 2010 | By Brandon Sheffield

February 17, 2010 | By Brandon Sheffield
More: Console/PC

Richard Garriott, mastermind of the Ultima series and the ill-fated Tabula Rasa, feels heís written some of the best interactive dialog ever in games -Ė and that's no good thing for the industry.

Garriott was at DICE today discussing his long relationship with game narratives: "I as an artist, as a creator, and a gamer myself, my passion completely lies with creating and playing story-based content," he began. "As I review my 30 year career, I don't think the market has necessarily tended to reward that.Ē

Why? Because we keep changing the format, and it resets the play mechanic, and the platform, and everyone must start afresh, not only on the consumer side, but also on the game building side, according to Garriott.

His talk today comes just after the announcement of his new company Portalarium, which will aim to stick with a universal browser medium. Portalarium's primary product will be a browser plug-in that effectively enables a unified platform on which its games can run within social networks.

"The vast majority of attempts to include story (in games) are failures," Garriott laments. Once, he says, a student asked him how to be a great interactive writer: "Do I know any great examples of interactive dialog writers? No. As a creator and gamer Iím passionate to find the solution to those, I just think if youíre looking at investing behind games, you have to be very careful about saying Ďwouldnít it be nice to have story.í"

He continues: "If you spend a million dollars on it can you predict that the story will be any good, and will that story contribute to game sales?"

He wasn't advising the student that the business should not invest in story -- he wanted to illuminate the fact that story in games is an unknown quantity in terms of sales numbers, so is tough to sell to a publisher.

But when you do invest in story, donít hire Hollywood, Garriott says. ďIíve hired very expensive Hollywood writers, and found they cannot write interactive dialog. Writing branching dialog is a skill unique to this industry.Ē

Returning to the discussion of the student who wanted to get into writing in games, Garriott admitted: ďIn spite of the fact that I donít think Iím a good writer, I think that some of the best interactive dialog, I wrote! So thatís a double negative (for the industry).Ē

In terms of how to get there, Garriott pulled from his personal game playing past. "The first game I ever finished to completion that I didnít make was Myst," he said. Playing in that space, and exploring the world was the reward, whereas the puzzles were the hard work. In other games, itís often the reverse. "When those elements become so integrated that you donít see the difference,Ē he says, ďthatís where we should be."

Related Jobs

The Workshop
The Workshop — Marina del Rey, California, United States

Activision Publishing
Activision Publishing — Santa Monica, California, United States

Tools Programmer-Central Team
Vicarious Visions / Activision
Vicarious Visions / Activision — Albany, New York, United States

VFX Artist-Vicarious Visions
Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Level Designer


Jehanzeb Hasan
profile image
<< But when you do invest in story, donít hire Hollywood, Garriott says. ďIíve hired very expensive Hollywood writers, and found they cannot write interactive dialog. Writing branching dialog is a skill unique to this industry.Ē >>


Tom Newman
profile image
Sadly I agree that videogame writing has a long way to go - however not sure that Garriott is the best either. Also kind of shocked that Myst was the first non-Garriott game he finished - seems like an Adventure on the 2600 kind of guy.

Tyler Peters
profile image
Hollywood writers (the good ones) should be studied for their ability to make characters believable - something most games have a hard time doing. Once you understand this, then you can apply it to branching dialogue with the technical knowledge that requires.

An example of this is to create a scene at a dinner party with minimal characters - say five or six. Then try to create realistic dialogue between them. Have this dialogue acted out by individuals to locate problems/inconsistencies. Once realistic personalities and motives for each have been established, you can then begin to create branching dialogue.

It sounds easy - but in fact it is very, very hard.

Inti Einhorn
profile image
I suppose that the unique complicating aspect is that branching dialogue requires something far more rare than additional technical knowledge. If your characters' motivations are in flux (as dictated by player agency), then the techniques of traditional dialogue writing (which assume them to be largely static, or only change on one axis), have to be changed. Clearly, there is something to be learned from those who build these motivations for a living; but it would take a uniquely flexible type of writer to find an efficient way to account for all the shifting variables that would arise towards the top of a tree. Are there traditional writers out there with the skill and desire to work in this way? It seems like this is a new animal.

Tyler Shogren
profile image
Unfortunately for video game's writing legitimacy, the only real tradition of nonlinear narrative begins in 1969 with Sugarcane Island, the prototype for the choose-your-own-adventure series of books. Edward Packard developed this from bedtime stories for this children. Five years later, 1974, D&D gets published. These are hardly literary masterpieces. It's not that Hollywood doesn't have the proficiency to do good nonlinear writing, it's that no one does. It hasn't been invented yet.

Compare to the tradition of written dialogue. It begins with Plato, who used two speakers discussing a topic to advance a linear argument.

Patrick Dugan
profile image
I'd reckon Chris Avellone tops Garriot.

Darren Tomlyn
profile image
The reason it's hard to use a game to TELL a good story is simple:

Games in general are not, nor can ever be about, and therefore defined by, story TELLING.

Yes, many types of games, (such as computer games, board games etc.), require a story to be told for their setting, but that's merely to ENABLE a game to be played, rather than to usually define it - (board games being the only exception I can think of).

Which isn't to say that games cannot be used to tell a story, only that if a game does tell a story, then it should be used to support what the player DOES, and not the other way round.

Sadly, a lot of games I've played have obviously been designed from the opposite perspective - (especially cRPG's).

Richard Garriott is correct when he says that interactive story-telling, (which by itself is NOT a game - we call them 'puzzles' instead (i.e. mazes of a different form)), is not something that has been really supported well so far, but there is a good reason for that...

One of the problems with computers, and computer games, is that they fully combine many different types of media into one product. Since most of the industries built around producing content involving such media, do so for the sole purpose of story TELLING, (i.e. including creating and distributing works of art), it should be no surprise that many games have have been created to try and leverage such industry.

But since games are not about what these industries provide, (though some of what they offer can certainly be used to full effect, (for the setting and graphics/audio etc.), to use it fully, involves an understanding of GAMES, to match their 'understanding' of art, and it's here that we start to run into problems.

It gets even worse, when you consider that what we call 'interactive story telling' involves elements of both of these things, even though it has it's own separate definition - (puzzle). And yet the line between puzzles and games isn't even currently recognized! (Heavy Rain for example, is nothing more than a (more involving) puzzle, and therefore should not be considered a game).

The problems lie in fully recognizing and understanding all the elements that we want in a modern computer games, and fully understanding them for what they are, how they are related, and how they can best work together. The most important matter however, is that in making a computer game, all stories that are told, are merely there to support what the player does, and nothing more, since only THAT, defines a game.

I'm currently working on a paper that deal with the fundamental reason why the above is still a problem, even though the actual problem underpinning all this is probably as old as language itself, but am finding it really hard to write on my own - (need help!).