Marianne Krawczyk's first video game writing gig was David Jaffe's original God of War. Not a bad way to start off a career in games writing.
Her most recent work is found in the big-budget triple-A blockbuster God of War III. But she's not limiting herself to the realm of Kratos or packaged retail hits.
EA Partners said Thursday that Krawczyk is the writer behind Shank, the visually-striking 2D mature beat-'em-up from Eets creator and N+ codebase developer Klei Entertainment. Shank is coming to Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and PC for download.
Krawczyk said that as a writer, working on a smaller downloadable title really isn't that much different from working on a big expensive "triple-A" boxed game like God of War III.
"Maybe since there's a smaller team, there are fewer voices," she said in a phone interview. "That can be beneficial... Sometimes [more voices] can be great, but sometimes that can be hard to sift through."
She added, "That was the only difference [with Shank], its development was in a little bit more intimate setting, so coming to a consensus on what everybody liked or what would work and what wouldn't work was easier."
Krawczyk initially spoke with Klei CEO Jamie Cheng at Game Developers Conference back in 2008 at the Speaker Party. Several months later, the two reconnected as Klei was working on a new project -- Shank.
She originally pitched two or three stories for the game, then formed those stories into the final idea. She was there "pretty much from the beginning" of development of the game. "It was love at first sight," she said. "It was the artwork, for sure. It's beautiful. The world was very interesting to me." Shank was a 2010 Independent Games Festival Finalist for visual art.
The story writing process for Shank was a wholly collaborative effort between Krawczyk and the studio. She would offer her story ideas to Klei, and the developer would make suggestions on the direction of the story. "Usually I would just start over again until we found something," laughed Krawczyk.
"I think for me, especially since I work on bigger franchises, keeping it 'pulled in' was a challenge. A lot of the earlier [Shank story ideas] had a lot more complexity," she explained.
Krawczyk said that she was a writer long before her work in interactive entertainment. While she did play games as a teenager, she fell off of gaming until she began work on God of War.
"I was lucky because the first thing that I worked on was God of War I with David [Jaffe, GoW creator], so that was a great project to work on," she said. "Sometimes writers that don't come from games think that they know all the story answers, but it's such a different way of telling and experiencing a story, you just really have to learn games and learn how they work and how to push story forward."
"Learn everything" is her advice to writers wanting to make the transition into video games. "That's what I did. When I started working on God of War I, the first thing I did was take a class in interactive storytelling."
Video game developers sometimes like to headline prominent TV or movie writers that they snagged to write a video game's story. Krawczyk is open to more "outside" writers coming into games, but said that writers new to games need to be ready for a totally different kind of creative process.
"Games are extremely collaborative, and they shift on a dime. So the minute you have your whole narrative point set up, the gameplay shifts and the design team says, 'Well, we can't do that because of this,' or 'We want to go this way because it's cooler.' So there's that constant shifting."
Krawczyk continued, "That flexibility is hard when you're a writer, especially when you're used to putting down on the paper exactly what you think it's supposed to be, and then all of a sudden being told 'That story point isn't cool enough for the gameplay.' I don't think [having outside writers write for video games] is a bad thing. But I think people need to take it more seriously."
She added that there is a generation of writers that is up and coming that does understand video game writing, and that the profession is finally coming into its own. "Companies are really starting to look more for writers with game experience, which is good."
Krawczyk noted that just this year, there have been ambitious attempts at storytelling in games, such as God of War III, Heavy Rain and Alan Wake. "I think that's just going to continue to go forward," she said. "People will start to take game writing more seriously."
"Not every game needs a story, but for the games that have story, it can make the experience better," Krawczyk added. As for her latest project Shank, she won't reveal too much about the story, other than like her previous work, it's a tale of revenge. "I think people are going to love it," she said.