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Central Clancy Writer: An Interview With Richard Dansky
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Central Clancy Writer: An Interview With Richard Dansky


June 21, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

What do you see as the biggest failure in game writing right now?

RD: I'd say the biggest failure in game writing that we're facing is the lack of recognition that we are, in fact, doing game writing. Too many games are still trying to be novels or movies or other forms when it comes to their narrative, instead of taking advantage of the things that games can do that nothing else can. Part of this is, I think, a failure of language - we really don't have a frame of reference for looking at game writing, so we have to borrow one from the movies, and it doesn't quite fit right.

I'd also say that we're falling down when it comes to writing tutorials. They're some of the first writing a player runs into in the game, and they provide some of the most important information to the player, but they often feel like they were written last or in a hurry. Plus, they generally talk directly to the player, which breaks the fourth wall right at the time you're really hoping to establish immersion – right when the player first gets into the game.

Is anybody getting it right?

RD: I think there are more than a few people out there getting it right, or at least moving in the right direction. I know that Ubi has really made this a priority, and the results that we've seen in the games that have been coming out are, in my opinion, pretty good.

Other games? Half-Life 2 did an excellent job of it. Bioware's stuff is always interesting, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what they did with Mass Effect. The God of War series – never mind that Edith Hamilton might not recognize it, it manages to find that Euripedean vibe in a way that really works. I'm halfway through Hotel Dusk, and I like what that's doing so far. So it's not that there isn't good stuff out there, it's just that I think that we have plenty of room to keep getting better.

Can you think of examples of games that have really failed in their efforts to incorporate story?

RD: I think where you see the failure to incorporate narrative into games is in games that try too hard to enforce their pre-set storyline. When the flow of the game naturally leads the player to do something – say, to identify the character who's going to betray them – but refuses to let the player do anything about it, then suddenly the story has become detached from the game.

At this point seeing "immersive storyline!" as a bullet point on the back of a box doesn't really tell me anything, because "immersive story" is not something you can quantify or calculate like the number of levels or game modes.

You hosted several roundtables at GDC on the topic of narrative in games. What impressed you most about those discussions?

RD: Two aspects of the discussion really impressed me. The first was the sheer breadth of the debate. People were coming at the issue from all sides and really taking into account all of the aspects of game narrative, from the artistic to the utilitarian. All of that got brought to the table and held up for everyone, and I think the richness of the conversation – let's put it this way, I'm still transcribing the notes – was a direct result.

The other element that I found to be exceedingly positive was the understanding of narrative and the roles it can play in a game. It's very easy to fall into groupthink or repeating the same old complaints, and instead the conversation showed how much people have been thinking about what narrative can and should do. We're moving past talking about game narratives like they're movie stories, and into a place where we can discuss them within the context of games.

Any other sessions at GDC you thought were particularly insightful on this subject?

RD: Susan O'Connor always has great perspectives on game writing, and I thought that a lot of the material presented in the Interactive Storytelling Boot Camp – Daniel Erickson's, in particular – was extremely useful.

Beyond that, I actually spent much of this year's conference looking at non-writing material. One of the points that kept on getting hammered in the round tables involved interaction with other disciplines, so I spent most of my time at the conference trying to soak up as much of those other viewpoints as I could.


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