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(Transformers: The Movie writer) Flint Dille said in the panel you moderated that you can't just be a writer for games. I don't agree! I know of projects where they just need someone to write the stuff, and it can be okay. I think you obviously wind up having some designer role, but it can be that the writing was primary, and the designing was ancillary, or it could be the other way around.
JM: I can't speak for other projects, but in my experience, I feel that my biggest contribution was to help shape the game in the way that other game designers do, and if I can make that contribution more concrete by providing actual screenplay pages and dialogue, that's great. But I feel almost like if I were a composer. There are game designers who are really talented in music, who can also compose the music for their own games. I'm not, but I do know how to write screenplays and dialogue, so that's something I can bring to a project.
It seems like writing is a more direct way of interfacing with the user, actually. What you write is exactly what they see, and in a lot of other instances, it's much more of a group of people guiding the user. In the writing part, it's one-to-one.
JM: I think writing is really more of a collaborative effort, too, than what people get credit for, especially in Hollywood. The bigger question is: what is the story? What's the world of the movie, or the game? The writer's most important job -- more important than writing and choosing words and scene description -- is to provide the vision of what the thing is. It's a rare project in video games where the writer is the person who provides that vision of what this game is: why is this going to be fun to play? What's the player's experience going to be? What's the universe?
Now, in film screenwriting, it's a lot more common that the writer does provide that, but again, it's not the rule. A lot of times, you have screenwriters come on board a project which is already pretty well-defined, like with a Harry Potter movie. If there have already been four Harry Potter movies and the novel that the movie's based on has already been written, the writer's job is really one of interpretation, in hoping to make someone else's vision concrete. Which is not to lessen it, but it's not like the primordial, creative act of bringing something out of nothing.
I think on games, the writer's role on a particular project can really vary from being almost like the old silent film writers. In silent films, they thought the writer's job was to write the words that go on the title cards. The job of actually deciding what happens in the movie was not done by the writer. It was done by the director, or the actors.
Which is why silent films were so awesome and weird! So, speaking of cross-convergence, you mentioned a new Prince of Persia graphic novel. What can you say about it?
JM: Mark Siegel, who is the editor of First Second Books -- an imprint based on the east coast which does really classy, high-quality, European-style graphic novels -- works with a lot of really good talent. He approached me about doing a Prince of Persia graphic novel. Mark did this in complete innocence of the fact that there was going to be a Disney/Bruckheimer movie, and he didn't even really know about the new generation of Ubisoft video games.
He actually came to me because he remembered playing the old Prince of Persia on the Apple II back in the '90s, and had this weird idea that it might make a cool graphic novel. So don't think he knew what he was really getting into! But because of the way it worked out -- Ubisoft's doing the video games, and Disney's doing the movie -- we had this little window in which we could do a Prince of Persia graphic novel.
So we decided that because this was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something that literally nobody would answer to, rather than do an adaption of the movie or any of the games, we would just create a completely new, completely original Prince of Persia story.