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Narrative Design For Company Of Heroes: Stephen Dinehart On Writing For Games
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Narrative Design For Company Of Heroes: Stephen Dinehart On Writing For Games

August 3, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

How do you make decisions about what goes and what stays, during the writing process?

SED: I read and visualize my writing. When it clicks, I know it. Like everything at Relic, we bounce ideas off each other. I ask people what they think, and hope to receive honest criticism. It’s a very team-oriented, collaborative environment. I work with an extremely talented team, and I value their opinions highly; from QA to GM. When reviewing material written by some of the additional writers I have managed, I do my best to listen to their opinions, and review the material in context of the overall narrative I seek to craft.

How do you make decisions about the violent themes coming up in a game like this? Concentration camps, for instance?

SED: We don’t give the player violent motives, or allow any representation of atrocities, war crimes, or Nazi Concentration Camps. I hardly think 3rd Gen RTS would be the place for handling such heavy issues. Maybe 4th Gen will. Opposing Fronts brings an “Apocalypse Now” flavor to the RTS genre. Sure we don’t have the Doors, Brando, or the emotional depth of a Coppola film, but we are telling a dark tale of men, blood, steel and fire; hell on earth. The story is the likes of which has not been seen in video games to date.

Are there company/publisher/producer mandates that also have to be taken into account?

SED: Yes. The biggest issue is the problem localizing this material to various territories where the hypersensitivity to the subject matter is especially poignant.

Can you give me an example of a specific localization issue you've had to deal with? How do you solve the problems of multiple points of view with such a sensitive topic?

SED: The hard thing is, we do the same material for all territories, in that, all material, be it for North America, or Germany, must be localized for the sensitivities of the global market. It’s a hard reality to deal with; some places have understandable issues with the content. As much as the artist in me wants to portray factual reality, I understand why certain perspectives prevent us from doing so. The Swastika for instance, that’s a no go, the German market wouldn’t allow it, hence it’s not in the game, and that means globally. It’s a big can of worms, for obvious reasons.

Do these day-to-day considerations conflict with what you learned in those classes about violence in games? How do you reconcile that?

SED: No, it doesn’t. I grew up playing games, and as we all know, real world violence is all too common. All people are susceptible to the woes of evil. Violence is part of being human; perhaps through these representations we can find its cause and carve the root out of society. Scorsese’s film “Mean Streets” is a great example of violence used to examine violence. I am doing my best to mature the medium, and I suppose the proof is in the pudding. When the game is available, please play and let your opinions be known. I like to think you may be rather surprised.

So you're hoping this game can help examine violence at a mature level?

SED: Yes. I’m hoping that the work I’m doing breathes more life into COH and the soldiers represented on the battlefield. I hope the player walks away with a window into the hearts and minds of the soldiers. The stories for both campaigns look deeply at the price of war. I am confident we are pushing the medium to new heights. You’ll have to finish both campaigns to see what I mean, and yes that is a big commitment.

Medal of Honor and similar games have recently been criticized as reinforcing an inaccurate view of historical wars. How are you handling this issue in your work?

SED: Our stories are different. We are telling fictitious soldier level stories. Though we do our best to base our work on historical fact, creative license is used as always. I find the talk of historical, or documentary, games very compelling. It’s an issue I’ve thought and blogged a good amount about. I’m not so sure that there is anything that could be called a “documentary game”.

That said, while playing MOH: Rising Sun with my WWII Vet Grandfather he said to me, during gameplay I might add, “Is that real footage? “; he is anything but senile. While we played through the missions he’d bark out facts. It was real enough for him. He was there. That means a lot to me.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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