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Redefining Game Narrative: Ubisoft's Patrick Redding On Far Cry 2
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Redefining Game Narrative: Ubisoft's Patrick Redding On Far Cry 2

July 18, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 7 Next

BS: I feel like writers are always writing to specific points they're trying to get to. But whether they create them, or whether it's created in concert with someone else, it's a different thing. But I think in a way it's better to have this kind of different scenario that you're talking about because, in that way, at least if the writer cares, they're involved in creating the game. They don't think, "I'm going to write my story, and you're going to lay it on top." It's not like icing; it's like flour. It's part of the cake.

PR: That's a good way of looking at it. Yeah, I know, and I 100% agree, and I think there's a couple of things that have to change, not only in terms of how we, as developers commit resources and prioritize story, but also in terms of how writers make themselves available to work on projects.

Okay, Susan is a great example. She's a contract writer. She's incredibly prolific. She is in amazing amount of demand. She's an award-winning writer that everybody wants working on their project. And for her, she has zero incentive to be a staff writer, because why would she? It's less lucrative, she gets to work on fewer types of projects, it's much more restrictive, she doesn't get the freedom to take time off if she wants to and work on other things. Like, having worked as a freelancer on my own, I know exactly why she would choose to go down that path.

Speaking as a narrative designer, in my fantasy world, what I have is a room full of writers that are on full-time. You know what I mean? And literally, I bring them in at the beginning of the project, and I release them when we go gold master.

Now, I don't... there's probably no producer on earth who would be willing to pay for that, outside of maybe the guys at BioWare, but even then it's because their approach toward story isn't the same as the approach that I would take. They're really about generating this encyclopedic quantity of dialog and trees, and kind of allowing the player to make their way through that. And they make a serious investment in that.

And I think that what we need are the writers that are willing to start out at the very, very beginning, become very literate in the game systems, like really procedurally literate, and therefore have a kind of innate understanding of the types of dialog, and a style of writing, that they need to be delivering in order for it to work in that pipeline. And I really think it puts an enormous amount of pressure on writers to be very adaptable and very flexible in their approach, but I think we're going to start to generate a generation of writers that have been brought up thinking about it that way, right?

CR: So one of the things that I can see as a long-term evolution... when you look at novels, obviously the person who writes the novel is the complete author, one hundred percent. You go to films - their screenwriter has a huge impact on the creative end, but everyone refers to it as the director's film. And that means the writing is in service of what the director's doing.

It seems like what you're describing is almost going one step further than that, and saying you've got the creative director, you've got whatever you have on the game. Games are different. They're more collaborative than a film, but the idea is the writing even, again, without being derogatory, takes another step back and becomes even more embedded into the overall fabric of the end result.

PR: Yeah, I see what you're saying, and my response to that is it might seem paradoxical, but I believe that the more that writers are implicated in the on-the-floor production process, the more they become part of that larger symbiotic sharing of disciplines, and knowledge, and considerations, and expertise that I think most game developers are familiar with.

I don't happen to buy into the auteur theory of game design. I just don't believe in it. I think our medium... it's an interactive medium, and also a medium that demands the input of so many disciplines, and so many different areas of expertise, I expect that our art director, and our lead tester, and a junior level animator, and the head of AI programming are going to have just as much impact on the way the story unfolds in the game as I do. I really believe that.

And I think that, as writers who are on the floor, who can walk over and have a conversation with a level designer, and help the level designer put into context all the challenges and things that they're trying to put in, all the game play they're trying to integrate into their maps, suddenly the writer has a much bigger impact than they would if they were like, "Oh hey, I'm just the guy who works on the story."

I think that by trying to sequester yourself in that kind of story box, that little, "No, I'll be in my scriptorium working on the storyline," I think that that is what isolates writers, and tends to kind of marginalize their input into the game.

I think that writers that are brought in and function much the way that every other developer in the game production works, who take an interest in all these others aspects of it, are going to find that they're contribution becomes that much greater. It just might not happen in exactly the way they thought it would. You know what I mean? I think it could be just much more layered. As you say, they could be the flour, as opposed to the frosting.

BS: Writers are often, in a way, kind of like the enemy of the team in many contexts, in the traditional structure, because they're writing something, and somebody's got to compromise. And so there's conflict there. It's kind of like trying to be the continuity director in a film, because you're like, "No, but in the last scene it was like this," and the director's like, "Don't care. Doesn't matter."

It's good to have them integrated, because then they are part of the team. They're not the enemy anymore. And taking your auteur thing to probably an extreme where you didn't want it to go, but do you then think that BioShock could have been made without Ken Levine, or Super Mario Galaxy could have been made without Miyamoto, or whatever?

PR: No. I mean, I don't know. I still think, yeah, there's always going to be exceptions, and it's hard. At the risk of pointing at specific... because the problem is like, it's friendly for me to point to those guys and say, "Well, those guys are exceptional. You can't make Spore without Will Wright." Yeah, that's the easy, low-hanging fruit. What I don't want to then have to turn around and do and say is, "Yeah, but look at so-and-so who tried to be an auteur, and how badly it failed." Right?

BS: See, well, the thing is, some people are auteurs, and some people aren't. We don't fire people in this industry, so people can just work their way up and be in charge of a project, even if they suck.

PR: Yeah, but I think it's a cultural thing, though, within the developer. I think that people who are accustomed to thinking of what we do as a subcategory of software development will tend to quickly neutralize people's ambitions at being the next Steven Spielberg of game development. I think that they'll say, "Look, dude, that's cool. It's nice to have a vision. It's good to be ambitious. It's great that you want to be a lead designer, or a creative director."

But I think Clint put it very, very well. His job is not to take credit for the parts of the game that are good. His job is to take the blame for the parts of the game that are bad. Because ultimately he's the guy that's got to sit there as big strips of the game are being de-scoped, and make sure that what's left is still true to the vision of the game, and is still going to feel like that game to the player. Right? He's got to hold that experience, that model of that experience, in his head. To me that's very different from an auteur, who's kind of coming in and occasionally micromanaging every detail as required.

BS: I think we have different definitions of what an auteur is.

PR: Maybe so, but I also believe that no matter what, it's still software development. If I'm a film director, just to use that example, like, if I'm Stanley Kubrick, I can say, "I don't need any fucking storyboards. I'm going to sit here for eight hours if I have to with my viewfinder until I find the shot I want.

And then after that? I'm going into my trailer and retyping the script." And getting twenty takes of my actors, or whatever. Right? I don't think in game development that's even an option. I think people have tried to work that way, and I think unless you have unlimited amounts of money to sort of placate people, I don't think it's possible. I just don't.

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