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Vital Game Narrative: A Conversation With Rhianna Pratchett
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Vital Game Narrative: A Conversation With Rhianna Pratchett


August 7, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 6 Next
 

How closely do you work with teams -- do you turn in scripts, or do you go to studios and work in-house? Can you contrast the different approaches you've taken on different projects?

RP: I actually loathe the whole "first draft, second draft, third draft and you're done" approach. It seems to be a Hollywood hangover. Writing is rewriting, and nowhere has that been more the case than with games. It's a hugely iterative process. You have to be flexible and roll with the rest of the development cycle.

From personal experience, I do believe that it's also extremely beneficial for the writer to be included in the recording process. Not only do they know the context of every single line (or should) but they can provide an essential level of context and character depth that actors thrive on.

I've often provided studio support on my games and I was the lead voice director on Overlord I and Overlord II (assisted by the fantastic Dan Gardner and Tim Bartlett of the Audio Guys.) It was great to be involved at that level and it's something that more writers should push for -- at the very least in a support capacity.

I think as a director I'm probably pretty demanding because I've got so much invested in the lines and characters. Plus, I've usually been up until the wee small hours prepping the scripts and casting every last minor character... so picky and over-caffeinated!

These days I find myself collecting voice actors. Marc Silk (who plays Gnarl in the Overlord games) has been a fantastic find as well as a good friend, whilst Jules de Jongh not only voiced Faith in Mirror's Edge but also put her vocal talents behind Lil' Red and Doris in Overlord: Dark Legend as well as Mistress Juno in Overlord II.

Ultimately, when you're recording something like the Overlord games it can be tremendously good fun. Marc, Dan and I have even developed our own directing language. "Gravel Police" = "Rasp your voice more", "Less windmill" = "Make it less cute", "More Scooby" = "Vary the pitch", and "They've got a loaf on" = "That person isn't happy" (mainly based on Dan's fondness for bread-making.) When you've been working together for three years, this is just the kind of stuff that happens.

How collaborative have your scripts been with the teams, and how collaborative do you want the process to be?

RP: The Overlord games, both with Triumph and with Climax, have been pretty collaborative and I worked very closely with the level and audio designers. This meant that the needs of the narrative and the needs of the gameplay could coexist in relative harmony. It was a similar deal on Heavenly Sword, although as it was an extremely narrative-led game, the levels were mainly shaped around the story, rather than the other way around.

This hasn't always been the case on other projects. Sometimes I haven't even got to see the game I'm working on and I'm pretty sure that most members of the team couldn't pick me out of a line-up. I think this is symptomatic of the industry-wide problem I mentioned earlier; namely that companies don't often know how to fit a writer or narrative designer into a team and therefore have a tendency to keep them at arm's length.

However, I think that narrative professionals have to take the lead in breaking themselves out of that bubble and pushing for better integration. Everyone is learning, here. We're all on the same side.

At what point in production do you come into the picture typically? At which point do you wish to become involved?

RP: The short answer is "the sooner the better." But it doesn't always happen that way. A few times I've been lucky enough to be brought in between one year to 14 months before the project ships. But even then, it can still be not early enough, especially if all the levels have been designed. If I can't be there right at the start, then I like to get involved about six months into a project. That's usually when the core mechanics are in place and there are a few level ideas to work from, but the structure isn't set in stone.

As importantly, at what point in production do you exit the process, and again, at which point would you prefer to do so?

RP: It's not quite a "from my cold dead hands" deal, but I try to make myself available right up to the last full text lock and often beyond. After the main script is written, recorded and in place I'll usually move on to addressing any non-VO quest text, system text, chapter names, additions to the manual, marketing copy and basically pretty much anything that involves words.

It's also important for the writer to be involved if any narrative surgery has to be performed on a project. No one relishes chopping fingers or even whole arms off of their narrative babies, but I firmly believe that the writer is the best person to wield the scalpel and stitch up the wounds. No one needs a story bleeding all over the place, least of all the person who created it. Regrettably I haven't always been given the opportunity; sometimes the industry can be pretty brutal towards narrative. You learn from it and move on.


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 6 Next

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