There's a fair amount of debate on whether stories should intrude in shooters at all. Of course, the creative team needs to devise a compelling world setting for the game, and needs to create a storyline to provide motivation for the player, but beyond that... How do things work?
Insomniac lead writer Jon Paquette here discusses the process he used at the studio to bring forth the best from Resistance 3. New to the series, he worked on absorbing the canon before charging forward with a mission for the developers.
In this interview, he discusses how he collaborates with the art and design teams at Insomniac, how much story is too much for a shooter, and the way in which he integrates subtler moments into a game where players are more worried about "trying to find the next head shot."
I feel that being a writer in-house is a real benefit. Writers are so low on the totem pole in certain arenas, that other developers are more likely to listen to what you're saying.
Jon Paquette: Yeah, it's interesting, because I don't feel like there's really a totem pole per se. I think a writer on a game, you start off and you say, "Okay, this is the vision, and this is kind of the story that we have in mind."
But then, at some point, you turn into an implementation monkey -- where the designers are saying, "This is my setup, and I need this line of dialogue, and this line of dialogue, and you have to write that." You're working for the game designer at some point.
"I need this many in this spreadsheet."
JP: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, the writerly part of the development process, where you get to kind of think about the grand scheme of the vision that you want -- but there's the kind of grunt work that you need to do as the game is being made. Like everybody else on the team, you need to do the work to have it be seen and heard.
And that's why I think that it's good to have someone in-house. Because a lot of folks that have tried to do the Hollywood thing, like hire a guy that has written X, Y, or Z movie, then you've got a guy who only wants to write a script and leave it alone.
JP: Yeah, and I've been a designer on teams, where we've had writers who just kind of come in every few weeks and say, "Okay, this is what's going on," and the results aren't that great. You end up getting people on the team actually writing the dialogue or the scenario for different things, because the game moves faster than you think it does. So if you're not with the team every day, you're not going to keep up with the game.
Coming from having not worked on the first two Resistance games to working on the third, how do you pick up the mantle and go, "Okay, there's canon here, but there are things I want to do"? How do you reconcile that?
JP: Well, there's a lot of canon. The first few weeks on the project, I just spent reading documents. There is so much story that is not shown in Resistance 1 or 2, but there's explanations for everything. But it's hard to, in a game, bring all that out.
So my first order of business was understanding what happened in Resistance 1 and Resistance 2, and all the back story to all that. And then working with the existing team and saying, "Okay, where do we want to take Resistance 3?"
And then my personal strategy was to keep it simple. I think that in games, if you try to have a complicated story...
You're going to fail. That's my opinion.
JP: No, it's my opinion as well. Because a game is not consumed the same way as a movie. A movie, you sit down and you say, "I'm going to watch this from beginning to end." A game you sit down and you play 30 minutes, or five minutes, or whatever, and then you're like, "Okay, I've got to do the laundry. I've got to take my dog for a walk" -- whatever -- and you lose it.
So if you don't have a simple story, and know what the simple goal is for the player, the story itself is going to be fragmented, and eventually you're going to be shooting people, or doing whatever you do in the game, and you're going to be like, "I don't know why I'm doing this, but the game wants me to do it, so that's why I'm doing it."