About Us | Game Reviews | Feature Articles | Podcast | Best Work | Forums | Shop | Review Game

Guest blog by Anton Strout: Writing in games by a writer who games

Brad Gallaway's picture

Returning for a second round of sounding off is Urban Fantasy author extraordinaire, Anton Strout. His cult favorite Simon Canderous series is going strong and recently released Dead Waters. If you haven't checked out his books, I would strongly urge you to do so—if you read this blog and enjoy it, the odds are that you'll enjoy Anton's work as well.

(…And for the sake of convenience, here are links to the first three books in the series: Dead to Me, Deader Still, and Dead Matter.)

Without further ado, here's what Anton has to say on the subject of storylines in games:

Guest blog by Anton Strout: Writing in games by a writer who games

Anton here.

Once again, Brad Gallaway (and Gamecritics.com) have graciously yielded their floor to me.

As Brad mentioned above, I'm a writer with book four in my Simon Canderous series (entitled Dead Waters, just out) but I am also a gamer. The author bio at the back of the book reads:

"In his scant spare time, he is a writer, a sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the world's most casual and controller-smashing videogamer."

Part of me admittedly smashes the occasional controller because of my frantic button mashing approach, but there are a lot of specific parts in a game that can drive me to Hulk-like rage as well. Given my career as a writer, it's probably not too surprising that I pay attention to the writing in games, above all other aspects.

When the writing is great, it's great, and it really sticks with me even years after playing:

Metal Gear Solid has long cutscenes, but also has great characters, memorable exchanges, and it actually tried to have a message to it.

Fatal Frame - scary Japanese ghost storytelling that is right up there in the creep factor alongside films such as The Grudge and The Ring.

The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time - the first game to make me both cry over Link's loss of childhood and laugh as rocky King Goron danced to Link playing his tune on the ocarina.

Even Katamari Damacy, simple as it was, fit the game style, with the puny prince constantly trying to please the demanding, lovable whack-job King of the Cosmos.

All those stories brought plot and character to games alongside great play mechanics and helped create a totally pleasurable experience. Then there are a different group of games that stick out for their stories, but for all the wrong reasons. That's where I think the bulk of my controller smashing happens.

It would be easy to pick on movie games here, but I thought instead I'd talk about two franchises that have both slowly driven me mad over the years, each with their own problems, but both causing the writer vein in my forehead to pop out.

Guest blog by Anton Strout: Writing in games by a writer who games

I was never much of a driving game fan growing up, but when the original Driver: You Are The Wheelman! came out, I really liked what it initially brought to the table as far as game mechanics, but something always bothered me—the premise.

You play Tanner, an undercover cop, which apparently is enough to make all the rest of your behavior throughout the games a-okay. The amount of carnage, property damage, homicide, and vehicular manslaughter I perpetrated in the name of keeping my cover as a good cop should really have earned me several life sentences.

It just didn't make sense in the grand scheme of the story, and in direct reaction, I think that's where my growing love of Grand Theft Auto was able to swoop in and really dominate my soul.

In GTA3, you were unapologetically a criminal, and knowing that, it was easy to build a compelling storyline, unlike Driver where every action went against the very premise of who you were supposed to be. As the Driver franchise switched from house to house, they really tried to change up their game to keep up, but to me all future efforts felt forced and never quite reclaimed a place in my heart.

However, the series that I think could use the most help in the writing department is one that I loved at first… the Fable franchise, in particular Fable 2 and 3.

Now I have long had a love/hate relationship with Lionhead Studios and its god-emperor Peter Molyneux. While a legend in the field, he's also an innovator whose excitement over his own ideas often kneecaps building a compelling game in the end. I keep hoping the Fable games will rally and get better, but more the fool me for keeping hope alive; his game-to-game implementation of new mechanics hamstrings the amazing tales he professes to bring us.

Guest blog by Anton Strout: Writing in games by a writer who games

The part where the Fable franchise really falls apart is a huge story event in Fable 2, where you spend ten years as a prisoner in the big tower of evil before breaking free and returning to Albion.

I was kind of excited when it first happened. You see, during all my play time, I was building up my property investments, making money on all my properties and shops, so during my decade away, I was thinking "man, I am going to have so much waiting for me when I return!" So I went home… and my children had grown up (which was a nice touch) although nothing ultimately came of that.

As for my cash? Not a dime had been earned in that time, with no explanation. When your story and game mechanics do not jive, when they seem to be fighting against each other… this tends to make me throw my controller or stop playing. So, I put it aside and never looked back.

But once again, Peter Molyneux got all excitable when he started talking about Fable 3, and fool that I am, I got excited and picked it up.

Again, the story is a bit by the numbers and a bit lacking: ain't-it-hard-to-be-king? (Not really, it turns out, thanks to new but busted innovation mechanic!). It's a shame because there are real moments in the franchise that I love, like a miniature D&D game you get shrunk down into, but I find those moments fewer and farther apart with each passing addition to the series.

I understand part of the dilemma in building a game. I imagine the story and dialogue have to be locked in fairly early from a design perspective, but I think designers would do well to get some seasoned fantasy writers to come in and consult on the early phases of scripting. I really do think it would result in a better game play experience all around. So much goes into the gameplay mechanics, but I'd love to see the story aspects as less of an afterthought as they generally seem now.

So here's hoping that game studios continue giving the writing in games the attention it deserves. I mean, I really would like to take "controller-smashing video gamer" out of my author bio at some point, you know?

Infinite thanks go to Anton Strout for contributing this piece, and if you are of the persuasion, please check out his upcoming book Dead Waters, or hey, his whole series for that matter.

Category Tags

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

No comments for Metroid:AM?

Obligatory Molyneux god head.
http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v632/zippydsmlee/PeterMfableIAMGOD.jpg

Maybe I should add a dammit or or I think. LOL
=========

As a psudo amateur fiction drooler(writer) Metroid AM kills me dead. More so than Driver, it has an excuse at least, your a psudo criminal. Metroid AM tries to force a normal story narrative on a series thats been founded on a silent first person narrative. Though I wonder which is worse Fables sorry excuse for a story or AMs.

AM mechanic issues aside(I am a mechanic nazi, mechanics>story, always ... ALWAYS!) I found AM to be utter crap. Maybe because give me half a day and I can do better plot wise(see below), but plots are generally not that bad its the implementation of them thats scarring, unless your star trek then its the reverse bad plots generally decent story's.

Don't get me wrong fable 1 was great at least in comparison to 2 and 3, its like they get the mechanics mostly down and then toss in a story last minute. I don't get why they have most of the mechanics since 2, improve/polish them and then do a complete story arch like one, it should not be that hard for a AAA studio.... I mean with 3 games under your belt lay out a complete story first, build the levels as you layer it in as you polish your mechanics. I think you can build levels, towns IE geographic plot points as you figure out the mechanics and polish the areas thusly, that is what most do is it not? Levels>story>mechanics or something of the like?

==============
Metroid a beginning

Why not start with the beginning? A mix of finding her, incorporating her in the military and missions on 3 or 6 separate worlds that make her the great enemy of the space pirates?

The narrative would work from her perspective in a cold new yet familiar environment. IE her first contact with the space marines or a colony or the human powers that be, after shes given the suit, they watch her from a distance and let her scurry about and explore the base/colony/area with basic suit powers(something like the zero suit but with rag cloths or poncho over it) Shes small so when she figures out ball mode its kind her in a ball like fetal position in a energy ball that warps her size a bit. Every suit power is new and limited, missiles are simple homing/seeking dubs, to shoot the blaster she has to charge it first. Most of her child fights are against cleaning or maintenance bots, they see each other as a nuisance, she wants to explore scavenge and they want to clean/repair and observe her.

Militarily training is short and sweet her going through a simple mission with a Space marine team that ends with a wild Ripley blowing up a few things and escaping with something he had a few scuffs with her where she was left alive and each fight his hatted for her grows this spurns him no to join the space pirates.

Then you get the normal missions across 4-8 worlds, each world has a completely different environment, you investigate a site and are given orders as you go.Suit powers are paced via damage and just learning about the suit and the ancient chozo.

Now you minimize the silent protagonist bit by giving her simple 3 answers to all or most questions which are answered by action versus talking, the hud gives you 2-3 locations to go to shoot,ect(move to,move away,shoot object,ceiling,ect) or just have a dailog answer to select and she dose the action after.

She should not talk, why? Look at Metroid:AM its bad enough they will want to make random crap around her speak adding to the horror by making her speak pretty much kills the series that much more.

DA:O

Bioware hit big again with Dragon Age: Origins. Not just for the richly detailed world that you get to engage in, or the six different origin stories to start from, but the difficult moral choices that you face along the way.

Whatever your character race and class, at some point you'll be faced with a conundrum. For example, (SPOILERS WARNING)

deciding between helping the elves by eliminating the werewolf-cursed humans, or aiding the werewolves to get vengeance against the elves. The first option looks good on the surface, until you learn the elf leader cursed the weres in the first place. Then vengeance sounds sweet, but the price is high because if the weres win, you'll loose access to a decent store and the elven archers. Plus, you have to murder a bunch of women and children.

Decisions affect how much your NPCs like you and some might cost you friendships.

Great stuff. Happy gaming.
-NewGuyDave

NewGuyDave wrote: Bioware

NewGuyDave wrote:

Bioware hit big again with Dragon Age: Origins. Not just for the richly detailed world that you get to engage in, or the six different origin stories to start from, but the difficult moral choices that you face along the way.

Whatever your character race and class, at some point you'll be faced with a conundrum. For example, (SPOILERS WARNING)

deciding between helping the elves by eliminating the werewolf-cursed humans, or aiding the werewolves to get vengeance against the elves. The first option looks good on the surface, until you learn the elf leader cursed the weres in the first place. Then vengeance sounds sweet, but the price is high because if the weres win, you'll loose access to a decent store and the elven archers. Plus, you have to murder a bunch of women and children.

Decisions affect how much your NPCs like you and some might cost you friendships.

Great stuff. Happy gaming.
-NewGuyDave

I dunno I found Dragon Age overly simplistic from story to game play to just about everything it tried to do... I really hated the overly simplistic level design layouts probably the smallest ever in something called a RPG. the only thing it did well(not combat,not skill trees,not dailog trees) was what dailog you chose effected your current groups like o meter for you. Especially in Shales story arch.

Also out of all the stories the Elves and werewolf's was the best, it had some real depth to it well that and playing as a Female dwarf low born rouge.

PS: And don't get me started on the fail of ME 2.............. Bioware makes action games now....
/Scoff

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Code of Conduct

Comments are subject to approval/deletion based on the following criteria:
1) Treat all users with respect.
2) Post with an open-mind.
3) Do not insult and/or harass users.
4) Do not incite flame wars.
5) Do not troll and/or feed the trolls.
6) No excessive whining and/or complaining.

Please report any offensive posts here.

For more video game discussion with the our online community, become a member of our forum.

Our Game Review Philosophy and Ratings Explanations.

About Us | Privacy Policy | Review Game | Contact Us | Twitter | Facebook |  RSS
Copyright 1999–2010 GameCritics.com. All rights reserved.