Monday, March 2, 2009

On Script Writing, and Narrative in Games

I've now finished writing the script for my game up to the end of the first level. It may undergo a bit of editing, but since I tend to write essentially finished drafts of my work, I suspect that what I've currently got written is very close to what will find its way into the final version of the game.

The script so far is about ten pages. That includes the opening monologue, which I guess is pretty long: 1600 words. I've tried going back and cutting stuff out, but there just really isn't anything that could be eliminated without compromising my vision (side note: how could I word that sentence to not sound totally pretentious?) I don't think the story and setting I've created are really especially complex - they're certainly far simpler than anything in the long form writing I've done - and yet I can't find any way to make what I've got shorter than it is. I already feel like I'm keeping my dialogue and exposition as short as possible. It's actually pretty difficult to have two characters have a meaningful conversation in the space of, say, one page of single-spaced dialogue, but recognising the limitations of the medium I'm working with (not just video games, but Xbox Community Games), I am trying to be mindful of the length of what I'm writing.

But at the same time, I still want to say something. Video games are almost entirely marked by having pretty bad dialogue. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one game in which the characters sound anything like real, engaging people, and that's Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Games are improving to some degree - Mass Effect has better dialogue than any of the RPGs that I played in the last console generation - but they still have a long way to go. And while I may be a pretty lousy programmer and a horrible artist, I think my ability to write - and specifically my ability to write dialogue - is pretty strong, so that really is what I expect the strength of this game to be.

But the real reason I'm writing this post (my issues with length should be apparent, since I'm just getting to the point in my fourth paragraph), is that writing my script, and realising how difficult it is to cut out anything I'm writing, has made me realise just how shallow the writing in most games really is. All I'm trying to do here is set up the world the game takes place in, give a bit of back story to the main character, and set up the motivation for the rest of the game. I managed to do all of that in two pages, which I think is already on the short side: imagine a novel that kept its introduction that short, and you probably wouldn't have much confidence in it. So it's pretty sad that other games tend to have back stories that can be revealed in only a few seconds.

Now, I realise it's a bit different in, say, a Japanese RPG, where the setting can be revealed to you over the course of 30-40 hours, and the fact that I expect my game to be maybe an hour and a half plays into my need to give the player the story in a more compact manner. But in how many games does the player character even have motivation, other than something incredibly simplistic like "I love my wife/the princess and I need to save her!" or "the aliens are invading, we must stop them!"? The only game I can think of off the top of my head in which the player character really has any deep, compelling motivation is Silent Hill 2, and that character's motivation was one of the main things that made that game so interesting to play. Indigo Prophecy would be another game I've just thought of in which the player character has a compelling motivation, and that was definitely the main appeal of that game. But games don't really do that much, and it's certainly an area where there's lots of room for improvement. Books make me think, movies make me think, music makes me think, so why don't games? There's no technical or artistic reasons that they can't, it's only because game designers haven't bothered to make games that way. I'm hoping to push things in that direction.


  1. What you say is pretty "innocent" or "naive", I'm not sure about the right word. But I hope you will keep this kind of "innocence" throught the years. That's the kind of things video games need to grow up.

  2. I just have to say THANK YOU for the inspiration.

  3. Thank you for posting this blog. It gave me an idea of what kind of Download Games/Video Games I should be playing. The games that you mentioned, I find them fascinating to play.