The book I chose to read was called The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design. The authors are two long-time industry veterans who had been working in the game industry from before the PS1 era to the time of the books current publishing, just before the release of the Xbox 360 and PS3. They work on multiple gaming projects in a year, and specialize in plot-driven games.
As I began reading this, I was a little bit overwhelmed with the amount of work that can go into a game’s plot. The authors often compared their work to that of movies, and I can see why. They begin their analysis of game plot by bringing up one of the possible basic structures of a game. In terms of writing, linear games seem to be the easiest, while open-ended ones would prove to be the most challenging. When I imagine the prime example of a linear game, I always think of Uncharted. Naughty Dog created the game to be plot-driven from start to finish, and the events of the game play out like a rolling cinematic experience. There were moments while playing it that I felt restricted in my ability to explore, but I can appreciate the linearity of the game because the pacing of the game was well controlled and the developers were able to take the player exactly where they wanted them to go. The linearity of the game also worked wonders for the dialogue, both in game and in cut-scenes. The best parts of the game came from just listening to all the snappy dialogue that effectively fleshed-out all the characters, especially Nathan Drake.
I can see why the authors would prefer a linear type of game as opposed to an open-ended one when it comes to creating a plot. They do also go over how an open-ended game can also be written for, but with many more hurdles. As a player is given a much greater ability to explore the game world, many different situations can arise, meaning an open-ended game would require much more writing and dialogue to accommodate all or most of the possibilities. The authors brought up an example about an RPG where the player is able to customize his or her main character. They brought up the point of writing the dialogue for non-playable characters and their reaction to the appearance of the player’s character. Every time the main character decided to alter their appearance (donning a new wardrobe, for example) dialogue would have to be written for other character’s reactions to keep up the fluidity of the game world. I can see how something like this would be difficult and time consuming. The authors concluded by saying that for a game like this, the form of an MMORPG may be best, with dialogue created by other users themselves. The authors brought up very good points about writing for open-ended games, which makes me appreciate the efforts of Bioware in their creation of a game called Mass Effect. At the heart of the Mass Effect series, player choice is given full priority. Choices are usually made through interactive cut-scenes, and the implications are grand. Allies can be made or lost, and one player’s play through Mass Effect can turn out completely different to another player’s play through. Considering that the plot of the Mass Effect series is interconnected between three games makes me cringe at the thought of how much planning Bioware had to do to create such a fluid and robust universe.
When it comes down to it, video games are an art form that is still in infancy. Books, movies, and music have had many years to perfect and refine themselves, and even cinema had its fair share of detractors when we think about the criticisms heard about gaming presently. The authors make note of this and insist that as more time passes games will also move through stages of refinement. They make many points about how writing for film and writing for games are similar, but differ in terms of a few aspects. For example, games require dialogue that gives players hints on where to go and what to do to complete the next objective. Great game writing should take this into account, but also strive to create dialogue that’s rich, so as not be a simple set of dry instructions. I find the unique challenges that face game creators face fascinating, and I look forward to the bright future of gaming.