Sunday, June 15, 2014

Game Writing equals Narrative Design

"...there isn’t a line between the design and the writing, especially if you’re doing a narrative-driven game. A lot of what you might call the game design is actually writing in a sense – writing isn’t just words, it’s creating the characters and the world and the actions that might make sense in that world." - Sam Barlow

I grabbed that quote from the following article where Sam Barlow, Rhianna Pratchett and Ragnar Tornquist discuss the closure of Irrational and what it means to AAA storytelling.

 As to Sam Barlow's comment about Writing and Design in video games, I was initially in wholesale agreement with him.  In fact, it's kind of bizarre that we have to call ourselves Writers AND Narrative Designers.  What really is the difference? 
Were I to write I fantasy novel, I'd write 'design documents' about the world, it's people, their culture, politics and economics.  I'd describe the terrain and climate, the cityscapes and landscapes.  I'd produce character profiles.  I'd plan out the narrative in a series of story beats.  Then, and only then, would I get stuck into the writing of the actual words that the reader will consume.
Stephen King once likened writing a novel to digging out a dinosaur skeleton.  You chip and brush away, revealing the dinosaur bone by bone.  Only when you've finished do you know exactly what sort of dinosaur you have.  I tried that once, with my first novel.  Needless to say, it remains unpublished.  Sorry Steve.  Guess I'm not that kind of writer.
I can't just make shit up and expect it all to turn out fine and dandy.  I had to laugh when in Alan Wake Alice surprises Alan with a desk set up nicely with typewriter and a fresh ream of paper.  He freaks out. 

I'd freak out too.  What am I supposed to do with that?  Just sit down and churn out a masterpiece like an infinitely typing monkey?  

I have to plan, map out, structure, formulate the story first.

Moving on from that first disaster of a novel, that's how I do all of my writing now.  I plan out the world, character and story arcs first.  Then I write the scripts.  But guess what?  

That's exactly what most writers have been doing for centuries now.

So why, when it comes to the Video Games industry, do we feel the need to suddenly call ourselves 'Narrative Designers'?

Because it sounds more technical?

More credible?

More professional?

Because it's the only way that we can get across across how much more there is to our job than just writing dialogue and flavour text?

"Writing isn't just words..." says Sam Barlow.

On this Sam and I disagree.  Writing IS just words.  Whether they're going into a script or a development doc, those words are still how we tell our stories.

No comments: