Writing for video games

Writing for video games is, to me, an underrated area for professional writers.

I was reminded of this the other day when I went to Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (Playstation’s big daddy) and was asked about what I made of games and said that ones with strong stories stuck in my mind – but they were few and far between.

Wise words from Monkey Island

That’s not to say games need a story – I’m currently playing the pickup-and-play Wario Ware series, although even that has mini (and unskippable) stories within. No, I’m thinking more of the self-styled ‘epic’ games.

Unfortunately, much of these epics have painfully cheesey dialogue and shallow characters – and not in a good way. It’s as if they saw Duke Nukem and took him for real. Case in point are the Gears of War, Homefront and Bulletstorm, which seem to take the idea that if someone talks in a gravelly voice and shoots things it’s enough.

Likewise, they usually ocmmit the sin of forcing you to watch videos before playing – I bought a video game and I want to play the damn thing. That’s why I liked the Halo series, it threw you in and got the exposition through action, where you learned of things as you did them. Similarly, while BioShock had a video at the start, it created a mysterty (that also served as the main tension later on) that made you want to watch – plus it had a gorgoeus world to show.

Then there are the classic tales, such as The Secret of Monkey Island – and others have recognised this.

Likewise, games can have weird storylines, but worst offenders are Japanese RPGs, particularly the Final Fantasy and Resident Evil series, where goodness must equal woodeness in Japanese. Sorry, I lie, the bad guys are equally trite.

Anyway, the reason for this is that a game story writer has given a rare interview on how to craft a good game story. I’ve not played Mass Effect, any word if the story works?

[By the way, if you want criticism on video game storytelling by a master craftsman I recommend you check out Ken Levine’s take on it – he should know, he helped write classics like Cheers and MASH and is now the BioShock Infinite creative director].