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Thursday, August 30, 2007


First of all, I really need to update more often, but unfortunately there's not too much going on right now (that I'm free to talk about). I just finished the edits on my MYSTERY DS GAME, so that's finished, and I'm waiting to hear back on preliminary story notes on my OTHER MYSTERY DS GAME, so not much on that front, either.

However, next week I'll be going to Austin for its version of the Game Developer Conference. This one seems to be largely focused on the creation, management, and advertising of online games (i.e. MMOs and casual games). But in addition to that, there's another "track" (a fancy word for a group of seminars) for game writing, which is where I'll be spending most of my time. I'm glad to be going, of course (in no small part for the after parties and the copious amounts of booze they provide). But generally these things are only as good as their teachers, and I know precious little about most of them, with three exceptions - Drew Karpyshyn, Denis Dyack, and Lee Sheldon (more on him later). Drew worked on Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect for Bioware, and Denis Dyack is the much-discussed head of Silicon Knights, which is responsible for the way-trippy Eternal Darkness.

But even if I didn't know any of the speakers, I'd still be excited to go, because I love getting down and dirty with storytelling in video games. And that makes me a rare breed. Because the fact is, most game stories suck balls. And nobody seems to care. People are generally content with whatever cliched, stereotypical, thoughtless drivel happens to spill into the game so long as shit blows up and the headshot animation is realistic.

I'm not saying all games need stories, but if you are gonna tell a story, why not put a little effort into it? Is "not completely mindless" really something to shoot for? This especially gets me on otherwise top-shelf, multi-million dollar budget games. One of the most recent big-name offender in my eyes is Gears of War. They had an awesome sci-fi writer. They had a seemingly bottomless budget. They had everything they needed, and the story was still a half-wrought, mindless, disappointing mess. I'm not going to break it down scene-by-scene, but suffice it to say I found it very fucking lacking.

Usually when I express this opinion, I'm met with apathetic cries of "Who cares? I got to chainsaw aliens! I don't need a story." Well, maybe you didn't, but I don't think that's enough to give the obviously talented dudes at Epic a pass. It could have been so much better, and all they had to do, in my opinion, was care more. This brings me to my third exception - Lee Sheldon. I'm sure most of you have no idea who he is, but he wrote a very cool book called "Character Development and Storytelling for Games" (three guesses what it's about). He covers a ton of ground in it, but if I had to pick his overarching message, it's that story should not take a back seat to gameplay - they should be developed side-by-side to support each other.

Most working game developers seem to think that focusing on one will necessarily lead to less quality in the other and also see gameplay as inherently more important. But Lee sets forth a very good argument that shows how placing more emphasis on story can lead to better gameplay and an overall much better experience. He also talks about gaming's struggle to being taken seriously as an art form, and how the storytelling (the part that actually allows us to connect to the game in an emotionally meaningful way) is the key to that recognition. Story should never, ever get in the way of gameplay, but by God it should get an even shake right from the start.

A few games have or will soon come out that seem to agree with these views (Bioshock and Mass Effect, for example) and that makes me a very happy camper. But as a medium, we have a very long way to go, and the first step is trying to convince more people that story matters and that we should expect more out of our preferred entertainment. I'm not saying that every story has to be a metaphysical exploration of the Oedipal conflict of modern man, but I am saying that if you're gonna make an alien game, or a zombie game, or a crime game, then goddammit make it right! Not just from a visceral kill-or-be-killed perspective, but from the perspective that the craft of storytelling does matter and that by elevating that, we can elevate the medium as a whole to where it should be but isn't. Whether you're a player or a creator, just give a damn. I've just started my own little journey as a professional writer, and if I have my way it'll be long and blisteringly successful financially. I just hope it doesn't have to be an uphill battle the entire freaking way.

Anyway, that's my rant for tonight. Once I get back from Austin, I have some ideas for a weekly thing to try and keep this thing active. Hopefully someone will give a damn by then.

tl;dr stories in games suck and it's mostly because neither the fans nor the devs give a shit about it. We can and should do better, but only if we give a damn.

Friday, August 10, 2007


So just recently our parent company in Japan (Nippon Ichi Software) went public, a highly mysterious and arcane ritual that, as I understand it, can increase the latent power of an entity by orders of magnitude. This was back in June. Fast-forward to last week, when we get a huge box in the mail. Stamped as an international package from our own parent company, we were curious as a cat in heat...or something. Anyway, we tore open the packaging and were treated to this surprise:

Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit C

How awesome is that?! Everyone in the office got their own set (all with the same two adorable/evil characters). My boss told us they were our reward for the part we played in that most glorious ceremony of going public. Pretty sweet, huh?

Now to figure out how much I should set the 'Buy it Now' price on eBay...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


So it's the middle of Summer and at work it's the friggin' doldrums. Now I know at most jobs, having no work to do is a very, very good thing. But when you write for a video game company, what more could you hope for than to...write? But I wanted to post something anyway, so I'm just gonna write some really cryptic stuff about upcoming projects.

-We just got the Japanese text for a DS game we're planning to release early next year. It's unlike anything we've ever done before, and it's absolutely chock-full of awesomely bad puns that I plan on making even more awesome and bad. The groans will be heard 'round the world.

-We've just started working on a couple games to be released sometime later next year. They're being developed in Japan as usual, but we're acting more like a regular publisher, funding the projects and helping develop the concepts. They're sending me to Japan later this year to sort of look over their rough story ideas and help figure it out and make sure it all works. So I'm not writing it, but I'll have a hand in designing the overall storylines. Very excited about that.

-I've asked and received permission to write a full graphic novel (not a manga, but an actual Western-style book) based on one of those two projects which will basically retell the story in a more comic book style. Since it's a 'reinterpretation', I'll basically have full control over the story, using the established characters and environments however I want. And I've decided there's gonna be a hatchet in it.

-On the topic of graphic novels, I've been working with a guy I know on another novel unrelated to NISA. In this case, he came up with the story, sent the outline to an artist, got the art back, and now he's asked me to write all the dialogue to match up to the art. We're waiting for some final pages before I start on that, so I have no idea when that'll be out. There's no hatchet in this one, but there is an amorphous blob.

In more substantial news, Dragoneer's Aria for PSP should be coming out at the end of this month. It's been getting pretty solid reviews, so anyone out there who loves traditional, hardcore fantasy RPGs and also happens to own a PSP should definitely check that out. And if you buy it and have a problem with the writing, you can kiss my pearly white buttocks.

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