Most people assume that writing a video game is a simple affair of level-by-level description—but most people are wrong.
From The Creators Project and Kill Screen: When it comes to action-based video games, the narrative probably takes second place in the player’s mind, superseded by the most important task at hand: laying waste to bad guys and aliens. But the two are intertwined, one and the same, and it’s testament to the craft of the writers behind those games when you can’t tell them apart.
Rob Auten and Tom Bissell took a year to write the script for the upcoming third-person shooter Gears of War: Judgement. In an unusual working relationship for a video game, both writers were brought in from the very beginning to work alongside the developers to build the story and create the interactive narrative for Gears of War: Judgement. The collaborative nature of writing video games meant that creating the story was a long process whereby the writers constantly revised what they’d written depending on what’s working once it’s been acted out and built by the developers.
With video games, the story isn’t passively consumed but told through interactions as you progress through the levels—which means even the difficulty setting of the game becomes part of the narrative. That isn’t to say classic storytelling techniques aren’t used—the story of Gears of War: Judgement is told in flashbacks through a variety of perspectives, which reveal why the protagonists have ended up in court for their past actions.
Bringing a game to life isn’t just down to the writers though, the level designer plays a very important part in turning the dialogue and lines of script into an interactive story. It’s down to the level designers to configure where and when dialogue is said to give the player the most accomplished and realistic experience.
“Writing in games represents the future of storytelling,” Kill Screen's Jamin Warren notes at the end of the video. “It’s a collaborative, interactive environment where the players are at the center and the story is born in gameplay.” And this complex creative process starts with the writers.