The lights are on
Whether we're following Mario as he leaps through pipes to rescue an abducted princess or sculpting the saga of Commander Shepard in the midst of a universe-spanning war, most video games have stories to tell. Even Ms. Pac-Man – a game about a hockey puck that eats pellets –
provides fiction for its characters, showing us how Ms. Pac-Man and
Pac-Man fall in love.
Some video game stories are expressed through simple pantomimed animations. Some are told entirely through text. Others unfold like motion pictures with voice actors, orchestrated scores, and dramatic cinematography. We’re even seeing games that invite players to create the narrative through the choices they make.
Although video games have been around for over 50 years, the medium is young when compared to other entertainment avenues. Writer Gary Whitta – who recently collaborated with Telltale Games for The Walking Dead’s first season, and is also credited for writing the film The Book of Eli – compares the current state of video game storytelling to the era when silent movies turned into talkies.
“We are just now at The Jazz Singer in video games,” he says. “We are starting to figure out that there are things we can do beyond the conventions of cinema and there are ways to tell stories that help the gameplay along and not just ape the experience of film or television.”
Telltale’s Walking Dead is the perfect example of a game that experiments with interactive storytelling. Although the threat of a zombie attack looms large, the game focuses on a group of survivors and the conflicts between them. A gun is rarely fired. Most of the player’s time is spent conversing with the characters, getting to know them, learning who to trust and who to keep an eye on. The undead threat serves as the backdrop for the human drama. Telltale sacrifices action sequences, effectively reimagining the adventure genre as an interactive drama. You don’t need to be holding the controller to appreciate this emotional story.
To better understand how game writers practice their craft and break down the boundaries of this nascent entertainment form, we spoke with some of the most prominent writers in the industry. In doing so, we found that the ways in which game writers approach their job are as diverse as the games themselves. There’s no one “right” way to craft a game story, and every studio finds it own methods for balancing the needs of story, technology, level design, and gameplay.
Email the author Andrew Reiner, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.
More of this feature is being done? Sweet!
As an author, I loved this feature. More on features on writing and storytelling in gaming would rock.
I love seeing how important storytelling and script writing has become in modern games. To take the industry to the next level, storytelling can't take a back seat to gameplay and graphics. Borderlands 2 was the ultimate example for me of how to blend a great overall story with comedic writing, without losing sight of what the game was about. The characters were diverse and well created, and the main story never lost its place amongst the side quests and general debauchery.
This is fascinating.
It is not easy writing or in this age typing, a good story. It takes a lot of time and effort to make something stand out. I've been writing songs for along time and I can tell you sometimes you get stumped but when you persevere you may have something you can be proud of.
this is something i've been wanting to do for a long time, and this was really informative and amazing
Thanks for this! I'm a rookie screen writer and amateur comic creator, and I've always wondered about the challenges and differences gaming presents to the scripting process.
I know as an artist and comic writer, some of my screen writing and author friends are envious because they can't think as visually as I can, and I've always wondered how if that's a difference (and I've always thought that way, so I didn't know it was a hurdle) with making an interactive story.
Games these days are very much like film and yet unless you go cutscene heavy and QTE crazy (which I think is lazy), the challenge lies within how to present your story without the stiff directorial vision we usually associate with film.
A very well written article! It's stuff like this that makes me subscribe and keep
Visiting the website!
Wow this is cool. A game with a great story is always welcome.
Who's that ghoul to the far right?
This feature is fascinating and I am loving every new entry of it.
Great article. Ken Levine and Amy Hennig are both boss.
Yes, I recall this feature. Swell.