The lights are on
For our first ever edition of Codec Chatter, Assassin's Creed II
writer Corey May steps away from the hectic final days of production to
discuss the writing process, juggling two careers, and his
From the outside looking in, the video game writing process seems
to be very different than that of film or literature. How do they
differ in your eyes?
On a really fundamental level, I wouldn't say the process is all
that different. The writer writes something, hands it over for
feedback, receives notes, cries (maybe this is just me...), revises,
resubmits, and repeat until everyone is happy and/or you run out of
time. Whether it's an outline, treatment, script, manuscript,
advertising copy, musical lyrics - whatever - it's usually a
collaborative process. And it should be. It's good to be questioned,
challenged, and inspired.
So there's a bunch of back and forth - and
if all goes well the story is better for it. Things get a little
different once it comes time for actual production. With a book, you
(as the writer) don't have to be as concerned with the logistical
implications of what you've written unless it's a crazy post-modern
book. The cat sleeps. The cat explodes. If we're talking about a novel
(for example), it's words on a page. You focus mainly on the narrative
implications of what you've written.
In games (and films) you have to not only consider the narrative
implications but the logistical implications as well. You want to film
a cat sleeping? You've just added a bunch of people to your crew and
thousands of dollars to your budget (assuming it's a union shoot with
distribution and you don't want to get sued). Want to make it explode?
You need a VFX supervisor, someone to create the explosions (either
practically or digitally), etc. And in a game? Now someone's got to
build the cat, rig it, skin it, animate it, light it, provide it with
AI (if you want it to react to the player), code the explosion (if
you're blowing it up), hook sounds to it, etc. AND ensure that none of
these modifications suddenly cause the engine to inexplicably go out of
memory when it comes to light someone thought the cat should have
10,000 bones and even more polygons...
I guess the biggest difference
is the amount of consideration that needs to be given to other people
as every word I write creates more work for people. And this is before
we even factor in gameplay - which is where games begin to diverge from
films. Films are a passive experience (relative to video games). You
have to consider the production implications of your work. With games
you must consider production AND gameplay implications. But it's still
the same process. There's just more of it.
So in conclusion - the
process is the same, I suppose. It's characterized by collaboration,
iteration, and tears.
When the development process moves forward from pre-production,
as a writer working in house are you privy to all the decision-making
as it pertains to the narrative? Do you hear of proposed changes in a
timely enough manner where you can fight for plot points, or is it more
of a task-driven role where you repair narrative breaks as the gameplay
strays from the core story?
I've been very lucky in that the people I work with are extremely
collaborative. Changes are discussed. They don't come down from on
high. I don't get a bunch of levels dumped in my lap with the mandate
to "tie it all together". Consideration is given to the narrative -
it's never discarded, ignored, or denigrated. It's a real team effort
and the people I work with are extremely supportive. We all recognize
that what each of us does impacts the other. So we're in constant
communication - working together to make sure everyone gets what they
want. There's always give and take. But I've been working with a lot of
the same people for a long time now. So we know each other well. And
I've TRIED really hard to be understanding of the production process. I
consider the implications of what I'm writing and I think I've gotten
better at anticipating what's feasible and what's not. Sometimes I'll
be asked to cut or change stuff. We'll discuss it. If I can defend what
I want, it usually stays. If I can't, it goes - and it should. If I
can't justify the inclusion of a scene, additional lines of dialogue, a
character, or an event, it shouldn't be there. It doesn't mean
everything is sunshine and rainbows. But I've got no (legitimate)
Going into the last few weeks of development, what kind of tasks does the writer have?
By the last few weeks of development my work had better be done or
there are big problems. I try and help where I can though. Sometimes
it's just being in the office to provide moral support, answer
questions, buy beer, play the game, look for bugs, etc. I'll get a
couple of JIRAs about typos in subtitles or the instruction manual or
in game text. Stuff like that. And then there's usually some press work
to be done. I spend too much of my time anticipating the horrible
things the people on Screw Attack and GAF are going to say about me and
my work. I need to stop reading the f*cking forums. Very bad for my
self esteem and mental health.
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