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 color-changing hamster.

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) complaints.

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.