The craft of writing
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Saturday, March 19, 2016
I feel like I’ve had a productive day when I do something that results in big hunks of content. For example, the other day we had a recording session for a soldier. We got 180 lines recorded in an hour. Since we’d scheduled two hours, I had to scramble to come up with some other stuff for our actor to record.
However, I’m also responsible for lore. On Monday, Whitney asked me for some ideas for posters and things to flesh out the Garden District. The easy way to do this would be to repeat something you already know: a poster promoting Joy, for example, or another war poster. The harder and better thing to do is to show you something you didn’t know. In this case, it was, “What is it like for the Wastrels to come off Joy?” Now there’ll be a painting that tells you something about that. And a painting that’s the flip side of that: what proper decent Wellies do when they’re confronted with the awkward past. Sarah and I had fun coming up with that one.
|You can hide in car trunks!|
And, I wrote three editorial cartoons from some sort of samizdat dissident paper. Who knew there were ever dissidents?
I sometimes wonder where my day goes. Something like “think of five ideas for the art team” can take an hour or more. We are also coming up with a new game mode. But what to call it? The names of the modes have to communicate what they’re like while being of the game world -- for example Wakey Wakey for the mode where you wake up after death, and We’ve Come to the End of Our Time for permadeath mode. See if you can guess what the middle mode is from the following rejected trios of game mode names:
Die Another Day
You Only Live Twice
As the World Turns
One Life to Live
But Soft, What Light from Yonder Window Breaks
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
To Be, Or Not to Be
This sort of thing can also take an hour or more: a lot of thinking, and not very much writing. The best way to do it is to write down all the ideas you have, not just the good ones; a probably bad idea (Please Sir, Can I Have Another mode anyone?) can be a “bridge” to a good idea.
These things take up a lot of time, but they’re the difference between feeling that the world is deep and rich and strange, and would exist even in Arthur’s absence, or feeling that it is merely there to support gameplay.
Rest of the update here.
Labels: We Happy Few
I've enjoyed the Far Cry franchise, particularly Far Cry 4. Exotic locations, solid combat, open world, lots of different strategies to try; but most interesting for me, Far Cry 3 and 4 told good stories. Far Cry 3 was about a privileged white kid who becomes a badass, and what that costs him. Far Cry 4 made you choose between two or three allies, each of whom had serious flaws. Oh, and the hero is non-white! As is almost everybody in the game.
So I was pretty excited about Far Cry: Primal. And it does indeed have exotic locations, solid combat, a big huge open world to explore, and lots of different strategies to try. Oh, and the only white people in the game are Neandertals!
And it has colorful characters, oh yes, from the crazy shaman to the badass queen of one of your enemy tribes. But with the exception of one joke character, none of them has flaws. They are all just fighting for the survival of the clan.
It could have been possible to give the player some flawed characters, and some of the choices that flaws lead to. As written, your tribe is in an existential crisis, squeezed between cannibals and human sacrificers. You can kill them or be wiped off the face of the planet.
Suppose one of your allies wanted to try to reach out to these enemies? Suppose one of the enemies was willing to be an ally, at least against a third party? Without making the whole game about factions, developing one or two characters so that they present choices? You could make "kill'em all" the straightforward, low-risk road, and "reach out" a high-risk, high-reward road, where if you play it right you get an ally, but if you play it wrong, some of your people get killed.
Or, even, if you don't want to go that far in re-tooling the franchise, do what Far Cry 4 did, and demand that the player choose between two visions for the society he's building.
Or even simply, have some of the allies ask the player to do things that are not purely 100% good things. E.g. an optional mission to slaughter all the mammoths to deprive the Neandertals of their food supply, reducing their number.
Or even simply, give them some character flaws of the personal sort: an ally who does not like you, who has to be placated with gifts. An ally who leaves you in a ditch to die, who you need to work with anyway.
As it is, the game is strangely flat. Although it has tons of atmosphere and lovely rendered animals and mountains you can climb and combat that is simply yet flexible... I'm not as engaged as I was by Far Cry 3 and 4.
Character flaws are why we care about characters. Can a AAA single player game really afford these days not to have emotional engagement?
Saturday, March 12, 2016
This week I’ve been working on passive conversations. These are conversations that you might hear while you are very stealthily not interacting with Wastrels or Wellies.
Active conversations are conversations that NPC's have with you, either while they're trying to persuade you to take your Joy, or if they have a problem they hope you can solve, like this guy, whose wife seems a bit under the weather:
We have two kinds of these. One I’m calling “Atmosphere.” These are the sort of conversations you might hear dozens of times. “Oh, there you are!” “Were you looking for me?” “Not at all – but there you are. Hahaha!” “Hahaha!”
These sorts of conversations are standard in video games. However, we’ll also have showcased conversations. These are conversations you’re probably only going to hear once in a playthrough. They’re longer, and they are about people’s distinct desires and problems. We’ll rig these conversations to play in specific encounters where you will, for example, have to stealth your way through a specific location in order to achieve a goal. So your reward for not killing everyone in the house, in addition to whatever loot we give you for being non-homicidal, will be learning about someone’s life.
The showcased conversations really came about because in my first effort at writing atmosphere, all the conversations came out very specific and personal – all way too memorable to be conversations that you might hear from any number of totally different people in totally different places. Asking a screenwriter to write undistinctive dialog is like asking a singer to sing off-key: all their ten thousand hours of training are telling them not to do what you’re trying to do. Fortunately, rather than scrapping the memorable conversations, we’re going to use them along with some more general conversations.
All of this represents yet another metastasis of the amount of recorded narrative in this game! This game is going to have a lot a lot a lot of voice work. Should be fun.
Read the rest of the team's update here.
Labels: We Happy Few
Thursday, March 03, 2016
The London Sound Survey
is hundreds of recordings of ambient sounds across London, arranged geographically. If you were writing a scene set at a pie shop, say, you could throw on the ambient sound of a London pie shop.
There are birds and buskers and beggers and bells. There's the whispering gallery in St. Paul's. There's the river. And some of it is old recordings by the BBC
: preachers and cheapjacks and herbalists selling their wares.