Gamasutra’s Top 20 Game Writers

4 03 2009

On February 20th Gamastura posted a list of gaming’s Top 20 Writers in recent times. The article was well received and six days later Gamasutra posted the audience response.

First of all, this is a huge and notable step forward. The writing niche in games isn’t nearly as big as others, such as programming and design, despite its important. I am not, however, trying to preach that story is the most important thing in a game. I think, in fact, it is not. If applied incorrectly, it can even hinder the game’s flow. Developing games is about creating and experience, not about summing up different parts and hoping they’ll form a nice result. If the story isn’t contextual to the interactive experience, it beats the point. If, however, it relates to the gameplay offered and enhances its potential, then its purpose has been fulfilled.

Storytelling is essential to the experience, but that also involves knowing when to stand down. Make your stand at the appropriate moment and context, however, and you’ll follow the example of games that wouldn’t have ever achieved the cult status they have today, were it not for their narrative. Yes, games such as Portal, Grand Theft Auto IV, God of War, Braid, and Call of Duty 4 wouldn’t have become so popular if they didn’t reveal GLaDOS’ instability, Niko’s immigration, Kratos’ wrath, time’s poetry, and the horrors of modern war, respectively.

Therefore, I’d like to pay my respects to all the writers mentioned, as well as those who weren’t. Industry notables or not, the act of writing and telling stories is most likely a passion that drives us and to be able to live and attain success through it is the dream of many. A lot of motivation in one’s career comes through the advice and knowledge shared by the experts. In that sense, I am thankful and encourage more comments through writing peers and professionals like Susan O’Connor, Drew Karpyshyn, Tom Abernathy, Andrew Walsh and Rhianna Pratchett among others who participated.

Do yourself a favor and check out the Original Feature and the Audience Response.

What I’ve written is is merely a foreword. If, at all.

7th Serpent: Genesis

26 02 2009

Genesis is the second episode in the 7th Serpent series. A Max Payne 2 Mod, released in December 2008, that continues the  morbid not-so-distant future in which the massive Serpent Industries progresses with its newest versions of cloned nanotech-soldiers. You are the latest and most advanced version of these super “serpent” soldiers. As Vince Petero, the 7th serpent prototype, you have a mission to complete and targets to take out; even if you never were asked to take part in any of this.

Though I did not shape the backstory of the series, I had the honor of working as writer (and tester) for this cinematic action-packed mod. It was an awesome experience and one that I learned much from. Along with the whole team, I’d like to especially thank Diego “Aavenr” Jiménez and Clément “Corwin” Melendez for bringing me on board. I have to admit it was a lot of fun writing for the game, all the way from cutscenes to dialog, and going through the experience of understanding that writers need to adapt. The point wasn’t to realize my wildest RPG dreams through the script, but combine both gameplay and story elements through the nuances of spoken words as best as possible. Next to that, nothing beats the thrill and satisfaction of seeing your written dialog turning into voice acting.

Don’t waste anytime and be sure to have your share of explosions and slow motion flying bullets by playing 7th Serpent. You’ll need the Max Payne 2 original game and the mod file, but there’s no hassle. Make sure to play both episodes, you don’t want to miss out on the story (and the fun). Crossfire (episode 1) can be found here and Genesis (episode 2) here.

There are no facts, only interpretations.

Friedrich Nietzsche

WGA Awards Force Unleashed

23 02 2009

The  WGA’s (Writers Guild of America) Videogame Writing Award came to a close (back in February 9th). Previously mentioned here, it seems AAA contenders, such as Fallout 3, Tomb Raider: Underworld, and Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 have succumbed to Star Wars’ power.

The narrative of Force Unleashed takes place between the ending of the movie Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith and the beginning of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope and has the player don the role of Star Killer, Vader’s secret apprentice. Praised for its story by critics and gamers alike, this 3.5 Star Wars episode provides a lot of  backstory to the saga. Congratulations to writers Haden Blackman, Shawn Pitman, John Stafford, and Cameron Suey for their efforts and in succeeding with such canon and sacred material.

Licensed material rarely manages to achieve such heights, especially when concerning storytelling. To be awarded in place of other IPs native to the videogame medium is either a good or a bad thing. There’s the possibility that Star Killer’s tale is in fact the best one or the best told out of all the nominations. Then again, there’s also the alternative we haven’t fully realized the videogame medium’s storytelling potential and for that matter we relate better to a narrative told through tried-and-true methods, like movies and novels.

Nevertheless, gotta’ get me a copy so I can play it.

Source: Gamespot

City 17’s Secondary Characters

14 02 2009

The “trend” of exploring the depth of secondary characters is one that is gaining much attention these days. I have nothing against it, in fact I embrace it as well. After all, one of the best ways of exploring a common theme is by revealing to the audience how characters relate to specific events.

In this short-series game adaptation (not made by Uwe Boll) of Half-Life 2, the Purchase Brothers reveal, through their $500 budget cinematography, how those secondary characters you met throughout City 17 have their own stories. Check out what happens after Mr. Freeman deals destruction to the Combine.

My Legacy

5 02 2009

An old man, resembling your great grandfather, approaches you with a small black notebook in hand. He breathes deeply and blinks his eyes, like your grandfather would. Then, he opens his mouth, as your father did, and begins to speak:

And so, here we are. How many years has it been? Quite a few right?

You can’t hear as well as you used to. You can’t run as fast. Jump as high. Talk as eloquently.

But you sure can write.

Worry not, society has that habit of always confusing you, pushing you one way, then the other. You’re not really sure in what to believe. What to follow. Who to trust. What to long for.

It just feels…empty. A void that evidently lacks that special element. One that will never be found, not unless you truly understand what you are searching for.

Life is split into three moments. During the first one, you’re actually looking for a goal. Something to pursue. That special something that’ll show you life actually has a purpose and through it everything will fit into place.

That is, until you actually find what you’re looking for. Then comes into place the second moment. A time of sweat and despair in which you’re just doing your best to achieve that special objective you’ve already determined for yourself. The smile you attained by laying eyes of your life’s passion is only hampered by the thought of not achieving it, for whatever reason.

After many years, you finally reach the pinnacle of happiness. That sweet sublime stage in which all obstacles have been conquered and your career has surrendered to your skilful attributes and abilities. Or so you thought.

It was all a hoax and you weren’t ready for the shock. It was all and scam and you fell for it. Get real. What were you thinking? Life was your own personal hammock?

And so you realize that even after attaining whatever it is you thought would make you whole, you’re not complete. You’re missing something. You lack purpose. You lack essence. Thus, after wiping the sweat from your weary heart, you come to the conclusion that you’ve been searching for the wrong thing. The third moment, which could actually be identified as a repetition of the first one, then begins.

A totally newly repetitive phase you’ve seen before. Only this time you don’t have the same motivation and naivety as before. A shorter quest that holds even more responsibility that the first one.

Years pass. Decades go by. Before you know it, you don’t even know what were your initial motives and your final conclusions. In a blink of an eye you decide stop, either because you’ve given up or because you’re dead.

If there’s one thing certain about life, it’s that you won’t make it out alive. Because we yearn for more time to sort out our baggage, we crave immortality.

This is my way of achieving eternal life. Hold my journal in your hands. Read it, study it, and learn from it. Perhaps someday my legacy will unveil greater mysteries. Perhaps someday we will be satisfied with ourselves.

The Lost and Damned and Niko

29 01 2009

A large cast of varied and intriguing characters isn’t something new when the topic is Rockstar and its organized crime series Grand Theft Auto. The case isn’t different here, when the release of  GTA4’s DLC is less than a month away. “The Lost and Damned” puts the player in the shoes of Johnny, a member of  the biker gang, The Lost, who crosses paths with Niko, GTA4’s eastern european protagonist, a couple of times. The interesting element here is the development of the same setting (or scenario) through new characters and events.

Where initially there could have been some room for doubt, it seems there isn’t any more. The developer of the GTA series is apparently using the same approach as the one they used in “Liberty City Stories” and “Vice City Stories”. The main characters are related to the original game’s plot and characters, but their events take place years after or before and affect indirectly the whole setting, rather than a lot of specific story-events. The website for the DLC simply confirms that by stating “The Lost and Damned All-new missions and a new storyline that interweaves with the original story arc of Grand Theft Auto IV“. One can only conclude that at certain point the player will revisit a scene in which Niko and Johnny exchange glances or indirectly communicate.

As a writer, I understand the change of protagonist. Niko’s story has been finished. His tale has been told and because it ultimately reaches its end you understand the implications. Whereas much of its profound meaning could be lost in the case of an extension through means of an expansion of sorts and that bitter taste of an “american dream gone wrong” would be forgotten. The main character’s purpose, in this case Niko, has already been fulfilled. Yet, there are many other stories and tales to be explored in Liberty City, like Johnny, and that is where temptation lies. As well as other genetically superior characters, right “meh breda”?

Whether its Rosenberg talking to Vercetti on the phone, Toni Cipriani giving orders to “fido” or the misadventures of the Vance brothers; secondary characters always have a backstory with more than meets the eye. The same applies to a series of theories related to Tarantino’s movies in the following short film. Take notice and you’ll find out how many different characters fill in the gaps and voids between different narratives.

And if you ever wondered what exactly was inside that suitcase in Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs might have the answer.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

World of Goo: Soundtrack

26 01 2009

World of Goo is no news for those who know what “indie games” are. In case you don’t, think of it as a nifty-wacky-weird-puzzle-physics game or, as one of its creators (Kyle Gabler) put it, “a physics-based puzzle game about building things with eager little talking globs of goo.”

What matters to this post isn’t the game so, though, but rather its soundtrack. Recently released, it was something I eagerly awaited for when I first had my chance with those slimy goo balls. Approximately 49 minutes of surreal immersion that make you remember many stages and relive awkward moments of tower building and goo killing.

Kyle cites many “big movie guys” like Danny Elfman, Vangelis, Bernard Herrmann, Hans Zimmer, and Ennio Morricone as his sources of inspirati. Though I agree, I can’t shake that taste of Team17’s Worms away. The tunes and the goo globs themselves, it just sounds so seriously-wacky with a bit of high pitched “weeeee” on top.

On the other hand, the composition made up clearly reveals how different songs made for different purposes can fit in with game themes. There’s no way people can criticize games for having a specific-tuney-like soundtrack. By putting together a clever compilation, games like Jonathan Blow’s Braid and World of Goo defy that notion. You’ve got original compostions that never thought of accompanying gameplay, even if they might have been made for films.

Enough of my babbling, you just want the soundtrack. What? Pay? No no no! The current trend is “free“! So click here and start by listening to “Regurtitation Pumping Station”. At least, that’s what I’ve done for the past hours or so.

May the game development culture evolve on this path with a strong community relationship. Seriously, we’ve got free goodies. How could this go wrong?

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