Whilst the coders work behind the screens of their many machines, the graphic artists toil in the mines of ink and digital workstations, the producers put together packages to show at meetings, there is one unsung hero in all of this that is hardly mentioned in a review or given the credit that they are seriously due. Games aren't just all about flashy graphics and in-your face action, those are bonuses to many people who want something more than instant gratification.
The writer, it can be said that the story begins with a single word that comes from an idea and that idea can spiral forth into a wellspring of creativity. The creative game has been the purview of a silent hero in all of this. Yet as the game industry continues to evolve, a slow moving behemoth that is now looking at the latest big Hollywood IP's to draw under its collective blanket; the writer continues to work with very little credit and certainly no real spotlight of their own.
The video game has changed over the years; it's become more about an epic journey for the characters and player. It's about a story that can transport you to the developer's fantastic imagination, or should that really be the writers. Since the writer is the core component behind the story aspect of the game. Veteran video game writers like Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten understand this perfectly, they are on the cusp with Warner Brothers to push the interactivity, the story and the journey of movie based games further than a cheap tie in or quick excuse to make a few bucks off a franchise.
It used to be the case that the movie game was just that, then along came titles like the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and reinvented the tired old genre, injecting it with a fresh take upon the idea of interactive entertainment, following in the wake of the Matrix and doing far more than that series could ever imagine, both in terms of story and sales. Riddick's game became part of an ongoing sequel of events that tied into the main story of Pitch Black and the Riddick movie perfectly.
Escape from Butcher Bay, Pitch Black, Dark Fury (the animated short) and then the Riddick film. This sequence of interactive entertainment helped the franchise go deeper than before, taking the viewer and player on a wild ride through Richard.B.Riddick's past and into his future. It was not a future without a few hiccups along the way of course, since people viewed the change in the Riddick universe as jarring in some cases - it still proved to be highly popular and generated a cult following.
Recently however there has been a big push in the industry to recognise story based games, movie based games in particular as an emergent art form. Now the writer, where do they fit in? Is it a simple fact that this hero of the game industry, upon which a franchise's success can sink or swim. This emergent art form of entertainment has to have something for the player, some hook and some reason they want to keep on playing. The hardcore gamer will tell you, forget the story and lets just pile on the action.
A new gamer may well be playing for another reason, if they're like me, they'll want to experience the story, the journey of the characters and perhaps put down a whole mess of bad guys along the way because that's always fun to do. Regardless of that story hook, the writer is the one that has to create the characters, their dialogue, their personality and the story that they are engaged in. Whether it's a deep space station under alien attack or a well crafted romance in a crumbling kingdom, the writer allows the developers to hang their graphics and Gameplay on this very factor.
I've been writing myself as one of these unsung heroes, nowhere as accomplished as Flint Dille or John of course, but I have been there and worked on three separate games in my past. I can tell you, it's true; the writer is given very little credit when it comes to the developers or the publisher. Often even talented writers like Flint and John are hidden under a bushel and hardly mentioned in game reviews or given a chance to talk about the game they're working on. Is the game industry scared of true professional writers and hiring in-house writers because they know these corporate teams are a safety blanket?
This current climate is a tricky one of course, one could cite many of the cutbacks on the recession and freelancers often don't work for the same pay scale as the in-house writer. I'm not disparaging in-house writers of course, since I feel some of the teams like Bioware have the best in-house writers in the business and the cinematic story that was Mass Effect entertained me well into the wee hours of the morning. However, they don't have the same background as the professional writer, Flint Dille, John Zuur Platten, David Hayter and others I can mention are those heroes who have elevated the movie industry, TV and game industry with their skill.
It is about time that the game developers and especially the publishers realise that the writer needs more air time. These people are passionate about the games that they invest their time, blood sweat and tears in and they have a difficult task ahead. Most people think that you put on a word processor and it just happens, that can be the case sometimes. Yet there's always the hand of the publisher, the editor and so on, people who take your dialogue/script/ideas and transform them for good or ill into something that the developers feel fits the game.
Many of the creative decisions aren't in the hands of writers; they're in the hands of the producer and the other creatives of the game industry who have the experience of course to know what fits the game and what does not. So once your script is written, you can expect to make revision after revision until what you had has changed drastically in some cases. I know from my own experience that the script I wrote for certain games has been altered, the game developers changing their mind at the last minute, switching around missions and making sweeping alterations to core Gameplay that required a revision or six.
The writer grins and bears it, without complaint, those who do complain are often those who have been seasoned veterans at this industry and even they have to be careful when speaking to the publisher or the game developers. It's as if there's this big divide between the core teams inside the industry with the writer sitting on the outside, looking in at the corporate glitter and wondering just once if they'll actually get a chance to make a difference to the way things are perceived, especially games as an entertainment medium.
The game industry has a few proponents of movie games and Warner Brothers instantly springs to mind. I would probably hazard to call them, the Movie Game People, if I were to give them a title. They seem to understand the importance of the writer's role in the new wave of video games and they have talent like John Zuur Platten to craft the story for their new game: Wanted: Weapons of Fate.
I was lucky enough to talk to John recently and although it was only for a few minutes of his time, it was an enlightening conversation. Wanted: Weapons of Fate pushes the idea of movie based games as more than a tie-in, the game takes place 5 hours after the film, interweaves through certain aspects of the graphic novel and allows you to experience life as a Weapon of Fate through the eyes of both Wesley and Cross.
What John told me definitely interested me, the story sounds well thought out and pretty epic. I can't say any more in that respect though, since that's not the purpose of this article. I'm a champion of the writer's role in the game industry and I've had more misses than hits when it comes to working for it, so I can fully understand the position that writers are in. We often feel overshadowed by the stars, the big name voice talent and actors that star in the games that we write.
The industry doesn't often do anything to alleviate that, when it really should. I'm not saying that the writers are hard done to, they're paid fairly well for what they have done and they have the adoration of their fans who know when they're attached to a project. Of course, it's finding out that a writer like Flint Dille is attached to a project that is the tricky part, since they seem to have hidden him under a bushel for the original Xbox game Riddick (until they mentioned him in an interview for Dark Athena). It took me ages to work out that Flint was involved and I had to hit up IMDB to discover many of my favourite writer's roles in the game industry.
I guess it would be nice, once in a while, to be able to watch a video from the game developers and publisher, to see a writer get their air time and to have the game box reflect just that. Whilst it might star the voice talents of Samuel.L.Jackson and his likeness (what doesn't?) a small bit on the box, rather like a movie, with written by, might actually push sales further when the gamer who has been following the likes of David Hayter, John, or Flint discovers the story is crafted by them.
I know for a start I can't wait for Wanted, Riddick: Dark Athena and the Wheelman since the people involved are professional writers who know their stuff. In fact I've mentioned them several times in this article, perhaps if I say their names enough the game industry might just sit up and take notice.
So the next time you boot up your favourite game, take the time to have a look who has written the story that entertained you and give a moment of thought to the writer, that unsung hero of the game industry who brings the universe to life with their talent in dialogue and creative storytelling.