To my friend Kelly Wand - Don't be hatin man! Don't be hatin!

Snipehunter's picture

In response to Kelly's Piece:
Kelly! Damn man! Mass minsunderstanding of the year! I never said working with you was a problem. In fact, I thought we had a really good process that worked - something I mentioned in my original blog, that I guess got edited out in the reprint. Ah well. You're a damned good writer - one of the few I've worked with in the last 13 years who really understands the role of writing in games, even if the requirements of the project we worked together on really didn't let either of us explore that, all that well.

Despite the respect I have for you, I do think you've got some misconceptions of your own that I hope you don't mind if I address:

I'll skip the record straightening - DHX was never meant as a BAD example of writing, but rather as an example of unbooked costs in writing. You mention that you thought those meetings only took an hour - would it surprise you to find out that they took half the day, literally every time? I probably should have been clear though - that wasn't always your time specifically, we were working with a lot of people on the beast that was DHX's writing.

But one thing I would like to say is that I don't think of games as a series of events - that's an imposed structure, which was a big part of what I wanted to talk about in the first place. Games are a series of potentials - As a game designer, I don't have control over the moment to moment in the same way you as a writer might when writing a traditional linear narrative. I can gate players so that at key points I know what event they are a part of, but even that's artificial and not inherent to the structure of games themselves. The only two events a game is really beholden to are "Start" and "end," right? Everything else is structure we impose for various reasons. (Though most typically, the chief reason is to impose narrative context - something I assert is being done mainly as a fallback to what writers know) That's exactly what I was getting at when I said a writer's work is linear and a designer's is not.

As a designer, I have to work in loops and potentials - they're the necessary framework around which interactivity is built. I can't, necessarily, work the same way a writer would when constructing a story, a book, a screenplay or even just a basic plot premise. I can when I conceive the basics of the world my game will occur within, but the game itself? I can't do that - it wouldn't be a game if I did, would it?

As for my opinions on writers and writing, man I wish people would stop putting words in my mouth. I never said writing had no place in games. In fact, provocative opening aside, I didn't even say there was no place for writers. I did say I'd rather hire a designer over a writer, but let me explain that a bit more, since I think a lot of people have taken that in directions I didn't expect:

That wasn't meant as a castigation of the writer, but rather as an elevation of the designer. You see, as David Fried's comment makes clear (Hi David, how's life at the Collective?), the idea that a designer can be creative, can write, or for that matter can do anything more than churn out "useless technical documents" and build levels, is something pooh-poohed by pretty much everyone. Much the same way the idea that games can even have good writing at all is pooh-poohed by everyone, as you pointed out.

Both of these are myths. There are amazing well written games out there and many of those games were not written by a "professional" writer. I've had the honor and privilege to work with a few of these unsung heroes very early in my career and ever since I've wondered why the industry doesn't nurture that talent. Most of all, I wonder why it actively attempts to discourage that talent, in fact. I think the thing that bothers you (no one takes writing seriously in games) is the cause of the thing that bothers me (no one takes the idea of the writer-designer seriously) and honestly I think that neither thing has anything to do with quality.

N'Gai Croal would say something clever about infantilization, right here, but I'm nowhere near as thoughtful or well written as he is, so I'll leave it at that. Instead I'll just move on to the real meat of what I originally said, which I think has been ignored in the din of writers who mistakenly believe I've jilted them:

Don't take this as anything other than a simple observation, but wouldn't it make more sense for your writer and your gameplay creators to be the same person? Wouldn't the story be more useful to the game if the person writing it was intimately and innately familiar with not only the function of each mechanic, but its purpose, as well? That's common sense, isn't it? It sure seemed so, to me. My point, by saying I would rather have a designer who can write over a pure writer, wasn't that writers suck and should get the F* out of the industry, I didn't mean that at all. My point was that your game will always be better if everyone contributing to the core of the game's contextual framework understands every aspect of the reason for that framework and not just its stated goal. How much more interesting would DHX have been if you were there every day as part of the team working on the emergent dialog, instead of having to bust your ass every night to deliver a bunch of slug lines you couldn't even hear in-game for another month?

The problem is: are you qualified to do that job, right now? Is a studio going to pay to train you to be qualified? I don't think so - in fact I think they're going to continue to hire you all as contract writers who barely get to see the projects they write for, because that's cheaper for them.

On the other hand, I can sneak a writer-designer in through the back door, so to speak. I can hire him as a designer, remove the cost of a contract writer by "giving that task to the design team" and get a narrative experience more suited to my game, in the process. Sure, I've got to hunt the unicorns and find the good writer-designers, but that's not as hard as people like to believe. I found one working in total obscurity in Colorado without even trying - the entire game industry presence in the state didn't even realize he was as good as he was because they wouldn't even entertain the idea that a designer could write. All I can say is that I'm glad I did - Auto Assault still has some of the best written missions I've ever seen in an MMO, as a result. (Sure, only 12 guys in a basement somewhere ever saw them, but that's not at all relevant)

I'd just like to say one last thing: Everyone needs to take a long hard look at the credits of games. The idea that the stories in games are always just dashed off by some would-be-writer ex-QA tester designer is a fallacy of the worst order. In the last decade I have never worked on a project that didn't have people hired specifically as writers doing the game writing. The idea that "real writers" aren't working on games is silliness to the extreme and we designers take a lot of flak (usually silently, I might add), that shouldn't be aimed at us.

- Snipehunter

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