Extra Credits is a new series at the Escapist.com. (My thanks to BW Fave the Game Overthinker for introducing me to this show via his blog.) In this edition, the host and his friends take a look at just how you tell a narrative in an interactive setting.
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The first thing that strikes me is the fact that host (since one is doing the talking and one is doing the writing, it’s easier to talk about “the host”) makes the point about the difference between writing and narrative. This is true in other media as well, actually. In comics, for example, the writer and the art team (penciler, inker, colorist, and a case can be made for the letterer) are both responsible for the story, but one of them is charged with the writing. Throw in the editors (a rather confusing title these days, with some comics having three different editors, which just makes a bad narrative worse) and a lot of people are responsible for the story overall. However, the writing is only a part of that.
The same is true with video games, as well as movies and TV, both animated and live-action. Only here you have the writer, the animators, the actors, the directors…by the time it’s done the writing is only the framework for the final product. Even song with a story to tell have a team of people working on it, unless the songwriter also sings the song, plays all the music, cuts the song together, and produces and directs the music video. Only in a prose story are the writers the only important part of the narrative, and even they you have the editors unless the writer self-published.
None of that lets writers off the hook, but it is not the only thing that can ruin a story in any format.
They also talk about the differences between writing for games and writing for non-interactive media. Even between different non-interactive medias, attempting to write in another style doesn’t quite work. Look at movie adaptations. Notice how they don’t completely show every single element that’s on screen (at least the good ones don’t)? Ever read Chris Sims’ annotations of the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter comics? One of the problems he has with the series is how wordy the narration is. I’ve mentioned the same in some of my reviews of the Tekwar Chronicles, and how the backstory in the narrations often take you out of the story. Comics is a “show, don’t tell” medium, but…
…it has it’s uses as well, to keep the story moving. It has different literary needs than novels do since they don’t have to paint the picture in your head the way prose does. Some early prose novels, even ones targeted adults, had illustrations to show off a scene, but usually it still has to set up the scene by description. This is something I’m not very good at, which is why prose isn’t my style.
If you think writing a video game would be easy, try creating a “Choose Your Own Adventure (R)” style book sometime. Map out all the paths the story needs to take, which can either end the story early (often with the main character’s death) or take it in two different directions that may or may not wrap back to the same path, just with a longer story. If you can’t even do that, where you have sole control over the story, then you will not be able to write a video game, which requires whole teams of people to bring to life.
So this new series is off to a good start, and I’ll be looking forward to more from them in the future.