Train2Game News: Danny looks back at his favourite interviews in his final day as Blog Editor

After over two years in the role of Train2Game Blog Editor, I’m leaving for pastures new after accepting a job at a major publisher based in London.

This role has allowed me to attend industry events including Develop Conference, Eurogamer and Gamescom as well as enabling me to interview some of the biggest names in game development.

With this being my final day with Train2Game, it’s a great time to revisit some of my personal favourite interviews from my time in the role of Blog Editor.

 26th August 2011 – RAGE Creative Director Tim Willits

Speaking to me at Gamescom, the i D Software boss talked about creating RAGE, his role as creative director and the huge benefits of modding to those looking to break into the games industry.

2nd September 2011 – Far Cry 3 Narrative Director Jason Vandenberghe

An interview recorded at Gamescom, in which Jason talks about game design in Far Cry 3, using motion capture technology and actors, improvements for Far Cry 3 and more.

27th September 2011 – Valve writer Chet Faliszek

Speaking to us Eurogamer Expo, Chet discusses development of CS: GO, beta testing and modding.

31st October 2011 – Deus Ex: Human Revolution writer James Swallow

In a huge interview, James Swallow talks writing Deus Ex: Human Revolution, game design, what makes a good games writer and more.

14th November 2011 – Brink Lead Writer Ed Stern

Splash Damage’s Ed Stern spoke to us in-depth about the design and art of Brink, narrative in games, what makes a good designer and breaking into the games industry.

24th November 2011 – Bioware co-founders Dr. Ray Muzyka & Dr. Greg Zeschuk

Recorded before the BioWare Lecture at BAFTA, Muzyka and Zeschuk talked about games as art, the history of BioWare and how they transitioned from working in medicine to working in game development.

22nd February 2012 Remedy Head of Franchise Development Oskari Häkkinen

Oskari Häkkinen talks game design and development of Alan Wake, life at Remedy and digital distribution, among other things.

27th March 2012 – SoulCalibur V game director Daishi Odashima

Speaking to The Train2Game Blog at a SoulCalibur V tournament, Odashima discusses development of SoulCalibur V , the importance of community feedback and what makes a good game designer.

July 11th 2012 – QA Veteran and Cheat Mode Author Dan Jacobs

In what must be the longest Train2Game Blog interview, Dan Jacobs talks about his book, Cheat Mode, QA Testing, life in the industry and much more.

20th July 2012 – Ian Livingstone OBE

In my final piece for The Train2Game Blog, Ian Livingstone discusses Make Something Unreal Live, Fighting Fantasy, what makes a good game developer and more.

Thank you to everyone who has read The Train2Game Blog over the last two years, commented on here, or on the Train2Game forum. Be sure to keep reading The Train2Game Blog for more great insight into the industry once my successor takes over in the role of Editor.

Danny Palmer – Train2Game Blog Editor April 2010-July 2012

As usual, leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum

Train2Game interview: Deus Ex: Human Revolution writer James Swallow – Part 2

Train2Game recently attended the Games Writers Panel at BAFTA’s headquarters in London. There, the Train2Game blog sat down with panellist Deus Ex: Human Revolution writer James Swallow. In an in-depth interview, Swallow discusses writing Deus Ex: Human Revolution, games writing in general, DLC, what makes a good games writer and much more.

Read part 2 below on the Train2Game blog, or onthe Train2Game Scribd page.  Part 1 is available here, Leave your comments here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Going back to Deus Ex, how have you fleshed out the narrative not only for the game, but for the novel, Deus Ex: Icarus Effect,  which you wrote as well?

That was a lot of fun to do because I’ve already got experience as a novelist and when Del Rey Books approached Eidos and said they’d like to do a novel, they said ‘Why don’t you hire Jim, he already has experience?’ Basically I was the right guy at the right time in the right place because I had experience on both mediums so I could bring story that we hadn’t been able to put in the game. Say stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor, or stuff we couldn’t explain or explore in the in the game because we didn’t have enough time, I got a chance to bring it out in the novel and flesh out elements of story you don’t get.

With a novel you have the opportunity to get inside a characters head, you can show stuff from a completely different viewpoint. It was fun for me personally to revisit a world I had great time writing then write a story in a completely different way to writing a game narrative story.

You’re here at the BAFTA Games Writers Panel to talk about ‘Putting the protagonist in the hand of a player kills traditional narrative concepts,’ what’s your opinion on this as a writer?

When you’re a writer and you’re writing for a TV show or a movie or a book, you’re directing where a character goes, when stuff happens to them. You work that narrative and development for the right dramatic impetus.

In a game you can’t always do that because you can’t always know exactly where a player is going to be and you can’t railroad their experience and say ‘I want this dramatic turn to happen exactly here and you have to be standing here and do this thing exactly!’ because players might not want to do that, they might be looking at something else, they might want to be interacting with a completely different character. So you have to approach it in a very, very different way and it can be very difficult because you want to deliver story, players want to have a story delivered to them, but at the same time they don’t want to be railroaded.

So there’s a peculiar dynamic tension you get as a writer. On the one hand you’re being pulled towards the idea of giving players agency, having the ability to discover the narrative themselves. On the other hand you’re being pulled in the opposite direction which is you want to have a structured narrative that makes senses, that delivers the right dramatic impact at the right dramatic time. It isn’t an easy line to walk but it’s fun to do and I really relish the challenge of it because it isn’t often as a writer you get a chance to work in a medium that is so dynamic and so diverse.

What are the key skills a good games writer should have?

Play lots of games, I can’t underline that enough. A lot of the games writers I know are people who have experience from other areas of gaming. The people on panel with me, for example, Andy Walsh has experience working in soap operas and theatre, there’s me with experience of working in radio. Rhianna Pratchett has experience of working as games journalist before she was a writer whereas my buddy Ed Stern has come up through the ranks purely involved in game design and games writing.

So there’s no one course into it you can take. I would say be a good writer first, obviously, you can’t be a writer without being a writer.  But play lots of games, understand games, and try not to come at it just from a writer’s standpoint, but understand a bit about design and the way games are constructed. Listen to what level design guys and art design guys talk about, producers and directors, understand how they do their job because ultimately if you want to be a games writer you are going to have to interface and mesh with these people. So if you have an idea of what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes, you can do your job a little better.

How did you get started in the games industry?

Purely by accident. I’ve been a games fan all my life and I love playing video games, I stay up way to late playing them all the time. I was actually doing some work for a magazine where I just happened to be covering a preview of a game release and one of the guys working on this game was actually using some material I’d written. He’d no idea that I’d actually written it. He said ‘We’re using this source material’ and I said ‘Really? I wrote that!’ ‘Really? We should probably hire you then!’ and that was it, I kind of stumbled into it.  And once the opportunity came to get involved behind the curtain with games writing I thought this is something I really want to do.

Since then, for about the last 10 or 12 years now I’ve been working on one or two game projects a year as well as doing prose and script writing. It’s great fun, such a fantastic medium to be working with. It’s really rich for a storyteller because it’s so new and dynamic and I’m fond of saying this: there are no maps for these territories.  What we’re doing is breaking new ground and a new way of telling story. I mean, who would not want to be involved in a new way of expressing your medium.

So people who want to get involved in the games industry, with games writing, what advice would you give to them in order to get that critical first step in?

Definitely get yourself a good grounding in writing and don’t be afraid to work in a games project perhaps in a facility that might not involve being a games writer, like working in QA Testing. That’s always the sharp end of anybody, working in QA which is unforgiving grunt work but there’s no way you’re not going to learn about games other than that job. If you’re going to take that job, that’ll be what teaches you the most about the way that games work and the way games don’t work.  I think it’s very important to play a lot of games to understand games and to understand narrative. If you can get those two things, you’re o n the road to becoming somebody who can write good game story.

Anything else you’d like to add about anything you’ve spoken about?

I’m really pleased with the way people have taken to Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Four years of my life went into working on that. I’m fiercely proud of it; it is without doubt the best games project I’ve worked on in my entire career because the story was really respected on that game and I’ve just really enjoyed being part of it. I want to thank everyone who bought a copy of it and I hoped they all enjoyed it!

Thanks for your time James.

Thank you.

Part 1 of the Train2Game interview with games writer James Swallow is available here.

For more information, go to www.train2game.com

BAFTA’s public events and online resources bring you closer to the creative talent behind your favourite games, films, and TV shows. Find out more at www.bafta.org/newsletter, www.facebook.com/bafta or twitter.com/baftagames

Train2Game interview: Deus Ex: Human Revolution writer James Swallow – Part 1

Deus Ex Human Revolution Train2Game blog imageTrain2Game recently attended the Games Writers Panel at BAFTA’s headquarters in London. There, the Train2Game blog sat down with panellist Deus Ex: Human Revolution writer James Swallow. In an in-depth interview, Swallow discusses writing Deus Ex: Human Revolution, games writing in general, DLC, how to get into the games industry and much more.

Read part 1 below on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game Scribd page, while Part 2 of our huge interview is here. Leave your comments here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

First of all, can you tell us what your role as a games writer on Deus Ex: Human Revolution involved?

Wow, that’s kind of a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question really! The job of games writer isn’t like saying ‘I’m a journalist’ or ‘I’m a novelist,’ games writer is a very broad church because there are so many different things you can do in it. You can be writing cutscene dialogue, you can be writing dialogue for the third tier characters you bump into in the street, you could be writing text for text boxes that’ll pop up on screen. There are a million little jobs that fall underneath the term of games writer and I think I did a little bit of all of that stuff on Deus Ex.

It’s kind of fun to be able to do that because it gives you a broad understanding of the entire game and a feeling like you’ve really invested narrative in every single element, from basically what’s written on the back of a gum wrapper you find in the street to the main cutscene where you’re confronting the villain of the piece.

How do you even begin to create the narrative for the in-depth world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution?

In a lot of ways it’s similar to the process of working on a television series because the game is made up of episodic sections in the different levels, hubs or mission sections you get. You break the story. We sit down in the beginning and we say ‘OK, what’s the story we want to tell? What is the motivation and the concept of it? Where’s the very highest level of what we want the story to bring to the player?’ And then it’s a question of back engineering it, constructing the skeleton of the storyline, the narrative beats of it, and then trying to find a structure that works with level design, with character design and hopefully the whole thing meshes together nicely and you get an interactive, dynamic , story experience.

 Deus Ex: Human Revolution Train2Game blog image

 

How difficult was it to link the Narrative of Human Revolution to the original Deus Ex game, released over 10 years ago

Well the original Deus Ex has such a strong narrative to it and so much back-story that it was an embarrassment of riches, we had tonnes and tonnes of back-story we could use. One of my earliest projects on the job was actually writing a timeline that went from 2027, when Human Revolution is set, to 2052 when the original Deus Ex was set.

As we did that we started back engineering elements of the story and saying here are plot threads we can bring back and we can connect them together and hopefully people who are fans of the original Deus Ex games will appreciate the little kisses of history we put in there. I love doing that kind of stuff, I think it’s great fun to bury these Easter Eggs in there and make the story mesh together.

Such as the one after the end credits that links the two games together?

I can neither confirm nor deny that!

With all the choice available to the player in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, how do you go about writing the narrative so it doesn’t become too overly muddled during the course of the game?

You do a lot of writing, lots and lots of stuff.  It is a difficult thing to do because when you start a game you have no idea how your player is going to play it. The thing with Deus Ex is we had the four main pillars of gameplay; you could play aggressively, you could play it stealthily, you could play it in an adaptive way, you could play it with a social approach. There are a lot of different ways you can go through the sections of the game, you could try and mix and match. When I played it personally I found that I’d bounce backwards and forwards between the pillars of gameplay depending on how my mood took me. You can play it as a nice guy if you want by helping people, getting cats out of trees, or you can be a scumbag kicking the dog and mugging the old lady, and all those options are open to you.

How do you construct a game where all of those possibilities are open to a player where they’ll feel real?  It’s hard to do because you have to write dialogue that reacts to the events and the style of gameplay. Do you write hundreds and hundreds of different versions of dialogue? That’s not possible with the technology that exists right now.  You have to try and write dialogue that’ll be generic enough but at the same time not too generic that it’s bland, to try and make it so it’ll fit multiple levels of encounter and multiple levels of narrative.

It’s not easy to do, it’s a big challenge because you think of where you are in a game, of the information you have to put across, you want to give pitch and moment and drama to a character… But you also want to be able to say ‘The princess is in another castle’ and you want to be able to deliver feeling and emotion and you have to do that in one line of dialogue. It’s not easy, but it’s an interesting challenge though.

What are the different challenges of writing for the Missing Link DLC instead of the full game?

Away from Deus Ex I’ve worked on some other DLC as well; I worked on Pigsy’s Perfect 10 which was an add-on for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Working on that what we realised was that generally with a game you have a discreet beginning, middle, end experience and to build on story DLC you have to find a place where you can connect it. With the Enslaved stuff, what we did is we took a character who was playing a supporting role in the original game and we spun out an entire storyline out for him. So it’s kind of a side story, almost a prequel because the DLC ends with the characters introduction into the storyline of the main game, so it connects that way.

With the Missing Link we created a very discreet, compact narrative for our hero Adam Jensen and when we were approached and asked to do DLC we had to work quite hard to find somewhere we could fit it.  And we realised that we had this point in the game where the character is off the grid and this is the perfect opportunity for us to put in almost a missing episode of the story.

It’s interesting with DLC because you want to produce a dynamic, interactive, interesting and ultimately rewarding experience for the player. But you have to do it in such a way that it doesn’t break the story that you’ve already created for the source material. I guess that’s the unique challenge of it, to find a way to make a story that parallels what you’ve got without overwriting it.

Part 2 of the Train2Game interview with games writer James Swallow is here.

For more information, go to www.train2game.com

BAFTA’s public events and online resources bring you closer to the creative talent behind your favourite games, films, and TV shows. Find out more at www.bafta.org/newsletter, www.facebook.com/bafta or twitter.com/baftagames

Train2Game news: Deus Ex writer on what makes a good game designer

Train2Game recently had a chat with Deus Ex: Human Revolution writer James Swallow at the BAFTA Games Writers Panel where he discussed various aspects of game writing and game design.

But does the he think is the key skills a good video game writer should have?

“Play lots of games, I can’t underline that enough.” he told the Train2Game blog in an interview to be published on Monday.

“I would say be a good writer first, obviously, you can’t be a writer without being a writer.  But play lots of games, understand games, and try not to come at it just from a writer’s standpoint, but understand a bit about design and the way games are constructed”

Swallow argued that a good game designer needs also needs to understand the roles of the rest of the game development team in order to do the best work.

“Listen to what level design guys and art design guys talk about, producers and directors, understand how they do their job because ultimately if you want to be a games writer you are going to have to interface and mesh with these people.” said the Deus Ex: Human Revolution writer.

“So if you have an idea of what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes, you can do your job a little better.” he added

Train2Game’s in-depth interview with Swallow covering Deus Ex: Human Revolution, writing for games and how to get into the industry will appear here on the Train2Game blog next Monday.

So Train2Game, what do you make of the advice from the Deus Ex: Human Revolution writer? Do you think about game design while playing video games?

Leave your comments here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game forum.