Deus Ex Writer On Weaving Stories Around Player Choice

Deus Ex: Human Revolution lead writer Mary De Marle discusses the "biggest mistakes" in game writing, particularly noting that a writers should realize that a story does "not belong to them," but rather to the player.
In a new interview, Deus Ex: Human Revolution lead writer and narrative designer Mary DeMarle discusses the "biggest mistakes" in game writing, particularly noting that writers should realize that a story does "not belong to them," but rather to the player. The interview, conducted by Gamasutra Contributor Connor Cleary, is now live on Gamasutra sister-site GameCareerGuide. "The first and biggest challenge I realized was the fact that you are not in charge of your story, the player is, and the player wants choice. So how can you write a story about a hero when you don't know what your hero is going to do?" she says, reflecting on her experience writing for Eidos' upcoming Deus Ex sequel. DeMarle says that to help build a story around player choice, writers should think of game writing as a creative exercise in anticipating player behavior and writing scenarios to accommodate their actions. "Like with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, not only does the story take account for player actions where they can change the story, but just writing Adam [Jensen's] dialogue becomes all about choice ... For me it's a much more exciting challenge because you're trying to think of all those contingencies. When you succeed, and when you see players going, 'Oh, I'm gonna outsmart em, and I'm gonna go try this,' and then they try it and realize, 'Oh my God, they thought of that!' it's very exciting," she says. One of the main issues with game writing, she notes, is that writers tend to become stubborn, that they hold fast to their own ideas, when instead they should write for their audience and the rest of the development team. "One of the biggest mistakes new writers coming into [the profession] make is thinking that the story belongs to them," she explains. "They also have this tendency to think, 'This is the story and you have to do what I say.' But the story is being created by everyone on the team. So it really isn't your story, the story belongs to everyone." When designing the story for a player, a writer has no way to know how he or she will approach a given scene, go game writing often becomes necessarily vague to accommodate player choice, says DeMarle, noting that writers have to write for a world that they cannot see, anticipate, or control. "In games, you can't be specific. You can't say, 'Put that gun away,' because you don't know if the character's holding a gun, or a grenade, or a crowbar, so you have to find ways to not be specific. And a lot of times the writing comes before the levels are created, so you're not even sure if you can say, 'Go to the security terminal.' So it's: How can you be less specific but just as specific?" DeMarle continues, noting that "the industry itself is still learning how to deal with writers," and many studios don't yet have an effective way of integrating writing into the creative process. She points out that "a lot of writers are hired very late in the process," meaning they must work within the rigid constraints of a game that is well into production. "A lot of time you feel like you're the script doctor or something. It's like, 'I have to try and make this work with the resources I have.' A lot of times, because you're brought in late you don't get many drafts." For more of De Marle's thoughts on the evolving nature of game writing, check out the full interview on GameCareerGuide.

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