Veteran video game writer Susan O'Connor (Far Cry 2, BioShock, Gears Of War
) has been involved in many games that, in both commercial success and narrative, have become some of the industry's top projects.
In our latest Gamasutra feature, she shares her perspective
on how writing in games can be improved, and how developers and writers can work more effectively together.
One key, in O'Connor's view, is that the writer and developer must begin working together early on in making the game's writing a priority, and it has to be a decision that comes from a project leader.
"Creating a meaningful story, it takes just as long to get to know fake people as it takes to get to know real people. You [as a writer] really have to spend time with your characters to get to know them," she says.
"And it takes time for a story to come to life. It is easy to come up with a cliched, dumb story. It doesn't take a lot of time. But to make something really like, 'My God!' it takes time."
In fact, O'Connor tells us, it takes as long to develop a solid game narrative in her view as it does to develop a solid game design itself. "To me, that is the metric," she says. "If it takes two years to do that game design, then you need a writer at least involved in the process. Maybe not on site, but coming in and out those full two years. You know?"
Waiting until the end of the design process to bring in the writer is "nuts," says O'Connor. "You get the biggest bang for your buck from your writer if you bring them in right away, for a couple of reasons. One, they have more time to sort of do their work," she explains.
"And they have an opportunity to fail, too. They get to try things, be experimental," she adds. "Whereas if you come in with like a month to go, they want you to hit the target right away."
And when the goal is just to hit a target, "you play it really conservative," she says. "You don't try anything crazy. So even though what you make is serviceable, it is not great. And sometimes you want to do something great. Every writer wants to do something great. Why else would we do this?"
"Bringing a writer in early, it gives them a chance to be experimental and play with the story and play with what is possible, because this is a medium where we haven't discovered the full vocabulary yet for telling stories in games," she says.
"We know a few things that work, but there are probably like 20 more things that would work great. We just haven't had a chance to try them yet, because we don't have a chance to experiment."
The full feature interview
with O'Connor covers narrative "tricks" to engage the player, the philosophy in craft of storytelling, and discussion of what developers should look to in the future with regard to game narrative.