How do you design complex storylines for games? In this exclusive interview
, Relic Entertainment's narrative designer Stephen Dinehart talks about his work from USC's Cloud
to the upcoming Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
, explaining a writer's struggles to create a meaningful, suitable WWII-based plot.
In this excerpt, Dinehart describes how he became involved with the Company of Heroes
franchise, and his internal struggle in creating a war game that is not simply violent for the sake of being gratuitous:
“While in graduate school, I studied plenty of game design theory, but not necessarily non-combative. That said, there was a general feeling that games can be more than over-glorified remakes of Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto. Flagrant carnage within a system that is supposed to be “fun” is kind of sick. Does society need more of that stuff?
I don’t think so. It’s been hard, really hard, to wrap my head around creating a narrative within a system that is intended to simulate interactive WWII battles. Josh Mosquiera, lead designer on Company Of Heroes, is very adamant about the fact that the franchise is about the soldier level story. I took his tenant and ran with it.
My grandfather and all of his brothers fought in the War. For their memory, and the sake others, I have done my best to tell the stories of the soldier, a man caught between the not so black-and-white battle of morals. I did study the real time strategy genre for a number of years while in school and at EALA; learning from the likes of Louis Castle and Mike Verdu on what RTS was, is, and where it is going. We actually had a workshop course at USC, taught by Chris Swain, that directly dealt with RTS and its future. Slipping into the shoes of an RTS storyteller and gamemaker at Relic has been a comfortable transition for me. Is that really answering your question?”
He later adds:
“I have done my best to craft an innovative RTS story that treats the soldiers as more than mere commander fodder. The idea of some kid, who shouldn’t be playing this game in the first place, ripping apart virtual representations of WWII heroes is rather repulsive to me. We make this material for adults, hence the mature ESRB rating, and as such I assume they are at a maturity level where they can analyze the game and narrative system as presented. In that, I hope they see a story there of struggle, a battle of morals and nations that shed the blood of the common man in an effort to save Europe.”
You can now read the complete interview
, which includes more from Dinehart on his career, and his work writing for Relic's forthcoming turn-based strategy game (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).