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Weisman: Practice 'Planned Parenthood' With Your Game Franchises

Talking as part of an in-depth Gamasutra interview, FASA, 42 Entertainment, and Smith & Tinker founder Jordan Weisman (Shadowrun, Battletech) has been discussing
Talking as part of an in-depth Gamasutra interview, FASA, 42 Entertainment, and Smith & Tinker founder Jordan Weisman (Shadowrun, Battletech) has been discussing the concept of 'planned parenthood' for game franchises in terms of developing a game universe - suggesting Tomb Raider as a franchise which had to fill back in story as the series grew. Weisman has a storied history in tabletop, ARG, and video games dating back to 1980, which includes a relatively recent stint as creative director at Microsoft's entertainment division, helping to oversee both Bungie and the then-extant FASA Interactive's output. He has now formed media company Smith & Tinker, and has bought the electronic entertainment rights to FASA-birthed franchises like Shadowrun, Battletech and Crimson Skies back from Microsoft. When asked about his approach to transmedia storytelling - particularly in franchises such as Battletech, which attempted to keep the story synchronized across multiple media, Weisman discussed both this concept and the preparation needed to make it, explaining: "I've always believed that a fundamental property of good property development is the idea that you are telling your story across a wide spectrum of media, and that you're weaving those media together in a cohesive fashion. And indeed we did that with BattleTech for 20+ years. And we will endeavor to do that in some capacity with what we're creating here at Smith & Tinker. I did a talk on this at DICE a couple years ago. Most people don't practice what I call "planned parenthood." They don't adequately prepare for the baby they're about to give birth to. So they make a single thing. They make a movie, they make a game, and they don't know any more about their world and what's in that world than what's in the game. Then in the happy circumstance the game becomes enormously popular, all of a sudden they're going to be making a lot more. And they're caught behind the eight ball, frantically trying to write into a background of what's already there. And you get a lot of uncomfortable fits. And often, they make another movie, as opposed to stepping back and realizing, "Okay, what we need to do is actually figure out what the hell we've created here. What is this universe? How does it work? What makes it tick? What are the primary sociological and economic and political engines that are moving behind the scenes, that make this a compelling story environment? And if we figure all that out, then we have the ability to create new episodes within that universe, for many years, that are all in a cohesive, well-integrated format." And unfortunately, a lot of people just don't do it. It's a small, additional investment up front, but in comparison to the cost of creating a movie or a game, it's very small. So, to me, it's an important component. But it's amazing how many really smart, creative people don't put that extra thought into it, and then get caught up in their own environment. I think one could argue that Tomb Raider was subject to that in the early days. They had this brilliant first game, and a fantastically fun character. But they didn't know really anything about her, or what her world was about, or what her motivations were. And they had to for many years write all that back into her, for it to actually create a motivation for why she's doing what she does. You end up with stuff that gets pretty derivative, if you're not careful." You can now read the full Gamasutra interview on the subject, including lots more from Weisman about his attitude to storytelling, alternate reality games, and creating a compelling experience for the player.

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