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You worked at Obsidian for all of three months. If you don't mind me asking, why was your stay there so short? It seems as though Obsidian's fervor for narrative-heavy RPGs would have made them a good fit for you. How did the final narrative design of Alpha Protocol differ from your conception of it while you were at Obsidian?
Actually, I worked for Obsidian from 2005 to 2008. There were a lot of talented people working on our projects and I'm still in contact with a lot of my old teammates. I don't think I was a good fit for Obsidian, mostly because they're a very production-oriented studio and I'm more in favor of smaller teams with more personal responsibility like at Troika. With five owners and multiple project leads and producers, there are many steps in the approval process there, just as there are in many larger development teams. Additionally, it seemed at the time that a lot of Obsidian's contracts were getting canceled and many of the offers being pursued were for licenses, where I think a lot of people wanted to work on original concepts or more hardcore RPGs and those pitches weren't getting attention.
As for Alpha Protocol, the original narrative was focused on real world intelligence and the military industrial complex. The main character was a rookie going from low-level (money trail) desk espionage to suddenly finding himself in the middle of something much bigger and dangerous and having to quickly develop the skills to stay alive. In a sense, the character grew into a more dangerous protagonist over time rather than starting out a (badass). The problem with the (spy) genre is that it means so many things to so many people some people think James Bond and Jack Bauer, some think S.H.I.E.L.D. and Metal Gear, and some are thinking C.I.A. It was a tough project to work on and while I was very excited by the possibilities, I don't think anyone got what they hoped for from that project.
You've mentioned that when you started DoubleBear you were disillusioned with the standard studio/publisher development model. How do you feel about that model now? Is it fundamentally flawed? What do you think needs to happen to make the developer/publisher relationship work more effectively to everyone's benefit?
What it comes down to in the big publisher model is money. And the larger the publisher and various layers of middle-management that need to be paid, and the newer the tech, the more expensive games are going to get. Middle-tier developers aren't going to be able to compete against a team of hundreds with $100 million budgets and marketing muscle. They're already chasing a very limited amount of money. Everyone's making a free-to-play shooter or a Facebook game and the market is collapsing from (me-toos). As long as publishers aren't willing to trust experienced developers to produce quality games and then figure out how to market them, there's going to be a lot of sequels and clones and blaming the development teams for failure. Meanwhile, the indies are working in their own sphere and coming up with something different and pretty much acting as the breeding grounds for popular new ideas that will be copied and given a AAA facelift. Publishers have a bunch of the same smart developers on retainer that could be fashioning the next big thing for them, they just need to set some money aside and start their own skunkwork projects. It's not really just a game development issue big picture research and development just can't be justified on quarterly financials.
You're a writer who has done a variety of traditional fiction, screenwriting, and also game writing. What is unique and special about interactive fiction? What sort of emotional responses is it better at eliciting in its audience, and what are its shortcomings?
It's a pain in the ass. In a good way, an exciting way a way that allows someone to experience the many outcomes of a (what-if) scenario that we don't get to do in life. But, it takes so much more planning and writing than a screenplay. In a screenplay, you need one good line, one good scene to write, while for games you need to write that scene and that dialogue multiple times and still make it compelling. Sometimes it's no problem, sometimes it's very frustrating. You always have to think of the consequences and branches you create and also manage your outcomes so that you don't produce too complicated of a scenario while still giving the player enough satisfying reactivity to feel like their choices matter.
Emotional reaction is built right into the choices all I have to do is track them and guess what you're going for. I will build in outcomes that I feel sum up the choices provided. If someone has been friendly, I will reinforce that here and there and add reactivity like a line of surprise if you screw them over. For some players, they want to feel like they're in control, so you can provide lines that make a character cater to their power trip. There are a lot of ways to provoke emotional attachment, but the easiest way to deal with it from a writing standpoint is figure out what outcomes are most likely from a character's arc and wrap the player's experience around those pre-determined reactivity beats. A few people may not feel like they got the conclusion or options they wanted, but it's impossible to script for every single possible outcome, so it's best to anticipate and pick the most interesting or likely paths for each character you write.
Thanks RPG Codex.