Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Dressing Down

I've been playing a good few Big Fish iHOG games lately - checking out the competition and all that - and two things have struck me: the strength and consistency of the parallels between puzzle-adventure games and plays (much more so than novels); and the overwhelming lack of discipline afforded the narrative in all its facets. It seems that an author is, quite rightly, expected to demonstrate a proficiency in plotting, characterisation, pacing and development, controlled exposition and foreshadowing, and so forth; however, if you add pictures and puzzles into the mix, then none of these writerly skills are held in high regard.
For example, take the fundamental (as in, my son was taught this at school) premise of creating immersion through sensory stimulae. When Edwina Margrave enters her world, she is guided through a series of olfactory stimulae: from the comfort of the roaring log fire and the chicken feast, and the gutted fish hanged from the beams, and the apple blossoms... through to the sweet shop, and the lavender and bouquet-garni... through to the mushrooms and toadstools and the decaying appendages and stagnant water. I'm hard-pressed to find anything resembling this in similar games, suggesting to me that either our competitors don't think that the evocation of smell memories adds to immersion, or that they don't care for the idea of immersion, or that they're simply unaware of its benefits.

The staple interview with a game writer goes something like this:
Interviewer: What are the pros and cons of writing for games as opposed to, say, writing a novel?
Author: Narrative/story in games is rarely taken seriously.

You can read Rhianna Pratchett's interview here: it's all but identical to any number of interviews I've read.
I have little desire to add to the debate other than to suggest that, if the writer is any good, then they will be the best person in the studio (by a loooong way) to govern the emotional stimulae of the game; a good writer understands what moves people, and knows how to accomplish this; ergo, any game dev team should have a good writer right there at the top of the ladder, with their blood-stained finger on the button.

Next post - Dressing Up - to follow...

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