In the publishing business writers get paid to write. In Hollywood, writers get paid to write. In the copywriting business, writers get paid. In the theater, playwrights get paid.
In the interactive industry, however, it’s been a very slow process getting the people who make games to see writers as an inherent part of the industry. In fact, ten years ago one of the docs I just added to this site — Storytellers: A Hiring Guide for the Interactive Industry — originally had this title: “Storytellers: Part of the team?”
Well, the good news is that writers are now much more a part of the development process than they were even five years ago. In fact, that’s one of the things that’s changed for the better in the interactive industry: writers are now being thought of as part of the team.
One company that recognized the cheap-at-twice-the-price value of writers early on was Valve, makers of the justifiably famous Half-life. They had a writer on staff for that game, and he’s been on staff pretty much ever since. And yet until recently this writer — Marc Laidlaw — was one of the few writers you could point to with a permanent job in the interactive industry. You would think that writer-on-staff + famous-game-as-a-result would be a Big Clue to the bean counters, but you would be wrong. It’s still not the norm to include a writer in the entire development process, and that’s still a money-losing mistake.
(And not because writers can or should take creative control, but because they can save you so much money and time wasted on stuff that won’t work or won’t make sense. Plus you get better storytelling, which means better reviews and an easier localization process, but that’s a rant for another day.)
So anyway….here’s Marc Laidlaw (along with Erik Wolpaw) speaking at the GDC in Austin yesterday, on the subject of narrative pathfinding:
While Half-Life began with a very strong vision, as the story developed, along the way the team was “lost in the weeds,” and doubted the path that they were on. That’s where Laidlaw’s experience as a solitary book writer came in handy. To him, the hang-up was all too familiar.
He told the Half-Life team, “It’s all right. This always happens.” After pushing through such creative rough patches, Laidlaw said often that’s when things begin clicking again and the story comes together.
Yes, yes and yes. Writing a big story is like trying to sort out a knot of spaghetti noodles. Doing it in a collaborative environment is like trying to do it from inside the spaghetti. Covered with sauce.
And yet writers know this. They know what it’s like, they know not to panic, they know how to build on the stuff that’s already working and they know how to cut without bleeding out in the process.
More about game writers here, in a piece that wouldn’t even have been imagined five years ago. Things are changing.
— Mark Barrett