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Writing for the LCD: FPS games

How to Write an FPS

If you ask a gamer to chart the rise of first person shooters from conception of the genre to their current state in the modern world in as few games as possible, say three titles, then you'll always hear the same games listed.

Want to prove me wrong? Think of them now before reading the next paragraph.

Right; you chose Wolfenstein 3D (or Doom if you're a bit younger), Quake and then Half-Life (One or two, it's a matter of personal preference) if we're listing them in chronological order. Even if I am miles off (rare, but possible) then you'd have to admit that it's hard to argue with that selection of games.

Now, it may just be me, but the first thing that stands out about those games above is that, apart from Half-Life, none of them have very interesting storylines. That may be a bold statement, but deep down we all know that neither Doom nor the original Quake were built with a clear plot in mind – both of them had a story tacked on at the end purely to give some context to the violence. There can be no other explanation for the awful Shub-Niggurath boss at the end of Quake.

Writing for the LCD: FPS games How to write a first-person shooter
While later installments have improved on the plot, the original Quake had no discernable storyline

There's nothing wrong with that of course, back in the day Quake was amazing in its own, essentially plotless, right. But it's interesting that only recently has a push for coherently told storylines appeared among FPS fans, bought on by another few years of maturity in what is an undeniably young medium. Paintings and music have both been around since time out of mind, but computer games have only been around for a couple of decades and only recently have they begun to be recognised for the artistic merit posed by their interactivity.

So, as part of a continuing feature, we'll be exploring how stories are told in games in general and the different problems posed by genre choices. In a nutshell, we'll be trying to find out how writers are now working hand in hand with designers and artists to tell exciting stories and what difficulties they come across in the process to gain insight into how games are written.

We don't chew our words here at bit-tech either, so we'll be jumping straight in to have a look at the biggest and baddest genre out there; the first-person shooter. We'll be looking at FPSes with Rob Yescombe, the screenwriter for Free Radical Design and Martin Lancaster, the main writer for Crysis. Rob, who is currently hard at work putting the finishing touches to the upcoming PS3 and PC title, Haze is a veteran writer outside the games industry and he'll be letting us know what it was like working with an established studio on a triple A title for the first time, while we subtly press him for details on the upcoming Haze.

Writing for the LCD: FPS games How to write a first-person shooter
The Half-Life series has been especially celebrated for its story-driven action and focus on character

Martin Lancaster meanwhile is the core writer and game designer for Crytek and has worked there for a number of years, focusing at the moment on the impending Crysis which is guaranteed to blow us all out of the water in awe when it hits shelves later this year.

So, without further ado, let’s delve right in and see just what FPS games are capable of story-wise.