As somebody who studied English Language and Creative Writing at university, the process of actually sitting down to create a new world with pen and paper has always fascinated me. This was never more the case than when I started to look at how computer games are written and designed to tell a story.
The medium of computer games has matured impressively since the days of Space Invaders and John Carmack’s opinion that “story in a computer game is like story in an adult movie, it’s expected to be there but doesn’t really matter” is mercifully no longer true for the majority of gamers. Even in arcade games and breakout clones we expect at least a semblance of plot nowadays and many of us long for more well thought-out characters like Gordon Freeman.
Of course, there has always been one genre which has featured story as a major attraction and has used delicate plot exposition and wonderful characters to pull in players for some utterly enthralling game experiences. It also happens to be one of my most loved genres, responsible for first drawing me into the life of a hardcore gamer when I was just a little kid playing on my Amiga A500+ – The Adventure Game.
I tried to stop myself, but I just had to make Monkey Island the first picture in the article...
The adventure game was one of the first computer game genres to reach mass success, with Colossal Cave Adventure being widely regarded as the first true adventure game and bringing words like xyzzy into popular use among geeks. Ironically though, the adventure game is considered by many to have died off in recent years as gamers start to prefer more fast placed gameplay and get their fix of story-telling through games like Half-Life.
Some developers are refusing to let the genre die though and are continuing to develop games with what I think of as a more traditional feel – games characterised by investigation, NPC interaction, puzzle-solving and a focus on narrative rather than reflex-based challenges, to paraphrase Wikipedia.
Joining me on this latest exploration into how games are written and designed are two such developers, both of whom can trace their roots back into the pixellated history of the industry. Let me introduce them to you.
First we have Dave Grossman of Telltale Games. Dave is well known for his work at Lucasarts, where he helped write and design titles like Day of The Tentacle and the two games most responsible for my position in life today – The Secret of Monkey Island and The Secret of Monkey Island 2: LeChucks Revenge. Dave, who is also an established children’s author, now works on the ongoing Sam and Max episodes with his close friend, Steve Purcell.
David Cage designed and wrote Fahrenheit, a game which explored story from multiple perspectives
Also joining us is another Dave, though one with a radically different background. With a history as a composer for various video games, David Cage founded Quantic Dream in 1997 and immediately set to work on some of the most imaginative games ever made, including Fahrenheit (known in the US as The Indigo Prophecy). Fusing a variety of different genres and perspectives, Fahrenehit was seen by many as a game which bought the adventure game back to life in the modern day.
Quantic Dream is currently working on a new adventure game, called Heavy Rain, which looks like it could graphically lay even Crysis to waste. Check out the tech-demo from last year if you don’t believe me and bear in mind that Quantic Dream has apparently made 'significant advances' since then.
Both Davids will be taking us on a guided tour of their minds and letting us know just what it takes to write and design an adventure game. Along the way we’ll be looking at some of the major pitfalls and problems for adventure game designers and we’ll try to decide if there’s life in this old genre yet.
I for one certainly hope there is. It’s been far, far too long since I stepped into the shoes of Guybrush Threepwood.