The Pen Is Mightier

So, now we know how the story is designed in terms of the considerations involved for the designers, but what about how the game design is organised?

It's a tough task to organise a video game – you've usually got a large team spread over numerous departments and all of them have to adhere to a singular vision which may or may not be yours. You need writers to write the script, artists to design the characters and locations, programmers to make the levels and characters work, testers to make sure it all works and even then it may not work that well at all.

Plus, that's just the simplified way of looking at it.

I've chatted with writers and designers from a number of companies in the process of writing this feature and I've found that approaches tend to vary wildly. Free Radical Design handpicked a writer for their game design to flesh out the characters and approach for an idea they had already settled on (Haze).

Telltale Games meanwhile is lucky to have lead designers and founders who are also the the lead writers for the hilarious Sam and Max episodes. Quantic Dream (Fahrenheit / Omicron / Heavy Rain) meanwhile has David Cage, a man who dips in and out of every aspect of his games and sees himself as more of a director than a designer.

So, how was the development team for World in Conflict organised and how was the story and plot established and fleshed out? As usual, Magnus has answers for us.

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"It's complicated," he confessed. I settled in for the long haul. "There's a handful of people involved in the initial crafting of the main events and rough character descriptions. The day-to-day writing of dialogue and scripts for single player was mostly done by our in-house writer Christofer Emgård – but that doesn’t include all the unit dialogue. That, and a lot of other dialogue is created by various people on the design team who all work on a number of areas."

"The story creation though is something of a chicken and egg situation. You can't set the locations without a story, but you want the story to come up with suitable maps. Cool gameplay events need to be plausible from a story perspective, but sometimes the story will have to abide if it's an awesome enough set piece."

"Everyone, from marketing to upper management to engine coders to community team, benefits from having an up-to-date grasp of the story. So we try to communicate it the best we can, but it's hard. There is only so much you can take in on any given day.

"The art and level teams synchronise with the design and story guys on a daily basis though, to avoid wasting time on levels that get cut."

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I wondered why the development team was organised this way, with multiple writers on the project juggling responsibilities with designers and programmers. Surely it would be easier to have a handful of established writers taking charge of all narrative rather then letting the idea by diluted? Or had Magnus been burned by such an approach in the past?

"We worked with both author Larry Bond and TV writer Ed Zuckerman on World in Conflict, and I'm not lying or kissing ass when I say they were a joy to work with. I think the motivations for getting a “big shot” writer on board differs throughout the organisation though."

"To upper management it provides some form of “seal of quality”, and who can blame them for not completely trusting Swedish nerds with tens of millions of dollars? For us, the developer, it's all about creating a great game, and those guys have the skill and experience to help you do just that. Larry Bond helped us getting the war and the scenarios as plausible as possible and Ed Zuckerman helped us with the characters and nitty-gritty writing."

OK – no fingers burned after all.
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December 11 2020 | 17:30